Over the last couple of months, I’ve spent quite a bit of time reading the book of Joshua. As I continue to wait for the restrictions to ease enough to resume the ministry interrupted by COVID, Joshua has seemed like the perfect focus. There are so many lessons about leadership, faithfulness, and stepping out in obedience that are just as relevant today as they were when Joshua led the Israelites into the Promised Land all those years ago.
I’m going to share some of these, splitting it over a couple of posts because otherwise it would be far too long.
So, here are my lessons from Joshua, part 1:
Be strong and courageous
This phrase is repeated three times in chapter 1 alone, which indicates that Joshua is probably feeling daunted by the task – understandably so. Yet, despite his fears, he is called to strength and courage – not because of his own abilities or capability, but because God has called him and God will go with him.
It is scary to step out into something new, and I think we just have to accept that as part of the deal, but I’m struck by the instructions given to the people as they are about to cross the Jordan River into the Promised Land. They are told to follow the priests who carry the Ark of the Covenant, the representation of God’s presence with them.
“Since you have never traveled this way before, they will guide you.” (Joshua 3:4 NLT)
We may not have traveled this way before, but God goes before us, and we find our strength and courage by looking to him and following his lead.
God is always faithful to us, but if we are to succeed, we need to be faithful to him.
The Israelites’ journey into the Promised Land is full of ups and downs. There are amazing high points: when God parts the Jordan River to allow them to cross into the land, and when the walls of Jericho tumble before them. But there are also some real low points: when Achan steals treasure from Jericho, leading to the Israelites’ defeat in battle, or when they are deceived by the Gibeonites.
God never gives up on the people. He keeps his promise never to fail them or to abandon them. But if they want to succeed at their task, they in turn must remain faithful.
“Be careful to obey all the instructions Moses gave you. Do not deviate from them, turning either to the right or to the left. Then you will be successful in everything you do. Study the Book of Instruction continually. Meditate on it day and night, so you will be sure to obey everything written in it. Only then will you prosper and succeed in all you do.” (Joshua 1:7-8 NLT)
The battle is God’s – our choice is whether to be on his side.
As we step into something new, called by God, we may have our own ideas about how it will/ should turn out, but God will do things in his own way and his own time. His ways are often unexpected, and his timing may be different from ours, but if it is his work, it has to be done in his way.
Marching round a city for seven days seems like a ridiculous battle plan from a human perspective, but when Joshua and the Israelites obeyed, they witnessed God’s power.
It’s a helpful reminder that any power or success we have comes from God and that our part is to remain faithful to him.
“Then Joshua told the people, “Purify yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do great wonders among you.”” (Joshua 3:5 NLT)
Although the battle is God’s, it is still a battle and we are called to fight.
God gave the Israelites success, but they still had to take action, whether it was stepping out into the Jordan River, marching round Jericho, or fighting a battle against a particular city. They were not just called to sit back and watch, but to actively participate in what God was doing.
And they were called to be relentless in their pursuit of the land God had given them. He had given it to them, but they still had to take it.
As I was reflecting on this, it made me think of our internal battles. As I step out into a new challenge, some of the biggest battle are within – against self-doubt, or fear, or worries about what others will think. And God has given us victory over all those things through Jesus, but we are still called to take hold of it – to take our thoughts captive and to renounce the lies that threaten to sidetrack us.
Sin is serious – we must expose it and deal with it.
Speaking of internal battles, sometimes it seems that the biggest battles Joshua and the Israelites faced were not with the opposing tribes, but with their own sin.
As we’ve already seen, Achan’s sin led to the Israelites’ defeat in battle, but it also had serious consequences for their relationship with God.
“I will not remain with you any longer unless you destroy the things among you that were set apart for destruction.” (Joshua 7:12 NLT)
God insisted on the sin being dealt with before they could move on. It wasn’t something that he was willing to overlook or dismiss.
Obviously, we are in a different position now because of Jesus. In him, God has dealt with our sin so that we can know his forgiveness, but we still have to confess our sin and take hold of that forgiveness. We still have to root out sin and deal with it when God convicts us.
If we want to be effective for God, we need his presence and power, which means we need to take sin seriously and deal with it.
And, since that seems a sombre note to end on, let me finish with something more hopeful.
The incident with Achan was so significant that the Israelites named that place the valley of Achor, which means “the valley of trouble.” (Joshua 7:26)
But fast forward to Hosea, to another of the many times when the Israelites were unfaithful to God, and look at his words:
“I will return her vineyards to her and transform the Valley of Trouble into a gateway of hope.” (Hosea 2:15 NLT)
Because of what Jesus has done, the place where our sin is revealed does not have to be a place of punishment and condemnation, but a place of forgiveness and grace, where we can know God’s mercy and transformation.
I hope to post next Monday with more lessons from Joshua…