The battle begins, but it still hasn’t ended. God continues to fight for his people, and we are called to persevere in the battle, trusting that the war is won and our King will one day return. Like the Israelites, each battle might mean tears, sacrifice, frustration, confusion, and fear. Even so, we are called to establish our faith in God, recognizing that he is the hero and we belong to him.
But as we look back on this chapter of The Story from our modern perspective, the actions of our hero God sometimes raise more questions than answers, and that’s okay. I wonder, for example, how do we know the Israelites were truly hearing from God when they annihilated whole cities, and was there truly no other way to rid Canaan of its wickedness? Is it rational to believe that the sun stopped in the sky for a day? How can it be just for God to hold an entire nation responsible for the sin of one person? Yet even as we wrestle with events that raise so many hard questions, we are called, just as Israel was, to respond with a clear choice. Will we serve God, or will we serve idols? The message is unambiguous; in the midst of battle, you cannot ride the fence. You must choose a side.
On this side of the cross, however, the battle is not between physical armies. Instead, we fight a battle for spiritual territory. In Ephesians 6:12, the Apostle Paul writes, “For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places” (NLT). Most often this battle takes place in our own hearts and minds. But the question we must answer remains the same: Will we serve God, or will we serve idols?
So what can we learn from this week’s chapter to help us in or own spiritual battles? “Be strong and courageous,” God says. Inspiring words, but how many of us have faced a time in our lives, like Joshua and the Israelites, when God has asked us to fight a battle we thought was too big for us? I imagine we have all felt at some time or another the pressure to be a “strong Christian” when circumstances were rough. Other times, we have groaned in frustration at our own failure to live a holy life. But though Joshua was asked to be strong and courageous, God’s assurance for Joshua was not that he had enough strength and courage within himself. Rather, he assured him that his presence would go with him, and the Lord would give them the victory. Here, as always, God was teaching his people that their faith must be placed in him alone, not their own strength or the false promises of other gods.
The lesson for us is the same. God has already assured us the victory; our role is to rely on his presence. One of the problems for us is that walls don’t literally come tumbling down, and the sun doesn’t stick around to give us more hours in the day. But we encounter his presence nonetheless. God told Joshua if he would meditate on his Law and keep his commands, he would be prosperous and successful. In the same way, Jesus told his disciples that by obeying his commandments, they would remain in his love (John 15:10). He even said, “But if you remain in me and my words remain in you, you may ask for anything you want, and it will be granted!” (v. 7). But apart from him we can do nothing (v. 5). I can testify myself that as I have learned to recognize God’s presence and work in my life, I have experienced more spiritual walls falling down than all my previous efforts have ever done. I feel as though I have done nothing, and God has done everything. Such is the grace of God.
Our strength and our courage comes from knowing that we fight on the side of a victorious hero God. There are battles to fight, but the war has already been won through Christ Jesus. Through the church, God continues to fulfill his promises to Abraham, just as he did through Israel as they conquered the Promised Land. And as we are blessed with victories, we extend that blessing to the Rahabs and Gibeonites of our day, inviting them to put their faith in the one and only true God who accepts all who come to him in faith.
Your sister in Christ,