With Christmas approaching, we are drawn closer to the end of 2022, with the year fading like falling leaves. Throughout this year, all three pastors of our church used the book of Joshua as the main theme for their Sunday sermons, encouraging brothers and sisters to “be strong and courageous, and to receive the inheritance.” I believe those who have paid close attention to the sermons and have diligently taken notes during the year have certainly learned much, have grown and have matured spiritually. So at this time toward the end of the year, let me summarize a number of the key points from the book of Joshua for you to review, and receive insights and encouragement that allow me to have spiritual fellowship with each of you through the Heavenly Dew publication. The following is my sharing with you:
1. Becoming a servant of the Lord takes time
From the very beginning, we see that Joshua was Moses’ “helper” by his side, learning from him over at least 20 or 30 years. It was until Moses was nearing the end of his life did God reveal to him to select Joshua as his successor and leader to lead the Israelites onwards after Moses. From the book of Joshua, we can see much of what Joshua did was quite similar to his master Moses. For example, Moses divided the Red Sea while Joshua divided the Jordan River; Moses erected 12 pillars to build an altar to offer sacrifices while Joshua also erected a pile of 12 stones as a testimony. We see a very important spiritual principle here, that preparation to be a servant of the Lord requires the accumulation and tempering from both time and experiences. Today, all those who desire to become God’s servants must have similar mental and spiritual preparation, and be willing to humbly learn from the more experienced in spiritual services who come before them.
2. Depending on God coupled with giving our best
In serving God or serving the church, we must fully believe in God’s promises and completely trust in Him. God wants us to be confident about He being with us, and what He has said will certainly take place. At the same time, God also wants us to bear our own responsibilities. Depending on God without actually obeying or taking action is superstition and false belief. For example, God wants the Israelites to be strong and courageous, not to fear, and God will give them the land of Canaan as an inheritance (Joshua 1:3, 9). But at the same time, God also wants the Israelites to prepare food (Joshua 1:11), and warriors from all the tribes to go out to battle together. The lesson is that we must fully trust God and courageously bear our due responsibilities in order to carry out God’s work and complete the mission that He has entrusted to us.
3. Follow God’s instructions completely
We came across a number of verses that were difficult to explain or to understand from the book of Joshua. For example, when the city of Ai was captured, why all the spoils had to be destroyed while the plunder obtained from other cities could be taken as spoils of war. Also, why must all the Canaanites be completely wiped out with none able to exist? These questions are not easy to address. But the important thing is that “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 (Joshua 11:15). This type of obedience represents Joshua submission to God’s sovereignty and his belief of God’s thoughts were higher than men’s thoughts. When we are willing to completely follow God’s instructions, God will make what we do prosper and receive His blessings!
4. Believe in the steadfastness of God’s promises
As we studied in the last chapter, the entire book of Joshua is a testimony of God being completely true and faithful! The Bible tells us about God, “For he spoke, and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood firm. (Ps. 33:9 ESV)” and “So shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty.” (Isa. 55:11 ESV). At the end of the book of Joshua, it is recorded that Joseph’s bones were moved from Egypt to Shechem in Canaan. This event testifies to God’s faithfulness and a display of the Israelite’s faith. Even though it happened after four hundred years, God’s promise didn’t change at all. God has fulfilled the promise of the Israelites entering the land of Canaan according to His timetable. This allows the Christians today to learn how to wait upon the fulfillment of God’s promises. One day God will lead us to a new heaven and a new earth. This will be fulfilled because He is a completely faithful God!
5. Take an untrodden path
God told Joshua that the path He was leading the Israelites on was “a path that you have never walked before” (Joshua 3:4). This kind of path is unfamiliar and uncomfortable to be on. It brings us a lot of worries, anxiety, and even resistance. But we can learn to trust and pray, and ponder if this is the way God wants us to go. If it is, then it’s “the way to go”, the way to follow the Lord, just like the Israelites must follow the Ark of the Covenant. If we are willing to come and walk with the Lord, this will be a blessed path in the end as it is the way that leads to the place that God has promised us. Let us boldly follow the Holy Spirit and take a path untrodden.
