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Joshua 23:1-16

Cling to God

  • Jean Marais
  • Weekend Messages
  • January 28, 2024

In this time of history, Israel is in a time of rest. They are unmatched in war because of God’s power that is with them. It is in this state that Joshua exhorts and warns them to stay focused on God.

We will see that even in times when it seems like all is well and we are at rest, it is at those times that we need to be vigilant, focused, and stand firm in our relationship with God.

  • Sermon Notes
  • Scripture

Cling to God
Joshua 23:1-16
January 27-28, 2024

In this section we are in today, we find Joshua speaking to the nation of Israel. He can sense that his end is near, and as such he wants to leave them with important advice and instructions for the future.

We know by now that the promised land that they had to enter, is a picture of the believer taking hold of the promises in the kingdom of God. So many things that we see in this history and story can have a spiritual application and lesson.

Now at this stage in history, Israel is at the top of their game, so to speak. They are in a time of rest. They are unmatched in war because of God’s power that is with them.

It is in this state of being on cloud nine as a nation, that Joshua exhorts and warns them with this important speech.

We see this flaw in human nature. When believers are going through hard times, there are battles to be fought and things to overcome, they are very focused. They know that spiritual things impact the physical, and as such, whether they are fighting spiritual battles or physical adversities, there is a good chance that they’re spending a lot of time in prayer and their relationship with God.

Many times, there is a deep understanding that you cannot get through the struggle without God. This can be a time of tremendous spiritual growth.

But Joshua saw the danger. Because when people go into a time of peace and prosperity, it can be one of the most dangerous times spiritually.

Illus – I saw this incredible post the other day. It says ‘Hard times make strong men. Strong men make good times, good times make weak men. Weak men make hard times.”

So we see Joshua addressing this issue. He reminds them of what God has done and warns them to stay focused on God. We will see that even in times when it seems like all is well and we are at rest, it is at those times that we need to be vigilant, focused, and stand firm in our relationship with God.

We do not need to just take hold of the new promises, but keep on holding on for them to stay active in our lives and to have a lasting impact on our future.

I. Stand at Rest

the Lord had given rest to Israel from all their enemies on every side. This, however, was not the time to become complacent. They were not under threat anymore, but the job was still not done. There were still many territories that had to be conquered.

As people mature in their spiritual walk, they start to see victories in certain areas of their lives. This can be very encouraging, but it can easily become a time of being complacent in your spiritual walk.

One comes to a place where you have matured and understand many of the principles. Some of the values and principles are now second nature.

Herein lies the danger. One can go into autopilot mode, being reliant on your own strength and ability to handle these things.

It gets easier not to ask for God’s direction, easier to try and sort out everything on your own, easier to rely on principles and make your own decisions and manage your own life.

It might even get easier to read the Bible less and to pray less, falling out of love with God, separated from relationship, and be focused on one’s own ability.

This is a crucial mistake.

Although the enemy has lost the battle, it’s important to know that he’s not lazy, not complacent, and has not given up trying to trip you up and rob you of your spiritual inheritance.

Illus – A soldier in the Armed Forces has two stances when in the presence of authority. Stand at attention, or stand at ease. I like the picture of when they stand at ease. It is not lazily slumping and hanging on something else. It is standing at ease but at the ready, every muscle primed to move at a moment’s notice.

This to me is a good picture of our posture before God. A good way to describe this is active resting.

A. Strive to enter rest

  • Joshua reminds Israel of what the Lord has done for them. God has given the nations over in their hands, God has been fighting for them.
  • The hearts of their enemies melted like wax as they heard of the power of the God of the Israelites.
  • And then Joshua gives them this advice. “But you are to cling to the Lord your God, as you have done to this day.’ (Verse 9)
  • Staying dependent and in relationship with God was key.
  • In our spiritual walk, the great danger is to stop clinging to God and actively living in the finished work of Jesus Christ.

Hebrews 4:10-11, For the one who has entered His rest has himself also rested from his works, as God did from His. Therefore let us be diligent to enter that rest, so that no one will fall, through following the same example of disobedience. 

  • Entering the rest of God means to stop being reliant on our own works. This is the danger Joshua warned them against, not living a life reliant on God. He warned them not to become proud and strong in their own eyes, thinking that they do not need God.
  • That is the disobedience that we are warned against. Trying to again by works, independent from God become righteous, and not only this but to live our lives independent from God, following our own wisdom and devices.
  • It is such a subtle shift, but so dangerous. It is easy to start to think that the victories and successes that you experience in your life are all because of yourself and how wonderful you are.
  • Just like Israel, people tend to forget where God found them and what He saved them from. They tend to forget that they were in slavery in Egypt, in the world, messed up, and in dire need of saving.
  • It’s unfortunate to see how many times people start out in faith, trusting in the grace of God, but then fall back into the original sin of Adam and Eve, thinking that they do not need God anymore.
  • Joshua warns them against a heart like this. Always remember who you are in relation to God.
  • And this is the active rest that we need to stand in. He urges us to be diligent to enter that rest. Strive for it, press into it, and make every effort.
  • In every situation, in every season, we should be focused on being dependent, actively pursuing to live in the rest and the grace of God.

