|Sermons from Lone Rock Bible Church
August 3, 2003
Preparing to Succeed
The children of Israel didnt just fall lazily into possession of the Promised Land. Such an important task required loose ends be taken care of before going any farther. Joshua demonstrates that timely preparation requires:
In Joshua, were taking an historical look at perhaps the most phenomenal migration of all time. We have the children of Israel in their teeming hoards amassed on the east side of the Jordan River waiting only for Gods green light in order to cross so that they might occupy the land which the Lord had given them.
We defined the kingdom of God as Gods people being in Gods place under Gods rule. Every time I ponder that definition, I like it better. The children of Israel, Gods people, headed toward Gods place and well just have to see about Gods rule. Do you see how it applies to you and me? If we have put all our trust in Jesus only and weve been born again by the Spirit of God, we are Gods people. Because the Holy Spirit lives within us were more than likely in Gods place unless He needs to steer us a bit, prod us a bit perhaps, and move us. But all things considered, well accept that.
But Gods rule? Under Gods rule? To my way of thinking, the challenge of the kingdom for me is that third element Gods rule. We should all be growing in that regard, more and more over time, submitting ourselves to the lordship of the one who designed us, created us, bought us, sustains us.
As the new commander, Joshua prepares the people to enter the Promised Land. Theres much to do and were going to see him start that in these verses.
Without basic preparation, the odds of success diminish accordingly. "Be Prepared" applies to the Boy Scouts, it applies to hunting trips, and I would suggest it also applies to the kingdom of God. Joshua has been charged to lead this people into this land and God has assured him of success. "Only be strong and courageous. The LORD will prosper you and give you good success."
We see Joshua, however, not just casting himself in some lackadaisical fashion upon the providence of God and sort of hoping success comes. We see him making preparation. I think he did the right thing. Successful progress in the kingdom of God can be, in some cases, a big deal. Think about it. If you are a missionary of a foreign land and you have put decades into learning a language, reducing it to writing, and translating it into Scripture, the day when that translation finally reaches publication and is ready to be distributed is a huge day, a successful day in the progress of the kingdom.
But not all success is a big deal like that, at least on a broad scale. Most successes in the kingdom of God, it seems to me, are reducible to individuals and the issues we face in the lives where God has put us and the challenges that confront us and the choices that we make and the growth that either occurs or does not. For instance, reading through the Bible in a years time or half a years time is a desirable goal and accomplishing that is an expression of success in the kingdom.
Or in some cases, perhaps, "I would be a better husband." "I need to be a better wife." "I need to be a better young person." "I need to share the gospel at school or at work." We come under that measure of conviction, perhaps its something as simple and commonplace as, "Its time to lose some weight."
All those things dont just happen. In every one of those possibilities I mentioned, there has to be some sort of plan. If youre a Christian, and youre living in a fallen world, and youre surrounded by people who either do not know the Lord, do not care to know the Lord, or who possibly would oppose the agenda of God, you realize growth in Christ doesnt just happen.
Were in the stream and merely treading water will take us over the dam. Its progress, or its regress. So were looking here in these verses in Joshua. Heres some groundwork for preparation. What do we need? What do we see Joshua doing?
The first is this we see a strategy, simple, but a strategy. Were not talking about a flowchart or PERT diagram or something really fancy and involved, just a very simple strategy on his part. I think about my part. If I want higher ground spiritually, whats my plan? If I think its just going to happen, Im wrong.
What is his plan? Here we have hundreds of thousands of people on the east side of the Jordan River, just north of what we would call today the hills of Moab. They have been on the road for forty years. They have buried many thousands of their number along the way. They have known the constant presence of God throughout that adventure. The Bible points out in several places their clothes didnt wear out and their sandals didnt wear through. God kept them throughout that entire undertaking and now theyre standing on the east side. They know theyve been given the land. Joshua is their new commander. What are they going to do?
Now Joshua is a military man. He thinks in terms of organization and delegation. I have to ponder this just kind of on the side. What were they eating all this time in the wilderness? God supernaturally provided manna on the ground for them. Theyre still on manna rations, but theres a bit of a problem when the text says store away three days worth of manna. Because they were commanded not to that, theres only enough for one day.
Bible students have wrestled with that and there are a couple things that need to be said. One is that the expression, "three days time" means hes giving them three days in order to get their provisions together. Three days to do it. Hes giving them something of a deadline and then once hes done this, then he sends the spies into the land. Obviously Joshua is anticipating it will take those spies a few days to go in, check things out, and get back. It ended up taking a couple days longer than they expected for reasons that well see eventually but hes planning ahead a little bit here.
