Topical Sermon on the Early Ministry of Joshua
by Maylan Schurch
©2019 by Maylan Schurch
(To hear the audio for this sermon, click the triangular “play” icon on the line below.)
Please open your Bibles to Exodus 24.
This is another sermon in a series I’ve called “Bible Sidekicks.” In colloquial English, a sidekick is “a close companion or comrade,” a faithful man or woman who helps someone else with a job or a challenge, or who is just present to be with that person.
Why do I think it’s a good idea to study the Bible’s sidekicks? Well, for one thing, they’re part of the Bible story, and we can learn from their lives the way we can learn from the better-known Bible people they were sidekicks to.
For another thing, those major leaders were God’s sidekicks. If you just run down the list of the Bible’s famous names, you realize that they all did what they did as servants of God. They weren’t calling the shots—God was. God said there would be a flood, Noah built a boat. God told Abraham to leave southern Iraq and head out toward a distant promised land, and Abraham packed up and left. The Israelites demanded their first human king, and Samuel knew this wasn’t God’s first plan, but when God said to let it happen, the prophet followed instructions.
So in the Bible, everyone who was on God’s side and who helped work out God’s plans was God’s sidekick, God’s comrade, God’s close companion.
Last week we started looking at the early ministry of Joshua, and as I mentioned, long before he marched the people around Jericho, the Bible has a lot to say about Moses’ trusted associate – too much for one sermon. (In fact, we’ll have a Part 3 to the Joshua story next Sabbath)
And last week I started a list of qualities which Joshua had, qualities which I believe you and I need to develop or strengthen as we serve the Lord. In a way, you and I need to position ourselves to be today’s Joshuas. Why? Because back in Joshua’s time, God was getting ready to lead to His people into the Promised Land. And according to Bible prophecy, God is doing the same thing today. And He needs all the Joshuas He can get.
So last week I listed the first two of Joshua’s “sidekick” qualities. These were sermon points one and two, and here they are.
The first “sidekick” quality Joshua lived by was to become part of God’s woodwork.
What do I mean by that? Someone who is “part of the woodwork” is faithful and dependable, and always shows up to help. And that’s what Joshua was. I mentioned last week that the first time Joshua is mentioned in the Bible, he’s not introduced by telling who he’s the son of, or even the tribe he was part of, though that’s what normally happened when someone was introduced for the first time. Joshua was so familiar, so much a part of the woodwork already.
Every church, including this one, has people you can’t imagine the church without. Think back to the church you attended in your childhood, and you will think of people who just made it their highest priority Sabbath morning to be there, and change things for the better. They weren’t sleepers-in on Sabbath morning, they weren’t “oh, I don’t feel like going to church today” people. Instead, they were “church isn’t just for me, it’s for other people, and we all need to be encouragers” type of people. Like Joshua, we need to be faithfully, steadily, dependably present. We need to show up.
Last week we also looked at Joshua’s second “sidekick” principle.
Joshua’s second “sidekick principle” is to become a rememberer.
One of the most chilling facts you discover when you read the Old Testament is how quickly people forgot what God had done for them. During the time Joshua was Moses’ assistant, every other adult in that traveling nation had seen exactly what Joshua saw. They had seen the plagues the nation of Egypt suffered. Their sandals had pressed the dry ground underneath the Red Sea while the walls of water towered on each side. Daily they saw the pillar of cloud in the daytime, and they watched it change to to an illuminating pillar of fire at night.
They saw what Joshua saw, but when a challenge arose, these people allowed their fears to loom large and eclipse their memories. Joshua did not. Joshua remembered what God had done, and that memory was so vivid that it loomed large and eclipsed any current challenge.
And that’s what you and I need to do as well. As sidekicks, as assistants, to the God of Heaven, we need to remember what He has done for us, and keep those memories fresh.
So now let’s continue Joshua’ s “sidekick story,” and find out what else we need to do to be God’s assistants here on earth.
This third principle I found is an especially important one. If we can make this a part of our lives the way Joshua made it a part of his, this will make us far more dependable sidekicks.
Exodus 24:12 [NKJV]: Then the LORD said to Moses, “Come up to Me on the mountain and be there; and I will give you tablets of stone, and the law and commandments which I have written, that you may teach them.”
Remember, this is Exodus 24. Four chapters ago, back in Exodus 20, God came down on top of Mount Sinai, and somehow sounded a loud, supernatural trumpet blast, which caught people’s attention. And then the very voice of God spoke from the top of that mountain. Can you imagine what it must have been like to listen to the audible voice of the Creator?
But then, God must’ve realized that simply speaking these commandments aloud wouldn’t fix them in the peoples’ mind. Sinful people are tempted to be forgetters rather than rememberers. God knew that He needed to write them down and give them to Moses. So God called Moses up to the mountaintop.
So Moses, God’s faithful sidekick, obeys God’s request. And notice who he takes with him.
Verses 13 – 14: So Moses arose with his assistant Joshua, and Moses went up to the mountain of God. And he said to the elders, “Wait here for us until we come back to you. Indeed, Aaron and Hur are with you. If any man has a difficulty, let him go to them.”
