Have not I commanded thee? Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest. (Joshua 1:9)
There is a reason why the Bible is the best-selling book of all time – it’s alive. As we read and study, the awesome totality of it is slowly revealed. Nothing is superfluous, nothing irrelevant, and every single word has the power of life itself. Even the Old Testament – for those who regard its pages a dreary, musty history – contains truth, types, examples and direction, all leading faithfully to the cross and the fulfillment of God’s covenant promises. These things help us to see the cross in the context of God’s eternal plan – to understand it, and to grasp the magnitude of what God has done for us.
Today’s verse comes from a significant place in Israel’s history, and therefore has equal significance in a believer’s life. The Exodus from Egypt, their journey through the wilderness, and their final entry into the Promised Land are a central ‘type’ for us. We, too, are taken out of slavery to darkness. The Red Sea is our ‘cross,’ the point in our lives where Christ, on our behalf, descended into death and was resurrected to deliver us and deal defeat to the powers of darkness.
This is a familiar type presented within Christian teaching. but we need to examine the journey as an entirety to fully understand it. We know that the Israelites wandered in the desert far longer than God desired, due to their own disobedience. His perfect plan was that they leave Egypt, travel the wilderness, and enter Canaan. The journey through the wilderness had a very specific purpose, one critical to their entering the Promised Land.
The desert time – for new Christians, this could be regarded as the time immediately after salvation – was a time of learning, of preparation for the blessings to come. We are, like Israel, put in a place of total dependence on God. Through the wilderness He reveals His real nature, He teaches His people to rely on Him, He builds their faith, reveals to them how to fellowship with Him, and guides them faithfully to the ‘land of promises,’ the Christian equivalent of the Old Testament Canaan. We see two things in the Bible: Israel was slow to learn and even slower to obey. Their focus was on self and on ‘what they had lost.’ The final result was that, when they reached the Jordan, they hadn’t completed the preparation needed to cross over and ‘take the land.’
Sadly, this is where so many Christians find themselves – those that don’t ‘die in the desert’ or turn back towards their own private ‘Egypt.’ The problem is that Christians don’t want a faith that requires effort. They want a land of promises that’s a trust fund, not a kingdom requiring obedience, effort, faith and total surrender to God. Our ‘Jordan crossing’ is that place in our Christian walk where God says: ‘Okay, kids, there’s your inheritance. I’ve taught you everything you need to know, I’ve empowered you with the sword of the Word and the Spirit, I’ve given you everything you need to go get those giants.’
Never forget that when Israel finally crossed over, the Ark of the Covenant went with them. It wasn’t there during the Red Sea crossing, but it was there at the Jordan. God truly was with them, though not in tangible form any longer because they no longer needed a tangible manifestation. Remember, too, that God parted the waters of the Jordan as well – a fact seldom ‘preached’ but a fact nonetheless.
Many Christians still want to ‘camp out’ at the Jordan in a kind of eternal spiritual ‘base camp.’ Some simply don’t see the necessity of ‘taking the land.’ They think the promises will simply land in their laps, that their status as ‘heirs to the kingdom’ means it’s ‘automagic’ and theirs by right. Others see the giants instead of the preparation God has already made to defeat them. They may doubt that He is with them because they cannot ‘see’ Him – that’s faith, people – or they may doubt the God-given authority and ability to do what is required.
God said to Joshua to ‘be strong and to have courage.’ That’s the essence of the mature Christian walk. At our Jordan we leave ‘base camp’ and strike out in faith, and God has warned us that defeating the world in us will not be easy. We’ll need strength and courage, and it’s going to take the rest of our lives to take hold of His promises one by one, so that we may dwell in them as He intended.
Perhaps the biggest reason for failure to receive our rightful inheritance is this: God had one singular directive to His people – when taking the land, they were to destroy the Canaanite tribes completely and utterly. They were not to compromise, to enter into lasting relationship, or to spare a single one. They were to tear down the places of worship and eradicate the false gods from the land. Israel’s failure to do this was the root cause of their constant disobedience and estrangement from God throughout their long and checkered history.
The Kingdom of God is a kingdom not a democracy. We don’t get to choose which conditions of the will we like and which we don’t. If we want the promises, if we want to ‘inherit the land’ we need to be strong and cross our Jordan courageously and with determination and faith. We need to allow God to identify those things within ourselves that need to be eradicated, and we need to trust Him enough to allow Him to do them. We need to develop a ‘not negotiable’ attitude, one that says ‘I want nothing that is not of Him.’ We need to face the giants within ourselves – pride, fear of failure, the tendency to compromise or avoid speaking the truth, our lusts, our weaknesses, our selfishness – and agree with God that they must go.
With each giant we defeat, with God at our side, we make space for the promise. Entering our inheritance is not an overnight ‘wonder’ but a daily revelation of the land He has ‘prepared for us.’ This is what Paul means when he talks of ‘fighting the good fight’ and ‘running the race.’ God intended that His people ‘take’ the Promised Land, not that it would miraculously happen with no effort on their part. He has given us the authority and the right to do so, and expects us to be obedient and go into battle – that’s the outworking of our Christian walk, and it’ll take us the rest of our lives to gain ground, step by step, battle by battle
Like any inheritance, certain conditions need to be met. We cannot simply ‘lay down our burdens down by the riverside’ and expect God to change His mind. He’s very clear: ‘Be strong, have courage, and get out there and do what I tell you. It’s not easy, and there’ll be times when you feel like giving up, but know that I’m with you every step of the way.’
The ‘land of promises’ is an all or nothing place. Are we willing to do what it takes, or are we content to camp out at the Jordan and watch others living the lives that God intended for all of us?
Your plans, Lord are perfect, and Your ways far higher than ours. Help me to take hold of this truth today, give me strength and courage to begin a life of ‘not negotiable.’ Help me to make Your will my focus rather than the good things You promise. Help me to understand that, as I deal with my ‘giants’ You will release these things according to Your perfect plan and according to the perfect measure of Your grace. Help me always to see that it’s not the ‘land’ that matters but rather Your will, your purpose, Your presence.