Remember, manna wasnt the only thing they ate in the wilderness. Thats why they had flocks and herds. Manna was the staple food but they clearly supplemented that with dairy and meat along the way. So theyre supposed to get their stuff together; they have three days to do it, and then the plan is to go across the river.
Now heres Joshuas strategy. First he delegates. Joshua himself doesnt go among people like Jonah went along the streets of Nineveh and do all the shouting out himself. They already had prearranged for people to have responsibilities for lesser numbers and theyre the ones who were to pass through the people and tell them what the plan was. So he delegated, he gave them very clear responsibilities. Go among the people, say these words, have them do these things. He gave them a measurable time frame, even a deadline; three days, and then were going in.
And he gave them a goal, "Were going across and were going to possess the land." Those are kind of mundane, arent they? But he didnt end it there; he ended it with a promise. He underscored his entire plan with the promise, "This is the land which the LORD, your God, gives you." Sometimes as Christians we can get all balled up with programs and plans and strategies and flowcharts and things like that and forget what its all about.
In this case, its all about Gods people getting into Gods land under Gods rule, and he doesnt want them to forget it. We can so easily lose sight of the forest, cant we? As we go from day to day, day to day life.
The Bible, throughout, offers strategies for growth as Christians. How about the individual who struggles with worry and anxiety? Cant ever quite settle in and rest and trust. Do we think were the first generation to have stress, just because we use the word so much? Not at all. Let me refer you to the fourth chapter of Philippians, just by way of example.
In Philippians 4, Paul is loaded with advice. There was stress in the church in Philippi, there were problems. The first few verses of the chapter mention interpersonal problems going on, people had troubles. Paul said this in Philippians 4:6-7:
He goes on, He says if you want peace in your heart, you have to adjust your mind. It means you have to look at yourself and say, "My thought process is in need of modification." Folks, that kind of thing doesnt just happen. Theres no osmosis process that makes change of that nature. If were going to against the grain of the world, the flesh, and the devil, it will require that we make some modifications. Paul says in Philippians 4:8-9:
There it is. You might say, "I dont struggle with anxiety or anything like that." Some might struggle with other things, though, and I love the way the apostle Paul plays the part of the therapist. In Ephesians 4, he talks to people who are Christians, who came out of an earlier way of life in which they had developed some bad lifestyle patterns, as we might say today. They had problems,
Many times when we are raising children or trying to raise other peoples kids, we will take a look at certain behaviors and say, "They need to stop doing that." Has that ever been said inside the walls of your home? Certainly, thats true, but its only half the story. The apostle Paul reflects in the fourth chapter of Ephesians that it is not just you need to quit this, but you need to replace it. Quit the bad stuff and replace it with the good stuff. Notice what he says in Ephesians 4:22
Now we could go theological and talk about the presence of the Holy Spirit within and the new battle between our old nature and now our new nature. Thats all true and thats happening but so far, what Paul has left them with is kind of theoretical. Yes, we know. Were supposed to get away from the old and get on with the new. We know all thats true. But how? Paul tells us, tells them.
In the law of Christ we dont just get out of negative and land on neutral and hope everything goes OK. Move on into the positive. Dont just quit stealing; be productive. And instead of taking things away from people, give things to people who need them.
Heres another we may not be liars and thieves, but heres a good one:
Dont just knock off naughty talk, replace it. Think in terms of, "What can I say that builds rather than cuts or hurts or embarrasses? A novel thought. But you see a simple strategy here. Its pretty evident. Possibly as we jump over into Philippians and Ephesians, we say, "I didnt know that was in there. Ive never read that before." Maybe whats dawning on us is, "I sure could stand to know my Bible better." True enough, couldnt we all? But hows that going to happen? It happens by figuring out a good way to begin learning.
Higher ground doesnt just happen. There needs to be something of a plan or strategy, it doesnt have to be elaborate. Secondly, in verses 12-15, were dealing with some fantastic Old Testament people now. To the Reubenites and to the Gadites and to the half-tribe of Manasseh, Joshua says, "Look here, folks, your people and your stuff stay here; your warriors come with me. Were going to cross the Jordan on the west side, your warriors are going to help all these other tribes settle their property and then you can come home."
