Message: A Theology of Hope | Scripture: Joshua 8: 1- 9 | Speaker: Pastor Stephen Choy
How does God give us hope in our lives and in the world? First, he comes into our lives and our state of despair and desperation to give us both the knowledge of himself and himself, simultaneously. We come into a relationship with him by his sovereign, monergystic work, and he draws us near to himself so that we might have confidence that he has and shall save us. Our hope is derived in the fact that he has come and that his coming has brought us out of our misery and into his everlasting pleasure. Second, he not only comes into our lives to save us when we could not save ourselves, but he does so in the most unexpected way. He uses the very evil and schemes of the world to confound and subvert it. He shows his sovereign omniscience, mercy, and grace by manipulating the pride and arrogance of man against him. On our own, we would fall prey to our own vices as well, but God has shown us his love by laying his enemies at our feet and reminding us that no one is wiser than he is. Third, though he grants us knowledge both of his saving power and of his infinite wisdom to subvert the ways of the wicked, he also gives us his direct revelation and Word when our knowledge fails us. We are forgetful, but God wants us to be assured in every way possible and remind us that the outcome of our fate and our hope is not found in ourselves. He has given us the light of the knowledge of the his glory in the face of Jesus Christ, and in him our hope is utterly secured.
Please turn with me in your Bibles to Joshua 8:1-9. TWoL.
And the LORD said to Joshua, “Do not fear and do not be dismayed. Take all the fighting men with you, and arise, go up to Ai. See, I have given into your hand the king of Ai, and his people, his city, and his land. 2 And you shall do to Ai and its king as you did to Jericho and its king. Only its spoil and its livestock you shall take as plunder for yourselves. Lay an ambush against the city, behind it.” So, Joshua and all the fighting men arose to go up to Ai. And Joshua chose 30,000 mighty men of valor and sent them out by night. 4 And he commanded them, “Behold, you shall lie in ambush against the city, behind it. Do not go very far from the city, but all of you remain ready. 5 And I and all the people who are with me will approach the city. And when they come out against us just as before, we shall flee before them. 6 And they will come out after us, until we have drawn them away from the city. For they will say, ‘They are fleeing from us, just as before.’ So, we will flee before them. 7 Then you shall rise up from the ambush and seize the city, for the LORD your God will give it into your hand. 8 And as soon as you have taken the city, you shall set the city on fire. You shall do according to the word of the LORD. See, I have commanded you.” 9 So Joshua sent them out. And they went to the place of ambush and lay between Bethel and Ai, to the west of Ai, but Joshua spent that night among the people.
November 3, 2020 was not a particularly important day in history when a few students of our seminary’s undergraduate program went to a park in Louisville, Kentucky to play a few games and enjoy the warm fall weather. And yet, despite the beauty of the surroundings, it would turn out to be a tragic day because one of the students, named Nicholas, a well-mannered, devoutly Christian young man, while playing Frisbee with his friends, dropped to floor inexplicably and was declared minutes later to have died instantly.
Now, Nick wasn’t very famous. Very few of you know who he is, but many of you may know about his father, Tim Challies. And if you don’t know who Tim Challies is, that’s okay—let me just tell you that he’s a fairly famous Christian blogger, writer, and speaker in the evangelical world. And I wanted to bring to our attention the sad fate of this man who, by circumstances that seemed like random chance, was thrust into a life of utter darkness and despair. The son who was just there was suddenly no longer, and I remember reading his blog posts about his mourning in the days and weeks following this incredible tragedy. I remember mourning with him, crying in the stacks of my school’s library because I could feel this man’s pain as he lamented the life that he would never get to see his son live.
What you need to understand was that Tim Challies was not trying to profit in his son’s death. He wasn’t trying to increase his fame or influence by writing these things out. No, in the midst of his most unbearable hour, he had shared such intimate details with the rest of the world, “[because] even though our minds are bewildered and our hearts are broken, our hope is fixed, and our faith is holding . . . The Lord has been and remains so good.”
This morning, I want to answer the question of how we might not only have this kind of hope, but what hope is at its very core so that we might never be without it. I wanted to give us an illustration of one of the most horrible situations that life can throw at us to reveal that, even then—even when we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we can know with every confidence that the light of our Shepherd-King shall prevail. Even when a father is forced to bury his own son for inexplicable reasons, hope remains.