To me, this is very interesting. Moses did not ask Aaron to come with him. Why not? Aaron was his brother. Aaron had been his spokesperson to Pharaoh. But Moses passed over Aaron, and told Joshua to come with him. Part of the reason, of course, might have been that Aaron was needed down in the camp to keep order and to reassure people. And another part of the reason might have been that God had decided that Joshua, a younger man, should be the next leader once Moses was gone. But quite frankly, Joshua was a steadier sidekick than Aaron ever was.
But anyway, Joshua comes along with Moses. And we don’t hear anything more about him throughout this entire mountaintop experience, until the very end, when he accompanies Moses back down the mountain.
Let me give you what I think is the next sermon point here, this excellent quality that Joshua had. And after I give you the sermon point, I’ll give you another example.
So what is this quality Joshua had, and we need?
Learn to be hungry for God’s presence.
Moses asked Joshua to come up on the mountain with him, and Joshua was fine with that. So far, this is a faithful servant, a faithful sidekick, going along with his master’s wishes. But let’s watch as Joshua follows through on this hunger to be near to God.
First we need to set the scene. Moses and Joshua go up on the mountain, but Moses is the one who interacts directly with God. We don’t know what Joshua does. He’s up there somewhere, out of earshot of the conversation, but somewhere up there. Moses spends 40 days and 40 nights up there, and so does Joshua. We don’t know whether Joshua brought food, or what he did. But he seems not to have been bored. What was he doing? The Bible doesn’t say.
Anyway, a lot has been happening up on the mountain. God has hand-written the 10 Commandments on two slabs of stone. And then God gives Moses some basic instructions about the wilderness tent sanctuary he wants Moses to supervise construction over. The reason for that sanctuary is that God wants to be close to His people. He doesn’t want to be far away. He wants to get as close as he possibly can.
But suddenly, there is a tragic setback.
Exodus 32:1 – 4: Now when the people saw that Moses delayed coming down from the mountain, the people gathered together to Aaron, and said to him, “Come, make us gods that shall go before us; for as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” And Aaron said to them, “Break off the golden earrings which are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” So all the people broke off the golden earrings which were in their ears, and brought them to Aaron. And he received the gold from their hand, and he fashioned it with an engraving tool, and made a molded calf. Then they said, “This is your god, O Israel, that brought you out of the land of Egypt!”
So here is Aaron the high priest allowing the people to convince him to break Commandment Number Two so that the people themselves can break Commandment Number One. Aaron, Moses’ other sidekick, turns out not to be a rememberer.
Verses 7 – 8: And the LORD said to Moses, “Go, get down! For your people whom you brought out of the land of Egypt have corrupted themselves. They have turned aside quickly out of the way which I commanded them. They have made themselves a molded calf, and worshiped it and sacrificed to it, and said, ‘This is your god, O Israel, that brought you out of the land of Egypt!’ ”
And then God and Moses have a very tense argument.
Can we allow the Lord to become honestly emotional about those He cares so much for?
Last night Shelley and I attended the Puget Sound Adventist Academy’s Senior Recognition event. Some of the evening’s most touching moments were when, one by one, pictures of each senior were flashed on the screen, starting from babyhood up. While the pictures were being shown, the recorded voices of the parents were heard, expressing their love for their child, and their hopes for his or her future.
And these parents knew, and sometimes they even hinted at it in what they said, that these growing up years weren’t always smooth ones. There were times when earnest discussions happened between parent and child, even times when mom or dad may have frankly despaired at the way things were going. But still their love stayed true, and last night it showed in their voices and in what they said.
I think whenever we read of God’s being riled up, or angry, or deeply emotional, we need to remember that this is an expression of the deepest love possible. God has bought into us. God would eventually become human and die for us.
But here, God gives Moses the bad news about what the people are doing down there at the base of the mountain. And watch Joshua. He follows Moses as the aging leader staggers down the trail carrying those stone slabs with commandments on them.
Suddenly Joshua hears something.
Verses 15 – 17: And Moses turned and went down from the mountain, and the two tablets of the Testimony were in his hand. The tablets were written on both sides; on the one side and on the other they were written. Now the tablets were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God engraved on the tablets. And when Joshua heard the noise of the people as they shouted, he said to Moses, “There is a noise of war in the camp.”
Isn’t that interesting? That shows that Joshua was not in the loop. Here he had patiently waited on the mountain for 40 days and 40 nights, just like Moses, and we are assuming that he heard nothing, experienced nothing. And he is so clueless that when he comes down the mountain with Moses, he thinks he hears a war going on.
Well, Moses quickly fills him in on what’s happening, and the two men arrive at the base of the mountain. They see the pagan party, and Moses raises those stone slabs over his head one by one, and throws them down and shatters them. And then he eventually goes back up and talks this great sin over with God, and begs God to continue to accompany them in their travel through the desert.
But let’s keep our eye on Joshua now. Watch what happens in the next chapter. Now here is something else I did not remember happening. Remember, God has been sharing sanctuary plans, tabernacle designs, with Moses up there on the mountain. But of course nobody but Moses has those plans yet, so watch what happened.
