A sermon delivered by Howard Batson, Pastor, First Baptist Church, Amarillo, Tx., on October 17, 2010.
Calvin Coolidge once said, “Nothing in the world can take the place of perseverance. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.” Powerful words from a man who understood the importance of pressing forward, of moving on, of persevering.
When Winston Churchill was a student, the headmaster at his school had told him how hopelessly dumb and trifling he was, and then, years later, when he was prime minister and had written the history of the English-speaking people, they invited him back to address a graduating class. According to Jan Karon’s novel, A Light in the Window, they anticipated one of his brilliant and lengthy speeches, and here is the entire text of what he told them: “Young men,” he said, “nevah, nevah, nevah give up!” And he sat down. (Jan Karon, A Light in the Window, p. 77)
William Lloyd Garrison, editor of the abolitionist paper, The Liberator, once sold his bed and slept on the floor to buy more newsprint to publish his attacks on slavery. His epitaph cites the courage of honest conviction: “I am in earnest…I will not retreat a single step, and I will be heard.”
It is his courage and ability to press on, despite difficulties and fatigue, which we as Christians must capture.
This morning we take a look at one of the best examples, in all of scripture, of an individual who put his trust in the Lord’s ability to see him through his difficulty, to help him with the task at hand.
Let me introduce you to Joshua.
The book of Joshua, in the Hebrew text, begins with the word “And.” This implies that it continues all that God had done in the previous five biblical books, The Pentateuch, The Torah. God moves forward. He is always advancing and pressing on.
Joel Gregory, professor at Truett Seminary, has said, “If we are not personally and congregationally pressing on, we are not moving with God.”
What God told Joshua, He tells you and me. “Get ready.” God presses on.
We come to our text this morning, and the first thing we realize is
I. Moses is dead.
Look at verses 1 and 2
Now it came about after the death of Moses the servant of the Lord that the Lord spoke to Joshua the son of Nun, Moses’ servant, saying, “Moses My servant is dead; now therefore arise, cross this Jordan, you and all this people, to the land which I am giving to the, to the sons of Israel.”
The Israelites, at the beginning of the book of Joshua, are camped near the upper part of the Dead Sea and opposite the river Jordan. They are looking into the Promised Land, which is inhabited by Canaanites, Hittites, Perizzites, Jebusites, and more.
It has been 40 years since the exodus from Egyptian bondage. Moses, Aaron, and Miriam are dead. In fact, the entire generation that set out from Egypt is dead save two men – Joshua and Caleb – the two spies who, with faith in God, gave the minority report to conquer the land 40 years earlier. When everyone else had been too afraid to conquer the land, they had been courageous enough to recommend that the people of God move forward with the plan of God.
And now a second chance to conquer the Promised Land, a land that lay infested with foreigners, was before them.
After all the years, what seemed an endless and useless wandering had drawn to a halt. It was time to enter the Promised Land – promised to the Israelites by God, promised to father Abraham.
And Moses was gone.
Speculation as to the successor of Moses – there could be none, for not only had God designated Joshua, but before he died, Moses had laid his hand upon him, and the people had acknowledged him as their up-and-coming leader.
Yet what a descent it had been from Moses to Joshua! From the man who had been so often face to face with God. In fact, Deuteronomy 34:10 says that after the death of Moses, “no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face.”
Moses, who had commanded the sea to move over and make room for God’s children. Moses, who had brought down the Law of God from the mountain. Moses, who had taken off his shoes earlier because he stood on the holy ground of God. Moses, the judge to whom they had gone in every difficulty, in every circumstance, was dead.
In verse 1, Moses is called the servant of the Lord. It’s a term of highest honor, used in scripture to describe the heavens and earth, angels, prophets, and even the Messiah.
Yet, in the same verse, Joshua is simply called the helper or attendant of Moses – an inferior title, indeed.
And now Joshua must succeed Moses – Moses, who had been the very servant of God. And he must become God’s servant as Moses had been God’s servant. He must aim at this as the one distinction of life. He must seek in every action to know what God would have him do.
Do you comprehend the urgency of the situation? Israel would look no more on that noble face which had caught and kept the brightness of glory of God revealed on Mt. Sinai. Moses had been struck down on the very border of the Promised Land.
Moses is gone, just when we need him most.
