‘Is it time to reassess our gospel outreach?’
All quotations are taken from the NKJV.
Like the book of Acts, the book of Joshua presents a picture of almost uninterrupted victory and progress. Some of Paul’s military metaphors in 2 Corinthians seem almost to refer back to Joshua’s day, particularly his reference in chapter 10 verse 4, ‘for the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds’. If Paul is drawing a parallel between the advancement of the gospel in his day and the book of Joshua, perhaps Joshua can be of help to us. What was the secret of Joshua’s success?
I suggest we can learn the secret of Joshua’s success by asking a number of questions:
1. What was the purpose of sending spies to Jericho? To work out the best way to attack?
2. Why did the Israelites have to walk around Jericho so many times?
3. Why did the successful attack on Ai involve an ambush? Why not follow the Jericho ‘pattern’ of walking round and round until the walls collapsed? Wasn’t an ambush a bit too much like ‘fleshly wisdom’, 2 Cor. 1. 12?
For my present purposes I want to tackle these questions in the reverse order to which they occur chronologically.
Question 3: Why did they notrepeat the Jericho ‘pattern’ at Ai?
Three reasons suggest themselves.
Firstly, such an attitude as Samson adopted, ‘I will go out as before’, Judg. 16. 20, undermines trust in the Lord. Faith has now been placed in a method of attack to win the battle rather than in God.
Secondly, such an attitude underestimates the enemy – something Paul did not ever do, 2 Cor. 2. 11; Eph. 6. 11. Any Canaanite commander seeing Israelites starting to circle his stronghold would realize what would happen on the seventh day and order his men into instant attack. The devil adopts strategies that thwart previously successful methods of gospel preaching.
Thirdly, such an attitude is a failure to understand that every battle is different. David learned that lesson, 1 Chr. 14. 8-17. The Lord adopted different approaches with those individuals to whom He brought the word of life too, e.g., cp. John chapters 3 and 4.
As to the matter of whether an ambush was an appropriate strategy for the people of God, Paul could say about the Corinthians’ conversion, ‘being crafty, I caught you with cunning’, 2 Cor. 12. 16. In fact, an ambush was the perfect method of attack – it exploited the enemy’s weakness, which was overconfidence, and won the day.
Today’s spiritual situation is sadly reminiscent of the Somme in 1916: millions perish because military thinking is bogged in the mud. There never was a better nor more needed time than now for major rethinks and adjustments as to our evangelistic strategy.
Question 2: Why walk around Jericho all those times?
For an Israelite soldier, battle-hardened by fighting the armies of Sihon and Og, it must have been mildly embarrassing to walk round Jericho for a week, silently enduring the cat-calls of soldiers on the walls. Why did God ask them to do this?
The answer appears to be that God wanted to teach Israel that it was not the method of attack that won the battle, but the Lord. The method, in this case, was deliberately intended to be largely irrelevant to the victory. David’s sling might not have been irrelevant to his victory over Goliath, but he believed that, ‘the Lord does not save with sword or spear; for the battle is the Lord’s’, 1 Sam. 17. 47.
What was the secret of Joshua’s success? The most significant event in the book of Joshua was when the Lord Himself appeared to Joshua as the Commander of the army of the Lord, Josh. 5. 13-15. As the Commander, He was the One who would direct operations, 6. 2-5. It was not a case of tradition, ‘This is the way it has always been done’, nor pragmatism, ‘Llet’s try this,’ but ‘What does my Lord say to His servant?’ Josh. 5. 14.
In our present situation, the obsession with method is a misplaced commitment. The Lord must be given His rightful place and allowed to guide and direct His work. Only His way will do – whether we think His method of attack clever, or an apparent waste of time, is irrelevant.
Question 1: Why were the spies sent into Jericho?
The report of the returned spies included no ‘inside information’ or plan of attack. Such ideas were out of the question – Jericho was an impregnable fortress. However, notice what the spies said when they returned, ‘Truly the Lord has delivered all the land into our hands’, Josh. 2. 24. What faith these men had! They obviously remembered the lesson of the twelve spies sent into Canaan. The important point regarding these spies would seem to be that our faith and unquestioning obedi-ence are absolutely essential to God’s victory plan.
Our part is not to try and think of ways and means. Our part is to wait in humble, dependent faith upon our Commander for His guidance and then go at His direction. Think of how the church was launched in Acts. After a ten-day prayer meeting, God opened up a wonderful opportunity for the preaching of the gospel, and the apostles, filled with the Spirit, took full advantage of the opening to preach Christ.
I once had a conversation with a brother about whether such a thing as a good, non-scriptural tradition existed. He cited a prayer meeting before a gospel meeting as an example of a tradition that is not explicitly mentioned in scripture, but which is nevertheless good. On reflection, I wonder whether he was right? Is it really our place to organize meetings, tell God what we are going to do and ask Him to bless? Many assemblies have not seen a soul saved at a gospel meeting for the last thirty to fifty years, despite pre-gospel prayer meetings. Perhaps it would be better sometimes to cancel our gospel meeting, if no unsaved attend, and just have a prayer meeting instead.
We are surrounded with a situation of immense need and have been placed in a position of immense responsibility. ‘Who is sufficient for these things’? ‘Our sufficiency is of God’, 2 Cor. 2. 16; 3. 5.