Message: There’s Nothing That My God Cannot Do | Scripture: Joshua 11:1-15 | Speaker: Pastor Stephen Choy
For those of you who were alive on today’s date 21 years ago, what is it that you remember feeling? For some, perhaps, confusion. For others, perhaps, anger and sorrow. And still, I think for all of us, especially when we look back on that day, something that we all felt was fear. Fear of the unknown.
And while there are many stories that may help characterize the terror of that day, allow me to recount one of them to you from a man named Greg Gilbert—a pastor from Louisville Kentucky. This is how he described his experience, “I was on a flight from Madrid, Spain to Washington, DC. I had been on a pre-marriage trip with a friend. We were halfway across the Atlantic when I noticed that the little plane icon on the seat TV had turned around and was heading the wrong way.
At first, I didn’t think anything of it. But a few minutes later the pilot, who spoke Spanish, told us in broken English that we were returning to Madrid because ‘two planes have collided above the World Trade Center, and American airspace is closed.’ This seemed strange—why close DC airspace, much less *American* airspace, over an accidental collision of, I assumed, two small airplanes somewhere over Manhattan?
Suddenly, the passenger sitting behind us sat forward and said, ‘You guys Americans?’ After answering, ‘Yes,’ he proceeded, over the next few minutes, to explain that he was some sort of CIA terrorist threat analyst, and he said, ‘I guarantee this is an attack, and it’s possible that this plane, like any plane flying into DC right now, may be a part of the threat.’
Then, in a series of announcements, in his broken English, the pilot continued to try and give us news. ‘Correction,’ he said, ‘two planes have collided into the World Trade Center.’ A few minutes later, ‘the Pentagon in Washington has exploded.’ Then, ‘the State Department has exploded.’ And finally, not really knowing the full details, ‘Pittsburgh has exploded.’
You can imagine the confusion. It sounded like bombs or something were going off over the entire Eastern seaboard. Nuclear war? What has happened to my family? Is my fiancée okay? So, as the hours went on and we headed back toward Spain, the CIA agent said, ‘Look. This plane was headed to Washington, DC, and the pilot is probably being told that there might be a bomb on board. Now, there are two ways to detonate a bomb on a plane—either via timer, which means we’ll have about 20 minutes to get off the plane when we land back in Spain. And the other way is based on altitude—when the plane goes below a certain height, that’s it. So, watch. As we approach the coast, the pilot is going to bounce the plane so that if a bomb goes off, it happens over the ocean.’
And sure enough, when we were about a hundred miles away from the coast of Spain, we’d watch the altimeter on our screens, and we’d see the plan drop just below 20,000 ft, then bounce back up to 21,000 ft. 14,990 ft, then back up to 15,500 ft, then 11,990 and back up to 13,000, 9,995 to 10,100, 9,700 to 9,900, 9,600 to 9,800—over and over, the pilot bounced the plane up and down, up and down, just like the guy said he would.
And I’ll never get that feeling—the feeling of the unknown—the feeling, yes, even as a Christian, of fear. I’ll never forget seeing the flags of Spain and Madrid, after we landed, feeling relieved while also feeling great sorrow for all the lives lost that day. All of this was taking place while my fiancée was living less than a mile from the Pentagon. She heard the explosion, smelled the acrid smoke, ducked at the sonic booms of the fighter jets. It was terrifying for her, just as much, if not more, as it was for me, and to this very day, we both find ourselves in tears as we remember September 11th each year.”
Reflecting further on that day, Greg Gilbert, said that “it was a massive moment” for him because it taught him “about the brevity of life,” and the necessity of faith in a terrifying world. It forced him to ask what the Christian life looks like when the circumstances around us provoke us to deep fear—fear of the unknown—fear of what’s outside of our control. Where is it that we turn in those times of desperation. And I believe our text answers that question for us today by calling us to have a fearless faith in the face of fearsome events by turning our face to a more awesome God. This is the proposition, in fact, for our text today: have a fearless faith in the fearsome, almighty God, and as we place our trust in him, certain things result from that. This week we’ll cover the first two results, and next week, we’ll cover the other two, and the first result of having a fearless faith in a fearsome, almighty God is that we might become unintimidated by the greatness of others.
