Message: There’s Nothing That My God Cannot Do (Pt 2) | Scripture: Joshua 11:16-23 | Speaker: Pastor Stephen Choy
Last week, on September 8, 2022, the Queen of England, Queen Elizabeth the Second, died at the ripe old age of 96. What many of you may not know is that, in Canada, there are many people who are opposed to the idea of the monarchy—just like America was before it fought for its Independence. I remember in my 8th grade political science class many students and teachers spoke about how unnecessary and taxing it was on the Canadian people to have a monarch under whom we are forced to stay accountable, especially in times of war, and under whom we could all lose our land if she so decided to take it from us. Funnily enough, a lot of these concerns are rooted in valid historical thinking because kings and queens have not always been kind or servant-hearted to their subjects.
This was never more present in our thoughts as Canadians than in 1952 when Queen Elizabeth took the throne. Many in Canada thought that her coronation in Britain was the perfect time to make certain reforms to our Constitution—to oust the monarchy from our political structure. But the change was never made, and I believe the reason why is because of how, despite the prevailing reticence against the monarchy, the Queen won us all over.
How is it that she won us over? It was through her character. She was not exceptional in her ability to make incredibly popular decisions in great times of need, nor was she extraordinary in her ability to lead in a time when good leaders were hard to find—although she did both of these things well. No, it wasn’t her exceptionalism or extraordinary abilities.
Rather, whether Canadians, Americans, or others around the world want to confess it or not—the thing that stands out most about her and her remarkable reign of 70 years is that she displayed the character of God to us in her faithfulness to serve her people. She called herself “the Servant Queen,” not detached from her subjects like an imperial dictator hiding in the Kremlin, but one who pointed beyond herself to the King of kings who became the Servant of servants. She dedicated the whole of her life to pointing us to God—and, again, whether Canadians, Americans, British, or the like want to admit it—it was her love for God and example of him in her life that has endeared Canadians, like myself, to her forever.
Character, brothers and sisters, is what I want to discuss with you today—character drives our text this morning. Character is what shall prevail and endear us. Character is what will win the world to us, and more pointedly, it is the character of faith and faithfulness in our God that will accomplish this, and we see this most adequately in the life of Joshua. So, let’s read about his life now in Joshua 11:16-23. TWoL:
So Joshua took all that land, the hill country and all the Negeb and all the land of Goshen and the lowland and the Arabah and the hill country of Israel and its lowland 17 from Mount Halak, which rises toward Seir, as far as Baal-gad in the Valley of Lebanon below Mount Hermon. And he captured all their kings and struck them and put them to death. 18 Joshua made war a long time with all those kings. 19 There was not a city that made peace with the people of Israel except the Hivites, the inhabitants of Gibeon. They took them all in battle. 20 For it was the LORD’S doing to harden their hearts that they should come against Israel in battle, in order that they should be devoted to destruction and should receive no mercy but be destroyed, just as the LORD commanded Moses. 21 And Joshua came at that time and cut off the Anakim from the hill country, from Hebron, from Debir, from Anab, and from all the hill country of Judah, and from all the hill country of Israel. Joshua devoted them to destruction with their cities. 22 There was none of the Anakim left in the land of the people of Israel. Only in Gaza, in Gath, and in Ashdod did some remain. 23 So Joshua took the whole land, according to all that the LORD had spoken to Moses. And Joshua gave it for an inheritance to Israel according to their tribal allotments. And the land had rest from war.
What Joshua teaches us is that the kingdom of Heaven belongs to the faithful, and last week we covered the two results of fearless faithful living to our fearsome, almighty God, namely, that we become unintimated by the greatness of others and that we can be certain that his commands bring life. And I hope you see how those two results are two sides of the same coin—not only are you unintimidated by others to do what the world wants or expects you to do, but you are freed in order to do what is actually good for you.
