AUSTRALIAN BIBLE CHURCH July 2, 2006

Presbyterian in Background,
Continuing to focus the Biblical Faith beyond all human tradition,
practical trust in the Lord, Christ crucified and the power of His resurrection

 

SERMONS FROM SPEECHES II - JOSHUA'S LAST SPEECH

I THE BACKGROUND

Joshua was undaunted by his task - to bring a recalcitrant people into the promised land; for he had himself been willing to enter from the first, had urged the others to do so, but instead in fear they had shrunk from the cost, withered in faith. Therefore,  the whole nation had waited till that generation died, and waited mind you, in the desert, until the next one, the children grown, were ready. Had not God Himself appeared to Joshua as the COMMANDER of the host, giving to him the assurance; and had not Joshua, first seeing Him armed, been willing to fight Him, before realising it was no enemy but the Lord, their Protector (Joshua 5:13ff.)!

He had seen the power of God in the Exodus, that He can scatter any enemy, and enemies were not to the point for him: it was the Lord who was to the point, the task which needing doing, for they were sent NOT because of their virtue or goodness, but because of the wickedness of the inhabitants of the land. For these,  God had waited some 400 years as their evil grew, before using His prepared plan to bring judgment on them through another people. It was not to force faith, a contradiction in terms; it was not to make second class citizens of them: it was to bring judgment on them, and remove them as by a storm from the earth. It was a special procedure, just as the Flood had been.

In different ways God has instituted judgment, but never without indisputable grounds. In  this case the Call to Moses to the task of delivering his own Hebrew people led to the Exodus and all the miraculous power which made a small people dominate over  their slave drivers and humiliate Egypt, the greatest power on earth in that day! Nor was this Call one to lord it over peoples to whose land they were sent, but rather to SHOW the ways of the Lord in mercy and judgment (Isaiah 43:21, 42:6, 49:6, Psalm 67, cf. Exodus 11:9.12-13,12:48,14:18, 15:11) and so give a light to that world which had escaped extinction in the flood. This time the Call, one to Moses so long after Noah, would lead to more exposure of vast plan and panorama of salvation then to come, as promised in the protevangelion , the first intimation of the Gospel in Genesis 3:15. 

Nor was it a reward for their own righteousness: for said Moses (Deuteronomy 9), they were a stiff-necked people; yet they were sent as an agency to reward by the invasion, the wickedness of those who had for so long asked for judgment, this being the way God chose, as He brought His plan of salvation first to one people, Israel, and then through them to the world.  Now the time had come, and in the book of Joshua you see the new phase of miraculous interventions of the Lord, disciplines and directions, as the promised land was possessed. We turn now to the end of Joshua's life, as he speaks to the people, before he departs (Joshua 24). This is what led up to that event.

 

II THE CHALLENGE Joshua 24

In his terminal speech, swiftly, starting with direct statement from the Lord, and with many applications, as the Lord inspired him, swiftly, Joshua took them over the background from Abraham to Egypt, where they had suffered bondage, to the Exodus with its multiple attestations of divine power and grace, and the entrance to the promised land by divine oversight and provision. He noted the spiritual attack which they had suffered (almost the most dangerous, like radioactive nuclear bombs, with vast power to unleash, small by comparison with this). It was made by Balaam, the false prophet, who though knowing something of God, was willing to be tempted to look for reward while still making reverent type noises (Numbers 24). Had they entered the Promised Land when directed to do so, almost certainly this tragic befouling through Moab would never have happened! Fail God in a positive step, and you may have to suffer a negative one!

Nevertheless, God would not LET Balaam curse them, as Balak King of Moab had desired. In fact, using spiritual weapons to stop the will of God is rather naive, but it can be costly where disobedience enters in, as in so many once sound churches today. So, hired to curse Israel, Balaam ended by blessing them (24:9-10). In fact, one might add, Balaam delivered one of the great prophecies concerning the Messiah, showing how God can use whom and what He will (Numbers 24:17), predicting a Star would arise from Jacob and a Sceptre from Israel. The Lord, Joshua continued, then has taken them over the Jordan River, and "sent a hornet before you which drove out" many peoples (Joshua 24:12), and brought them to a prepared land for their own. FEAR (that is have reverential and realistic trust in) the Lord! he counselled (24:14).
Indeed, if this seems bad, then choose THIS DAY, WHOM you WILL serve, the gods of your fathers (remember the golden calf episode! and what followed), those of the Amorites to whose land you have come, or the Lord. Thus Joshua challenged them to be decisive. For his own part, he added this:   but as for ME and MY HOUSE, WE will serve the LORD. There is an example!

