Wednesday Evening Prayer Meeting
January 6, 2010
Dr. J. Ligon Duncan, III.
We’re beginning a series of studies of whole Bible books and as you've already seen in your bulletin, I'm going to be preaching on Joshua tonight — all of Joshua — twenty four chapters of Joshua. Now lest you feel sorry for me, as I may have at moments myself today, Derek has to preach on the Psalms — all one hundred and fifty psalms in twenty five minutes. And so I think Derek wins the prize. So feel sorry for Derek, don't feel sorry for me. Jeremy and I have been talking about this for some time and just in the last week or so have decided that this would be a really helpful thing for us to do in over-viewing Bible books, many of which we haven't had the opportunity to preach through at First Pres. Derek and I keep a running list of what Bible books we've worked through and what Bible books we've not worked through at First Pres. and it would take us a long time to preach through all of the Bible books that we want to preach through. It would take a lot longer than the fourteen years I've had with you to get through those Bible books. And I do think it's helpful to do overviews of Bible books to give you the big picture or feel for a book as a whole, so Wednesday night's not a great night for bringing your own Bible and I really thought about printing some stuff out for you, but I thought that might put pressure on Jeremy and Derek and the other guys to have to print things out for you Wednesday night after Wednesday night.
If you do have your Bible or maybe you’re near someone with a Bible, just take a look at the book of Joshua. I want to draw a few things to your attention about the structure of the book. There’re different ways to outline the book of Joshua, but one is to look at four Hebrew words — cross, take, divide, and serve — that form the structure of the whole book. The book falls from that standpoint into four parts — “Cross the Jordan into the land that I have given you” — that's chapters 1 through 5; “Take the land that I have given you” — that's chapters 6 to 12; “Divide the land that I have given you” — that's chapters 13 to 21; and then “Serve the Lord in the land that I have given you” — that's chapters 22 to 24. In fact one of the big themes of the book of Joshua is, “The land is yours; now take it,” and I want to submit to you that in fact that forms an important part of what living the Christian life is about because God has already give you, He has already given you in Christ everything that could be given to you, but almost all of us know that we have not lived up to all that He has already given us in Jesus Christ.
And so what's the principle for the living of the Christian life? “The land is yours; now take it.” He's already done more than we could ask or think, and now the very progress of sanctification, of grace in our lives, is that we embrace and live out what He has already done for us. In other words, He doesn't say, “Take the land and it will be yours.” He says, “The land is yours; now take it. I've done the heavy lifting, now it's your task to reap the benefits and taste the fruits of what I've already done.” Now we’ll see even in this book how difficult that is, and especially we’ll see how difficult that is when we get to the book of Judges. So I'm not saying this is an easy thing to do, and we by experience know it's not easy to do in the Christian life for a whole variety of reasons, but that theme, “The land is yours; now take it,” actually is not only an important theme for understanding the book of Joshua, it's an important theme for understanding the Christian life.
Now this book has many wonderful themes running throughout it. Very honestly, today, I've been very tempted just to go to the charge that God gives to Joshua in the first eighteen verses in the first chapter, but the fact of the matter is this, you've probably heard that passage preached out of Joshua more than any other passage in the book of Joshua. For those of you that know the book of Joshua – and it is a glorious passage; I never tire of hearing that passage, and that passage actually contains many of the big themes that are worked out in the rest of the book. Let me just tell you three of them. That passage — what's the repeated phrase in that passage? “Joshua, be strong and courageous.” And boy did he ever need that exhortation because he is about to live in a world where there is no Moses. That would have been a daunting task for any leader. In over forty years, crisis could come and all he had to do was turn and there was Moses, and he is about to live in a world where there is no Moses.
I think, other than the way that the disciples felt after Jesus ascended into heaven, that there are only two people on the planet who could feel this kind of shock at not having the greatest leaders, other than the Lord Jesus Himself in the history of the Christian church, and those two people are Joshua and Timothy — because Joshua had lived life and done ministry in the shadow of Moses and he’d been mentored by him like a son, and Timothy had lived life and ministry in the shadow of Paul, and then one day, Paul was gone. And think of the exhortations that Paul kept giving to Timothy — “Timothy, don't fear.” And we often attribute that to native timidity in Timothy, and maybe that's so, but you know what? Even if he weren't timid, he should have feared! You know, if you've got the opportunity to have Paul on your team or not on your team, what do you want? I think I'd rather have Paul on my team! So over and over, “Be strong and courageous” in the first chapter.
