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Aug 15, 2010

Victory Rules

Passage: Joshua 5:1-6:27

Preacher: John Repsold

Series: Taking the Land

Category: Old Testament

Keywords: spiritual warfare, battles, preparation, circumcision, pace, god's presence


Before we can engage in great victories, God needs to do some cutting away of some of the most intimate parts of our lives. In the process, He continues to demonstrate his power despite our weaknesses. We also learn from Joshua 6 how important it is to keep the presence of God central in all our spiritual battles and to go at the pace God designs, not we prefer (whether slower or faster).


Victory Rules

August 15, 2010, Joshua 5-6


INTRO:  Video clip from Saving Private Ryan where the troops coming off the landing craft are drowning because of the weight of the excess battle gear they have—cartons of cigarettes, chocolate bars, extra rations of food, grenades, guns, extra cloths, first aid kit, gas mask, flame throwers, grenade launchers, heavy machine guns, explosives, etc. 

      When you’re on the front lines, you don’t need office equipment (typewriters, desk lamps, etc.); you need battle gear. 


D-Day, June 6, 1944, had been two years on the planning.  Involving the largest force of fighting men and materials ever assembled—some 2 million people were involved in the effort, 6939 naval vessels, 11,590 airplanes, 326,547 troops, 54,186 vehicles and 104,428 tons of supplies had been landed on the beaches.


But in the end, it would be up to the Infantry—the men in boots on the ground, moving one foot at a time, sometimes involved in hand-to-hand combat.  And it was here that Day-day was almost lost by the Allies, not because the men were not in excellent physical condition.  They were.  Not because they didn’t have the necessary weapons.  They did.  Not because they lacked supplies?  They had plenty. 

      In fact, it was because they had TOO MANY SUPPLIES that some of them never made it to shore.  And those that did and managed to avoid getting hit by withering enemy fire were usually utterly exhausted because of too much equipment… or they had been forced to abandon valuable equipment needed because of too much excess baggage added.


What is true for a modern fighting force is also true for the spiritual battles you and I face.  Poor preparation, insufficient training, unnecessary weight or improper supplies can all lead to spiritual failure at the moment strength and victory is most needed. 


Today we’ve come in our study in the O.T. book of Joshua to the first real military battle the Israelites had to face—Jericho.  Spiritually they had been preparing for this battle for 40 years.  God had been revealing himself to them and, unlike their parent’s generation, they had been growing in their faith towards Him for years.   


Remember last week where we saw how God took them up to the Jordan River at flood stage and had them take a good, hard, long look at the human impossibility of getting across or through that obstacle? 

      Well in today’s passage, God continues to drive home the truth that Andrew started us with this morning: God-honoring victories do not depend upon human strength, intelligence, genius or wealth.  He does that as sort of a side-note to a much deeper issue of the heart that God first needed to settle with this new generation.  So we pick it up in Joshua 5:1—

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, their hearts melted and they no longer had the courage to face the Israelites.

Here’s the divine reminder that even when God is working to build the faith of His own people, he’s also working in the lives of people totally outside his family.  God’s works for us are not just about us; they are also to serve as a testimony to those watching so, as 4:24 finished the previous chapter saying, “…that all the peoples of the earth might know that the hand of the Lord is powerful….”  God’s way of showing his power off in these days may not be by damming rivers or doing other supernatural physical events…or it may be.  THE most powerful testimony to most people outside the church today is God’s power at work miraculously changing our lives. 

  • People know how hard it is to overcome addictions…so they see the power of God in people like you and me who are letting the Holy Spirit have greater control of our lives and deliver us day by day.
  • People know how hard it is to live in families today…so they see God’s power clearly in healed marriages and loving relationships between family members.
  • People know how impossible it is to stop being critical and start being thankful and encouraging…so they see the power of God in our lives when we become people of joy in Christ instead of discontent and complaining. 

The BEST thing we can do as God’s kids to help people outside of God’s family is to let them see His power at work inside his church, us. 


