It’s taken us millions of years to discover it, but four days ago it finally became official. This is the way Reuter’s agency broke the news:-
They were huge, lumbering and certainly not the most graceful of creatures, but when they had to dinosaurs sure could run, scientists said on Wednesday.
Using prints from a fossilised dinosaur track in a quarry from southern England, scientists have calculated that bipedal theropod dinosaurs could run at speeds of up to 30 kilometres (19 miles) per hour.
Although the mighty creatures that lived 163 million years ago are long gone, Julia Day, a palaeontologist at the University of Cambridge, said that the finding sheds new light on the evolution of the locomotion of dinosaurs.
I couldn’t help imagining the scenes on Wednesday evening in thousands of homes up and down the country. I can picture the wife coming home from work, and I can hear her greeting her husband who is busy in the kitchen. He says to her, “Hi, honey, how was your day?” “Terrible,” she replies. “I’ve lost my job, crashed the car, and now look what’s happened – I’ve got a ladder in my tights. But never mind, I just heard some fantastic news. Dinosaurs could run. Anyway, how was your day?” “Not great,” says he. “The roof’s blown off in the gale, both the kids have packed their bags and left home, and I’ve got nothing for your afters. But cheer up, everything’s going to be OK – on Sunday evening we start a new series on the book of Joshua.”
The prospect of a series of 4 sermons on the Book of Joshua appears at first sight to be about as useful as the news that dinosaurs could run. Moreover, the question of practical relevance is not the only problem facing us as we approach this 6th book of the OT.
We probably find Joshua morally questionable. It tells the story of how the Lord commanded the Israelites to invade and conquer the land of Canaan and make it their own. We live in a time when right-minded people are deeply worried about military conflict of any kind, and feel that religious wars are particularly detestable. And because the message of Joshua is morally questionable, it is also theologically confusing: what can the message of such a book be for Christians? How do we get from Joshua to Jesus?
I’m not arrogant enough to think that I can solve of the problems, or answer all the questions. Far be it from me to justify the ways of God to men. But, over the next four weeks, I’m going to do my best to let Scripture speak for itself, and I’ll try to face up to the problems, as well as catch the thrill, of the message of Joshua.
Centuries before, the Lord had entered into a covenant with Abraham, and had made a promise. Gen 12:1-3 “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”
The Book of Joshua records one important phase in the fulfilment of that promise.
The book begins with the Israelites camped on the eastern bank of the Jordan. They were about to claim the land that had been promised to Abraham. After 40 years of wandering, they must have wondered whether they would ever see this day. And now, as they stand at the edge of Canaan, three things stand out as being crucial to the success of their task.
1. The preparation of the man of God, vv1-6
Exit Moses, stage left. Enter Joshua, stage right. This is not, however, the first time we have met Joshua in the Bible. He has been mentioned nearly 30 times already. Joshua had been a slave in Egypt. He had witnessed all the wonders God had performed in bringing the Israelites out of the land of bondage. He had seen the Lord open the Red Sea. He had beeen Moses’ right-hand man. He had been an exceptionally gifted and successful military general. He had already been commissioned as Moses’ successor.
So what we have in the early chapters of Joshua are the final preparations for battle and conquest; but there has already bee a long-term preparation of the man of God.
Do not despise God’s long-term preparation. He is more concerned about character than in quick fixes, more interested in faithfulness than results, and neither character nor faithfulness can be hot-housed. We are thinking very much at the moment about work, ministry, vocation, calling. Maybe you feel as though you’re waiting to find your niche. You’re not quite sure whether this waiting period is a time of preparation or procrastination. You can take heart from the long preparation of Joshua. And don’t forget that the 3-year period of Jesus’ ministry was preceded by a 30-year period of preparation.
There was once a man who had lost his job, his money, his wife, and his home, and had very nearly lost his faith. One day he stopped to watch some men building a church. One of them was chiseling a triangular piece of rock. ‘What are you going to do with that?’ asked the man. The workman said, ‘Do you see that little opening up there in the tower? Well, I’m preparing this down here so that it will fit up there.’
2. The authority of the word of God, vv7-9.
‘Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; 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.’
The reference here is to the instructions contained in Deuteronomy. Even though Joshua was a man of action, he was to talk about God’s word, meditate upon God’s word, obey God’s word.
What calling more encumbering than a soldier’s? And of all soldiers the general’s, to whom all resort? Such a one was Joshua, yet a strict command to study the Scripture: `This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night,’ Joshua 1:8. Must Joshua, in the midst of drums and trumpets, and distractions of war, find time to meditate on the law of God? And shall thy shop or plough, a few trivial occasions in thy private calling, discharge thee from the same duty? Dost thou think that the closet is such an enemy to thy shop, and the time spent with God a thief to thy temporal estate? God, I am sure, intends his people better; as appears in the former place, “Then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success.”‘ (Gurnall)
3. The encouragement of the people of God, vv12-18
Everyone is encouraging everyone else in this chapter. The Lord encourages Joshua. Joshua encourages the people. The people encourage Joshua. No wonder: after 40 years of wandering and waiting, of failure and frustration, encouragement was very much needed.
*the encouragement of the continued presence of the Lord, v9. Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.” Mt 28:20 “Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
*the encouragement of united action, v12ff Numbers 32 informs us that 2½ tribes had already received their portion of land east of the Jordan. But they had promised Moses that they would join in Israel’s conquest of the remaining part of the Promised Land. Moses was dead; but they intended to keep their promise. A united people were to claim their whole inheritance.
In one of the Peanuts cartoons, Lucy demands that Linus change TV channels and then threatens him with her fist if he doesn’t.
“What makes you think you can walk right in here and take over?” asks Linus.
“These five fingers,” says Lucy. “Individually they’re nothing but when I curl them together like this into a single unit, they form a weapon that is terrible to behold.”
“Which channel do you want?” asks Linus.
Turning away, he looks at his fingers and says, “Why can’t you guys get organized like that?”
*the encouragement of fervent prayer, v17. “May the LORD your God be with you as he was with Moses.” Prayer, for these leaders and their followers, was for everyday use, not put in a red box marked ‘for emergencies only’. Corrie Ten Boom’s question applies to us all: “Is prayer your steering wheel or your spare tyre?”
And so the Israelites stand on the verge of Canaan, with a prepared leadership, an authoritative word from the Lord, and with much encouragement. And all this in fulfilment of that word to Abraham, that the Lord would bring them at last into the Promised Land. But he had also promised that they would be a blessing to others: “I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse.” And of that promise of blessing to others we shall see a sample next week, in the story of Rahab, the prostitute of Jericho, and how she found grace in the midst of judgement.
For God keeps his promises. At the end of his life, Joshua would be able to say, “You know with all your heart and soul that not one of all the good promises the LORD your God gave you has failed. Every promise has been fulfilled; not one has failed.”
And in this we have even more reason to rejoice than Joshua and the Israelites, for we have seen the greater fulfilment in Christ. 2 Cor 1:20 ‘For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ.’ We are the people, says Paul elsewhere, ‘on whom the fulfilment of the ages has come.’ (1 Cor 10:11)