Now, what's the key to the “Be strong and courageous”? Well, it's the Lord's presence. You know, to say to Joshua, “Okay, Moses is gone but you be strong and courageous,” if that's all it is, if that's all the exhortation is, either you can't — “Well Lord, do you have something to offer me in addition to that exhortation to be strong and courageous because Moses isn't around anymore?” And the Lord does. That's exactly right. What does the Lord say? “I'm with you. Moses may not be with you, but I'm with you.” And do you remember the last thing that Paul said to Timothy in 2 Timothy chapter 4? He said, “When everybody left me alone in the courtroom of Nero in Rome, and I was completely deserted, the Lord stood with me.” And then he says to Timothy, “And He will be with you.” And his final benediction is, “The Lord be with you.” The parallels between Joshua and Timothy and between Moses and Paul are scary at that point, but the big point is, the Lord will be with you. That's the basis of you being able to be strong and courageous.
The second big theme that you run into, and you see it in verses 7 and 8 of the first chapter in that charge to Joshua, is that the key to fulfilling what the Lord has called us to do in life is to be a people of the Book — live by the Book. “Joshua, don't let that Book depart from your mouth, from your head, from your heart, from your eyes. Live by that Book. Moses didn't write that down for a paperweight. You eat that book, you drink that book, you sleep that book, you live that book. You believe My Word, You learn My Word, you teach My Word, you live My Word.” And that's a big theme in the book of Joshua. In fact the final exhortations that he's going to give to the people of God are going to go back to the exhortation that God gave him — to be a man of the Book.
Another fascinating theme in the book of Joshua, and it's repeated in the story of Rahab and Achan and numerous others, is this — that people who are on the inside of Israel are capable of presuming on God's grace and they fall under His judgment. Achan did. “Don't take of the spoils” – but Achan did, and he was judged. But even though God told the children of Israel to wipe out all of the Canaanites, you know what happens over and over in the book of Joshua? Canaanites come to faith in the living God and they are welcomed into the family of the people of God. Rahab is one of those stories and she becomes part of the great story of the bringing of redemption into this world. And that's what I think I want to concentrate on with you.
I want to turn with you to what may be one of the most obscure passages in the book of Joshua —Joshua chapter 9. Turn with me there. It's that third theme that I want to camp on just a little bit in the few minutes that I have with you tonight. Joshua chapter 9 — this is a great story. It would make a great movie, so any of you that are in film out there, take it as a tip from me.
Let's pray before we read God's Word.
Lord, this is Your Word. Open our eyes to behold wonderful things in it, for we ask it in Jesus' name. Amen.
“As soon as all the kings who were beyond the Jordan in the hill country and in the lowland all along the coast of the Great Sea toward Lebanon, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusties, heard of this, they gathered together as one to fight against Joshua and Israel.”
Now you want to know the outline of this chapter? Verses 1 and 2 is part one of the chapter; verses 3 to 27 is part two of the chapter. It's telling you two different reactions to the children of Israel coming into the land of Canaan on the part of the Canaanites. The majority of the Canaanites that are mentioned in verses 1 and 2 have decided, “We’re going to fight them to the death.” The rest of the chapter is about the exception to the rule. Most of the Canaanites are gathering their armies and they’re ready for a fight. The rest of the chapter is about a different response. Here it is:
“But when the inhabitants of Gibeon heard what Joshua had done to Jericho and to Ai, they on their part acted with cunning and went and made ready provisions and took worn-out sacks for their donkeys, and wineskins, worn-out and torn and mended, with worn-out, patched sandals on their feet, and worn-out clothes. And all their provisions were dry and crumbly. And they went to Joshua in the camp at Gilgal and said to him and to the men of Israel, ‘We have come from a distant country, so now make a covenant with us.’ But the men of Israel said to the Hivites, ‘Perhaps you live among us; then how can we make a covenant with you?’ They said to Joshua, ‘We are your servants.’ And Joshua said to them, ‘Who are you? And where do you come from?’ They said to him, ‘From a very distant country your servants have come, because of the name of the Lord your God. For we have heard a report of Him, and all that He did in Egypt, and all that He did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon the king of Heshbon, and to Og king of Bashan, who lived in Ashtaroth. So our elders and all the inhabitants of our country said to us, ‘Take provisions in your hand for the journey and go to meet them and say to them, ‘We are your servants. Come now, make a covenant with us.’ Here is our bread. It was still warn when we took it from our houses as our food for the journey on the day we set out to come to you, but now behold, it is dry and crumbly. These wineskins were new when we filled them, and behold, they have burst. And these garments and sandals of ours are worn out from the very long journey.’ So the men took some of their provisions, but did not ask counsel from the Lord. And Joshua made peace with them and made a covenant with them, to let them live, and the leaders of the congregation sword to them.
