************ Sermon on Joshua 5:13-14 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on October 15, 2006
Joshua 5:13 - 6:5
"The Lord's Army"
In his memoirs General Norman Schwarzkopf tells us about February 23, 1991 – the day before the Allies' ground offensive against Iraq in Operation Desert Storm. Schwarzkopf is filled with doubts, fears, worries, and concerns. He wonders if the Allies succeeded in deceiving Iraqi intelligence; he worries about the SCUD missiles and Iraq's chemical and biological weapons; he is troubled about the elite Republican Guard and their battle skills; he is anxious about the effectiveness of the Allied air-attacks – whether they succeeded in putting the Iraqi army of occupation in Kuwait out of commission. General Schwarzkopf has one big question mark in his mind that last night before the battle begins: will the Allies be successful and how big will be the price in Allied blood and death?
In our Scripture reading this evening we see Joshua, General Joshua, on the eve of the biggest battle of his life. In front of him stands the city of Jericho; its mighty walls rear up before him, reaching into the sky; its fighting men guard the walls and gates. In front of him stands the city of Jericho, guarding the eastern entrance to the Promised Land. Yes, since the time of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob God has promised the land to Israel. However, to take possession of the land, its cities and peoples have to be conquered.
Like General Schwarzkopf, Joshua too has doubts, fears, worries, and concerns. He wonders if his spies' report is accurate – do the people of Jericho really fear Israel; he worries about the archers of Jericho and their accuracy; he is troubled by the high, thick walls and how to get through, under, or around them; he is anxious about the armor and skill of his soldiers. Like Schwarzkopf, Joshua has one big question mark in his mind that last night before the battle begins: will Israel be successful and how big will be the price in Israeli blood and death?
I The Angel of the Lord
Joshua stands before Jericho; he is filled with his private doubts, fears, worries, and concerns. He looks up and sees a man who identifies himself as "commander of the army of the LORD" (vs 14).
Who is this man, this commander? It is immediately evident he is no mere man. Before him Joshua falls "facedown to the ground in reverence" and calls him "my Lord" (vs 14).
Who is this man, this commander? His identification becomes positive when he tells Joshua, "Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy" (vs 15). This reminds us of the time the Lord spoke to Moses out of the burning bush (Ex 3). Like Joshua, Moses was commanded to take off his shoes because he was standing on holy ground. In the Old Testament holiness always has its basis and origin in God. So, that is no mere man standing in front of Joshua. Rather, he is the Angel of the Lord.
The Angel of the Lord. It is he who twice gave aid and encouragement to Hagar, Sarah's slave girl, in her distress in the wilderness (Gen 16:7ff; 21:17). It is he who appeared to Abraham and promised that Sarah would have a son "this time next year" (Gen 18:10). It is he who stopped Abraham's knife from killing Isaac on Mount Moriah (Gen 22:12ff). It is he who wrestled with Jacob (Gen 32:24-30). It is he who guided and guarded the Israelites in their exodus from Egypt (Ex 13:21,22; 14:19). It is he who talked to Moses on the wilderness journey, and delivered to him the Ten Commandments (Ex 19,20). It is he who blocked the road for Balaam and terrified his donkey (Num 22:22).
The Angel of the Lord. Most Bible scholars agree that he is a visible presence of Jesus before Jesus took on flesh. This is confirmed when Joshua 6:2 identifies the man speaking to Joshua not as the "commander of the LORD'S army" anymore but as the LORD Himself. So, it is the Lord Himself Who stands before Joshua.
II A Strange Answer
A Joshua stands before Jericho; he is filled with his private doubts, fears, worries, and concerns. He looks up and sees not only a man; rather, he sees "a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand" (vs 13). "Are you for us or for our enemies?" asks Joshua. Joshua does not know whether the man is a friend or a foe; evidently, the man's features and clothing are neither Canaanite nor Israelite.
"Are you for us or for our enemies?" That's a crucial question when you are faced by a man with a sword in his hand. If he's a friend you have nothing to fear; if he is an enemy you must prepare to fight. "Are you for us or for our enemies?" Joshua wants to know if he has to draw his sword and fight that stranger in front of him.
B Do you notice the Lord's strange answer? Joshua wants to know, "Are you for us or for our enemies?" (vs 13). "Neither," he said. Neither? That's not an answer! Joshua wants to know: Are you a friend or a foe? Do I have to fight you or shake hands with you? "Neither, but as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come" (vs 14).