In fact, this is the very context for our passage—there’s a heaviness and brokenness—a father forced to bury his own son and a lingering feeling of unsettledness for the future that lies before Israel. And yet, it’s in this state of dread that the author intends to encourage us in chapter 8 by telling us this: Let the character and revelation of God in the world and in your own life ground the confidence of your hope. Don’t forget what he’s shown you. Don’t forget how he works to deliver and preserve you. Let your remembrance stir in you an assurance that the Lord is good, and as his chosen people, that his goodness is directed towards you.
Today, we’re going to establish what it means to have a theology of hope because hope is, fundamentally, a theological virtue. Where we derive and define our hope is of primary importance. If our hope is found in the goodness of the world, we’ll be sorely disappointed. If our hope is found in our own goodness or self-righteousness, then we’ll find that, too, will fail us. No, the source and definition of our hope must be grounded solely and squarely in the character and revelation of a good God. That is how we persist. That is how we might hold fast in the darkness that light shall come—because we don’t grasp onto that which is fleeting or immoral but that which is eternally and thoroughly good. Let’s take the next few moments now to see what that means. Let’s look now at what it means to have a lasting and saving hope in our one true and good God:
1) Hope in God’s Steadfast Faithfulness
Two things are especially driving the context here at the start of chapter 8. The first is Joshua’s prayer at the beginning of chapter 7 asking whether or not God had forsaken them, and the second thing is the actual death of Achan and the effect of his death upon Israel. Not only is this a lamentable event, but we’re to remember that Joshua loved Achan as a father loves his son—all of God’s people would have loved him like a brother. His death would have brought immense sadness upon everyone, but even more so, it would have caused disarray and despair within the camp. If God might do this to Achan, what should we expect him to do to us?
And it doesn’t take long for God to give his response. He says to them, diagnosing the attitude of their hearts: “do not fear and do not be dismayed.” What’s notable about these two negative commands is that they directly contrast the positive commands given to us in Joshua 1:6-7: be strong and courageous. In other words, Joshua and Israel were not living in the confidence of the Lord nor remembering the strength of his instructions and the promise of his protection. They were living as those who wanted to avoid Achan’s fate—as those who wanted to avoid sinning. They were fearful. They were dismayed at the thought of their own fate—they had turned their focus inward, rather than knowing and remembering objectively that they were destined to inherit all that God had promised.
See, the point that God is trying to make here with Joshua is to tell him that, as his people, life is not meant to be lived in avoidance of doing the wrong thing. It’s not meant to be lived focusing on ourselves because when we do that, we start to think that we can provide ourselves with the answers and with our own salvation. But it’s not about ourselves. It’s not about avoiding sin and skirting its punishments. Simultaneously, it’s not about being conceited, thinking we can facilitate our own righteousness while ignoring God.
It’s about taking our eyes off of ourselves, stopping the self-pity party, looking to God as the one who wants to give us his fellowship, and submitting ourselves to him as our source of rest, courage, and strength. God intends to fill us with the confidence of his own character and his own presence as we wade out into the unknown.
One might read these commands, “do not fear and do not be dismayed,” as if they are referring to the world and to the conquest that lies before Joshua. Don’t be afraid of Ai. Don’t be afraid of Canaan. And this isn’t a wrong way to read the text, but I strongly contend that there’s a second meaning to these commands—a deeper one, and that is that they’re referring to Joshua’s posture and willingness to return to God. Remember, the point of the command to be strong and courageous was all about possessing the favour and presence of God. God was with them, and they looked to him to be with them, and as a result they had every confidence to do the things he had given them to do.
But since Achan violated that covenant, Israel had forgotten what it meant not only to pursue the promises of God but how to pursue them with God—to pursue them in light of how God wanted them to be pursued. This project of recreation—this project of reestablishing the rest of God with the people of God in the land of God was never meant to be devoid of God but this is exactly what happens when sin infects our hearts. We usurp the place of God and become gods unto ourselves, and when calamity strikes, and things fall apart, all that is left for us is a desperate fear of judgment and an unquenchable sense of dismay.
Yet, here is where we learn the first lesson of what true hope looks like—true hope is God displaying to us the faithfulness of his character, attending to our hearts, and telling us not to fear and not to be dismayed—even when we should be—because he, himself, has come. And in his coming, he re-establishes our satisfaction of his goodness in our lives.
I want to say this very carefully because objectively—whether we acknowledge it or not—God is always good. In his judgment over us for our sin and in his grace towards us out of the abundance of his undeserved love—his actions are always good and never arbitrary because he isn’t motivated by us—he’s motivated by his glory. In fact, he knows the way to provide us with what is best for us is by maximizing his glory in all things. So, it’s not that he must re-establish his goodness in the world or in our lives. Everything that he does is good. Rather, it’s that he acts in such a way that we might once again, out of his mercy, see and declare that he is good, and that his goodness extends to us despite what we deserve.
