Rationalizing Our Sin: Joshua 1

Have you ever tried to rationalize your sin?  Several years ago,  I had a guy come to my officeone day to tell me that he was leaving his wife.  It turns out that he had found someone who fit him and his personality better.  Someone who would fulfill his life and make him happy in a way that his wife could not.  For nearly an hour I listened to this man try to rationalize and explain away his sin.  The truth is that we all do this at times in our lives.  Maybe not as severely as this man did, but in various times and in various ways we all try to rationalize our sin.
Ultimately, rationalizing sin is one of Satan’s greatest tools for keeping us from experiencing the power of the gospel in our lives.  Rationalizing is the opposite of repenting.
Open your Bibles to Judges 1 and let me show you some ways that we sometimes try to rationalize or explain away our sin. 
This morning we begin a series of messages from the book of Judges entitled, “Delighting in Deliverance.” The book of Judges records for us the history of the nation of Israel as it descends spiritually and morally into chaos.  It’s primary purpose was to demonstrate why the monarchy, that is established in 1 and 2 Samuel,  was necessary.
For us the book serves as a tremendous example of why we need to be constantly reminded of our need for the gospel.  Even a casual glance through the book reveals that it deals with the issues of apostasy, backsliding, discipline, and God’s judgement.  It is a book filled with stories of some of the most interesting characters in all of the Bible — people like Samson, Gideon, and Deborah.  Because of this, the book often gets treated as just a set of moral stories about bravery, courage, and faithfulness.  But what often gets overlooked is that this book is primary about the gospel.
 The book begins by showing how we as God’s people can easily get snared by sin and then fall into the trap of trying to rationalize it to make ourselves look better.  
Let’s begin this morning by look at the basic setting of this book (v.1-7)
  • The events recorded in Judges take place just after the death of Joshua.
  • The book records for us the final stages of Israel’s conquest of Canaan.
  • You will notice that the book begins by reminding us of the promise God made concerning the conquest (look at v.1-2)
  • But if you read the text carefully you will notice right away that the people experience a lapse of faith that leads to disobedience. (v.3-7)
    • Judah enlists the help of Simeon
    • God never told them to do this, in fact in the previous verse God had been very clear that HE had already given the Land into their hands.”
    • In other words, the war was already over and the people just needed to go in and take what was theirs.
  • Rather than simply trusting God, Judah thought that they had a better plan.
    • They would get the tribe of Simeon to help them do what God had already promised that He would do.
    • This is a classic example of Proverbs 14:12 which says,  “There is a way that seem right to a man but its end is the way of death.”  
  • The simple truth of the matter is that we sometimes fall into the trap of thinking that God needs our help or in subtle ways thinking that He needs help in carrying out His promises.
    • Therefore, we tend to cut corners or enlist the wrong kinds of help.
    • In the case of the Israelites, this initial lapse of faith ends up leading a number of other compromises.
    • Let me show you three ways that the Israelites rationalized their lack of faith in the remainder of this chapter and more importantly I want you to see that we make these same rationalizations:
Three Ways We Rationalize Disobedience
  1. We Overestimate the Strength of Our Enemy (v.16-21)
    • Notice the rationalization in v.19 – “but he could not drive our the inhabitants of the plain because they had chariots of iron.”
    • The Canaanites Had CHARIOTS
      • Earlier when fighting in the hill country chariots were useless
      • But in the plains, chariots were a fierce and seemingly invincible new form of mobile warfare.
      • The Israelites were completely intimidated by them.
    • This was not the first time this issue had come up.
      • Joshua 17:14-18
      • Tribe of Joseph asks for another allotment of land because they are unable to drive the Canaanites out of the plains due to their chariots.
