Introduction to the Book of Joshua

Introduction to the Book of Joshua

Dr. Jim Denison

Joshua before Joshua

The man known as Joshua was first named Hoshea (Numbers 13:8, 16), which means “salvation.” Later Moses changed his name to Joshua, meaning “the Lord saves” or “the Lord gives victory.” “Joshua” and “Jesus” are both derived from the same Hebrew word Yehoshua. The similarity of their names and work is striking—both led God’s people to salvation by conquest over the enemies of the Lord, establishing the possibility of eternal rest in the providence of the Father.

As the NavPress commentary makes clear, Joshua served a critical role in the early chapter of Israel’s history as a nation. When the people crossed the Red Sea, they met the Amalekites in their first military battle, and were led by Joshua to victory (Exodus 17:8-16). Joshua quickly became Moses’ understudy and disciple, sharing his experience atop Mt. Sinai (Exodus 24:9-13) and in the tabernacle (Exodus 33:7-11).

After Moses led the nation to the edge of the Promised Land, Joshua and Caleb were sent with ten other tribal representatives to spy out the land. Only they reported favorably; the nation shrunk from their heritage in fear, and their generation was forced to wander in the desert until they died. Moses then led them again to the boundary of the land, where he was taken to heaven. Leadership of God’s people now rested humanly in the hands of Joshua.

He would prove faithful to his calling. He would lead the nation miraculously across the Jordan, victoriously at Jericho and across Canaan, and strategically in dividing the land among the tribes. At the book’s end, he would challenge the people spiritually even as he had led them militarily.

At the book’s beginning, Moses was described as “the servant of the Lord,” and Joshua as his “aide” (1:1). At its end Joshua was granted the same title as his mentor: “the servant of the Lord” (24:29). His courageous faithfulness earned him such tribute.

Joshua the book

Setting and theme: The book opens with Israel on the edge of the Promised Land, camped on the eastern shore of the Jordan River. It ends with the people in possession of that land which will be the focus of divine activity and revelation from this point to the coming of their Messiah. And Joshua is the central figure and leader in this story of conquest and celebration.

The name of the book: The Hebrews used the first words of a book to constitute its name, thus calling our text “Now After the Death of Moses.” Those who translated the Hebrew into Greek (creating the Septuagint), three centuries before Christ, named the book “Joshua” in honor of its leading character. When Jerome later produced the Latin Vulgate, he expanded the book’s title to “The Book of Joshua.” And so it remains today.

Authorship: The book of Joshua does not name its author. In this it is similar to other Old Testament histories, all of which are named for their leading character rather than an identified writer. While Paul tells us who wrote Philippians, Joshua does not tell us its author’s name. As a result, questions regarding authorship are not crucial to understanding the book. And one authorship theory should not be defended as more “biblical” than another.

As the NavPress commentary notes, Jewish tradition claimed that Joshua wrote all of the book bearing his name except the descriptions of his and Eleazar’s deaths at the end (Josh 24:28-33). Modern opinion ranges from the belief that Joshua was alone responsible for the book to assertion that he had nothing to do with its composition, which occurred some eight centuries after the events the book describes.

Here is “internal evidence” (facts found within the book) which helps us form a position on this issue. We know that Joshua was himself literate, given that he carved the law onto stones (8:32) and later “recorded these things in the Book of the Law of God” (24:26). We find eyewitness accounts within the book, such as 5:1: “Now when all the Amorite kings west of the Jordan and all the Canaanite kings along the coast heard how the Lord had dried up the Jordan before the Israelites until we had crossed over . . .” (italics added). These facts, added to early Hebrew tradition, argue for Joshua as the author of most or all of the book.

Joshua 15:63 also contributes to an early authorship position: “Judah could not dislodge the Jebusites, who were living in Jerusalem; to this day the Jebusites live there with the people of Judah.” The men of Judah defeated the Jebusites later (Judges 1:8), and still later, David made the city his capital (2 Sam 5:6-10). But these events obviously occurred after Joshua was written, arguing for authorship at a time when the events transpired.

However, Joshua 4:9 suggests that an editor worked with the book after the events recorded had occurred: “Joshua set up the twelve stones that had been in the middle of the Jordan at the spot where the priests who carried the ark of the covenant had stood. And they are there to this day” (italics added).

My own belief is that the book was written primarily by Joshua, and that it was later edited by his followers into the form we have today, including an account of his death. But given that the book identifies no author, the issue is not foundational to the trustworthiness of Scripture or our interpretation of this text.

The nature of the book: Joshua is written as prophetic history. Like other books of biblical history, this is an interpretive narrative. The author’s purpose was not to detail or describe every event which occurred during the years encompassed by his work. Such would be no less possible then than today. Imagine writing a complete and exhaustive history of just this day in your life. All history is interpretive, by virtue of the sheer fact that what we include and exclude is the product of our own subjective purposes and biases.


Jordan Crossing

Jordan Crossing

Joshua 3:1-4:24

Dr. Jim Denison

Thesis: We must step by faith into the purpose of God to receive the power he gives.

Goal: Step into the next stage of faithfulness as revealed to you by God.

There’s an old story about a council meeting in the halls of Hell. Satan was seeking an infallible strategy for defeating God’s Kingdom on earth. One demon stood and said, “I shall go to men and tell them there is no heaven.” But Satan said, “That will never work, for in the heart of all mankind there beats a hope of life eternal. They will not believe that there is no heaven. You shall not go.”

Another demon stood and said, “I will go and tell them there is no Hell.” And Satan said, “That will not work either. Men know that there is right and wrong, and that wrong must be punished. They will not believe there is no Hell. You shall not go.”

Finally a small demon at the back of the meeting room stood and said, “I will tell men that there is a Heaven and there is a Hell. But then I will tell them that there is no hurry.” And Satan said, “Go!”

