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Edward F. Markquart

Books of the Bible - Old Testament

Old Testament Series     Joshua 1:1-9

This sermons continues a summer series of sermons about some of the great and grand personalities of the Old Testament. By briefly and quickly scanning my sermons from the past thirty years, I realize that 99% of my sermons come from the four gospels and the epistles of Paul. Only rarely do I preach on Old Testament Biblical texts or Old Testament Biblical personalities. This summer, we will compensate for the past neglect on preaching on the Old Testament.  

We are focusing on these Old Testament personalities so that we can be strengthened in our faith, so that we are deepened in our walk with Christ. We will also be looking at these Old Testament personalities through the eyes of the New Testament writers, and how the New Testament writers used these stories from the Old Testament.

In the first sermon, we examined Father Abraham. Knowing that our nation recently had a war with Iraq and are now occupying Iraq and many people think that we are beginning a religious war with the Muslims, we ask the following question: If Abraham was the spiritual of Moses, and also the spiritual father of Jesus and also the spiritual father of Mohammed, how come the children of these religious leaders don’t get along better? How come there has been so much conflict between Jews, Christians, and Muslims through the centuries when all three religions trace their origins to Father Abraham?

In the second sermon, we then examined Moses, Moses the Lawgiver, Moses the giver of the Ten Commandments. The Ten Commandments and their equivalents are found in all societies of the world throughout all of human history.  This moral law behind all human civilization is often referred to as the Tao. But Jesus refers to none of this. That is, Jesus goes beyond the Ten Commandments and gives humankind a new law for human civilization, a law that supercedes the Ten Commandments. Jesus’ two fundamental moral laws are these: from Deuteronomy: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind and soul. The Second Commandment is this, from Leviticus, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. Do these and you shall live.” Jesus moves past the inadequacies of the Ten Commandments and creates only two commandments, both to love, God and neighbor. Neither of these two new commandments were emphasized in the Ten Commandments of the Old Testament.

The story of Abraham is told in Genesis 12-50 and the story of Moses is told in the books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. The story of Joshua is told in the next book of the Old Testament by the name of Joshua. We will then focus on the book of Judges and the story of Samson and Delilah. We will then focus on Ruth. During this series of sermons during the summer, we will gradually walk through the major personalities and books of the Old Testament. 

Today’s sermon is about Joshua.

War.  When you think about Joshua and the book of Joshua, you think about war.  Joshua was a military general who conquers the land.  He was a great military leader who is also a deeply religious man, much like George Washington or Dwight D. Eisenhower.  George Washington and Dwight D. Eisenhower were both great generals and great presidents and both were national heroes. So it was with Joshua from the Old Testament. He was both a great general and a great national hero.

When we talk about Joshua, we need to talk about war, military generals and battles. We need to get into a military mood and a military frame of reference.

Human beings are a warring animal.  That is, we are the only species on earth which kills are own kind in large numbers.  Lions don’t kill lions.  Leopards don’t kill leopards.  Alligators don’t kill alligators.  Of all the species here on earth in the animal kingdom, it is only human beings which kills its own species in such large numbers. Yes, I know that ants do but ants are insects and not animals. For better or worse, we human beings are warring animals. 

Since human beings are such warring creatures, it is only natural to expect that the history of nations is often a history of warfare.  If you read the history of a nation, it usually includes are large section on the history of that nation’s wars.  For example, in the Louvre Museum in Paris, you can visit one enormous room which is dedicated to the history of the wars of the French. In St. Petersburg, Russia, you can visit the Hermitage Museum and you can visit one room which is dedicated to the history of the wars of the Russians. A history of a nation is often primarily a history of its wars. History books, historical museums and national monuments are often dedicated to the heroes of war. This is also true here in the United States.

For many of us, our nation began with General George Washington and the Revolutionary War.  General Washington began with thirteen colonies, and by the end of the Revolutionary War, those thirteen colonies had become a single nation; they became one nation by fighting together against the British. The Washington Monument is a tall slender symbol that remembers this great general and our first president, uniting those thirteen original colonies into a nation.  ... Joshua did the same.  He was Israel’s first great general; it’s first national leader, who united the twelve tribes into one nation, forged together in war. Washington united thirteen colonies into one nation; Joshua united twelve tribes into one nation. Both Washington and Joshua were their nation’s first great generals who unified their nations. 

In Washington D.C., down the mall from the Washington Monument is the Lincoln Monument.  Lincoln is the second great president of the United States.  Behind those grand marble columns sits the famous statue of Abraham Lincoln, and etched into the walls of that monument are the sayings of Lincoln:  that the Civil War was God’s judgment on the American people for slavery, that God was  punishing the American people for enslaving the blacks, that God’s wrath was being poured on our nation for engaging in slavery.  In the book of Joshua, it is taught that the Canaanite land was being punished by God because of their engaging in childhood sacrifice, using male and female prostitutes as part of their religious rituals, and worshipping small wooden idols as gods. Joshua was God’s agent of punishment on the Canaanite land. Under Lincoln, it was said that God punished the Americans because of the detestable practice of slavery; under Joshua, it was said that God punished the Canaanites because of the detestable practices of child sacrifice, sacred prostitution and idol worship. 

