Monday, June 19, 2017

Onward, Christian Soldiers

John Maxwell, the best-selling author of The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, says, “A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.”

Bob Pruitt knew the way. He was a career officer in the US Army Field Artillery. He served in Vietnam and rose to the rank of colonel. He knew how to lead. After his retirement from the military, Bob worked in real estate and was active in Kiwanis. In fact, he served as president. Bob was a problem solver, and he led by example. When the Kiwanis group needed something to hold snow cones, Bob made it. And he made it right. That was the only way he knew how to do it.

Bob Pruitt
He could be rather particular about things. Some might even say demanding, but Bob believed in doing your best. So he was the best dad he knew how to be. He always attended his son’s ball games. When they beat the #1 team in the state, Bob praised Tom saying, “You played a good game….” Then Bob proceeded to tell Tom how he could improve. Bob knew the way.

He knew what needed to be done when St. Mark’s was just getting started and meeting in a community center. And he knew what needed to be done when his son wanted to get permission from the city of Germantown to use a trail for dirt bikes. He knew what needed to be done to stop a water tower from being built near the middle school. Bob knew the way.

And he wasn’t shy about offering advice. But he was always there to help when someone was in need. And if there was a job to do, Bob was there to do it.

Bob was a true leader. He knew the way of Jesus the Good Shepherd. He went the way of the Good Shepherd. And he showed others the way.

The same could be said of Joshua. He knew the way of servant leadership. And that way began with faith. He had faith in God. And, boy, did he need it!

If anyone was ever put to the test it was the newly appointed leader of the Israelite people. Joshua had some mighty big shoes to fill. Moses had guided the people for decades. In fact, it was Moses who led the people out of captivity in Egypt and through the Red Sea. It was Moses who drew water from a rock and brought down manna from heaven. It was Moses who received the 10 Commandments and built the Ark of the Covenant. It was Moses who had led the people to the Promised Land. But Moses was gone. He had died on Mount Nebo, looking down into the fertile valley of Canaan. Moses saw the land that God had promised to give the people of Israel, but Joshua would claim the prize.

Joshua had earned God’s favor. He had proven himself to be reliable. Strong. And faithful. Back when the Israelites first made their way to the edge of the Promised Land, Moses had sent 12 leaders to scout out the land. Joshua was one of them.

“See what the land is like,” Moses told the scouts. “Are the people strong? How many people live there? Are the towns well protected? Is the soil fertile? What kind of food grows there?” (Numbers 13:18-21) That’s the kind of thing you need to know before you attempt a takeover.

So the 12 scouts spent 40 days getting the lay of the land. When they returned, they told Moses that the land was very rich. It flowed with milk and honey! But the people who lived there were powerful, which just makes sense, right? If the land is fruitful, then the people who live there will be strong and healthy and rich, and the cities will be full of people and well protected.

Ten of the scouts discouraged Moses from even trying to enter the land, but Caleb said they should go and take possession of it. And Joshua reminded them that the Lord was with them so there was no reason for the people of Israel to be afraid. “The Lord will lead us, and the Lord will give the land to us.”

 But the people rebelled. They lost faith in God. They did not believe that the Lord would keep the promise to Abraham. They did not believe that God would give them the land. So they refused to go. In fact, they even talked about replacing Moses as their leader and heading back to Egypt! They were so afraid of what was ahead of them that they were ready to go back into SLAVERY.

And that made God very angry. “How long will these people treat me with contempt?” God fumed. “How long will they refuse to believe in me? In spite of all that I have done for them! I should strike them down.”

But Moses pleaded for mercy. And the Lord relented. God vowed to keep the promise made to Abraham. God would be faithful, even though the people were not. The Lord would give the Israelites the land that had been promised. But, first, they would have to wander in the desert for 40 years. Long enough for them to learn to trust God. And long enough for the unfaithful spies to die. The unfaithful ones would not enter the Promised Land, but their children would. God would show them the way. (Numbers 13-14)

Sure enough, four decades had passed. The disbelieving had fallen away. And the time had come, finally, for the Israelites to claim the land that had been promised to their ancestors. God would defeat their enemies. And Joshua would lead them to victory.

But it would not be easy. Leading others into battle never is. The Lord encourages Joshua, “Be strong and courageous. Follow my commands. Do what I tell you to do. Do not waver from my instructions, and you will succeed.” (Joshua 1:6-9)

So Joshua does exactly what the Lord tells him to do. He gathers up the people and tells them to get ready. In three days, you will take possession of the land that the Lord is giving you.

