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JOSHUA 23:1-16
Series:  Conquest and Chaos - Part Two

Pastor Stephen Muncherian
June 25, 2017

We are at Joshua 23.  Last Sunday we moved from Exodus through Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, and most of Joshua - including 34 verses last Sunday.  Which is a lot verses.  To help us make sure we’re are on the same page together we have a short quiz.  To take out your mental styluses and here we go…


First question…


1. Overall, the Book of Joshua helps us to understand...   

a. Trust self and get creamed.

b. Trust God and get victory.

c. God always fulfills His promises.

d. All of the above.


D - all of the above.


The book of Joshua is basically about God’s people conquering and dividing up the land that God had promised them.  While God’s people are doing all that conquering and dividing - and facing enormous challenges - they’re learning to trust God rather than themselves.  Trust self and get creamed. Trust God and get victory.  They’re learning to trust God Who is always faithful - Who fulfills His promise to them by giving them the… “Promised Land.”


Most of us haven’t been involved in conquering countries - leveling cities - crossing raging rivers on dry land at flood stage - stoning and burning people because of their sin.  And yet, how these people faced these issues - learning about trusting God not self - is a significant takeaway for us for when we come up against what are for us great challenges in life.


Number two:


2. For God’s people the Jordan River represents...

a. A place of unending sorrow

b. A place of great idolatry

c. A place of separation

d. All of the above


C - a place of separation.


Crossing through the Jordan - for God’s people - signifies that whatever was east of the Jordan has been left behind - slavery in Egypt - the wilderness wandering and the sin that led to it.  What’s on the west side of the Jordan is what it means to dwell with God - to experience God’s salvation - forgiveness - His presence in a new land and a new life.


Last question:


3. For God’s people the most dangerous part of crossing the Jordan River was…

a. They didn’t know how to swim

b. Carnivorous fish

c. Joshua had forgotten to bring the sunscreen

d. They might turn back


D - they might turn back.

All the tribes had crossed the Jordan to the Promised Land.  They’d consecrated themselves to God.  Served Him.  Learned to trust Him - obey Him.  They’d all seen God’s provision first hand.  Experienced His presence.  Watched Him bring victory.


9½ tribes stayed on the west side experiencing God’s rest.  That deep - lasting - at the core of who we are - rest that comes when - despite our circumstances - when we learn to choose to trust in God - rest that only comes when we leave our lives and circumstances in God’s hands.  Living life in the presence of the living God.


9½ tribes stayed in the west 2½ tribes returned back to the east side of the river to the land that they’d chosen for themselves.


Which is a significant takeaway for us.  We can experience God’s victory.  We can see God do amazing things in our lives.  We can know His presence with us.  And yet we struggle to let go of what we know.  Where we’ve been.  Where we’re comfortable.  Challenges hit us.  Temptations to past addictions.  We want what God has for us we struggle to cross the river.  Or we come up against stuff and we choose to turn back from totally trusting God.


The best way to cross the river is to… cross the river.  Trust what God has for us and intentionally choose to cross and don’t turn back.

The section of Joshua that we started last Sunday - chapters 22 to 24 focus on what life on the west side looks like in real time.  As those who have been hugely blessed by God - who have victory in Jesus and who see God at work in our lives - how can we continue living faithfully and obediently - living life with the living God today?


Verses 1 to 5 introduces us to Joshua’s Final Advice to God’s people.


Verse 1:  A long time ago in a galaxy far far away…  (just checking)  A long time afterward, when the Lord had given rest to Israel from all their surrounding enemies, and Joshua was old and well advanced in years, Joshua summoned all Israel, its elders and heads, its judges and officers, and said to them, “I am now old and well advanced in years.


That’s an understatement.  How old was Joshua?  Almost as old a dirt.  He’s old - advanced in years.  About 110 years old.  Meaning in a 110 years Joshua has seen a lot. 


He’s lived through slavery in Egypt.  He’s one of two men who stood for God - calling for trust in God - when 10 other highly respected men - the other spies - said that there was no way they could conquer the Promised Land.  So Joshua spent 40 years wandering in the wilderness with God’s people - a wandering that wasn’t because of him.  Imagine what Joshua had learned about letting God adjust his attitude over that one.

Joshua was a disciple of Moses.  Meaning Joshua was standing close by as Moses and God spoke with each other.  Joshua was there as Moses spoke on God’s behalf to God’s people.  And later, Joshua was someone that God spoke to and through.


In Scripture, Joshua gets mentioned with the greatest of God’s leaders - guys like Abraham and David and Paul.  For about 25 plus years he’s been leading the nation of Israel - in conquest and peace.  Through all that - Joshua has learned to walk in faith - to live tight with God.