      • Joshua refuses and assures them that they will “drive out the Canaanites, even thought they have chariots of iron…”
    • Instead of trusting in God the Israelite got intimidated by the Canaanite chariots.
      • We hate to admit it but sometimes we get intimidated by the world and those who oppose the things of God.
      • We end up trusting more in politics, boycotts or other forms of protest than in the most powerful weapon at our disposal — the gospel.
    • The truth of the matter is simple — God is stronger and more powerful than any opposition that we will ever face.
      • The battle is real, but the outcome is sure.
      • Jesus WINS!
      • So don’t ever be intimidated by the enemies of the cross.
  2. We underestimate the guidance of God. (v.22-26)
    • God did not tell the Israelites to send a spy into the land, he didn’t tell them to go and make a deal with one of the inhabitants of the city.
      • But instead of simply trusting God and His plan for them, they decided to seek the counsel of the ungodly and it backfired.
      • Notice what happens in v.25-26
      • The man they enlisted to help them overthrow the city ended up rebuilding it in another location and the city of Luz became a constant reminder to the Israelites that they had failed to carry out the conquest.
    • Psalm 1:1-2 says, “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.”
      • The key to being faithful to God is to trust His guidance and His Word implicitly.
      • We don’t need to seek after the advice of fall counselors, just trust Him.
  3. We allow economics to dictate what we do rather than the command of God (v.27-28)
    • God told the Israelites to drive out all of the Canaanites, but to some this policy didn’t make much sense.
    • The Canaanites could serve a much more practical purpose, so they put them to forced labor — why waste this source of free labor.
    • But again, God had not told them to do this so they compromise simply because it made good economic sense.
    • Sadly, this may be the single greatest problem we face in the church today.  People are willing to compromise on the commands of God simply because it might cost them economically.
    • Pleased with the Dynasty family/the Robinsons.
      • Phil’s language was too coarse but he was correct in what we said.
      • But more important still was. The family’s willingness to say they would walk away rather than compromise their faith.
      • Economics did not determine their obedience. Willing to do what was right even if it cost them financially.
So what we basically have in chapter 1, is view of the conquest from the perspective of the Israelites.  Bascially, they try to spin the story to make them look good.  The way they present the story is that they had conquered most of the land but had good reasons why they allowed some of the Canaanites to gone on living in their midst.
They rationalized their disobedience in order to try to explain their predicament.  Next week we will discover what God thought about all of this but for now I want to talk to you about our tendency to rationalize our sin.
Satan will always try to get us to rationalize away and explain our sin.  This strategy goes all the way back to the garden of Eden.  He showed Eve the forbidden fruit and then helped her to come up with a rationalization about why she should disobey God.  In Eve’s case she saw that the fruit was good for food and that the try could make her wise, so she ate.
Some of you have been rationalizing sin.  You’ve bought into the lie of Satan or you have simply fooled yourself into believing that you have a good reason for why you are being disobedient to God.
But I remind you that Proverbs 14:12 says ” “There is a way that seem right to a man but its end is the way of death.”  
What you are doing may make sense right now, but I assure that disobedience always comes with a price.  Rationalizing sin is one of Satan’s greatest tools for keeping us from experiencing the power of the gospel in our lives.  Rationalizing is the opposite of repenting.
Rationalizing keeps us bound in our sin and prevents us from experiencing the freedom of God’s grace through the gospel.
 My urgent plea to you is to stop rationalizing your sin, repent, and trust God.   