You may notice the way in which the people responded to this challenge. "God forbid that we should forsake the Lord to serve other gods." HE had brought them out of Egypt's enslavement with marvels and wonders of power and protection, and brought them into their now occupied land. It was, you see, an occupation right enough, but the one authorising it was the MAKER OF ALL LAND! There is perhaps a certain lack of personal passion in their answer to Joshua; it tends to sound formal, and the history of the Judges which followed, may reflect this, for it was a pantomime of errors and evils. Yet,  in the immediate future, with the elders of Joshua when Joshua himself passed on, things went much better. Later came the decline. Remember that faith does not merely note facts; it has a fashion of courage and conviction which baulks at nothing! 

 

III THE MANNER OF IT, REASON FOR IT AND THE RESULT OF IT

Joshua proceeded to press his challenge. He was not satisfied with mere mouthings, for he had seen the ways of the people, and their trends to synthesise and combine with the follies of other peoples, wavering and wandering. YOU CANNOT SERVE THE LORD, he announced, because He is a holy God, zealous in zest for purity, like a husband with his wife. The thrust:  If you forsake Him, serve foreign, alien gods, then the light of glory which was protective, could consume you. It would remind them of Mount Sinai and the fire and awe that was there when the word of God came to Moses. If you know God, His power is great; but if you turn away, it is awesome and fearful.

The people replied (a most important historical fact, showing their freedom and commitment as a nation): "No, but we will serve the LORD." SERVING the Lord is part of believing in Him, since He is Lord. "WHY," asked Jesus, "do you call Me Lord, Lord and not do the things I say" (Luke 6:46).

Very well, Joshua indicated, "You are witnesses against yourselves, that you have chosen to serve Him." They agreed: "We are witnesses!" If you marry, you are not forced to do so, and there are results. There are results if you play the fool: it is special, not like just knowing someone. Thus Joshua then brought in this result: He made a COVENANT with the people (24:25), and wrote it. He made a stone of witness.

Similarly, individuals, churches and nations may assert this or that religiously, and wander; and when they even begin to SAY the wrong things, then the impudent arrogance is truly tempestuous. Imagine if the people had told Joshua, NO, we will keep those parts of the covenant we really like, such as those parts which speak of blessings, and ignore the condemned parts!  What would it resemble now ? insistence on driving on any side of the road, or using rockets to space if we please, at will! Later, they were just as provocative as that (Jeremiah 23), and indeed in Numbers 14, had been so!

Bad enough was hypocrisy, but as for rebellion as a sauce, that is a tart one indeed, to make one screw up the face! You must follow on to KNOW the Lord (Hosea 6:1ff.), not hesitating as they did at the promised land, not straying as they did with calves of idolatry, not setting limits to the Lord as they did, when they feared the strength of the opposition they foresaw. God has given us these things as examples (cf. I Corinthians 10), and what sort of student ignores examples!

Let us then be realistic and fear the Lord, rejoice with trembling as Psalm 2 puts it: for in His favour is blessing in the midst of glory, and in folly is remorse, guilt and a clugging of the wheels, making trouble for the spiritual differential! Avoid making God an extra; one's own desires are an extra, to be put confidently to the Lord who will perform the good, and may warn of the evil; for living in spirit is not less definite than in the body. Stress it and you ask for trouble; be patient and loving, and there is no limit to the wonders the Lord is able to perform. Again the message is this: ABIDE in Him, for the Lord is good, and we need the good He does to keep us functioning, just as flowers need water and soil nutrition.

FEED on Him, WAIT on the Lord, DRAW NEAR to God. He is not bunch of flowers for the spiritual table; HE is the house and the room in it. It is YOU who live in Him. Then you find the house is not empty: you are FILLED with the Spirit as you walk in the Spirit. It is hypocrisy which Joshua condemned (Joshua 24:19-20), emptiness, thoughtlessness, formalism, tradition without the commanding passion for truth. It is JESUS who is the better than Joshua, and the work of Joshua was in some ways a geographical example of coming to Christ. The STRESS ? Don't dabble, do it.