Message: Rest for the Weary, Hope for the Weak | Scripture: Joshua 1:3-18 | Speaker: Pastor Stephen Choy
When it comes to building things, the farthest my ability extends is with pre-fashioned, pre-molded, pre-measured, and pre-packaged products from IKEA. Essentially, I like IKEA because the hardest work has already been done for me. And yet, when I open the packaging, there is still the duty, on my end, to assemble whatever it is I’ve purchased. All the pieces have been provided. All the nuts and bolts are there in plastic bags. And yet, for everything that’s in that box, and for all the holes that have been previously drilled for me and all the pieces that are ready to be put together, it would be impossible for me to do anything without that picture book that they call the instructions. Those instructions ensure that these disassembled pieces will fit together. And as you go along, you might come to a snag of sorts that’s particularly difficult to overcome, but rest assured, if you keep looking at the instructions, if you keep trusting that everything you need is both in that box and in that little book of pictures, eventually you reach that end where you’ve built, with your own hands, that masterpiece. If you’re anything like me, then when you’ve finished putting the final product together, you realize that you’ve not only completed the product, but that you’re pleased with it—there’s this sense of accomplishment and satisfaction—there’s this sense that, now that I’m done, and I’ve followed the instructions, I can be relatively sure in the final product, and I can take a break and enjoy the fruit of my labour.
Today, we’ll be in a text in which Israel is about to embark upon building the literal, geographical framework of their earthly nation. This is it. Since creation, since the promise to Abraham, since their slavery and delivery from Egypt, the time of reckoning has come, and for Israel, they were expecting a storehouse of treasure. But before they embark, before they partake in all that God has prepared for them to have, they have to remember that apart from God—apart from his instructions—it’s still possible for them to mess it up. And both God and Joshua want to make sure that, out of all the bundle of their mistakes in the past, they don’t mess this one up—this is what we read in Joshua 1:3-18.
However, instead of reading the whole passage to you at one time—since it is a longer passage, I’m going to read you each portion of the text as we come to it. So, allow me instead to introduce to you what I believe is the main point of our text, and I think it’s a pretty clear one: Be strong and courageous because God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. And what is it that we need to, “be strong and courageous for,” you ask? My answer is that this text calls Israel and us to be strong and courageous to possess the rest that God has prepared for his people. Rest is coming, but there is work to be done before you obtain it. So, let’s do the work and see how this rest is coming by looking at our first point:
1) The Promise for Rest
Look with me at the first part of our text in Joshua 1:3-5: Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given to you, just as I promised to Moses. From the wilderness and this Lebanon as far as the great river, the river Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites to the Great Sea toward the going down of the sun shall be your territory. No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life. Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you nor forsake you.
Now, I know we covered verse 3 last week, but verses 4 and 5 are primarily explanations of that third verse. It’s that third verse that summarizes God’s promise not only to Israel but to Moses, and now, subsequently, to Joshua. And what the author of Joshua tells us both in verse 3 and in verses 4-5 is that there really is two parts to the promise. The first part has to do with physical, geographical land—this is what the author means when he talks about “every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon.” There is an actual place that God has commissioned to belong to the descendants of Abraham, and it includes all the land from Lebanon to the wilderness (north to south) and from the Euphrates to the Mediterranean Sea (east to west).
Of deep importance is the actual reception of this land by Israel because God promised it to them as an inheritance. Their failure to receive the land wouldn’t be an indictment against them. No, if they do not receive the land, then God is the one condemned because it would prove him to be both as a liar and one deeply malevolent. Just think—all the years of slavery, all the years of wandering in the desert, all the signs and wonders, all the sacrifices, blessings, curses—all of it would have been for nothing if this land was not received.
What I do not want you to miss is that the gift of this land from God to Israel is not a token of affection or reward from the Creator to his worthy or deserving creatures. Their state of slavery, their wilderness wandering, and all the hardships they’ve faced, those things they deserved—those things, we all deserve. No, the giving of the land is about God. It’s about God proving he is who he says he is. It’s about God showing that there are no other forces in the world or in the universe that can thwart his plans. It’s about God being gracious and merciful to those whom he decides to display his grace and mercy. It’s about God doing godly things to prove his undisputed godliness.
