Welcome back everyone, I hope you are enjoying our big Summer Series called Old School as much as we are! If you have been hanging out with us through this series, you know we are exploring the Old Testament, but we haven’t gotten very far. We have spent five weeks with Moses and the Children of Israel and their journey from Egyptian Slavery through the Wilderness to The Promise Land and hopefully by now you see why we have taken so much time in this particular story. It is because their story really is the story of us. We have seen Moses wrestling with the idea of leading, seeing a man that felt so under-qualified to step into the calling God had for his life. We have seen just how hard his life was even as he walked with and obeyed God. We have watched how poorly the Children of Israel have responded to God time and time again when adversity and fear hit their lives even as they have seen God move in incredible ways. I still find it amazing how difficult it was for them to keep a God focus as they are visibly seeing God move, it’s incredible isn’t it. They doubt, they question, and time and time again they seem to come to the conclusion that it would be better to go back to Egyptian slavery than to be out there with God leading them towards this Promised Land. But to be fair it is a difficult and long journey. It’s an incredible story with so many lessons to apply to lives today, which is why we have spent so much time out here in the Wilderness unpacking this journey with you. Last week Ken finally got us to the doorstep of the Promised Land! We were introduced to Joshua, and Caleb, two faithful leaders who believed in God’s promise and provision…but do you remember what happened when they finally got there? After all this time, all this work, all the effort, all the pain…they get right to the doorstep and send spies into the Promised Land to scout it out for 40 days and what was their conclusion? They realize this land is everything God said it would be, but 10 of the spies say as great as it is, there is just no way that they could ever take this land because of how fortified the cities are and how big and strong the people are…while the other 2 spies, Joshua and Caleb know and believe they should go and fight for the land that God has promised them because they know that God is with them…it was big moment with a devastating result.
Numbers 13:25 After exploring the land for forty days, the men returned 26 to Moses, Aaron, and the whole community of Israel at Kadesh in the wilderness of Paran. They reported to the whole community what they had seen and showed them the fruit they had taken from the land. 27 This was their report to Moses: “We entered the land you sent us to explore, and it is indeed a bountiful country—a land flowing with milk and honey. Here is the kind of fruit it produces. 28 But the people living there are powerful, and their towns are large and fortified. We even saw giants there, the descendants of Anak! 29 The Amalekites live in the Negev, and the Hittites, Jebusites, and Amorites live in the hill country. The Canaanites live along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea and along the Jordan Valley.”30 But Caleb tried to quiet the people as they stood before Moses. “Let’s go at once to take the land,” he said. “We can certainly conquer it!”31 But the other men who had explored the land with him disagreed. “We can’t go up against them! They are stronger than we are!” 32 So they spread this bad report about the land among the Israelites: “The land we traveled through and explored will devour anyone who goes to live there. All the people we saw were huge. 33 We even saw giants there, the descendants of Anak. Next to them we felt like grasshoppers, and that’s what they thought, too!” NLT
So fear overwhelms them and they are devastated by this report. They don’t listen to Joshua and Caleb and the Israelites again want to go back to Egypt. The Lord says, ok fine, you can continue to wander around in the desert for 40 years and only Joshua and Caleb will enter the Promised Land. I loved how Ken framed this last week asking, do you see it? God was leading them, they knew God was with them because of all God had done for them, guiding them, protecting them, providing for them, but they also knew, to walk into the promised land, they would have to face a battle. And that battle seemed impossible to win. So, rather than faithfully engaging this fight they decide not to enter. Fear stole their courage. They refused to follow God and what happened to them? They ended up wandering in the desert for another forty years. One year for every day they spied out the land until that entire generation died out. Yikes, right?
Now today, after five weeks of studying and talking about all this wandering in the Wilderness we are finally going to get to make our way into the Promised Land! So, fast forward 40 years, that entire generation of people who didn’t want to fight is dead in the Wilderness with the exception of Joshua and Caleb. Moses has also passed away. It’s so sad, he was able to see into the Promised Land from a mountain top but he could not enter, and now Joshua is put into the leadership spot and is commissioned by God to lead the children of Israel into the Promised Land. Joshua’s story is incredible and today we will touch on just parts of it, specifically I want to look at how they go into the Promised Land and the contrast of two battles for two cities, Jericho and Ai. But I want to start by asking you a question.
