Worth Reading–December 16, 2011
The War Within
By Russ Ramsey
The time had come to take the land, and Joshua was confident in his Captain’s command. The men of Israel were no longer slaves. They were soldiers. He would lead them through the valleys of the shadows of their fears. He would teach them the cadence of the Lord marching out before them. He would lead them up from the Jordan to the clearing where their first objective, standing like a pillar of sand and stone, would come into view: Jericho.
In a way, Jericho represented the entire conquest. To take any of the land, they would have to start with Jericho. And if the Lord gave them Jericho, what couldn’t they take? But God would have to be the one to do this.
And he did. The way the Lord delivered Jericho to Israel stunned the world. The news of Israel’s victory instilled in the neighboring cities a fear of not only the Hebrew people, but also of their commander Joshua, who seemed to have the power of God behind him. The confidence of Joshua’s army lay in the strength of the Lord, and they swept through the land as one city after another fell.
When the conquest was complete, Joshua assembled the people. They had some unfinished business with the Lord. As great as their victories had been, there was still another war to fight, one that had been raging since long before any of them could remember. It was a war against God—a siren song calling the hearts of every man to reject the Lord and serve other gods who could be tamed, placated, or bargained with. Men could conquer the world and still be stuck in the mire of this fight.
The Lord had promised to give this land to the children of Abraham, and now it was theirs. He had loved them with an enduring love. Joshua reminded them of the road they’d walked—of their history as nomads and slaves, of the Red Sea and the Jordan. The Lord had been faithful to them (Josh. 24).
But Joshua also reminded them that for their part, they had not been faithful. They had forsaken the Lord more times than any of them cared to remember. They had sought after the gods of the nations around them (Josh. 7:10-26), and when those were not available, they made gods of their own (Ex. 32). Now the stakes were higher than ever. If Israel turned to worshiping other gods, the Lord would cut them off from this land (Josh. 23:16).
“You will be tempted to turn to other gods. Choose this day whom you will serve” (Josh. 24:15).
The people insisted, “We will serve the Lord and him only” (Josh. 24:18).
Joshua answered, “But you’re not able. You know this. God is holy, but time and time again you forsake him for idols. Know this: when you do, he will judge you for it” (Josh. 24:19-21).
But they insisted, “We mean it. We will follow the Lord. We will obey his voice” (Josh. 24:24).
So Joshua told the people to set up another memorial, only this one wasn’t meant to serve as a testimony to the faithfulness of God. This one was meant to stand as a witness against them if they ever abandoned their promise (Josh. 24:26-27).
Their hearts so longed for rest, and the Lord had given it. They were home. They couldn’t fathom ever taking the Lord’s mercy and kindness for granted. But Joshua’s warning was plain. Their peace would depend on their ability to follow the Lord and serve him only. This was a position of tenuous rest. It could be lost so easily.
Joshua, the commander of the Lord’s army, had led the people into the land of their inheritance. But their security there balanced on the fulcrum of their obedience. Tip either way—to godlessness or to the worship of many gods—and the Lord would cut them off from the land of their inheritance. There would be an edge even to their rest.
There was only so much Joshua could do for them. He could warn them. He could remind them of their past history with idolatry. He could take them through the stories of the generations before, who had, without exception, at one point or another embraced the gods of their neighboring countries. He could implore, threaten, pray, and appeal. He could pound his fists on his pulpit. He could plead from his knees. He could sing in the sweetest whisper of a lullaby.
But one thing Joshua could not do. He could not make them holy. He could warn them of their proclivity to sin, but he could not take it from them. He could vividly predict their certain coming guilt, but he could not remove it. He could lead many of the sons of Israel to consider their place in this world, but he could not lead any sons to glory (Heb. 2:9-10).