Now that didnt pop out of nowhere. I think it will be well to explain a little about Reuben and Gad and the half tribe of Manasseh. It went like this: God started the nation of Israel with Abraham. Abraham has a son whose name is Isaac, Isaac had two sons, but the one who continues the line of Israel is Jacob. Jacob has twelve sons by four different women, two of them wives, two of them the handmaids of wives. He comes away with twelve sons; the descendants of those sons become twelve tribes. After hundreds of years, these are the twelve tribes who were in Egypt, being oppressed. They come out and they still have their tribal identity being traceable to one of those twelve sons.
Theres a little problem with the math because one of the sons was Joseph and we dont see him listed among the twelve tribes. Joseph had two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh. The land of Israel is divided up different ways later on in Joshua, but one tribe doesnt get any property Levites. They have cities that theyre assigned to all over the place.
When it all comes down to this, we have twelve tribes, but they include Manasseh and Ephraim and they exclude Levy, as far as real estate is concerned. My Bible refers to the half tribe of Manasseh. Does that mean half tribe of Manasseh because Manasseh was one of two sons of Joseph so hes kind of one removed, making him a half tribe? Yes. Furthermore, half the half tribe stays east of the Jordan in was is today the country of Jordan. The other half went west. Only half of Manasseh stays east, the other half goes west. So it is both half a tribe geographically and half a tribe genealogically; nevertheless, given real estate acknowledged as one of the tribes.
Heres what happened. When all the people were coming in from the east and traveling the kings highway which runs right through Jordan and on into the Arabian Peninsula, it is a long, ugly piece of road. Theres nothing out there. Theyre beginning to drop down toward the Jordan River; they confronted the kings Og and Sihon and they beat them. They took their real estate in what is today Syria and Jordan, on the east side of the Jordan River in what we would call, just as a generalization, a piece of ground known as the Golan Heights.
As they were passing through, the Reubenites and the Gadites and half of Manasseh tribe said, "We like it here, and we just whipped these people so we should be able to live here." They approached Moses and said, "Why dont we just stay here. We have flocks and herds and this country looks good to us and it will meet our needs, so why dont we just stay here and the other half of Manasseh and the rest of the tribes go across, to the west." (This is all in Numbers 32 and Deuteronomy 7.) Moses said, "OK, but youre not staying here and letting us do all the fighting. We helped you whip those two kings so if youre going to live here, youre going to help us clean up on the other side of the Jordan. Once thats taken care of you can go on home." Thats exactly whats being reflected here. The deal was, "We helped you, now you help us. So Reubenites, Gadites, and half of the Manasseh gets your guys together because were fixing to cross and go to war."
Sacrifice, thats point number two in our making preparation. If I want higher ground (Gods people, Gods place, Gods rule in my life), in the kingdom, what am I willing to pay? If you want higher ground in the kingdom, whats it worth to you?
Verse 14: Joshua said to these two and a half tribes, "Heres the deal. Your wives, your little ones, your cattle, remain in the land which Moses gave you beyond the Jordan." Any time you hear that expression "beyond the Jordan" or Transjordan, it always refers to east of the Jordan, toward the sunrise.
Whats the cost? You want this to happen. Well, its going to cost you in manpower. Your mighty men of valor, the cream of your military crop are crossing the Jordan with the rest. Everyone else can stay behind, but that will leave an element of risk, wont it? What if they come under attack? What is it worth to you?
He asking them, "Do you want this done Gods way, or are we going to have a problem?" Its going to cost them in manpower and security and in separation from their families and from their occupations. Theyre gong to spend some time doing battle rather than farming and doing animal husbandry type things. How much time? At this point, they dont know. Six months? Six years? Or maybe seven. It will take six or seven years before they can clear out the land and go home. They didnt know that, they didnt know how long. They said, "Whatever it takes, thats what we will do. We will sign on, we are willing to make that sacrifice. Well do it, because we want this done Gods way."
What theyre doing, and what I wish Gods people today would do more of, is planning for the long run. Theyre planning for long into the future. Theyre thinking in terms of the needs of their children and their grandchildren and their great-grandchildren. They are not primarily concerned with, "What do I get to do now." This is called delayed gratification in current terms and theyre willing and theyll do it. Theyve already been forty years wandering in the wilderness.
Have you ever been in a place like this? Depending on where you are in life, and perhaps you were raised in a certain setting with a certain background and perhaps were steered toward a certain trade or field or occupation. Maybe you went to college or vo-tech and then you got on the job training or whatever, but you go through life kind of pointing in a certain direction. Thats what they were doing. The whole thing was, "Wait until we get to the Promised Land, God is giving it to us and its going to be wonderful. Remember the size of those grapes?" And then they get there, theyre so close they could throw a rock across the Jordan River, and theyre being asked to wait.