Deuteronomy 34:8 says, “So the sons of Israel wept for Moses in the plains of Moab thirty days.” There Deuteronomy concludes with the account of Moses’ death, after which the events in the book of Joshua begin – perhaps directly following the 30-day interval of mourning.
It has been said, “Great men have no successors.” But if we mean by successor one who takes up the work where his predecessor has left it, and develops it according to the Divine ideal, then all men – great and small alike – have successors.
Thank God that even in death, in impossible situations, in insurmountable problems and in unsolvable difficulties, it always comes to pass. God always has His way. Men come and go, but God is constant. The Lord spoke unto Joshua, “Moses My servant is dead. Therefore get ready (or arise).”
The Hebrew verb demands a sense of urgency or immediacy. Joshua, don’t worry yourself with asking whether you are capable of doing these duties, nor vainly look within yourself for the gifts and qualities which marked your predecessor. It is enough God has called, and if He has called, He will equip.
Joshua, go forth.
Perhaps you’ve seen a wise, considerate father removed by death, and an eldest son, a mere shadow of a man, is called to take his father’s place, perhaps in the family business or on the family farm. Or a Sunday School teacher of some theological weight, of wise counsel and holy influence, has been suddenly snatched away. And everyone wonders who will possibly replace him.
God’s work does not depend on any one worker – not even the greatest. God’s work goes forth, uninterrupted by the stroke of death.
Both Moses and Joshua and you and I are only instruments which may be broken and laid aside.
II. No young man.
I suppose that many of you, as I have done, have painted a picture of 120-year-old Moses handing over his office to a young Joshua. Yes, that’s it – let the young take our place. Let them press forward, you may be agreeing with the sermon so far.
But that’s a picture out of focus. For here, Joshua is old, too. Some commentators have put his age as old as 93. However, if Josephus, the Jewish historian, is accurate, Joshua had lived forty years in bondage to Egypt, he had known the hardship and frustration, the cruelty, and the intolerance of the taskmasters. For forty more years he had patiently endured the wandering in the wilderness, inflicted on him by the faithlessness of others. In the course of that journey, he had fought with and defeated the enemies of God’s people – the Amalekites. And after eighty years of faithful service behind him, suddenly God speaks to him and bids him assume the position of leadership in His army.
Joshua died at age 110, so three-fourths of his life was over, yet God said, “Arise. Go forth. Press on.”
III. The problem.
The problem Joshua faced was in God’s command to “cross this Jordan.” Josephus, the first century Jewish historian, writes that Joshua, the commander, was in fear about their passing over Jordan, for the river ran with a strong current and there were no bridges, and boats they had none to get this multitude across the river. The river, according to Joshua 3:15, was overflowing in this season of harvest. So, being a rapid river, crossing it in such circumstances might seem out of the question.
Besides, to cross the river was to throw down the gauntlet to the enemy – a declaration of war and challenge to the enemy to come and do his worst to you. The enemies on the other side of the Jordan were many and mighty to be faced: the king of Jericho, the king of Aphek, the kind of Kedesh, the king of Debir – thirty-one enemies in all.
Joshua knew that even if the Jordan could be crossed, the battles that lay on the other side would not be one-day battles like he had experience with Amalek. Rather, he faced a long succession of battles in which all the resources of power and skill, of craft and cunning, would be brought to bear against Israel. Battles which would even include some retreats from the temporary prevailing enemy.
Arise! Go forth. Keep on keeping on, the Lord commanded Joshua.
And so he commands you today – 3,400 years after he has done so to Joshua.
While I have never walked in your shoes, what is it that keeps you from going forward with God’s work? Is it more difficult than what Joshua faced? Does your Jordan run deeper than his? Your enemy more perilous? I dare say not. Are your responsibilities greater than to transform this hoard of bickering Jews into an army? No.
Look at verses 3-4
Every place on which the sole of your foot treads, I have given it to you, just as I spoke to Moses. From the wilderness and this Lebanon, even as far as the great river, the river Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites, and as far as the Great Sea toward the setting of the sun, will be your territory.
Here Joshua is given the same promise that Moses had received in Deuteronomy 11:24. Almost word for word.
Note, however, that God did not promise that there would be no fight. He split the Jordan River into dry land that they may pass – but on the other side, though He would guide the advance, the enemy must be faced.
