11. Joshua (1)

Meditations of Old Testament Highlights: 11.  Joshua (1)

Josh 1:5-9   I will never leave you nor forsake you…. Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.”

It would almost do a disservice to Joshua to take just one verse. In these verses three times Joshua is told by the Lord to be strong and courageous, twice he is told to carefully hold on to the Law that came through Moses, twice he is told he will be successful if he does these things, and twice the Lord has declared He will be with him and will never leave him, wherever he goes. These verses are a package of reassurance for Joshua and they follow another highlight, I will give you every place where you set your foot, as I promised Moses.” (v.3)

Moses, on the Plains of Moab before he departed had declared, “If you carefully observe all these commands I am giving you to follow–to love the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways and to hold fast to him– then the LORD will drive out all these nations before you, and you will dispossess nations larger and stronger than you. Every place where you set your foot will be yours.” (Deut 11:22-24) There were some of those same components – holding fast to the Law will mean God will be with them to drive out their enemies before them. From right back at the burning bush, nearly forty years before, the Lord had promised Moses this land: “I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey–the home of the Canaanites.” (Ex 3:8) This had been repeated in Ex 3:17, 6:4,8, 12:25, 13:5,11, 20:12, 23:23,28-31, 32:13, 33:1,2, 34:11,12,15,24.  Oh yes, the promise of the Land had been constantly there.

But how would obeying the Law help Joshua and his army as they entered the land and drove the inhabitants out? Many of the laws were surely about living out community and that had not yet been established? The answer, I suggest, is that Joshua meditating daily upon the laws meant that his heart would be turned to the Lord the whole time he advanced into the land. He would be encouraged to do this as he was made aware of two things: first, that the Lord was with him the whole time, and second, doing this would ensure success in the whole enterprise.

Why have I suggested that these are ‘highlight verses’?  It is because they show a threefold strategy that is there for bringing about success. First, they have been reminded that they are fulfilling a goal that the Lord has spoken about and promised many times over the past forty years. This activity this founded on the Lord’s promises. Second it is a strategy that is guaranteed because the Lord Himself was there in the midst of it. He had previously promised a number of times that He would drive out the inhabitants (but that was largely predicated on the corresponding activity of Israel). Third, there is a human part to be played and that requires three things: i) a firm faithfulness, holding to the Law and to the Lord, ii) a requirement to be courageous, and that involves an act of will and iii) their activity as warriors going in to clear the Land.

So how do these things impact our lives today? How are they relevant for the way we live out our lives, day by day? Well, following the order above,

  • first, we have the confidence to be who we are and do what we do because we have the promises of God in His word, especially in the New Testament, and we can rely on those promises, e.g. that we are forgiven, we are redeemed, we are adopted as children of God, we now come under His protection and receive His provision. These are all promises of His word,
  • second, He is with us and indwells us by His own Holy Spirit. Wherever we go we have that same assurance that Joshua had which has been carried into the New Testament, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” (Heb 13:3),
  • third, as we play our part so we will observe fruitfulness, things coming about as a result of His blessing on our lives and activity.

This last part, again following what we said above, has three parts. We have three things to do as we play our part:

  1. i) We hold firmly to His word: we need to be strengthened as we read His word, study His word, meditate upon His word, being encouraged by His testimony of what He and Jesus have done, and learning the principles by which He works and the teaching He lays before us for us to follow. i.e. we constantly seek His will.
  2. ii) we determine to remain courageous, and that will involve an act of will that says, ‘I will remain faithful and true, I will persevere in the face of adversity and I will receive from Him His grace to overcome on a daily basis.

iii) we see ourselves as warriors in a spiritual battle so we resist lies and doubts and temptations from the enemy, and we fight with the weapons of truth, of righteousness, of worship and of prayer, being led at all times by the Spirit.

In these ways we walk parallel to Joshua and his army. He had a physical land to overcome, we have a spiritual ‘land’ – our lives. He had to drive out physical enemies, we have to deny spiritual enemies their hold on our lives – doubts, dismay, dejection, pride, arrogance, self-conceit, anger, bitterness, unforgiveness, the list is long and is there in the New Testament. Physical or spiritual, the strategy was essentially the same. Do read through again the things in the above paragraphs that you may be clear on the issues, clear on the goals, clear on the methods and set your compass accordingly. Be blessed warriors of God!

