A few years ago there was an ad on TV that started like this: There was a woman sitting in a car. She's minding her own business, and suddenly this man comes out of the blue, rips the door open, grabs her, and pulls her out of the car roughly. It looks like he's attacking her, and we look on in horror. Then the camera pulls back, and we see that the car is actually on fire, but the woman didn't know it. The man wasn't assaulting the woman; he was rescuing her. The ad finishes by saying, "You need the bigger picture. Channel 10 News gives you the bigger picture."
The ad makes a good point. We need to have the bigger picture. And in the Book of Joshua, the people of Israel needed to have the bigger picture. As they looked in the direction of the Jordan River, knowing they'd have to cross it and then face cities and people who were big and powerful, the people of Israel were overwhelmed and afraid. The bigger picture, though, is that the Lord God had promised the Israelites that they would enter the land. They were not alone nor forsaken. God would do all that he said he would do. That's the bigger picture. God was faithful and in control. You need the bigger picture.
In our own life situations, how can we make sure that we have the bigger picture? What does it mean to have the bigger picture in life? What does it mean to have the bigger picture of God and this world and us? And how does having that bigger picture affect how we live today? That's what we'll be looking at particularly this morning as we look at Joshua 1 and 2.
What's the background to this story?
Let's look at the story so far. Joshua and the Israelites, the people of God, are on the verge of something big. The previous generation of God's people, the children of Israel, had been rescued from Egypt under the leadership of Moses. They'd seen miraculous events and signs in the wilderness, but at the point at which they were about to enter the Promised Land, fear had gotten the better of them. They stopped trusting God. They rejected his clear promises of faithfulness, and they forfeited their opportunity to take their inheritance, the Promised Land. That generation died in the wilderness.
All during that time, the Israelites were led by Moses, and for most of that time, Moses' second in charge was a young man named Joshua. You might recall in Numbers that there were 12 spies that were sent into the land. Of those 12, only two of them came back and said, "This is good. We can do it. God is faithful, and he will enable us." One of those men was Joshua; the other was Caleb. And at the end of Deuteronomy, we read that Moses had died, and this Joshua, Moses' second in charge, was the new leader of the Israelites. Joshua was the one, not Moses, who would lead these people into the Promised Land.
How was Joshua going to do it? Would he be able to do it? The reasons for the fears that they had back then when they checked out the land about forty years before were still there. The land is still scary looking. There's still a river to cross. There's still people who are big and scary and cities with fortified walls around them. Imagine facing all of that. And Moses was the one who had always led the people. Here is how Deuteronomy 34:10-11 describes Moses: "Since then no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face, who did all those miraculous signs and wonders the Lord sent him to do in Egypt, to Pharaoh and all his officials in his whole land. For no one has ever shown the mighty power or performed the awesome deeds that Moses did in the sight of all Israel."
That's a pretty impressive summary of who Moses was, and now he's dead. Talk about stepping into big shoes. No wonder Joshua was scared. How was he going to do what Moses, the great servant of the Lord, had failed to do? That brings us up to where we are in Joshua 1 and 2.
What's the big picture of this story?
In the light of all these seemingly reasonable fears, look at what the Lord says to Joshua in verses 1-9. Basically, God says, "Moses is dead. So get ready and cross over to the other side of the river." The point is that Moses is dead, but God's promises are not. They live on. There's no loss of momentum, because it was never about the faithfulness of Moses. It was always about the faithfulness of God and his promises to his people. God made promises all the way back in Genesis. In Genesis 12, God says to Abraham, "Go to the land I will show you." In chapter 15, he says, "I am the Lord who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to take possession." This is the same land that the Israelites are about to go into. These promises are about to become a reality.
In these verses we read God's words of encouragement to the leader who would take God's people in: "Be strong and courageous," and again, "Be strong and very courageous." Now, you wouldn't say that to someone who is feeling particularly good and strong, would you? You would only say that to someone who was scared out of their wits—someone who needed to hear those words: "Be strong and courageous." Joshua understandably had certain fears.
