The book of Joshua is an exciting book that is full of stories about war. Reading this book can be similar to watching a movie like Saving Private Ryan or Band of Brothers or Pearl Harbor or even the Lord of the Rings.
It’s a book that’s full of ups and downs; set backs and victories. But how do we read this book and specifically the text in front of us today and make helpful application to our lives in this century?
The answer to that question is found in a principle of interpretation that connects the physical to the spiritual. When we read the Old Testament, and more specifically the book of Joshua, it’s important for us to interpret the historical accounts of these stories with a mind and a heart that is tuned to the spiritual realities we live in.
Joshua 11:1 – 23…
1 When Jabin, king of Hazor, heard of this, he sent to Joab king of Madon, and to the king of Shimron, and to the king of Achshaph, 2 and to the kings who were in the northern hill country, and in the Arabah south of Chinneroth, and in the lowland, and in Naphoth-dor on the west, 3 to the Canaanites in the east and the west, the Amorites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, and the Jebusites in the hill country, and the Hivites under Hermon in the land of Mizpah. 4 And they came out with all their troops, a great horde, in number like the sand that is on the seashore, with very many horses and chariots. 5 And all these kings joined their forces and came and encamped together at the waters of Merom to fight against Israel.
6 And the Lord said to Joshua, “Do not be afraid of them, for tomorrow at this time I will give over all of them, slain, to Israel. You shall hamstring their horses and burn their chariots with fire.”
7 So Joshua and all his warriors came suddenly against them by the waters of Merom and fell upon them. 8 And the Lord gave them into the hand of Israel, who struck them and chased them as far as Great Sidon and Misrephoth-maim, and eastward as far as the Valley of Mizpeh. And they struck them until he left none remaining. 9 And Joshua did to them just as the Lord said to him: he hamstrung their horses and burned their chariots with fire. 10 And Joshua turned back at that time and captured Hazor and struck its king with the sword, for Hazor formerly was the head of all those kingdoms. 11 And they struck with the sword all who were in it, devoting them to destruction; there was none left that breathed. And he burned Hazor with fire. 12 And all the cities of those kings, and all their kings, Joshua captured, and struck them with the edge of the sword, devoting them to destruction, just as Moses the servant of the Lord had commanded. 13 But none of the cities that stood on mounds did Israel burn, except Hazor alone; that Joshua burned. 14 And all the spoil of these cities and the livestock, the people of Israel took for their plunder. But every person they struck with the edge of the sword until they had destroyed them, and they did not leave any who breathed. 15 Just as the Lord had commanded Moses his servant, so Moses commanded Joshua, and so Joshua did. He left nothing undone of all that the Lord had commanded Moses.
16 So Joshua took all that land, the hill country and all the Negeb and all the land of Goshen and the lowland and the Arabah and the hill country of Israel and its lowland 17 from Mount Halak, which rises toward Seir, as far as Baal-gad in the Valley of Lebanon below Mount Hermon. And he captured all their kings and struck them and put them to death. 18 Joshua made war a long time with all those kings. 19 There was not a city that made peace with the people of Israel except the Hivites, the inhabitants of Gibeon. They took them all in battle. 20 For it was the Lord’s doing to harden their hearts that they should come against Israel in battle, in order that they should be devoted to destruction and should receive no mercy but be destroyed, just as the Lord commanded Moses.21 And Joshua came at that time and cut off the Anakim from the hill country, from Hebron, from Debir, from Anab, and from all the hill country of Judah, and from all the hill country of Israel. Joshua devoted them to destruction with their cities. 22 There was none of the Anakim left in the land of the people of Israel. Only in Gaza, in Gath and in Ashdod did some remain. 23 So Joshua took the whole land, according to all that the Lord had spoken to Moses. And Joshua gave it for an inheritance to Israel according to their tribal allotments. And the land had rest from war.
The physical events of these stories, while they are historically accurate, are also meant to be a wartime strategy for our spiritual lives. What is your wartime strategy? The reality that I think we can all agree on is that life in this physical world is sometimes overwhelming.
1: SOMETIMES LIFE IS OVERWHELMING (VSS. 1 – 5)
You’ve probably experienced your fair share of overwhelming days. Days where it feels like your entire world is crumbling around you. That old sinful habit rears its ugly head again. The finances don’t cover the unexpected need. The weight of that old conflict in your marriage or friendship or some professional relationship resurfaces with a vengeance. Your physical health deteriorates. The longings and the dreams of a better life become more and more distant. And sometimes its like these overwhelming things band together in one single well planned attack that leaves you feeling devastated and wondering what tomorrow will bring. Sometimes life is just simply overwhelming.