He’s still in our world and our minds today. Joshua is calling our people and church to follow the Lord into his future by faith. If our enemy cannot persuade us to refuse the Promised Land intended for us by our Father, he will do all he can to distract us, to lead us to complacency and delay. For he knows that “later” with God means “no” today.

For each of us, there is a call of God to go forward now. We each have a flooded river to cross if we would enter the purpose of God. Where is yours? What step will you take today?

Prepare to see the power of God (3:1-13)

We must build the fireplace before God can send the fire. A couple must prepare for a baby before an adoption agency will give one to them. Joshua and his people were called by God to prepare for his power before they would see it. So are we.

Trust in his presence (vs. 1-4)

Joshua’s officers began with this word to the nation: “When you see the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God, and the priests who are Levites, carrying it, you are to move out from your positions and follow it” (v. 3). This “ark” was the most sacred possession of the people. It was first built for the Tabernacle (Exodus 25:10-22), the portable sanctuary used by Israel until they came into their permanent homeland. Overlaid with gold, it was constructed with a golden angel at either end. Only four feet long by 2.5 feet wide and 2.5 feet deep, it was so sacred that it was carried on poles attached permanently to its sides, because no human was allowed to touch it. It contained the ten commandments, as well as a jar of manna from the wilderness (Exodus 16:33-34) and a copy of the book of Deuteronomy (Deuteronomy 31:24-26).

The ark was kept at Gilgal, Shechem, Bethel, Shiloh, and Keriath-Jearim before being placed permanently in Solomon’s temple at Jerusalem. It was the most significant symbol of the Jewish nation, much more than a flag to us, for it represented the throne and presence of Almighty God himself.

When the ark preceded the people, they would know that the Lord was present with them, marching at their front, leading them into the river and the land beyond. The ark gave them courage and faith to know that their Lord would indeed never leave or forsake them. But they must follow it at a distance of a thousand yards (v. 4), for it was too sacred for their close presence. So long as the ark went before, they could follow behind in confidence.

Today the ark is no more. Lost or destroyed in the Babylonian captivity, its fate has never been determined with certainty. Some Jewish archaeologists believe that it was stored by the rabbis in tunnels beneath the Temple Mount when the Babylonians were approaching, and awaits discovery at a time when the Muslim authorities permit such excavation. Others think it was taken with Jeremiah to Egypt in exile, or to Babylon. And some think the Jews destroyed it lest it fall into pagan hands. But no one is certain.

Nor is it needed now. Jeremiah told his people not to mourn the loss of the ark, but to trust in the God it represented. When the Messiah comes, the prophet promised, “men will no longer say, ‘The ark of the covenant of the Lord.’ It will never enter their minds or be remembered; it will not be missed, nor will another one be made. At that time they will call Jerusalem The Throne of the Lord, and all nations will gather in Jerusalem to honor the name of the Lord. No longer will they follow the stubbornness of their evil hearts” (Jeremiah 3:16-17). Now that the Messiah has arrived, his followers are God’s temple, with God’s Spirit living in us (1 Corinthians 3:16). His word is no longer kept in a box, but is alive in our hearts (Hebrews 4:12).

He is just as present in our lives as he was with their ark. As we step into the water of obedience, we can trust his presence and protection. He will lead us wherever we are to go. When we follow in reverent faith, the other side is sure.

Consecrate yourself (v. 5)

In preparing to see the power of God, the people must first believe that his presence would lead and protect them. Next, they must be ready spiritually to walk in that holy presence: “Joshua told the people, ‘Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do amazing things among you'” (v. 5).

To them such “consecration” meant to wash their clothes and bodies, to abstain from sexual relations, and to prepare spiritually (Exodus 19:10, 14-15). To us it means preparation which is more spiritual than physical. At issue is not what we can see with our eyes, but what the Lord can see by his Spirit. In calling the Pharisees to such spiritual consecration, Jesus had to say to them, “on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness” (Matthew 23:28). We must be clean in our hearts to be close to God with our lives.


Marching Orders

Marching Orders

Joshua1:1-18

Dr. Jim Denison

Thesis: God calls us to fulfill his highest purposes by faith.

Goal: Identify and embrace God’s highest calling for your life.

Oswald Chambers lived one of the most extraordinary Christian pilgrimages of the 20th century. A native of Scotland, his ministry of preaching and teaching took him to the United States and Japan. He founded a Bible Training College in London, then served as chaplain to British troops in Egypt during World War I. His death at age 43 was a tragedy to the troops he served and the family he loved. But his ministry has touched millions of souls he had no opportunity to know, myself included.

Oswald’s wife Biddy made his life motto the title of the devotional book she created from his various sermons and talks: “My Utmost For His Highest.” I’ve been reading daily from this guide for twelve years now, and have found it to be the most essential book in my spiritual life next to Scripture. Its title motivates me constantly: find and give my “utmost” gifts and service to God’s “highest” purpose for my life and work.

What is your “utmost”? What is its “highest” purpose in the will of God? How can you help your class find and fulfill God’s greatest plan for their lives? These were the issues facing Joshua as our text unfolds. The answers given to Joshua are precisely God’s guidance for us this week.

Listen for the call of God (vs. 1-5)

Alexander the Great led his armies by the strength of his single focus and indomitable will. After his death, his generals met to plan their future. To their dismay, they discovered that they had marched off their maps. They were in an unknown location, facing an unknown future. They were not the first, or the last.

Listen in the hard places

So it was for Israel as the book of Joshua opened. Moses had died. This was easily the most traumatic event in the young life of the nation of Israel. He had been the “servant of the Lord” (v. 1), an exalted title given only to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Caleb to this point in Jewish history (Joshua would be added to the list at the end of his life and work; cf. 24:29). Now their mentor, guide, and hero was gone, and the future was uncertain at best.