The God Who Keeps His Promises

Moses with the tablets of the Ten Commandments...
Moses with the tablets of the Ten Commandments, painting by Rembrandt (1659) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


The death of Moses, recorded in Deuteronomy 34, must have been a life changing experience for the entire nation of Israel.  It is hard for us to grasp just how devastating the death of Moses must have felt to the Israelites, who had been following his leadership for the past forty years.  Few figures in history have left such a lasting legacy upon the world, therefore, we struggle to grasp the meaning of his death.  Some of you reading this may be old enough to remember the death of Franklin Roosevelt, others can remember the assassination of John F. Kennedy.   While too young to remember either of these events, I grew up hearing from my parents and older siblings the stories about the two days these great American presidents died.  The closest parallel that I can draw from me personally  is the day that Ronald Reagan was shot outside of the Hilton Hotel in Washington, D.C.  Events such as these send chills down our spines when we remember the fear, confusion, and despondency that occur when the leader of a nation is suddenly taken away.  These are the closest parallels that we can think of in order to try to imagine what the Israelites must have been going through, but even they do not come close to putting us in the mindset of what the Jewish people must have been experiencing.


Moses was more than just a political or military leader to the Israelites.  If it were not for his faithfulness and obedience to the call of God, Israel would still have been trapped in the bondage of slavery in Egypt.  Moses was more than a political leader, he was in a sense their savior, deliverer and rescuer.  His death marked the end of one of the most important phases of Israel’s history and the beginning of one of its most trying periods.  There are several book of the Old Testament that begin by recording the death of a leader- Judges (Joshua’s death), 2 Samuel (Saul’s death), 2 Kings (Ahab’s death)- each of these mark an important transition in the history of the nation, but none of the others comes close to capturing the emotional sadness and crisis brought about by the death of Moses.


No one in Israel was positioned to experience the death of Moses more  personally than Joshua. For years, Joshua had been Moses’ faithful servant.  When Moses went up on the mountain to receive the law, Joshua was there with him (Ex 24:13; 32:17).  Whenever Moses went out to the tent of meeting to receive a word from God, Joshua was there with him (Ex. 33:11).  When Moses needed a trusted general to lead the army of Israel into battle with the Amalekites, he turned to Joshua (Ex 17:8-16).   When selecting members of from each tribe of Israel to go in a spy out the promised land, Moses chose Joshua to represent the tribe of Ephraim (Num 13:8).  For over 40 years, the lives of these two men had been inseparably linked together.  Now Moses was dead.  The people had lost leader but Joshua lost a friend and mentor.  The people had lost one of the founding figures in their nations history, but Joshua had lost a father figure who had invested his life in teaching Joshua how to serve God.  The people had lost one of the inspirational leaders of their past, but Joshua had lost a man that he didn’t think he could ever live without.


The author of Joshua begins by abruptly stating that,  “Moses my servant is dead.  Now therefore arise and go over this Jordan, you and all the people, into the land that I am giving to them, to the people of Israel.”  Commenting on this verse, Warren Wiersbe cited the well known modern proverb, “God buries His workmen, but His work goes on.” (Wiersbe)  I came across that statement about ten years ago, while I was preaching a series of messages through the book of Joshua.  That statement initially startled and even offended me because it seemed to make God callous and indifferent.  It seemed to me, at the time, to convey the idea that God was more concerned about His work than about His servants.  I was convinced then, and remain so today, that there is more going on here than God merely passing the mantle of leadership from Moses to Joshua.  Reading this passage merely as the historical record of the succession of one leader after the death of another misses the point the Biblical author is trying to make.  In order to properly understand the intent of this passage we must read Joshua 1:1-5 as more than mere history-  we must read it as theological history.  This is not meant to deny that the passage contains a record of actual historical events, but to read it merely as history misses the point. The historical records contained within the Bible have a unique theological purpose, they are written with the intent of showing how God keeps His promises within the context of time and space.


In Joshua 1:1-9, God wanted to make it clear that the events going on around the nation, in no way changed or invalidated His promises.  The death of Moses brought out the worst fears that the people carried with them.  What will happen to us?  Who is going to lead us?  Is Joshua really up to the challenge of leading the nation?  Should we just give up an go back to Egypt?  All of these question and more would have been running through the minds of the Israelites as they sat stunned and dismayed in the desert.  They needed hope.  They needed help.  They needed a Word from God and just as He had done 40 years earlier, God broke the silence and spoke to His servant, Joshua, and gave Him a set of promises.  “Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given you…No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life…I will be with you…I will not leave you nor forsake you…you shall cause the people to inherit the land that I swore to their fathers to give them.”  These words must have been like music in Joshua’s ears and they serve to remind us of some of the helpful applications of God’s eternal character.


