"We are soldiers, in the army; we are soldiers, in the army; and we have to fight; and we have to fight".
We have indeed had to fight. We have fought long and hard. We have fought our way against scores of chieftains and their armies; we have fought our way against scorching heat, fearful hearts, and disobedience. We have been soldiers in an army which has known victory, and at remarkably little cost.
I can stand here before you today at rest from war, because of the incredible things which the Lord God has done. I am here as the captain whose armies, in rapid succession, took the cities of the Judean hills: Makkedah, Libnah, Lachish, Eglon, Hebron, Debir. The whole hill country, down to the Negeb desert and the coastal plains, fell to us, quickly.
When word of our victories spread far and wide, the chieftains of the northern towns of Canaan banded together against us, but they were too little too late. By the waters of Merom we struck them and chased them all the way up to Lebanon and Syria! The land is ours now, the whole land, except for Gaza, Gath, Ashdod, the southern Palestinian plain; but that doesn’t count for much. The land is ours. Ours. And at last we have rest from our war.
How did this come about? Do you imagine that it was my military genius or the immensity of our armies that accomplished this? The secrets of our success can be yours, in your own time.
Have I introduced myself? No? Forgive me. The exhaustion of battle sometimes rattles me, but I do come back, front and center, for one great thought has sustained me in all that I have done. One great truth focuses me whenever I am tempted to be afraid or to stray from what I know to be right.
Let me teach it to you, now, before I tell you about myself or describe our battles. If you remember nothing else of what I tell you, this you must know. Listen, and then repeat it with me: "Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go." Say it with me, please: "Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go."
My name is Joshua. When my father, Nun, gave me that name, I do not know whether he understood how prophetic it was, for the name Joshua means, "The Lord saves." And certainly the Lord has saved His people, many times over, through the weapons given to me, His servant, Joshua.
I was but a child when our people were freed from slavery in Egypt. I was so young I do not remember much, but I heard my father and my uncles and their friends tell the story around the campfires. I have heard it told, over and over again, how the great leader Moses and his brother Aaron confronted the Pharaoh of Egypt and demanded, "Let my people go." How each time they thundered, "Let my people go," the king would agree and then, at the last instant, change his mind and hold them back. But finally the angel of death passed over and took the sons of the Egyptians, even the Pharaoh’s son. Then the people passed through the Reed Sea, into freedom. I can scarcely remember seeing all this, and yet I know it well, for they took the time to teach the children how the Lord saves.
I was privileged above all the young men of our nation to have been selected, first, as Moses’ assistant, and then, as his successor. What an incomparable privilege, to be chosen to take over from this great man! And yet, what an awesome challenge! You see, our people are stubborn. They are arrogant. Each one of them thinks he knows more than the next; each one thinks his own voice ought to be heard. And so it was most intimidating that, just when they were demanding and clamoring for better food ... it was most intimidating that, right in the middle of a food fight, Moses would turn to me and say, "You are going to be the next leader of this people!"
I wanted to say no. I wanted to refuse. But you just did not say no to Moses. You just did not cross his path. His brother Aaron had tried to do so, back at Mt. Sinai, and had been beaten back. Others had wanted to turn around and return to Egypt, but he had kept them in line by the sheer force of his will. I was no different. I could not resist him. And so I accepted Moses’ commission and listened carefully when he said, "Be strong and bold, for you shall bring the Israelites into the land that [the Lord has] promised them; and [the Lord] will be with you."
It was not long afterward that our incomparable leader Moses died, on the very edge of the land of promise, standing on Mount Nebo, looking over into that land, but not able to go there himself. It fell to me to take the people across the Jordan River and into the land.
To me, Joshua. The one whose name says it all, "The Lord saves." And He did. He did and He still does.
Do you remember? The one great truth I know, the one great reality I confess? How does it go? "Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go."
Our objective was the coastal plain of Canaan. From the Euphrates River in the north and the land of Syria, to the Negeb desert in the south, along the valley of the Jordan River, with the Sea of Galilee up here and the Dead Sea down there. And then, from the east bank of the Jordan, across its waters and up the steep valley, across the high ridge that runs from north to south and protects the rich coastal plains that extend to the Great Sea. The best part of Canaan lay across that ridge; and that we must have.