This week, as a continuation from where we left off, we’re going to see something similar—two points that are two sides of the same coin. On the one hand, having a character grounded in a fearless faith in the fearsome, almighty God results in persevering in the face of adversity, and on the other hand, having a fearless faith in the fearsome, almighty God results in being preserved by the longevity of his own faithfulness. Faith in God enables perseverance. Faith in God also preserves. We learn that both these statements are true in Scripture. We learn that both these statements are true in the lives of stalwart believers, like Queen Elizabeth and like Joshua. I hope we might see it to be true in our own lives as well as we look now to our first point:
1) To Be Persevering in Adversity
In Joshua 9, the leader of Israel and his people make an oath with a Canaanite city named Gibeon, and by making that oath, Joshua is bound to protect them. That triggers, in Joshua 10, the anger, jealousy, and fear of the southern regions of Canaan where we read about the five Amorite kings who band together to attack Gibeon, and thus trigger the terms of the oath that Joshua and Israel had made with them. This begins Israel’s conquest through the south, with God’s help, laying siege to Canaan’s people, and especially to its kings.
Then, upon hearing about the south’s destruction, the great king of the north, Jabin, king of Hazor, makes his own coalition with neighbouring kings and cities, and in so doing, he amasses an army and a power not seen by Israel since Egypt. Yet, still, for all his and his army’s greatness, they cannot withstand the sword of Joshua, and they, too, fall in an even greater way than the five Amorite kings. Remember, they are burned and made an example of in the fact that nothing in this world compares to the greatness of God.
And it is the greatness of God that delivers to Joshua exactly what he’s promised as we pick up in verses 16-17. The war, the conquest, is now over, and the author of Joshua wants to tell us how much of Canaan Israel has conquered: the hill country in the south and all of the Negeb (southlands), all of Goshen and its lowlands, also known to us as the Shephelah, all the way up central Canaan through the Arabah up to Mount Hermon, and we’re told in the earlier portions of chapter 11 that Israel pursued and conquered their enemy across to Tyre (where the word “Hill” in Hill Country is) up to Sidon.
As we look at what Joshua and Israel have accomplished in the span of a few chapters of our Bible, we ought to be amazed, especially when we consider where Israel has come from. This nation mired in deep adversity—wanderers in the time of famine who became slaves in Egypt who went back to wandering over the span of 500 years—they were nothing. They had nothing, and now, they were in possession of perhaps the most valuable land in the world—even to this day—the natural resources that can be mined and harvested from that stretch of the Earth is nearly incomparable. God had given the best of the best to the least of the least.
And not only had God given them the best land in the world, but he made them the best in the world. Think of it—Joshua 11:17 tells us that Joshua captured all their kings and struck them and put them to death. These are the most powerful and wealthiest kings in the world, and Joshua has just wiped them out, reminding every living creature that God is more powerful and wealthier than them. Within the span of these eleven chapters, Israel, as those who follow this one, true King, goes from having no power or notoriety to being the most feared power in all the known world.
Nevertheless, the author doesn’t want us to get ahead of ourselves. What’s taken place over these eleven chapters has been condensed for us, and we’re told, “Joshua made war a long time with all those kings.” In fact, from south to north, it likely took Joshua and Israel about seven years to accomplish the feat. (Caleb appointed to spy at 40, entered into Canaan 38 years later  and received his allotment [Josh 14] at 85).
Seven years of war—this may not seem like that long of a time to be in war for us today, but consider the lack of technology that these men had back then—a process that was a lot less efficient, a lot less organized, a lot less developed in terms of land, which likely meant they had to find their own provisions and survive in foreign places possibly out in the wilderness as they’re going from city to city. This took a long time. And yet, throughout the duration of his adversity—as he wandered with his people among foreigners who stood in complete opposition to him, Joshua does not waver. See, one-by-one the kings of the world fall, but the servant of the Lord remains. He is unmoved both in his task and in his dedication.
