Summary: This sermon talks about our inheritance in Christ as being the fulfillment of God’s promises of inheritance in the Old Testament.
On the Border of the Land of Promise
There they were, standing on the border of Canaan, with only the Jordan River separating them from the land God had promised centuries before to their ancestors: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and later to Moses. Hundreds and hundreds of years of anticipation and expectation, of hope and even discouragement, had led to this moment in their history. And Joshua, Moses’ successor, was to lead them.
Lying before them was an unsettled land – unsettled at least as the promise land. Lying before them was both bloodshed and temptation. The taking of this land would not be easy. It would involve violent encounters with the native inhabitants and alluring enticements to become captive to their religious practices. There would be both conflict and the temptation to idolatry.
But their entry was not to be made alone, for they were about to enter God’s Promised Land. Their entrance would be accompanied by the power and presence of God Himself, for He alone would be their strength and victory. That God would be with them in their taking of the land was as much a trustworthy promise as the land itself; indeed, perhaps more so.
As we look at our passage in Joshua today we see four things of crucial importance.
First, God was fulfilling a promise. What does this mean? To say that here God is fulfilling a promise means that God keeps His promises. When God makes a promise, He does not break it. He says this to Joshua in v. 3: “Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given to you, as I promised to Moses.” And of course the promise of land went back to the time of Abraham, the very first patriarch. To know that God keeps His promises speaks of His eternal trustworthiness as our Lord and God. We can trust God to keep His promise because the promise is rooted in His character. God had proven His faithfulness to the Israelites time and time again, most significantly in rescuing them from Egypt, but also throughout all the generations of wandering since. We talk about taking people at their word – well, we can definitely take God at His Word! Faith in the Lord and promise go together. As the old Puritan Thomas Watson once said in a sermon, “Faith lives in the promises, as the fish lives in the water.”
Second, God places a condition on this promise. If you look carefully at what the Lord tells Joshua you notice quickly that half of the address concerns this condition, a condition that if not met, meant the promise would become null and void. So what is this condition? The condition is that the people of Israel remain faithful to the Lord by following the Law they had received through Moses. The people of Israel were being instructed through Joshua to obey and follow and meditate upon the revelation they had received through Moses. We read in vv. 7 and 8: “Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to act in accordance with all the law that my servant Moses commanded you; do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, so that you may be successful wherever you go. This book of the law shall not depart out of your mouth; you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to act in accordance with all that is written in it. For then you shall make your way prosperous, and then you shall be successful.”
It is clear that obedience to the Word of God equals success for the people of God; and the opposite is also true. God will be faithful to His promise, yes, but we also have to be obedient and faithful in return. One scholar comments that “the inheritance of the land is a sign of God’s faithfulness in fulfilling his promises and a reminder of Israel’s duties toward him as the true owner of the land.” And this is why being faithful to the Word of God is a condition to the fulfilling of the promise of God: to learn how to be faithful people of God and what our duties are toward the Lord as the true owner of the land, we must immerse ourselves in the Word of God.
Three, God can be trusted to help us fulfill our part of the promise. Two verses in our passage remind us of this: “No one shall be able to stand against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will not fail you or forsake you” (v. 5). Later in v. 9, the Lord says to Joshua, “I hereby command you: Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”