These last two chapters of Joshua are two final assemblies of God’s people - one here in chapter 23 and the other in chapter 24 - two final assemblies where Joshua gathers Israel together and shares with the nation - sage advice - Godly wisdom - that comes from all those years of learning to walk faithfully with God.


We need people like this in our lives.  Yes?  We need to listen to people like this that God puts in our lives.


Verse 3:  And you have seen all that the Lord your God has done to all these nations for your sake, for it is the Lord your God who has fought for you.  Behold, I have allotted to you as an inheritance for your tribes those nations that remain, along with all the nations that I have already cut off, from the Jordan to the Great Sea in the west.  The Lord your God will push them back before you and drive them out of your sight.  And you shall possess their land, just as the Lord your God promised you.

Trust God and get… victory.  Meaning Who brings the victory?  God.  Who always fulfills His promises?  God.  God’s people had seen the living God in action with their own eyes.  God fighting for His people.  The Promise Land - what’s been conquered - has been divided up between the tribes - Napthali in the north - Simeon in the south - and so on.


However - verse 5 - with all that God has done for you there’s still more Promised Land yet to possess.  There are still peoples needing to be pushed back - driven out.  There are more battles needing to be fought.


Which means that - even with all that God has done - there’s real time danger here to your relationship with God and to your living in His promises.  Which is what Joshua’s advice is all about.  How to keep faithfully and obediently living life with the living God.


Running down through the rest of chapter 23 are Five WORDS of Practical Advice.  Sage words of wisdom - of advice from this really old Godly guy - that are really important - even in the spiritual battlefields where we do life.


First:  Be Very Strong.  Unwavering commitment.


Verse 6:  Therefore, be very strong to keep and to do all that is written in the Book of the Law of Moses, turning aside from it neither to the right hand nor to the left..

This is Sheila Drummond.  At the Mahoning Valley Country Club - in Pennsylvania - Sheila Drummond - in the midst of a rainy soggy day - Sheila teed off on the 144 yard, par 3, 4th hole of the course.  Her shot cleared a creek - split two bunkers - landed on the green - hit the flagstick and dropped in the cup for a hole-in-one.  Sheila heard her pink lucky ball hit the flagstick - but she never saw it drop in the cup.


Sheila is one of three totally blind people in the US - and the only woman - to hit a hole in one.


Most of us are challenged by those windmills and volcano things.  Right?


This is real golf.  The odds of a sighted amateur making a hole in one are 1 in 12,750.  There are no odds for a blind golfer.


Sheila’s been golfing for 15 years.  A person playing with her said this, “Sheila works hard at the game.  Some days she gets frustrated.  But, she just comes back and tries again.”  That’s commitment - doing what it takes.  (1) 


“Be very strong” is the Hebrew word “chazaq.”  It has the idea of total commitment.  Be very strong - firm - unwavering resolve to doing whatever it takes - to keep and do all that is written in the Book of the Law of Moses.


The “book of the law” is what the nation received through Moses - what we have as the first 5 books of the Bible - Genesis to Deuteronomy.  In Hebrew the name for those 5 books is... “Torah.”  Sound familiar? 


Torah - comes from a Hebrew root word that describes an archer giving direction to the arrow as it leaves the bow.


Years ago I was an archery instructor down at a Christian camp near Woodlake.  Teaching archery to juniors and Junior Highers.  Which was a tad dangerous. 


I’d show campers how to string their bows.  How to hold the bows and notch their arrows.  Draw back on their strings holding the arrow with one hand - and guiding it with the other.  Everything lined up perfectly towards the target.  Then they’d release the string and the arrow would shoot off in some wild direction and kill a cow or something.


That last moment of release and guiding the arrow to the target is crucial to hitting the target.  Not deviating to the right or the left.


That’s Torah.  Torah gives us direction on how to live our lives so that we hit the target of living rightly before God.


It is deeply concerning how many Christians - who have been Christians for years - who have never read the Bible - who have no plans to read the Bible - who have no regular plan of personal Bible study.


Listening to a sermon on Sunday or on the radio or reading some devotional work is good.  But it is way inadequate for what Joshua is warning about here and calling us to. 

To live rightly before the living God - we’ve got to be intentionally committed to the authority of God’s word over our lives.  Gods’ word is the word that shapes the direction of our lives - individually and as a congregation.


