"God's Provision for a Successful Life"
(Delivered Sunday, February 15, 2004 at Bethany Bible Church. Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotes are taken from the New King James Version.)
(Note: Our church family is glad to support The Gideons, and their ministry of distributing copies of the Bible. Last Sunday, a representative from The Gideons spoke to our congregation; and this was the message that followed his presentation.)
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I'm always glad whenever we have the opportunity to welcome a representative from The Gideons to our service. It not only gives us an opportunity to spotlight this wonderful and useful ministry to the kingdom of Christ; but it also gives us an opportunity to turn our attention to the simple, life-changing power of the Bible.
To help us appreciate the value of the Bible in our lives, and to encourage all of us in the church family to read from it and study it daily, I'd like to turn your attention to the first chapter of Joshua. There, we find one of the greatest encouragements in the Bible itself about making the Bible a crucial part of our everyday lives.
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The circumstance behind these words of encouragement was an important moment of transition for the people of Israel. For forty years, Moses had led the children of Israel in the desert regions on their way to the land that God had promised them. And at this point, they were about to enter in and possess God's gift to them.
They had already come to the border of the land once before; and they could have then taken the land God was giving them. But when God called them to go in, they refused to obey Him (Numbers 14:1-4). Their disobedience to God was very costly because, as a result, the multitudes were made to wander in the desert until that whole disobedient and rebellious generation had died off. But now, that generation being gone, and Moses himself having died, the people now stand once again at the border of the land.
It was at this time that God spoke a word of commissioning to Moses' faithful aid and assistant, Joshua. God had already commanded Moses to commission Joshua as the one to lead the people into the land (Numbers 27:18-23). And now, with perhaps over two million Israelites stationed at the bank of the Jordan River - and all on the brink of the great adventure of taking possession of God's promised inheritance to them, God Himself speaks to their leader Joshua.
These words are found at the very beginning of the Book of Joshua; in the first 9 verses. Words of commissioning are always important; but these are particularly important, because they are words from God Himself. And as I read them to you, please pay special attention to the thing that God emphasizes in them.
After the death of Moses the servant of the LORD, it came to pas that the LORD spoke to Joshua the son of Nun, Moses' assistant, saying: "Moses My servant is dead. Now therefore, arise, go over this Jordan, you and all this people, to the land which I am giving to them - the children of Israel. Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given you, as I said to Moses. From the wilderness and this Lebanon as far as the great river, the River Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites, and to the Great Sea toward the going down of the sun, shall be your territory. No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life; as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you nor forsake you. Be strong and of good courage, for to this people you shall divide as an inheritance the land which I swore to their fathers to give them. Only be strong and very courageous, that you may observe to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may prosper wherever you go. This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous and then you will have good success. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go" (Joshua 1:1-9).
Joshua was a great man and a powerful leader. And he had just spent forty years under the personal tutelage of, arguably, the greatest leader in all biblical history - Moses. And it was a daunting task he was about to engage in - that of dividing up the land as an inheritance to the people of Israel. Clearly, Joshua felt the weight of it all; because God had to tell him such things as, "Be strong and of good courage" (v. 6); or "Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed . . ." (v. 8). And you might naturally think that Joshua needed to be encouraged to remember and imitate all that he learned from his great predecessor Moses. But that was not what God emphasized to Joshua at this important moment of commissioning.
Did you pick up on the thing God DID emphasized to Joshua? There wasn't much elaboration made in the way of instructions. It was really a very simple message that God gave him. It was that he should follow carefully what was written in 'the book'. He said, "Only be strong and very courageous, that you may observe to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left . . ." (v. 7); or "This book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it . . ." (v. 8). And if Joshua faithfully did as he was told - if he stayed true to 'the book' - he would have no reason to fear. God Himself promises, "For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success" (v. 8). If that condition is followed, he could enter into this great task with confidence; because God Himself assures him, " . . . for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go."