But in order to get across Canaan’s ridge, we must go up one of the passes through the hills. And all those passes are fortified with towns built by the Canaanite people. There is no free ride; there will have to be battle in order for us to use one of the passes.
The first and most important of those pass fortresses was Jericho. This ancient town, where people have lived for hundreds of years, stood before us like a gigantic barrier. I wondered how we could take Jericho without losing many lives and injuring many warriors, so that our hearts would fail and our people would be weakened.
So I decided to send spies into the city. Two men went into Jericho and just watched and listened and learned. They learned from a woman named Rahab that the people of Jericho were already afraid of us; and so we knew that the battle was half over. When a people are afraid, they have already lost the fight! When a person’s heart has melted, as Rahab put it, there is no courage left with which to fight. You see, my one great truth is already working for us, isn’t it? That we are to be "strong and courageous."
I began by testing the people’s strength and courage. I gathered them on the banks of the Jordan, for we were on the east side of the river, and the town, of course, was on the west. The late springs rains had filled the river to overflowing, and there was no way we could wade it or swim through it.
As we gathered, I heard murmuring in the people, "Deep and wide, deep and wide, the river Jordan is deep and wide, how shall we get to the other side?" But, as for me, on Jordan’s stormy banks I stood, and cast my wishful eye, to Canaan’s fair and happy land, where our possessions lie. "Be strong and courageous, and do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go." Even through the rough, deep waters.
Twelve priests, carrying the ark of the covenant, had been selected to stand with me. Into the waters of the Jordan I stepped; behind me, twelve men, fearless and brave, waded. The waters churned around us for a moment, and then seemed to subside. The floods quieted; the river slowed to a trickle. And all the people simply crossed over! Oh, praise the Lord, you His people; for the Lord is on your side. He will go to such great lengths for you, if you will believe and if you will step forth. Just step forth. And you will get over. You will get over.
Thus we came to Jericho. And yet to look at that city ... Jericho looked fearsome indeed in the evening sunset. Jericho looked impossible. And I heard the murmuring again. Even though we had passed through so much, I heard murmuring again. "It’s impossible. We’ve never done anything like this. It will cost too much. Do we have to go there? Can we vote on this?"
Ah, but despite the murmuring, a plan was born. A gift was given. I wish you could have been there. What a magnificent sight it was! What pageantry, what glory! We devised a plan which would weaken the defenses of Jericho. I sent the whole army to march around the city, outside its walls. And not just the army, but everyone else as well. First an advance guard; then the priests, again carrying the ark; next those who would blow the shofar, the ram’s horn trumpet; then the bulk of the people. Around the city we marched, not just once, not just twice, but for six days. Six long days; can you imagine what was going on inside the city? Can you just feature what the people of Jericho must have felt, watching us, listening to us?
And then the Sabbath day, the Lord’s day. Truly the day of the Lord, for on that day we circled the city seven times, we blew the shofars with their eerie wailing sound, and, on signal, we shouted a great shout. And the walls came tumblin’ down! They did! They did! The city was ours, given to us, because we had trusted in the Lord. We had not calculated our own battle plans, but had trusted the Lord’s way, and victory!
Victory! Not our victory, but His, for do you remember Joshua’s battle cry? Do you recall my one great truth?
"Be strong and courageous, and do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go." Be strong, be clear, be constant, stand for something; and be courageous, go, do what you say you believe. Talk the talk and walk the walk, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.
Many other things happened after Jericho. Some victories, some setbacks. How disappointed I was when the man Achan, during the battle against the city of Ai, chose to disobey and steal treasures at the expense of the whole people! How awful it is when someone exploits for himself what belongs to the whole people of God! But we punished Achan and went on from Ai to our next objective; we hoped to take one of the greatest of prizes, the walled city of Jerusalem. It would have made a fine capital, and perhaps it will, some day, but we have not succeeded in taking it, just yet.