"Are you for us or against us?" "Are you for us or for our enemies?" As far as Joshua is concerned, it is us against them, Israel against Canaan, Joshua against the King of Jericho. If that is really the case, then Israel does not stand much of a chance of winning. It is the Canaanites who are skilled, trained warriors – not the Israelites. It is the Canaanites who know how to handle swords and spears and shields – not the Israelites. Don't forget, the Israelites are but a tribe of ex-slaves with no military training. The little bit of fighting they have done has all been in the open desert. This is the first time they face a fortified city. And, they have neither the experience nor the equipment to engage in siege warfare.
"Are you for us or for our enemies?" "Neither, but as commander of the army of the LORD I have now come." Do you realize this tells us whose battle it is? It isn't Israel's battle against Jericho and Canaan. It is God's battle against Jericho and Canaan.
"Are you for us or for our enemies?" "Neither, but as commander of the army of the LORD I have now come." Do you realize this tells us who are the opposing generals? It isn't Joshua who is in command. It isn't Joshua who issues orders and plots strategy. It isn't Joshua who leads Israel. Not at all. The real general is the "commander of the army of the LORD."
"Are you for us or for our enemies?" "Neither, but as commander of the army of the LORD I have now come." Do you realize this also tells us Israel's place, Israel's role? It is not a case of whether the man is for or against Israel. Rather, it is a case of whether Israel is for or against the Lord. It is the Lord's fight, it is the Lord's battle, so who is on the Lord's side? Who is in the Lord's army? Israel's role is to be but a part of the Lord's army, and just a small part at that; after all, in the Lord's army there are also thousands upon tens of thousands of angels. Israel is but one of many weapons or tools the Lord can choose to use in battle; after all, in the Lord's arsenal there is also wind and rain, hail and snow, heat and cold, earthquake and lightning.
During World War II the phrase "God with us" was inscribed on the belt buckles of German soldiers. That's the way it has been throughout history: every army wants to claim God is on their side. But that is the wrong claim to make. The question is not "Whose side is the Lord on?" but, rather, "Who is on the Lord's side? Who is in the Lord's army?"
III An Answer of Victory and Judgment
A "As commander of the army of the LORD I have now come." This is a word of victory as far as Joshua and Israel are concerned. This means it is Jericho and Canaan, not Israel, who don't stand a fighting chance. Jericho's fight will not be against desert nomads unskilled in sword and spear. Rather, Jericho will be fighting against the Lord and His army.
Who can stand against the Lord? He is the Creator, the God of heaven above and earth below. It is He Who enabled an old woman to bear a child. It is He Who visited the ten terrible plagues upon Egypt. It is He Who dried the Red Sea so His people Israel could walk through the sea on dry ground. It is He Who brought water out of a rock and manna out of the sky. It's no use for the Canaanites to even think of fighting. It's no use to lock the city gates and to guard the city walls. For the Lord Who opposes them is almighty enough to crush them in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, in the same way that we might crush a bug in our path. So put down your swords, O Canaanites, and open your city gates, and plea for mercy.
The Lord's words in Joshua 6:2 emphasize the surety of the victory: "See, I have delivered Jericho into your hands, along with its king and its fighting men." The Lord doesn't say, "I will deliver"; rather, He says, "I have delivered." He says this even before the battle has been fought. God's purpose, in other words, has already been decided upon: it is God's decree that Jericho and Canaan belong to His covenant people. And, what God purposes, or wills, or decrees, is as good as done. For, don't forget, He is the almighty, creating God. Can anyone or anything thwart His purposes? Of course not!
It is God's purpose, God's plan – announced to Abraham already – that the land of Canaan and the city of Jericho belong to Israel. In this light consider Israel's role in the upcoming battle. Does the commander of the Lord's army give Israel a leading role in Jericho's defeat? Does He use the cunning of General Joshua, the skill and swiftness of Israelite soldiers? No! All that Israel has to do is march around the city thirteen times – nothing more and nothing less – and Jericho's walls will come tumbling down (6:3ff). This tells us that Jericho's defeat and Israel's victory is all by grace and through faith and not by military might or cunning.
B "As commander of the army of the LORD I have now come." This is a word of defeat as far as Jericho and Canaan are concerned. Grace for the covenant people means judgment for the godless and wicked.
