by Maylan Schurch
©2019 by Maylan Schurch
(To hear the audio for this sermon, click the white triangular “play” icon on the line below.)
Please open your Bibles to Exodus chapter 17
It’s good to be back here, after the last week of crazy weather. Early in the week I snapped some photos of our two cars covered in snow, plus the trees in our yard which had branches that were bent double with the snow, and I emailed those to my sister who lives in our hometown of Redfield, South Dakota. She emailed back, “That looks like us, here!” The Midwest in the Great Plains are still recovering from their own terrible snowstorms.
This morning is the second sermon in a series which I’ve called “Bible Sidekicks.” A sidekick, according to the dictionary, is a “close companion or comrade.” Three weeks ago we looked at the life of Moses’ brother Aaron, who served as a close companion and comrade and sidekick. And today will be looking at Moses’ even more important and certainly more faithful sidekick, Joshua. (And by the way, this is going to be a two-part series at least, because I found a lot of incredibly interesting Bible material about Joshua.)
But why focus on the Bible sidekicks? Why do we need to know about them? Well, when you think about it, everyone in the Bible – even Jesus – was a sidekick. As Jesus walked around preaching and teaching and healing, He firmly stated that He only did and said what His Father told him to. And the people knew and believed that, too. The Bible says that when He healed people, they glorified not Him, but God.
Jesus came to not only allow Himself to be sacrificed for our sins, but to provide a picture of God which we could understand. In John 14:9 He told one of His disciples, Philip, “He who has seen me has seen the Father.” And again and again He told His disciples that they must be servants, not masters.
So that means that every Bible person who followed God, no matter how famous he or she became, was a sidekick for God, someone who listened to God’s ideas and tried to communicate them to other people, someone who helped carry out the plans of his or her heavenly Companion.
And what we find as we look at the life of Joshua is that once in a while, God eventually chooses to give His sidekicks really important responsibilities. I think that as we look at what the Bible says about Joshua, and see how carefully he filled his role of assistant, or servant, we can learn how to prepare ourselves for whatever responsibility God gives us.
And every one of you in this room is God’s sidekick, God’s representative, in the arenas you move through during the week. If you are a faithful representative of God, you will reflect who He is in your classroom, your workplace, your apartment complex, your neighborhood, even to the checkers in your grocery store’s checkout line.
And to me, Moses’ sidekick Joshua was an awe-inspiring person. I am always amazed by what happens when I really dig into the Bible stories which I think I’m familiar with. I knew that Joshua led the people into the Promise Land, and marched the people around Jericho, and commanded the sun to stand still so that an important battle could be prolonged.
But I never really focused in on Joshua as a sidekick, an assistant, a comrade, to Moses. And what I found really challenged me. Let me show you what I mean. What can we learn from the man who literally had the same Hebrew name as Jesus? How can we put his tremendously effective “sidekick principles” to work for us – and for God?
Exodus 17 is the very first time Joshua appears in the Bible. And notice something really interesting.
Exodus 17:8 [NKJV]: Now Amalek came and fought with Israel in Rephidim.
A few weeks ago when I talked about Moses’ brother Aaron, who was also his sidekick, I mentioned that the Amalekites became deadly and persistent enemies of the Israelites. And here, when they show up on the horizon, it’s not for conversation—it’s for war. Amalek is bent on exterminating the Israelites from off the face of the earth.
Notice what happens.
Verse 9: And Moses said to Joshua, “Choose us some men and go out, fight with Amalek.
A couple of amazing things struck me as I read this verse. First of all, even though this is his first appearance in the Bible, Joshua is not formally introduced. Normally, the first time a Bible character is introduced in these books, it’s as So-and-so the son of So-and-so the son of So-and-so. For example, as Exodus 31 begins, God introduces a talented man named Bezalel, who will supervise the fine arts and craftsmanship of the tabernacle. And he’s introduced this way: “Bezalel the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah.”
But here when we first see him, Joshua gets no such introduction. Joshua is just there, ready to go to work, ready to follow Moses’ commands. And before we go on, let me suggest to you Sermon Point One, if you’re taking notes.
What is Joshua’s first “sidekick principle”?
Become part of God’s woodwork.
So what does this mean? And why is it so important?
First, I need to mention that the word “woodwork,” when it’s used in a figurative way like we’re using it here, can have either a negative meaning or a positive meeting. If you hear of something that’s “coming out of the woodwork,” it means that it’s been hidden, maybe in not very pleasant places, and it’s crawling out to reveal itself.
