Message: The Way of God | Scripture: Joshua 5:13-15 | Speaker: Pastor Stephen Choy
Worship Songs: He is Exalted; How Great Thou Art; My Heart is Filled with Thankfulness; When I Survey the Wondrous Cross.
God is passionate in both a primary and secondary way. He is passionate, first and foremost, about his glory. No matter what part of the Bible you are ready, God will always seek to do things his way, on his terms, in his time, for his own exaltation. We this in Joshua 5:13-15 and the way that he sends his divine messenger to confront Joshua not as an advocate as either for Israel or for their enemies, but to proclaim, simply, his divine presence and our need to come before him in reverent worship. Nevertheless, God’s primary passion for his glory is not unaligned with his secondary passion for our joy. He desires us to be joyful, but he does not desire that it be rooted in something other than that which can provide us the greatest possible joy, namely, himself. Thus, he calls us to himself to see the wisdom of his ways over and above our own, and before he shows us all he can do for us, he wants us to see all that he already is for us. He wants us to be satisfied in him. Only when our eyes are oriented to making much of him and his glory can we find the fullest expression of our own happiness.
- Was Joshua’s initial question the wrong question to ask? Why/why not?
- Honestly, what is our initial posture whenever we go to God? Is our first inclination to ask for the things we want or to acknowledge who he is, what he’s already done for you, and what your posture is before him?
- What do we know from the text in verse 13 about this situation with Joshua and the warrior standing before him? Are there other instances in the Bible (particularly in the OT) where there’s been an angel/divine messenger standing before humans? What do those instances tell us about this situation?
- What ought to be your posture before God when you go before him? Is this often your posture? Why/why not? Who are some people in the Bible that we can take our cue from (in terms of posture)? Can you give biblical references?
- How have you let western culture affect the way you view/think about Christianity?
- In becoming Christian, what have you willingly and joyfully sacrificed in your life for the sake of knowing him as he is and as the one who alone satisfies?
- Is Christianity everything you thought and wanted it to be? What has surprised you? What remains a great challenge to you? If it has not “measured up” to your expectations, why do you think that is?
- How do we come before God (i.e. do we come to him by our own power)? How does God come before us? Is it how we normally expect?
- Why is it important to remember that God is both sovereign in authority and control AND intimate in his covenant presence with his people?
- How does our text today communicate the basic outline of the gospel? How does God’s way become our way?
- What ought to be the effect upon our lives when God enters into it? Where do we see this effect in our text?
- Take some time to pray for one another as we humble ourselves before a God who leads us into everlasting life by his good, perfect way.
I’m not sure if I’ve used this illustration before, but I might have spoken about how bad I am at jigsaw puzzles compared to my wife. Candace can sit, see the big picture, and finish a jigsaw at what seems to me an inhuman pace. She’ll take pieces that I think have nothing to do together and figure out exactly where on the board they fit. I, on the other, will sit there. Try and match pieces, and over time, I’ll get frustrated, and start to shove pieces together that I say ought to fit together—and by the time I’m done with them, they do fit together to the chagrin of Candace.
The first moral of this story is “don’t mess with your wife’s jigsaw puzzle.” The second moral of this story is that while forcing pieces of a puzzle together may be a quick fix to being frustrated that things are not going your way, it does nothing for its final image. Pieces must be fit together properly in order to achieve that desired picture as seen on the cover of the box. We don’t get to set our own prerogatives for how a puzzle and its pieces work. The puzzle pieces are cut in a certain way to give us its picture and not our own. It’s shapes, its cut-outs, they dictate how and where we place the pieces.
And what we receive here in our text is the last piece of a puzzle that needs to be fit together before Israel can start its occupation over the land of Canaan—before God would allow them to move into the object of their promise. Up to this point, we’ve had the first piece of the puzzle: circumcision, the second piece: Passover, and, today, we get the final piece: relational unity. Circumcision isn’t enough. Passover isn’t enough. We need relationship, but not just any relationship but right relationship with God—a relationship centered on the directives of God. God doesn’t compromise in what he wants for us, and we shouldn’t compromise either because his prerogatives aren’t only what he desires, but they are for our infinite benefit and joy. So, in our time together, let’s consider this last step of preparation before Israel’s occupation in Joshua 5:13-15. Would you follow along with me? TWoL.