1) To Be Unintimidated by the Greatness of Others
Read with me Joshua 11:1-9. TWoL: When Jabin, king of Hazor, heard of this, he sent to Jobab king of Madon, and to the king of Shimron, and to the king of Achshaph, 2 and to the kings who were in the northern hill country, and in the Arabah south of Chinneroth, and in the lowland, and in Naphoth-dor on the west, 3 to the Canaanites in the east and the west, the Amorites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, and the Jebusites in the hill country, and the Hivites under Hermon in the land of Mizpah. 4 And they came out with all their troops, a great horde, in number like the sand that is on the seashore, with very many horses and chariots. 5 And all these kings joined their forces and came and encamped together at the waters of Merom to fight against Israel. 6 And the LORD said to Joshua, “Do not be afraid of them, for tomorrow at this time I will give over all of them, slain, to Israel. You shall hamstring their horses and burn their chariots with fire.” 7 So Joshua and all his warriors came suddenly against them by the waters of Merom and fell upon them. 8 And the LORD gave them into the hand of Israel, who struck them and chased them as far as Great Sidon and Misrephoth-maim, and eastward as far as the Valley of Mizpeh. And they struck them until he left none remaining. 9 And Joshua did to them just as the LORD said to him: he hamstrung their horses and burned their chariots with fire.
Let’s evaluate quickly where we are in the text. Joshua and Israel have just completed a campaign against the southern portion of Canaan, as they continue their conquest of the land. And, in particular, they’ve just witnessed God’s extraordinary intervention to deliver the enemies of Israel into their hand, yet again, just as God promised he would. The surprising part of that campaign was that it wasn’t triggered by Israel’s aggression, as one might think. Rather, Israel’s hand was forced by the fact that these Amorite kings attacked Gibeon, a city that God’s people had just foolishly made an oath with to protect them.
What ends up happening in Joshua 10 is that God takes the foolishness of his people and uses it to bring about their good. In fact, even though they were probably outnumbered and unskilled in the tactics of war, Israel never really had to face any real opposition in those chapters because God delivered their enemies to them in spectacular fashion. The war, in the case of the southern regions of Canaan, was always quite one-sided.
Now, we come to Israel’s experience in the north, where things are both somewhat similar, yet also quite different from the events that took place in the south. The first similarity is seen in the actions of the northern kings, especially those of the king of Hazor, as he goes and forms an alliance with other northern kings and cities to oppose Israel. And just like in the south, we’re told that God is determined to give this coalition over to his people.
The second similarity is that Israel is not the aggressor in the conflict. It’s the Canaanites who form the coalition for the purposes of armed conflict. Just like in the south, Israel is technically fighting a defensive campaign, and just like in the south, God uses the aggression and confidence of the Canaanites to bring the nations to the feet of Israel, to provide them with a large, decisive victory, and to display his matchless power. North or south—all of Canaan and its people are subject to the authority and ownership of God.
However, we do need to see the differences because they are important. Firstly, Hazor is nothing like Jerusalem at that time. Its importance to the other kingdoms for resources and protection, its greatness of about 200 acres, its population of about 40,000, its prominence in the land as the main trade destination on the route between Egypt and Mesopotamia are unmatched. Hazor is one of the greatest, if not the greatest, cities in all of Canaan.
Secondly, this king of Hazor, Jabin, is a man of renown. His name means literally, “one who is insightful,” or “one who builds,” which tells us that it was likely to have been his deistic name—like a title you’d give to a god or to a family that you believed was imbued with the particular favour of the gods. The people believed this man to have insight as to what the gods desired, and he was able to build an impressive kingdom because of it.
Thirdly, the combination of this king’s status and this king’s unparalleled power in the land of Hazor gave him unprecedented influence over the resources of the nations and cities that surrounded him. Of all the kings and peoples listed, Jabin, king of Hazor, was the most prominent, the most feared, the greatest of all.
And in his unprecedented access, he assembles an unprecedented army, verse 4 tells us, like sand upon the seashore, with horses and chariots. The Hebrew actually flirts with exaggeration because it says it is a great, great, exceedingly great army. One great isn’t enough. Two greats aren’t enough. Even three are insufficient. The author needs to note that it’s not just three times of greatness it’s exceedingly greater than that.
What’s more, not only is this nation great and this king great and this army great, but they get to choose a great spot where the war will take place—by the waters of Merom. See, Hazor is in a mountainous, hilly area, which makes operating horses and chariots really difficult. So, this king of Hazor picks a location that is low, flat, near to sea level so that it’s easier to maneuver and tactically advantageous.
All of these things are different from what Israel faced against the southern regions. Adoni-Zedek and Jerusalem do not compare. The five Amorite kings do not compare. Their armies couldn’t hold a candle to these horses and chariots. All the things in chapter 11 are greater. All of them are more frightful. All of them are more impossible to overcome. And the natural, ordinary response for any natural, ordinary person in seeing these massively impressive resources at their enemy’s disposal would be to cower away in fear.