How is your spiritual journey going? How is life going for you? It isn’t all that easy is it? You know, I think life will always have it’s challenges, and will always require more effort than maybe we would like but can I tell you something, while life is hard…we make it so much harder by not allowing God to lead it. It’s so hard at times to let God lead. We have talked about this a lot in this series, right? I mean first God’s timing is just so much slower than we would like. Second life continues to be really difficult even as we are living with God in it. And while we are just talking here, another thing is that nothing seems to look like we think that it should and it’s in these moments that I believe we can start to push, make our own plans, and do our best to live life in our own strength rather than allowing God to lead, it isn’t even all that intentional but it happens, and if we aren’t careful we can get out ahead of God and that can lead to a lot of pain in our lives…I believe in this story of Joshua leading and taking over The Promised Land we find this exact lesson. So let’s pick up this story after 42 years of wandering around the Wilderness now at the doorstep of the Promised land with God passing the same Promise on to Joshua that He made Moses…
Joshua 1:1 After the death of Moses the servant of the Lord, the Lord said to Joshua son of Nun, Moses’ aide: 2 “Moses my servant is dead. Now then, you and all these people, get ready to cross the Jordan River into the land I am about to give to them — to the Israelites. 3 I will give you every place where you set your foot, as I promised Moses. 4 Your territory will extend from the desert to Lebanon, and from the great river, the Euphrates — all the Hittite country — to the Great Sea on the west. 5 No one will be able to stand up against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you. NIV
So there it is, God saying “I’m with you, I am about to fulfill every promise I have made to you, I will never leave you or forsake you. Let’s get ready to finally enter the Promised Land.” This has to be exciting, it’s been 40 years since Joshua and Caleb knew they could take this Land, they have seen the amazing land that God has given to them, and it’s finally time to take it. Then God says something that I wanted to point out. It’s a reminder to Joshua to be strong and courageous and also God warning Joshua to obey God’s laws, and if He does then God will stay with him. He also reminds Joshua who is running this show, making sure He knows that He is leading and to make sure that he follows Him. Check this out…
Joshua 1:6 “Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their forefathers to give them. 7 Be strong and very courageous. 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. 8 Do not let this Book of the Law 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. 9 Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” NIV
So three times we see God tell Joshua to “be strong and courageous” and I think this should help us see something. While they finally were arriving in the land that God promised them, and while God would be with them in all of it…it was still going to be tough! Life was still going to happen! Adversity and battles will still come and effort and work is still going to be needed as they move into the land God promised them. Think about it, if this was going to be easy you wouldn’t need this warning! Now it’s time to finally go in, but there is one more thing God commands of Joshua…and that is to let Him lead and to move at God’s pace not their own…which is another really interesting and important instruction from God here…
Joshua 3:1 Early the next morning Joshua and all the Israelites left Acacia Grove and arrived at the banks of the Jordan River, where they camped before crossing. 2 Three days later the Israelite officers went through the camp, 3 giving these instructions to the people: “When you see the Levitical priests carrying the Ark of the Covenant of the Lord your God, move out from your positions and follow them. 4 Since you have never traveled this way before, they will guide you. Stay about a half mile behind them, keeping a clear distance between you and the Ark. Make sure you don’t come any closer.” NLT
So this is interesting, let the Lord your God move out ahead of you and you follow at the distance that I ask you to and let me guide you. It’s God saying don’t get out ahead of me, let me do this. So while these are exciting times it’s a warning to once again allow God to lead, move at the speed He wants, and to allow Him to take care of things.
So if we put this altogether, we can see a clear message from God. God is saying I’m with you and that He will fulfill all that He promised, but it will not be easy. They must stay strong and courageous and obedient to God. They must patiently and humbly follow Him as He moves at His pace…not pushing out ahead of God. Then God once again reminds them that He is running this show because there is one more thing keeping them from the Promised Land, they must cross the Jordan River, no bridge…no boats, and it’s flood season, and the river is currently at flood stage…
Joshua 3:14 So the people left their camp to cross the Jordan, and the priests who were carrying the Ark of the Covenant went ahead of them. 15 It was the harvest season, and the Jordan was overflowing its banks. But as soon as the feet of the priests who were carrying the Ark touched the water at the river’s edge, 16 the water above that point began backing up a great distance away at a town called Adam, which is near Zarethan. And the water below that point flowed on to the Dead Sea until the riverbed was dry. Then all the people crossed over near the town of Jericho. NLT
Pretty awesome isn’t it? Can I ask you something? Do you stay strong and courageous when you walk through tough times? Can you allow God to lead your life when you really want something, or do you try to make it happen on your own? It isn’t easy to stay faithful at times, it is even harder to stay patient at times especially when life is so challenging and we can feel like God moves at such a slow pace while life seems to be moving at such a fast pace. It’s hard to stay patient and move at His pace when your goals and hopes and dreams are out there in front of you…and you want them so badly, but that is what we see here, God reminding Joshua and the Children of Israel of the promise, and to stay the course, but very importantly to continue to let God handle things, not to get out ahead of God trying to make things happen on their own. This is not an easy thing to do for us today and we are about to see that it wasn’t easy for them either, even with so many amazing reminders of God in their lives.