The book of Joshua connects its narrative directly to this crisis. Its first word, translated “After” in the NIV, is “and” in the Hebrew. The narrative continues directly from the end of Deuteronomy and the death of Moses. Perhaps the thirty days of mourning for Moses had now ended (Deut 34:8). But the crisis facing the nation had not.

God often calls us to his highest purposes in the midst of personal and corporate crisis. Isaiah heard the word of the Lord “in the year that King Uzziah died” (Isaiah 6:1), as the prophet mourned the death of his king and relative. God began to use Elisha immediately after his mentor Elijah had been assumed to heaven (2 Kings 2:19ff).

It has been calculated that the typical adult faces six crises in his or her life. Not just the routine problems of daily living, but major issues such as death, divorce, and serious disease. If a person graduates from adolescence without trusting personally in Christ, he or she is typically open to the gospel only during such times of crises. It is then that Christians who have built relationship with the person can show God’s love in theirs.

It is also in such periods of crisis that we can hear the Lord most clearly. He speaks far more than we are willing to stop and listen. But when we know that we need his word and help, that we have come to the end of our own wisdom, we will listen for his voice with desperation and faith. And we will always hear him speak. So, whatever your circumstances may be, ask God to use them to bring his word to your heart. And he will.

Expect God to speak to you

In the immediate context of Moses’ death, “the Lord said to Joshua son of Nun, Moses’ aide….” (v. 1b). Theologian and apologist Francis Schaeffer was right: he is there and he is not silent. God speaks far more than we hear his voice. Just as the room where you are reading these words is filled with radio and television waves you are not hearing, so the Spirit is speaking constantly to his people. But we must “tune in” to his frequency.

God spoke the universe into being. He spoke to and through the prophets, so that their most common refrain was “Thus says the Lord….” Jesus spoke constantly to the disciples and the crowds during his incarnational ministry. His Spirit spoke to those he inspired to record the rest of his written revelation. He speaks now through this word to and through preachers and teachers of his truth. He speaks when we are willing to hear him in silent prayer. He speaks to us through the words and music we use in worship. All truth is his truth, so that every word we hear or read which contains truth comes ultimately from him.

Joyce Huggett has written a marvelous book titled The Joy of Listening to God. She’s right—whenever we are still enough to hear God’s Spirit speak to us, the result is joy. Whenever we are yielded to the truth of Scripture, to the words of a sermon or Bible study, to the truth contained in a worship song, to the truth of God revealed through human agents and means, there is joy.

So it was for Joshua, even in the crisis of the moment. So it will be for you. But you must expect God to speak to you, if only you will listen. You must tune the frequency of your spirit to his voice.

Seek his will for the now


Putting God First

Putting God First

Matthew 6:25-34

Dr. Jim Denison

On Saturday morning, August 30, I read these words from Oswald Chambers’ My Utmost for His Highest:

“Jesus Christ says, in effect, Don’t rejoice in successful service, but rejoice because you are rightly related to Me. The snare in Christian work is to rejoice in successful service, to rejoice in the fact that God has used you. You can never measure what God will do through you if you are rightly related to Jesus Christ. Keep your relationship right with Him, then whatever circumstances you are in, and whomever you meet day by day, He is pouring rivers of living water through you, and it is of His mercy that He does not let you know it. . . .

“It is the work that God does through us that counts, not what we do for Him. All that Our Lord heeds in a man’s life is the relationship of worth to His Father.”

These last two sentences were a bolt of electricity to my heart. They stunned and shocked me. Hear them again: “It is the work that God does through us that counts, not what we do for Him. All that Our Lord heeds in a man’s life is the relationship of worth to His Father.” Here are some facts which came to my mind as I pondered these words:

What I do for the Lord does not count unless he does the work through me. Unless he preaches the sermon, writes the commentary or devotional, speaks the words, what I have done is of no worth to him whatsoever. No matter how much I have studied, how hard I have prepared, how zealously I have served, how sincerely I have wanted to honor and obey my Lord, if he did not do the work through me, it is of no worth. In fact, it is all wasted time and effort.

All the Lord heeds in my life is my relationship to him. If he is not first in my heart, first in my priorities, first in my life, I am in the wrong. And he cannot use me. He cannot work through me. The channel is blocked, the artery clogged, the pipeline corroded and corrupted.

Thus, the evil one will let me serve the Kingdom so long as my heart is not right with its King. He will let me preach sermons and write commentaries. He will let you attend worship and teach classes and give money and volunteer your time. Why? Because he knows that unless our hearts are right with God, such service does not count. It will not last. It is of no worth.

As a result, any sin between me and my Father is good enough for the enemy. Murder isn’t necessary, just anger. Not adultery, just lust. Not theft, just coveting. Satan would prefer the sin to be enacted so that others would be hurt as well, but the thought or emotion is enough to break my fellowship with my Father, thus rendering my service worthless and powerless.

And any service to Christ is acceptable to the evil one, so long as it comes before the One we serve. So long as we do it for him, or even better, for ourselves. So long as I preach to grow the church, or advance an idea, or even better, promote myself. So long as you give to pay the bills, or to earn the blessing of God. So long as you teach, or sing, or attend to be seen by others, or to be rewarded by God, or to “get something” out of church today. Any purpose which does not put God first is worthless. It is a waste of our lives. And the enemy is pleased.

When these reflections came so powerfully to my heart a week ago, I did not then know that they would be the center of this message. The dots connected later. But I now know that I was given this truth for us all, as God’s word to our entire church family. So that we would learn the urgency of Jesus’ command to “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness,” so that then “all these things will be given to you as well” (v. 33). We must understand and live out the truth of these words, for they are crucial beyond description to our church and our future this Fall. If we do not, nothing else we will do will matter. Nothing at all.