Another thing that comes through here is that the Lord understands his people. He understands the fears that his people have, and he speaks to those fears, reminding the Israelites of his promises. In this situation he tells Joshua, "Joshua, I will be with you. I will never forsake you. I will never leave you." What wonderful words for any generation to hear! A wonderful reassurance to Joshua that the Lord was with him.
Interestingly, if you were to read back in Exodus, you'd find that Moses needed the very same assurance when the Lord called to him to lead his people out of Egypt. God says: You can trust me. I will never leave you.
What does that sort of trust look like? Is it just a matter of thinking, I must trust God. Is it a matter of training our minds? No, trusting God means obeying God. Trusting God means doing what he says.
Have a look at verses 7-8. This is what the Lord says to Joshua: "Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you. Do not turn from it to the right or to the left that you may be successful wherever you go. Don't let this book of the Lord depart from your mouth. Meditate on it day and night so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful." Joshua is instructed by the Lord to obey all the law. He is to take God at his word at every point—not just the easy bits, but every part. Basically God says, "Do what I say, even if it does seem a bit out of the ordinary."
The Lord's instructions to Joshua about how to conquer Jericho was a very unusual strategy of marching and shouting. But trusting God means doing what he says, even when it doesn't make sense in our little minds, even when it seems we could come up with a better or safer way. The Lord will do what he says he will do. We must believe him and obey.
When God refers to the law, he's not just referring to the Ten Commandments. He's actually referring to the entire Word of God, the entire story of his faithfulness up to that point, what we refer to as the first five books of the Bible. From these books we learn of God's faithfulness; we learn of his character. Meditating on these books leads to knowing God better and understanding his ways more clearly. When you understand the God of the Bible, you're more likely to obey him, aren't you? When you know him better, you know that he's faithful, and you're more likely to trust him. Ralph Davis writes, "Constant, careful absorbing of the Word of God leads to obedience of it."
So as Joshua prepares to lead the Israelites into the Promised Land, the Lord reminds him of the promises he made all the way back that remain true. There is no reason to be terrified and every reason to trust in him. That's the bigger picture that Joshua needed to have.
Now in verses 10-15 we read what Joshua says to the people. We read: "And Joshua commanded the officers of the people, 'Pass through the midst of the camp and command the people, "Prepare your provisions, for within three days you are to pass over this Jordan to go in to take possession of the land that the Lord your God is giving you to possess."'" Joshua is rallying the troops. In verses 12-15 he speaks specifically to what is described as the two-and-a-half tribes, the Reubenites, the Gadites, and the half-tribe of Manasseh. These two-and-a-half tribes have already been allocated land on the eastern side of the Jordan River, so the danger was that those two-and-a-half tribes would say, "Hey, we've already got what we came for. So, see you later. Good luck. God be with you, but we're staying over here." But Joshua reminded these tribes that they're part of one people. Yes, they were already in their inheritance, but they were expected to go across the river with their brothers and fight with their people. The important thing here is all the tribes were to be united as they took possession of the land.
So we've got the Lord speaking to Joshua, then we've got Joshua speaking to the people, and now we've got the people speaking to Joshua. Have a look at what they say: "Whatever you have commanded us we will do, and wherever you send us we will go. Just as we fully obeyed Moses, we will obey you. Only may the Lord your God be with you as he was with Moses." At face value, this response sounds beautiful. That's what any leader would want to hear: everyone's fully on board with you. But think back to the days of Moses. Israel didn't have a good track record back then. Hearing the Israelites say this to Joshua was like hearing a little boy say in the first day of school, "I'm going to be good for my new teacher, just like I was for Mrs. Smith last year," when in reality, he had been the naughtiest little boy in Mrs Smith's class. Hearing his words does not bode well. But, regardless of their history, the Israelites' intention was to obey Joshua. They recognized that he was their leader under God. That was very important for them to acknowledge as they entered the land.
