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Oct 18, 2015

Battlefield Strategies

Battlefield Strategies

Passage: Joshua 1:1-24:33

Preacher: John Repsold

Series: The Story

Category: Old Testament

Keywords: battles, discouragement, faith, fear, hard work, hearing god


This message looks at the conquest of the Promised Land through the eyes of faith of both Joshua and the people. Faith that works hard and obeys God is the only thing that will overcome fear of the future and discouragement.


Battlefield Strategy

Joshua 1-8

October 18, 2015

INTRO:  One of the most famous battles of WWII was code named Operation Overlord.  Most of us know it as D-Day or the Normandy invasion.  It was an assault that within a month involved over a million Allied troops in the retaking France in the summer of 1944. 

The invasion fleet was massive.  It was drawn from 8 different navies and comprised nearly 7,000 vessels:

  • 1,213 warships
  • 4,126 transport vessels
  • 736 ancillary craft and
  • 864 merchant vessels

Within the first month, the Allies had landed nearly 150,000 vehicles and half a million tons of supplies. 

            On June 5, 1944, the day before the Allied Forces stormed the beaches of Normandy, General George S. Patton gave a speech to the Third Army gathered in England that left no room for failure.  I’ll spare you most of his salty language but not his challenge:

            “I don’t want to get any messages saying, ‘I am holding my position.’  We are not holding…We are advancing constantly, and we are not interested in holding on to anything…Our basic plan of operation is to advance and to keep on advancing, regardless of whether or not we have to go over, under or through the enemy.”

            In that speech, Patton also talked honestly about fear.  He said this to men who knew that some of them would not return to their families because of what was about to unfold.

            You are not all going to die [in the battle]. Only two percent of you right here today would die in a major battle. Death must not be feared. Death, in time, comes to all men. Yes, every man is scared in his first battle. If he says he's not, he's a liar.

Some men are cowards but they fight the same as the brave men or they get the hell slammed out of them watching men fight who are just as scared as they are. The real hero is the man who fights even though he is scared. Some men get over their fright in a minute under fire. For some, it takes an hour. For some, it takes days.

But a real man will never let his fear of death overpower his honor, his sense of duty to his country, and his innate manhood.”

A lot has changed in America in 70 years.  We’re a lot softer nation.  Most of us have not had to stare death in the face on the battlefield. 

            But every day, like it or not, as children of God, we are in a battle.  It’s a battle for our own souls, for our loved ones, for our city, our nation and the lost of this world.  It is a battle that plays for keeps…forever.  It’s a battle that may have dozens of fronts in just one person’s life.  It’s a battle where the enemy has been fighting the forces of righteousness for thousands of years.  It’s a battle that may scare the begeebies out of you some days…and may seem completely quiet other days. 

            But it is a battle that calls for us to continually advance, to never be satisfied with just “holding our own.”  Because doing that is a sure recipe for ultimate defeat. 

ILL:  This week I met about 15 pastors from all over the city, all serving in different Life Center church plants from a few months old to 15 years old.  Some are huge and some are small.  But as we each shared what is going on in our corners of the battlefield for the Kingdom here in Spokane, there was a sense of urgency.  There was a hardened realism and seasoned sobriety.  And there was a common consensus that we must all wade into the battle for souls in this city with more heart, more passion, more determination. 

God has always called his people to be at war with the forces of darkness in this world.  From the Garden of Eden to the Great Tribulation, there is unfolding a pitched battle for the souls of sinners and saints alike. 

But every battle must start in the heart and soul of every soldier.  That is where the most critical decisions and steps fo faith will always be made.  And every child of God, whether spiritual generals or buck privates, must usually fight the toughest and most important battle in their own heart. 

            Today we’re taking a look at some of the “Battlefield Strategy” God wants to instruct us in.  It’s found in Joshua, a brief history of the conquests of God’s people as they finally moved into the place God wanted them to be in order to be the people He knew they could be. 

            Joshua, along with Caleb, were the only two people of that doubting generation of Israelites who refused to believe God would give them the Promised Land.  So they were the only two over the age of 20 who were allowed by God to enter the Promised Land after 40 years of wandering in the desert. 

            Joshua had been an aid to Moses from his youth.  According to Exodus, he was a powerful and gifted warrior who led the fighting men of Israel and defeated the Amalekites as Israel prepared to enter the Promised Land.