Which means that if our desire is to stay faithful to God we’ve got to do whatever it takes - daily - consistently - totally committed - to not allow ourselves to be distracted or get lazy - we’ve got to be in God’s word daily - consistently - studying - mediating - memorizing - having others hold us accountable - praying for the Holy Spirit to apply it and direct our lives by it and then obeying His word.


These days, what does that look like for you?  On a scale of 1 to 10 - one meaning, “I need to go home and try to find my Bible” - 10 meaning God asked me questions before He wrote it - where are you at?  Daily - dogged commitment - in the Word.  A 5?  A 6?  What would it look like to move that one more digit towards a 10?


Joshua’s first practical word of advice - be very strong in the word of God.  That’s an essential not an option.


The second sage word of advice comes in the next verse:  Don’t Mix.  Keep yourselves separate from the other nations and their gods.


Verse 7:  ...that you may not mix with these nations remaining among you or make mention of the names of their gods or swear by them or serve them or bow down to them,   

Way back when my grandparents were living in Turkey - in the towns they lived in - there was a Turkish section - with its mosque - and businesses and houses - and there was the Armenian section - with its churches and businesses and houses.


Many houses had a wall that formed the perimeter - with a door leading in to a large courtyard - and inside the perimeter wall - in this courtyard was where the family lived - going about the daily stuff of life.


The reason for the wall was because as Christians living in a Muslim country - as Armenians living in Turkish occupied Armenia - horrendous things were done to them.  The men would have to go outside the wall to conduct business - work in the fields or in some shop - interacting in the community.  But there was an understanding that there were dangers out there that we need to keep separated from.


“To mix” is the Hebrew word “bo” meaning “to come in” or “to go in.”  What describes inviting someone or something into our homes like a welcome guest.


Joshua’s warning is to not invite inside our homes - into our lives - what we need to keep separate from.


Let’s be careful.  That doesn’t mean living in fear or cutting ourselves off from people or the world we live in.  But about wisely guarding ourselves from the beliefs or things or attitudes or philosophies or culture that people devote themselves to that can be a significant danger to our relationship with God.


Elie Wiesel tells a story about a man who came to Sodom hoping to save the city.   He goes from street to street, from marketplace to marketplace, shouting, “Men and women, repent.  What you are doing is wrong.  It will kill you; it will destroy you.”

They laugh.  But he goes on shouting.  Until one day a child stops him. 
“Stranger, don’t you see it’s useless?”

“Yes,” the just man replies.

“Then why do you go on?” 
the child asks.


“In the beginning,” he says, “I was convinced that I would change them. Now I go on shouting because I don’t want them to change me.” (2)


We’re already a part of this world.  Like Israel was in the land.  We’re living in the town.  Welcome to earth.  We’re located here.  But that doesn’t mean we have to live like here. 


God desires to use us in His work of redemption.  God changing the hearts of those around us - to change them towards God and all of what God promises to us.  Not to allow Satan to use those around us to change our hearts away from God.


In the day-to-day, how are you doing at that?  We all need to build and maintain a wall of protection around our lives - making wise choices about what we let in.  What gets mixed into our lives.  That may mean letting go of some things - what we focus our minds on - the places we go - even some relationships.


Joshua’s third word of sage advice is to Cling To The Lord Your God.  Get a grip on God and don’t let go.


Verse 8:  ...but [rather than getting mixed up with what is dangerous and destructive] but [instead] you shall cling to the Lord your God just as you have done to this day.  For the Lord has driven out before you great and strong nations.  And as for you, no man has been able to stand before you to this day.  One man of you puts to flight a thousand, since it is the Lord your God who fights for you, just as He promised you. 


Remember Henry Dempsey?  Henry Dempsey was a pilot on a commuter flight between Lewiston, Maine and Boston, Massachusetts.  Henry heard an unusual noise coming from the rear of the aircraft.  So he turned the controls over to the co-pilot and went back to check it out.


When he got to the back the plane hit some turbulence.  Henry was thrown against the rear door and discovered that the source of the noise was that the door wasn’t latched properly.  Which flew open and Henry was sucked out of the plane.


When they landed they found Henry holding onto the outdoor ladder of the aircraft.  Somehow hed caught the ladder - held on for more that 15 minutes as the plane flew 200 mph at an altitude of 4,000 feet. 


It took the emergency team several minutes to pry Henry’s fingers off the ladder.  (3)


“Cling” is the Hebrew word “debaq.”  An intimate inseparable oneness of mind - body - soul.

Like Peter - out of the boat - in the dark walking on water until he got focused on the waves and the wind - the storm and not Jesus.  Fearful and realizing the desperation of his situation - Peter crying out to Jesus,
“Lord, save me!”  And Jesus reaching out His hand - taking hold of Peter - bringing Peter into the safety of the boat.  (Matthew 14:23-33)


How tightly do you think Peter clung onto to Jesus?