When Joshua was by Jericho, he lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, a man was standing before him with his drawn sword in his hand. And Joshua went to him and said to him, “Are you for us, or for our adversaries?” And he said, “No; but I am the commander of the army of the Lord. Now, I have come.” And Joshua fell on his face to the earth and worshipped and said to him, “What does my lord say to his servant?” And the commander of the Lord’s army said to Joshua, “Take off your sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy.” And Joshua did so.
The final piece to putting our jigsaw puzzle together in Joshua 5 is best understood in the following way: The purpose of God’s plan is not your victory but his glory and your joyful willingness to follow him. God isn’t about advancing our vanity or our personal ideas of what should and should not be. No, God is intent to do things his way whether or not we’re on board with him. So, let’s consider what his way actually is now in verse 13 and our first point:
1) Man’s Distorted Way
Let’s take a moment to think about where we are in this story. Joshua is the new leader of Israel after the death of Moses. He is someone who, up until this point, has been faithful to God in doing all that God’s commanded him to do. In fact, all of Israel has been faithful up until this point in all that God’s commanded them to do. Joshua, despite seeming a little shaky at the start of our book as someone living under the looming shadow of his predecessor, shows himself to be a strong, courageous, and capable leader through these first few, yet theologically and historically significant events.
Additionally, Joshua, the author tells us, has been exalted by God in the sight of all Israel as its leader. They are in awe of him as they were in awe of Moses. They are confident in him as they were confident in Moses. Through Joshua’s leadership, Israel hasn’t just survived their entrance into the Promised Land—they’ve thrived. They crossed the impossible-to-cross river in a miraculous way. They’re literally eating off the fruit of the land for the first time in 500 years. They’re still alive despite being in enemy territory, getting circumcised on the 10th day, and taking their time to observe the lengthy cultish practice of Passover on the 14th day.
In other words, Joshua is the man of the hour. There is no one to compare with him. He stands apart and alone as the head of this nation. He is the favoured one of God. He is the exalted one in the Lord’s kingdom. And so, it does not surprise us that this same Joshua is likely brimming with what we might call a legitimate confidence. God’s got his back. God’s brought him into this land. God’s made him the elect leader over his elect people.
Thus, when we get to verse 13, and a man appears with his sword drawn standing in front of Joshua as he’s peering into Jericho, probably savouring the fact that in a few days’ time, this city will belong to Israel, it is clear that Joshua is not afraid. In fact, one might say that Joshua is pretty audacious and overconfident as he approaches this warrior.
One quick note about our situation in verse 13. When the phrase “he lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold . . .” is used in the Bible, it’s almost always referring to an approaching divine encounter where God intends to disclose something specific to those looking and beholding. However, in this case, the disclosure comes with a sort of ominous feeling because what Joshua beholds is “a man [standing] before him with his drawn sword in his hand.” This is ominous because while God is desiring to reveal something to Joshua, the two other times in the Old Testament when we see a divine figure standing before others with a sword in his hand—it’s usually not a good sign. The first instance I can think of is in a future event with David, when he’s taking a census of the people of Israel, and David sees an angel in his dream standing before him with a sword in his hand and the promise that Israel would be judged for David’s misdeeds.
The other instance that I can think of where something like this takes place is in Israel’s past—although not to Israel, but to Balaam and his donkey. Remember there in Num 22, Balaam is on his way to see the Moabite King, Balak, and while on his journey, Balaam’s donkey sees the angel of God with a drawn sword in his hand, while Balaam remains unseeing. Then, because Balaam is frustrated and beating his donkey who refuses to move past this angelic warrior, God opens the mouth of the donkey, and Balaam and the donkey have a whole conversation before God opens the eyes of the pagan prophet to behold his angel standing there with his sword drawn before them. And the lesson that we learn in that story is supposed to leave a resonating effect on its readers, namely, that God and his commands are not to be trifled with. You either obey him and trust him to be your God or suffer the wrath of his sword. This is what David learned by flexing his greed and conducting an unnecessary census. This is what Balaam learned in the warning that he received that he must not speak a word contrary to those given to him by God.