That’s the sense I get when I read the first five verses of our text. Joshua and Israel have been facing down their enemies right and left throughout the last few chapters of this book. There have been a few setbacks but by and large the Lord has given them one victory after the next as they continue their conquest of the Promised Land. But here in these first five verses, Israel’s enemies hear of their previous victories and they unite together to wage war against God’s people. And they aren’t an easy foe to overcome at all. Verse four tells us that the enemy is great in number like sand on the seashore and heavily armed with very many horses and chariots. Israel is literally outmanned and outgunned and their enemies are assembled, ready to attack and seeking their destruction. Sometimes life is just simply overwhelming.
2: HOW DO YOU FACE THE FEAR OF TOMORROW (VS. 6)
How do you face the fear of tomorrow when life throws you curve balls at blinding speed with destructive force? Fear of the unknown is a powerful thing. None of us knows what tomorrow may bring and that can cause a great amount of fear deep down inside; especially when the circumstances of today are super overwhelming. When anxiety, temptation, despair, depression, loneliness, worthlessness and shame have mounted an all out attack on you today, facing tomorrow can be very fearful.
The only way to face the fear of the unknown circumstances of tomorrow in the midst of the visible circumstances of today is to trust in the promises of God’s Word and to obey the instructions of God’s Word. In verse 6, Joshua and the people of Israel are facing the insurmountable, overwhelming odds of being outmanned and outgunned by an enemy that is hell-bent on their absolute destruction. They can visibly see their enemies lined up in front of them; ready to annihilate them. The circumstances of today had to be causing great fear of what tomorrow would bring.
And in the midst of these overwhelming odds God speaks loud and clear in verse 6 and he tells Joshua “Do not be afraid of them, for tomorrow at this time I will give over all of them, slain, to Israel. You shall hamstring their horses and burn their chariots with fire” (vs. 6). In this verse God promises Joshua victory over his enemies. He instructs Joshua not to be afraid of tomorrow and he also instructs him to cut the source of his enemies’ strength and to destroy their vehicles of war. The only way to face the fear of the unknown circumstances of tomorrow in the midst of the visible circumstances of today is to trust in the promises of God’s Word and to obey the instructions of God’s Word.
3: WE MUST BE INTENTIONALLY OBEDIENT TO GOD’S WORD (VSS. 7 – 15)
In verses 7 – 15 Joshua and Israel are intentionally obedient to God’s Word. They chase their enemies down and they completely destroy them. They cut the source of their strength (the horses’ hamstrings), they burn their vehicles of war (the chariots), they kill the leaders of the enemy nations with swords and they destroy their cities with fire. Catch that summary again: they chase their enemies down, they destroy their enemies, they cut their enemy’s strength, they burn their enemy’s vehicles, they kill their enemy’s leaders and they burn their enemy’s cities. At the end of the day, Joshua and Israel, according to verse 15, “left nothing undone that the Lord had commanded.” They were intentionally obedient to God’s Word.
How are you doing with this? How are you doing at being intentionally obedient to God’s Word as it pertains to your enemies? The war that we are engaged in is a spiritual war. Everything we face in the physical realm has a direct spiritual counterpart at work. Satan is constantly accusing, sin is constantly tempting, death is constantly threatening and the world is constantly pulling us away from God’s design for our lives.
The only way to engage this war against Satan, sin, the grave and the world is to constantly apply the promises and the instructions of God’s Word to our lives through regular study, regular application and regular prayer. The only way you stay alive on the front lines of this battle is to engage your enemies with the promises and the instructions of God’s Word. You chase them down with God’s Word, you destroy them with God’s Word, you cut their strength with God’s Word, you burn their travel ability with God’s Word, you kill their leaders with God’s Word and you burn their cities to the ground with God’s Word. You must be intentionally obedient to God’s Word if you are going to stay alive in this war against Satan, sin, death and the world.
4: WAR IS PART OF GOD’S PLAN (VSS. 16 – 20)
In verses 16 – 20 we see that Joshua is victorious in conquering all of his enemies with God’s help. But in verse 20 we read that “it was the Lord’s doing to harden their hearts that they should come against Israel in battle, in order that they should be devoted to destruction and should receive no mercy but be destroyed.” In other words, God hardened the hearts of his enemies and they waged war against his people so he destroyed them to prove the extent of his justice and mercy. War is part of God’s plan because it reveals the extent of his justice and mercy.
Oftentimes we look at the effects of war in this world and we immediately make a jump to blaming it on the presence of sin or the presence of evil. And while it is definitely true that war is the direct result of the presence of sin and evil; it is equally true that God is completely sovereign. He is in complete control of everything including the presence of sin and evil in this world. Nothing happens on this earth that doesn’t first come across his desk for the final stamp of approval. And in fact, when God drew up the plans for our existence, he included the days on the calendar that would be full of war, sin and evil.
