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Let's Get Ready For Battle

Dr. Erwin W. Lutzer | January 16, 2000

Selected highlights from this sermon

When we’re stuck in a desert, we’re seemingly out of touch with God, and our journey gets a little rough. Our circumstances and trials begin to squeeze the life out of us. 

At Gilgal, the Israelites found renewal and got right with God. More importantly, they saw their physical challenges for what they really were: spiritual battles. 

Today’s message is going to be very personal. It’s the kind of message that would be wonderful to be able to share across a coffee table. I want you to pretend it’s just you and me and we’re talking about our spiritual journey and how we’re doing.  

So since it is personal, let me ask you how are you doing this past week? For example, how did you do in your battle with sin? Did you have more victories than defeats, or did you get to the point where you actually think there are some sins for which God does not provide deliverance? 

I’m in contact with a young man in the ministry who is going through a great time of struggle with sensuality. And it’s easy to conclude that God just does not deliver us. Well, He does, but it’s easy for us to think He doesn’t. How’s that part of your life going? That’s my question.  

What about your struggle with circumstances? Are you doing okay? Are you finally seeing God in circumstances, or do you spend a lot of your time pouting, still chafing, still trying to strive against things you can’t change anyway? Has God been able to get through to you so that you know those circumstances ultimately come from His hand? Are you walking in victory? 

And then what about your conflict? Yeah, I’ve got to mention it. What about your conflict with people?  

Oh, to live above with the saints we love, 
Oh, that will be glory. 
But to live below with the saints I know,  
That’s another story. 

Isn’t that true? [laughter] 

So how’s the conflict going? Are you beginning to see God in your conflicts with people, or is it so discouraging because you live with people you can’t change? Well, take heart. They do too. They live with people who can’t be changed. 

Today what we’re going to talk about is walking with God and being in fellowship. And in a sense it’s a message for those of you who are (Shall I use the old-fashioned word we used to hear many, many years ago but don’t hear today?) backslidden in the Christian life. 
The story takes place in Joshua, chapters 4 and 5, and before we get into the text, and I will be reading some select sections, I need to give you a little lesson in spiritual geography when you read the Old Testament. What do I mean by that? Well, in the Scriptures Egypt represents the world. That’s very clear because when Israel was in Egypt, they were in bondage. They were slaves. They had the mentality of slavery. How do you get out of Egypt? Well, by being redeemed by the blood of the Lamb. They put blood on the doorposts of their houses, and it was through that redemption that they were delivered from Egypt. How are we delivered? Through the blood of the Lamb. Jesus Christ dies and he sets us free from the slavery of sin. So Egypt represents the world. 

What does Canaan represent? Well, in our hymnody, as you know, we usually think of Canaan as being heaven. But actually Canaan represents the struggles we have when we walk with God, but we do claim territory, and we do make progress. In heaven there will be no Philistines. In heaven we will always be victorious. We will not have defeats. But that’s Canaan. God wants us to walk today in Canaan. It’s the book of Ephesians where we claim the promises of God. 

Let me ask you another question. How long does it take to go from Egypt to Canaan? Well, about eleven days if you take the direct route. But God brought them through the Red Sea. He kept them two years. They were there in Sinai. Then they were going to go in at Kadesh Barnea, and decided to disobey God, you remember, in unbelief. And God says, “You’re going to wander in the desert another 38 years,” making a full 40 years wandering in the wilderness. 

What does the wilderness represent? It represents that stage of spiritual experience where we have lost our sense of purpose, where we are floating spiritually, and we just don’t have it together and where we are disappointed and discouraged. It’s interesting to look at those maps that tell us where they were; all you can do is say they were going in circles.  

Now one thing you discover when you’re going in a circle and you speed up because you want to make progress, you get to the point where you started from sooner. And that’s all they were doing. I would think they were naming every cactus, and renaming it. Nothing to do for forty years, thirty-eight particularly, and that’s the way it was. Somehow in the wilderness of our journey we lose our purpose, and secondly, we forget God is with us. We don’t see God. That’s why I have to ask you today, do you see God in your circumstances, in your conflicts? 

Before they would go to bed at night after they had manna for a snack (Manna for breakfast, manna for lunch, manna for dinner. “We need a snack before we go to bed.” “Good. We’ve got some manna.”), they’d always have a discussion. You find this throughout the text, especially in the book of numbers and so forth where it gives us some of these details. Two topics. Number one, is the Lord with us or not? That was always number one. Number two was, “Shouldn’t we appoint a different leader and go back to Egypt?” 