(Pause and PRAY about the “obstacles” we wrote on rocks last Sunday in which we still need the power of God to be demonstrated.)


Joshua 5:2-3

2 At that time the LORD said to Joshua, "Make flint knives and circumcise the Israelites again." 3 So Joshua made flint knives and circumcised the Israelites at Gibeath Haaraloth.


Before we look at the WHY of this action, just stop and consider for a moment how absolutely foolish militarily this action was.  It would be like saying, “Take all the fighting men preparing to fight on D-Day.  Remove the toenail from the big toe of each of them and then drop them off a few miles from the closest German infantry unit to recuperate a few days.”  That’s crazy! 

      What might God be trying to reinforce with this rather bizarre-sounding MASH unit surgery on the front lines? 

      It is not uncommon for God to take a humanly challenging situation and make it overwhelming.  As much as we like to rely on our own ability to “get things done,” God likes to remind us that he doesn’t need our strengths; he wants our faith.  He doesn’t need our abilities; he wants our simple availability.  Doing His Kingdom warfare is not about our human strength.  It’s about our spiritual preparedness. 


Here’s the principle:  PREPARATION for the battle is the most important part of WINNING the battle.    

      And this brings us to the “WHY?” of this strangely-scheduled surgery of circumcision for all the fighting men of Israel. 

Joshua 5:4-9

4 Now this is why he did so: All those who came out of Egypt—all the men of military age—died in the desert on the way after leaving Egypt. 5 All the people that came out had been circumcised, but all the people born in the desert during the journey from Egypt had not. 6 The Israelites had moved about in the desert forty years until all the men who were of military age when they left Egypt had died, since they had not obeyed the LORD. For the LORD had sworn to them that they would not see the land that he had solemnly promised their fathers to give us, a land flowing with milk and honey. 7 So he raised up their sons in their place, and these were the ones Joshua circumcised. They were still uncircumcised because they had not been circumcised on the way. 8 And after the whole nation had been circumcised, they remained where they were in camp until they were healed.

 9 Then the LORD said to Joshua, "Today I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you." So the place has been called Gilgal to this day.


Israel had a problem.  They had not practiced circumcision on their male children for the past, at least, 38-years.  Their open rebellion against God in Numbers 14 when they refused to believe God that he would take them victoriously into the Promised Land had cost a whole generation the opportunity to even get into the Promised Land. And it cost their kids 40 years of life in the leanness of the desert instead of the 40 years in the prosperity and victories of Canaan. 

      Failure to circumcise their children was a sign of a broken covenant with God.  When God spoke to Abraham in Genesis 17 and gave him the covenant sign of circumcision, he said this: 

      “For the generations to come every male among you who is eight days old must be circumcised, including those born in your household or bought with money from a foreigner—those who are not your offspring.  Whether born in your household or bought with your money, they must be circumcised.  My covenant in your flesh is to be an everlasting covenant.  Any uncircumcised male, who has not been circumcised in the flesh, will be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.” 

      So here was a whole generation whose parents had “broken God’s covenant” through first unbelief and then secondly through failure to follow God’s call to circumcision.  Circumcision was the human side of this covenant promise, the promise to inherit the land of Canaan.  It was God’s people saying, “OK, we’ll enter into this irreversible covenant with God in which we give him our lives and he gives us a nation, people and land.” 

      So when this new generation steps into this Promised Land without having been circumcised, it’s clearly time to either sign-up and join the team or walk away and go find some other place and people to live with. 


I don’t know about you, but circumcision certainly strikes me in my western American culture as about the most unlikely and odd act to signify someone’s covenant relationship with God.  Why not a certain haircut…or a tattoo on your arm…or a name change?  Anything but circumcision! 

