Being strong in faithfulness is far more important than being strong in physique. And being courageous in spiritual battles (by following the LORD instead of following other “gods”) is far more important than being strong in physical battles.
Joshua had such strength and courage. He remained faithful his entire life
Joshua showed the strength of his faithfulness when he led Israel into the Promised Land. To enter the Promised Land after Moses died, the Israelites were going to have to cross the Jordan River. But at that time of year, the Jordan River was at flood stage (Joshua 3:15). There were no bridges across it. It seemed impossible—even foolhardy—to try to enter the Promised Land.
The LORD promised Joshua that he would exalt him in the eyes of Israel as he had exalted Moses (Joshua 3:7). The LORD exalted Moses by drying up the Red Sea so that the Israelites could cross it on dry ground (Exodus 14:21-22, 29-31). To exalt Joshua, the LORD dried up the Jordan River so that the Israelites could cross it on dry ground (Joshua 3:15-17; 4:14).
Joshua’s faithfulness was equally apparent at the battle of Jericho. Joshua remained faithful for seven days while he pursued the seemingly foolish tactic of marching around the city. His faithfulness was rewarded on the seventh day when the walls of Jericho came tumbling down (Joshua 6:1-20).
Most impressive of all, Joshua remained faithful his entire life.
It is one thing to be faithful on the “day” when you cross the “Jordan.” It is one thing to be faithful for “seven days” while you besiege a “city.”
It is an entirely different thing to be faithful year after year and decade after decade. It is the difference between having the strength to sprint 100 meters compared to having the strength to endure a 26-mile marathon.
Moses failed this test of his endurance when he angrily disobeyed the LORD’s command by striking a rock to get water for the Israelites (Numbers 20:1-12). David failed this test of his endurance when he raped Bathsheba and murdered her husband to cover up his rape (2 Samuel 11).
In striking contrast, Joshua remained faithful his entire life. He was strong enough to keep running his lifelong marathon of faithfulness even when his courage was tested by Israelites who served other “gods” than the LORD.
One such “god” was money. During the plunder of Jericho, some of the city’s wealth was secretly hoarded by a man named Achan—contrary to the LORD’s strict command. The LORD’s displeasure was revealed by the defeat of Israel in a battle to capture a small city named Ai. Joshua did not hesitate to execute the greedy person. To Joshua, conquering the Promised Land was far more important than getting rich (Joshua 7).
Some gods were from Israel’s past—the gods of Mesopotamia and Egypt. Abraham and his ancestors had lived in Mesopotamia for generations. The Israelites had lived in Egypt for generations. (Joshua 24:14).
Other gods were from Israel’s present—the gods of the Canaanites themselves, tainting the very Promised Land itself! (Joshua 23:7).
It is not easy to defeat any temptation permanently. This includes temptations to stray from the best path for our life—the Way of Jesus—by following the ways of the “gods” of money, our past, or our present. All too easily, we stray from the Way of Jesus due to our love of money, our memories of past failings, or our pursuit of distractions.
We may banish such Darkness from our lives for awhile, only to have the Darkness return to blight our lives later.
It’s like dieting. It’s easy to pass up candy bars for a few hours, but it’s hard (at least for me!) to go an entire day without some kind of chocolate. And it’s impossible for me to go day after day without eating chocolate!
Such a moment of renewed temptation—renewed testing—came towards the end of Joshua’s long life. The victorious Israelites were living at peace in the Promised Land (Joshua 23:1). But this time of rest from physical enemies did not mean the end of the war against spiritual enemies.
Joshua realized that the Israelites were straying from the true Way that they should follow the LORD. The strength and courage that sustained them throughout the long, hard struggle to conquer the Promised Land melted away as they rested in peace, basking in the memories of their past struggles.
Success in such struggles come from the strength and courage that come to us when we have faith that the LORD will be with us wherever we go (Joshua 1:9).
Therefore, in Joshua’s final exhortations to the Israelites, he did not teach God’s people that military strength was the key to their success. He did not teach God’s people that economic strength was the key to their success. Instead, Joshua reminded them that the strength they need comes from the Word of the LORD and from loving the LORD.
Joshua said, “Be very strong; be careful to obey all that is written in the Law of Moses, without turning aside to the right or to the left. . . . . [B]e very careful to love the LORD your God” (Joshua 23:6, 11).
Furthermore, in his final exhortations to the Israelites, Joshua was courageous enough to follow the LORD even if no one else did. Although he urged the rest of the Israelites to “fear the LORD and serve him with all faithfulness,” (Joshua 24:14) he promised that, regardless of their decision, “as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD” (Joshua 24:15).
Three thousand years later, there is no better test of strength than to spend your entire life looking to the Word of God so that you will hold fast to the LORD by serving him with all faithfulness—by being very careful to love the LORD your God.
And three thousand years later, there is no better test of courage than to spend your entire life determined that regardless of what others may do, you will serve the LORD.
This blog is based on pages 129-130 and 135-136 of my book, The Promised Land.
Few questions are more troublesome to me than how we cheer the killing of God’s enemies in some parts of the Bible, yet we claim to be following the Way of Jesus who commands us: “[D]o not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.” and “[L]ove your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5:39,44). Some of my thoughts on this quandary can be found on pages 17-18, 21-24 and 132-135 of my book, The Promised Land and in my blog “Judas Betrays Jesus: The Love of Money” posted 10-__-18 in the category “Villains of the Bible.”