We get it that God reaches to us.  If He didn’t we’re toast.  But how tightly are we clinging on to God?


We live in a country that condones the murder of children.  That allows women and children to be enslaved.  That champions moral depravity.  That wages war for our own economic and political benefit.  Where justice is by common consensus - meaning right can be wrong and wrong can be right.  Where violence and fear are becoming ways of life.  Where our society and culture are unraveling at the seams and the future is deeply concerning.


And let’s not be arrogant.  Each of us - before God - each of us is totally corrupt in every part of our nature.  We live in sin and there’s nothing within us that’s worthy of God’s approval.  That’s who we are individually and as a race since Adam fell.


We experience the reality of that in our hearts and homes.


Sometimes we loose touch with the desperation we’re in and how desperate we are for God.  Why wouldn’t we cling to God?


God who rescues and redeems His people from Egypt.  Gives to them a Promised Land to live in with Him.  God Who because of His great love and grace and mercy extends to us forgiveness and forever with Him through Jesus’ work on the cross.  In Jesus we have hope forever.


No matter what’s up in our lives - we need to cling to God - so that nothing can pry us away from our faith in Him.  We have to hang onto him like our life depends upon it.  Because it does.


These days, how tightly are you clinging on to God?


Fourth word of sage advice - verse 11:  Be Very Careful.


Verse 11:  Be very careful, therefore, to love the Lord your God.  For if you turn back and cling to the remnant of these nations remaining among you and make marriages with them, so that you associate with them and they with you, know for certain that the Lord your God will no longer drive out these nations before you, but they shall be a snare and a trap for you, a whip on your sides and thorns in your eyes, until you perish from off this good ground that the Lord your God has given you.


“Be careful” is the Hebrew word “shamar.”  It has the idea of diligence.  Joshua adds the word “meod” - not just “be diligent” but “be very diligent.”


Diligence is the commitment to pursue God.  The commitment to love God with everything we are.  Complete - unwavering - at the heart level - displayed in the day-to-day living of our lives - mind, body, soul, total devotion to God.

“To be careful” is to guard that.  To not allow anything into our lives that will distract us from loving God with all that we are.  Or to engage in doing anything that will distract us from loving God with all that we are.  But to give ourselves over to doing whatever it takes to grow deeper and more committed to loving God.


If we do not - Joshua warns - we’re toast.  We will have removed ourselves from under God’s protection.  Removed ourselves from His blessing.  Stepped away from His relationship with us.  And, we will be overwhelmed - defeated and destroyed - by what is out there in the delusional world under the control of Satan.


We’re together?


What if I began preaching sermons encouraging you to stop showing up on Sunday mornings.  There’s stuff going on in your families - sports - recreation - things happening in the community - that are way more important.  Stop wasting your time reading your Bible or praying.  You can pick and choose what you want to believe anyway.  Play more video games.  Snap and tweet more.  Truth is found on Facebook.  Stop giving financially to the church.  It’s God’s ministry.  Let Him figure out how to pay for it.  Commitment to Christ and His church needs to fit your schedule.  Life Groups and serving God - that whole Love God - Love Others - Serve the Church - Serve the World thing is really kind of optional. 


If I preached that most of you would probably be thinking that we need to find a new pastor.  Or you should be.


But in all honesty - looking at how most Christians in America seem to be living out their relationships with God - that seems to be a pretty accurate picture of what Christians in America actually believe.  Actions speaking louder than words.  The reality of what we are actually pursuing with the life that God gives to us.


Arthur Rubinstein - the world famous pianist - years ago wrote about the importance of practicing every day.  “If I don’t practice one day, nobody knows.  If I don’t practice two days, then I know.  But if I don’t practice three days, the whole world can tell.” (4)


Whether or not we’re being carefully diligent at the heart level isn’t always immediately noticeable.  Sometimes we show up here with our game faces on and our hearts someplace else.  Just saying.  But spiritually - and just in life in general - it catches up to us.


Diligence is our commitment to do the basics over and over and over again.  Maybe we get knocked down or we have an off day or we compromise or we stumble or we fail.  Let’s face it, we all do.  But we get up and do it again.


It’s like exercise or being on a diet.  It’s not always easy or not always what we’d envision for ourselves.  But it is essential. 

If we’re not diligent to protect and pursue our relationship with God - slacking off on what we know we must be doing 24/7/365 - and then we go out in the world and get coated with all that crud - it isn’t long before our eyes start looking at stuff they shouldn’t - before our mind starts thinking about stuff it shouldn’t - our actions take on actions that are not Godly.