This is part of the reason why this book is also so violent. The point of God giving this land is that his greatness might be made known in it. They don’t need the things that other nations need—they don’t need Kings, they don’t need judges, they don’t even need prophets, if they possess God and submit themselves to him. Israel was to rage a relentless war against the Canaanites and Hittites because if the land was to proclaim the greatness of God, and if God was to dwell in it with his holy people, then anything and everything that opposed God and his holiness needed to be removed. Thus, the land and those who dwell in it are of crucial importance for our story not only because they make up our fundamental understanding of Israel and her history but also because they tell us about who our God is. A God who is jealous for his own glory and holiness, and who will not compromise his character to satisfy our human sensitivities. We are the creatures. He is the Creator. His prerogatives shall always prevail.
The second part of the promise has to do with God’s presence. On the one hand, verses 3a and 4 promise land, but verses 3b and 5 promise divine presence—both of these—both land and presence—go hand in hand when it comes to God’s promise to Abraham. The Israelites can desire and pursue all the land they want. They can tread upon the land with their feet, but unless God is the one who gives it to them, and unless he is the one who remains with them to keep it, defend it, and sustain it—the land is useless. And so, right here, we get the sense that there is more in what Israel is about to receive than just land. They’re receiving the deliberate favouritism and election of God. There is a task for them to do, that is to tread upon the land, but they cannot do it unless God wills them to do it. The land will not become theirs unless God actively hands it over to them. And he has given it to them. The words used in verse 3 are that, “I have given [the land] to you.” It’s in the perfect past tense, which means in the mind, experience, and fullness of God, it’s a done deal. It doesn’t matter who’s living in the land now, when God looks at that real estate, the one who holds its title is Israel. Nothing can be more sure than that this land is coming to Israel, why? Because God has ordained it to be so.
More important is that he has not only ordained it to be so, he has also secured it. Verse 5 paints this picture for us that God is literally clearing the way for Israel to obtain the land, and then he says this at the end of the verse, “Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you nor forsake you.” Brothers and sisters, this is the promise. The land is nice, but without God’s active and intimate involvement, it is not assured. The gift is grand, but without God’s active and intimate involvement, it means nothing. The only sufficiency, the only assurance that things will be as they’re supposed to be, and the only way that the promise can be truly realized is if God is present and intimately involved in every moment of its fulfillment. This is what the promise of God is meant to facilitate—it’s to facilitate our union and fellowship with him, and we call this rest. The goal of the promised land isn’t to inherit real estate—the land points us to something greater. It points to rest between creature and Creator. It points to the intention of creation wherein lowly humans possess the presence of the Almighty God. This is, in fact, where Israel goes wrong in its history—they become more focused on the possession of the land than the possession of the God who desires to be with them. So, this is what we have to remember here in these first verses: that the promise is not about the things that God promises, like Israel’s land, but the purpose for which we receive them, namely, to draw us near to our Creator and to know that he is in our midst as we do his will.
2) The Command to Rest
Read Joshua 1:6-9 with me: Be strong and courageous, for you shall cause this people to inherit the land that I swore to their fathers to give to them. Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good 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 good success. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.
Where verses 3-5 outline what the promise is, namely, that of obtaining the presence of God through the inheritance of the Promised Land, verses 6-9 tell us how it is to be secured. God says in verses 3-5, “I have promised it,” and then in verses 6-9, he says, “therefore, this is how it shall come to pass”: be strong and courageous.
The command itself can actually be translated be strong and be strong. However, the first use of this word tends to refer to circumstances involving physical strength, whereas the second use of it tends to refer to situations regarding the mind or the heart or the will in situations of fear and danger. In other words, the call to be strong and courageous is God’s command that you be of one consistent character through and through. I, YHWH, have promised it, therefore you ought to possess every confidence that you can obtain it.