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The great reformer John Calvin spoke of the significance of these words. He wrote, ". . . As many exert their strength to no purpose in making erroneous or desultory [that is, random and disconnected] attempts, it is added as a true source of fortitude that Joshua shall make it his constant study to observe the Law. By this we are taught that the only way in which we can become truly invincible is by striving to yield a faithful obedience to God."1 I like that quote. When we try to guide ourselves through the journey of life on the basis of our own wisdom and strength, we make many dangerous mistakes and cause much harm to ourselves. But by this, we become "truly invincible": when we "yield a faithful obedience to God". And that means a faithful obedience to what it says in His book! This, as Calvin said, is our "true source of fortitude". We are at the safest, and surest, and strongest place we can be, when we are in God's clear will as revealed in His book.
And let me suggest, from Joshua's own story, why this is so important and practical for you and I today, dear brothers and sisters in Christ. Without (I hope) unduly 'spiritualizing' the point of this text, there is a sense in which we stand daily at the brink of our own 'promised land' yet to be possessed. The Bible tells those of us who are in Christ that "we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them" (Ephesians 2:10). Every day is a day filled with great adventures in Christ; because our God has great plans for us. "I know the thoughts that I think toward you," God says; "thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope" (Jeremiah 29:11). What's more, God sets before us "an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time" (1 Peter 1:4-5). We have, as it were, a great "promised land" of blessings laying before us every day, waiting for us to rise up and take possession!
Not only that, but there are also still many areas of that needs to be conquered in our lives. I've told you before about a pastor I heard about. He was dying of cancer; and as he lay in bed talking to a friend, he shared that he was not ready to die. "But pastor, I know you well," his friend said; "I know that you trust Jesus as your Savior. You don't have to be afraid of death." "Oh; I don't fear death," the pastor said. "But I'm still not ready to die. You see; I still have so many 'Canaans' yet to be conquered in my life." What he meant by that was that there were still many areas of sin in his life over which he had not yet gained the victory - areas that were not yet brought under the submission of the Lord. Each one of us have a multitude of "Canaans" in our lives that still need to be "conquered" and brought under Christ's rule.
When you consider what still needs to be gained in us, and the areas of life that still need to be conquered, you realize that it's a dreadfully daunting task that lays ahead of us every single day. I believe that Joshua felt the same way, as God told him to rise up and possess the land. "Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given to you, as I said to Moses. From the wilderness and this Lebanon (that's the northern border) as far as the great river, the River Euphrates (that's the eastern border), all the land of the Hittites (which also defined the northern border), and to the Great Sea toward the going down of the sun (that's out to the western shore of the Mediterranean Sea, which also helped define the southern region). It was a vast land God was giving them - a land they needed to rise up and possess; a land filled with mighty enemies to be conquered. And so it is with us.
But then, God gives us the good news that He has made a great provision for us: His own word - His verbal propositions of truth and instruction; written down and preserved for us in a book that we can read, re-read, study, memorize, and obey. By following what is written in this book - by not turning aside from it to the right or the left - by speaking it, meditating on it, and obeying it - we will 'make our way prosperous' and will 'have good success'.
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Let's consider first, then . . .
1. THE PROVISION GOD HAS MADE (v. 7).
Joshua is told, "Only be strong and very courageous . . ." And the next phrase, in the Hebrew, is in the infinitive construction; which the English Standard Version translates, "being careful to do according to all the law that Moses My servant commanded you." It sets forth the condition under which Joshua could be "strong and courageous".
To "be strong" speaks of an inner attitude; and to "be courageous" speaks of an outward behavior. Joshua was being told to be "very" or "exceedingly" strong and courageous; but he wasn't being told to "be strong and very courageous" on the basis of his own strength and resources. He couldn't. On his own, he was "afraid" and "dismayed". On his own, he had good reason to be afraid and dismayed. But he would be "strong and courageous" - very much so, in fact - so long as he was careful and observant "to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you." If he fulfilled that condition, he could then be "strong and very courageous".