Joshua had a habit of accompanying Moses to what was known as “The Tent of Meeting,” a tent Moses would pitch away from the noise of the camp so that he and anyone who wanted to meet with God would have a place where people would leave you alone and God would meet with you.  According to Exodus 33, whenever Moses met with God, Joshua would go to the tent with him. But when Moses would leave the tent, Joshua would hang around that “Tent of Meeting,” presumably to just hear more from God.  Here was a man who was used to seeking God and hearing from Him.  He was used to hanging out with top leaders.  He was also a man who, at a young age, had decided to wade into rather than fade away from the battles that would determine the destiny of his people. 

So it seems a bit strange that, after an additional 38 years of living with God in the desert and learning from Moses, one of the greatest leaders of people of all time, that God says…and repeatedly says… these words to him in Joshua 1.

After the death of Moses the servant of the Lord, the 

Lord said to Joshua son of Nun, Moses’ aide: “Moses my servant is dead. Now then, you and all these people, get ready to cross the Jordan River into the land I am about to give to them—to the Israelites. I will give you every place where you set your foot, as I promised Moses. Your territory will extend from the desert to Lebanon, and from the great river, the Euphrates—all the Hittite country—to the Mediterranean Sea in the west. 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 you nor forsake you. 

And here comes the surprising part, especially after such amazing promises as we just read in these first 5 verses of chapter 1.

Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their ancestors to give them.

Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraiddo not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”

To the most successful general of an emerging nation that had seen the defeat of the most powerful army in the world of the day, God repeats the same command 3 times, each time stating it more strongly than the last.

            “Be strong and courageous.”

            “Be strong and very courageous.”

            “Be strong and courageous.  Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged…”

This last command comes with an indicator that perhaps Joshua was facing a “fear factor” in his leadership.  After all, charging into battle in your mid 20’s is quite different than trying to do the same in your mid 60’s.  Joshua had experienced 40 years of watching God do miracles for him and his people.  But that doesn’t mean taking new, potentially miraculous…or potentially devastating…steps came easier or required less faith.  In fact, for this seasoned battlefield General, it seems to have taken ore faith. 

That is one of the realities of walking with God.  Growth requires fresh steps of faith.  Any single day, we can decide to stop exercising our spiritual faith muscles.  We can decide to drop out of the battle.  We can decide to stop obeying God’s call on our life, his commands and counsel. 

            For many, the fear of what might happen if God doesn’t come through will overcome the faith that God wants them to exercise.  For others, they will allow discouragement to overshadow faith that says, “Don’t stop now.  Don’t let go now.  Don’t stop praying…or working…or enduring suffering… or whatever it is you must do in order to remain faithful to God’s call on you right now.” 

Not only does growth and continuing to do God’s will require continuing faith; it requires a certain kind of faith, a growing, hard-working faith.

            There were a series of NEW steps of faith that God required of both Joshua and the people IF they were to enter the Promised Land the way he wanted them to. 

  • In Joshua 2-4, God told them to cross the river Jordan at flood stage. That was like the difference between walking across the riverbed of the Spokane River in the summer in Riverfront Park and trying that same stunt in April, May or June when there can be some 50,000 cubic feet of water flowing per second.  In summer, wading across is possible for kids and senior citizens alike.  It’s impossible even for a Navy Seal in May.  God seems to specialize in wrapping His request for faith around human impossibilities.
  • Having just pitched their tents on the new beachhead of the Promised Land in Joshua 5, God then throws a pretty big curve ball at the very people from whom the most faith would be required in the upcoming battles—the men. During the 38 years of wanderings in the desert, none of the boys born during that time had been circumcised.  Circumcision was God’s very personal yet required sign of His Covenant with Israel.  Normally accomplished when a boy was an infant, failure to do so during the desert wanderings meant that they would now need to do so as grown men. 

Not to be indelicate, but performing a circumcision on an adult male is not exactly the best way to prepare him to go into battle.  And we’re not talking stainless steel scalpels here but rather knives made out of flint…as in stone…as in not all that sharp.  These poor guys were about to be in a world of hurt a few days before their first major battle.

