The overwhelming truth of the story of the taking of the Promised Land is that Israel had the leader who had God’s vision for the days ahead. Under his leadership the land was secured, so that it was said of Joshua, in chapter 11 “As the Lord commanded…Joshua did it; he left nothing undone that the Lord commanded.” Primarily because of Joshua, it was also said of God: “Not one of all the Lord’s good promises to the house of Israel failed; every one was fulfilled.”
Does Jesus have good promises for each of us to claim? Is there our own promised land that he wants to give us? We can set ourselves up to maximize God’s promises. Can it be said of us, we left nothing undone that the Lord commanded? Can we thankfully praise our God declaring that not one of all the Lord’s good promises to us failed; every one was fulfilled?
Joshua 1. 1-9 one of the few times in this whole story when God speaks to his leader. What God says sets up all the successes that follow. In our Lord’s instructions to Joshua we can learn how to maximize his promises.
- The foundational truth in what God reveals is that there is a land he intends to give us. “…cross the Jordan River into the land I am about to give them…” God then goes on and defines the extent of that land: “Your territory will extend from the desert to Lebanon, and from the great river, the Euphrates – all the Hittite country – to the Great Sea on the west.”
When God promises something, he knows exactly the size of that promise. He has in mind everything he wants to give us through that promise. The conjunction of the command to get ready to cross over and God’s description of the land tells us that there is always a promise to be wholly claimed. This is our first point this morning.
Each promise of God can be wholly claimed – with its complete fulfillment – because God has in mind the full extent of the promise he intends to fulfill.
In the summer of 1970 I was drafted into the United States Army. In January of 1971, after completing infantry training, I was deployed to Vietnam. I went into this phase of my life believing God’s promise that he would use this experience to accomplish his will for my life. At the time, I didn’t know exactly what that entailed or how it would work out.
I came to this conviction because I had been praying fervently that Jesus would show me what he wanted me to do with my life after college. After a year of praying that, I still had no clear direction, other than God allowed me to get a low draft lottery number, which guaranteed I would serve in the armed forces. He allowed me to go through this experience, so he must have good plans for me through my time in the service. That was the promise I held on to.
I arrived in Vietnam and was assigned to the 101st Airborne Division in the north of the country. This was where the war was most intense. I had not been in the division more than a couple hours when we were taken into a classroom and received a word from the Lord from a wonderful army chaplain., Frank Pierce. I can’t remember a word he said in his brief message. I will never forget what he said next. He informed us that a fellow chaplain was looking for a new chaplain’s assistant and were any of us interested. Every one of us who had a one way ticket to the jungle raised his hand. I raised both of mine. He went on and listed several requirements: at least two years of college, able to type well, able to drive a standard transmission. Only eight of us met these qualifications. The chaplain he was looking for turned out to be Southern Baptist, so that took care of the four catholic boys, leaving four of us that Frank said he would interview later.
A couple of hours past and I felt led to go into the chapel to pray and just be with the Lord. Frank was in his office, recognized me and asked me to sit down and talk to him. For two and a half hours it was two brothers in the Lord enjoying sweet fellowship. At the end he picked up the phone called his chaplain friend and said, “Frank, I think I have the assistant you need. Twelve hours later I was a chaplain’s assistant in the division’s aviation group. I spent my year in Vietnam doing ministry.
Toward the end of that year, in November, over a couple of weeks, I came to realize that Jesus was calling me into full-time ministry. I came out of Vietnam planning to go to Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. In February of ‘72, three days out of the army, at a Christian coffeehouse ministry in downtown Pittsburgh, I met a twenty something girl who was also planning to go to that seminary in the fall. To make a long, wonderful, story short, that girl has been my wife for the last thirty-six years.
In prayer I claimed God’s promise that he had a bright future for me; even when that promise looked like it was taking a detour into a very dark place. God intended to call me into his ministry and to give me a strong and delightful woman to share that journey with. He had in mind everything else that grew out of that call in Vietnam. My friends, I stand here today to affirm that not one of God’s good promises to me failed. Everything he had in mind when he called me to cross over to Vietnam was wholly fulfilled.
There is a promise to wholly claim not only because God knows the full extent of the promise he intends to fulfill, but also because he is always with us working to fulfill that promise. Along with a call to cross over into a promised land, a land that the Israelites knew was filled with enemies, some of whom were called giants, God declares to Joshua that:
- vs 5: “No one will be able to stand against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave or forsake you.
- vs 9: “for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”
If there is ever a place on earth where God seems to be absent, it is a war zone. Evil seems to triumph over good; hellish acts occur. The powers of men and the state reign supreme. Yet, we know God is never absent, never not in control. Nations are a drop in a bucket to him. What he promises comes to pass and no one is able to stand against him.
This point was brought home to me in a wonderful way as I processed out of Vietnam to return to the states. I received my personnel file to take with me to my next duty station. While looking through it, I found my original orders back in January. They gave my initial assignment and unit I was to go to in the division. I was assigned to be an infantryman with the security platoon in the headquarters company of the 2nd airborne infantry brigade. The US Army had one assignment in mind for me, but God had another, and guess who won out?