So God has told them He is passing His promise to Moses onto them. He has told them to be strong and courageous and allow Him to go out in front of them allowing Him to lead at His pace. Now they have crossed the Jordan River, and entered the Promised Land. So it is time to fight and take this land. Those fights they ran from 40 years ago are now in front of them and I would really like to just spend some time talking to you about two very different battles, with very different results for two cities in the Promised Land…Jericho and Ai.
First City – Jericho – So the first big hurdle the Children of Israel encounter in this Promise Land is the city of Jericho. Jericho is a strong city, surrounded by high walls. Basically, there is no way to get past the walls and into the city. Joshua is a military leader and knows that they can’t penetrate this fortified city. They very clearly know that they need God to take this city and what happens next is incredible.
Joshua 6:1 Now the gates of Jericho were tightly shut because the people were afraid of the Israelites. No one was allowed to go out or in. 2 But the Lord said to Joshua, “I have given you Jericho, its king, and all its strong warriors. 3 You and your fighting men should march around the town once a day for six days. 4 Seven priests will walk ahead of the Ark, each carrying a ram’s horn. On the seventh day you are to march around the town seven times, with the priests blowing the horns. 5 When you hear the priests give one long blast on the rams’ horns, have all the people shout as loud as they can. Then the walls of the town will collapse, and the people can charge straight into the town.” NLT
They do exactly as God has commanded, and for 6 days they march around the city walls. Imagine what this looked like. Think about the perspective from inside Jericho! You would literally be laughing at these people, no one can get inside our walls, and walking around the outside just had to look silly. I mean it makes no sense…how does walking around the city do anything? Well on the 7th day they did exactly what God asked, and the walls came crashing down and they took the city that could never be taken. It was very clear that God did this! They listened to God’s instructions and humbley, patiently, and obediently did what He asked them to do and He obviously came through for them as He promised He would if they obeyed Him and let Him lead. This is an amazing victory that sent shockwaves of fear through the land of Canaan because God was clearly on the side of these invaders from Israel. They are riding some serious momentum after this big victory at Jericho…which will lead us to the second battle at the second city. Now they head to the city of Ai.
Second City – Ai – This is a very different story that unfolds here. The Israelites have just won a major victory at Jericho, God is clearly fighting for them, but things do not go well here. First, they don’t realize it yet but someone named Achan has stolen from Jericho, disobeying God’s order to destroy everything as they conquered the land. Remember God told them to purify themselves and wants them to completely wipe out any sign of these people and towns they are to conquer…we warned you the Old Testament is pretty rough. But they don’t know that yet. So at this point they are happy, confident and assuming that if they can take Jericho…they can do anything…and the first outcome of their first assault on Ai is very different, check this out…
Joshua 7:2 Joshua sent some of his men from Jericho to spy out the town of Ai, east of Bethel, near Beth-aven. 3 When they returned, they told Joshua, “There’s no need for all of us to go up there; it won’t take more than two or three thousand men to attack Ai. Since there are so few of them, don’t make all our people struggle to go up there.” 4 So approximately 3,000 warriors were sent, but they were soundly defeated. The men of Ai 5 chased the Israelites from the town gate as far as the quarries, and they killed about thirty-six who were retreating down the slope. The Israelites were paralyzed with fear at this turn of events, and their courage melted away.6 Joshua and the elders of Israel tore their clothing in dismay, threw dust on their heads, and bowed face down to the ground before the Ark of the Lord until evening. 7 Then Joshua cried out, “Oh, Sovereign Lord, why did you bring us across the Jordan River if you are going to let the Amorites kill us? If only we had been content to stay on the other side! 8 Lord, what can I say now that Israel has fled from its enemies? 9 For when the Canaanites and all the other people living in the land hear about it, they will surround us and wipe our name off the face of the earth. And then what will happen to the honor of your great name?” NLT
Wait, this is not supposed to happen is it? I mean God said He was with them so what just happened here? This is a devastating defeat, a total disaster because not only did they lose badly to a much softer city than Jericho but now that fear that the Canaanites had would surely not be anymore. This is a disaster…so why the different outcomes in these two cities. Well look at what happened here. Joshua sends spies out who return and say, this is going to be easy. We don’t need to send the whole army, let’s just send a small amount of warriors and they will take the town, this will be a piece of cake…and they go for it, and are defeated soundly! It’s a devastating loss, humiliating really as the men of Ai chase them out of their city killing soldiers along the way.