How to seek first the kingdom of God

The “kingdom of God” is that place where God is king.

In his Model Prayer, Jesus taught us to pray that “your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). This is Hebrew parallelism, a kind of poetry where the second line repeats the intent of the first. His kingdom comes wherever his will is done.

This happens wherever and whenever God is King. In Jesus’ day, when someone was king of a land, he was more than its president or prime minister. He did not lead the nation—he controlled it. He did not govern the land—he owned it. Every part of it.

Every resident of the kingdom owed allegiance and service to the king. Every inhabitant was given land and house by the king’s mercy, so long as he would work the soil and bring the king his harvest. So long as he would serve the king in war and in peace. So long as he was faithful to his sovereign master.

The laws were written by the king. And transcended by the king. His word was inviolate and absolute. His subjects served only one lord, named only one master.If you and I choose to “seek first the kingdom of God,” we determine to become exactly this kind of subjects of God as our Master, Lord, and King. As a result, first our possessions belong to him, for they are his.


Reconnaissance In Jericho

Reconnaissance in Jericho

Joshua 2:1-24

Dr. Jim Denison

Thesis: God goes ahead to provide for all he purposes us to do.

Goal: Identify ways God has prepared for current ministries, and step into the calling with confidence and obedient trust.

Oswald Chambers once said: “If we are going to live as disciples of Jesus, we have to remember that all noble things are difficult. The Christian life is gloriously difficult, but the difficulty of it does not make us faint and cave in, it rouses us up to overcome.” All noble things are difficult.

My father fought in the Army during World War II, and experienced horrific atrocities in helping to win victory for his country. Our military is currently engaged in a war against terror around the world, protecting our very lives from those who would take them. Freedom is difficult.

Most adults we know completed thirteen years of education; the large majority completed four years of college afterwards; and a sizeable number completed several years of advanced study still later. Educational preparation is difficult.

The 40-hour week is now a thing of the past. Fortune magazine recently reported that 75% of CEOs work 60 hours a week or more. Vocational success is difficult. It is no different in serving the Lord in building his Kingdom. William Barclay was right: we progress in life and faith in proportion to the fare we are prepared to pay.

The book of Joshua is calling you and your class this fall to a higher level of obedience to God’s purpose, to unconditional commitment to his plans for your life and church. Chapter two will encourage us to know that God precedes us—he has already provided for all he purposes us to be and to do. When we see all God has done to prepare us, we can step into our callings with confident obedience.

Take the risk to serve the Lord (v. 1)

The battle for Canaan was about to begin. Where should Joshua commence the attack?

Making a courageous choice

Jericho was a logical first option. Standing just north of the Dead Sea, five miles west of the Jordan River and about 20 miles from what would become Jerusalem, the city stood at the base of roads which climbed beyond into the mountains of Palestine. Its location made it a strategic military base. Once the city was captured and the roads beyond made defensible, it would be an easier matter to claim the mountains and use them for attacks into the valleys beyond.

However, the city was extremely well fortified. Fed by natural springs within the city walls, it was self-sufficient and could withstand years of siege. Its walls were among the tallest and thickest known to the culture of the day. Archaeologists have discovered multiple layers of populations which lived at the site, going back in time as far as 7,000 B.C. and making Jericho the oldest continuously-occupied city on earth.

Victory would encourage the children of Israel and discourage their enemies, something like the air raid on Tokyo which was accomplished early after Pearl Harbor for the same purpose. It would give Joshua’s armies a strategic base for the operations to follow.

But defeat here would be catastrophic. The Jewish army would be forced to withdraw and attempt to enter the land elsewhere. The Canaanites would be strengthened in resolve, and fortified in defense of their land. The Israelites would be discouraged, and might well despair of Joshua’s leadership. Moses had never led them to defeat; Joshua must win his first battle in the Promised Land for the sake of his future as their leader.

So, should they attack Jericho? Or should they go around this fortified city and attack later after their armies are stronger? Jericho lay in the middle of Canaan; there were other ways to enter the land. At question was not whether the Jews would begin their conquest of their Promised Land, but where.

Choosing courageous men

Joshua will prove himself a brilliant military strategist all through this book. He began his career as leader of the nation with this decision: he would send two spies into Jericho and the surrounding area. They would help him decide whether or not the Lord intended this to be the first stage in their battle strategy. He sent the two spies from the plains of “Shittim,” which means “acacia trees” (v. 1a). These trees would mark the location of the great victory to come for all the generations who would follow.

But first the spies must exercise enormous courage. They could expect their enemies to anticipate their arrival, as they did. If the king of Jericho could capture them, he could defeat Joshua’s attack before it began. The military attention of the entire city and area would be focused against them. These soldiers are two of the unnamed heroes of Scripture, models of risk-taking, courageous faith.

They slipped across the Jordan River and into the city, and “entered the house of a prostitute named Rahab and stayed there” (v. 1b). Few biblical people or stories are more famous than the account which follows. Who was this woman?

Finding a courageous woman

The Hebrew word translated “prostitute” can also be rendered “inn-keeper,” as the NIV textual note shows. Josephus and some other Jewish historians attempted to defend Rahab’s honor, arguing that God would not select a woman of such immoral character for a responsibility and honor so great as this. But the New Testament describes Rahab with words which leave no question as to her occupation. Hebrews 11:31 calls her “the prostitute Rahab”; James 2:25 likewise calls her “Rahab the prostitute.” The Greek word translated “prostitute” can mean only this. She was clearly a woman who sold sexual favors as her livelihood.

Why did the men enter her house first? For several reasons. First, strangers would be less unusual entering a prostitute’s house than other homes or businesses in Jericho, as it was customary for a man to travel away from his own home and city when visiting the house of a harlot.