3. Poor in Spirit

MEDITATIONS IN THE BEATITUDES – 3

Mt 5:3 Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven

We live in a world that extols greatness, strength, power, beauty, cleverness. In various disciplines involving psychology we speak of building self-esteem. Indeed when writing on parenting skills we spend much time on the need to build the self-esteem of our children. We go on courses and build up our CV so that when we go for a new job we can say how good we are. We go through annual assessments that prove how we are not only doing our job but doing it better and better, and thus we seek for promotion. Everything about life in this world is about promoting self.

It is helpful to have this awareness of the world – and we do need reminding of it – particularly when we come to such fundamental teaching as found in our verse today. When I became a Christian I went to my nearest church and attended the Bible Study where, to my surprise, everyone seemed to say that this and the following verses were impossible and therefore weren’t for today! What they failed to realize is that it is impossible to experience this verse while holding on to the world’s values of pride and self-centredness. If this and the following verses come as a shock to us, it is because we have become so rooted in the way of the world, that we have lost true perspective.

These Beatitudes of Jesus are in a purposeful order. There is nothing haphazard about them, and this first one is absolutely foundational to the whole of becoming and being a Christian. It is absolutely critical! But please note that it doesn’t say, “Blessed are the Poor.” It is true that Luke, recording a similar set of teachings, says that (Lk 6:20) but Matthew picks up the emphasis – “in spirit”. There is no glorying in poverty in the Bible. In fact, part of God’s promises of blessings, as we noted yesterday, include the blessings of provision (Deut 28:4,5,11). The absence of such provisions were part of the curses on Israel (Deut 28:17,18,38-40). Oh no, this is not blessedness of material poverty, but blessedness of being poor in spirit.

This being poor in spirit, needs to be distinguished from simple poverty of spirit. Poverty of spirit is what the self-centred, godless person has, the person who says they have no knowledge of the spiritual world, no sense of God’s presence. This person has a poverty of spirit and seems to revel in it. The person who is poor in spirit is like that other person in that there is this absence of spirituality, but the big difference is that they are aware of it! Here is the crucial element – awareness.

The Old Testament gives us many examples: Moses – “Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh” (Ex 3:11 ) and “O Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue.(Ex 4:10). This was Moses’ attitude: who am I that I could do your bidding, I’m a nobody! Gideon: “how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family” (Jud 6:15 ). Similarly in Gideon – I’m a nobody!

In the New Testament, the apostle Paul rejected the things the world clings to, his pedigree (Phil 3:5), his abilities at work (3:6), all these things he considered rubbish for the sake of knowing Christ (3:8). In his first letter to the Corinthians he spelled out his ‘philosophy’: “But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things.” (1 Cor 1:27,28). No, you don’t get into God’s kingdom by being strong or worldly wise, you get in by realizing, like Paul, that all these things are worthless, they count for nothing before God, He is not impressed.

How do you get into heaven? By trying hard? By working harder? By being pious? By being religious? No, by recognizing your spiritual poverty, recognizing that you are weak and poor and need God’s help, recognizing that without Christ you can do nothing (Jn 15:5), without Christ you are lost. That is the condition for getting to heaven, that you recognize your need and recognize that it is only fulfilled in Christ. Note that it isn’t mere humility which can be a simple recognition of limitedness. This being ‘poor in spirit’ seen in the context of the whole Bible teaching, is a recognition that we need Christ for salvation. I can get into heaven no other way.

Finally note that when I come to God like this, He promises that He will provide a way (and has provided a way) for me to come into His eternal presence – and that starts the moment I come to Him like that. Eternal life starts the moment we come to God recognizing our need, and recognizing that God has provided the means of satisfying that need through Christ, through His death on the Cross and by the life of his Spirit. Here on earth we get glimpses of heaven as Jesus expresses himself. When we die on this earth, our eternal future is in that other dimension, in the presence of God, called heaven.

Not only do we need to realize that to become a Christian, but if we are to go on with God then we need to be reminded of it again and again. Like Moses and Gideon and Paul, I’m not up to the job, I’m not even up to the Christian life on my own, I constantly need Christ’s help day by day. When I recognize this and turn to him, then suddenly there is a new heavenly dimension to my life, suddenly the power and presence of God’s presence through Jesus, through his Spirit, breaks through in me and in my circumstances. That is how important this verse is. It points to the requirement for us both becoming a Christian and living life as a Christian. Our starting point is a point of recognition, of realization, of awareness. May it be so!