It’s in verse 19 that we’re told what the result of his faithfulness was—that all of these kings—all of these foreign, opposing cities—despite the difficulty and length of the journey—are defeated except the Hivites in Gibeon. And this is the lesson for us in these verses: faith in God—faith that is rooted in his great character, set upon his promises, and dedicated to his life-giving commands—shall persevere and overcome the world. That’s the promise. When you are facing adversity, and our passage is fairly clear about it, even in cases of prolonged adversity—maybe you’ve been languishing for weeks, months, years, even, there is hope, and that hope will not put you to shame. Faith shall prevail.
Now, I don’t want to sound like a fortune cookie. How many movies have been made where the main character is facing some kind of terrible circumstance, and a supporting actor or actress comes along and says something stupid like, “all you need is a little bit of faith.” Whenever I see those scenes in movies, my first thought is always to ask, “faith in what?” Faith in who? Faith that determines what outcome? And why is this guy or girl’s faith something that will overcome the faith of the person who opposes them?
I’m not telling you that to overcome adversity in the world, all you need is a little bit of faith in something unknowable and abstract. No, I’m telling you that the Christian faith is a theological faith. The Christian faith is rooted in God-given reason to see and do God-ordained things. The author of Joshua grounds the character of Joshua and his ability to overcome his adversity in verse 20.
And that verse tells us two things. The first thing is that faith-filled character is passively-enabled by God. What do I mean by “passively-enabled”? Well, look at our verse. Why is it that Joshua is able to take all the kings and their cities in battle? It’s not because Joshua is powerful, and it’s not because Joshua is more impressive than these kings—in fact, it’s not because of anything within Joshua at all. Rather, it’s because God hardened the kings’ hearts so that they might draw near and fall against Israel.
So, what I mean by passively-enabled is that from Joshua’s perspective, God does the work of closing the door on his enemies. There is a divine hardening of hearts, and by hardening their hearts, God brings them right to the feet of his people. In other words, God is serving them up on a silver platter so that Joshua’s faithfulness doesn’t have to travel far. It might have been seven years of testing and adversity, but for those who belong to God—to those who are a part of his covenant people—that testing and adversity is meant to bring you into closer dependence upon him—to show you that your faithfulness will never outperform his activity. In those moments, God is asking whether or not you’ll trying and obtain things your way, or if you’ll simply do what you ought to do and allow him to bring about whatever he intends to bring about in his time for his glory and your greatest good.
One of the great hallmarks of a faithful Christian isn’t that they get what they want, or that they are made able to get what they want, rather it’s contentment in what God’s already given coupled with a persevering patience for whatever he intends still to give. This is what passive-enablement looks like. It’s not that we become passive in our obedience but that we acknowledge his supreme activity over own ability for our satisfaction. If he does not act first, then all that we do is in vain.
The second thing verse 20 tells us is that faith-filled character is actively-instructed. See, it’s not just that God hardens the hearts of these gentiles, but the end of the verse tells us that Joshua does just as the Lord commanded him to do through Moses. In other words, on the one hand, you have God passively-enabling us to do what is good for us, and on the other hand, you have God actively-instructing us to act—telling us that he has made us able to do specific things. Let me be explicit, God is the one who both opens the door and moves our feet. He doesn’t give us instructions we cannot follow or call us to do the impossible because in every way he is making it possible.
So, when we talk about having faith in the face of adversity, we know that that faith can be fearless, and that it will prevail because of the one who is the object, the cause, and the satisfier of our faith. Ours are not empty calls to faith to believe in nothing. Ours are not empty calls to faith to act blindly. All that we believe and do has already been revealed and done for us by a God who is not only greater and more powerful than all else, but who desires with great intentionality to bring it about absolutely. This is why our faith—the Christian faith—faith in the God of Israel—results in an unwavering perseverance in adversity because our adversity is light to him and his prevailing power to keep and sustain us is unmatched. Have a fearless faith in a fearsome, almighty God.