But that is NOT the meaning I’m talking about here. I’m talking about the phrase “being part of the woodwork.” Part of God’s woodwork. In this meaning, which was really familiar to me when I was growing up, someone who is “part of the woodwork” is always present. Just like the woodwork in your home is always there, this person is very present. When I was a kid in our little Redfield, South Dakota, Seventh-day Adventist church, some people were so faithful in attending and getting involved that you could say they were part of the woodwork. Church wouldn’t be the same without them.
Two of these people were Russell and Cleo Anderson. They were very faithful. They lived on a farm probably 20 miles west of town, but unless they were traveling, or very sick, they drove in every Sabbath morning, and got there before most of the other people did.
Catherine and Gottlieb Beck were part of the woodwork. Not only did they attend faithfully, but they hosted a potluck in their home once a month after church was over, and Catherine prepared most of the food.
George and Alice Pierson were part of the woodwork. They were always present. They were always helpful. You knew that when you came to church, they would be there.
And if you think through the people you know at our own church here, you know which ones are part of the woodwork. They’re committed. They know that things need to get done, and they are there to do them. And if they’re not able to help, they pray. They know that Pathfinders or Vacation Bible school programs or Sabbath school divisions need staff, so they get involved. They know that potlucks need food, so they bring enough food for their own family plus more.
And that’s the kind of person Joshua was. As Moses was writing out the book of Exodus, he must have subconsciously known that – at least to his way of thinking – Joshua didn’t need to be introduced. Everybody knew who Joshua was. Joshua was part of the woodwork.
We know that God appreciates people who are part of the woodwork in this way. He can use people powerfully if they consistently show up. In First Corinthians 4:2, Paul says, “It is required in stewards that one be found faithful.” God told Elijah that there were 7,000 Israelites who had not bowed their knees to the god Baal. In the Garden of Gethsemane, just hours before His capture, Jesus begged His disciples to stay awake and pray with Him, to faithfully and dependably be there for Him.
So Joshua’s first sidekick principle is to become part of God’s woodwork. How do I do this? I make a commitment to be present physically, and be present spiritually. Our clothing bank staff are part of the woodwork in those two upstairs rooms across from the Fellowship Hall. They know that Wednesday mornings from 9:30 to noon, impoverished families in crisis will be coming in through that north door, seeking clothing and whatever other help the volunteer staff are prepared to provide. And only travel or serious illness will keep that staff away.
Here comes a little commercial for our upcoming nominating committee process. If possible, please remain in the position you have, if you’re happy with it. And if you’re not in a position, we’ll be giving out the nominating committee survey in a few weeks, and I will also send it to you by email. Resolve to be “part of the woodwork” in ways God knows are best for you.
Now let me show you the second amazing thing that was intriguing to me in this same verse we just read. Let’s look at it again.
Verses 8 – 9: Now Amalek came and fought with Israel in Rephidim. And Moses said to Joshua, “Choose us some men and go out, fight with Amalek.
Sometimes we get so caught up in a Bible story that we don’t stop and realize how stunning it is. There is no record of Joshua ever having military training. Remember, just a few months ago he was a slave in Egypt, and slaves don’t get military training. Moses, as a prince in Egypt, probably had military training, and probably also learned hand-to-hand combat, but look how far that got him. After he killed an Egyptian and people found out about it, he had to escape, and he ended up being a shepherd for 40 years.
So what is Joshua? Is he some kind of SEAL team strike-force guy who, if suddenly someone asked him to, could grab a sword and lead an untrained group of former slaves out to fight a determined enemy?
No, that’s what is so amazing. Joshua is not that kind of person. Instead, he is a far more effective person than that. Joshua is a rememberer.
In fact, let’s make that Sermon Point Two.
What is Joshua’s second “sidekick principle”?
His first principle is to become part of God’s woodwork. (In other words, be faithfully, steadily, dependably present. Show up.)
Joshua’s second principle is to become a rememberer.
As I mentioned, Joshua probably had no military training. But with God, that’s not what Joshua needed. He needed to be a rememberer. And he was.
How do we know Joshua was a remember? Because we’re going to listen as Moses jogs his memory. Now, neither Moses nor Joshua would have even considered fighting the Amalekites if they were not rememberers. But notice what Moses says to Joshua.
Verse 9: And Moses said to Joshua, “Choose us some men and go out, fight with Amalek. Tomorrow I will stand on the top of the hill with the rod of God in my hand.”
And as soon as Joshua heard that, his memory must have kicked in. Vividly in his mind he sees another time when Moses stood with that famous wood-to-snake-to-wood
walking stick in his hand.
Put a marker here in Exodus 17, and turn back to chapter 14. Let’s make this story as vivid in our mind as it was in Joshua’s.
