Faithfulness or Unfaithful Mess? Your Choice (Part One)

Please read Joshua 24 in your Bible.  I have used the NIV for these remarks.

Faithfulness is a Fruit of the Spirit and is the only appropriate response to all God has done for us.

Iowa Governor Terry Branstad has been busy lately issuing proclamations.  His most recent one calls on Iowans to read the Bible in all 99 counties over the 4th of July weekend.

At the Wright County Courthouse, reading began on Tuesday. The idea is that the Bible is to be simply read; no commentary on the texts is to be offered.

Governor Branstad has come under criticism for this proclaimation, some say the state endorsing a single religion. However – to be fair – the Governor has also signed Wicca and Muslim Recognition Day proclamations.

What do you think?

As American Baptists, it has been our tradition to regard with suspicion all forays of government into the area of religion.  Historically, Baptists have been among those who lead for a separation of church and state because we were on the pointy end of religious persecution.  We were committed to this ideal because we were motivated.

Today we’re going to look at a nation that needed some motivation to do the right thing.  God’s people in the Old Testament era, the nation of Israel, had just concluded their efforts to occupy the land God had promised them.  They were about to settle in and become a nation.  Before they went about the process of prospering in their new homes, their leader Joshua gathered them together to give them his last word from the LORD.  It was more than a motivational speech, but motivating them to be faithful to God was surely one of its objects.

PROLOGUE: What has come before is the end of Moses’ life, Joshua replacing him as the leader of God’s people.  Joshua has led the people of God throughout the conquest of the Promised Land.  Joshua’s own demise is near; his death and burial are described at the end of the chapter.  Before his rest, Joshua had one last important task: to remind the new nation of Israel to how they got where they were on that day and get them to recommit themselves to serving the Lord.  Joshua has been a leader of Israel since they were in Egypt, so he knows these people and knows that they must be made accountable for their commitment to the LORD.

The nation was at a crossroads, a dangerous time when commitment was needed.  Though the fighting was over, the war continued: the war for the souls of God’s people.  You see, these people were descendant of idol-worshippers (v. 3); they had been enslaved by idolaters and brought some of their household gods with them as booty; and they had not entirely got rid of the pagans they conquered as they had been commanded to do, so they were surrounded and infiltrated by worshipers of false gods.  As the rest of the Old Testament shows, idolatry would be a problem throughout the history of Israel, their worst failing.

According to v. 1, Joshua summoned the leaders of the people at Shechem.   This is an important choice of sites, as Shechem was the place where God promised this land to their forefather Abraham.  The sense of history is essential as the people started thinking about the future and solidifying their commitment to God.

  1. The LORD has been faithful to you (JHA 24:1-13).

This half of the chapter is composed of Joshua’s reminders of the LORD’s faithfulness.  Joshua is providing an abbreviated history of their nation for the sole purpose of offering examples of times God came to their rescue.

The first is from the beginning: Abraham & sons (vs. 2-4).  Joshua began with Abraham’s father, going back to the beginning of God’s people.  They worshiped OTHER GODS at that time, so God took Abraham out of his home and his faith to bring him to Shechem.  It’s interesting to note that Abraham lead a nomadic life.  The only property he owned was a cave (Machpelah) which he bought as a place of burial (Genesis 23).

God promised Abraham the land of Canaan and innumerable descendants. Those promises were not kept in his lifetime, but in the lives of his descendants.  This day, the day that Joshua gathered the tribes together, serves as the best instance of the fulfillment of those promises.  Abraham’s immediate descendants (aka the Patriarchs) are mentioned here as part of how God kept His promises to Abraham.  This takes us to the time of slavery in Egypt.

The second instance is Moses and the Exodus (vs. 5-7).  Notice the frequent use of the word “I” in this passage; the emphasis is on God and what He has done for His people.  God directed His people to Egypt and then delivered them from that land, particularly by destroying Pharaoh’s army in the Red Sea.

Joshua said that they had seen with their own eyes these things because the ELDERS of the people were there.  They were the generation after those God lead out of Egypt.  Though they were probably children or youths at the time, they were still eyewitnesses of those foundational moments.   As Moses had done in Deuteronomy 5:3, Joshua made the fulfillment of covenant promises personal to these people.  This is the same thing we do when we approach the Bible; we’re looking to personalize it and apply these truths to our lives.

The third example is the conquest of the Promised Land  in vs. 8-12.  Against the Amorites (v. 8) refers to what  happened the first time Israel approached the Promised Land.  Israel asked the Amorites for permission to travel through their land in peace.  The Amorites not only denied them permission to cross their borders, but attacked them. God gave His people victory in that battle.

Another part of the story of the conquest is how God assisted them against Balak and Balaam (vs. 9-10).  Balak was the king of Moab.  He hired Balaam, a prophet, to pronounce a curse on Israel.  In 2 Peter 2:15 and Revelation  2:14, Balaam is characterized as the epitome of evil, so he was a threat they took very seriously.  God delivered them from the threat of this holy man’s curse by – of all things – a talking donkey!  (See Numbers 22-24 for the full story.)