B. Take hold of God’s promises

  • From this stance, we can take hold of the promises of God. We see here that they were at rest from their enemies, but not all the enemies have been conquered yet.
  • Joshua reminded them of the past and what God has done, and with this as a foundation, he strengthened their faith for that which was to come in the future.
  • Even though all things have not yet been conquered, the victory has already been settled.
  • God promised that they would possess the land and He would drive out the enemies before them.
  • This is a beautiful picture to hold onto for your spiritual life. You might have grown spiritually to a place where you feel quite strong. Most things in your life are at rest.
  • But you can know for sure that there will be battles ahead. It might be external circumstances, but it might also be areas of personal growth that you do not even know you still have to grow in.
  • Once again, the trap is that many think that they should be strong enough by now to handle all these things on their own. Almost as if they don’t want to bother God with these things, or they feel ashamed that they still struggle with this after following God for so many years.
  • No matter where you are in your journey, how mature in your faith, or whatever victories you might’ve had in the past, hold on to this promise: He is still the one doing all the heavy lifting through His Holy Spirit at work in you.
  • We take hold of God’s promises not by our own power, but by trusting in faith that He can perform that which He promised.

Zechariah 4:6, ‘Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,’ says the Lord of hosts. 

Philippians 2:13, [Not in your own strength] for it is God Who is all the while effectually at work in you [energizing and creating in you the power and desire], both to will and to work for His good pleasure and satisfaction and delight. (amp)

  • The core fight is between faith and relying on own works. Because the moment a Christian starts to depend on his or her own works again, they become the master of their own fate.
  • In that moment one switches from drawing life from being connected with a tree of life to living in the realm of deciding for oneself between good and evil, right and wrong, independent of God.
  • This leads one to live in the lower realm of the flesh where the flesh starts to seek out other idols to strengthen the self. In the end, idolatry is worshiping a god that you made with your own hands. So you are then the god of your god.
  • And it all starts by subtly starting to live independently from God.
  • This is why it is imperative to strive to rest from one’s own works and live connected with God, resting actively in Him.
  • This does not mean that you become a couch potato and God has to do everything for you. No, it means that you stay connected with God. Living a life under His direction led by the power of His Spirit within you.

Illus – It is like a soldier that is trained and ready and he has the comms from the commander in his ear, knowing that, if he is where he is supposed to be, he will be covered by the forces backing him up.

II. Stand Firm

Joshua tells them to stand firm, to keep and do all that is written in the book of the law of Moses so that they may not turn aside from the right hand or the left.

How does this apply to our lives now that we are in the New Testament and under the new covenant? Did we not just now say see we should rest from our own works?

We need to understand what the law was. The law was to show God’s standards. It showed God’s heart. If we were to condense it down to two principles, it would be exactly what Jesus told us:

Mark 12: 30-31, and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 

All of the law was a description of the love of God and what that would entail. How one should act towards your neighbor, and how one should act towards God.

The law was also the guardrail to keep them from morally going off the cliff which would in the end also have horrible consequences.

The problem is that the heart of man does not want to bow to this. It wants to live from the sinful nature.

A. Live God’s Principles

  • Just like they were exhorted to keep all that is written in the book of the law, we are exhorted to live the principles of God’s word.
  • But now not through trying to externally keep the law by our own efforts. Because we are saved, good works are a natural outflow. Because God loves me, I respond with love towards Him. Because God loves others, He has now placed His nature in me so that I can love others.
  • The beautiful thing is now, after you are born again, God’s will and the law of God are written on your heart. We still have the flesh that wants to rebel against it, but deep in your heart, there is a wanting to do the right thing and to please God.
  • God’s principles do not change. Sin is still a destructive force. What you sow, you still reap.
  • Joshua warns them specifically that if they would ever go back and cling to the rest of these nations, these which remained among them, and then intermarry with them, the Lord will not continue to drive the enemy out before them.
  • These nations are a type of that which wants to draw you away from your relationship with God; the things of the world that want to move your focus.
  • Marriage speaks of covenant. So it is the things in this life that want you to make a covenant with it, asking your allegiance and focusing you away from God.
  • Remember that the promised land is living a life of spiritual victory over that which wants to enslave you or make you ineffective.

Illus – I always jokingly speak of how easily one can get trapped in first-world problems. How many times the things that we worry about and have anxiety about are things that would not even be on our radar if we were in a Third World country in survival mode? You would not even worry about having the newest iPhone if there were no cell towers around. You would not worry about a warm water heater not working if the closest tap is 10 miles away.