Near Jericho, some of my lieutenants were taken in by a trick. The people of a place called Gibeon had pretended that they were only strangers and vagabonds, that they didn’t have a fortress of their own, that they were the hungry, landless, impoverished victims of the Canaanites. Would we protect them? Would we help them? My lieutenants were completely duped by this, and made a treaty of protection with the Gibeonites, only to discover later that Gibeon was quite a substantial place, with a fortress and no little wealth! I was furious when I found out what had happened, but I felt I had to stand behind what my subordinates had done. Leaders must often, it seems, repair the damage done by others who just do not understand the principles by which God’s people operate.
Well, Adonizedek, the chieftain of Jerusalem, heard about the alliance with Gibeon, and it rang alarm bells for him. He saw us getting too strong, if Gibeon was with us, and so he got four other chieftains together, and lay siege to the city of Gibeon. His idea was to strike them before they struck him. Now do you have the picture? Down here is the city of Gibeon, the city which we were told didn’t even exist, suddenly besieged by five other cities. And we are up here at Gilgal, a long way off. What do you think the people of Gibeon did? What do you think they tried to pull at that point?
"Joshua, Joshua, your assistants made an agreement. You promised to protect us; well, now we need you. We are cashing in our insurance policy. You have to come, Joshua. You are required by the terms of your treaty to come and fight for us."
I was appalled. I was greatly disturbed. This was not in my plans. Defending Gibeon did not figure into my dream, and taking on five armies at once did not compute in my scheme. I was just about to tell the Gibeonite emissaries in no uncertain terms that I would have nothing to do with this foolishness, that they could look out for their own hides, when I heard it, I felt it, again. That one great word, that singular truth, that unending hope; you remember it, don’t you? "Be strong and courageous, and do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go."
I gave the orders; tersely and directly I gave the order to march, though it would take us all night to go from Gilgal to Gibeon. As we drew near, strange things began to happen. It seemed that the very heavens fought for us. The thunder rumbled and the lightning flashed, the day grew dark and great hailstones pelted the enemy. Something extraordinary was happening.
But I grew worried, for though we had had great success, the armies of five cities were large, and the battle was not yet won. There were so many to subdue, and night was drawing near. What could we do, with the shadows of the evening falling across the skies? What could we expect, if the day should end and the enemy might hide under cover of darkness?
"Be strong"? We had been strong, very strong that day. We had believed that victory lay within our grasp. Be strong? Yes, we had been strong.
And "be courageous"? Yes, we had obeyed that as well. It had taken courage to honor a treaty that should never have been written. It had taken courage to bail out others whose judgment was poor. It had taken courage to tackle a job far too large for our resources. Be courageous? Yes, we had been courageous.
But now it was time to remember and to claim rest of the promise, "The Lord is with you wherever you go."
I looked westward at the setting sun, its light beginning to fade. I calculated that in less than an hour we would no longer be able to see what we were doing, and we might lose the battle. I took one deep breath, and cried out, "Sun, stand still at Gibeon; and Moon, [stay] in the valley of Aijalon."
My heart stops when I think of it; yes, the sun stood still, and the moon stopped. In the middle of the heavens, the sun stopped, and did not set for another whole day. There has been no day like it before or since, for the Lord fought for Israel.
To what great lengths our God will go when He fights to save His people, even to save them from the consequences of their own wrongdoing! He will stop the very sun in its course and cause it to shine on, if that is what it takes to win the battle and save His people. I, Joshua, whose name means God saves, I am a witness!
My battle is won; my rest is ready. But I know that our God will still go to great lengths to save His people, even to save them from the consequences of their own sin. Some day there will be another Joshua. And through Him the Lord our God will fight again, against the host of evil surrounding Him. On that day again the Lord will stop the sun in its course, and on that day, on a green hill outside Jerusalem, the sun will refuse to shine, until the victory is won. Joshua, Jesus, will save His people from their sins.
In that day, people of God, you may indeed "be strong and courageous, and do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go." Victorious, risen, He will be with you wherever you go.
"I am bound for the promised land, I am bound for the promised land. Oh, who will come and go with me? I am bound for the promised land."