Let’s not miss the circumstances here. The Canaanites are a worthy foe. They’ve lived on this land since before Abraham. There’s a reason why they’re still here. They won’t be easily swept aside or told to leave. But you are to remember that they do not possess the God of Abraham, and they are not those who have received his presence. With him, there is no defence too formidable. There is no attack too piercing. So, when you, Israel, do the work of God, do it as those who know that God is in the work.
And how might Israel know God is in the work? How might we be assured that his presence is with us? Verses 7-9 answer this question. You know God is with you because you obey his Word. I want to draw the connection between obedience and God’s presence very specifically and intentionally right now. We live in an age of hyper spirituality. Everyone wants to feel something. Everyone wants to experience the supernatural. But God is telling Joshua here in these verses that the way you know God is with you isn’t through some séance, it isn’t through the use of a ouija board, it’s not even through speaking through a priest or your pastor. The way you know God is with you is through faithful obedience to his commands.
Essentially what God is telling Joshua is that you do not get to be strong and courageous your way. The Promised Land doesn’t come to you on your terms. Don’t get puffed up in your ability to fulfill the promise. Your strength and your courage must be rooted in the character and prerogatives of God. And you derive these prerogatives from his Word. This, in fact, was Moses’ own downfall. He became strong and courageous in himself. He lost sight that true strength, true courage soaked in the presence and delight of God comes from doing as God tells us to do. Don’t fall into the same trap as Moses did. Don’t depart from the Word and mandate of God. And I want us to hear this TCCBC, because I am pretty sure every person in this room affirms that what we want to do as a church is that which pleases God, but then ask yourself, when it comes to discerning the will of God in your life and in the life of our church, how many of us are doing our daily devotions. How many of us can say that the Book of the Law has not departed from our mouth? How many of us can say that we meditate on it day and night? How many of us can say that we are careful to do according to all that is written in it? Not just that we think we’re doing it, but that we are careful to do it—you are measuring, considering your every action and asking, “do I delight in his law? Or do I just tell myself that I do while I go about living as I want to live?”
The command here, in these verses, is to fulfill the promise of God by possessing the presence of God, so that we might be satisfied—so that we might be rested—in the fellowship of God. But we cannot have that fellowship if our lives are devoid of the Word of God. And notice that it’s not just that you read it—you have to do at least that. It’s not just that you spend time in it. It’s that you meditate on it—you ruminate on its truths constantly. You do not depart from it. There is no vacancy in your head or your heart when it comes to this Book, so that in every circumstance—difficulty at work, child or grandchild out of line, husband or wife unwilling to listen to wise counsel—because you are steeped in the Word of God, you know that God is with you, strengthening you, giving you courage, enabling you to do that which is pleasing to him. A person who is deeply rooted, planted, and rested in the Word of God is the same person who knows what brings pleasure to God, and whose heart is close to God. A right, rested heart for God cannot be devoid of the Word of God. A desire to do God’s bidding cannot be devoid of a desire to do as God commands. It is only when the Word of God, which houses the commands of God, is close to our hearts that we can know, without reservation, that God is close to us. Friend, are you feeling distant from God? If you are, I ask how closely to you draw near to him in his Word? To be at rest with God is to possess the presence of God, and to possess the presence of God is to be strong and courageous in our obedience to God and his Holy Word.
3) The Proclamation of Rest
This is what Joshua 1:10-15 says, “And Joshua commanded the officers of the people, “Pass through the midst of the camp and command the people, ‘Prepare your provisions, for within three days you are to pass over this Jordan to go in to take possession of the land that the Lord your God is giving you to possess.
And to the Reubenites, the Gadites, and the half-tribe of Manasseh, Joshua said, Remember the word that Moses the servant of the Lord commanded you, saying, “The Lord your God is providing you a place of rest and will give you this land.” Your wives, your little ones, and your livestock shall remain in the land that Moses gave you beyond the Jordan, but all the men of valour among you shall pass over armed before your brothers and shall help them, until the Lord gives rest to your brothers as he has to you, and they also take possession of the land that the Lord your God is giving them. Then you shall return to the land of your possession and shall possess it, the land that Moses the servant of the Lord gave you beyond the Jordan toward the sunrise.”