But Joshua and Israel do not shrink back in fear because they do not have a natural, ordinary faith. No, their faith is supernatural and extraordinary because it is grounded in and humbled by a God who defines what is natural—who sets the parameters for what is ordinary. And it’s faith in this all-defining God that results in being fearlessly unintimidated by the greatness of others. Just look at what the focus of verses 6-9 are. The focus is on these horses and chariots. Up until this point in Joshua, this level of sophisticated warfare and technology has not appeared. It’s the height of worldly power and intimidation. Yet, after hearing the words of God in verse 6 promising that his sovereign hand is with them, how do Joshua and Israel react to all this sophistication and impressive display? They react as if it is nothing; they rush in on this army suddenly, unexpectedly.
The king of Hazor was probably expecting at least a tremor or a look of desperation. Great hordes are supposed to inflict terror by the sheer display of their power, but the power of man—the power of created things—cannot subdue the power of the Creator, and Joshua knows this. He has seen this more evidently in his life more than almost anyone else in all of Israel as the leader of a new generation, and his humble knowledge that God is with him—that he controls the battle—gives him courage to run straight at his enemy—to catch them off-guard and to strike them as if they were weak and pathetic because to God, they are.
This is what faith in a fearsome, almighty God looks like. It brings the greatness of man to his knees, and it shows him that his trust in the world and in his own abilities are things that can be destroyed and burned up in an instant—not only because God can bring the prideful to ruin, but because he has actually done this. In fact, he’s done this with each of us, just like he’s done this with Joshua and Israel.
And I don’t want us to mistake the lesson here and rile ourselves up without double-checking that we have reason to be riled up because this isn’t just a lesson of how the people of God prevail, it’s a lesson about how the people who presume they will prevail—those who intend to do it on their terms and present their own merit as the ground for their salvation—these presumers shall fail. And everyone in this room must know that at one point or another in our lives, we have made this presumption.
What these verses teach us is that, yes, we ought to aspire to the heights of Joshua’s faith—this ought to be the defining feature of our lives that we lay ourselves down for the sake of obeying him who loves us, but we cannot do that unless we’ve put to death the pride and hubris of men like king Jabin in our own hearts. All the greatness of the world cannot save us, and, in the end, it just might condemn us. We, like Israel, are to be different from the world. We, like Joshua, are to have a faith grounded in that which is supernatural and extraordinary—in that which is Creator—and not in the created.
To have faith in God, then, is to be undivided for God and submitted to God as the only one who is truly great—as the only one who is to be feared—as the only one who has merit to save us from the wrath that we’ve brought upon ourselves. TCCBC, have a greater faith in this God than the fear you have of the natural world because he is greater than it, he has created it, and, indeed, he has overcome it. Have a fearless faith in the fearsome, almighty God with the result that you might not be intimidated by the greatness of others.
2) To Be Certain that His Commands Bring Life
Read with me in Joshua 11:10-15. TWoL: And Joshua turned back at that time and captured Hazor and struck its king with the sword, for Hazor formerly was the head of all those kingdoms. 11 And they struck with the sword all who were in it, devoting them to destruction;there was none left that breathed. And he burned Hazor with fire. 12 And all the cities of those kings, and all their kings, Joshua captured, and struck them with the edge of the sword, devoting them to destruction, just as Moses the servant of the LORD had commanded. 13 But none of the cities that stood on mounds did Israel burn, except Hazor alone; that Joshua burned. 14 And all the spoil of these cities and the livestock, the people of Israel took for their plunder. But every person they struck with the edge of the sword until they had destroyed them, and they did not leave any who breathed. 15 Just as the LORD had commanded Moses his servant, so Moses commanded Joshua, and so Joshua did. He left nothing undone of all that the LORD had commanded Moses.
What is utterly important from verses 1-9 for our second point here is the emphasis in verse 9 about Joshua’s obedience—that he does exactly as he’s instructed—because that becomes the backbone of verses 10-15. Notice how Joshua 11:6 begins by God telling Joshua that he will hand over these enemies of Israel to him, but verses 8 and 9 end by telling us that Joshua and Israel struck these enemies down. God was sovereign over all, but Joshua was faithful to the task.
And in his faithfulness, Joshua knows that the task is not done. He’s gone and dismantled the greatest army, but there is still the matter of the great king and the great city—those things that stand in complete opposition and juxtaposition to Israel’s great God. So, what does Joshua do? He goes back to judge that king and that city. Why? Well, the author of Joshua tells us because this king and this city functioned as the head of all the kingdoms that amassed that great army, and like any good commander, he knows that you have to strike at the head of the serpent in order to kill it.