And finally, God gave them victory against Jericho and the rest of the Canaanite nations (v. 11).  Jericho is the city God delivered into the hands of the Israelite army by causing its walls to fall down (see Joshua 5-6).  It’s interesting to me that Jericho was the only city that God delivered to the Israelites in that miraculous way.  The other campaigns mentioned here were resolved by much more conventional warfare.

Fourth, Joshua offers these summaries of the LORD’s work on Israel’s behalf.

The LORD won their battles for them.

– Vs. 8+11 = I GAVE THEM INTO YOUR HANDS.

– V. 8 = I DESTROYED THEM BEFORE YOU.

– V. 10 = I DELIVERED YOU OUT OF HIS HAND.

– V. 12 = I SENT THE HORNET AHEAD OF YOU…YOU DID NOT DO IT WITH YOUR OWN SWORD AND BOW.   The word HORNET can refer to Pharaoh, king of Egypt, whose raiding parties into Canaan significantly weakened the Canaanite nations before the Israelites came, or a supernatural terror the LORD sent to confound their enemies (see 2:9-11, 24 & 5:1).  Take either or both; the point is that God’s supernatural action made t conquest happen.

The reference to YOUR OWN SWORD AND BOW does not mean that the Israelites did no fighting (even in Jericho there was some violence) but it does mean that the conquest of the Promised Land was a gift from God, not a product of overwhelming military success.

The LORD gave them these things; they did not earn them.  That’s GRACE, folks (v. 13).   In Deuteronomy 6:10-12, God promised them everything – word for word – that is listed in v. 13:

– I GAVE YOU A LAND ON WHICH YOU DID NOT TOIL.

– I GAVE YOU…CITIES YOU DID NOT BUILD AND YOU LIVE IN THEM.

– YOU…EAT FROM VINEYARDS AND OLIVE GROVES THAT YOU DID NOT PLANT.

The point is that God was faithful; He kept His part of their covenant, their agreement.  Now it was up to the people to do the same.

This gives us insight into how life works: it is the interrelation of God’s will and human will.  God miraculously delivered Jericho into their hands, but they still had to march around the city seven times.  Their obedience yielded the result.

All the prosperity they enjoyed was the result of their being faithful to do what God instructed.  This is not a guarantee that material prosperity will always accompany spiritual maturity, but is a guarantee that God blesses every time we act according to His will.

The Bible is a record of God’s faithfulness to His people.

Deuteronomy 7:9 = Know therefore that the Lord your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commandments.

1 Corinthians 1:8-9 = He will also keep you firm to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.  God is faithful, who has called you into fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

1 Peter 4:19 = So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.

Vance Havner started preaching at age 14 and conducted a preaching and writing ministry that spanned over 70 years, until his death in 1986.  A colleague once said of Havner: “Old Vance was half Charles Spurgeon and half Billy Sunday with the voice of Will Rogers.”

<Retrieved from http://christian-quotes.ochristian.com/Vance-Havner-Quotes/ on 7/1/16.>

Vance Havner said, “God is faithful, and He expects His people to be faithful. God’s Word speaks of faithful servants, faithful in a few things, faithful in the least, faithful in the Lord, faithful ministers. And all points up that day when He will say, ‘Well done, thou good and faithful servant.’             “What terrible times we have in our churches trying to keep people faithful in attendance and loyalty! How we reward and picnic and coax and tantalize church members into doing things they don’t want to do but which they would do if they loved God! The only service that counts is faithful service.             “True faith shows up in faithfulness. Not everyone can sing or preach, but all can be faithful.”

<Retrieved from http://www.sermoncentral.com/illustrations/sermon-illustration-greg-yount-quotes-faith-secondcoming-4360.asp on 7/1/16.>

We’re talking about the Spiritual Fruit of FAITHFULNESS.  We’ve seen the first half of this equation – that God is faithful to us – in the example of all He did to establish the nation of Israel as His people on the earth.  As we shall see next Sunday, the only appropriate response is to likewise be faithful to Him.

Let me close with one more example, one that is a little more current.

“There is in the State House at Albany a letter written by Abraham Lincoln granting pardon to a deserter. This is the way that letter reads:

‘Executive Mansion, Washington, D. C., Oct. 4, 1864.  Upon condition that Roswell McIntyre of Co. E, Sixth Regiment of New York Cavalry, returns to his regiment and faithfully serves out his time, or until lawfully discharged, he is fully pardoned for any supposed desertion heretofore committed; this paper is his pass to his regiment.

ABRAHAM LINCOLN.’

“Down at the left this note is scribbled: ‘Taken from the body of R. McIntyre at the battle of Five Forks, Va., 1865.’

“And so the quitter came back and died like a man, with his pardon on his person. And just so may all who have forsaken Christ and His cause return, be forgiven and recommissioned.”—Gospel Herald.

<Retrieved from http://www.moreillustrations.com/Illustrations/faithfulness%201.html on 7/1/16.>

Faithfulness is not distinguished by having a perfect record.  If that were true, none of us could be considered faithful.  Instead, faithfulness is turning back to God following every instance of having turned away.  It’s not about seeking perfection, but imitating the One who is perfect.

Next Week: 2. You must choose to be faithful to the LORD (JHA 24:14-27).

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