So the people of God were ready to do what their leader commanded. And their leader had been assured of God's presence in light of his promises. The scene is set for going into the land.
In chapter 2 we read what entering the land involves. We have another spy story: "And Joshua the son of Nun sent two men secretly from Shittim as spies, saying, 'Go, view the land, especially Jericho.'" So they went and entered the house of a prostitute named Rahab and stayed there.
It may seem like sending the spies in first reveals a lack of trust on Joshua's part—like he's testing God's promises—but the Bible doesn't actually make a comment either way on that. So the spies go in and enter the house of a prostitute—a brothel, in other words. The Bible doesn't make a comment about that choice, either. It only says that the spies went and stayed there. End of discussion. It could well be that this choice was a good strategy. They went to a place where lots of men came and went, a place where two strangers wouldn't look suspicious. Perhaps we should give them the benefit of the doubt.
However, these men aren't the best spies in the world, are they? Right after we learn that they stayed at Rahab's house, we read, "The king of Jericho was told, 'Look, some of the Israelites have come here tonight to spy out the land.'" So much for traveling under the radar. The king's messengers went to Rahab, and she said, "Yes, they were here, but they've gone now. You better head out that way, and you might catch them." Rahab then hid the Israelite spies on her roof.
Why would she do that? Verses 8-14 are central to this passage. They tell us why Rahab did what she did and confirms what we've already read in chapter 1. Look at what Rahab says to the spies:
I know that the Lord has given you the land, and that the fear of you has fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land melt away before you. For we have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon and Og, whom you devoted to destruction. And as soon as we heard it, our hearts melted, and there was no spirit left in any man because of you, for the Lord your God, he is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath.
What an amazing confession of faith! Rahab hid these spies because she knew who she was dealing with, the One who is Lord over the spies. She was dealing with the God of heaven and earth, who had given that land to the Israelites. It was a done deal. Through her actions, Rahab demonstrated an amazing faith in the Lord. She knew that he would do what he said he would do. It's ironic, isn't it, that the person who really demonstrated this kind of trust was a pagan harlot, a prostitute. Rahab acted in light of who God is.
Rahab's faith is described in the New Testament's "Hall of Faith" in Hebrews 11. Her faith is also mentioned in James 2 as something to which we should aspire, something to be encouraged by. This pagan prostitute had somehow come to understand Yahweh, the God of heaven and earth—Yahweh, who had demonstrated his mighty power on behalf of his people in the defeat of the Amorites on the eastern side of the river. Rahab understood who Yahweh was, and she sought his protection. As Davis says in his commentary, "It isn't just a matter of correct belief but of desperate need. Saving faith is always like this. It never stops with brooding over the nature or activity of God but always runs to take refuge under his wings." Rahab's is a surprising faith in an almighty and merciful God. This pagan prostitute is one of the three women named in the genealogy of Jesus Christ. She became part of God's people.
As we continue in chapter 2, we read that the spies were able to escape through the window of Rahab's house. Before they left they promised Rahab that she and her family would be safe when the Israelites came and attacked Jericho, and then they made their way back to Shittim to tell Joshua everything that had happened to them. In contrast to the first spy attempt in Numbers 13 and 14, we read this in verse 24: "The Lord has surely given the whole land into our hands. All the people are melting in fear before us."
Now, it seems that the Israelites didn't need this reassurance to know that God was with them. He had already said, "I am with you. I will never forsake you." But because the faith of God's people is so often weak, our Father and God in heaven stoops down and helps his people to feel assured of his already sure word. That is how wonderful he is, and that's what we see here when the spies give their report.
What's the main point?
So what's the point of these two chapters of Joshua? The truth that resonates throughout the Book of Joshua, and certainly what we see in these opening chapters, is the faithfulness of God to his promises. The Lord God will do what he says he will do. That's the big picture. Therefore, his people are called to trust him, to be strong and courageous, and to obey him. There is no need to fear and every reason to have great assurance that God will do what he said he will do.
