Joshua chapter 12 is basically a transitional chapter in the book that helps to move the narrative from one major section of the story to the next. It’s kind of like a bridge from one main body of land to the next main body of land. It can be helpful if you can envision yourself standing on the middle of that bridge looking back at the land you just left with an eye towards not only what lies behind you but also what lies ahead of you.
Joshua 12:1 – 24…
1 Now these are the kings of the land whom the people of Israel defeated and took possession of their land beyond the Jordan toward the sunrise, from the valley of the Arnon to Mount Hermon, with all the Arabah eastward: 2 Sihon king of the Amorites who lived at Heshbon and ruled from Aroer, which is on the edge of the Valley of the Arnon, and from the middle of the valley as far as the river Jabbok, the boundary of the Ammonites, that is, half of Gilead, 3 and the Arabah to the Sea of Chinneroth eastward, and in the direction of Beth-jeshimoth, to the sea of the Arabah, the Salt Sea, southward to the foot of the slopes of Pisgah; 4 and Og king of Bashan, one of the remnant of the Rephaim, who lived at Ashteroth and at Edrei 5 and ruled over Mount Hermon and Salecha and all Bashan to the boundary of the Geshurites and the Maacathites, and over half of Gilead to the boundary of Sihon king of Heshbon. 6 Moses the servant of the Lord, and the people of Israel defeated them. And Moses the servant of the Lord gave their land for a possession to the Reubenites and the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh.
7 And these are the kings of the land whom Joshua and the people of Israel defeated on the west side of the Jordan, from Baal-gad in the Valley of Lebanon to Mount Halak, that rises toward Seir (and Joshua gave their land to the tribes of Israel as a possession according to their allotments, 8 in the hill country, in the lowland, in the Arabah, in the slopes, in the wilderness, and in the Negeb, the land of the Hittites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites): 9 the king of Jericho, one; the king of Ai, which is beside Bethel, one; 10 the king of Jerusalem, one; the king of Hebron, one; 11 the king of Jarmuth, one; the king of Lacish, one; 12 the king of Eglon, one; the king of Gezer, one; 13 the king of Debir, one; the king of Geder, one; 14 the king of Hormah, one; the king of Arad, one; 15 the king of Libnah, one; the king of Adullam, one; 16 the king of Makkedah, one; the king of Bethel, one; 17 the king of Tappuah, one; the king of Hepher, one; 18 the king of Aphek, one; the king of Lasharon, one; 19 the king of Madon, one; the king of Hazor, one; 20 the king of Shemron-meron, one; the king of Achshaph, one; 21 the king of Taanach, one; the king of Megiddo, one; 22 the king of Kedesh, one; the king of Jokneam in Carmel, one; 23 the king of Dor in Naphath-dor, one; the king of Goiim in Galilee, one; 24 the king of Tirzah, one: in all, thirty-one kings. – This is the Word of the Lord to us today. Let’s pray…
As you look back, you’ll notice that the first 11 chapters of Joshua are chapters of conquest, victory and miraculous divine intervention on behalf of God’s people as they enter hostile territories within the Promised Land. But then as you turn around and look forward to the rest of the book of Joshua from your vantage point on the chapter-12 bridge you’ll notice a massive shift in the plotline. The rest of the book doesn’t center on fighting and conquest but instead it centers on the distribution of promised inheritance to the right groups of people.
Now with that in mind, if you turn back around on this chapter-12 bridge, and you take a look backwards once again, you can see a whole bunch of past wins outlined by the author. We like to do this after our favorite sports season is over. We look back and we mourn the losses, we celebrate the wins and we begin to dream about what the next season will look like.
In this case, the author of Joshua actually outlines two past seasons of victory under two very different leaders. This is much like the comparisons we make between two different coaches in two different seasons. One season is outlined in verses 1 – 6 and the other season is outlined in verses 7 – 24. The first season is the season under Moses’ leadership in Deuteronomy 2 – 3 where two kings were conquered. The second season is the season under Joshua’s leadership in Joshua 1 – 11 where twenty-nine kings were defeated.