He does not doubt or waver or change the plans one iota. Joshua is faithful. He believes in God. He trusts that the Lord will do what God has promised to do. In fact, Joshua has so much faith in God, so much confidence in the Lord, that it inspires the people. They vow to follow Joshua and to obey his commands fully. “Just as we fully obeyed Moses,” they say, “we will obey you.”

Huh? Ae you paying attention? That right there is some revisionist history! Because the people were always rebelling against Moses and against God. That’s how they ended up wandering in a desert for 40 years, remember? But maybe they have learned a thing or two. Maybe all those days trusting God for food and water and life itself have taught them the wisdom of obedience. Maybe they truly have come to believe that God is good. Maybe they truly have come to believe that God is faithful. Maybe they really believe that God is trustworthy. Because Joshua tells them it is time to go and they go. They follow Joshua, and they follow the Lord. They follow even though the way forward is difficult.

The first hurdle they face is the Jordan River, which is at flood stage, but they line up behind the Ark of the Covenant and walk straight into it. And the water dries up! They walk right across a dry river bed, and, after 40 long years, they finally enter the Promised Land! The first thing they do is worship and recommit themselves to the Lord.

It appears that the Israelites have learned finally to trust the Lord. The faith of their leader has inspired them to believe. So they march together. Bravely into battle.

Before the battle begins, Joshua sees a warrior outside of the city. Joshua wants to know, “Are you for us or against us?” “Neither,” the man replies. “I am the commander of the army of the Lord.” Joshua fell face down on the ground in reverence and asks, “What message does my Lord have for his servant?”

Now THAT is humility! And obedience. Joshua has been chosen by the Lord God Almighty to lead a great nation, but he is not arrogant. Or boastful. Or domineering. Joshua does not believe that he is too great to bow down before the Lord. He does not believe he is too great to serve. Joshua is humble. Joshua is obedient. Joshua is respectful. Joshua does not act as if he is better than everybody else. He seems to know that it is his service to God that makes him great.

The commander tells Joshua to take off his shoes because he is standing on holy ground, and Joshua does what he is told. Again, Joshua is obedient. And faithful. He follows God’s commands.

The people of Jericho had heard that the Lord had dried up the mighty Jordan River so that the Israelites could cross it safely. They knew that Joshua and his army were coming for them, so they were shut up tight, ready to ward off an assault. They were bigger. They were stronger. And they were prepared for battle.

But the Lord had told Joshua, “I have delivered Jericho into your hands.” God promises victory to Joshua. “Just do what I tell you to do. March around the city once a day for six days. Have 7 priests carry trumpets of rams’ horns in front of the ark. Then on the 7th day, march around the city 7 times with the priests blowing the trumpets. When they hit one long note, have all the people shout out loud. Then the wall of the city will collapse, and your people can walk right in.”

Sounds crazy, right? That is not how you win a war against a well-fortified city. Jericho was a spring-fed oasis. It dominated the lower Jordan plain, and it had for 6000 years or more. Its people were protected by a high wall and tower. Enemy invaders trying to take such a city must penetrate the walls and gates. To do that, you generally had three options. Use some sort of ruse like Trojan horse. Break through some weak place in the wall, or go over or under it. Or you can lay siege to the fortress, cutting off supply lines until residents are forced to surrender.[i] You want to take a well-fortified city, you go in with guns blazing. You don’t march around it and blow a few horns. What kind of military tactic is that? Foolishness like that could get everybody killed!

But Joshua does not waver. He does exactly as God had instructed. He gives the priests and the people and the armed guards their instructions. And they follow his lead. They line up and march around the city while 7 priests blow trumpets. But they don’t say a word. Not one cry. For six straight days. They follow God’s commands exactly. On the seventh day, they line up again and march around the city. But this time they circle the city 7 times, and when the priests finally hit one long blast on the trumpets, the people cry out, just as Joshua had told them to do. And the walls of the city collapsed! Just like that. Just as God had promised. Imagine that!

The Israelites were victorious. Even though they were small and weak and vulnerable. They defeated a much more powerful enemy. Because they trusted their leader, and they had faith in God.

[i] Jerome F.D. Creach. Joshua: Interpretation Commentary. Louisville: John Knox Press, 2003. 61-62.

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