Deuteronomy 31:1-8 Then Moses went out and spoke these words to all Israel: 2 “I am now a hundred and twenty years old and I am no longer able to lead you. The Lord has said to me, ‘You shall not cross the Jordan.’ 3 The Lord your God himself will cross over ahead of you. He will destroy these nations before you, and you will take possession of their land. Joshua also will cross over ahead of you, as the Lord said. 4 And the Lord will do to them what he did to Sihon and Og, the kings of the Amorites, whom he destroyed along with their land. 5 The Lord will deliver them to you, and you must do to them all that I have commanded you. 6 Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” 7 Then Moses summoned Joshua and said to him in the presence of all Israel, “Be strong and courageous, for you must go with this people into the land that the Lord swore to their ancestors to give them, and you must divide it among them as their inheritance. 8 The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.”
When a baseball flies out of a pitcher's hand accidently aimed at you, it’s not your present that’s a problem. For the moment you’re absolutely fine. Your head is still intact. Nothing on your body’s hurting. Life’s still good. When you put your little girl to bed and she thinks there’s monsters underneath her, she’s not worried about her present condition. Not one bit. In fact, if she were to take account of she’d realize she’s presently cool enough and hydrated and has a full belly. She’s in perfect condition. For the moment, she’s fine.
That’s almost always the case. When we stare off into the future, it’s not so much that we’re concerned with our present. That’s not really it. Most of the time, we’re mostly intact. That’s not really our issue. What we’re concerned about it not our present reality, but what could be, or perhaps will be. That future moment when something goes terribly wrong. That metaphorical monster comes out from under our bed. That coming time when metaphorically the baseball whizzes toward your skull.
Can you imagine what that must have been like for Joshua as he stared at a future that was arriving all too quickly? Moses was a theological giant. He still is. The stuff he taught. The relationship he had with the Lord. Nothing like him again showed up again until Jesus. And his leadership. I’m telling you Moses was level five transformational leader. He was the stuff leadership is made of. This guy took down the world’s superpower, Egypt, with his staff and a couple of words. This guy led a pesky, rebellious people powerfully. He was God’s prophet. God’s man. God’s Moses. And now, Moses was hitting the exits. It was time. He was 120 years old and God was going to take him home. And now here Joshua being told, “You’re going to put on his sandals.” How could anybody ever think they could be a follow up to Moses?
And not just a follow-up. Not just a placeholder. Not just an ancient Tim Cook to Apple’s Steve Jobs. No, not just that. Joshua wasn’t just to continue leading and governing. He was to take those Israelites with a long, long history of cowardice and rebellion and take them literally on a massive campaign to settle them in their promised home. Joshua wasn’t called to live and lead in peace in a continuation of what Moses had been recently doing. He was called to epic warfare and a massive resettlement campaign for God’s people.
What do you think that was like for Joshua to get handed this little bit of news? There he was still intact. There he was probably well fed and reasonably healthy called to a truly dramatic and epic future. How do you think he was in that moment? Do you think he struggled with self doubt? Do you think he swallowed hard, put on a brave face, and suffered alone with his insecurity? How do you think he was as he stared out at the nationscaping and resettlement he was called to lead?
We don’t have to guess. We actually know. We know because we can work backward from what God said to Joshua in that moment. He had a lot to say about his attitudes. Lots. There were doubled commands. Be strong. Be courageous. Do not be afraid. Do not be terrified. And both sides of the attitudinal coin. Do be strong. Don’t be fearful. And not just doubled commands about both sides of the attitudinal coin, there was also repetition of the whole thing. God comes back around just verses later and in a whole different setting – This time in front of the whole nation of Israel! This was big time! – and doubles his commands with both sides of the attitudinal coin again. Be strong. Be courageous. Don’t be afraid. Don’t be discouraged.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out why God did that. Because Joshua wasn’t. And because he was. Or to say it another way, as he stared at that future, he wasn’t strong and he was afraid. Because he was human. I suppose we could talk about moments when Joshua had been traumatized. I suppose we could dig into other biblical history to try to get a picture of what personal stuff he was reacting to. I suppose we could do that, but I think it’s probably better to leave that off for a minute to look at something or rather someone else.
I suppose it’s maybe rather obvious, but this history wasn’t written for Joshua. He lived it. He experienced it. He didn’t need to learn to deal with his fears. They were already past. What’s far more important than why Joshua felt as he did as he looked out at his future is why we feel the way we do as you look out at ours. Now that’s a whole lot more complicated, isn’t it? At least, it can feel that way. I was heading north on a two-lane state highway in the passenger seat of a car about a decade ago now. But I can still see what happened like it was yesterday. We were skipping along at about 60 miles/hour when an SUV suddenly turned right in front of us. Just didn’t see us coming. I had about one second flat to realize there was going to be impact. We T-boned that SUV viciously. God was good and we all walked away, but I’m telling you. It’s ten years later and I still look at on-coming cars and say, “Stay in your lane.” I get nervous about that kind of future because I’ve seen that past. And that principle can be applied when you’re dating, when you’ve got a sick loved one, when you’re making a career choice… you name it. If you feel like you’ve gotten burned historically, it’s easy to be afraid it’ll happen again.