We have the Apostle Paul’s perspective seen in his prayer for the Thessalonian Christians in 2 Thess 1. 11, “With this in mind, we constantly pray for you, that our God may count you worthy of his calling, and that by his power he may fulfill every good purpose of yours and every act prompted by faith” – his calling, his power, our purposes fulfilled.
There is a whole promise we can claim, because our God is wholly committed to our success. Joshua writes: “Not one of all the Lord’s good promises to the house of Israel failed; every one was fulfilled.”
Don’t miss the outcomes our God wants for us.
- vs 7: …that you may be successful wherever you go.
- vs 8: Then you will be prosperous and successful.
The end result of claiming and receiving God’s promises is succeeding in ways we never, ever could without him. I look back on forty years of ministry and I am awestruck at what I have seen God do; this God to whom the Apostle Paul ascribes glory in Ephesians 3: “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.
So what are we to do in light of a God who knows the full extent of what he intends to give us, and who will stay with us until all he purposes comes to pass?
We seek him for his vision of our future. We let him define our promised land. We seek him until he begins to unveil those promises to us. And as he shows us what that involves, what’s the next step we need to take, we cross over and cross over and cross over. Until it is said of us: “…we left nothing undone that the Lord commanded.”
- II. We have affirmed so far that God will do his part. Crossing over a Jordan into the promised land is the beginning of our part. Only the beginning. We are not content to receive only a partial fulfillment of God’s promise, we want the whole promise – we want God to accomplish all he has in mind.
For this to happen we need to take seriously a detail of what God told Joshua that we haven’t looked at yet. This detail defines our marching orders, all that we have to do to wholly claim God’s promises. In verse 3 God promises Israel: “I will give you every place where you set your foot.” We step out in faith.
The story of the conquest teaches us that until the tribes of Israel set their feet on the land allotted to them, they did not take possession of it. Chapter 18 describes the situation in the land five years after they crossed the Jordan. By this time Israel had taken control of the country, but many of the tribes had not yet received their inheritance. They had not traveled to their particular portion of the promised land, and moved in. This center part of the book is the tale of the tribes attempting to do just this.
They had mixed results. Some of them did succeed in taking possession of their lands. Some didn’t. There is a sad repetition through these chapters:
- 15. 63: Judah could not take Jerusalem
- 16. 10: Ephraim failed to take Gezer
- 17. 12: Lists towns Manasseh could not take
- 19. 47 is the most telling. It tells us that Dan found Leshem too tough to take and so they settled somewhere else.
In each of these cases God’s people settled for less than what God had in mind for them. They did not receive certain places because they did not set their feet there. This turned out to be a big problem for them in later years. The inhabitants, in the places that Israel did not destroy, became a snare to them. The Canaanites led Israel repeatedly into idolatry and slavery. Partial fulfillment not only means less blessing, but usually has unnecessary problems attached.
Some years ago I was on the board of a Christian school, preschool through high school. The school began with wonderful promises from God. It flourished for years. At the time I was on the board we needed to make a major change. We lost the building when the church with which we were co-located sold the building we shared. We needed to find another building. I believed we could successfully do that. Some of us on the board had no sense that God’s promises to the school were no longer valid. So we went out and found a building that worked for us.
As the chairman of the development committee, I partnered with a friend who happened to be the president of the largest fund raising consulting firm in the nation. Working with his team, I presented to the board a proposal for a capital campaign to raise funds to buy a new building. All we had to do was step out and do the campaign. The majority of the board hesitated, and said we needed to pray more about this. I felt the time was right, I had recruited former Steeler, Robin Cole, to head the campaign. Now was the time; everything was in place. The end of the story is that the board prayed the school out of existence. They could not place their feet where they needed to, and so God did not give them the new building he had in mind; and two years later the school closed.
Hebrews 10. 39 says, “But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but those who believe and are saved.”
After forty years of ministry, I have sadly seen too many promises of God partially claimed. God’s people see the obstacles more clearly than they see the God who tells them, “No one will be able to stand against you all the days of your life… I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you.” It’s Peter walking on the water more aware of the wind and the waves than of Jesus.
At this point we have to ask the question, why did they come up short? What was missing?
III. To answer this question we can look at a man who did maximize God’s promises. His name is Caleb. In Deuteronomy 1 his career during the Exodus is described this way: “He followed the Lord wholeheartedly.”
In Joshua 14 Caleb goes to Joshua and asks for his allotted inheritance. Caleb said:
- “You know what the Lord said to Moses the man of God at Kadesh Barnea about you and me. I was forty years old when Moses the servant of the Lord sent me from Kadesh Barnea to explore the land. And I brought him back a report according to my convictions, but my brothers who went up with me made the hearts of the people melt with fear. I, however, followed the Lord wholeheartedly. So on that day Moses swore to me, ‘The land on which your feet have walked will be your inheritance and that of your children forever, because you have followed the Lord my God wholeheartedly.’