The sword of the commander of the Lord's army is a two-edged sword: it is a sword of grace and salvation and it is a sword of judgment and punishment.
We see this in the story of Jericho's defeat that follows. We are told that every living creature and every object in the city are to be destroyed. Only the metals are to be saved; and once they are melted down and sanctified by fire, they are to be used for the Lord.
Why this horrible judgment? The wrath is covenant wrath. The people of Jericho and Canaan have forsaken God and broken the covenant He has established with all the earth at the time of Creation. And, covenant breaking always results in covenant wrath. Those who forsake God, His Law, His covenant, cannot expect anything but judgment and wrath.
A There are four lessons for us in this passage. First, a word of warning. We must realize that as it was with the Canaanites, so it is with us: covenant breaking results in covenant wrath. We have to be sure we keep faith in and with God and that we walk obediently before Him. Don't ever forget the words of Hebrews 10:31 which says, "It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God." Yes, God keeps a record of those who are disobedient and punishes those who forsake Him.
Topic: SinBehind Green's humor is an excellent point. Where there is no fear of a lasting record, people tend to do what they think they can get away with. The problem for mankind, however, is that a permanent record does exist – and it is kept by God. Revelation 20 declares that one day the "books" will be opened. At that time, those who have forsaken the Lord will surely be punished.
Subtopic: Concealment of
Columnist Bob Green of the Chicago Tribune has a theory about what's wrong with the world. He blames it on what he calls the "Death of The Permanent Record." He recalls that grade-school children once lived in fear of having their bad behavior noted on The Permanent Record. Because of this, people learned in their youth to stop before they did something deceitful or unethical. They didn't stop because they were so good but for fear of having their actions written down.
Today, according to Bob Green, people have come to the conclusion that there is no such thing as a permanent record. In fact, they believe no one has a right to keep track. Green says that with today's emphasis on rights, if a school child were ever threatened with something going on his permanent record, he would probably file suit under the Freedom of Information Act and gain possession of his files before recess.
B Second, a word of comfort. We must realize that just as Israel can only gain victory over Jericho and Canaan by grace through faith so can we gain victory over sin and Satan not by our own efforts but only by grace through faith. It is a gift.
Topic: GraceIf you've ever thought about the gospel for very long, you too should be incredulous. Think of what we have been given in Christ – forgiveness, eternal life, all the riches of heaven – all a gift by grace through faith and not by any other way.
Subtopic: Of God
Title: He Gave It To Me
Legendary Spanish artist Pablo Picasso was virtually unknown when he painted his famous portrait of American writer Gertrude Stein in 1906. Picasso gave the portrait to Miss Stein since, as the artist himself recalled with a smile, at that time in his career "the difference between a gift and a sale was piddling." Some years later, the portrait attracted the interest of millionaire art collector Dr. Albert Barnes, who asked Miss Stein how much she had paid Picasso for it. "Nothing," she replied. "He gave it to me."
Dr. Barnes was incredulous that such a priceless work of art could have been a gift.
C Third, with Israel we can say that God is true to His covenant and covenant promises. God kept the promise He made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob about the land of Canaan. God never backs away from His promises the way politicians start back-pedaling once they are elected. Pick any promise of God: the promise of life eternal, the promise of the Spirit and its gifts and fruits, the promise of answered prayer, the promise of Christ's return, the promise of the resurrection, the promise of preserving and guarding our souls, the promise of never leaving or forsaking us. All of these promises are kept by God. He is always true to His Word.
D Fourth, as with Israel the right question needs to be asked. We don't ask whether God is on our side but whether we are on God's side. We don't ask whether God will fight for us but whether we are in His army. For don't forget, the battle is the Lord's. It is not us but the Lord, first of all, Who battles sin and Satan, error and heresy, evil and injustice. It is the Lord's battle and we, we are but part of His army. At the church campout we sang a delightful children's song that speaks to this:
I'm in the Lord's army - Left Right Left Right
I'm in the Lord's army - Hutt Two Three Four
I may never march in the infantry
Ride in the calvary
Shoot the artillery
I may never zoom o'er the enemy.
But I'm in the Lord's army.
So let me ask you this: Are you, like Israel, in the Lord's army? Are you a soldier of the cross? Do you go into battle with Christ at your head?
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