Now, I’m talking to those of you who have left your first love. You belong to that category of backsliders. You’ve been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb. You’ve been redeemed out of Egypt, but you’re wandering in the desert. The thing that you have lost sight of is God. All you can see is sand, unending gravel and purposelessness. Today I want you to be able to see God again, and now we’re going to go into the text. 

They’re brought across the Jordan River, and where did they come? Chapter 4, verse 19, “On the tenth day of the first month the people went up from the Jordan and camped at Gilgal on the eastern border of Jericho. And Joshua set up the twelve stones they had taken out of the Jordan. He said to the Israelites, ‘In the future when your descendants ask their fathers, “What do these stones mean?” tell them, “Israel crossed the Jordan on dry ground.” (And tell them about the faithfulness of God.)’” 

Now, what does Gilgal mean? In Hebrew it means “circle.” But God says, “I’m going to take that place that means circle and invest in it a new meaning.” You know the idea of a circle. We think of a wheel. We think of something rolling. You’ll notice in chapter 5, verse 9, “Then the Lord said to Joshua, ‘Today I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you.’ So the place has been called Gilgal to this day.” It means to roll away. 

What disgrace had to be rolled away? Well, the disgrace of Egypt. In Egypt they were slaves. They did not decide what they were going to do. Others decided that for them. Here they are under people who served strange gods, and they had to be subject to them. It was not just the slavery. It was the mentality of slavery that had to be taken away. 

And some of you (Remember this is personal.) may have in your past some disgrace that has never been rolled away, and it continues to hamper you in your Christian experience. It could be a divorce. It could be immorality. It could be some disastrous decision you have made, and you wish it would depart, but there it stands. Today I have been praying that God will give you the grace to see it rolled away. 

One day I met a woman who had a tattoo on her arm, and it was very evident. It was very visible and so I had the nerve (sometimes maybe too much nerve), but I did have the nerve to ask her where it came from. And she said, “I was dating a fellow who was an alcoholic. He was not a good man.” And she said, “He did that to me. He left that tattoo there,” and she said, “and now I’m married to someone else. I wish I could get it off but I can’t.”

There are some of you listening to this message who have a tattoo on your soul. It’s that disgrace. It’s the shame. And because of that you’re in the wilderness of your experience, and God says, “I want to roll all of that away so you can get on with blessing in the land of Canaan.” 

Well now, with that background, what was there at Gilgal? What helps us in our spiritual journey? First of all, Gilgal was a place of remembrance. I spoke about this last time. You remember there were twelve stones that were taken out of the Jordan River? And then they were taken and they were set up at Gilgal, and that was a monument to God. If you read the text, you discover that there was another monument actually in the middle of the river which Israel could not see after Jordan began to flow again. And that symbolized death. God says, “I’m going to symbolize death over there,” and this is resurrection. You see, what the Jordan River, spiritually speaking, symbolizes is a death to self. We finally come to the same place that George Müller did when he said, “There came a day when George Müller died.”

Listen to me very carefully. The struggles you and I have, the lack of victory over sin, the excuses we make for our desert experience, the pouting and the criticism, all of that sometimes comes as a result of the fact that we have not died to self. And Jesus said, “Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.” That’s what the Jordan is all about. But it was a place of remembrance. They put up a monument to God. 

Now I’ve been in various capitals of the world and I think I’ve seen probably hundreds of monuments. I’ve seen monuments in Kiev, in Moscow, in Washington, and then in that beautiful city (perhaps one of the most beautiful in the world), Ottawa, Canada. I’ve seen monuments there as well. (It is, it is!) But I have never seen a monument to God. A monument to people, a monument to events, but not a monument to God. This was a monument to His faithfulness. 

Let me ask you a question. Do you have some monuments to God? I don’t use a diary very often. I occasionally write into my diary, usually when I’m very depressed or feeling very, very good about something, which means my diary probably is rather thin. But there are some things in it. There are times of discouragements I have written about. I remember one time being on vacation and I wrote out all these things given fully to God. It was concerns and discouragements I was going through at the time, and it’s wonderful to be able to look back upon that and to say, “God took care of all of that.” That is a monument to God’s faithfulness. 