Have you ever read what it says in Proverbs 28:1? "The wicked flee when no one pursues, but the righteous are bold as a lion." There is great boldness, courage and strength that comes from knowing that you are right in the middle of God's revealed will and are doing as He clearly commanded. I have learned this from personal experience; and perhaps you have too. When you are acting in disobedience to God's clear will, or are hesitating to do as you know He says to do, you find that you soon become very "afraid and dismayed". But when you have a sense of what God wants done, and when you faithfully step forward to obey Him - even when you're afraid - you find that God emboldens you in His will, and pours courage and strength upon you. You find that you become "strong and very courageous" when you are "being careful to do" as God commands.
And it's from God's word that we learn God's will. In Joshua's case, it was the "Law" that God had given to Moses to pass on to God's people. The Bible tells us that God led Moses to write it down - and for a very good reason!
It was all put in a book - a book that could be copied, and studied, and read, and passed on. It was not left up to Joshua to simply "remember"; and then to the hope that it would, somehow, be passed on to future generations by "word-of-mouth" in an accurate way. Rather, Joshua was to search out and constantly study the "sharp and definite commands in the written book."2
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Now, a question might come up at this point. This 'book' we're talking about was composed of the first five books of the Bible, written by Moses, and passed on to a specific people at a specific time. Are we right to then pick up our whole Bible and say, "The authority of God applied to that 'book of the law' - and the promised blessing that came from following it - is one that we should now, in our situation today, claim for the whole Bible'?" And to that question, can answer an emphatic "Yes!" We can be confident that the whole Bible is God's provision for our guidance and instruction; and we can say this for two good reasons.
First, the Bible itself tells us that God protected and preserved those Old Testament stories not just for the benefit of those people then, but for our own today. The apostle Paul spoke of the stories written in the books of Moses, describing the things that happened to the people of Israel, and said, "Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come" (1 Corinthians 10:11).
God had them written down with us in mind! And so when we read the "book" that Joshua read, and obey it in the way that Joshua was to obey it, we can expect the same blessed he was encouraged to expect.
But second, the Bible preserves for us some additional authoritative writings from God - writings that were just as authoritative as those given through Moses. They possess as much authority from God as did those writings that were passed on to Joshua.
At the very beginning of the book bearing his name, Joshua records that he received those books from Moses as "authoritative" - as that which was written down as commands from God through someone that God called "My servant" (Josh. 1:7). But then, at the very end of the book, after the people had entered into the land, we're told that Joshua was led to make a covenant with the people of Israel; and it says, "Then Joshua wrote these words in the Book of the Law of God" (Josh. 24:26). What Joshua wrote down as words from God were as authoritative as what God spoke through Moses. This was something that Francis Schaeffer called, "a continuity of authority". There was no loss of authority when Moses died; but God continued to give His authoritative word through Joshua. It was a written word of authority that "was growing and would continue to grow." 3
And grow it did! Jesus endorsed the authority of the whole Old Testament Scriptures - the whole "law and the prophets". He told the Jewish leaders of His day, "You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me" (John 5:39). Paul told us that "the Holy Scriptures" are that "which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus" (2 Tim. 3:15); and, "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work" (vv. 16-17).
Paul even claimed the same divine authority for his own writings. He said, "If anyone thinks himself to be a prophet or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things which I write to you are the commandments of the Lord" (1 Corinthians 14:37). He wrote, "Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle" (2 Thessalonians 2:15). Even Peter included Paul's writings in what he called "Scripture" (2 Peter 3:16). And indeed, Jesus promised that all His disciples would be guided by the Holy Spirit; saying that, "when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will tell you things to come" (John 16:13).
Our faith today is built upon a body of authoritative writings that were given to us by God. The household of faith in Christ has been built, as Paul said, "on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone" (Eph. 2:20). The Scriptures of both the Old and the New Testaments are fully authoritative as being from God. The whole Bible is God's "Book" - protected and preserved by Him for our edification and guidance. It is His "provision" for us; and we are to observe to do according to all that it says - not turning from it "to the right hand or to the left".