      What this “strange” rite seems to be saying is the joining God’s family requires that we be willing to allow God to perform “surgery” on the most intimate, personal and private parts of our lives. It’s a decision we are entering into knowing that it is permanent and irreversible. God doesn’t do “foster care.”  He adopts!  He doesn’t do “slumber parties.”  He does weddings.  When God invites people to join His forever family, he means “forever.”  He wants us to understand that once we say, “YOUR WILL BE DONE,” there is no real going back to my way of doing life. 


Without going too deeply into the way the New Testament takes the practice of circumcision and applies it to every one of us who have entered into the New Agreement by faith in Jesus Christ, let me just remind you of how God speaks of every one of us as “having been circumcised” and still needing circumcision.


Colossians 2:10-12

10and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority. 11In him you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature, not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ, 12having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.

      When we put our faith in Jesus, God declared us now part of his family, his covenant people by our new relationship with God through Christ.  God says that wasn’t a physical circumcision that we performed on flesh BUT a relational “circumcision” that God performed through Christ on our behalf.  It’s that “new birth”, “born again” experience that happens when we “through faith in the power of God” are taken from being spiritually “dead” to spiritually “alive” by the Holy Spirit.  That faith-based transaction cuts us off from an old life that was apart from the saving power of God.  Now we have a “new life” through and in our relationship with Jesus Christ. 

      ILL:  What happens legally when someone marries a rich billionaire, takes their family name, inherits their lifestyle and wealth and begins to learn to live in this new life-style of being in the most intimate of relationships with someone whose life and resources have the power to completely change our life. 


It’s even interesting that circumcision was to be practiced on the 8th day after the birth of a child.  The 8th day was a sign of new life, a new week, new promise.  And that is exactly what the N.T. considers us to have experienced when we were “circumcised spiritually” at the time of surrender to Christ by faith.  Listen to Galatians 6:14-15

14May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which  the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. 15Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is a new creation.

Paul is writing to people used to measuring spirituality by rites and rituals.  And he reminds them that it’s not about any form of physical circumcision; it’s about becoming a new creation

      When and how does that take place?  2 Corinthians 5:17--Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! 


QUESTION:  Have you come to faith that surrenders your life to Jesus Christ?  Have you come to embrace that New Covenant relationship with God through faith in Christ that let’s go of the old self-directed life and embraces the new Christ-directed life?  If not, you will never be that “new creation” God designed you to be.  If not, you are not a child of God, a Christian. 


But once you experience that “new creation” in Christ, then God says there is another aspect to “circumcision”.  It involves an exchange of heart-desire and drive.  God talked about it with the Israelites in Deut. 30:6 when he said, “The Lord your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live.” 

      God is telling us that the kind of “circumcision” that he performs on his children brings a “new life” that moves our hearts to love God with all we have.  It moves us to “put off” the old life and “put on” the new that we now have by being in relationship with Jesus moment-by-moment, longing for God and doing His will and commands. 


THE LORD’S SUPPER—The symbol of the New Covenant that has actually “circumcised” each of us spiritually. 

      It also is an opportunity to let God continue that ongoing work of spiritual circumcision that…

a.)     Allows God to cut away at actions, attitudes and thoughts in our lives that are sinful and keep us from loving Him fully and really living.

b.)    Allows us time to talk with God about ways he may want us to move more into a love for him “with all our heart…and all our soul.” 


God is willing to “circumcise our hearts” every day.  The only question is, “Will I take the time and be submitted enough to let him do that soul-surgery that may even hurt a little but that will lead to new life?


ILL:  God’s been revealing to me through work with a counselor and the faithful but sometimes direct friendship of some other brothers that my life is still way too self-focused.  Everything from my relationships with some family members to the way I do ministry is far too wrapped up with genuinely self-absorbed thoughts and drives that often lead me to do the wrong things, do too many things, and not do the God-desired things to the level I should.  I’m too busy trying to fill the longings of that old self-centered heart to let God fill me with His new heart.  It may all look pretty good or sound pretty noble on the outside, but deep down it really very self-absorbed. 