Reconnaissance In Jericho

Reconnaissance in Jericho

Joshua 2:1-24

Dr. Jim Denison

Thesis: God goes ahead to provide for all he purposes us to do.

Goal: Identify ways God has prepared for current ministries, and step into the calling with confidence and obedient trust.

Oswald Chambers once said: “If we are going to live as disciples of Jesus, we have to remember that all noble things are difficult. The Christian life is gloriously difficult, but the difficulty of it does not make us faint and cave in, it rouses us up to overcome.” All noble things are difficult.

My father fought in the Army during World War II, and experienced horrific atrocities in helping to win victory for his country. Our military is currently engaged in a war against terror around the world, protecting our very lives from those who would take them. Freedom is difficult.

Most adults we know completed thirteen years of education; the large majority completed four years of college afterwards; and a sizeable number completed several years of advanced study still later. Educational preparation is difficult.

The 40-hour week is now a thing of the past. Fortune magazine recently reported that 75% of CEOs work 60 hours a week or more. Vocational success is difficult. It is no different in serving the Lord in building his Kingdom. William Barclay was right: we progress in life and faith in proportion to the fare we are prepared to pay.

The book of Joshua is calling you and your class this fall to a higher level of obedience to God’s purpose, to unconditional commitment to his plans for your life and church. Chapter two will encourage us to know that God precedes us—he has already provided for all he purposes us to be and to do. When we see all God has done to prepare us, we can step into our callings with confident obedience.

Take the risk to serve the Lord (v. 1)

The battle for Canaan was about to begin. Where should Joshua commence the attack?

Making a courageous choice

Jericho was a logical first option. Standing just north of the Dead Sea, five miles west of the Jordan River and about 20 miles from what would become Jerusalem, the city stood at the base of roads which climbed beyond into the mountains of Palestine. Its location made it a strategic military base. Once the city was captured and the roads beyond made defensible, it would be an easier matter to claim the mountains and use them for attacks into the valleys beyond.

However, the city was extremely well fortified. Fed by natural springs within the city walls, it was self-sufficient and could withstand years of siege. Its walls were among the tallest and thickest known to the culture of the day. Archaeologists have discovered multiple layers of populations which lived at the site, going back in time as far as 7,000 B.C. and making Jericho the oldest continuously-occupied city on earth.

Victory would encourage the children of Israel and discourage their enemies, something like the air raid on Tokyo which was accomplished early after Pearl Harbor for the same purpose. It would give Joshua’s armies a strategic base for the operations to follow.

But defeat here would be catastrophic. The Jewish army would be forced to withdraw and attempt to enter the land elsewhere. The Canaanites would be strengthened in resolve, and fortified in defense of their land. The Israelites would be discouraged, and might well despair of Joshua’s leadership. Moses had never led them to defeat; Joshua must win his first battle in the Promised Land for the sake of his future as their leader.

So, should they attack Jericho? Or should they go around this fortified city and attack later after their armies are stronger? Jericho lay in the middle of Canaan; there were other ways to enter the land. At question was not whether the Jews would begin their conquest of their Promised Land, but where.

Choosing courageous men

Joshua will prove himself a brilliant military strategist all through this book. He began his career as leader of the nation with this decision: he would send two spies into Jericho and the surrounding area. They would help him decide whether or not the Lord intended this to be the first stage in their battle strategy. He sent the two spies from the plains of “Shittim,” which means “acacia trees” (v. 1a). These trees would mark the location of the great victory to come for all the generations who would follow.

But first the spies must exercise enormous courage. They could expect their enemies to anticipate their arrival, as they did. If the king of Jericho could capture them, he could defeat Joshua’s attack before it began. The military attention of the entire city and area would be focused against them. These soldiers are two of the unnamed heroes of Scripture, models of risk-taking, courageous faith.

They slipped across the Jordan River and into the city, and “entered the house of a prostitute named Rahab and stayed there” (v. 1b). Few biblical people or stories are more famous than the account which follows. Who was this woman?

Finding a courageous woman

The Hebrew word translated “prostitute” can also be rendered “inn-keeper,” as the NIV textual note shows. Josephus and some other Jewish historians attempted to defend Rahab’s honor, arguing that God would not select a woman of such immoral character for a responsibility and honor so great as this. But the New Testament describes Rahab with words which leave no question as to her occupation. Hebrews 11:31 calls her “the prostitute Rahab”; James 2:25 likewise calls her “Rahab the prostitute.” The Greek word translated “prostitute” can mean only this. She was clearly a woman who sold sexual favors as her livelihood.

Why did the men enter her house first? For several reasons. First, strangers would be less unusual entering a prostitute’s house than other homes or businesses in Jericho, as it was customary for a man to travel away from his own home and city when visiting the house of a harlot.


The Sin of Greed

The Sin of Greed

Dr. Jim Denison

In the Bible, “greed” is choosing to sin for material gain: “A greedy man brings trouble to his family, but he who hates bribes will live” (Proverbs 15:27). Note the Hebrew parallelism: greed = bribery. We are greedy when we will commit illegal or immoral acts to get more.

Jeremiah adds: “Like a partridge that hatches eggs it did not lay is the man who gains riches by unjust means” (Jeremiah 17:11a). Greed is at the heart of every sin for material gain. Remember the Enron scandal, government corruption, and marketplace imbezzlement in recent news stories. Each is motivated by material greed.

It comes from needing more than we need: “Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income. This too is meaningless” (Ecclesiastes 5:10)

What is wrong with greed?

In Scripture, there are at least six reasons why greed is a sin.

It harms the innocent: “A greedy man brings trouble to his family, but he who hates bribes will live” (Proverbs 15:27).

•”When the owners of the slave girl [in Philippi] realized that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to face the authorities” (Acts 16:19).

