This lecture page is designed to go after the student has followed the workbook and done the homework for Lesson 7. A powerpoint to accompany the audio lecture is available, as well as a handout.
How many of you wear glasses or contacts or have had some sort of corrective surgery for your vision? I began wearing glasses when I was about 12 because I wasn’t seeing things in the distance clearly; they were blurred. I wondered how it was that my friends seemed to recognize people in other cars as we passed them; I couldn’t make out who they were. At school I had to strain to figure out what was on the board. Eventually (I was slow to get this), such clues made it clear that I needed help. Today, when I wear my contacts for distance, I have to wear these reading glasses in order to see what is close. If I don’t wear either contacts or glasses, I can read fine but can’t see beyond my hand with clarity. Without help, I cannot focus correctly.
In a similar way we need help to focus our lives on God; otherwise, we end up missing what is most important in life because our vision is blurry. We cannot follow that dream for the course of our lives without that focus. We must make an effort to see God clearly; it doesn’t just happen; we must work on it.
Joshua kept his vision focused on God for his entire life. Only once did Joshua fail to focus on God, when he did not consult Him about making a covenant with the people of Gibeon, as we discussed last week. Every other time that the Bible mentions Joshua, we see him following that dream by walking closely with God.
So today we want to learn from Joshua about focusing our vision on God. We will look at his last two public addresses in Joshua 23 and 24. His words here are merely examples of what we have seen week after week as we have studied the life of this man of God because Joshua had lived out what he told Israel. In these speeches, Joshua re-focused the people on their God.
As you saw in your lesson, there were two separate gatherings of people to whom Joshua gave his last words. The way the scripture reads sounds like they were two very similar groups. The scholars tend to feel that the first group was the leadership, which represented the entire nation, while the second included everyone. As Joshua addressed each group, his messages were similar although he stressed different things. As we noted in the lesson, a person’s last words are extremely significant; they reveal what that person believes is important for the next generation to hear.
So how did Joshua focus the people on God so they would continue to follow God’s dream? Joshua pointed them to the past, in particular he helped them remember God’s faithful deeds on their behalf.
Turn with me to Joshua 23:1, the beginning of the speech to the leaders.
“A long time passed after the Lord made Israel secure from all their enemies, and Joshua was very old. So Joshua summoned all Israel, including the elders, rulers, judges, and leaders, and told them: “I am very old. You saw everything the Lord your God did to all these nations on your behalf, for the Lord your God fights for you.”
Joshua reminded them that God had brought victories because he was doing it for them. Joshua summarized in this one verse all that this group had watched God do for them.
However, when Joshua went before the larger group, he went into greater detail of God’s faithful deeds.
Joshua assembled all the Israelite tribes at Shechem. He summoned Israel’s elders, rulers, judges, and leaders, and they appeared before God. Joshua told all the people, “Here is what the Lord God of Israel says: ‘In the distant past your ancestors lived beyond the Euphrates River, including Terah the father of Abraham and Nahor. They worshiped other gods, but I took your father Abraham from beyond the Euphrates and brought him into the entire land of Canaan. I made his descendants numerous; I gave him Isaac, and to Isaac I gave Jacob and Esau. To Esau I assigned Mount Seir, while Jacob and his sons went down to Egypt. I sent Moses and Aaron, and I struck Egypt down when I intervened in their land. Then I brought you out. When I brought your fathers out of Egypt, you arrived at the sea. The Egyptians chased your fathers with chariots and horsemen to the Red Sea. Your fathers cried out for help to the Lord; he made the area between you and the Egyptians dark, and then drowned them in the sea. You witnessed with your very own eyes what I did in Egypt. You lived in the wilderness for a long time. Then I brought you to the land of the Amorites who lived east of the Jordan. They fought with you, but I handed them over to you; you conquered their land and I destroyed them from before you. Balak son of Zippor, king of Moab, launched an attack against Israel. He summoned Balaam son of Beor to call down judgment on you. I refused to respond to Balaam; he kept prophesying good things about you, and I rescued you from his power. You crossed the Jordan and came to Jericho. The leaders of Jericho, as well as the Amorites, Perizzites, Canaanites, Hittites, Girgashites, Hivites, and Jebusites, fought with you, but I handed them over to you. I sent terror ahead of you to drive out before you the two Amorite kings. I gave you the victory; it was not by your swords or bows. I gave you a land in which you had not worked hard; you took up residence in cities you did not build and you are eating the produce of vineyards and olive groves you did not plant.’
As I was studying this, I was struck with the heritage that Joshua recounted to them. He reminded them of God’s work in the lives of their ancestors, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and went on from there to what He had just done for them.