Exodus 33:7 – 10: Moses took his tent and pitched it outside the camp, far from the camp, and called it the tabernacle of meeting. And it came to pass that everyone who sought the LORD went out to the tabernacle of meeting which was outside the camp. So it was, whenever Moses went out to the tabernacle, that all the people rose, and each man stood at his tent door and watched Moses until he had gone into the tabernacle. And it came to pass, when Moses entered the tabernacle, that the pillar of cloud descended and stood at the door of the tabernacle, and the LORD talked with Moses. All the people saw the pillar of cloud standing at the tabernacle door, and all the people rose and worshiped, each man in his tent door.
So, during this time of soul-searching and repentance for the nation, Moses actually used his own tent as a temporary tabernacle. He would go there, talk with God, and then come back to the people. But notice what Joshua is doing.
Verse 11: So the LORD spoke to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend. And he would return to the camp, but his servant Joshua the son of Nun, a young man, did not depart from the tabernacle.
Do you see what was happening here? No only had Joshua become part of God’s woodwork – so faithful, so present, so dependable – and not only was Joshua a rememberer of the powerful deeds God had done, but Joshua had learned to be hungry for God’s presence. Each time Moses came out from his conversation with God, and headed back to the camp, Joshua could’ve simply fallen into step beside him. But Joshua hungered to be in God’s presence.
And notice that it also says that Joshua was a “young man.” Moses was old, at least 80. But Joshua was young. At a very early age, Joshua fully and completely devoted himself to God. Joshua was faithful, Joshua was a rememberer, and Joshua wanted to be in God’s presence.
Okay, how can we put that into practice here in the frantic 21st century culture we live in? Well, we can follow Joshua’s first two steps. We can be present and helpful in this house of worship, and wherever else God asks us to serve Him. We can also refresh our memories of God’s goodness. We can remember these Bible stories that I myself get something new out of each time I go through them. We can listen to the encouraging experiences of other people which they tell in Sabbath School classes and in the Celebrations and Concerns time. And we can add those experiences to our memory banks.
We need to keep those memories fresh in our minds, because they prove to us that God really cares.
Last night as Shelley and I arrived at the Senior Recognition event, we were given a program, a long white card four inches wide and 12 inches long. On one side of the card was the program for the night, and on the other side was the list of the class members. Some of these seniors had been elected to this or that office, such as class president, vice president, and so on. But then I saw the student who’d been elected class treasurer. Only the person who’d typed the program had left off the final “r.” So what I read was the student’s name, then “Treasure.”
I know that that student was a true treasure to her parents, and to the teacher, and to her fellow students. But treasuring her far above anyone else what her Heavenly Father. And if He’d been the typist, He would have written “Treasure” after each name.
God longs for our close presence to Him, without the barrier of sin between. And we just frankly need to follow through on Joshua’s third step. We need to learn to hunger for the presence of God. And the best way – maybe the only way – to develop this hunger is to read large passages of the Bible. Even though the Sabbath school lessons are wonderful, they are only quick outlines of some really deep biblical ideas.
Because we develop this hunger for God’s presence through reading incidents like the one I just talked about, where Moses uses his own personal tent as a tabernacle, and goes into that tent to talk with God, and then goes out to tell the people what he has heard. And Joshua stays right there in that tent. Again, God is not speaking to him the way He spoke to Moses. But Joshua wants to be in God’s presence. Even though this is a time of spiritual crisis, when God’s parental emotions are aroused, Joshua is not afraid of Him.
You might want to try an experiment I’ve tried. Start with the tiny books of the Bible, like the minor prophets of the Old Testament and Paul’s smaller books in the New Testament, and the little books of first second and third John. Read them through, one by one, at one sitting, and if you have time, get a different version of the Bible and read these same little books again.
For one thing, you’ll be getting away from the idea that the Bible can be sufficiently learned by the cut-and-paste system, a verse here, a phrase there, and half a verse somewhere else. If you’re putting together a picture puzzle, you can’t see the whole beautiful picture by studying only five or six pieces. I think it’s only when you read large parts of the Bible that you can begin to feel God’s metaphorical heartbeat.
Most of you know how Shelley and I became acquainted. An A magazine editor friend of ours decided that we should write to each other, Shelley from Alaska and I from Nebraska. Shelley’s letters were long, and full of lots of news. But when I received each of those letters, here’s what I didn’t do. I didn’t flick through them and say, “Oh! Here’s a nice sentence on page 4! I’m just going to read that today. Or, here’s a shortish paragraph over on page 6. I’ll read that one before I head out the door.”
No – you know what I did. I read each letter from start to finish. And that’s the way I got acquainted with her personality and character, and found that I wanted to meet her.
If you want a challenge, try reading the Bible’s longest chapter from beginning to end. It’s Psalm 119, and as you read, you’ll find that pretty much every verse is about the importance and benefits of reading the Bible.
And as you read the Bible the way it was written, giving yourself patience to adjust to its various writing styles, you will truly discover what David said about God – that He is our shepherd.
Our closing song is one of my favorites, the 23rd Psalm set to rhyme. Let’s stand and sing it together.