•”At the same time [Felix] was hoping that Paul would offer him a bribe, so he sent for him frequently and talked with him” (Acts 24:26). Thus Paul was kept in prison in Caesarea for two years.

It harms the greedy: “We will get all sorts of valuable things and fill our houses with plunder” (Proverbs 1:13). But with this result: “their feet rush into sin, they are swift to shed blood. How useless to spread a net in full view of all the birds! These men lie in wait for their own blood; they waylay only themselves! Such is the end of all who go after ill-gotten gain; it takes away the lives of those who get it” (vs. 16-19). James warns us: “Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days” (James 5:3).

We can never have enough: “Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income” (Ecclesiastes 5:10). One of the Rockefellers was asked how much money is enough. He smiled and replied, “Just a little more.”

Wealth alone will fail us: “When [a greedy man’s] life is half gone, [riches] will desert him, and in the end he will prove to be a fool” (Jeremiah 17.11b).

Greed will lead us from the faith: “The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs” (1 Timothy 6:10).

•Judas asked, “‘What are you willing to give me if I hand him over to you?’ So they counted out for him thirty silver coins. From then on Judas watched for an opportunity to hand him over” (Matthew 26:15-16).

•”They have left the straight way and wandered off to follow the way of Balaam son of Beor, who loved the wages of wickedness” (2 Peter 2:15).

Greed will bring the judgment of God: Remember the sin of Achan: “When I saw in the plunder a beautiful robe from Babylonia, two hundred shekels of silver and a wedge of gold weighing fifty shekels, I coveted them and took them. They are hidden in the ground inside my tent, with the silver underneath” (Joshua 7:21).

With this result: “Then all Israel stoned him, and after they had stoned [his family], they burned them. Over Achan they heaped up a large pile of rocks, which remains to this day. Then the Lord turned from his fierce anger. Therefore that place has been called the Valley of Achor ever since” (vs. 25-26). This was one of the sins of the Jews, for which they were brought to disaster by God: “They trample on the heads of the poor as upon the dust of the ground and deny justice to the oppressed” (Amos 2:7).

Who is susceptible to greed?

Religious leaders: “Israel’s watchmen are blind, they all lack knowledge; they are mute dogs, they cannot bark; they lie around and dream, they love to sleep. They are dogs with mighty appetites; they never have enough. They are shepherds who lack understanding; they all turn to their own way, each seeks his own gain. ‘Come,’ each one cries, ‘let me get wine! Let us drink our fill of beer! And tomorrow will be like today, or even far better'” (Isaiah 56:10-12); “[Israel’s] leaders judge for a bribe, her priests teach for a price, and her prophets tell fortunes for money” (Micah 3:11).

Religious children: “[Samuel’s] sons did not walk in his ways. They turned aside after dishonest gain and accepted bribes and perverted justice” (1 Samuel 8:3).

The wealthy: A study of 26 Wall Street account executives reports that NYC stockbrokers pulling down the biggest paychecks were also those suffering higher levels of depression, burnout and other afflictions. “In essence, these . . . brokers appear to be paying for financial success with their mental health and quality of life,” report the researchers (Casualties of Wall Street: An Assessment of the Walking Wounded by Alden M. Cass, John Lewis and Ed Simco).

The poor: Wanting what we don’t have can lead to sin as easily as wanting more of it. Thus we see looting in Iraq, corruption in Russia, crime in American ghettoes.

The cure for greed

Don’t confuse wealth with worth (1 Timothy 6:6)

Money must be combined with godliness, to be gain with God. Wealth doesn’t disqualify us from godliness. Many wealthy men in the Bible were also used greatly by the Lord:

•”Abram had become very wealthy in livestock and in silver and gold” (Genesis 13:2).

•”Isaac planted crops in that land and the same year reaped a hundredfold, because the Lord blessed him. The man became very rich, and his wealth continued to grow until he became very wealthy” (Genesis 26:12-13).


The Sin of Pride

The Sin of Pride

Dr. Jim Denison

The major was promoted to colonel and received a fancy new office. As he entered it for the first time, sitting in the nice new chair, a knock came at the door. He said, “Come in,” then quickly picked up the telephone as a corporal walked in.

“Just a minute,” the colonel said to the corporal. “I have to finish this telephone call.” Then the colonel began speaking into the mouthpiece: “Sorry about the interruption, General. Yes, sir, I will take care of that. Yes, I’ll call the President after I finish talking with you, General.”

The colonel ceremoniously put the telephone down, turned to the corporal, and said, “What can I do for you?” The corporal replied, “Well, colonel, I just came in to connect your telephone.”

Pride is always listed at the top of the “seven deadly sins.” Thus we will begin our study of these sins at this place. Not that any of us need such a study; Humility and how I perfected it is the book we each could have written. But what does the Bible say to the rest of the race, prideful as it is?

What is pride?

The Bible uses several words for the first deadly sin. Gea (Hebrew) means “haughty” (“I hate pride and arrogance, evil behavior and perverse speech,” Proverbs 8:13). Huperephania (Greek) means “arrogant,” literally “being lifted up” (cf. Mark 7:22). The various Hebrew and Greek words point to the root of pride: being lifted up high. The high waves of the sea are said to be “proud” (Job 38:11). When attributed to humans, this exaltation can be either positive or negative. The question is whether the height is attributed to God or to us.

There is such a thing as “good” pride. For instance, Paul writes, “I glory in Christ Jesus in my service to God” (Romans 15:17, using the Greek word for being lifted up). But why? “I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me in leading the Gentiles to obey God by what I have said and done–by the power of signs and miracles, through the power of the Spirit” (vs. 18-19).

By contrast, “bad” pride is exaltation we attribute to ourselves. Examples:

•”You said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God; I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly, on the utmost heights of the sacred mountain. I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.’ But you are brought down to the grave, to the depths of the pit” (Isaiah 14:13-15).