So what happened here? Why did one battle go so well and the other turn into such a mess? Well it’s pretty clear and it’s something I wanted you to see. At Jericho it was obvious, they needed God to win that fight…but here at the second battle it doesn’t seem nearly as challenging, and Joshua, and the Children of Israel aren’t seeking God for this one. They made their own plan. They didn’t see the need for God to do anything here. This was to be much easier and I mean God was obviously with them, He said that He was! So they take matters into their own hands, and try to do things their way and they get taught a very painful and humiliating lesson. I don’t think they meant to be disobedient here, but they made their own plan, didn’t seek God in it and had to have assumed that God would just do what God has done for them time and time again. But they just seemed to take matters into their own hands here, they rushed it…which is understandable because they really want to do this, but they didn’t seek God, they didn’t patiently wait on Him, they didn’t move at His pace, they ran ahead at their own pace and they paid for it here.
Now just to let you know after this humbling loss they seek the Lord again and they find sin in their camp and they handle that, then they allow the Lord to lead and they eventually do take this second city…but we continue to see the story of the Children of Israel is the story of us. It’s interesting isn’t it. They were told by God that He would give them everything He promised. They were told to be strong and courageous and to allow God to lead and move at His pace…they have continually been reminded of God’s provision and blessing in their lives. But after one great victory they get excited and run out ahead of God. They saw the need for God at Jericho, I mean that was a big challenge and it was obvious that they needed Him there, but Ai would be easy, why would we need God in the smaller things? They were riding high and really confident after the win and walked pridefully into a crushing defeat because they forgot to allow God to do what only He could do in their lives. Think about it, we do this too.
First when you know God has promised you something, and you see that something out ahead of you it can be difficult to stay patient and wait for God in that moment. It’s easy to want to try and go get it for yourself. Second there are just moments in our lives where it’s obvious that we need God, and other moments that it isn’t so obvious, and we think we can handle things on our own. It’s so easy to trust God in the big things, but then not even worry about involving Him in the smaller things or things we think we can just handle. Make no mistake about it, their story is our story and I think we can take a lot from looking at the difference of these first two battles in the Promised Land…and I want you to take this as a warning for your own life today! We must be strong and courageous because life is hard and throws a lot at us. We must allow God to lead our lives and we must stay patient and move at the pace He wants us to move…it’s not easy, it will take focus and faith for us to stay centered on Him.
I would like to end today with this word from David…I think it’s a word of encouragement but also instruction. As I wrote this talk and kept thinking about these moments with Joshua here, I just kept thinking about Psalm 37. We see Joshua and the Children of Israel moving through these first two cities in these first moments in The Promised Land there is so much for us to learn from here. We can stay the course, and allow God to lead our lives in all things, the big moments where it’s clear we need Him, the small moments where we think we can handle it, and all that life throws at us, but it’s so important to not only allow God into our lives but then to have the strength and faith to allow Him to lead, this will take patience and humility and a lot of focus in this world we live in today. These words from David feel like the perfect instruction for all of us…
Psalm 37:3 Trust in the Lord and do good. Then you will live safely in the land and prosper.4 Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you your heart’s desires. 5 Commit everything you do to the Lord. Trust him, and he will help you. 6 He will make your innocence radiate like the dawn, and the justice of your cause will shine like the noonday sun. 7 Be still in the presence of the Lord, and wait patiently for him to act. Don’t worry about evil people who prosper or fret about their wicked schemes. NLT
There is so much for us to learn from the Children of Israel, and I wish they could have carried David’s words with them as they started to take over the Promised Land! They didn’t have that benefit but we do today. This is the key to it all if you ask me and I want you to personalize this as we close.
Can you trust in the Lord? Do you take delight in the Lord? When you look at your life do you commit everything you do to God no matter how big or how small that thing is? Do you carve out time in space in your life to be still in the presence of the Lord? Can you or do you wait patiently for Him to move? Can you be content with your life or are you constantly looking over your shoulder at what others have or are doing that seems to get them out ahead of you in life?
Listen God loves you and He is with you but you will still need to be strong and courageous. You will still need to focus on Him. You still need to follow Him in humble obedience…which can be tough because things can happen so much slower than we would like and it’s easy to get out ahead of God and try to take matters into our own hands, but it doesn’t work. Trust the Lord. Take delight in Him. Commit everything to Him. Be still in God’s presence and wait on Him and stop looking over your shoulder and allow Him to lead all aspects of your life.