2) To Be Preserved by the Longevity of His Faithfulness
Here in our passage, something quite interesting happens in verses 21-22. All of a sudden, the author of Joshua begins talking about these people called the Anakim from the hill country in the southern regions of Canaan—Hebron, Debir, and Anab. And it’s peculiar for a couple of reasons. First, all the regions listed containing Anakim are, like I said, southern areas, which means the victory over them must have occurred either earlier before the coalition of the Amorite kings, during the coalition of the Amorite kings as they were pursuing their army towards the regions of Hebron, Debir, and Anab, or after the northern destruction. The most likely is that it took place during the destruction of the southern regions, which makes its inclusion here strange because why wait until now to bring up this point rather than earlier?
The second reason why it’s peculiar is because most of these current generation Israelites would have seen the Anakim as just another enemy in Canaan. Yes, we’re told in other parts of the Bible that these people were larger than others, but those facts are not recounted here and to single them out like this—to give them more space on a page like this—seems uncharacteristic for the author of Joshua who barely gives more than a couple words for all the other great people and cities that they’ve conquered. In fact, there are a number of peoples and cities that the author makes no mention of at all. So, again, why make mention of them here with such intentionality?
And I believe the reference is being made because this one—this particular victory—was for Joshua. In fact, notice with me throughout verses 16-23, the only place where Israel is mentioned as a people is in verses 19 and 23. Verse 19, they’re mentioned as a sidenote in reference to their dealings with Gibeon. In verse 23, they’re mentioned as recipients of Joshua’s allotment of their inheritance. Said another way, throughout these verses, the subject is not Israel. Instead, it’s Joshua. This is about his faithfulness. This is about his accomplishments as Israel’s leader. This is about God’s favour over him.
I said at the start of this sermon that the war is now over in this book, but in order for this war to end appropriately, we have to remember what God promised at the start of the conquest in chapter 3, verse 7. There we read these words, “Today, I will begin to exalt you in the sight of all Israel that I am with you.” AND HERE at the end of the conquest, the author is showing us the extent to which God exalts his faithful servant. Not only does he give Joshua all that was promised to these Israelites, but he vindicates Joshua for something that Israel has all but forgotten.
For those of us who may not remember who the Anakim are, we have to remember the very reason why Joshua is still alive—because back in Numbers 13, Joshua and Caleb were a part of a group of twelve spies sent into Canaan to deliver a report of the land. And upon seeing the descendants of Anak—these giant figures, ten of the spies said that they ought to go back to Egypt. Joshua and Caleb, on the other hand, said that the land was for their taking. As a result, God cursed that generation of Israel and the ten spies, telling them that they shall not enter into the land, but these two who believed were not only spared, but as we learn in our verses today, he uses Joshua as the very means by which the fear of that previous generation is vanquished.
He literally gives Joshua the last laugh. All of these people were dead, but for God, that’s not enough. Joshua will not, in any way, be made to look like the fool. Joshua’s vindication, then, here in Joshua 11:21-22 is roughly 45 years in the making. 45 years of waiting. And I believe that the point the author is making is that God’s faithfulness to preserve and, ultimately, to satisfy—God’s faithfulness to vindicate his beloved servant has no bounds. He shall do it to its full effect, but he shall also do it at the perfect time. And now, at the height of Israel’s victory and imminent possession of the land, is the perfect time. God has no intention of leaving loose ends untied.
See, God’s method of preservation is more than just mere survival. He doesn’t just give Joshua and Caleb life for their belief. He doesn’t just give them land. He doesn’t just make Joshua the leader of Israel. He reaches all the way back, and he shows Joshua that every aspect of his faithfulness is to be honoured. Not a single thing he has said shall be forgotten or ignored. There is nothing that he will not do to display his pleasure over this man. There is nothing God will not give to satisfy his servant.
Even these Anakim, people who are a footnote in the history of Israel, God lays them at Joshua’s feet not only to show him that he was right but to put to shame all who ever doubted him. This is the extent to which God exalts his faithful servant—he doesn’t just lay Joshua’s contemporary enemies at his feet, he lays all of Joshua’s enemies—past, present, and future—at his feet in the moment when God is most glorified because when God is most glorified so too are those whom he glorifies. It’s as Joshua is at his highest and brightest that God lifts him even higher and makes his name shine even brighter.