So in summary: Moses led the Eastside team with two wins and Joshua led the Westside team with twenty-nine wins. The point of this summary in chapter 12 is that God’s people are pressing pause on the chapter-12 bridge and they are celebrating past wins before they receive their inheritance. Why does this matter to us? What significance does this information hold for us? Is this just merely interesting information or is there some kind of gospel connection here that is helpful in our growth as Christians? Why is it so important for Israel to celebrate these past wins?
1: CELEBRATING PAST WINS HELPS YOU TO SEE THE RYHTHMS OF YOUR FAITH…
I don’t know about you but I’ve noticed that my faith isn’t always consistent. Sometimes I am very triumphant while at other times I am nearly defeated. Sometimes my faith needs to be reenergized and at other times my faith is in danger. And sometimes my faith is just simply victorious. These are the rhythms of our faith: triumphant faith, defeated faith, reenergized faith, endangered faith and victorious faith. Can you see these faith-rhythms as you look back over the last year of your life? Which faith-rhythm are you in right now: triumphant, defeated, reenergized, endangered or victorious?
One scholar highlights these faith-rhythms in the book of Joshua as follows. The battle of Jericho (ch. 6) is faith triumphant. Achan’s sin (ch. 7) is faith disabled. The destruction of Ai (ch. 8) is faith re-empowered. The Gibeonite deception (ch. 9) is faith endangered. The Southern/Northern conquest (ch. 10 – 11) is faith victorious (Baxter 1960: 57).
Don’t these faith-rhythms sound familiar to you: triumphant, defeated, reenergized, endangered or victorious? You experience the walls of some sinful habit in your life crumbling to the ground and you know that your faith is triumphant. A week later you wake up after a long night of giving into that very same sin again and you feel like your faith is completely disabled. You make some headway in your marriage or some other friendship and you feel like your faith has been re-empowered. Someone rips the fig leaves off of your deception and you feel like your faith is in danger. And then out of left field your relationship with your kid or your coworker breaks into a whole new level of health and your faith feels completely victorious. This is like a faith-rhythm roller coaster right?
Truth be told, looking back at our lives and even just looking back at the last year will yield some memories that probably don’t feel like wins at all. But could it be that even in our failures there are wins to celebrate? Could it be true that even when the glass appears to be half empty because of some setback that the glass is also half full? In other words, isn’t it true that even in our deepest moments of pain and failure, there’s still a sovereign God who loves us deeply and is using even our failures for our growth and his glory?
If you surveyed the cross of Christ in this moment, wouldn’t you be tempted to see that day as a loss if all you had were the details of that one single day? The hero of the story dies horribly. And yet, we know that the apparent defeat at the cross of Christ was actually a stunning upset victory that rattled the hallways of eternity for all who would believe in Christ as their Savior. Celebrating past wins (even seeing the wins in the failures) helps you to see the rhythms of your faith.
2: CELEBRATING PAST WINS HELPS YOU TO REST IN GOD’S FAITHFULNESS…
One author reminds us that throughout the first eleven chapters of this book, Israel does not have fortified cities, large armies in comparison with its enemies or heavy artillery. “Israel has neither horses nor chariots… but what Israel does have” that its enemies do not have “is Yahweh” (Hamilton 2001: 57). What more could we want? It’s true that we often want the comforts of this world. We want large armies to protect us. We want fortified walls for security. We want superior weapons to feel safe. But the reality is that what we have in God’s faithful care over us is more valuable than any worldly comfort we could attain.
I received a phone call as I was writing this portion of this message that reminded me of this truth from a past win in my life. One of our daughters was only a few months old when she was diagnosed with RSV, Pneumonia and Influenza A and we nearly lost her. And this episode came on the very heels of a problematic birth where she nearly died in the midst of the labor and delivery. I remember sitting at home with my heart and my mind being wracked with unimaginable fear on the phone with my dad as he prayed for us.