•”The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I’ll say to myself, ‘You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’ This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God” (Luke 12:16-21).

The sin of pride is the sin of self-reliance and self-exaltation. It is trusting ourselves and promoting ourselves. Why do we commit it so frequently?

Why do we commit the sin of self-reliant pride?

Nietzsche was right: the “will to power” is the basic drive in human nature. Satan said to Eve, “you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:5). And she saw that the fuit was “desirable for gaining wisdom,” and ate it. She gave it to Adam as well, and he ate it (v. 6). And we’re still eating it.

Very little that we strive to possess and achieve possesses intrinsic merit worthy of the sacrifices it requires from it. Money is just green paper. A $100,000 vehicle is not so much more efficient than a $20,000 car. Most of us could live in half the house we occupy, and get by. At issue is the will to power. The more we do and own, the more powerful we feel we are. Pride is the basic motive of all fallen humanity.

Conversely, pride covers our self-perceived inadequacies. We were each made by a perfect God, for perfect relationship with him. Though we have fallen into sin, we “remember” the way things should be, and wish they were that way still.

So we know our failures and weaknesses. Rather than admit them, we compensate for them. Our prideful actions cover our self-esteem issues and inadequacies. We act in prideful ways, to convince others that we are what we pretend to be. Years ago, a psychologist friend of mine stated our self-awareness this way: “I am not what I think I am, or what you think I am. I am what I think that you think I am.”

Pride is the expectation of our culture. How does our society define success? Performance, achievement, drive, initiative. The “self-made man.” Jon Gruden, head coach of the once world champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers, arrives at his office at 3:58 each morning. He is so driven that during the season he rarely sees his wife and children. His voice is constantly strained with all the talking and yelling of his job. The world celebrates his success. When last was a truly humble person elevated as a role model for our youth? We are to be driven, prideful, perfectionists or we are not a success.

Self-reliant pride is the basic strategy of the enemy. Jesus’ temptations were each to self-reliant pride. Turn the stone to bread yourself; jump from the temple and impress the people; worship me and I’ll give you the kingdoms of the world. Satan knows that this is where the spiritual battle is won or lost. So he works on us here if nowhere else.


When God Shows Up

When God Shows Up

Isaiah 6:1-8

Dr. Jim Denison

Karl Barth, the eminent theologian, claimed that “Christian worship is the most momentous, the most urgent, the most glorious action that can take place in human life.”

All of creation worships its Creator: “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of their hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, the words to the ends of the world” (Psalm 19:1-4). All we see worships the One we cannot see.

But we alone have a choice in the matter. We can worship our Creator or his creation. This fall, we will learn how to choose wisely. As we seek to put God first, to make him not just our Savior, but our King, we will focus each week on an attribute of our heavenly Father and ask what that characteristic means to our worship and our lives.

We begin this morning with the most foundational statement in all of Scripture regarding the King we have come to honor today. When we get this right, our Lord will show up in our worship and our lives. This is the promise of God.

Who is the God we worship?

Hebrew is a strange language to Americans. It reads right to left; the original had no vowels; their poetry never rhymed. And they made an adjective superlative by repeating it; we would say, “good, better, best”—they would say “good, good, good.”

Only once does Scripture say something three times about God: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty” (Isaiah 6:3). Quoting the “four living creatures” of heaven, Revelation says: “Day and night they never stop saying, ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come'” (Revelation 4:8).

Over and over the Bible proclaims this fact about our King.

God calls himself holy: “Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy; for I am holy” (Leveticus 11:44).

Scripture agrees: “Who among the gods is like you, O Lord? Who is like you—majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders?” (Exodus 15:11).

“There is no one holy like the Lord; there is no one besides you; there is no Rock like our God” (1 Samuel 2:2).

“Who can stand in the presence of the Lord, this holy God?” (1 Samuel 6:20).

“The Lord our God is holy” (Psalm 99:9).

“You alone are holy” (Revelation 15:4).

What does it mean for God to be “holy”?

The Hebrew word is qadosh, to be clean, hallowed, pure, sacred, different from all else.

Such a being is the superlative of every good. Think of the universe, 13.7 billion light years across—this God measures it in the palm of his hand (Isaiah 40:12). Think of the nanotechnologies now being developed, using particles which are no larger than one 75th of a millimeter. This God designed the atoms and molecules they use, and tracks each one. Think of the most loving, gracious, godly person you know—this God is such character to infinity.

The Jewish scribes, men who devoted their lives to copying the word of God, knew something of his holiness. They would not even speak his name, so that today we don’t know how it was originally pronounced. They would not write it, so that today it is common to see Jews write G-d so as not to spell his full name. Typically, when a scribe came to the name of God he would bathe, put on new clothes, grasp a new quill, write the name; then discard the quill and burn his clothes, bathe again, put on his old clothes, take up his old quill, and continue.

By contrast, think of the ways our culture takes his name in vain; of the ways we take his blessings, his grace, his forbearance, his worship for granted. Of the ways we come to worship when it suits us, pray when we need something, read Scripture when it’s convenient.

Why do we worship him?

What does our King expect us to do in response to his holiness?

Here is his command: “Exalt the Lord our God and worship at his holy mountain, for the Lord our God is holy” (Psalm 99:9).

Our first response to our holy God is worship. The word in Hebrew is shachah, “to bow down, to do homage;” in Greek it is proskuneo, “to kiss toward,” to reverence. Why do we pay such homage to this King?

First, because he deserves our worship.

It was “the year that King Uzziah died” (v. 1a). Uzziah had been the greatest king the nation had known since Solomon. He had ruled for 52 years, modernizing their army, conquering the Philistines, extending commerce, bringing peace and prosperity such as the nation had not known since Solomon.