Another major war that gripped the United States was the Second World War, under the leadership of  Dwight D. Eisenhower.  Dwight David was a young man from Abilene, Kansas and a graduate of West Point in l9l5. In l942, Eisenhower was chosen to plan the Allied  invasion of North Africa.  Soon, he was Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces and planned the invasion of Normandy, and then the sweeping invasion of Germany itself.  This great general, after the war, became our thirty-fourth president.  He was a devout man of God. He was the one who inserted into our pledge of allegiance, one nation, “under God,” with liberty...He believed that our nation was under God.  So also with Joshua. Joshua believed that his nation was “under God” and that his leadership was “under God,” that he was under God’s archangel of war.

Yes, the history of our nation has been the history of war.  And more recently, with the possibility of a Third World War with Russia, with both sides having nuclear missiles located in the ground, on ships and in the air; with the possibility of a war that would have caused incalculable destruction, a new breed of person arose as never before.  These are the pacifists who believe that the REAL ENEMY is not Russia or Germany or England, but war itself.  War, itself, has become potentially so lethal and destructive, the new enemy of the human race is war itself. Several people in our parish are pacifists, including my wife, and the enemy is war itself.

It is with this warring mood that we approach Joshua and the book of Joshua.  The book of Joshua begins with twelve tribes ready to invade a land.  By the end of the book, we don’t have a scattering of twelve tribes but twelve unified tribes occupying a land similar to the land of Israel today.  Today is a war sermon. You have to get into the mood of war.

A footnote. Joshua is very important to us archeologically. That is, as we approach Joshua, we think of the date 1220 BCE.  This is a very important date. Joshua came across the Jordan River. Joshua’s invasion was like a blitzkrieg, like a German blitzkrieg in World War II. Joshua’s army crossed the Jordan River at Jericho and there was a blitzkrieg. Joshua and his troops rapidly conquered cities by the names of Hebron, Debir, Lachish. Joshua’s troops burned all these cities to the ground. I tell you this because the burning of those towns has been studied archeologically with the use of carbon dating. The archeologists measured the carbon in those towns from the year 1220 BCE, and the burning of those towns by Joshua is the way we date historical periods in the Old Testament. The burning of these towns is the way we date Moses. The towns were incinerated in 1220 BCE. Moses lived forty years earlier, and so we give a date of 1260 BCE for Moses. Moses lived about the time of Raamses the Second. The whole dating of the Old Testament goes back to Joshua. As a Biblical Old Testament scholar, the carbon dating of Joshua’s invasion in 1120 BCE is fixed in my mind.

The first city that Joshua conquered was Jericho. You know the song, “Joshua fit the battle of Jericho.” Do you remember the old children’s song, “Joshua fit the battle of Jericho, Jericho, Jericho, Joshua fit the battle of Jericho and the walls came tumbling down.”  The Israelite army was to cross the Jordan River and the first town they must conquer was Jericho.  But in this battle and all battles, they will have the help of the Lord’s war angel. 

Today, I would like to emphasize three things that are part of the story of Joshua. The question is: how does the Word of God and story about Joshua speak empower our spiritual lives? How do these stories of Joshua help us in our walk with Christ? How are the Joshua stories used by the authors of the New Testament?  

First, from the stories about Joshua, the New Testament authors wants us to remember Rahab the prostitute. The New Testament authors skip over the military mentality of the book of Joshua and focus on one story in Joshua, the story of Rahab the harlot. We have read the story of Rahab the harlot as part of our Scripture reading for today. You recall that two spies had come into the land, and they perhaps assumed that it was safer to go to the house of a prostitute so they would not be so easily detected. The two spies went to the home of Rahab, the prostitute. The two soldiers went to her home, and Rahab had already heard about the Jews…that God had delivered them from the Egyptians, how they defeated two kings and kingdoms in the wilderness. Rahab was afraid of the Jewish invaders and so she wanted these two soldiers/spies to protect her and her family from death, when the invasion came. Rahab told the soldier/spies to go up onto the flat roof of her house and hide under a stack of straw. Rahab’s neighbors knocked on her door and said that they had seen a couple of soldiers, perhaps spies, who had come to patronize her. She said, “O no. They were here for a little while and then they went back outside the wall. I don’t know where they are now.” Rahab then approached the soldier/spies on her flat roof and said, “You must vow to protect me, my family, my mother, my father, my brothers, my sisters, my children. You must vow to protect all of us when you army invades.” The soldier/spies agreed and said, “You must hang out that red ribbon from the window of your home which is located as part of the wall of the city. You hang out the red ribbon and we will not kill anybody who is in that room with you.” The story moves quickly forward: the armies surround the city of Jericho, as the walls came tumbling down, as the cattle, donkeys and cows were killed, along with all the men and women, boys and girls, but the family of Rahab was spared.