I’ll never forget the sense of helplessness that turned into an absolute sense of peace and comfort knowing that while I didn’t have the worldly resources to heal our daughter, I served a God who was more than capable and more than faithful to either heal her right now this side of Heaven or he could bring her into Heaven absolutely healed. In that moment I learned to trust that my Heavenly Father loves my kids more than I do. As I look back at this episode, I can celebrate it as a win and I would have celebrated it as a win regardless of the outcome (excruciatingly painful as it could have been) because God is absolutely faithful in this life and in the next.
There is no better place to grab hold of this reality than at the foot of the cross of Christ. You and I are no different than the nation of Israel in comparison with our enemies. Satan, sin, death and the world are superpowers. They are heavily armed, more numerous than we can imagine and far more superior in their ability to win the war against us. We are literally helpless to defend ourselves against these enemies much less defeat them. But in Christ’s work at the cross, our enemies faced the superpower that they could not beat. This is a picture of God’s faithfulness at the cross. Celebrating past wins helps you to rest in the faithfulness of God.
3: CELEBRATING PAST WINS HELPS YOU TO LOOK FORWARD WITH HOPE…
As I said earlier, the first six verses of Joshua twelve are a summary of Moses and the Eastside team’s two wins over their enemies in Deuteronomy 2 – 3. Those two wins happened on the Eastside of the Jordan River before the people of Israel under Joshua’s leadership crossed over and began their conquest of the Promised Land on the Westside.
This first episode under Moses’ leadership is significant for us to think about because it is a stage-setter. At that point in Deuteronomy 2 – 3, Israel has just spent forty-years wandering around in the wilderness because of her sin and rebellion. And then God gives them two wins at the end of the season to set the stage for the next season under Joshua’s leadership.
Two wins at the end of a losing season may not seem significant to us but if you follow anything in sports you probably get it because you know that those two wins at the end of a losing season gives you hope for the next season; especially if the next season has a schedule that seems to be impossible.
The Scriptures teach us that a lack of hope makes the heart, sick (Prov. 13:12) but faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen (Heb. 11:1). All that Israel had to hold onto before entering the Promised Land was a losing record while wandering around in the wilderness of sin’s consequences for forty years. And then in the next breath God drops two back-to-back wins in Israel’s lap right before they cross the Jordan River in flood season.
It’s like God in his kindness dropped a few small wins in front of Israel to help them move into the darkness of the unknown next season beyond the Jordan where the Promised Land (a land full of milk and honey) would require a deep sense of hope and faith in a faithful God who would annihilate the giants in the land. Celebrating past wins helps you to look forward with great hope.
In conclusion I just want to ask you, where are you at today in regards to hope? As you stand on the Joshua 12 bridge and you look back at the last year or the last few years of your life, what kind of hope do you have? I have to be honest and say that I struggle with hope. Sometimes I look back at some of the most recent events of my life and I feel hopeless and sick and my faith feels shaken and weak.
But then I press a little bit further and I look even further back to a win that reawakens my faith and strengthens my heart. It’s not some pithy win where I got a better job or a wife or a friend or a new truck; it’s an eternal win where my Savior and my Redeemer hung on a cross and died and ran out of the grave and left me with a promise to bring me into his perfect presence in Heaven once I cross that eternal bridge at the end of this season.
And you know what happens inside of me when I reflect on the truth of the gospel? Hope happens. Rest happens. Faith happens. That’s the reverse order of the points I preached today. As I look back and I survey the finished work of Jesus at the cross, the empty tomb and the promise of Heaven, my hope gets reignited, my heart finds rest and my faith gets bolstered. The book of Hebrews underscores all of this when it says that in Christ “We have… a sure and steadfast anchor for the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place” of relationship with our Father in Heaven where we find the true Sabbath rest of the book of Joshua (Heb. 4; 6:19).
When you look back at the wins in your life filtered through the work of Jesus at the cross and the empty tomb in light of the promise of Heaven, your hope gets reignited; your heart rests in the faithfulness of God and the rhythms of your faith get strengthened. This is what it means to celebrate the win.