In this, the longevity of God’s faithfulness is on display. In verses 16-20, we learn that God is working in the background and foreground to bring about all the things that he desires to give to those who are faithful to him. But here, in verses 21 and 22, we learn that God isn’t just working in the background and foreground to bring things about in this moment—in these seven years. No, God’s plan is timeless. His desire to exalt his servant relentless. And his reach to do it—limitless. The fullness of Joshua’s character is exalted with the full zeal and joy of God’s character.
Nevertheless, before we jump the gun and think all of this applies directly to us, we have to realize that we are not Joshua. There’s a reason why Israel is not truly discussed in this passage until verse 23—until after Joshua has been properly exalted. And that reason is because Israel’s reception of the land—the allotment that Joshua is about to give them in chapters 13-21 is not being given to them due to their own merit, but because of Joshua.
Do you see? Israel needs Joshua to receive their inheritance. Israel needs Joshua for the promises of God to be realized. Without faithful Joshua, there is no allotment of land. Without faithful Joshua, there is no inheritance. And here, God goes one step further to show the longevity of his own faithfulness to a people who have often been unfaithful to him because, despite their historical wickedness, he still gives them a Saviour. He shines his favour upon them through this beloved servant that they cannot properly acknowledge or exalt—these people have no idea why the Anakim are relevant to the story. And yet, even still, Israel is shown grace and an extravagant love beyond compare because this man loved his God.
What’s quite interesting is how the author of Joshua ends chapter 11 by telling us that Israel and the land enter into rest from war. What the English does not show us is that this word for rest is not the normal word for rest. Instead, the word that the author uses is a word that shows up in Judges quite a bit to refer to the temporary nature of rest that Israel would have after one of its judges interceded on its behalf and before things would fall back into chaos. And like I’ve tended to say throughout our time in this book, I believe both its human and divine author chose this word intentionally because of what it means both for Israel and for us, namely, that even though Joshua was the Saviour that Israel never deserved, he was still not enough. Israel would fall into sin again. They would reject their God again. They would intermarry with the nations and adopt for themselves their idols again.
This, then, is how these verses apply to us because we, like Israel, have been given a Joshua, only ours is greater and perfect in his faithfulness. Instead of fighting a war against man for seven years, our Joshua fought the principalities and rulers of the air and the prince of darkness for 30 years. Instead of finding vindication after 45 years, our Joshua is vindicated from eternity past when he comes and satisfies the terms of his covenant with the Father to redeem his people, to serve them and not to be served, to give his life as a ransom for many, and to do these things most notably through the shedding of his blood upon a cross. And instead of striking down all the kings of Canaan, he was afflicted, crushed, persecuted and struck to death so that in his resurrection all the kings of the earth might be made subject to him—that God would exalt his name above all other names, and so that all who believe in him—who subject themselves to his rule—shall have eternal life. Through his death and resurrection, he brings us into a covenantal rest that has no end. His work of salvation is sufficient to preserve without limit. His cross is mighty to save because it is the highest and brightest display of love for God that has ever been shown.
It is through our greater Joshua and his perfect faithfulness that we might now behold the longevity of God’s faithfulness towards us who were and are unfaithful. It is through Jesus that we are not only saved through his almighty power to forgive us our sins but are made heirs and heirs not only to temporary, earthly things, but heirs to the throne of God itself—if only you repent of your sin and give your life in whole hearted belief—in loving faithfulness—to following Jesus as your Lord and Saviour. In Joshua, an eternal rest from the strife of the world was impossible, but in Jesus—in our God—there is nothing that he cannot do. So, trust him because his character is trustworthy and unfailing. Place your faith in this Servant King because he is mighty to save you from your sin and to bring you into life with him forever.