As you look at the book of Joshua, even in these first verses we are put into a dilemma. Joshua, a book of battle, strife, and conflict, is a picture of the Christian life.
It is a mistake to understand that being a Christian means a cessation of conflict. For without battles, there are no heroes. Without war, no victors. Without struggle, no conquerors.
Paul exhorted young Timothy to be a good soldier for Jesus Christ and called Jesus the captain of our salvation. The Christian life is a battle, but not our battle alone. The Promised Land is rest in the midst of conflict and war. So is the Christian life peace in the very midst of struggle. To choose to live for Christ is a choice for the hardest possible life.
Joshua 1:5, 6, 9
No man will be able to stand before you all the days of your life. Just as I have been with Moses, I will be with you; I will not fail you or forsake you.
Be strong and courageous, for you shall give this people possession of the land which I swore to their fathers to give them.
Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.
“As I have been with Moses, I will be with you” (v. 5). What a comfort to Joshua. When Moses tried to lead this murmurous, rebellious mob – My people – I was at his side. So I shall be with you.
Joshua had a distinct call. Though he had seen that Canaan was infested by a thousand foes, he was going forth.
A man assured of the call of God is invincible. Certainly he is aware of his deficiencies, the walled cities and the broad river that lies ahead. But he realizes that God’s resources of His presence and His word are never inadequate for his task.
Have you and I any less promise of God’s promise than Joshua, when in Hebrews it is written, “I will never, never fail you, nor forsake you”?
Look at verse 9. What a promise. God said “be strong,” and when He said that it meant that the man to whom He spoke felt weak. God said “be not afraid,” which meant that the man to whom He spoke could feel frightened. God said “neither be dismayed,” which indicates that the man to whom he spoke might be tempted to quit the job altogether.
The world speaks about the survival of the fittest, but God gives power to the faint. And He gives might to those who have no strength. He perfects His strength in weakness. He uses the things that are not to bring to naught the things that are.
It is striking how large a place exhortations to courage hold in the Bible. And these are not merely soothing words or calming solicitude, but, rather, quickening words calling to conflict and to victory.
“Add to your faith, courage,” Peter says.
You cannot easily count the “fear nots” in the Bible.
Fear is the parent to almost all sin. Fear of conflict . Fear of failure. Fear of shame. Fear of being alone. “I was afraid and I went and hid my talent into the earth,” said the wicked servant.
Of the memorials in Westminster Abbey, there is not one that gives a nobler thought than that inscribed on the monument to Lord Lawrence – simply his name with the date of his death and these words, “He feared man so little because he feared God so much.”
Press on. God is with you, and if He be for you, who can be against you?
VI. The source.
Verses 7 and 8
Only be strong and very courageous; be careful to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, so that you may have success wherever you go. This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success.
The source of power and strength for the Christian leader is the indwelling of the word of God. For no Christian leader is more effective in his leadership than when he is alone with God in the word.
Joshua was told that he must obey the whole of God’s law, not turning right nor left. He was told to meditate on the word of God. The Hebrew is best translated “pour over it,” “study over it,” “keep it in mind.”
Jesus, the Son of God, did the same as Jesus, the son of Nun, in abiding in His word. You see, Joshua is the Hebrew equivalent of the Greek name Jesus. In fact, Joshua the son of Nun is called Jesus in Hebrews 4:8. Both names mean “Jehovah is salvation.”
Like Joshua of the Old Testament, Jesus went in this way. He knew His scriptures, the Old Testament. “It is written…,” he would reply.
Jesus son of Nun was but a shadow of Jesus Son of God. Jesus Son of God was Christ in reality. And both, despite special abilities of communicating with God, found that steeping themselves in the word was most important.
Throughout his life, Joshua was obedient and “Joshua, helper of Moses” was, indeed, later called “Joshua, the servant of the Lord.” Of all the factors which gave him such success, the most important was that he heeded God’s admonition about the Book. He read it to the people at Ebal and Gerizim. Joshua’s charge to the people when he was ready to die was simple and final for, you see, he suggested the same formula that had seen him through his difficulties. He said to them (23:6), “Be very firm, then, to keep and do all that is written in the book of the law of Moses, so that you may not turn aside from it to the right hand or to the left.”
There are a million fears in this room. There are a million reasons to be faint-at-heart – to give up, to throw in the towel, to let down and let it go. But God says, “Be strong and courageous, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”