At the end of three days after they had made a covenant with them, they heard that they were their neighbors and that they lived among them. And the people of Israel set out and reached their cities on the third day. Now their cities were Gibeon, Chephirah, Beeroth, and Kiriath-jearim. But the people of Israel did not attack them, because the leaders of the congregation had sworn to them by the Lord, the God of Israel. Then all the congregation murmured against the leaders. But all the leaders said to all the congregation, ‘We have sworn to them by the Lord, the God of Israel, and now we may not touch them. This we will do to them: let them live, lest wrath be upon us, because of the oath that we sword to them.’ And the leaders said to them, ‘Let them live.’ So they became cutters of wood and drawers of water for all the congregation, just as the leaders had said of them.
Joshua summoned them, and he said to them, ‘Why did you deceive us, saying, ‘We are very far from you,’ when you dwell among us? Now therefore you are cursed, and some of you shall never be anything but servants, cutters of wood and drawers of water for the house of my God.’ They answered Joshua, ‘Because it was told to your servants for a certainty that the Lord your God had commanded His servant Moses to give you all the land and to destroy all the inhabitants of the land from before you — so we feared greatly for our lives because of you and did this thing. And now, behold, we are in your hand. Whatever seems good and right in your sight to do to us, do it.’ So he did this to them and delivered them out of the hand of the people of Israel, and they did not kill them. But Joshua made them that day cutters of wood and drawers of water for the congregation and for the altar of the Lord, to this day, in the place that he should choose.”
Amen. This is God's Word. May He add His blessing to it.
I want you to see three things in this great story. I want you to see that despite the fact that these Canaanite lied, they saw their need more clearly than many of us see our need. Basically, they understood their predicament. Their hope was pretty simple: We either get a promise to us that we will be allowed to live that is secured by an oath and a covenant that is given to us in the name of the God of the people of Israel, on the one hand, or we die. Option A…Option B. We either get a promise secured by an oath and a covenant — a covenant was a binding agreement assuring someone of the commitments that had been made in a promissory relationship — and they knew they needed something that secure or they were going to die. Isn't it interesting that we're told in chapter 10 and in chapter 9 that this is a “great tribe.” These are not weaklings. This is a great city in Canaan. They had significant military resources, but they know that fighting against Israel is never going to work because they had already heard that Israel has defeated Egypt, that the army of Egypt has drowned in the Red Sea, that Israel has already wiped out Jericho and Ai, and they know that there is nothing in Canaan that can stop Israel. And so they know this is their options — we either get a covenant or we die.
I. Their need.
You know it's the same today. Every human being on this planet, whether we realize it or not, is in the same situation that the Gibeonites were in. You either get a promise of life from the God of heaven through Jesus Christ secured by an oath and covenant, or you die. And I understand that when we learned this story first, whether it was in VBS or in Sunday school, we concentrated on the fact that the children of Israel didn't ask of the Lord where these people were from and they didn't seek His counsel and these people lied and that was wrong and all that is right, but you know that's not the focus of this story. The focus of this story is how Gentiles that deserved to be judged were protected by the one true God because they sought their need to be fulfilled in Him. And you know who that reminds me of? It reminds me of that Canaanite woman who came to the Lord Jesus. You remember? “Lord Jesus, help me.” And Jesus says, “Is it right to give the food from the children's table to the dogs?” And she says, “Yes, Lord, but even the dogs eat the crumbs from their master's table.” And you remember what He does? He turns to His disciples and He says, “Men, I've never found this kind of faith in Israel.”
You see, it's the same thing that's happening in the book of Joshua — the insiders who ought to know better don't seem to know their need like the outsiders do. So let's learn this from the Gibeonites — they clearly saw the issue in life — “If I don't have a promise from God secured by His oath and covenant, I am in more than big trouble.” And Joshua wants us to see that.
II. The fulfillment of their need.
But there's a second thing that I want you to see and that is how they sought the fulfillment of their need. Now again, they sought this by deception. They sought a covenant by deception. And you know, I think if we were sitting around having a discussion about the ethics of all this with the ancient Israelites, and some rabbi at some point would have said, “Well what do you expect from Goyim?” You know, they’re all liars! What's so striking is that these people recognize is that what they need is a covenant, a promise secured by an oath, a binding commitment that they will not be killed. And they even go through a covenant ritual. Did you notice that in the middle of this story that after they spun their yarn, in verse 12, they say, “Here is our bread” and then in verse 14 we're told that the men of Israel “took some” of their provisions. Now you understand what's going on there? A meal is being shared.