      Now, that’s painful for me to even share that to some degree.  It’s humbling.  But that’s the nature of real heart-circumcision:  it may hurt a little bit (or a whole lot), but it is the kind of soul-surgery that leads to real life in Christ…the kind we were created to experience here and in eternity.


Well, the people of God went on to celebrate the Passover once they had been circumcised…much like we are invited to celebrate the Lord’s Supper after we’ve experienced spiritual “circumcision” by surrender to Jesus Christ.  God knew that the most important preparation for battle is heart-prep. 

      Just to make sure that Joshua knew that at a personal level too, God appeared to him at the end of Joshua 5 as a warrior with a drawn sword.  Now, when you’re ramping up the troops for a battle, meeting someone with a drawn sword has got to get your blood pressure going.  J 

      Joshua asks this “man”, “Are you for us or for our enemies?”  In other words, “Whose side are you on?”  Fair question.  But the answer totally surprises me.  What would you expect God to respond to Joshua?  “I’m in your camp, man.  I’m all over being for YOU!” 

      Nope.  God says, “Neither….”  Really?  Yup.  God is for his own glory, not the glory of any of us.  He knows that to put the focus on US will be a losing proposition.  But to put the focus on helping people see Him as he really is…his glory…is what will be best for us and for everyone around us, friend or foe. 

      Now we know that this “man” was God because of what Joshua does next.  Vs. 14b-15.

“Then Joshua fell facedown to the ground in reverence, and asked him, "What message does my Lord have for his servant?"

 15 The commander of the LORD's army replied, "Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy." And Joshua did so.

You don’t worship anyone or anything but God.  Had this been an angel, it would have told Joshua to stop worshiping him and get back to worshiping God.  But this “man” didn’t.  Instead he received the reverence and gave a message.  Joshua might have wanted more information and instruction about the battle.  What he got was more instruction about his relationship with God at that moment. 


The most important thing we can do to prepare for life’s battles is get close to God. 

Take off the “sandals” of life that insulate us from his presence. 

      Change posture from one of us being in power to him being in power. 

      Change focus from the battle before us to the God with us. 


Once we’ve done that, we’re just about ready for battle.  “Just about,” I said…but not quite.  Chapter 7 is probably one of the best known stories of the entire Bible.  It’s about the capture and destruction of Jericho as well as the protection and saving of Rahab the prostitute and her family.    

      We won’t read this chapter but I do want to make a couple of observations and applications. 


God’s presence with his people was THE most important factor in the victory at Jericho.  God wanted that to be abundantly clear by putting the Ark of the Covenant (that symbol of God’s presence with his people) in the middle of the army and by calling attention to it with the 7 priests who were blowing rams horns. 


APP:  It’s really to be no different in the church today.  Whether we’re blowing trumpets or beating drums or strumming guitars or preaching the Word or serving food, the presence of God among us should be what has our attention and that of people watching from a distance.  That is the only thing that will set what we do in this community off from what good people may do to feed the hungry, cloth the poor, help the mentally ill, play music or talk about life.  It really needs to be all about the presence of God among us. 


Then there is this matter of what God asked the soldiers of Israel to do for 7 days running.  Regardless of whether they were workaholics or sloths, God asked all of them to do the same thing.  Regardless of whether they were early risers or night owls, God asked them all to do the same thing.  Regardless of whether they were tall or short, chunky or lean, they all had to do the same thing.  Whether they were the youngest private or Joshua, the senior-aged general, they all did the same thing for 7 days.


What was that? 

  • They all had to “get up early” in the morning (6:12).
  • They all had to suit-up for battle every morning.
  • They all had to get into marching formation every day.
  • They all had to take one lap around the city every day, 7 laps on the last day.


Imagine how that felt for the men who liked to sleep in?  For the guys who preferred to sit around the campfire and swap stories.  Why not just let the others do the first 6 days and then join them on the 7th for the “real battle”???