Joshua and Israel deserved judgment. They deserved punishment because they broke the covenant—all of them. Achan might have gone against the direct command to devote all of Jericho to the Lord, but all of Israel stopped focusing on the law of God in their pride of victory in Jericho. They all stopped seeking his guidance and presence, and they all ought to have perished right there.
But God reminds Israel—and he reminds us—that hope for our restoration from fear and despair does not begin with anything worthy in and of ourselves. It doesn’t begin with us looking within, feeling sorry for ourselves, and doing all we can to avoid punishment. We’re not meant to focus our attention on avoiding Achor. We aren’t supposed to try and escape hell because the more we try to escape it on our own, the more we’re only thinking about ourselves, and in so doing, we become slaves to our own fear. This, brothers and sisters, is legalism. It’s not godliness. It’s paganism, and it’s the farthest thing from possessing hope.
Yes, we need to flee from sin, but the way to do that isn’t to focus on whether or not we’re sinning—it’s to set our affections and our purpose on pleasing the one who’s given us his abundant grace. Hope isn’t about preserving ourselves, it’s about having an utter confidence that we are being preserved—that God has not only made a plan for us, but that he is the one making sure of its completion and fruition in our lives. That’s what our first two verses show us—that God has a plan for his people, and it’s a plan far better than they deserved. In the case of Israel, they ought to have received less than their spoils at Jericho, but instead of God giving them less, he gives them more. He charts out a course for them that exceeds anything they could have expected, and God is sure to tell Joshua, “See, this is not from your hand. No, I have given this to you. So, do not fear and do not be dismayed.”
Let this be the first step in developing our theology of hope—that God is eternally good to us in his faithfulness to restore us in our despair and to give us more than we deserve. We cannot have a true hope if we do not know the depths to which God has borne our redemption in himself to bring us to himself. He has accomplished these things on our behalf, and because he does it, there is no doubt that he shall see it through.
2) Hope in God’s Subverting Wisdom
Verses 3-7 are meant to increase our awe and wonder in the goodness of God as he redeems us from the valley—and can I remark how appropriate Psalm 23 is for this passage here because Joshua and Israel are literally in the valley of the shadow of death looking up at Ai—awaiting their fate, and God is offering them deliverance. But he’s not only offering them deliverance by giving them himself, and he’s not only offering deliverance by allowing them to plunder the city of Ai, but he’s also offering deliverance in a way that completely undermines the wisdom of man—he turns the entire narrative on its head.
What do I mean by this? Look at how he plans to give Joshua and Israel the city. He intends to use the appearance of their fear against the arrogance of the king and people of Ai—he intends to use Israel’s prior defeat to ensure their victory. Right? Joshua is to set an ambush with a small contingent, then the rest of the army is supposed to march up to Ai’s front gates, pretend to be ready to fight, only to run away and hope that they’re chased.
In normal battles, this is a terrible idea because most armies will not abandon the gates of their cities in case an ambush is waiting. But God knows that these people of Ai are so puffed up in their prior victory that they’re willing to leave their post to satisfy their arrogance. If there was a time in the Bible where God is literally laughing at the conceit of man to save himself—this is one of those times.
And in addition to that, again, what we see here is the mercy of God over Israel on full display. Because when Israel acted arrogantly after their victory in Jericho, God only struck down some thirty warriors, a sinner, and his family. But here, in the arrogance of this pagan nation—at the height of their hubris, thinking that they’ve beat Israel once and can do it again—God intends to strike them all down.
Let’s make no mistake with what’s being described for us here—for those who do not belong to God, God takes their hope in the world and in their abilities and shows them that they and their hope are nothing. He makes their hope hopeless. But for those who belong to God, God uses our situations that are desperately and despairingly hopeless, and he turns them on their head, and he makes them the very means—the very source of our confidence not because there is any reason for it in us, but because God does not abandon his post, and he certainly does not leave his city nor his people defenseless.
See, on our own, we are like the people of Ai—we go and chase the bait—and we cannot claim any kind of victory when left to our own devices. But in our defeat, lowliness, and desperation, God comes along in his mercy, and he uses those moments to turn us to himself, to place us on his back, and bring us home. In fact, he says, “let me bear your defeat, take on your lowliness, and suffer your desperation, and in exchange, let me give you my conquering power, my authority, and my riches.