What is your spiritual heritage? What faithful deeds has God done, not only in your own life but what did He do in your family that gives you a spiritual heritage? Or maybe you are the Abraham of your family, the first to have faith in the God of the Bible. Maybe, you like Abraham will begin a spiritual heritage for your children and their children. But you have a spiritual heritage. By whom were you influenced? Whom did God put into your life to draw you to Himself?
One of the great emphases that we have seen throughout this book is that of remembering God’s mighty deeds. Moses had recorded some of those deeds in the books that he wrote—in Genesis through Deuteronomy. That is a way to remember God’s deeds—to write them down for future generations to read. Joshua not only used the scriptures, as we saw when they read the blessings and cursings on Mt. Gerizim and Mt. Ebal, but Joshua also used stones and place names to help ignite their memories.
We, too, need to be sure that we remember all of the great deeds that God has done for us. We need to read the stories of what He did in the days of the Bible; we need to record the things that He has done for us, possibly all the way back to our spiritual heritage. We may need other physical reminders, like the stones that we gave you a few weeks ago.
If you were in our study of the minor prophets last fall, you probably remember how often God said that His own people had forgotten Him. God’s people are prone to forget Him instead of remembering what He has done. We are no exception; without reminders we will forget the faithful and mighty deeds of God.
As we do that, as we focus on the faithful deeds that God has done, we grow in faith and gratitude. The only way to trust God is to know that He is trustworthy. If we are to have faith in Him when we reach the hard times in life or when our dreams are slow to come true, we must know that He is trustworthy and mighty from our past experience. When we forget and begin to focus on the hardship or the delay, we are not seeing clearly; our vision has blurred, and we can easily move in the wrong direction.
Some years back when my husband had the problem with his eye that I have mentioned in here before, I had to rely upon what I had learned about God in previous trials. I had to remember that He was faithful to me before, that He had kept His promises before, that He had proven Himself wise before. I remembered how He had carried me when I grieved over my father’s death. That is how I had the faith that I needed to go through the present experience. And remembering those things in the midst of a hard time helped me be grateful; even though we were struggling with a difficult situation, I could be thankful for the little ways that I saw God at work, believing that He was at work now as He had been in the past.
So the first thing that we see from Joshua’s example is to focus on God by remembering the past, the faithful deeds that He has done in our lives and for our families.
Secondly, we see that Joshua teaches us to follow that dream, focusing on God in the present—to revere His majestic power. As we read in Josh. 23:6-16, think of how Joshua describes the greatness and power of God.
Be very strong! Carefully obey all that is written in the law scroll of Moses so you won’t swerve from it to the right or the left, or associate with these nations that remain near you. You must not invoke or make solemn declarations by the names of their gods! You must not worship or bow down to them! But you must be loyal to the Lord your God, as you have been to this very day.
“The Lord drove out from before you great and mighty nations; no one has been able to resist you to this very day. One of you makes a thousand run away, for the Lord your God fights for you as he promised you he would. Watch yourselves carefully! Love the Lord your God! But if you ever turn away and make alliances with these nations that remain near you, and intermarry with them and establish friendly relations with them, know for certain that the Lord our God will no longer drive out these nations from before you. They will trap and ensnare you; they will be a whip that tears your sides and thorns that blind your eyes until you disappear from this good land the Lord your God gave you.
“Look, today I am about to die. You know with all your heart and being that not even one of all the faithful promises the Lord your God made to you is left unfulfilled; every one was realized – not one promise is unfulfilled! But in the same way every faithful promise the Lord your God made to you has been realized, it is just as certain, if you disobey, that the Lord will bring on you every judgment until he destroys you from this good land which the Lord your God gave you. If you violate the covenantal laws of the Lord your God which he commanded you to keep, and follow, worship, and bow down to other gods, the Lord will be very angry with you and you will disappear quickly from the good land which he gave to you.”
In this address to the leaders, Joshua not only recounted God’s great deeds of the past, but he also clearly warned them that God in His greatness will bring consequences if they forget Him. God is God; and He is able and willing to deal with His people who are drawn away from their allegiance to Him. In 23:16 Joshua reminded them that they were in a covenant with God, as we discussed last week, and that God expected them to be loyal to Him alone in their worship. God is majestic and great and expects His people to worship Him alone because they recognize it. The reason we focus on the present, revering the majestic power of God is so that we remember to obey and serve Him alone.
Now obey the Lord and worship him with integrity and loyalty. Put aside the gods your ancestors worshiped beyond the Euphrates and in Egypt and worship the Lord. If you have no desire to worship the Lord, choose today whom you will worship, whether it be the gods whom your ancestors worshiped beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living. But I and my The people responded, “Far be it from us to abandon the Lord so we can worship other gods! For the Lord our God took us and our fathers out of slavery in the land of Egypt and performed these awesome miracles before our very eyes. He continually protected us as we traveled and when we passed through nations. The Lord drove out from before us all the nations, including the Amorites who lived in the land. So we too will worship the Lord, for he is our God!”