The Israelites have just marched out of Egypt to freedom. But with their toes at the edge of the Red Sea water, they get word that Pharoah’s armies are pursuing them.
Exodus 14:9 – 29: So the Egyptians pursued them, all the horses and chariots of Pharaoh, his horsemen and his army, and overtook them camping by the sea beside Pi Hahiroth, before Baal Zephon. And when Pharaoh drew near, the children of Israel lifted their eyes, and behold, the Egyptians marched after them. So they were very afraid, and the children of Israel cried out to the LORD. Then they said to Moses, “Because there were no graves in Egypt, have you taken us away to die in the wilderness? Why have you so dealt with us, to bring us up out of Egypt? Is this not the word that we told you in Egypt, saying, ‘Let us alone that we may serve the Egyptians’? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than that we should die in the wilderness.”
And Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid. Stand still, and see the salvation of the LORD, which He will accomplish for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall see again no more forever. The LORD will fight for you, and you shall hold your peace.” And the LORD said to Moses, “Why do you cry to Me? Tell the children of Israel to go forward. But lift up your rod, and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it. And the children of Israel shall go on dry ground through the midst of the sea. And I indeed will harden the hearts of the Egyptians, and they shall follow them. So I will gain honor over Pharaoh and over all his army, his chariots, and his horsemen. Then the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD, when I have gained honor for Myself over Pharaoh, his chariots, and his horsemen.”
And the Angel of God, who went before the camp of Israel, moved and went behind them; and the pillar of cloud went from before them and stood behind them. So it came between the camp of the Egyptians and the camp of Israel. Thus it was a cloud and darkness to the one, and it gave light by night to the other, so that the one did not come near the other all that night. Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and the LORD caused the sea to go back by a strong east wind all that night, and made the sea into dry land, and the waters were divided. So the children of Israel went into the midst of the sea on the dry ground, and the waters were a wall to them on their right hand and on their left. And the Egyptians pursued and went after them into the midst of the sea, all Pharaoh’s horses, his chariots, and his horsemen.
Now it came to pass, in the morning watch, that the LORD looked down upon the army of the Egyptians through the pillar of fire and cloud, and He troubled the army of the Egyptians. And He took off their chariot wheels, so that they drove them with difficulty; and the Egyptians said, “Let us flee from the face of Israel, for the LORD fights for them against the Egyptians.” Then the LORD said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand over the sea, that the waters may come back upon the Egyptians, on their chariots, and on their horsemen.” And Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and when the morning appeared, the sea returned to its full depth, while the Egyptians were fleeing into it.
So the LORD overthrew the Egyptians in the midst of the sea. Then the waters returned and covered the chariots, the horsemen, and all the army of Pharaoh that came into the sea after them. Not so much as one of them remained. But the children of Israel had walked on dry land in the midst of the sea, and the waters were a wall to them on their right hand and on their left.
Now let’s go back to Exodus 17. Notice how, in verse 9, as Moses was jogging Joshua’s memory, he said that he would stand on a hill with “the rod of God” in his hand? Joshua must have clearly remembered seeing that stick held high and commandingly above that deep water.
So any self-doubt Joshua might have had just evaporated. It’s simple logic. He has already seen that when Moses stands on a high place with the “rod of God”–and the approval of God–a powerful victory happens. That Amalekite army was now more a threat than the Egyptian army, and Joshua and his recruited soldiers would simply become another version of the Red Sea. And the Lord would provide the victory.
What kind of intimidating Amalekite army are you facing this week? Can you resolve to be a remember? Of course, to become a remember you need to have something to remember.
The most important place to start is the stories in the Bible, like this one. And you can also add to your memory bank the stories you hear from the members of your Sabbath School class, or the people who speak during our Celebrations and Concerns time, stories of how God intervened. If we want to keep our courage for what’s ahead, we dare not forget.
And you remember best what you read or think about over and over. During my life I have had a few events which simply had to be miraculous – there’s no other way that they could have happened. I keep those times fresh in my memory. And every time I read stories like those featuring Moses and Joshua, I remember again, as we read a few minutes ago back in Exodus 14:13 – 14: “And Moses said to the people, ‘Do not be afraid. Stand still, and see the salvation of the LORD, . . . The LORD will fight for you, and you shall hold your peace.’”
What about you this morning? Do you want to be so much a part of the woodwork in God’s plan that He can have the confidence to use you for truly important challenges?
Do you want to develop the habit of remembering—remembering the way God has led you through crisis after crisis in the past, remembering so clearly that you need have no fear of the future?