So, we, as the readers of this story in Joshua 5, know, right from the start of our passage that this man standing before Joshua with his sword drawn is not only a messenger from God, but he is one who represents deep, divine warning that no one person is bigger or more important than God himself or his prerogatives. This is why I say that Joshua’s approach to the warrior is kind of audacious and overconfident because it’s clear that his mind is not thinking about who this person could be standing before him. No, his mind is on the war. His mind is on the impending victory and the tactical route that Israel will take to achieve their victory. Now is the time that finally belongs to Israel, and no one will stand in his or their way of achieving all that belongs to them—not even this well-armed, sword bearing man who appears out of nowhere.
And before we fault Joshua as someone who’s made a mistake that we would never make, let’s keep in mind all that’s taken place here. His thinking is not unwarranted. He was one of two men who made it out of the wilderness and into the promised land. He, more than anyone else in all of Israel, other than Caleb, has been waiting for this moment and striving after it zealously. He can taste and feel the plans of God bearing fruit. So, let’s not fault him when this man shows up with a sword in his hand, and Joshua first question to him is to inquire if he a friend or foe?
I mean the text tells us that Joshua goes up to him and can see him, and so it’s likely that he can make out the fact that this man is not an Israelite. Maybe he’s part of Rahab’s cohort? Maybe he’s part of the remnant of gentiles that God is setting aside to join the people of God? Whatever it is that Joshua was thinking, he observed that this man was a warrior, dressed for battle on the eve of Israel’s holy war, and so, for us, it seems natural to ask, if he’s dressed to fight, then who does he fight for? And Joshua can only think of two options: he can only fight for us, and acclimate himself to our plans, or for their enemy, in which, it’s possible that Joshua is thinking that the war is about to start this very moment. He may be thinking, this man is not an Israelite, and I may have to strike him down right here and now.
The problem, of course, is that Joshua only considers two options. There is his and Israel’s way or there is the enemies way, and I hope you see how this applies to us and challenges us directly. We know what’s about to take place, and we’re meant to ask in this moment how often we live our lives like Joshua. As those who have received circumcision of heart. As those who have benefited from the atonement of the Passover Lamb. In our hubris and confidence as Christians that God is for us (with an emphasis on him being for us), do we live as those who expect God to come alongside our plans and our aspirations and our dreams? Is God a puppet on a string for us to command and demand according to our whims?
We need to ask this question honestly because when we do, many of us would have to quickly admit that we live our way at least 99% of the time. We go on the vacations that we want. We eat the way we want. We dress the way we want. We participate in the things of our church when we want. We evangelize or don’t evangelize when we want. We even come to church whenever we want—if we come at all. Christianity in the west is very much attuned to doing things the way we want, when we want it, and how we want it, and while I believe God still elects and preserves us despite our very obvious selfishness, I think there’s a clear warning here that all of us, myself included, have to heed with all seriousness.
Now, my intention, this morning, is not to scold. My intention is always to encourage you and to point you back to the cross where our sins and our selfishness have been forgiven once-and-for-all, but sometimes, to get to that encouragement, we need to root out the underlying filth of self-worth and self-reliance that cannot be ignored on the way to holiness. TCCBC, we have to deal with this insidious desire to be Christians in the way that we see fit, and that starts with an increasing release of our own prerogatives and our own traditions that do not align with the prerogatives and traditions set out for us in the Word of God.
What does this look like? Well, we might take our cue from the apostle Paul, who in the year 55 AD wrote to the church of Corinth saying, “I am the least of all the apostles.” Then, in 60 AD, he wrote to the church of Ephesus saying, “I am the least of all the saints.” Then, finally, right on the cusp of death in 62 AD, as he’s writing to Timothy from his jail cell in Philippi, reflecting on his life and all that he has accomplished for the glory of God, you might think he says, “I am the greatest of all the saints and all of the apostles,” but no, instead he writes, “I am the least of all sinners.”
Brothers and sisters, this ought to sober us because the purpose of God’s plan for the life of his people is not their victory but his glory and our joyful willingness to follow him, even if it costs us everything. In fact, if you have not had to sacrifice anything in this life other than your Sunday mornings and a couple of dollars every so often, then you might rightly ask whether or not your Christianity is what you claim it to be because God doesn’t just want your Sundays or your money. He wants your life. He doesn’t want you to think that he’s come alongside your plans, he wants you to drop your plans, pick up your cross, and follow him to Jerusalem where he will show you the greatest sorrow but also his greatest glory. And what he promises you there isn’t necessarily the life or the freedom that you expected. No, it’ll be far greater than that, but if you aren’t willing to lay aside your pride and your personal hopes and dreams, then when he shows you that glory nailed to a cross of wood, all you’ll see is your greatest hell.
