“The Evidence of What God Did” Joshua 11:16-23
Several years ago, I was a missionary-pastor in a small church that celebrated its birthday every year. We did that because it had been born recently enough that the people remembered the day of its birth, and because we wanted to remind ourselves of what God had done in the birthing of that body of believers. Every year, one man who had been key to the birth of that body of believers, would stand and recite for us some of the almost miraculous things that God did to help in the birthing of our church.
Joshua 11:16-23 reminds me of those moments in that church. We find the writer of Joshua taking time to remind us of what God has done to give the land of promise to the Jewish people. Scanning this passage there are at least two lessons that we need to review, and remember about God’s work for His people. First, we learn how God sometimes does His work over a long time. Second, we learn how God is greater than anything we fear.
The phrase: “Thus Joshua took all this land,” in verses 16 and 23, bracket the account. Thus we recognize the writer’s purpose is to glorify God and review what the LORD did through Joshua in the conquest of Canaan, much like Don did in rehearsing all God did for our baby church.
The writer reminds us of Joshua’s conquest of the South and the North Country. He also goes out of his way to remind us of God’s help in this endeavor. God hardened the hearts of the kings and brought them out in united armies to fall before the divinely empowered army of Israel.
It is easy for us to read these condensed conquest accounts and mistakenly think it did not take long for these battles to happen. This is why the writer gave us verse 18. “Joshua made war a long time with all those kings.”
Most commentators think this conquest, even with the expediency that God provided for all the kings to band together took anywhere from five to seven years. God did not give them the land overnight. There are several good reasons for this, not the least of these is that the Children of Israel were not ready to inhabit all of the land right away.
There is a principle here that we see often in the Bible and in our lives. God is never in a hurry. His timing is perfect, but ours frequently is often flawed by impatience. Do you remember a man named Caleb? In chapter fourteen when Joshua is handing out the inheritance, Caleb comes to him and lays out his claim. “I was forty years old when Moses the servant of the LORD sent me from Kadesh Barnea to spy out the land, and I brought back word to him as it was in my heart. Nevertheless my brethren who went up with me made the heart of the people melt, but I wholly followed the LORD my God. So Moses swore on that day, saying, ‘Surely the land where your foot has trodden shall be your inheritance and your children’s forever, because you have wholly followed the LORD my God.’ And now, behold, the LORD has kept me alive, as He said, these forty-five years, ever since the LORD spoke this word to Moses while Israel wandered in the wilderness; and now, here I am this day, eighty-five years old.”(Joshua 14:7–10).
God made specific promises to Caleb and to Joshua on the day the Children of Israel refused to take the land. The LORD fully fulfilled these promises forty five years later.
Do you remember Abraham coming into the land in Genesis 13? He was seventy-five years old when he traveled to the land of Canaan with His barren wife Sarai. Twenty-five years later God gave him Isaac, the one through whom the promises would be fulfilled. Twenty five years Abraham waited for the promise of God.
Do we recognize that God is never in a hurry? He is always on time. We may feel like the Pennsylvania Dutch who say, “Too soon old, too late smart.” The truth is God will always do His work in His time.
The writer to the Hebrews knew this and exhorted the Hebrews not to give up hope. “For you have need of endurance, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise” (Hebrews 10:36). Do we recognize that we too have need of endurance to hold on until the promise comes?
The second lesson we need to learn here is how our God conquers our fear. “And at that time Joshua came and cut off the Anakim from the mountains: from Hebron, from Debir, from Anab, from all the mountains of Judah, and from all the mountains of Israel; Joshua utterly destroyed them with their cities. None of the Anakim were left in the land of the children of Israel; they remained only in Gaza, in Gath, and in Ashdod” (Joshua 11:21–22).
Why does the writer make so much fuss over these Anakim dudes? There were a lot of very significant people groups Joshua and the people of God conquered in the Promised Land. There were the Hittites, Jebusites, Canaanites, and the Amorites, just to name a few. So, why does God the Holy Spirit through the writer highlight this group, the Anakim?
The answer is found in the history of the people of God when they sent out the spies forty five years before. There is an important connection between our text in Joshua 11 and the record found in Numbers 13. In Numbers 13:28, and 32-33 we read about these sons of Anak. I have said before that it would be helpful to have a “scratch and sniff” Bible, although I am not sure how you could put the smell of fear in “scratch and sniff”. As we read this, we need to smell the fear and to feel the fear which seeps out of the pores of these spies. “Nevertheless the people who dwell in the land are strong; the cities are fortified and very large; moreover we saw the descendants of Anak there.” (Numbers 13:28) Later in this chapter, the spies continue giving voice to their fear. “And they gave the children of Israel a bad report of the land which they had spied out, saying, ‘The land through which we have gone as spies is a land that devours its inhabitants, and all the people whom we saw in it are men of great stature. There we saw the giants (the descendants of Anak came from the giants); and we were like grasshoppers in our own sight, and so we were in their sight’” (Numbers 13:32–33). We must recognize that these are real giants they fear. We meet one of them later in 2 Samuel, a nine foot nine inch giant named Goliath. Fearing the Anakim cost Israel forty years of wandering and a whole generation died off. Fear kept Israel from possessing the blessings that God had for them.
Even forty years later, the fear of these giants pops up. When Moses rehearsed all that God had done in bringing them to the land said, Deuteronomy 1:28 “Where can we go up? Our brethren have discouraged our hearts, saying, ‘The people are greater and taller than we; the cities are great and fortified up to heaven; moreover we have seen the sons of the Anakim there.’” Their unbelief, which allowed their great fear, cost these Jews dearly. I wonder how much our fear costs us?
When Joshua and the Children of Israel went into the land, they did battle with these giants and God wants the people of Israel and us to know that it was these unbeatable giants that they beat because God helped them. In other words, their fears were ungrounded. God was and is “able to do exceedingly abundantly above all we can ask or think.”
Fear can cost us blessing. We may not lose our lives and delay the blessing of God on our nation for forty years, but fear can make us unable to enjoy the promises and joy of God. Fear is a very real enemy that we must fight continually in our lives. Consider three sets of verses to help us in fear.
David wrote in Psalm 56:3 this important verse. “Whenever I am afraid, I will trust in You.” We need to determine ahead of time what our response to fear will be. David, the man who defeated Goliath, knew the way to conquer fear was to choose ahead of time to trust instead of panic when fear came crashing through the front door of his life.
Philippians 4:6-9 prescribes a practical procedure when we are afraid. “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things. The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you.” Do we do this? Are we turning to God with our fears and then reminding us of who God is and what He has done to help us have peace in the face of fear?
Finally, in Hebrews 13:5-6 the writer to the Hebrews closes his letter by telling us that we have nothing to fear. “Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’ So we may boldly say: ‘The LORD is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?”” There are two Greek double negatives here. The two Greek words for “no” tell us that it is impossible for this to happen. It says literally that the Lord has promised that He will in no way, under no circumstances ever leave us. He will in no way, under no circumstances ever forsake us. We can rely on Him because He has unequivocally committed Himself to us. This promise is yours and mine if we have trusted the Lord Jesus as our Savior.
So, then, why are we afraid?