      Because some of these men needed to “ramp it up” a bit.  Some of these men really needed to DO MORE in order to BE MORE for the people of God.  Some of them needed to get in the routine of suiting up every day for battle because they had never had to do that before.


On the other hand, what about those “military types” who loved training?  What about the men who couldn’t wait to engage in the battle?  What about the guys who their whole lives had been dreaming of this moment?  How did it feel for them to suit-up every day and not fight?  How did it feel to know all you were going to do was march for a full week, not fight?  What were those guys thinking of this rather unorthodox “strategy” of Joshua?  What did they do with the other 22 hours each day when they weren’t marching that one lap around Jericho? I’ll bet some of them were learning a whole lot about waiting on God instead of running around on their own.


These guys needed to learn that the battle was not always about “doing” more—more fighting, more training, more cities, more ground covered in as little time as possible. They needed to learn that just BEING in the people of God, letting God lead you at His pace, letting Him speak to you about His plans and heart, was more important than all the “doing” they could fit into one day’s time.   


And their opposite counterparts needed to learn that you’ve got to suit up for the battle every day.  They needed to learn that you’ve got to show up every day for the drills.  Victorious, triumphant warriors are not made in a day.  They don’t just show up for the battles.  They suit up and turn out for the drills too… and in the process they actually become better warriors. 


APP:  Some of us need to DO LESS in order to BE MORE.  We need to engage in fewer drills, be still instead of always on the move, and give God room to speak to us when we’re not out on the parade ground of life.  For us, doing less will lead to us being more the men and women of God we’re created to be. 


For some of us, we need to DO MORE in order to BE MORE in the kingdom and family of God.  Spiritually speaking, there are a lot of God’s “troops”…men and women…who prefer to stay in their pajamas all week long rather than suit up spiritually every day.  There are some in the family of God, the church, who rarely show up for the spiritual training let alone get sweaty taking a training drill to some front-line place needing us. 

      It’s not about attending a bunch of different church events.  But if you have time for work, for exercise, for family, for TV, for reading, for eating and for sleeping most days but don’t “have time” for meeting with God, serving with His people or knitting your heart together in Christ with others in fellowship, then you probably need to DO MORE so you can BE MORE in Christ and in this kingdom battle. 


We never “arrive” at a set equilibrium where we never have to reevaluate or change our schedule or priorities.  But in the regular flow of the spiritual battle in life, God is definitely calling some of us to learn to “be” more than “do” while calling others of us to “do” more in order to “be” more. 

      Which is it for you?  Are you involved in so many different ministries to people that your family rarely sees you meeting at home with God or rarely hears you sharing what God is speaking into your life? 

      Or is the reverse true:  others rarely see you marching into battle with God’s people, seeking out regular, meaningful fellowship with them, stepping forward to serve or lead or pray or study God’s Word?  Do they instead see you sitting around, focused on your own priorities, your own work, your own hobbies, your own activities which don’t seem to be leading you more into Christ or making you more like Him?


If we are going to “win” in the spiritual battles that God has put before us, in our generation, for our family, our city, His church, then we all need to let God deal with us regularly on these two critical questions for spiritual victory:

1.)     Is there something I need to shed or cut away from my life so that I can “love the Lord my God with all my heart, soul, mind and strength”?

2.)    Is there something I need to suit up for or turn out for so that I’m really in the battle God has called me to fight in my generation? 



On your “sermon notes” page, take some time right now to write down some things that God may be bringing to your mind about these two questions. 

  1.  What do I need to “DO LESS” of in order to BE MORE of what God wants me to be to my family, my church, my God?
  2. What do I need to DO MORE of in order to BE MORE of a soldier of the cross of Christ in my family, my church, my city?  More time with God and less with the TV or computer?  More time listening to family and less listening to the radio or spending on my hobby or at work?  More time putting on the full armor of God (Eph. 6:10-18) in prayer or Bible reading or small group study or real God-centered fellowship with believers or practical service somewhere in the name of Jesus?