These stones would point east toward the Jordan where they came from. They would point west toward the promised land, and if those people ever decided to turn back and go into the desert, these stones would cry out after them and be a reminder to them that God is faithful. 

I speak to you today whose soul is no longer warmed in the presence of God. Those of you who have lost contact, you’ve been redeemed, but you’re in the desert. Do you remember God’s faithfulness? Do you remember the joy you had when you were converted? Do you remember the joy you once had in answers to prayer? Are there some things in your life that are a monument to the faithfulness of God and you can say, “Yes, He has been with me”? Think about those things.  

Gilgal was a place of remembrance. It was also a place of renewal. It is here that they finally decided they would circumcise the males among them. Now in the desert they did not do that. By the way, in chapter 5, verse 1, notice it says, “Now when all the Amorite kings west of the Jordan and all the Canaanite kings along the coast heard how the Lord had dried up the Jordan before the Israelites until they had crossed over, their hearts melted and they no longer had the courage to face the Israelites.” 

This is a parenthesis in my message, but it may be the most important parenthesis you hear today. Isn’t it interesting, that the minute you die to self, the minute you put down the weapons of a rebel, and you realize our struggles are usually God trying to grind us down and to submit to His will, the minute you begin to do that all of the enemies—and here we’re talking about the devil, symbolically speaking (though he is not just a symbol, you understand but these kings represent him), and he begins to become terrified. There is nothing that would frighten the devil as much as a congregation that came to the end of itself, that was broken before God like water that is spilled on the ground that cannot be regathered, where we simply say, “God, we are before you for whatever. Do Thy will. I have resisted Thy will, but today I die to self-will.” The devil would quake and fear. 

Well, I told you Gilgal was a place of remembrance. It was a place of renewal. They finally obeyed God. Verse 2, they circumcised the males. Now, why had they not done that before? You know, it’s difficult when you’re in the desert because that was a symbol of the covenant of God. It’s difficult to rejoice in the promises of God when you’re walking in unbelief and in a backslidden state. It’s hard to talk about the promises of God. You say, “Well, where are God’s promises? All we see is unending sand. We don’t see God in those situations.” But the minute they began to obey God something else happened. The Passover was then observed. You’ll notice in verse 9 God said, “(Now at last that you’ve had a renewed obedience) I have rolled away your disgrace.” Verse 10 of chapter 5, “On the evening of the fourteenth day of the month, while camped at Gilgal on the plains of Jericho, the Israelites celebrated the Passover. The day after the Passover, [that very day,] they ate some of the produce of the land, unleavened bread and roasted grain.” Isn’t that interesting? They said, “Now we can actually rejoice.” This is only the third time they celebrated the Passover, once in Egypt, once after they crossed the Red Sea and now again. Why? Why not celebrate the Passover in the wilderness? Again, it’s hard to celebrate the Passover. It’s hard to rejoice. It’s hard to rejoice in your redemption when you are walking around in that land of disobedience and joylessness. It’s hard. 

I remember the story of a woman who was planning to commit suicide. The pills were already in her purse, but she thought she would go to church one last time, just to say goodbye to God. She thought, “I’m just going to go there and say goodbye and then that’s it.” She even cleaned her house very nicely so the family would not come back to a mess. She walked in. And—I don’t know, Jerry. We haven’t sung it in 25 years, but you know that song, “Oh say, but I’m glad, I’m glad”? We used to sing it way back when you and I were boys. A little ditty. “Oh say, but I’m glad, I’m glad.” 

She walked in and she heard these women singing that, and she became so angry. She felt like shouting, “Oh say, but I’m mad, I’m mad.” And somebody saw her distress and took her into the prayer room and said, “We’re going to stay here and we’re going to pray with you until that depression leaves.” And it did leave. And years later I wrote her a letter because of something I was writing, and she said, “Even though I still have physical problems, the depression never returned.” 

What is my point? It’s hard when you’re in disobedience. It’s hard when you are depressed to sing the songs of Zion. It is hard to celebrate, and the people were experiencing that. Now they were called to a new obedience and so they could celebrate the Passover, and also the produce of the land, and they didn’t need manna any more. I love this because right there under the nose of the enemy—because remember now, Jericho had not yet been conquered; that’s in our message next time—Right there under the nose of the enemy they already began to enjoy the blessings of Canaan. And the minute you and I come to that place of brokenness and death to self, we begin then already to enjoy Christ’s blessings even if there are still giants in the land that have not been conquered. 