- Now them, just as the Lord promised, he had kept me alive for forty-five years since the time he said this to Moses, while Israel moved about in the desert. So here I am today; eighty-five years old! I am still as strong today as the day Moses sent me out. I’m just as vigorous to go out to battle now as I was then. Now give me this hill country that the Lord promised me that day. You yourself heard then that the Anakites were there and their cities were large and fortified, but, the Lord helping me, I will drive them out just as he said..” Then Joshua blessed Caleb … and gave him Hebron as his inheritance. So Hebron has belonged to Caleb….
Did you notice the refrain in all these verses? Caleb is continually described as a man who followed the Lord wholeheartedly. We receive the whole promise by following wholeheartedly.
Chapter one of Joshua spells out for us what it means to follow the Lord wholeheartedly. It’s all wrapped up in the repeated command to be strong and courageous. It is instructive to notice what is linked with the call to be strong and courageous.
In verse 6 being strong and courageous are the necessary attributes required to lead these people to inherit the land.
In verse 7
- being strong and very courageous is defined as being careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you
- not turning from it to the right or the left.
In verse 8 it’s
- not letting the Book of the Law depart from your mouth;
- meditating on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it
Notice the repetition of the words: all, day and night, and everything. It takes strength and courage to carefully heed everything God says and obey everything he commands.
This strength and courage can be seen in a soldier who carries out his assigned mission exactly according to the instructions given him by his commander, even if he doesn’t totally understand them.
It’s a teen listening to her parent’s admonitions and having the strength and courage not to go along with the crowd, because she believes her parents have her best interests at heart, and perhaps know more than she does.
Following wholeheartedly means complete and total obedience to God’s will as we best know it. It requires trusting him at every point along the way. It keeps trusting and obeying until, like Caleb, we take possession of the promise; even – if like Caleb – we are going up against Anakites – giants. And my friends, that takes strength and courage!
This works because our God is the God who said to Israel at the lowest point in their history – the nation destroyed and hauled off into captivity in Babylon – “For I know the plans I have for you” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the Lord.
Don’t miss the “with all your heart” part of the promise.
That is what I was doing those months in Vietnam. A friend I met at an Inter-Varsity student camp in the summer of 1969, totally out of the blue, sent me a book. Andrew Murray’s classic, With Christ in the School of Prayer. It is a thirty day devotional that takes you through all the teachings of Jesus on prayer. It is also a crash course on the Christian life. Through that book and my Bible I was meditating on God’s Word day and night and being careful to do everything written in it; seeking the Lord with all my heart. It was then that I heard and gladly received God’s call to ministry.
Judah, Ephraim, Manasseh, and Dan stopped short of complete obedience because they doubted God and his promise. James describes them in chapter one of his letter: “But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does.” They came up short on God’s blessing, because their faith came up short.
Psalm 86 also gives us a picture of following wholeheartedly. The psalmist asks the Lord: ‘Teach me your ways, O Lord, and I will walk in your truth. Give me am undivided heart that I may fear your name. I will praise you, O Lord my God, with all my heart; I will glorify your name forever.” Wholehearted requires and undivided heart. This is a heart totally sold out to Jesus. Jesus has no rivals in an undivided heart. No competing affection or desire can displace Jesus from that heart’s foremost allegiance. It’s the first commandment: You shall have no other gods before me. Jesus looks at a man with an undivided heart like a wife looks at her husband confident he will be unswervingly faithful to her. She knows every choice and decision he makes are to please her and in her best interest.
Such wholehearted devotion keeps wives and husbands vitally connected to each other. When so connected, they give and receive love with undiminished blessing. And, my friends, it is no different with Jesus! Our undivided heart touches the heart of Jesus and allows him to touch our hearts with undiminished blessing. It’s his power fulfilling every good purpose of ours and every act prompted by faith. To me this is the pinnacle of prosperity and success.
In Joshua 22 he sends the eastern tribes home. These are the tribes who first received their allotted inheritance on the east side of the Jordan River. The conquest is over and they are heading home to live in their promised land. Joshua wants them to continue to maximize God’s promises. He gives them five commands:
- “love the Lord your God
- walk in all his ways
- obey his commands
- hold fast to him
- serve him with all your heart and all your soul.
Serving with all your heart and soul sounds like following him wholeheartedly. The four preceding actions allow us to serve with all our hearts and all our souls.
So, do you love the Lord your God? (pause) More than anyone or anything?
Do you walk in all his ways?
Will you obey his commands, no matter how tough the challenge or how seemingly high the cost?
Do you hold fast to him, looking to him first each time you find yourself in water over your head?
You can serve him with all your heart and all your soul because he has all of you. You will follow him wholeheartedly and will claim the whole promise.
Our situation today is no different than Joshua’s. God has a promised land before us – as a church – and in each of our own lives. And we are like Israel five years into the conquest. By that time Joshua won the battles, decisively defeated the enemy and all that remained was for the tribes to set their feet on the land God intended to give them.
In the victory of the cross and empty tomb Jesus won the final battle, death itself was defeated. His promised lands lie before us, and all we have to do it set our feet where he calls us to go with him.
At the point Joshua sent the tribes off to go in and take possession, some held back out of fear. To them and to us he says: “How long will you wait before you begin to take possession of the land the Lord has given you.”
It’s always been God’s and he has already given it to you. So how long will you wait?
Copyright 2008 G. Brenton Mock