In the New Testament, Rabab was important because she was part of the family tree of Jesus. When the Gospels of Matthew and Luke report on the family tree and descendents of Jesus, those authors want to make sure that you and I know that Rahab, the prostitute, was part of Jesus’ family tree. A prostitute, mind you. The Gospels want you to know that God loves and cares for prostitutes. Prostitutes then and prostitutes now. No woman ever wants to be a prostitute. No woman ever wants to be in slavery to sell her body for sex. No woman ever wants to do that. A prostitute is a sexual slave, a slave to a man who is a pimp. The woman, often a young girl child, does not want to be in that situation. So God and the stories of Jesus are sympathetic to prostitutes. Not once in the New Testament does Jesus ever condemn a prostitute but Jesus condemns self righteous church people like the Pharisees. But Jesus never condemns a prostitute. We in the church have always reached out to prostitutes, knowing that these women are being enslaved by poverty.

Prostitutes, then and now, were and are easy to condemn. They are easy targets for a heart which wants to condemn other people. Prostitutes becomes a symbol of anyone that society or the church wants to condemn and vilify. We can easily point our fingers at prostitutes and say, “shame, shame.” Jesus clearly and convincingly rebukes people who have hearts of self righteousness and condemnation.

The Joshua story? All the military battles are ignored and the New Testament writers focus on Rahab. We discover that she was the great, great, grandmother of King David and part of Jesus’ family tree.

A second thing that we learn from the story of Joshua is a famous Bible verse that is symbolic of the whole book of Joshua. Joshua 1:9 which reads, “Do not be afraid or discouraged. Be determined and confident. For I will be with you wherever you go.” I would like you to orally recite this Bible verse with me, so that when you leave church today, I can ask you to recite the Bible verse today. The verse is also printed in your bulletin. It goes like this: Do not be afraid or discouraged. Repeat. Be determined and confident. Repeat. For I am with you wherever you go. Repeat. One more time. Please fill in the blanks. Do not … be afraid or discouraged. Be … determined and confident. For I… with be with you wherever you go.

These words sound as if they had been spoken by Jesus. Are these the words of Jesus? The words from Joshua? The Word of the Lord for us in our situation?

Life is a battle. We are not talking about the battles on the battlefields of war. When you are facing the battles of life, you need the Presence and Power of God to be with you. Many of you are facing the battle of cancer. Too often, cancer is really nasty and you know that you have a battle on your hands. You are battling some disease within your family and you go to the doctor and you know that you are going to have to fight this disease. Still others of you are battling for your marriage. You are not sure if your marriage is going to survive and you don’t quite know how to make it work. Some of you are battling for your children’s marriages because you want them to make it. Some of you are battling to keep your nose out of poverty. You are battling to keep your apartment or battling with the electric company not to turn off the power. You are battling just to survive. And still others of you are battling so that your children will walk with God, especially as young adults. There are many times in life where you life seems to be nothing more than one battle after another. When life and the battle gets really rough, we get afraid, afraid of what is going to happen to our body, to the disease, to our loved one. We get discouraged that things are not going to go well. At that moment, sometimes we are not sure where God is in all of this. We cry out with the question: “Where are you, God? God, when I need you most, are you disappearing on me when I need you most?” About that time, in the midst of such feelings, we pull out the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God. We hear the Word from the Lord. “Do not be afraid or discouraged. Be determined and confident. For I am with you wherever you go.” When we are down and out, we hear the whole congregation together echo the Word of the Lord: “Do not be afraid or discouraged. Be determined and confident. For I am with you wherever you go.” There are many times when you will pull out the sword of the Spirit from within and do battle with the power of evil in this world and in your life.

But there is one more thing that we need to talk about in the Book of Joshua. When you go to the end of the book of Joshua, you realize that the Israelites have conquered the Promised Land. Joshua now calls everybody together and he challenges the nation: “Chose this day whom you will serve. Either you will chose the gods of the culture in which you live or you will chose to serve me. Either chose the gods of the culture or chose the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. As for me and my family, we will serve the Lord.” Joshua’s closing challenge is to chose, is to make a choice between the tempting gods around us in our culture or following the way of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God who raised Jesus of Nazareth from the dead.

And what is our reaction? We want to waffle. That is, I want to follow the gods and ways of my culture and be rich, comfortable, and self-indulgent. But on the other hand, I want to be a Christian, a follower of Jesus Christ. So what do I do? I try to straddle the fence. I walk down a middle line, putting each foot of that line, not wanting to chose. I want to be a rich and middle class or upper middle class, but I also want to be generous with the poor.

There comes a time in life where one must chose. It happens too often in life not to ignore it. It is that moment or moments that we are at a Y in the road of our life and we need to make a choice.

Joshua clearly and unequivocally challenges us: Chose. This is a day of choice for you. A moment of decision. Chose this day whom you will serve. Either the gods of the culture or the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. There is no middle ground. You cannot go from one side to the other.  YOU are at a point in your life where YOU must make a choice. Joshua clearly challenges us.

And then Joshua continues: As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord. Joshua had come to that moment where he made the choice for God and his way of life, the values of God and his purpose.

Someday, if that day has not already occurred, you need to make that same choice, whether or not you serve the gods of the culture in which we live or the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  


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