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And this leads to the next point; . . .
2. THE USE TO BE MADE OF GOD'S PROVISION (v. 8a).
In verse eight, I see three things that we are to do with this "provision" God has made. First, Joshua is told, "This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth." To have the book continually "in your mouth" is a picture of a deep interaction with it; one in which we become so identified with God's word that it characterizes the very things we say. It is to be woven into the fabric of our everyday conversation.
I've learned from personal experience that there's great power in simply "quoting" Scripture. If I'm reading the Bible and my mind easily wanders, I've found that my attention is retained much better if I read it aloud. There's something about being so engaged in God's word that we speak it. It seems that our mouth pulls the whole rest of our being in tow along with it. I also think that the same kind of impact comes upon us when we memorize Scripture and recite it often. What passes through our mouth seems to be much more easily hidden in our hearts; and what a blessing it is when that thing in our mouth is the word of God Himself! God said of Levi of old, from whom the priestly tribe of Israel came, "The law of truth was in his mouth" (Malachi 2:6); and how true this should also be of us, who are "a royal priesthood" in Christ (1 Peter 2:9)!
And notice that this is to be a continual practice. God commands that the Law is not to "depart" from our mouths. We are to make it our habit of life to speak God's word and integrate what God has said into our own everyday speech.
But it's not enough to merely "quote" God's word. God isn't interested in having a kingdom of parrots. He wants the truth of His word to sink deeply into our being in a thought-transforming way. It must not only be in our mouths, but also in our minds so that our minds are "renewed" (Romans 12:2). And so, God also told Joshua that the Book of the Law not only mustn't depart from his mouth, "but you shall meditate in it day and night".
The word translated "meditate" means to so think about a thing and muse upon it that you literally "mutter" it. Have you ever been in the grocery store and seen someone walking around rubbing their chin, trying to remember what they were supposed to pick up (usually a man); and have you seen them talking to themselves - "muttering" to themselves - as they try to recall what was on the list? Do you ever do that yourself? We look silly when we do that; but that's the idea behind the word "meditate". It means that we are thinking so deeply on something, and interacting with it in such an intensely cognitive way, that we lose an awareness of ourselves and are prone to "mutter" to ourselves about it. If you're going to talk to yourself, after all, wouldn't it be good if it were the word of God that you speak?
God is here calling us to so interact with His Scriptures that we're always thinking about it, always calling it up in our minds and looking at all the angles of it - even to the point of talking to ourselves as we reflect upon it. We are, in this way, to really "chew" upon the word of God and let it sink into our hearts in a deep way. Obviously, this means much more than a superficial reading of God's word. It means thinking about what we read, seeking to understand it, doing the hard work of studying it, paying close attention to it, turning it over in our minds, committing it to memory, and applying the implications of it to the different situations and circumstances we encounter in life. It's a matter of carrying the word of God with us into our daily business, and letting it become a part of the pattern of our everyday thinking. It's a matter of doing what Moses said in Deuteronomy 6:6-9;
And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you lie down, and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates (Deuteronomy 6:6-9).
And also notice how often we are to "meditate" in this way on God's word; "day and night". We aren't to let it sink in only once in a great while. We aren't even to only let it sink in once a day. We are to let it sink in day and night - often throughout the course of our day. It's to be our first thought of the day and the last thought of the night. There needs to be that special time we set aside in our day to give our full attention to God's word; but there also needs to be a pattern of bearing that word with us as we go about our business and thinking about it throughout the course of our day. As the Psalmist wrote;
Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night. He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth its fruit in its season, whose leaf also shall not wither; and whatever he does shall prosper (Psalm 1:1-3).
But even then, it's not enough to merely "speak" the word, and "meditate" on the word. We must also "do" the word. God tells Joshua that he must not allow the word to depart from his mouth, but meditate on it day and night, "that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it." God gave His word to bring about a change in the way we live. We must translate what God has said into our daily practice and obey its commands. We're not to merely do the things we prefer to do from what God has said in His book; but are to be very careful to "observe to do according to all that is written in it".
