Arguably, the most hotly contested land in the world is the little country of Israel. For millenia, Jewish people have claimed a literal God-given right to it; modern Muslims have said it’s theirs; and others believe it has a more basic spiritual significance. I don’t argue or espouse politics in the tools4trenches blog. That’s not my goal. My passion is to help you see the good news of Christ more clearly and practically from cover to cover in God’s Word, especially in difficult parts. And the book of Joshua certainly qualifies as a difficult part.
But before we get started, it may help us to consider God’s Word as a whole.
Maybe you’ve heard that the Bible is all about God starting over (or adjusting) His plans. Adam and Eve couldn’t get it right, so He kicked them out. Soon He grew so frustrated that He wiped all but one family from the face of the earth and started over with Noah. Eventually God grew a little more personal with Abraham and his kin, but that seems to have been hindered by His people being enslaved. So He broke them out of Egypt and tried to work through Moses and a more specific set of rules. But they were still generally rebellious, so the Lord tried an even more official structure through some kings. That didn’t work out so well. So He tried lots of prophets, but very few listened to them either. So He sent His Son, Jesus, in New Testament times, and that was great. But let’s be real – now we’re in the age of His Spirit when faith and obedience is more of a personal religion.
The question is, “What does God’s Word really teach?” What did Jesus say? The Lord and His Apostles clearly taught that all of God’s Word is about Christ (Luke 22:44, John 5:39, and the many times He referred to Scriptures fulfilled in Him). He is perfect Love in every way: spiritually, physically, and relationally. In fact, we can use those three descriptors to see the person and work of Christ more clearly in Joshua. Let’s look at three specifics.
One aspect of promise represented in the land is physical. The Lord has always provided a physical place for His people to live with Him. He created Man in a garden (Genesis 1 and 2); He promised Abraham and his descendants a specific physical place to live (Genesis 12:1ff); even after the Lord sent His people into exile, He sent His prophets to tell them about a supernatural time and place for His people to live with Him (Isaiah 11:1-9 and 65:17ff, Micah 4:1-5, Hebrews 4:1-11, etc.); and Jesus will complete that promise when He returns to take His faithful people to physical paradise with Him (2 Peter 3:13 and Revelation 21-22).
The Lord revealed another glimpse of the physical aspect of God’s promise in Joshua 5:15. There the Commander of the Lord’s army told Joshua he was standing on holy ground. And why was it holy? Because that Commander standing there was God Himself. We know this because Joshua worshiped; He accepted Joshua’s worship; and that Commander is called “the Lord” in Joshua 6:2. This was Christ, the Son of God, before He had taken on human flesh. Just as God had physically walked with Adam and Eve in the Garden (Genesis 3:8), stood and talked with Abram (Genesis 18:1ff), and wrestled with Jacob (Genesis 32:22-30). All of these instances were regarding God’s physical presence for His people in a physical place for them.
And why is this so important for us?
One of Satan’s most subtle but damaging lies is that God is not concerned with physical things. For example, our eternal “paradise” will be to float as a fat cherub on a fluffy cloud playing bad elevator music forever. Who wants that?! I don’t! And many well-meaning people today say that God is primarily concerned not with our actions and outcomes but with our intent. That “frees” many merely to do as they wish, as long as their motives are good: stealing from one person to help another, sleeping with another person’s spouse because the married couple no longer feels love for each other anymore, neglecting to take care of our physical health or property or others’, etc. But God is concerned with the physical. He created us to love as a spirit in a body for relationships. One of His promises to all who truly follow Him by faith in Him is a perfect eternal body (Romans 8:23, 1 Corinthians 15:35ff, 2 Peter 3:10ff, Revelation 22:1ff, etc.)
Even here and now, without our bodies as instruments to give and receive, can you think of any way in which love is possible? God is concerned for our faithfulness and blessing in physical areas, too. This world is not our home, but it is a glimpse of His promise of a perfect land to come.
Certainly, another aspect of promise represented in the land is spiritual. Only those who follow the Lord by faith in Him may live in the land. Again, Adam and Eve were kicked out for not obeying the Lord by trusting Him; all but two people of the first generation from Egypt were kept from going into the Promised Land; later in the Old Testament we’ll see the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah taken from the land into exile because they did not trust and obey the Lord; and God’s Word tells us clearly that only those who trust and obey Jesus by His grace will enter into eternal life, see God, or inherit His kingdom (Matthew 5:8, 1 Corinthians 6:9ff, Galatians 5:16ff, Ephesians 5:1-14, Hebrews 12:14, etc.). A
Again, what’s the practical application for us?
It’s complimentary to the earlier point. God is not only focused on physical things, He is also focused on our spirit. No matter who says it or how many times, we cannot and should not “fake it until we make it”. The Lord calls us to real humility inside, not the mere outward appearance (1 Samuel 16:7); He calls us to genuine love (Romans 12:9); real repentance (Hebrews 12:17); a true heart (John 1:47); and inner purity (Matthew 23:27-28). We can’t simply mimic physical habits, sit in holy places, read religious books, and friend godly people. We need the reality of Christ and His Spirit working in our souls. We also need to encourage (and warn) others of those same truths, especially in our society that has so distorted the truth about how God relates to the physical and spiritual.
And last but not least, the land pictures a relational promise. The Lord provides a place for His people to live in relationship with Him and each other and to enjoy all of the other incredible blessings that come with trusting and obeying Him. Similarly, the Lord places each of His people on this earth for relationship with Him and each other (Jeremiah 31:24, Ephesians 2:22, Revelation 22:1-5, etc.) as a witness to those around us (see Esther 4:14, Ezekiel 5:5, Acts 17:26-27, 1 Peter 2:12, etc.). The promised land in the book of Joshua served the same purpose, just with much more overtly supernatural power.
When we look at a map of the larger Middle East, the land that would become the geographic nation of Israel is part of what we call the Fertile Crescent: a place of life surrounded by other nations and their wildernesses and deserts, literally and spiritually. Until God’s people are with Him in His eternal physical paradise, we are to live among the people of this world so that, by the grace of Jesus, the testimony of our words and deeds might turn others to life in Christ (Isaiah 60:1ff, Ezekiel 5:5, Matthew 5:13-16 and 28:18-20, Act 1:8 and 2:1ff, Romans 16:26, etc.).
But, again, Satan subtly seeks to distort God’s glory and message salvation to the world.
Think about how he tried to tempt the Lord Jesus. Satan tempted Jesus to desire bread now over however His Father’s would care for Him later: a temptation of real physical pains after 40 days of fasting. Satan tempted Jesus to test His Father’s prophesy to “command His angels over You” (Psalm 91:11): a temptation to avoid the spiritual purpose of the cross. And Satan tempted Jesus to own all the kingdoms of the world their glory for Himself: a temptation of selfishness instead of self-sacrificing relationship for His people.
This is also why, when someone tried to trick Jesus into choosing only one command as greatest, the Lord gave two. “And the second is like it. You shall love your neighbor as yourself. For all the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commands.” (Matthew 22:39-40) Jesus knows no such thing as “private religion”. This is why the person of Joshua (the Hebrew equivalent name to the Greek name of “Jesus”, meaning ‘God saves’) begins and ends the book of Joshua with God’s covenant to all of His people. Christ calls each of us to find our purpose and joy in serving Him and each other for God’s glory. And in this world He puts His forgiven, changed, and growing people in difficult lands so, like Rahab the prostitute in the book of Joshua, they would see His work in us and turn to Him for real life, too.
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