We come now to the part of the passage where the transition from Moses to Joshua really starts to take place. Up until now, Moses has been speaking in Deut 31-34, and then God speaks in the first 9 verses of this book, and now Joshua opens his mouth as Israel’s newly appointed leader for the first time. And what is it that he tells them? He tells them that rest is coming.
I want us to focus our attention and our time in this part of the passage on verses 13-15 because it’s in these verses that we see the significance of what this land is and what it means for Israel. I’ve already said it throughout this sermon, and I’ll say it again: the land that God is preparing to give to Israel is called a place of rest (it’s also referred to as this in Deut 12:9 – the resting place).
Notice quickly with me that in order to obtain this place of rest, Reubenites, Gadites, and half of the tribe of Manasseh must leave their own homes, their own places of rest, in order to help those who have not yet found that same privilege. Let me just, without shame or fanfare, simply point out to you the deep implications of the gospel here. We don’t need deep biblical theology to see it—these people who are content in their land, people who have everything, and are in a favourable position in their relationship to God, they covenant both with God and with Moses back in Numbers 32 that when the time finally came, these people would willingly and obediently leave their homes, go into a foreign place filled with enemies and God-haters, sacrifice their own well-being and comfort, exercise justice upon sinners, risk the threat of losing their own lives all for the sake of sinners elected and loved by God. Brothers and sisters, this is Jesus, is it not? The depth of grace and mercy on display in this brief passage is immense, and it gives us a pattern that would ultimately be satisfied in Christ’s own coming from glory, laying aside his birthright, living as God Incarnate, dying upon a cross for sinners, and restoring God’s people to their hope of glory.
This in itself would be enough, but there is more, and it is pivotal that we see how these verses, particularly verses 13-15, connect to what we’ve unpacked up until now. You see, this concept of finding a place of rest in verses 13 and 15 isn’t the first time we’ve seen a reference to rest appear in Scripture. Perhaps you recall in Genesis 2:1-3 how at the end of his work of creation, on the seventh day, God rested, and that day was called holy because he could be at rest—there was no chaos. There was no sin. It was God and his creatures as they were meant to be. His glory was displayed, and our every desire was satisfied.
Many of you, perhaps, have heard sermons about how on this seventh day, the pattern from all the previous days is broken because there is no evening and there is no morning. There is no indication that the seventh day has ended, and I believe, along with many other theologians, that the author of Genesis does this intentionally because it implies that the process of the seventh day is still underway. There is no end to day seven because of what God knows is coming in Genesis 3 when Adam and Eve meet the serpent, listen to his lies, and fall into sin, essentially breaking the work and subsequent rest that God had single-handedly brought about. In other words, sin is the belief that we can do better than what God has done, and of necessary consequence, any possibility for rest is disrupted because when we try to fix God’s perfect work, the work, itself, becomes imperfect.
Thus, what the remainder of the Bible is about from Genesis 3 until Revelation 22:21 is God’s plan to reestablish and reconstitute his creation in order to bring it back to rest with its Creator. The rest started with Eden as the original sanctuary wherein God intended to dwell with his created man and woman. But man sinned, and God had to cast them out of his presence so that his wrath might not fall upon them. Then, following Israel’s departure from Egypt, God commands Moses and his people to erect the Tabernacle whenever they needed to stop. Tabernacle literally means to dwell or to rest. He intended to dwell with his holy people whenever they were at rest. But the people sinned, and his dwelling place was constantly profaned, and so he had to send them into a desolate place so that his wrath might not fall upon them. Then, God attempted to reestablish a resting place again in the Promised Land, but the people sinned, they failed to take hold of all the land that they were supposed to receive, and so God judged them under human judges so that his wrath might not fall upon them.