The Promises of God Rest on His Eternal Nature


Many Biblical scholars have noted that the thrust of this passage is developed around the threefold repetition of the phrase “Be strong and courageous” in verses 5,6, and 7.  While I agree that this threefold command forms the crux of God’s message to Joshua I want to point out that the command to “be strong and courageous” rest on the eternal nature and promises of God.  The author of Joshua points us in that direction when invokes the name Yahweh at the beginning and end of this passage (v.1, 9).  We have already seen in the previous chapter that the divine name Yahweh is a declaration of His self-existence and eternal nature, therefore, I want to suggest that the author had three primary rhetorical purpose for invoking this particular name for God in this passage.


First, he used the repetition of the divine name (YHWH) to form an inclusio, which marks the beginning and ending of the first rhetorical section of the book.  At first glance this may seem like nothing more than a literary device, however, closer inspection shows that it is part of the author’s larger literary goal.  To see what I mean we need to compare how this book opens with the way it closes.  Notice that the book begins and ends by recording the death of a leader.  It opens with the death of Moses and concludes with the death of Joshua.  In the opening scene, the author shows how the Lord appeared to Joshua after the death of Moses and commanded him to be “strong and courageous.”  At the end of the book, Joshua speaks to the people just before his own death and raises the question of whether or not they will remain faithful.  We will return in a moment to this observation, but for right now let it suffice to say that the opening section of Joshua is marked by the presence of an inclusion formed by the repetition of the nameYahweh and that the book as a whole is marked at both the beginning and end by the death of Israel’s leader.


Second, the author used the divine name to show the continuity between the life of Joshua and Moses.  Just as Yahweh appeared to Moses at the burning bush, so now He was appearing to Joshua to call and commission him to continue the mission that was begun through Moses.  As we discussed in the previous chapters, the name Yahweh was given to Moses at the burning bush and was used as the special covenant name for God.  It came to symbolize not only the eternal and self-existent nature of God but also His fidelity to His covenant. Now that Moses was dead, the people in general and Joshua in particular needed to be reassured of God’s continued presence and provision.  D.R. Davis notes, “Yahweh’s fidelity does not hinge on the achievement of men, however, gifted they may be, nor does it evaporate in the face of funerals or rivers.” (Davis, 18)  Moses may have been dead and gone but Yahweh was still alive and ready to carry out His promises.


Finally, and most importantly, He used this name as the basis for Israel’s faith.  At several strategic locations in the Pentateuch Moses used the name Yahweh to set Israel’s God apart from the gods of the pagans. By drawing upon this name in the opening statements of the Joshua, the author shows that the commands given to Joshua were grounded in the very nature of God. (Howard, 73)  This brings me back to the point that I was making above concerning the rhetorical strategy employed by the author of Joshua.  As I noted above, the entire book is rhetorically formulated around the death of two leaders- Moses and Joshua. The deaths of these two leaders establish not only the historical setting in which this book was written but also form an important part of the author’s rhetorical strategy.   What this shows us is that the author of Joshua wants to show how God was faithful to His promises after the death of Moses and the actions that Israel will have to take if they want to continue to experience Yahweh’s blessings.  At the end of the book, just before his death,  Joshua calls the people together and asks them to “choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell.” (24:15)  The use of the name Yahweh throughout this book serves as a constant reminder that the promises of God rest in His eternal nature.


Since the promises of God rest upon His unchanging nature the death of a leader, even one as important as Moses, cannot not fundamentally change the relationship between God and His people.  The saying that “God buries the workman, but His work goes one,” therefore is not a cold or callous statement about the indifference of God towards his servants, but rather a confession of His timeless, unchanging character.  Rather than recording the mere transition of power from one leader to the next, the opening chapter  of Joshua records for us the historical/theological account of how the God remains faithful to His promises from one generation to the next.” (Boice, 13-14) Every generation needs to be reminded of this truth.