After 40 years of wandering in the wilderness, Israel finds itself encamped on the plains of Moab. It is here that Israel will again prepare to take Canaan. Old Israel has died in the wilderness but a new generation has been raised up to take the land.
But first, Moses sits the people down and delivers a sermon. That’s the book of Deuteronomy. The keyword in Deuteronomy is, remember. Remember the commandments, your deliverance, and God’s provision.
Moses reminds the people that God is giving Israel the land, but they have to take it, pull down the false gods of Canaan and then build a house for the Lord. The terms of the conquest are summed up in Deuteronomy 12,
You shall surely destroy all the places where the nations whom you shall dispossess served their gods, on the high mountains and on the hills and under every green tree. You shall tear down their altars and dash in pieces their pillars and burn their Asherim with fire. You shall chop down the carved images of their gods and destroy their name out of that place. You shall not worship the Lord your God in that way. But you shall seek the place that the Lord your God will choose out of all your tribes to put his name and make his habitation there. (Deuteronomy 12:2-5b)
Shortly after these events, we read that Moses has died and so begins the book of Joshua.
Throughout the Old Testament, the death of a leader brings about a crisis for Israel. Will the new leader be faithful to the Lord or will they be unfaithful? This was a real problem for Israel. After the death of Joshua, Israel falls into idolatry and throughout the book of Judges, every time a Judge dies the people fall into idolatry again.
And so, the question for Israel, now that Moses is gone is, “Is the Lord also with Joshua?”
The early chapters of Joshua tell us that He is. Joshua is a new Moses. Joshua leads the people across the Jordan on dry ground, as Moses had done at the Red Sea. Joshua is commissioned by the Angel of the Lord before whom he removes his sandals.
Once they cross the Jordan, Israel is circumcised, just as Moses, after forty years as a shepherd in Midian, had been commanded to circumcise his son before entering Egypt. Just as Moses sent spies into Canaan, now Joshua sends spies to Jericho.
What is interesting about the battle of Jericho that follows (Joshua 6) is that they look more like a worship service than warfare.
This should not surprise us. All wars (football games) are fought at the behest of the God (team) we worship.
Worship shapes us
Now, let’s be frank. What follows is some pretty serious warfare. But all of this talk of conquest and ham-stringing horses and total destruction makes the average 21st century Christian nervous. And the reason it makes us nervous is that, under pressure, we have shrink-wrapped the gospel to little more than, “Jesus loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life”. Quiche and Lemonade.
And so, when we hear talk about conquest and the dominion of Jesus Christ over all the world, we go into a mild panic and that panic tends to lead us into one of two errors.
Either, we think “crusade” and begin to have visions of Christians burning witches or Harry Potter books, or, we go all, “new age”, and spiritualise the conquest as strictly mystical, mysterious and metaphor.
The result is a view of Jesus in which Jesus is technically the Lord of all things, but that His Lordship does not materialise into the real world.
The result is a privatised faith and turns actual conquest into little more than navel-gazing and via a group hug.
True, the battle we fight is spiritual, but that victory in Christ, where it is real, always bubbles up and manifests itself in the material universe.
Jesus is Lord over all things, whether in Heaven or on Earth. He is Lord over spiritual things, the group hug, the emotional scar and the unseen battle against sin, but He is also Lord over harbour ferries, bicycle pumps, Greenies and all things in between.
In the book of Joshua, we learn that Israel’s worship is warfare and that our warfare is to run along the same lines of obedient worship as theirs.
The spies that come back from Jericho give a favourable report and the army is to be made ready. But Joshua, the commander of the Lord’s army, begins by organising the priests and the Ark. For Joshua, the worship of God is the key to conquest because it’s God’s conquest.
What follows Joshua’s organisation of the priests and the people is a 7-day procession around Jericho.
Processions are both acts of war and of worship. The idea behind a procession is a declaration of sovereign rule and a victory march in war (Psalm 42:4; 68:24-25; 2 Corinthians 2:14).
This procession brings down the walls and Jericho is given over to destruction by fire. But the victory at Jericho is a victory won through worshipping and proclaiming the God who sits enthroned between Cheribum.
The same thing is taking place for the church as we gather on the Lord’s Day.
First, the Church, hearing the gospel, is hearing the terms of conquest. The weapons of our warfare are word and sacrament. Bread, wine, songs of praise and the word of God preached.
These words and deeds pull down strongholds, worldly arguments and every lofty opinion that attempts to raise itself against the knowledge of God (2 Corinthians 10:4-5).
Conquest comes by declaring that the world already belongs to Jesus and He, like the Ark, is in our midst.
When the history of redemption draws to a close, we will find that the world was conquered and that the church in her meekness has inherited the earth by means of words, bread, wine and song.
God gave Canaan to Abraham, but the sons of Abraham had to go in and take it.
In the same way, God has given the nations to Christ as His inheritance. Today, we eat bread and drink wine for which we did not toil. We are baptised into Christ and into the task of worship.
And when we worship Him in these things we are bringing the Ark of His presence into the street and thereby declaring His Lordship and His claim over all things. Not only over our land and our lives but over their land and their lives.