  • The point I’m trying to make is that hard times make you focus on that which is important. From a spiritual sense, when you’re separated from God without hope, what you long for most as a primary need is to have peace, life, hope, and joy.
  • It is the greatest treasure when you discover the truth of what Jesus has done for you on the cross and the overwhelming joy, peace, life, and hope that flows from that. It is like taking your first warm shower, or sleeping for the first time in a comfy bed.
  • But it seems like one easily gets used to the new status quo.
  • Spiritually, one can easily be led away from the primary principles of God. One can get used to the peace, life, and hope that was once all you needed.
  • Just like Israel, people then try to marry the things of this world into their spiritual life. They believe the lie that it cannot be that bad. “ I am strong enough. It will not influence me.”
  • The nations were living peacefully among them in the promised land. They were no threat. They just peacefully introduced their gods and different lifestyles as alternatives.
  • This is what the world does as well. But if you intermingle with it, it slowly starts to erode the peace, love, joy, and hope, chipping away at it, until one day you wake up and have fallen very far from where you started.
  • Eventually, Israel went back into captivity. All the victories were wiped out.
  • This is what Hebrews 4 warns us of when it uses Israel as an example.

Hebrews 4:11, So let us do our best to enter that rest. But if we disobey God, as the people of Israel did, we will fall.

  •  God’s heart for us is to live a spiritual life of victory, but when we have attained it, not to become complacent but stay grounded standing in victory. Not only that, but through His Spirit experience lifelong victories as we grow in His grace.

B. Cling to His Love

  • Verse 11 – Take diligent heed to yourselves to love the Lord your God.
  • Take diligent heed. This means to purposely, persistently, and carefully focus on your love for God.
  • Clinging makes me think of holding onto something very tight. Focus and be vigilant of the things that want to pry open your hands one finger at a time.
  • In God’s presence and in relationship with Him is joy, peace, righteousness, hope, and love.
  • These are great barometers for your spiritual life. When one, in the depths of your soul, feels disconnected from God, these are the things that start to wane. Peace is replaced by anxiety, hope is replaced by hopelessness and fear, the feeling of being unrighteous, and a heart that is becoming hard.
  • Do not let these things take over your heart. Cling to God. Return to your first love.
  • It isn’t hard work to come back. It is an attitude of the heart. It is a turning of the heart towards God. It is about once again intimately just being with Him.

Hebrews 4:12-13, For the word of God … exposes our innermost thoughts and desires. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God. Everything is naked and exposed before his eyes, and he is the one to whom we are accountable.

  • One can read these verses and immediately draw back, feel ashamed, not wanting God to see our inner being, not wanting to be intimate with God, because the human response to this type of intimacy would be judgment.
  • But this is where everything changes.

Hebrews 4: 14-16, So then, since we have a great High Priest who has entered heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to what we believe. This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, … So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.

  • It is exactly in this most vulnerable moment, where we see and experience the fullness of the love of Christ.
  • When we run from him, we run to destruction and judgment. But the moment that we open up our deepest being to Him, surrendering and coming into agreement with Him, we find overwhelming acceptance, overwhelming love, overwhelming peace, and overwhelming worth.

Illus – I once heard a phrase in a movie where a married man described love to his unmarried friend…

  • When we cling to God, He is our safety, He is our security and our defender as we journey in our new life with Him into eternity.

Joshua 23:1-16    NASB

23 Now it came about after many days, when the Lord had given rest to Israel from all their enemies on every side, and Joshua was old, advanced in years, that Joshua called for all Israel, for their elders and their heads and their judges and their officers, and said to them, “I am old, advanced in years. And you have seen all that the Lord your God has done to all these nations because of you, for the Lord your God is He who has been fighting for you. See, I have apportioned to you these nations which remain as an inheritance for your tribes, with all the nations which I have cut off, from the Jordan even to the Great Sea toward the setting of the sun. The Lord your God, He will thrust them out from before you and drive them from before you; and you will possess their land, just as the Lord your God promised you. Be very firm, then, to keep and do all that is written in the book of the law of Moses, so that you may not turn aside from it to the right hand or to the left, so that you will not associate with these nations, these which remain among you, or mention the name of their gods, or make anyone swear by them, or serve them, or bow down to them. But you are to cling to the Lord your God, as you have done to this day. For the Lord has driven out great and strong nations from before you; and as for you, no man has stood before you to this day. 10 One of your men puts to flight a thousand, for the Lord your God is He who fights for you, just as He promised you. 11 So take diligent heed to yourselves to love the Lord your God. 12 For if you ever go back and cling to the rest of these nations, these which remain among you, and intermarry with them, so that you associate with them and they with you, 13 know with certainty that the Lord your God will not continue to drive these nations out from before you; but they will be a snare and a trap to you, and a whip on your sides and thorns in your eyes, until you perish from off this good land which the Lord your God has given you.

14 “Now behold, today I am going the way of all the earth, and you know in all your hearts and in all your souls that not one word of all the good words which the Lord your God spoke concerning you has failed; all have been fulfilled for you, not one of them has failed. 15 It shall come about that just as all the good words which the Lord your God spoke to you have come upon you, so the Lord will bring upon you all the threats, until He has destroyed you from off this good land which the Lord your God has given you. 16 When you transgress the covenant of the Lord your God, which He commanded you, and go and serve other gods and bow down to them, then the anger of the Lord will burn against you, and you will perish quickly from off the good land which He has given you.”


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