  • That act of obedience would leave them absolutely vulnerable during their most vulnerable time of their conquest. God’s timing could not have been worse! Can you image the faith it took for Joshua to deliver this message and for the people to embrace it?  Imagine the speech, “Folks, I know it’s spring flood stage…and that we don’t have any boats or bridges…but tomorrow we’re going to take all 2 million of us across this river.  Once we get to the other side…in enemy territory…I want all the guys to meet me in this big tent.  Bring your knives and Band-Aids. We’ll wheel you home for the recuperation time you’ll need for the next couple of weeks.  Then we’ll be marching around this formidable walled city of Jericho for 7 days…in relative silence except for 7 of you playing your kazoos…(well, maybe a little bigger than that).  But no need to bring weapons.  When I give the word for you to shout, that will be the sign that we’re ready to raid the city. You with me?”  

The only antidote for fear and discouragement is a growing, hard-working faith.


  • Or what is God inviting you to do by faith that you’re allowing fear or discouragement to stop?
  • What are you doing right now in life that is requiring you to exercise more faith than you have in a long time…or maybe ever?
  • What is God asking you to do that may require some pain, some hard work, some perseverance and certainly more faith?
  • Have you identified the doubts and fears that are threatening to swamp your faith right now?

Personal RESPONSE: 

  • Pause and pray, asking God to speak and/or remind you of the faith-actions He has put before you right now.
  • Write it down.
  • Who will you share this with this week?


  • What is God asking us to do that is humanly impossible?
  • What kind of faith…and hard work…will it require?

There is a second (related) truth I’d like us to take home with us today. It plays out in Joshua 6-8.  In Joshua 6 we have the capture of Jericho—“Joshua fit the battle of Jericho” and all that.

            What I’d like us to notice is the difference between how God delivered the highly fortified, well defended and virtually impregnable Jericho into the hands of the Israelites verses what happened at the next city, Ai. 

            When it came to Jericho, Joshua instructed two spies to “go look over the land, especially Jericho” (2:1).  As God would have it, they had to take refuge in the house of a prostitute named Rahab. Rahab hid them from the city officials who were looking for them.  In the course of that brief few hour encounter, Rahab’s faith in the God of Israel and trust in these two men’s word grew.  Of all the people in Jericho, the last person most of Israel and certainly most of Jericho thought would become a person of faith did.  She and her whole household—her father and mother, her brothers and sisters and their families—were the only people spared the judgment of God on this wicked city. 

            Rahab goes on to become a full-fledged follower of YHWH and actually marries an Israelite who becomes one of the ancestors of Jesus, the Messiah.  Is there anyone in the entire city or region of the Promised Land who was a more unlikely candidate for a work of salvation, redemption and faith?  Doubtful.  But that is just what our God loves to do. 

APP:  Who are the most unlikely people in our city to become the very people God invites into a faith experience with Him, saves and then does something totally surprising and grand with?  Us?  Downtown residents?  People our city and culture thinks little of and barely tolerate?  

But that’s not the real point I want us to see.  So back to the story. 

  • Joshua sends two spies to look over the land, specifically Jericho.
  • They meet an unlikely God-fearer in a prostitute in Jericho.
  • God tells the army of Israel to march around Jericho once each of six days, blowing trumpets.
  • Then on the 7th day, they are to march around it 7 times, blow trumpets and give a great shout…and the city walls will collapse.
  • Then they are to annihilate the city, all inhabitants, livestock, everything. Nothing was to be taken as plunder.

And, according to Joshua 6, that’s precisely what happened. 

So when we get to Joshua 7, the next city Israel is to take is Ai.  Joshua sends men to Ai to check it out, just as he had done with Jericho. They come back with what I’m sure everyone in the camp figured was a “good report”.  You can just hear them: “This is totally doable.  Ai is a little burg, not terribly well fortified and they’re scared to death after what we did to Jericho. Rather than our full complement of 600,000 fighting men, we should be able to handle this one with about ½ of 1% of that…say about 3,000.  Give all the other troops a duty pass and let them have the day off.  This one is going to be a piece of cake.” 

And so 3,000 went up to battle against Ai and 2,964 came home.  The men of Ai cleaned house and the children of Israel went into mourning. 

            Joshua and all the leaders of Israel immediately throw themselves before the Lord, torn clothes and face down in the dirt.  They lie there, apparently silent, until sunset.  Then Joshua prays this prayer in Joshua 7:7ff:

“Alas, Sovereign Lord, why did you ever bring this people across the Jordan to deliver us into the hands of the Amorites to destroy us? If only we had been content to stay on the other side of the Jordan! 8 Pardon your servant, Lord. What can I say, now that Israel has been routed by its enemies? 9 The Canaanites and the other people of the country will hear about this and they will surround us and wipe out our name from the earth. What then will you do for your own great name?”