6. Be bold in handling church discipline
Although Christians are a body belonging to God and are citizens of God’s holy kingdom, it does not mean that this body on earth is perfect and flawless. If you have been with a group of Christians for a long time, you may also discover some people in the group do not fully follow God’s words. In the book of Joshua, we see this in Achan, and in the early New Testament church, the incident of Ananias and Sapphira. Although they are dealt with in different ways, the purpose is to maintain the purity and holiness of the church! Even our Lord Jesus laid down some spiritual principles to the church to handle church discipline (Matthew 18), teaching the church how to manage church conflicts and maintain church discipline. Any church that neglects church discipline is like giving up the church’s sacred mission to pursue holiness!
7. Learn through mistakes and failures
Having church discipline does not mean that the church cannot tolerate failure or mistakes. The importance is whether we can learn from our mistakes and failures and turn back from them. Joshua also made a mistake in his oversight and failure to consult with the Lord, resulting in being deceived by the Gibeonites and even made a covenant with them. It was a serious mistake. But Joshua was also willing to take responsibility for his mistake, faced the problem, resolved it so that the problem would not escalate to a point of being out of control! If Moses and Joshua both inevitably made mistakes while serving God, how can we be sure that we won’t? We face many choices serving in the church, it is unavoidable that we could make some wrong decisions. But the point is, after a mistake was made, whether we earnestly tried to correct, remedy or take action so that such a mistake would not continue to propagate, and the body of God would not be hurt further.
8. Gather up memorial stones of your life
Smart people are often just as forgetful. Many beautiful things in life are often forgotten with the pass of time. In our spiritual experiences, God has also left many treasured memories in our lives. But if we don’t regularly think about them, these may also fade from our memories. After the Israelites crossed the Jordan River as recorded in chapter 4, Joshua set up twelve stones from the Jordan River in Gilgal as a memorial, a testimony to future generations that Jehovah God is the almighty God, the God who led them through the Great River. God dried up the water of the Great River and enabled the Israelites to cross over to the west bank of River Jordan! The purpose is to let the next generation descendants fear Jehovah God forever! For Christians today, perhaps we don’t have to gather up stones, but we can use our pens and mouths to testify with a purpose what God has done in our lives, so that future generations, and our many friends, will be able to know the God that we believe in is a powerful God, a God who can deliver us from the sea of suffering, and a God who can lead us into abundant life! Are you able to remember the “stones” that God has left in your life?
9. Share adversity with your brothers
You might remember that before entering the land of Canaan, the two and a half tribes felt that the land east of the Jordan was very good. They asked Moses to let them to take the land east of the Jordan as their inheritance. Even though Moses granted them their request, he set the condition that they must first go out with their brothers and the other nine and a half tribes to battle against the Canaanites, and only after the land of Canaan was conquered could they return to their own land. This incident teaches us that we all belong to the God’s community, and are together, members in the body of Christ Jesus. We must learn to love each other, bear each other’s burdens, and face adversity together with our brothers in everything, just as Paul taught, “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.” (1 Corinthians 12:26)
10. Respect chosen and called servants of God
In the book of Joshua, we see a distinct difference in the degree of obedience to spiritual leaders between the time of Moses and the time of Joshua. During the time of Moses, we saw the Israelites regularly complained and blamed their leaders. But in Joshua’s era, the Israelites were relatively obedient to their spiritual leaders. They did what Joshua instructed them to do. The Israelites’ complaints and disobedience to Moses resulted in forty years of wandering in the wilderness. The Israelites’ obedience to Joshua resulted in their entry into the good land of Canaan. This shows us our willingness to respect those whom God has called to lead us puts us in a better position to accomplish God’s mission through His chosen servants. When the church fails to submit, we will likely suffer failures and have many regrets in our ministries.
Besides, we also see in the book of Joshua how the Israelites highly regarded the Levites among them. Not only were they willing to give the Levites their share of the land, but they also gave them all the cities and suburbs for their livestock so that they would not lack anything. More importantly, the Israelites regarded the Levites not as hired men, but as God’s chosen servants. When a church invites a pastor to serve in the church. they wait upon and pray for God to send His chosen servant to lead them, but not to hire a minister as an employee. Honestly speaking, if there is no calling or leading from God, a mission-minded pastor will not come even if offered a high salary. The example and attitude displayed by the Israelites towards the Levites serve as a model for church leaders and brothers and sisters to have towards their pastors today.