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Can you see that God's word is intended to impact our whole person - our mouths, our minds, and our manner? Can you see that the use we're to make of this great provision from God is to (1) speak it continually, (2) think it regularly, and (3) do it diligently? That is plainly the way God wants us to make use of this great provision He has given to us.
And please notice why God calls us to do this. As we read on, we find . . .
3. THE RESULT OF USING GOD'S PROVISION (v. 8b)."For then," God told Joshua (and I think we're right to understand that to mean "only then") "you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success."
When we hear the words "prosperity" and "success" today, we tend to think of something "material". We think of those people who take out hour-long slots on television late at night to tell you about their 'dynamic training program that gives you the tools to release your inner powers for success and wealth'. In that view, "prosperity" and "success" are man-centered concepts. Those words mean what we desire them to mean - having as much as we want to have, doing the things we want to do, and being what we want to be. Some folks will do anything to achieve that kind of "prosperity" and "success"; and many who have achieved such things find that they still aren't satisfied or fulfilled. Many people that the world looks upon as "prosperous" and "successful" are truly empty and disillusioned.
May I suggest a better idea of what "prosperity" and "success" mean - a concept of these things that is not "man-centered" but "God-centered"? God was exhorting Joshua to lead His people to enter into and possess a rich and wonderful land that He was giving them as their inheritance. And He was promising that, if they did as He said, He would go with them and cause them to achieve what He was sending them to do. And so, based on the context of this passage, I suggest to you that true "prosperity" means entering into the full enjoyment of the blessings God wants to give you and desires for you to enjoy. The Hebrew word for "prosperity" carries the idea of "prudence" in its meaning; and what greater and more prudent 'prosperity' can there be than to enjoy the things given to you by One who knows you thoroughly, loves you infinitely, and longs to shower His rich treasures on you eternally?
And likewise, true "success" would thus mean fully becoming the person God wants you to be, in the place God wants to be at, and doing the thing God wants you to be doing. What greater "success" can we achieve than to fulfill the purpose of the One who made us for Himself, and to hear Him say, "Well done!" when we've accomplished His will? That will be the truest measure of success!
God has given us a great provision; His own word - the Bible - the book of His Scriptures, written and recorded for us. He calls us to speak the words of His book continually, think them regularly, and do them faithfully. And if we make use of His provision in this way, He makes the promise that our way will be prosperous, and that we will have good success.
And be sure to note that God, in those closing words, says to Joshua that, if he made use of God's word in the ways He described, "you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success." God certainly is the one who makes the way prosperous; but God also puts the responsibility on Joshua - and on us. Joshua was the one responsible for making his way prosperous by responding to God's word in the way that He has said. Likewise, God will give us true prosperity and success; but it definitely depends upon our making full use of the provision He has given. We must be people of God's book! We must read it daily and study it diligently! We must live a life characterized by speaking God's word, thinking God's word and obeying God's word.
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I have expressed a personal testimony to many of you. I have walked with the Lord for over thirty years now; and I am convinced that the one, single thing I can point to that has most kept me on the right track - the one thing that has kept me growing in my relationship with the Lord, the single practice that has most blessed my life - is my habit of daily reading from God's word.
I have come to learn that many of you are not reading from God's word daily; and I'm here to tell you will not experience God's blessing in your life until you cease neglecting God's word, and begin to make the faithful reading and study of His word your daily practice. God has many blessings He wishes to shower upon you, and has many "Canaans" in your life that He wishes to help you conquer; and His word is the provision by which this is done.
Will you heed the exhortation Joshua received from God, and receive it as your own today? If you do, then "you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success."
1John Calvin, Henry Beveridge, trans. Calvin's Commentaries (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1998), vol. 4, p. 31.
2Francis A. Schaeffer, Joshua and The Flow of Biblical History (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1975), p. 33.
3Ibid., p. 36.
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