            I don’t know what this prayer sounds like to you but to me it has that ring of discouragement, of a sort of hopelessness. This great warrior has lost 36 warriors and it makes him want to turn tail and head back to the desert on the other side of the Jordan where he has been for the last 40 years. 

            But thankfully, he’s a man who also has a track record of listening to God.  So God speaks, but it’s not the warm, comforting message you might expect from God. 

10) The Lord said to Joshua, “Stand up! What are you doing down on your face? 11) Israel has sinned; they have violated my covenant, which I commanded them to keep. They have taken some of the devoted things; they have stolen, they have lied, they have put them with their own possessions. 12) That is why the Israelites cannot stand against their enemies; they turn their backs and run because they have been made liable to destruction. I will not be with you anymore unless you destroy whatever among you is devoted to destruction.

            The chapter goes on to tell us that God’s solution was for the person or people who had stolen what was to be totally dedicated to destruction in Jericho had about 12 hours to fess up or God would reveal who it was by casting of lots.  Even in the midst of blatant disobedience that had cost the lives of 36 men, the guilty party refused to repent.  The casting of lots eventually led to a chap named Achan.  And Achan admitted to stealing the bacon…well, not literally.  Apparently a Babylonian robe, 200 shekels of silver (5 lbs or a whopping $1,300 by today’s prices) and a “wedge of gold” weighing about 1.25 lbs (or $24,000 by today’s prices) was enough enticement for this family man to sell his soul, his family and his nation out to disobedience.  He and his entire family pay with their lives as they were all apparently accomplices to his evildoing. 

            Chapter 8 begins with another message from God to Joshua…and the words are pretty familiar. 

“Then the Lord said to Joshua, “Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Take the whole army with you, and go up and attack Ai….”  And God lays out a different battle plan for Ai than He had for Jericho. 

Here’s the truth we need to remember even after we’ve vanquished fear and discouragement with obedient, hard-working faith:  Seeking the guidance of God at every step of the faith journey is vital for ongoing victory.

            Just because God did it one way at Jericho doesn’t mean he wanted it done that way a few days later at Ai.

And just because Israel fully consecrated themselves to the Lord before the battle of Jericho doesn’t mean they had done the same thing before the battle of Ai. 

Joshua hadn’t sinned.  BUT neither had he taken the time to seek God for the next step and listen to God about the present status of Achan.  I have no doubt that God would have spoken something to him had he waited on God about Ai, something that would have caused him to either wait or to know directly that Achan had stolen the bacon…and put the entire nation in jeopardy. 

NOTE:  That truth ought to give great pause to anyone who thinks that their sin won’t have ramifications for those around them.  Sin may be private.  And our culture may think it’s fine “as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else.”  But there is no such thing as sin that doesn’t damage the sinner and, in some way, people close to that person. 

APP:  One of the dangers of seeing God do great things in response to our faith is that we can begin to assume we know how or what God wants to do the next time round. 

            I try to remember this every time someone asks my counsel on something.  It’s so easy to begin to think, “Well, the last 3 times I gave this advice, it really worked.  So I guess that’s what I should say this time,” instead of quietly asking God for His wisdom and waiting for a fresh answer. 

            I think our lives might be much more fruitful if we were to do this with as many decisions and actions as humanly possible. 

  • Father, what do you want me to give to you THIS week as a tithe?
  • Lord, how do you want me to respond TODAY to my daughter/son?
  • Jesus, what do you want us to do with our house this month or year?
  • God, what do I need to hear from you as I’m listening to this person over lunch right now?

Hearing the heart of God for one situation doesn’t mean I’ve heard God’s heart for the next situation.  Seeking the guidance of God at every step of the faith journey is vital for ongoing victory.

APP:  What are the new challenges…or even the old challenges in a new week/month/year…in which I need to be seeking the guidance of God?

            Is there some change God is asking me to make to what worked last time? 

            Or is there some sin He is wanting to expose in me or someone else that is going to impact the outcome unless it gets taken care of? 

PRAYER:  Is there a “repetitious battle” you are fighting that you tend to do so on auto-pilot? 

How about asking God if He has something new He wants to tell you about with regard to that battle? 

How about asking God to reveal anything you need to know in order to fight this week’s battle with His guidance, gaining His victory?