Now their great king lay in his grave. However, their greatest King was not: “I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple” (v. 1b). In the ancient world, the higher a king’s throne, the greater his power. This King’s throne stands above Uzziah’s, or any other’s. The longer the train of his robe, the greater his royalty; this King’s robe filled the Holy of Holies, some 40,500 square feet, 30 by 30 by 45 feet high.

This is the creator of the universe, the ruler of all that is, the One who gives us life and life eternal. He deserves our worship.

Second, we honor our King because he demands our worship.

Isaiah said, “I saw the Lord.” “Lord” is Adonai, used over 300 times in the Bible. It means owner, ruler, one who reigns over all, the King. And the King expects the worship of his subjects.

King Uzziah died because he failed this very demand. He had entered the Temple himself, with a golden censer to burn incense, a job only the priest could perform. The priests cautioned him, and he flew into a fit of rage against them. Immediately he was smitten with leprosy, banished from the kingdom, and lived alone to the day he died.


When You’re Ready To Quit

When You’re Ready to Quit

Isaiah 40:27-31

Dr. Jim Denison

There is a story going around that at a computer exposition, Bill Gates compared the computer industry with the automobile industry and stated, “If GM had kept up with technology like the computer industry has, we would all be driving $25.00 cars that got 1,000 miles to the gallon.”

It goes on that in response, GM issued a press release stating that if GM had developed technology like Microsoft, we would all be driving cars with the following characteristics. (1) For no reason whatsoever, your car would crash twice a day. (2) About every two to three years, you would have to buy a new car. (3) Occasionally your car would die on the freeway for no reason. You would have to pull over to the side of the road, close all the windows, shut off the car, restart it, and reopen the windows before you could continue. For some reason, you would simply accept this. (4) The oil, water temperature, and alternator warning lights would all be replaced by a single ‘This Car Has Performed An Illegal Operation’ warning light. (5) The airbag system would ask ‘Are you sure?’ before deploying. (6) Occasionally, for no reason at all, your car would lock you out and refuse to let you in until you simultaneously lifted the door handle, turned the key and grabbed hold of the radio antenna. (7) Every time a new car was introduced car buyers would have to learn how to drive all over again because none of the controls would operate in the same manner as the old car. (8) You’d have to press the ‘Start’ button to turn the engine off.

Life is filled with challenges which technology cannot solve for us. There are times when life crashes with no reboot in sight, when the road dead ends no matter what car we’re driving. What is your greatest struggle, or shame, or disappointment? Where does it seem God is silent to your cries, unreceptive to your prayers, distant to your pain? What do we do there?

Our text tells us to keep worshiping God. Keep trusting God. Keep going to God. Don’t give up. Don’t quit. But why not, when you’ve given God all the time and opportunity he needs and he is still silent? Let’s see how God answers our question.

Where has God disappointed you? (v. 27)

Judah was all that is left of God’s chosen people. But now the nation is in exile in Babylon, her homeland burned and destroyed. She is the South just after Sherman’s march through Atlanta. Her people feel they have no future, that their God has abandoned them or is too weak to help them. This was never to happen to them. So God’s people are “weak” and “weary”—these words appear in every verse from 28 to 31. They are depressed and ready to quit on God.

They’re not the last.

Philip Yancey’s classic book, Disappointment With God, tells the stories of suffering souls he has known and interviewed, many of whom felt they had reason to give up on their faith. In a fascinating irony, I noticed this week that my copy has a label on the cover which says, “100% Money Back Guarantee. If for any reason you are dissatisfied with ‘Disappointment with God,’ return it postpaid (with the receipt) to Zondervan Publishing House for a complete refund.” The book comes with a money-back guarantee. But the faith it describes does not, in the experience of many of us.

We become disappointed with God for two reasons.

Sometimes we feel, “My way is hidden from the Lord.” “Way” in the Hebrew means our “condition;” “hidden” means “unknown.” My condition or problem is unknown to God, or he would do something about it. He doesn’t know about me.

Or he doesn’t care: “my cause is disregarded by my God.” He knows about me, but doesn’t care to get involved. It’s not his intelligence which is limited, but his love.

Either he doesn’t know, or he doesn’t care. Otherwise, why won’t he help us? Why won’t he get us out of our Babylonian slavery and transport us to the Promised Land? Why is he unfair, or silent, or hidden?

Be honest and specific: aren’t you asking such questions in your mind or spirit, either consciously or unconsciously? Don’t you have nagging doubts, or even worse, shouting pain in your soul? You prayed for a loved one who died anyway; you asked God to keep you from falling into sin again, but you fell anyway; you asked God to guide your decision, but it was the wrong one; you asked him to heal you, but he hasn’t; you asked him for a job, but you’re still unemployed; you’ve told him of your loneliness, but you’re still alone.

Why hasn’t he helped you? (v. 28-31a)

Why hasn’t this God helped you?

It’s not because he doesn’t know, that your “way is hidden from the Lord.” You see, “The Lord is the everlasting God” (v. 28a). He is the God of all time. He is present in every moment, aware of every event, omniscient in every second, in ancient Babylon and in Dallas this morning.

And it’s not because he can’t help, for he is “the Creator of the ends of the earth” (v. 28b). He is the God of time and space. He created Babylon; he created Dallas; he created you.

“He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom.” It’s not because he doesn’t know or cannot help.

Then why? It’s not because he doesn’t want to help us: “He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak” (v. 29). These verbs are in the active sense—this is his initiative, his choice, his action. They are in the present tense—he is still doing this.

Then why not for you?

Perhaps he is answering your prayers in ways you do not yet see. Before your next employer can call you with a job opening, the person in that position must move to California to take a job with a firm there. God is engineering that step, so he can then move you. Dominoes you cannot see must fall first.


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