As he goes to judge that king, he strikes him down with the sword—and the author of Joshua is particular to mention that this king, individually, was sought out to be struck. And as he goes to judge that city, he burns it and all of its people to the ground—and the author of Joshua is particular to mention that this city, individually, was sought out to be burned.
See, what the author of Joshua tells us is that Hazor isn’t just singled out because of its prominence, and it’s not singled out because its king commanded other nations with power. It’s because in its prominence and with his power, he used them to influence and draw people away from seeking out the true God, placing their faith in him, and in exchange, he sold them a lie—a lie that man and his power are sufficient to overcome this God.
Well, church, here is the result of man’s thinking that he can overcome God. There may seem like a time when it’s true, where he remains silent over your rebellion, where he allows you to slip deeper and deeper into your self-sufficiency, giving you over to it, letting you think you are in control. Then, perhaps he removes the blockades that once prevented you from growing your influence in the world, creating the allusion that you’re doing everything right because the world bows to you. But make no mistake, at the height of your thinking that God had nothing to do with it—just as you’re convinced that you’ve bested him—that he’s unnecessary for your life—what is it that you think will happen? Our text tells us. It tells us that he shall return from his silence with vengeance, showing you that he let you build it all up so that he might come in, at the right time, and burn it to the ground, as if you never existed. And in that day, all will be made to remember—no one overcomes God.
But the good news is this, as long as you are sitting here, hearing these words, it is not too late. It is not too late to turn from your sin. It is not too late to reverse your rebellion. Here, in our text, the drama of all of Scripture is on full display because a contrast is being made between those who live as a law unto themselves against the one who lives according to the law of a holy and righteous God.
The one who rejects God’s law—the one who rebels and creates his own kind of law for his life—he is the one who will be burned because what he wants has nothing to do with God. But those who follow the commands of the Lord will find life, and not because they’re more righteous than everyone else and not because they’re more impressive to God in their self-attesting impressiveness, but because God rips them out of their drunken stupor with the world and shows them something far lovelier. He shows them himself. He becomes their desire, and they realize that his law is nothing other than the means by which we behold and know him more intimately.
Now, when I say, “his law”—when I speak of following his commands—I do not mean the same ones that Joshua was required to follow because that law no longer binds us. Joshua, we’re told, was required to follow that law because Moses had given it to him, who, himself, had received it from the Lord. God sent Moses to command it, so that by following it faithfully, Joshua might live and flourish under the blessing of God.
But the law that I’m speaking of is one that exceeds Joshua’s because God has not sent us someone merely as ineffective as Moses. The greatest that man could do was bring his people out of slavery by parting the waters of the Red Sea when he held up his hands while clutching to a piece of wood. But, for us, he’s given one who is far greater. One who has not only delivered us out of the slavery of the world but has delivered us out of our bondage and enslavement to our own sin. One who not only accomplished incredible, miraculous feats, but who accomplished the most incredible and most miraculous feat by having his hands nailed to a cross of wood.
We, dear Christian, are called into a greater obedience because we have received a greater deliverance through faith in the greatest Saviour, and his name is Jesus Christ.
This is why Joshua is so highly exalted, while the king of Hazor so deeply condemned. The king of Hazor misled his people and brought them to their death. But Joshua, through his obedience brought his people life, and he did it because his entire character, from heart to hand, was enraptured by the goodness and grace of a sovereign, omnipotent God for those who obey his commands. Joshua saw that following Moses who followed God produced life.
And not only life, but verse 14 tells us that it brought riches and spoil. Israel took all that these cities had to offer, and they had to offer a lot. Through Joshua’s obedience to Moses’ command, the world was given to him. But what about those who are obedient to Jesus’ command? What shall become of them? The New Testament tells us that our inheritance will not come simply from the world but blessed are the poor in spirit—those humbled in their sinfulness and made thirsty for righteousness in the light of their Sovereign King—for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.
Is this not reason enough to fearlessly believe upon him—our Saviour, Jesus Christ—that he died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve so that all who confess with their mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in their hearts that our fearsome, almighty God raised him from the dead will be saved.
Is this not reason enough to live fearlessly faithful lives as those who might tell this message to everyone everywhere before it’s too late? As John Piper once said quoting part of Romans 8, “O that we would so love the gospel and have so much compassion for lost people that tribulation and distress and persecution and famine and nakedness and danger and sword and gun and terrorist would turn us not into fearful complainers, but bold heralds of good news.”
Live life not in fear of the world but in faith of God who by his own Son saved you from an eternal fire, and who has called you to obedience so that you might know the glory of his grace, possess the loveliness of his fellowship, and dwell with him in his abundance forever.