Admittedly, this is a very hard doctrine to wrap our minds around. It’s very hard to conceive of a God who is both good and loving and in complete control; who not only allows sin and evil (even though he is fully capable of stopping it) but he also creates the very environment where sin and evil can exist. At the end of the day we must remember that God is not the author of evil but he does create an environment where he maintains complete knowledge of what’s going to happen as well as complete control over the outcomes of the events in our physical existence.
It’s not like God created Adam and Eve without the foreknowledge of Satan’s deception and Adam and Eve’s rebellion. God intimately knew every detail of what was going to happen and yet he was never out of control of the situation. God has never been caught off guard by sin and evil and he’s never been surprised by something. God is not a reactionary God. He is a proactive God who knows all things and controls all things.
The way I always explain the connection between God’s sovereign control and man’s responsibility and freedom in choosing is through the image of a train on a set of tracks. The train is an individual’s life, one track is God’s sovereign control and the other track is man’s responsibility in choosing right from wrong. Standing on the tracks in front of the train looking down at your feet you can see the distinction between the two tracks. But looking out at the horizon it appears that the tracks come together. This is the biblical way to view God’s sovereign control and man’s responsibility to choose.
The big overriding principle in all of this is that God has a plan that we do not fully comprehend because we are not God. And part of God’s plan from the beginning was the presence of sin and evil that results in war. War is part of God’s plan for your life and without war there are no giants to face and without any giants to face there can be no victory or inheritance.
5: FACING OUR GIANTS LEADS TO VICTORY AND INHERITANCE (VSS. 21 – 23)
When I look back at my life, it’s not the absence of difficulty that caused the most growth in me. On the contrary, I grow the most in the midst of intense opposition. My life is the most fruitful when my life feels overwhelming. My life is the most unfruitful when I am hiding from the wartime giants that are in front of me.
In verses 21 – 23, Joshua and Israel don’t tap out after waging war for a very long time with their enemies (vs. 18). Joshua and Israel face their giants “the Anakim from the hill country” and they “cut them off” and devote “them to destruction with their cities” (vs. 21). And the result of facing their giants is that they take “the whole land, according to all that the Lord had spoken to Moses. And Joshua gave it for an inheritance to Israel” (vs. 23). Without war there are no giants to face and without giants to face there can be no victory and no inheritance. The reality in all of this is that God’s Word is not proven true in the absence of giants and war. God’s Word is proven to be true in the presence of giants and war. Facing our giants leads to victory and inheritance.
So what giants are you hiding from? What war are you trying to fight on your own? What’s your wartime strategy? You can’t sleepwalk through life without a wartime strategy. You have to admit that life is sometimes overwhelming. You have to admit that the fear of what tomorrow may bring can be crippling. You have to trust in the promises of God’s Word and obey the instructions of God’s Word. God’s Word is meant to help you face tomorrow with courage and intentional obedience. You have to understand that war is part of God’s plan to grow you in his image therefore you must face the giants of this life and lay hold of your inheritance in Christ.
What is your wartime strategy? At the end of the day you must recognize that you cannot win this war alone. You need a wartime strategy if you are going to make it out of this alive. The best interpretation of this text is to not only interpret the physical story in light of the spiritual war but it’s to interpret this story in light of Christ. Jesus is our Joshua and the Promised Land is our Heaven. And the enemies that were conquered by Joshua are strikingly similar to the enemies that were defeated at the cross and empty tomb of Jesus.
This is the message of the gospel in the book of Joshua. You must submit to, surrender to and trust in Christ because in Christ you have a Savior who experienced overwhelming opposition in this life. In Christ you have a Savior who trusted his Father’s promises and followed his Father’s instructions perfectly. In Christ you have a Savior who was intentional in his obedience. In Christ you have a Savior who fulfilled God’s plan for war against all that is evil in Satan, sin, the grave and the world. In Christ you have a Savior who faced down your giants and secured your victory and your inheritance at the cross and the empty tomb.
The reality of the gospel is that the war has been won. Nothing on this physical earth is as it should be but because of Christ and his work at the cross and the empty tomb you have the spiritual victory and you can look forward to the Promised Land in Heaven where there is no more mourning, no more tears, no more pain and no more sin. In Heaven you will fully experience the final words of this text where we learn that “the land had rest from war” (vs. 23).
Our true place of rest will be our final resting place in Heaven where peace and triumph will be complete. In summary, your wartime strategy is Christ’s finished work at the cross and empty tomb with the hope of heaven in front of you.