This is from my heart to your heart. I want you to know today God did not save you so you could spend years and years of a boring life in a spiritual wilderness. That’s not why you were converted. It was to bring you into the land to enjoy God. And that’s why the Scripture says we might know the “width and length and depth and heightto know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” That’s why we were saved. Not to stay in the wilderness, but to get into the land of Canaan.

We sometimes sing:  

My Father is rich with houses and lands.  
He holds the wealth of the world in His hand. 
Of rubies, of diamonds, of silver and gold, 
His coffers are filled. He has riches untold. 
I’m a child of the King, a child of the King. 
With Jesus, my Savior, I’m a child of the King. 

Gilgal was a place of remembrance. It was a place of renewed obedience to God, and it was also a place of realization. What a dramatic story follows. It says in verse 13 of chapter 5, “Now when Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went up to him and asked, ‘Are you for us or for our enemies?’ ‘Neither,’ he replied, ‘but as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.’ Then Joshua fell facedown to the ground in reverence, and asked him, ‘What message does my lord have for his servant?’ The commander of the Lord’s army replied, ‘Take off your sandals, for the place you are standing is holy,’ and Joshua did so.” 

First of all, Joshua was taking a reconnaissance trip around Jericho, trying to scope it out. He goes around Jericho and suddenly he is confronted with a man. “Are you for us? Are you an Israelite who’s broken curfew, or are you an enemy? If so, I’ll take you on.” And notice what the man says. “Neither.” Oh, this is exciting. He says, “I’ve come as the captain of the host of the Lord, the commander of the armies of the Lord.”  

Wherever you have the angel of the Lord referred to in the Scripture, you always have a reference to Christ in the Old Testament. That can be shown. There’s no question but that this is a pre-incarnate (big words but you can follow them) manifestation of Christ. Before Bethlehem this is Jesus taking on human form. That’s why Joshua was asked to worship. He would not do that before a man. He would not do that before an angel. He did it before Christ. And Christ said, “I am commander of the armies of the Lord.” Wow. 

Two important lessons for Joshua. Number one, this isn’t just a physical battle. This is a spiritual battle, very spiritual. Second Kings, chapter 6, Elijah is sitting there with his servant, and the Assyrian armies are coming against Elijah, and the king of Assyria is so mad at Elijah, for reasons I won’t go into. He says, “I want to get that man,” and the whole army comes and the horizon is filled with Assyrian troops. The servant is terrified. He is just really scared there because he figures they are just going to be wiped out in just a matter of time. I mean, it’s like a whole aircraft carrier going after a fly. I mean this is just no contest. 

So the prophet says to the Lord, “Lord, open this guy’s eyes.” And he opened his eyes, and noticed that the whole horizon was filled with flaming chariots surrounding Elijah. And Elijah said, “You know, there are more on our side than there are on theirs,” and God smote the Assyrian army with blindness and Joshua and the servant escaped. 

I want you to know today if we could see the spiritual world, we’d discover it is populated with all kinds of spirits. Good angels, yes, but also evil spirits. But in the midst of that, this is the Commander of the armies of the Lord. I love it. God is saying, “Joshua, it’s a spiritual battle. It isn’t simply a matter of strategy. It’s a matter of walking with God.” 

Your battles, my friend, are not just physical battles. It isn’t just a personality conflict. It’s that, but it isn’t just that because we wrestle not against flesh and blood but against principalities and powers. And the rejoicing is that we stand with Christ who is the commander of the armies of the Lord. “Joshua, this is a spiritual battle.” 

You have to understand the Israelites didn’t really have any staves or any swords to speak of. They didn’t have iron like the Canaanites. They did not have armies. They didn’t have walled cities. They were living in tents. I mean what a disjointed way to try to win a battle, but God says, “Look, I am the commander of the armies of the Lord.” And I say that to you today who are in situations for which there is no human solution available nor in sight. Put your finger on the text. Christ is the commander of God’s armies. It is a spiritual battle. 