Now we're going to share a meal on this coming Lord's Day together that we call the Lord's Supper. Do you know what that is? It is a covenant meal. It is a depiction of the grace of the covenant that ha been given to us in Jesus Christ and these folks were doing this thirty three, thirty four hundred years ago — same thing. They were sharing their meal with the Israelites indicating what? That a bond of relationship and hospitality had been established between the two of them so that they could sit down and eat together. Remember we've said — what was the whole ceremonial law of Israel designed to do, at least in part? It was designed to keep Israelites from being able to sit down at the table with pagans. Pagans could eat shrimp, the Israelites couldn't. Pagans could eat pork, the Israelites couldn't. Pagans didn't have a Sabbath Day that started on Friday night and ran to Saturday night, the Israelites did. And so there were all sorts of protections in the ceremonial law keeping Israelites from being able to sit down at the table with pagans. And what is happening here is Canaanites are sitting down at a table and sharing hospitality with the Israelites. It's a picture of what the grace of God does in bringing people together at the foot of the Cross. And the Canaanites understood that they needed that kind of a binding relationship that comes from a covenant promise made in the name of the Lord or they were done for. In other words, they knew that they were not only in trouble, they knew that they were in trouble unless they could get a covenant, an oath, a treaty, an agreement, a commitment, a promise secured by an oath.
III. God honored the covenant.
And then thirdly, I want you to see how God honored this covenant. First of all, when the children of Israel find out that they’re Canaanites, what do the children of Israel say? “Let's kill them all!” And Joshua and the leaders of Israel say what? “We can't because we have made a commitment in the name of the Lord that we will spare their lives.” But it doesn't stop there. When the other tribes — and you’ll see this in verses 1 to 4 of chapter 10 — when the other tribes of the Canaanites find out that the Gibeonites have made a covenant they all gather together to attack the Gibeonites and guess what God says to the children of Israel? “You've got to go protect them. You've got to go fight for the Gibeonites. They’re yours now. Those are your people. Go take care of them.” Furthermore, if you read on down in chapter 10, do you remember the story in the Old Testament where God causes the sun to stop, to stand still in the sky? Do you know that He did that not for the children of Israel fighting against their enemies, but He did that so that the children of Israel could fight against the Gibeonites’ enemies? And in fact, the passage says that God Himself threw rocks from heaven at the enemies of the Gibeonites.
But we're still not done yet because when four hundred years later, when everybody in Israel had forgotten about the promises that God had made to the Gibeonites, one of the things that Saul did — we're studying Saul right now — one of the things that Saul did is Saul, along with a lot of the people of Israel on this day, resented the fact that the Gibeonites were allowed to live. And in his day and time he attempted to commit genocide against the Gibeonites, to wipe them out as a people. And when David came to the throne, a famine struck the land of Israel and David sought the Lord in prayer and said, “Lord, I'm trying to do Your will. What's going on here?” And do you remember what the Lord said to David? “David, there's a famine in the land because the Gibeonites were slaughtered by Saul.” And David says, “Well what do we do?” And He says, “You need to go make atonement to the Gibeonites. You need to bring to justice all the followers of Saul who did that to the Gibeonites.” So four hundred years after this commitment had been made to the Gibeonites and almost everybody in Israel has forgotten about it, God has not forgotten about this promise. God will never forget about a promise He's made to you. He will never forget about a promise He's made to you.
One more thing. Did you notice what their job was going to be? For in perpetuity, they were going to be hewers of wood and drawers of water. Now that sounds pretty menial, and it was. You know, that's not your job as a doctor or a lawyer or a banker or some other esteemed professional. That's pretty menial work. But where were they going to be hewers of wood and drawers of water? Right around the tabernacle of the Lord. And you remember what David said? “I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of the Lord than dwell in the tents of iniquity.” And where did the Lord put those Gibeonites? Right there with the Levites at the house of the Lord forever. God never forget His promises, and His grace can reach anybody, and His covenant is the final word of assurance, and those are great things to learn from the book of Joshua.
Heavenly Father, thank You for this Word. Thank You for this book. As we read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest the truths of book after book after book in the weeks to come, we pray that You would stir our souls to trust and obey, for there's no other way to be happy in Jesus. And we pray this in Jesus' name.
Would you stand for God's blessing?
Grace, mercy, and peace to you, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.