Joshua warned the people, “You will not keep worshiping the Lord, for he is a holy God. He is a jealous God who will not forgive your rebellion or your sins. If you abandon the Lord and worship foreign gods, he will turn against you; he will bring disaster on you and destroy you, though he once treated you well.”
The people said to Joshua, “No! We really will worship the Lord!” Joshua said to the people, “Do you agree to be witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen to worship the Lord?” They replied, “We are witnesses!” Joshua said, “Now put aside the foreign gods that are among you and submit to the Lord God of Israel.”
The people said to Joshua, “We will worship the Lord our God and obey him.”
That day Joshua drew up an agreement for the people, and he established rules and regulations for them in Shechem. Joshua wrote these words in the Law Scroll of God. He then took a large stone and set it up there under the oak tree near the Lord’s shrine. Joshua said to all the people, “Look, this stone will be a witness against you, for it has heard everything the Lord said to us. It will be a witness against you if you deny your God.” When Joshua dismissed the people, they went to their allotted portions of land.
In this second address, Joshua renewed the covenant that their parents had already made with God at Mt. Sinai. Joshua told the crowd that he and his family would worship Yahweh, even if everyone else turned away from Him, but the people committed to worship and obey the Lord God of Israel. They even agreed to be witnesses against themselves if they failed to keep the covenant. Then, Joshua wrote it all down and set up another stone as a witness to the covenant. These people left stones all over the place, didn’t they?
“Israel worshiped the Lord throughout Joshua’s lifetime and as long as the elderly men who outlived him remained alive. These men had experienced firsthand everything the Lord had done for Israel.”
It is our firsthand experience of the majestic power of God that will hold us faithful throughout our lifetimes, that will help us obey and serve God and not replace Him with the gods of money, or children, or husbands, or success, or even ministry. God alone is majestic and worthy of our worship, but it is keeping those firsthand experiences with God in focus that help us do so.
As we have read Joshua’s final words, you have probably noticed how all of these elements or focusing on the past and present are mixed together. I couldn’t just pull out remembering the past from considering God’s majestic power in the present. Focusing on both past and present work together to keep us faithful to Him.
I have to admit that there are days when I would love to just quit what I am doing and take it easy for awhile. Just not have to think about the next Bible study or the next women’s event or hear about the troubles of this life! Just enjoy life for awhile—relax and take it easy! I would love to just take pleasure in what I have already done and leave it to someone else to do the rest!
I think that was what happened to the Israelites. They had apparently fought for over seven years when Joshua sent them to settle down in the land and take the rest of their territory tribe by tribe. I can just imagine them wanting to simply enjoy life for a while, and so they became content with what they had. Instead of focusing on God’s plan to take the whole land, they decided to sit back and enjoy what they had. It seemed to be enough!
Those kinds of thoughts are so deceiving, especially when we have already been doing things for God. We begin to feel that we are entitled to retire and let others fight the battles, let them finish the dream. As Christians, we are fighting spiritually on behalf of a people of God, just as Joshua and his army fought for a land. We can never say that we have done our part because there is always more to do. As long as we live on earth, our desire should be to persevere in God’s work. And that brings us to the final focus that we need in order to do that.
We not only focus on the past, those faithful deeds that God has done, and the present, the majestic power of God who alone deserves our worship, we also must focus on the future—trusting His promise to fulfill the dreams that He has given us so that we persevere in hope.
Look again at Josh. 23:5. Although at this point most of the dreams that God had given them had already come true, as you know, they had still not totally occupied the land. They had taken most of it, but there were still large pockets of inhabitants left in the land. So Joshua focused them on the future:
Josh. 23:5: “The Lord your God will drive them out from before you and remove them, so you can occupy their land as the Lord your God promised you.”
There was still work to be done to complete the dream; they had the promise that God would fulfill it, but they had to move forward to do it. If they trusted God and fought their enemies as He had asked them to do, they would have success. It was His promise.
When I begin to feel that I wish I could just hang it up for awhile, I need to focus on the future and on God’s promises to fulfill those dreams. That focus will help me when I am tempted to become content with what God has already done and think that I have already arrived.
