I know some people who hate movies with happy endings. Their ideal is a movie where the main character dies – painfully and fruitlessly, with any luck. And they particular hate those sickeningly sweet Disney-style movies where you’ve got some hopelessly pathetic geek or incredibly inept kids sporting team or something like that and all it takes is a bunch of trite words from a washed-out coach to transform them into a world-beater. And those trite words are always pretty similar in content, aren’t they? There’s the staple scene near the end of the film when the team miraculously made the final but still they’re standing in the locker room nervously saying “we can’t beat these guys, they’re too big, they’re too strong, they’re too skillful”. Just once I’d like to see a movie end there, with the kids just giving up, going home and the credits rolling. But this is Hollywood, so the coach jumps up and gives a stirring speech about how they can look inside for the power, work as a team, that together they can do anything, that they’re good enough to beat the world, that they just need to believe in themselves, that they need to be confident, and strong and courageous. And of course in the end they go out and win amazingly in extra time and we the audience are supposed to say hoorah! – what a triumph of the human spirit. Quite frankly, it makes me want to vomit.
The book of Joshua starts with a bit of gee-up speech of its own, but it has some major differences with Disney movies. You probably noticed the constant refrain to Joshua – be strong and courageous. Don’t give up, don’t be afraid – be strong and courageous. Well – why? Why does Israel need to be strong and courageous?
To begin with we need to do a bit of background to find out where Israel have come from not only geographically, but more importantly in their relationship with God. And what we are going to see is that their situation, this land they are about to enter to possess, all their hope for victory, they all have their beginning and end in the great and powerful God who is gracious to them.
To understand God’s plan we need to go right back to Abraham in Genesis 12 and 15 where the LORD promises Abraham’s descendants their own land. Six or seven hundred years later, the Israelites still have not taken possession of their promised land. In between, the Israelites have moved to Egypt and grown to be a sizable nation. They’ve left Egypt having walked through the Red Sea, taken a detour down the Sinai peninsula where Moses received the Ten Commandments and the rest of the Law and finally headed back north toward their promised land. And in Joshua 1, they are on the verge of entering. The trouble is, though, that they’ve been on the verge before. Some 40 years before, in fact.
You can see on the map the point marked “12 spies”. Moses had sent 12 spies, one from each tribe of Israel into the land to gather information. We heard about what happened from Numbers 13 and 14. The spies return and tell the people what an amazing, fruitful land it is. But it is full of other nations, other nations who appear like giants and who live in fortified cities. Ten of the spies say “we can’t defeat them, they’re too big”. But two – Joshua and Caleb trusted God. They too had seen the giants and the fortified cities, but they still trusted God.