God comes into our lives to disorient and to disrupt our patterns and plans not because they aren’t good plans, but because they aren’t his plans. And our greatest good—our greatest joy—will only be realized when we submit to his plans as he has planned them. God is out for his glory, not your victory, and we would do well to evaluate whether or not our lives accord with his prerogatives or face the judgment and wrath that awaits us under the weight of his warriors’ divine sword.
2) God’s Way Presented
It’s here in verse 14 that we are presented with the dilemma of Joshua’s question—like I said, he presents only two options. He presents the option for this man to either come alongside Israel or to stand against them, but this man of God is quick to correct him. He comes for neither Israel nor for their enemies, rather he seeks a third way. He comes to honour God’s way and not man’s.
In other words, what this man with the drawn sword is saying to Joshua is that God is not for anyone but God. He is not for Israel. He is not for their enemies. He is for what he has planned for those whom he desires to save in the way that he plans to save them. And this, TCCBC, is what we have to get right: the prerogatives of God are irrefutable and unquestionable. His sovereignty is absolute. It controls all things perfectly at all times. Yet, the part we have to get right isn’t just his absolute, control-perfect sovereignty—for that would make him a cold, impersonal, and, possibly, vindictive God. No, he is not cold. He is not impersonal. And although he is precise and meticulous, he is not vindictive. He is the God who comes to offer himself to us at the perfect time that we need him, and as those who, yes, must submit to him when he comes, but who do not do so blindly, ignorantly, or absent-mindedly.
We don’t just stumble upon becoming obedient to the ways of God in our selfishness and self-concern. No, God wins us to himself by showing us the beauty and presence of himself. See, this is the part where I can now—having dealt with the human problem of sin and making ourselves the ultimate cause of our own fates, as Joshua did in his question to the divine messenger—I can now encourage you. Because God does not just come and tell us to come alongside him in his plans like a dictator or a ruthless tyrant who has zero interest in you.
No, our God says, “Now I have come.” In the hour of our greatest need—in the moment where we sit on the brink of uncertain victory and annihilation—he comes to those who are his not necessarily to assure them of the victory that they expect, but to assure them that he is their God. And he is able to come as their Sovereign Ruler over all—authoritative and in control over all—AND yet also as their intimate Friend, Father, Brother, Counsellor, and Saviour. He comes, says Jonathan Edwards, as both the lion and the lamb, as transcendent yet condescended, as glorious yet shown to be more glorious in his humility, as just yet tempered by mercy, as majestic yet more majestic in his meekness. In other words, he comes as one who intends to give his most resolute command, while also, at the same time, offering to us his most gracious gift. It is the offer of himself. It is the offer to know him in his love for us.
God draws near to us—God draws near to Joshua here in our text—not in a cold, impersonal way, but in a way that seeks to bring us and him into the greatest personality. In a way that is the greatest of all possible ways—he does it by himself. Notice the words of the divine messenger. He has not come to enlist Joshua. He has not come to join Joshua. He comes bearing arms himself, and he gives his credentials. He is the commander of the army, which is a word that can also be translated as host—the commander of the host of the Lord. All who are at the Lord’s disposal in heaven and earth, God has sent the very man who can lead them into battle. Here we get a foretaste of what the conquest of Canaan will entail. It is not man’s battle. It is not Israel’s battle. It is not even Joshua’s battle. It is God’s battle, and God, alone, shall determine its outcome. His way is and will be assured.
The only obligation that Joshua has as a result of this messenger’s coming isn’t to dictate what he should do, but to realize that he’s completely out of his depth and to humble himself as one who, opposite to what he initially thought, has no authority or control over this situation. In other words, all he has to do—in fact, all he can do—is to lay himself down and respond in obedient, reverent worship. And this is precisely what he does.