11. Evaluate what you treasure most
After having been through many years on our spiritual journey, we can think back over God’s grace and guidance in the past. Since God lavishes His complete love on us, there are traces of God’s grace and tracks of overflowing abundance (Ps 65:11). We must regularly reflect upon them and consider what our best response to God should be. Is God the utmost treasure of our hearts? Can we love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength? Are there idols that we love much more than we love God? Can we honestly say to ourselves and to our children and grandchildren, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord! We will love the Lord in whom we believe!” Joshua, who was once envious of the spiritual gifts of Moses and the elders, but he learned through years of honing the essence and purpose of serving was to glorify God! We are nothing but instruments of God, vessels for God to manifest His own glory! We are not so important. What is important is the Lord that we serve! It is His glory!
12. Concern over the next generation inheriting our faith
Whether it is the twelve stones from the Jordan River that Joshua set up, or the renewal of their covenant with God when Joshua asked the rulers and the Israelites to make recorded in the last two chapters of the book of Joshua, both have the same purpose. Through such a covenant and testimony, the future generation descendants will be reminded of the importance of the faith held by those who believe in the Lord. When God told Joshua that there is still “unpossessed land”, we understand that no one person or any generation can fully accomplish God’s mission and plan. Therefore, we only need to do our best in our mission and service in our generation, and strive to pass on the inheritance of our faith. God will lead and accomplish His plan through the others. We will all pass on one day, but the work of God will not end. We just need to diligently pray for the next generation, God will lead them just as He has led our generation.
It was about ten years from the time God told Joshua about the lands yet to be possessed with missions yet to accomplish, to the time when Joshua passed away. We don’t know what else Joshua did during this period. The Bible tells us that God wants him to complete the division of the land for inheritance. After that, we see a dispute between the nine and a half tribes over the altar built by the other two and a half tribes. This incident almost caused a civil war among the Israelites. Fortunately, because it was handled properly, the misunderstanding was resolved. The Israelites were able to have a peaceful and stable period afterwards. But it is worth mentioning that in this last incident, the Bible hardly mentions Joshua’s role in handling this dispute. Instead, Phinehas, the son of Eleazar the old priest, led the people of other nine half-tribes to handle the dispute. This reveals the Joshua era had ended and a new generation had arrived. But both are the same, blessed by God to handle the matters properly.
I can imagine Joshua’s mood during this period. God had used him greatly in the past to lead the Israelites to accomplish many missions. Now his role appears to be insignificant. But I personally believe that during this entire time, Joshua was praying behind the scenes for a new generation of leaders, asking God to be with them just as He had been with him before. When Joshua saw that the leaders of this new generation was faithful and achieved good result under challenging condition according to God’s will, his heart must have been filled with comfort and gratitude. For we are all becoming older, and there will be a time when we are unable to do what we used to do. But God is always trustworthy and almighty. God had used people of Joshua’s generation, and God had also used people of Phinehas’ generation. Brothers and sisters, do you believe that God can continue to use the next generation of Tri-City Chinese Baptist Church? Do you believe that God will raise up a new generation of those He has prepared to complete His Great Commission?
Perhaps you are unable to do much anymore. But are you willing to pray for the next generation, wait upon the Lord for the glory and crown with your most utmost love for Him, and continue to complete the journey that God has prepared for you?
Joshua can be considered a book describing the pilgrimage of all God’s children having been delivered by God. It covers the time from the end of the Israelites wandering in the wilderness to the time they entered and conquered the Land God promised. If we ponder over the content of this book, we can certainly receive the many benefits and much encouragement on our spiritual journey through the study: in living out our Christian faith, serving with co-laborers and with God’s gifts, in leadership and administration, teaching and discipline, growing in love for the Lord, waiting upon His promises, hearts filled with hope, and with complete submission to God. May we encourage each other in the days that God is giving us, to trust in the Lord, live for the Lord, faithful until the end, and love the Lord wholeheartedly!