Here in verses 3-7 we receive the secondary ground for our robust theology of hope—God is not only good and faithful to give us what we do not deserve in himself, but he is also good and faithful to reveal himself to us in a way that the world could never expect. When God acts in history, he acts in such a way that confounds the world’s establishments, blinds it with its own ambition, uproots its evil, and proves there is none who can prevent him from accomplishing his purposes—his purpose to save his people. The Bible is crystal clear: nothing can separate us from the love of God and that’s not only because God’s wisdom subverts every plan and intention of wicked man, but because the pinnacle of his subversion—the pinnacle of using the wicked plans of the world against itself is displayed in the cross of Jesus Christ.
See, what’s going to take place here at Ai sets the trajectory and pattern for what takes place at the cross. In both instances, God takes the arrogance of man and the devil and uses it against them to deliver his people in an extraordinary way. These verses in Joshua may be describing tactics of normal warfare but make no mistake, they are setting the course for all of history, and the one who sits over it all is none other than a God whose wisdom and sovereign knowledge cannot be outmaneuvered or matched.
It’s like that old adage: he’s out there playing chess while the rest of us are playing checkers. While the world is drumming up its plans to defeat those who belong to God, God is using their plans to assure their demise. While the world and the devil plotted to crucify the King of the Universe, God intended to use that crucifixion to assure his victory.
So, what does it mean to have a theology of hope? It means knowing the goodness of God not only in his zealous faithfulness to preserve sinners but also in his wisdom to use the plans of man as the very means of their destruction and our salvation. Let the character and revelation of God in the world and in your own life ground the confidence of your hope because God doesn’t just intend to save you, he assures it in the very schemes and evil of the world. When all else seems to be falling apart, when tragedy seems to beget only more tragedy, when arrogance seems to abound, we are meant to be growing in our confidence that God is at work and that he is using those tragedies and that evil for our good.
3) Hope in God’s Spoken Promises
Verses 8 and 9 round out our passage, but they are not insignificant verses because in them we find out that God hasn’t just revealed his faithfulness in the world, he hasn’t just subverted the wisdom of the carnal, natural man by using it against him, but he, God, has also come to tell us with words that he’s done these things and established them to take place so that we do not have to guess. He has made it personal. He wants Joshua to make sure that he is no longer in despair, no longer in need of fear, and no longer to possess reason to be dismayed because he does not have to figure this out on his own.
God has not left us in our confusion or suffering. When a father has to bury his son for inexplicable reasons, hope remains because the Father has buried the Son for our sin, shame, guilt, and punishment. There is no need to guess what to do because the Word of God has been spoken and it is infinitely full of his wisdom.
Joshua received this word explicitly. And, for us Christians, that Word has come into the world and dwelt among us, and by his righteous life, death upon a cross, and resurrection from the grave, we’ve not only received him explicitly, but he now dwells with us internally. He died in faithfulness to his Father for us. He subverted the wisdom of the world for us. He came for us, and that alone is worth an eternity of hope because by his coming, he assures us that he will never leave nor forsake us.
Our knowledge of his faithful character helps us in this. Our knowledge of his infinite intelligence and wisdom helps us in this. But when our knowledge of these things fails, he gives us his own Word to assure us that he will do not just what we hope but what we never even thought possible.
This is how the author of Joshua resolves the tension. He resolves it by saying, “See, Joshua, see, I have done this. I have commanded it of you. I have assured it. I have brought it about. I have planned it. I have displayed my faithfulness. I have subverted the wisdom of man. And I have told you exactly how it will play out.” God has answered Joshua’s doubt in chapter 7. And for those of us who struggle with doubt—for those of us who lack hope, he has answered us too, but in greater measure: “See, I have commanded my Son. I have sent him to the cross to deliver you. So, do not fear and do not be dismayed.”
And we know that Joshua responds appropriately in strength and courage. How? Because verse 9 tells us, Joshua sent them out, but instead of fearing for them, instead of thinking he would have to go with them so that things would work out according to plan, he remains and spends the night with his people. Why? Because his hope hasn’t only been restored, it’s been made sure. God has commanded it. God has given Ai into Israel’s hand. God is there with him, and I hope all of us know, he is here with us, as well. Let the character and revelation of God in the world and in your own, personal life ground the confidence of your hope because God is all you need. Let your theology of hope begin and end with him as the one who has sent out his own Son to lay an ambush for the devil and the arrogant schemes of man. And let his work upon that cross bring you into everlasting rest and peace as you ground your confidence in the fact that he has spoken it to be, and as sure as his word is, he shall deliver it into your hand.