How are you doing with that?  One reason why “Love Others” is so important is because we need each other to help each other to keep going.  If you want someone to talk with about all that - even it’s talking with me - please do.


Joshua’s fifth sage word of practical advice comes in verse 14 - Remember the Consequences.


Verse 14:  “And now I am about to go the way of all the earth, and you know in your hearts and souls, all of you, that not one word has failed of all the good things that the Lord your God promised concerning you.  All have come to pass for you; not one of them has failed.


Joshua - getting ready to die - one more time reminding God’s people of what they’ve seen with their own two eyes.  God fulfilling His promises.  The protection and presence of God.  What it means to live in God’s victory and blessing.  What is a summary of the really good consequences of living life with the living God. 

Verse 15:  But just as all the good things that the Lord your God promised concerning you have been fulfilled for you, so the Lord will bring upon you all the evil things, until He has destroyed you from off this good land that the Lord your God has given you, if you transgress the covenant of the Lord your God, which He commanded you, and go and serve other gods and bow down to them.  Then the anger of the Lord will be kindled against you, and you shall perish quickly from off the good land that He has given to you.”


“Transgress” - verse 16 - is the Hebrew word “abar” - which has the idea of passing through something.  Crossing a river or a boundary.


There are two ways that idea gets used here.  Israel passing through the Jordan River - same word “abar” - Israel passing through the Jordan River into the Promised Land into what are some really good consequences.  And - second idea - “abar” “transgress” is what it means to pass beyond the boundary of God’s law.  Which - in the consequences Joshua’s is reminding God’s people about - passing beyond the limits of God’s law - sin - has some pretty nasty consequences.


The tribes of Reuben, Gad, and one half Manasseh had crossed the river.  “Abared” into all that God was offering His people in the Promised Land.  They’d experienced God’s blessing and provision and victory.  And yet they choose to “abar” back to the east side of the river.  Back to what they saw as good grazing land - a good place to pitch their tents.

During the time the years ahead when the whole nation of Israel was slipping away from God, the 2½ tribes were the first to slide into sin - to transgress God’s covenant and commands - to compromise with the ungodly people on the east side of the river and all their gods.  Turning away from the living God to the idolatry and sins they’d left behind in Egypt.


Consequently they were the first of the tribes that God allowed to get hauled off into exile and captivity - to experience the consequences Joshua is warning about.  Consequences that all of the tribes experienced because eventually all of the tribes transgressed God’s commands.


Joshua’s warning is huge… even for us.  God means what He says.  God always comes through on His promises.  We need to think very carefully about the consequences of how we choose do live life.


Processing all that for ourselves...


Over and over from Genesis to Revelation God shows us both the good consequences and the bad.  Why?  Because He loves us.  He desires for us to live life with Him.  It’s what we’re created for - what is the only life worth living - now and forever - to God alone be the glory.


God sets boundaries and warns of consequences not because He enjoys sending plagues and pestilences and smiting people - but because He’s holy and just and righteous and gracious and merciful and longsuffering and He lovingly desires for us to live life with Him.


Hebrews 12:6:  “For the Lord disciplines those He loves, and He punishes each one He accepts as His child.”  (Hebrews 12:6 NLT)


Rather than letting His people totally self-destruct He disciplines them.  Lovingly teaching His people about the consequences of sin and the crucial importance of trusting Him.  God’s boundaries are about what He lovingly calls us from and what He lovingly calls us to. 


The advice that Joshua gives - unwavering commitment to an exclusive devotion to God - being very careful to cling to Him in everything…  Thinking through what that might look like in real time for us - as essential and crucial as all that is - as amazing as what that life opens up to us - that all may sound totally overwhelming and maybe just a tad discouraging.


Overwhelming because of what it means to live like that and discouraging because we know we don’t.


Here’s one takeaway for us this morning:  Remember it’s God who first pursued you.


Romans 5:8:  “...God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”


That doesn’t means that we don’t need to choose to pursue loving God with everything we are.  Because we need to do that.  To live out Joshua’s advice is a day-to-day choice of how to do life.



But it’s God Who enables life with the living God.  And - praise God - when we fall short God still loves us and He calls us back to relationship with Him.




1. FOXSports.com and mcall.com

2. Reader’s Digest, November 1987, Betty Wein retells an old tale she heard from Elie Wiesel

3. Lutheranhour.org and desiringgod.org - event occurred on Thursday 09.03.1987

4. Quoted by Doug Goins, Joshua 23:1-16


Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®  (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.