Waiting is hard, but theyre thinking long term their childrens sake, their grandchildrens sake. "Well wait." It was worth it to them. Gods kingdom is a precious commodity. Jesus talked about that. Reading from Matthew 13:44, Jesus told two little parables, but they speak volumes. Jesus said this:
Whats it worth to own that field so you can own the treasure that youve hidden in it? All he had, everything. Dont put all your eggs in one basket? Yes -- in the kingdom you put all your eggs in one basket. That story is followed with:
Whats it worth to you? All that he had, and he bought it. As Christians, we claim to be citizens of heaven, citizens of Gods kingdom, and by His grace we want Him to rule in our hearts. We want Him to rule more and more in our hearts; we want to look more and more like Jesus. We want to please the one who designed and created and bought and sustained and will glorify us. We want to be all He has saved us to be, and yet we have to realize that the advances that we make seem to come in small steps as we grow, but every step costs something. It may simply be a matter of convenience or inconvenience and sometimes simply being inconvenienced will cause us to look for a different pearl, or be satisfied with another field. Sometimes its money; sometimes its time. These Reubenites, Gadites, and half tribe of Manasseh said, "Yes, Joshua, a deals a deal. And because were concerned about the long term, were with you."
They went beyond sacrifice to solidarity, thats the last few verses of the chapter. I define solidarity as joyful unity.
Their attitude is great. They dont know how long theyll be doing this, but theyve signed on and theyre going to do it. This is a concept that probably in our culture, in our society, under our system, is a little more difficult for us. We are more the rugged individualists. Even the Army claims to be an Army of one. Anyone in the military realizes you cant do it that way. Its a team thing; it has to be.
These Reubenites and Gadites and Manassehites understood about the kingdom. The kingdom is designed as a group enterprise and success requires the groups integrity. We are in this together; we are moving forward. The whole nation is threatened if the individuals within foster a spirit of rebellion and they understood that. They have been through the wilderness wanderings, they have seen or heard the stories of the ground opening up and taking down the rebellious followers of Korah. They realize that rebellion hurts the whole and so they say, "Were in it."
They know that is Gods will. Im not saying we should always agree with everything; clearly, the Bible doesnt teach that. But the Bible is saying that when Gods agenda is clear, and Gods people are moving toward it, the correct attitude is one of joyful unity. Theres a sidelight in Deuteronomy 17 that I will touch on briefly, and this is the principle to which they are no doubt referring these Reubenites, Gadites, and half the Manassehites.
Deuteronomy 17 talks about problems with individual people, particularly in the kingdom of God and Gods church. It says if theyre blatantly idolatrous and worshipping the sun and moon and so forth, theyve just got to go. You realize that in this economy, when it says theyve got to go, that means theyre done. Verse 8 says, if any case is too difficult for you to decide, take it to the priests, and, in short, were going to levy spiritual discernment here. You might say were going to have to pray about it. Verse 12:
Thats a deterrent! And these folks are saying, "We know what God has called us to do as a group. Lets go do it. And if anyone has a bad attitude, well have to deal with it." But the bad attitudes are what ruin things. I think about this group of folks and I think, "What about in the church in America?" The Bible describes the church, more than any other analogy, as a body. And Paul goes to great lengths in the church in Corinth where people were all trying to do their own thing. He upbraided them, he corrects them and he brings them to task by reminding them that a body needs all its parts to function interdependently.
In that letter to Corinth, there were times Paul said this person and this person are a problem. Deal with them. Because the integrity of the body is threatened and the agenda, the plan, the goal of Gods people in Gods place under Gods rule is threatened. He said to police your own ranks, deal with it.
Solidarity is not mindless lockstep, conformity, and 100 percent agreement. That would be like Jonestown. Its rather, an attitude. Its an attitude that desires kingdom goals and is willing to yield individual rights to reach them. Thats where success comes in. Rebellion is an attitude that reflects a self-centered agenda and an unwillingness to listen. It torpedoes strategy and sacrifice and threatens the integrity of the body.
Solidarity and I think this was these folks really exemplify for us isnt just refraining from rebellion, its not just gritting our teeth and toughing it out, its a positive attitude. It looks to the kingdom as our highest calling and our Savior as the one who calls us, who is our greatest joy.
Someone with joyful unity not only looks to the kingdom and the Savior, but encourages others to look there too. I like these three tribes; I think they teach us some things. They will teach us more before we go too much further in the book of Joshua.
© Jim Carlson 2003, Lone Rock Bible Church, Stevensville Montana, USA