God says to his people as they're about to cross over the Jordan, "Here is your inheritance. Take it and live as my people in the places I've given you. Yes, that will take courage, but don't be afraid, for I will never leave you. You will not be forsaken."
What does this story mean to us?
But what's all of this got to do with me? It's a very different situation for us here today, isn't it? Well, we can look at this from two perspectives. First, in terms of the "So what?" of the passage, God doesn't change. God says to his people, who are now those who are in Christ, "Here is your inheritance"—the inheritance that comes when we are adopted into his family through Jesus Christ, his Son. "Take it and live as my people in the light of your inheritance."
Sometimes it will feel difficult to trust in God. It will feel scary. We must ask ourselves, Is it worth counting the cost to follow Christ? Is it worth putting aside my own needs to serve and live for him? These chapters remind us of who God is—who it is that we serve. The answer to these questions is yes, it is worth it. God wants us to see life from his perspective. The end is guaranteed. Remember Jesus' words on the cross: "It is finished." Knowing the One who promises that he will never forsake his people brings a wonderful and deep-seated confidence in the future, even when the immediate future seems unclear, scary, or disappointing. God doesn't change.
But the situation has changed, hasn't it? For us, the promises of God don't involve literal land and going into battle. The writer of Hebrews writes to Christians who are in need of encouragement to persevere and hold onto the truth. What he says draws a parallel between what Joshua did and what Jesus has accomplished at the Cross: "For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken later about another day. There remains then a Sabbath rest for the people of God" (Hebrews 4:8). The writer of Hebrews is looking at what happened in Joshua, and he wants the people of God in Christ to look at their own inheritance, an inheritance that, as Paul says, "can never perish, spoil, or fade, kept in heaven for us." What we read in Joshua actually points us forward to our day and beyond.
Those of us who are in Christ, who know the grace of God that comes in Christ's mercy, have great assurance in this life and in the life to come. The words that we read in Joshua—"Don't be afraid. I will never leave you. I will never forsake you"—are for us as well. We need to keep hearing those words, don't we? It's like water for a thirsty land. Moses needed to hear those words, Joshua needed to hear them, the Israelites needed to hear them, and we need to hear them. And when we hear God's promise to never forsake us, we understand them in a much bigger way. We know the reality that Christ died on the cross for us. We know that the Holy Spirit indwells our hearts. This promise of God is just as true for us.
And this truth applies to all facets of our lives. Hebrews 13 says, "Keep your lives free from the love of money, and be content with what you have." How can we be content with what we have? Because God has said that he will never leave us nor forsake us. The writer of Hebrews says that we can say with confidence, "The Lord is my helper, I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?" These words are taken right out of Exodus and Deuteronomy and Joshua. Though the immediate context in Hebrews is around money, it can be applied to so many things. There's no need to be afraid; there's every reason to trust, because God has said, "I am enough." He is enough in the loneliness of singlehood. He is enough in the difficulty of marriage. He is enough when the busyness and exhaustion of motherhood starts to wear you down. He is enough when the pressures of the world press in hard. He is enough when concerns about the future overwhelm us. We know the one who says, "I will never leave you nor forsake you." There is no need to be afraid of the future, no matter how unclear it is. That's the message that we get from Joshua 1 and 2.
As we've looked at these opening chapters of Joshua, we're reminded that God is faithful and true to his promises. That's who he is. What should we do in light of this understanding? Trust him. And what does that look like in the day to day knowing that we are not forsaken, that the Lord is faithful? It looks like obedience. It means taking him at his word and doing what his word says. It means persevering in prayer for those we love who don't yet know the faithfulness of God in Jesus Christ. It means being prepared to speak and interact in ways that are contrary to the world's priorities, because we know that this world is not all there is. And just like for Joshua, it means meditating on God's Word that says, "Be strong and courageous. Trust me. Do what I say, and know that you are not forsaken."
Jenny Salt (MDiv, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) serves as the dean of students at Sydney Missionary and Bible College in Sydney, Australia.