If it is not already explicit in your minds, then allow me to make it explicit to your ears: we see the gospel in this, right? God had a plan. Man rebelled and usurped that plan by putting himself in charge. God, then, sent his own divine messenger, the greatest messenger in his Son, the Second Person of the Divine Godhead, to provide his rebellious, usurping creatures with salvation, but he did not do it the way they expected him to do it. No, instead of defeating all the enemies and armies of the world who opposed him, he laid down his own, perfect life by dying upon a cross bearing in himself the penalty of our sin and the wrath that we deserved. And he does all of this so that we might respond in worship—as those who fall prostrate on our hands and knees in humble admission that we are sinful, that he is Lord, and that God raised him up from the dead so that all who confess his Lordship and believe in their hearts that God did this miraculous work shall be saved.
How is this possible? Because in our confession of sin and in our belief in Christ’s death and resurrection, God effects a great exchange—not only does he receive our sin in his death, but we receive his righteousness in our life. Not only does he receive our punishment in our stead, but we receive his inheritance as the Christ-identifying children of God.
And it is now, when we consider the blood that our exalted Lord Jesus poured out upon that tree for us, that we can be encouraged and say, as Joshua said, “what does my Lord say to his servant—what does my God command of me? And we do not need to flinch when we say something like this, even though we do not get to give the answer, because God has done for us what we could not do for ourselves. He has won the war before it even began. He secures the victory not by pandering to our way and our thinking—he does not ask us what we want of him. No, he secures it by his own holy, glorious, unexpected, and perfect way, and there is only one proper way for us to respond: what do you want me to do since I know you have already taken care of me? What do you desire of my life as the one who has given it freely to me?
Does any of this sound cold or impersonal to you? Does it seem like God does not have all of the best intentions in mind for you? Is it not clear that he, himself, has poured out his love upon you in infinite supply in order to save you? Indeed, he has. This is why this part of the story is so integral to all that has come to pass thus far. God commanded his people to be circumcised. God required that they observe the Passover. And God confronts Joshua, the individual leader of Israel, now, in his hubris, so that all the people—from the corporate nation to the one, exalted man—from those who were once farthest from him even to the closest, most notable of saints—all of these things take place so that they might remember to whom they belong and to whom they must submit.
The people of God—all of them—cannot go into the Promised Land unless they are all right with God—all of them, and God—through these acts of circumcision, Passover, and the sending of his divine messenger—shows us that he, himself, makes us right by his own sovereign power and in his own infinite love. He, himself, delivers, and all we’re to do is respond in faithfulness.
Yes, we strive in this life—we work hard to do what is good and right in God’s eyes, but all of our striving is not meant to serve ourselves—all of it is motivated by a ceaseless desire to behold him more clearly as the one who has drawn near to us first—as the one who has wooed us—as the one who persuades us—as the one who loves us. There is no love like the love of our God, and there is no plan more secure than the plan of God who has set his mind to win back those upon whom his affections are set. And this is why we respond in our singing, as we are astounded by a God who saves us not on our feeble terms but on his infinitely powerful terms, “Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.”
3) God and Man Unified in One Way
We end with a reference in our text back to Moses. Just as Moses stood in the presence of God on holy ground at the burning bush and was told to remove his sandals, so too is Joshua told to do this same thing here before this divine warrior. And as Moses removed his sandals as a sign of his humility to the Lord, so too does Joshua. Joshua is confirmed in these moments as the successor of Moses—a greater type of Moses in some ways.
Yet, a greater type was still to come. One who was not only asked to remove his sandals, but to hide his glory in his condescension. One who did not only humble himself to take on an earthly form but who came to die so that we might receive our heavenly garments. And, now, he, our Saviour, our Great Divine Warrior, has come, and he beckons us simply to follow.
Brothers and sisters, although we started with a Joshua who responded in the wrong way, we end with a Joshua who responds not only in the right way, but in a holy way. It is not for us to presume that God will be with us in whatever we choose to do. No, our lives, our time, all that we are and have is about being with God in whatever he commands of us because we know not only that he has the authority to make such commands, but he has also demonstrated his perfect love and wisdom for us by obeying them himself and enabling us through his Son’s sacrifice to imitate him all the days of our lives. It is through the gospel that his way becomes our way. His desires become our desires. His will becomes our prayer. And while the purpose of God’s plan is not our victory, it is in his glory and in our enjoyment of him through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ that we are brought in as sure victors—as conquerors through him who loved us. In Christ, we have access to God. In Christ, God has made his Way known to us, and it is a far more glorious and lovely Way than we could have ever thought possible.