A dream that God gave me long ago was to teach the Bible, not to a large group like this but simply to a group like a Sunday School class. I had grown up in the church hearing the Bible taught for all of my life. But as a young wife and mother, I finally had a teacher who was truly gifted in that area. She was wonderful. And at that time the thought came to me that I wish I could do that. I certainly didn’t think it was a dream from God then. But in time and with experience, God showed me that it was His dream for me. Everything that He opened up for me pointed to this being His dream. I never volunteered to teach anything; God always opened the door of opportunity. But more and more I began to make choices about my time and my energy and my ministry that allowed me to follow this dream.
But the temptation now is to decide that what I have done is enough. I don’t need to study more; I don’t need to take on new challenges; I don’t need to write any new studies; I don’t need to work so hard; I could just be content with what I have already done.
Maybe it is harder to focus on the future and what God wants to do with us when a lot of the dream has already become reality. God has fulfilled the dream, for the most part. But does He have more for us? Is the dream over after a certain point? When I get so old that I am unable to teach, I’ll know that I have done all that I can to fulfill the dream, but until that time, I need to continue pressing forward. The only way to persevere in faith for a lifetime is to continue moving forward in hope that there is more to come in the dream. God has more if we don’t become discouraged or content. There is still more to do for His kingdom.
“Now to him who by the power that is working within us is able to do far beyond all that we ask or think, to him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”
God has planned even more to this dream than I have imagined. He has already proven that to be the case. As far as I could imagine with this dream was to teach a Sunday School class or a small group, but God has already done exceedingly above what I thought. I never imagined being on a church staff or leading a women’s ministry or writing a Bible study. I simply followed Him step by step and day by day into the dream, and He has led me to where I am today.
So I can’t say that I’ve done it and that it’s all fulfilled; God has more in mind than I can imagine. By focusing on the past, God’s mighty deeds in my life and on the present, God’s majestic power, I move toward realizing God’s dreams for me. But if I fail to continue looking ahead and believing that there is more to come out of that dream, there is the rest of the land to take, I will not persevere.
I need to hope in a greater future for the dreams that God has given me. And I need your encouragement to do so, just as you need the encouragement of others to see your dream realized. They can help you identify God’s dream if you aren’t sure; sometimes we want something that God doesn’t want for us. Once you do identify God’s dream for you, you will need others to encourage you, as Joshua encouraged the people of Israel; otherwise, it will be difficult to persevere to the end, serving and worshipping God, as Joshua did.
What is your dream? What has God shown you that He has in store for you? It’s time to follow that dream. Even if you are a young mom with small kids, there are ways to follow God’s dream. That is never an excuse to fail to move toward the place that God’s will is sending you. It may look a bit different now but you need to move toward the dream. When my kids were pre-schoolers, I began to lead small groups of women in various Bible studies. The dream looked a bit different then than it does today, but I was following God’s dream where He opened doors of opportunity for me that fit with the needs of my family.
Maybe you dream of becoming a spiritual influence on others. Maybe you thought you would be a missionary in a foreign place but find yourself at home with kids or barely making it in a work situation. Have you thought that maybe God is calling you to influence your workplace or your neighborhood or your children? Maybe you should be mentoring younger women. Jesus said that to those who are faithful, more will be given. Where are you following God’s dream now? What do you need to do about your own character and behavior so that you can be that influence—so that you can be a person whom others want to emulate? Maybe that is the first step in following that dream.
Maybe you dream of ministering to those who need it most—to the sick or the poor or the outcast. How can you begin to follow that dream? Have you gone to Vickery to minister to the refugees over there? Have you agreed to serve as a hospital visitor—to go visit those who are in need of an encouraging word and prayer?
Is your dream of a home where God is exalted? What do you need to do to make it that way, knowing that you can’t change anyone but yourself? How do you follow God in a way that speaks to the rest of your household because it changes the atmosphere of your home? What do you need to do to accept your family or roommates as they are instead of trying to manipulate them and God into changing them? How can you love them unconditionally as God does and simply provide a loving, safe home for them?
Essentially, as believers our ultimate dream is of hearing Jesus say on the other side, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.” Whether anyone on earth ever recognizes what we do here or the dreams that we have, we know that He sees it all. His approval is all that we really should seek. To win that, we simply remain faithful to follow that dream for all the days of our lives. What changes can you make in your life now so that when you stand before Him, He calls you His faithful servant? How do you live for eternity now?
As you follow that dream, keep your focus on God so that your vision is not blurred by the things of this world. This is not a one time focus, ladies; we have to re-focus every day of our lives. That is why we come to a study like this, because it helps us do that and gives us others to help us when our spiritual eyes get blurry.
On the back of your handout are some questions to follow up with our study of Joshua and our lesson today in particular. Take time this week to work through them since we have completed our study of Joshua.
This will help you focus on the past by remembering God’s mighty deeds; focus on the present by revering His majestic power; and focus on the future, trusting His promise to fulfill the dreams that He has given you.