Also, spiritual character is going to be important here. It’s going to be Joshua worshipping. “Take the shoes from off your feet. This is holy ground.” I love the answer Jesus gave to Joshua. Joshua says, “Are you for us or are you for our enemies?” And he said, “Neither.” He says, “I have not come to take sides. I have come to take over. I am God.” The issue isn’t enemy or friend. The issue is “You bow before Me in submission, and take off your shoes because this is holy ground.”  

The same words that were given to Moses at the burning bush. “Put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground.” It’s not a matter of sides. It’s a matter of sovereignty. It’s a matter of worship. It’s a matter of submission. It’s a matter of that death we spoke about just a moment ago. And once they get into the land what does it say? It says, “The Lord will choose my inheritance for me.” 

I’m anticipating a little bit, but you know when the tribes get into the land there are all kinds of squabbles as to where the boundaries should be. Some people say, “Well, I want this land because it’s better land.” And God says, “No, the boundary is to be here,” and Joshua had to draw some lots, and always, you know, those squabbles take place. And I want you to know today, blessed are those who are content, who say, “The Lord will choose my lot, and where I am put in the land, with that I am content because I am content with whatever God is content with, and I submit to the armies of the Lord, the Captain.” 

Now, what is it in your heart today that is keeping you in the desert? Is it unbelief? Have you lost God? Is it a mentality of slavery that says, “I’ve been a slave so long that I’m never going to be anything for God, and therefore all I can do is to shrivel up in my own little soul?” Is that what it is? Oh my dear friend today, have your reproach rolled away. Remember the faithfulness of God, have renewed obedience to God, renewed worship to God as He reveals Himself to you, and you will be strong in the Lord, and even your enemy, the devil, is going to tremble and the fear of the people will be upon him because of their holiness and godliness and commitment to the Lord. 

In a moment we’re going to be singing a hymn that many of us are acquainted with. It was written by Robert Robinson way back in 1735. He was actually born in 1735 I should say and wrote the hymn in 1758. Robert Robinson was an interesting person because someone said of him, “He was a good person but as unstable as water.” Have you met somebody like that? Basically good, but it’s just that he’s as unstable as water.  
He came to saving faith in Christ. He listened to Whitfield preach, in fact, and had his heart changed, and wrote those wonderful words: 

Come, thou fount of every blessing, 
Tune my heart to sing Thy grace. 
Streams of mercy, never ceasing, 
Call for songs of loudest praise. 

But there’s another stanza in the hymn (If you’d give it to me, Jerry. Just a moment) where he talks about the wandering: 

Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, 
Prone to leave the God I love.  
Here’s my heart; O take and seal it, 
Seal it for Thy courts above. 

Now, after he wrote this wonderful hymn he backslid. He went into the wilderness. He went into the world, and one day a woman, who was riding in a stage coach, saw his worldly ways and gave him this poem and said, “This has really blessed my heart. I think you need it too.” And he said to her, “I am the unhappy person who wrote these words. I would give a thousand worlds to have my joy back.” 

Well, I hope he had his joy back. "Oh to grace, how great a debtor daily I’m constrained to be." 

I speak to those of you on the fringes who’ve got all kinds of hang-ups as to why you’re not walking with God. Come back. Let God roll all the disgrace and the shame and the wasted years away. 

Let Thy goodness like a fetter 
Bind my wandering heart to Thee. 
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, 
Prone to leave the God I love. 
Here’s my heart; O take and seal it, 
Seal it for Thy courts above. 
That’s my prayer today. Is it yours? 

Let us pray. 

Our Father, we thank you that there is a Gilgal in our experience. We thank you that the shame and the reproach and the slavery and the mentality of defeat can be rolled away. Do that in our lives and hearts, we pray today. Father, I pray for those who struggle. I pray for those who do not see you in their circumstances. I pray for those, Father, who have not yet been content with their lot. We ask today, Father, bring all of us back into the fullness of Canaan. Bring us back, Lord, where there is conflict but where there is a lot of victory in the conflict. Bring us to the point, Lord, where we can eat the produce of the land, and we can eat and we can be satisfied. Do that, oh God, we pray. Make us dissatisfied with the desert but very hungry for the fullness of your love and blessing. We ask in Jesus’ name. Amen. 

Editor’s Note: In this transcript, the verbatim intelligent transcription process simplifies and enhances spoken content by eliminating redundant words, unnecessary sounds, fixing grammar errors, and clarifying meaning while preserving the author’s original intent. All Scripture quotes are according to the biblical text, not as they were originally spoken. 

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