Then, God sent them a king, and his name was David, and it was through David’s son, Solomon, whom God used to build the Temple—the place where God would rest in the presence of his people. But his people sinned. The temple was destroyed, and Israel was cast out into exile so that his wrath might not fall upon them. When they returned from exile, a scribe and prophet named Ezra found remnants of the Law, reconstituted the covenant between God and Israel, and sought to rebuild the temple so that God might, once again, rest with his people. But before the temple was finished, Israel forgot, they sinned, and for 400 years, God remained silent—he did nothing so that his wrath might not fall upon them. Then, just when we thought God had forsaken his people and forgotten about his promise to bring them to rest, he sent his own Son to dwell among them and proclaim the coming of his kingdom, and when his people sinned, once again, he sent this same Son to the cross so that the fullness of his wrath might fall upon him instead of them. It is through this Son that we might receive this invitation, “Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”
Brothers and sisters, God’s plan from the beginning was to bring you into his presence and rest, and he has never stopped striving to bring this plan to fruition. He doesn’t stop under Moses when he says in Exodus 33:14, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” And he doesn’t stop with Joshua here in chapter 1:13-15 as they prepare to secure their inheritance. The thing is, even under Joshua, Israel never fully finds that rest. They come desperately close to it. Under David, in 2 Samuel 8, they possess almost all of the land that was promised to them, but there’s always a sliver missing. And this is intentional on God’s part because Israel is never able to perfectly obey the Word and commands of God. If they received their full reward of rest while remaining disobedient, God’s presence with them would only serve to condemn them. Do you see now why this part of the story is so important? The story was never about the land. No, the story is about what the land signifies, that is, the restoration of man’s rest with his God. But as long as it was up to sinful man, such rest was impossible. It is because of Israel’s disobedience that God keeps the door open for the coming of the one who would be perfectly obedient, offer himself up freely and graciously, and usher in a rest that was not only perfectly in accord with God’s character but also infinitely satisfying for God’s people.
Christ Jesus is our perfect and final rest. Hebrews 4:7-11 tells us that Joshua isn’t the one in whom the full promise of Israel’s wandering comes to an end. No, it’s in Christ that God’s eternal presence with us is assured because Christ satisfies the penalty of our rebellion and restores the union between Creator and creature. It is in him that we can draw near in confidence to his throne in order to find grace to help in times of need because he, alone, has brought us rest. And this brings us to our fourth and final point:
4) The Eager Response for Rest
Joshua 1:16-18 says this, “And they answered Joshua, “All that you have commanded us we will do, and wherever you send us we will go. Just as we obeyed Moses in all things, so we will obey you. Only may the Lord your God be with you, as he was with Moses! Whoever rebels against your commandment and disobeys your words, whatever you command him, shall be put to death. Only be strong and courageous.”
Here at the end of our chapter, the confidence of Israel has returned in full because God has revealed his faithfulness to them through Joshua, just as he had through Moses. Joshua leads them. He stands as the means by which they shall finally receive their rest. In Joshua, they can have faith because it is through him that God shall save them. How much more confidence ought we to have, then, as we stand as those who follow the greater Joshua, and who, through him, are brought into the greater rest. And this greater rest is given to us not by our waging the war or by taking on the conquest of foreign lands. No, we’re brought into this greater rest by our Messiah’s personal mission to come into the foreign land, to live a life far superior than any life that we could have lived, to die a death that we deserved to die, and to rise again showing us that we can trust him to lead us into that unimaginable kingdom—there he shall be our invincible king, we shall be his infinitely grateful people, and we will dwell together in the light of his radiant glory. It is in this Joshua that we can respond with deep, unfettered confidence. This Joshua will not fail because God is not only with him, he, himself, is our God come to save us from sin and, more importantly, to dwell with us. It is in this Joshua whom we can and will obey without fear of repercussion from our enemies. Christian, whatever circumstance you are facing today, whatever hopelessness you feel in your heart, whatever sorrow is overwhelming you and lying to you that God has forsaken you, hear these words as Joshua once heard them: Be strong and courageous. Do not. Be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Joshua, and David—the Lord your God is with you wherever you go. Take heart and enter into his rest.