July 7, 2019 – Joshua 1.1-9

Joshua 1:1-9 – Be Strong & Courageous

            It is amazing to me how there are certain things from your youth you just can’t forget. When I was in high school, we had a night in youth group that was unlike any other I had ever been a part of, before or since. The youth minister at my church decided to make a really interesting point in a really interesting way. He took a bible – one that was falling apart – and picked it up. He began to talk about how much of the bible we actually read and study. He started at Genesis and discussed how much of it we actually read – creation, Noah’s ark, Abraham. Next thing we knew, he took a portion of Genesis that we don’t normally read and tore it out of the bible and threw it on the ground. We all sat stunned. He continued through the bible, tearing out the parts that we don’t normally read and throwing them on the ground. In the end, he stood in the middle of the circle with a whole bible in one hand and the bible representing what we actually read and study in the other. The difference between the two were staggering and the paper on the floor was bigger than we ever thought it would be. He had made his point, though. And while the deacons at our baptist church had a conversation with him about that particular lesson and whether one ought to tear up a bible to make a point, no matter how good the point is, the lesson stuck with me. We don’t read as much of the bible as we have bible to read.

            Have you ever read the Bible from front to back? When I started seminary, that was exactly what we were asked to do. The very first class that everyone during that time period was required to take at LTS was “Introduction to the Bible.” It was a class that taught us about how to read the Bible with a critical eye and how we were going to look at the Bible throughout our time at LTS. One of the requirements during that semester was to read the bible from Genesis to Revelation. In doing that, I discovered exactly the thing that my youth minister was trying to show us that night in 1990-something – the bible is full of rich and amazing stories and characters that show us so much of who God is and who God calls us to be…we just need to read the stories.

            So today, I want to spend a little time with someone whose name we know, but really nothing else – Joshua. change He gets an entire book in the Hebrew Bible named after him, but most of us in this room only know of Joshua as one of the spies sent by Moses to scout out the land of Canaan and as the one who led the Israelites marching around the walls of Jericho for seven days before the walls came a-tumbling down and the Israelites conquered Jericho. But he is more than that and the book of Joshua is more than the song, “Joshua Fought the Battle of Jericho.”

            Joshua was born in Egypt and may have served in Pharaoh’s army. He served as personal attendant to Moses during the year the Israelites lived at Mt. Sinai.  He was a member of the tribe of Ephraim and before Moses’ death he was commissioned as his successor. He led the Israelite conquest of Canaan after Moses death because God would not allow Moses to step foot in the Promised Land. The book of Joshua functions as both the leadership transition from Moses to Joshua and the functional transition of the Israelites’ wandering in the wilderness to what was considered the “promised land,” a sign of reward and covenant.–Turn this sentence around so that the leadership transition immediately precedes the next paragraph.

            If we break it down, the entirety of the books between Deuteronomy and Kings wrestle with one key thing – who is called to be the leader of the Israelite people. Is it God alone? Is it a human king with all the possible problems that entails? Or is it someone else? In a lot of ways, Joshua answers that question. Joshua himself never answers that question, nor does the overall story found in the book of Joshua offer any clarity.   

            At the end of Deuteronomy, we have the easy transition of leadership of the Israelite people from Moses to Joshua. Joshua had served and learned how to lead under Moses’ leadership, but Joshua ends up being a leader unlike either Moses or the leaders that follow him. Trent Butler, in his article on the theology of Joshua tells us, “Joshua can become the paradigm of leadership, for Joshua holds no permanent, organizational position in an Israelite political hierarchy. He passes no office down to a series of successors.  Rather, change Joshua exemplifies the leader God’s people can trust no matter what the organizational system: one of charismatic leaders like Judges; one with hereditary kings like the southern kingdom of Judah;  one with consistently changing royal dynasties like northern Israel; one with no political power or position like early exilic and post-exilic Israel; or one with an increasingly priestly-dominated society like later post-exilic Israel.  The system or type of government did not matter.  The role of the leader did matter.  Israel could trust God to provide a leader they needed.  They could follow that leader when that leader became a leader not like the unparalleled Moses but like Joshua. In Joshua, change God provided for Israel a rare leadership model, the model of one who gradually earned the title Servant of Yahweh.”

            Joshua’s leadership style depended on his study of the Torah and his prayer life. Joshua, as God’s servant, was completely  and totally accountable to God. But yet, he was also a highly responsible official within the Israelite community and advisor to the king. Joshua was both God’s servant and Moses’ servant and set the example for all of Israel’s later kings and even opened up the messianic hope of the suffering servant written about by the prophet Isaiah.

            Joshua learned how to lead by following Moses, change who talked to God regularly. Moses and God stayed in conversation, which is why it makes sense that the book of Joshua would start with God and Joshua having a conversation. Moses has died and Joshua, even though he is the leader, has yet to act and unsure of how to move forward, so God talks to him. God reminds Joshua of the promises that God made to Moses and to those that Moses lead out of slavery. And God tells Joshua three separate times to be brave and strong, or as other translations put it, to be strong and courageous. But why? Why does God think it is important to tell Joshua to be brave and strong three times?

            As Jim Nogalski tells us, “[God] has already promised land, victory, and presence. Why then does [God] tell Joshua to hold fast and not lose heart? One would expect [God] to say: “Come with me. We have won. Claim your land.” Instead, change the command to be strong and courageous presumes Joshua is going to face trouble, and that Joshua’s response will affect the outcome. [God]’s promise has a contingent element. It is a promise that demands a decision, a promise that expects obedience. Though it is given to Joshua, the promise and the admonition both affect the people as well.”

            God continues to keep God’s promises, even when God’s people do not hold up their end of the bargain. change We see it time and time again throughout the bible – from Adam and Eve on through to Jesus. I won’t recount all of these promises and how humanity continues to miss on our end of the bargain, but I will say this…God shows us time and time again that God’s faithfulness and love for us never changes and never will change.

            Today is the first Sunday in a new stage in the life of Timberlake Christian Church. We have been through several firsts during our almost 51 years, but God’s faithfulness to us never changes. We are missing a strong leader, one who lead us for over 30 of those years, showing us not only have to live and breath in the Spirit of God, but also how to work and worship. And now, God is speaking to us – change be brave and strong, my love for you is still here, my faithfulness to you is still here, and my promises to you are still here…just continue to follow me and live out what you proclaim, to grow and share my love through my son and to reflect my light and love in every act of worship, welcome, and service. But God doesn’t promise us that it will be easy all the time. We, like Joshua and the Israelites, will face times of hardship. We will face times when things seem stagnant. We will face times when we don’t know what the answer is or even what the question was to begin with. And sometimes, no matter how hard we try, we will have moments of anger with each other as we deal with uncertainty. Throughout the story of Israel, we often see individuals who are angry with God (Jewish tradition shows us that they still are very frank about their emotions when talking with God). We also read stories about in-fighting among the Israelites. Ultimately, they remember that they are doing the work of God. Individual opinions matter less than the service to God. Forgiveness matters way more than ego or hurt feelings. In the end, we will continue to be brave and strong, because God has promised to be with us every single day, through every single decision, and through all the good, bad, ugly, and amazing. 

            So, today, I want to call all of us to follow Joshua’s example. Let us continue to read and study the Bible. Let us continue to pray. Let us stay in constant communication with God, listening as much as we talk. Let us continue to serve God with every step we take and every word we say, because God is with us and God reminds us that we are strong and courageous. Amen.