But that’s not just it, is it? There’s something more fundamental going on than that. You know how I know that? Because I can am capable of being afraid of something that’s never happened to me before. And so are you. It doesn’t take history to teach you about a possible scary future. It only takes distrust. It only takes a heart that’s unsure of God’s power or God’s love. The more fundamental issue here is a heart issue or a faith issue. That’s the one that reaches across time to us from Joshua, slaps his sandals on our feet, and shows us how much we’re like him. It’s the idea in our invisible suitcase that say, “God, I’m not sure you’re going to be there in my future for me.” Because here too we can work backward. We can work backward from God’s comments to Joshua about God himself. There’s a whole lot of that here. It’s almost every word of these eight verses. The whole thing. Why does the Lord do that? What does that tell us about the nature of Joshua’s heart? What does that tells us about our own soul? Sin in our heart means that by nature we’re far better attuned to possible future problems than to our Lord who is already most certainly there.
You know what our Lord does about that? He preaches about himself. He lets us know who he is. Because that’s the solution to a frightened spirit. You don’t just teach it. You preach to it. You tell it who the Lord is. “The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” (v. 8) There’s so much we could say about the Lord here. So incredibly much. But maybe it’s enough for now to point out how absolutely divine these promises are. No human could ever hope to pull them off. Sure husbands and wives say to each other they’ll never leave or forsake. But they can only mean that in a final sense. In a less final sense, I still head to the office and I leave my wife at home. She can’t come with me in my pocket wherever I go. But more than that. Did you catch how the Lord said, “I’m going to go before you and will be with you.” Which should be totally impossible. If I go on ahead of you, I can also guarantee I won’t still be with you. I’ll be there ahead of you. But the Lord? He can pull that off. Totally divine!
But now let’s better understand what the Lord really means to say to us here. And also what he doesn’t mean. This isn’t God coming to us and saying, “Hey, we are stepping into the future right now and for all I know we might be stepping off a cliff, but at least I’ll be with you as we do it. I won’t ever leave you or forsake you. I promise.” And so you step off the cliff and just as he promised he’s with you as you come down crashing on the rocks below. That’s not what the Lord means. Can’t mean that. It wouldn’t have made any sense to Joshua or helped him in anyway. It wouldn’t make any sense to have the Lord say to Joshua, “Be strong. Don’t be afraid. We may all go down in flames, but at least we’ll go down together.”
What the Lord means here is so much better. You know what this really is? This is the Lord on a salvation errand. He was bringing Joshua and his people home. And that’s the way it always is with the Lord and his presence. Every time he is somewhere with his people he is also saving them. That’s always how it works. Always. He may not be working out your salvation that you envisioned he would, but rest assured that is what he’s doing with his presence. He is on a salvation errand for you. It’s always that and never anything less that that. He is going before you. He is with you. He will never leave you nor forsake you.
And its also worth noticing that when the Lord makes this promise about his presence it’s all future tense. They sound an awful lot like marriage vows. It’s something he will do. I suppose if you think about it that’s what makes these promises promises. They haven’t happened yet, but they will. He will never leave you. He will never forsake you. And will because the future is where the concern would be. I may stare off at a coming possible future with concern so God promises us our future.
And you can bank on the fact that he’ll keep these promises. Not by walking over a cliff with us hand in hand. Not by going down in flames together. But by being there in that future on a salvation errand to bring us home to heaven. You know how we know the Lord will do that? Because he has in the past. God has a long, long history of working on a salvation errand for us outside of our present time. That’s what Jesus was all about. Before you were even a thought in your mommy’s mind. Before your great-great grandpa ever walked this earth, Jesus knew you. And loved you all the way to the cross so that before you were ever even born you were forgiven. God worked outside of your present on a salvation errand. He secured our past so we can trust that he’s also secured our future.
That’s his promise here. He will never leave you. He will never forsake you. He will go before you and be with you. To save you. To guide you. To protect you. I want to tell you something. You know what the Lord historically did for Joshua? Just what he said. He went before him. He stayed with him. To save him. To protect him. Joshua and God’s people made it home. They made it home. You know what the only difference is between us and him? Timing. For us it’s still future. For him it’s now all past. But this is no less secure, no less certain, no less already done and won by the Lord. We know that. Because he’s already there.
So here’s the deal. It’s time to live in expectant home. Because you can. Honestly, I can come up with a thousand scenarios where I won’t be ok financially, or emotionally, or spiritually, or physically. I know I can. It’s easy for me. I’ve got a heart that’s incredibly inclined toward that. I can imagine house payments I can’t make. I can picture relationships that won’t work, and pets that die, and a future that hurts me. I can do that easily. But you know what else is true? I’ve got a God who is incredibly inclined toward me. He always has been. That’s why he sent Jesus. And he always will be. And that doesn’t mean he’s going to hold hands with me as we all go down in flames together. He’s with me with his saving presence. He’s there in front of me. He’s here with me at the same time. There’s no metaphorical baseball flying at you. There’s no metaphorical monster under the bed. There’s the Lord. And that’s what he wants you to know about your future. So be expectant about God’s salvation errand. Be hopeful about what he’s doing in your life. Because what your standing on is nothing less than the threshold of God’s saving work. He promises. Amen.