17When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them on the road through the Philistine country, though that was shorter. For God said, “If they face war, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.” 18So God led the people around by the desert road toward the Red Sea. The Israelites went up out of Egypt ready for battle.
The Israelites went up out of Egypt “ready for battle”. God was leading them out of slavery in Egypt to the land of the Canaanites, which He had promised on oath to their ancestor Abraham to give to his descendents (Genesis 12:7, Exodus 13:11). But though the Lord had promised to give them the land, it would not come without a battle. However the Lord is faithful to His promises (Numbers 23:19) and so victory was certain. Nevertheless in His wisdom, the Lord knew they were not yet ready to face war so He took them on a longer route by the desert so they would not have to face the Philistines.
These things that the people of Israel faced over 2000 years ago are examples we can learn from today (1 Corinthians 10:11) because we also need to take possession of our inheritance (Hebrews 4:3).
Jesus said “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10).
The word translated “may have” and “have” in John 10:10 is the greek word echo (ἔχω) meaning to have, hold, to possess. It is used twice in that verse in the present tense and active subjunctive form. This means that Jesus came to make it possible for us to have an abundant life but our part is to actively take hold of (possess) it and we do that through faith (Hebrews 6:12). Like the Israelites we have an enemy whose aim is to prevent us from receiving our full inheritance and just as the Israelites had to fight to dispossess the inhabitants of Canaan so we also have to fight to take hold of what rightfully belongs to us. In our case we may need to fight for healing or to be set free from addictions or harmful behaviours or for breakthroughs in job situations or even to break down demonic strongholds in our families or communities. In Psalm 2:8 we read that the Lord said ‘Ask me and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession.’ So we can even ask the Lord for nations as our inheritance, but as the enemy is reluctant to let go, there is often a battle!
Don’t Look Back
It is interesting that after hundreds of years of slavery, God realised that the Israelites might choose to return to Egypt, the land of their slavery, if they faced war. And sometimes we are also tempted to give up and remain enslaved by whatever is oppressing us rather than face the fight that lies ahead. Nevertheless God led the people out “ready for battle”. The first battle they faced was the Egyptians marching out after them. Exodus 14:10 says the Israelites “were terrified and cried out to the Lord.” As the Lord had predicted, out of fear the Israelites complained that: “It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!” (Exodus 14:12). But Moses answered the people, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.” (Exodus 14:13-14).
The Lord Himself was going to fight the Egyptians. The Israelites needed only to fight against their own fear, stand firm and watch what the Lord would do. For us too, when we face something that seems impossibly difficult or even dangerous we may be tempted to complain or look back; it’s then that we must also battle against fear and stand firm in the knowledge that God will deliver us. Sometimes God will simply tell us to “be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10) and just watch what He does (as He told the Israelites through Moses). So we trust in His might, His power and His awesome strength and that He is an ever-present help in times of trouble (Psalms 46:1).
Be Strong and Courageous
Forty years after they crossed the Red Sea and left slavery behind, the children of Israel were about to cross the Jordan to take possession of the Promised Land. God had raised up a new leader, Joshua to succeed Moses. God promised Joshua He would be with him and never leave him and He commanded him to be strong and courageous:
As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you. 6Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their ancestors to give them.
7“Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. 8Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. 9Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”
If you are a leader today in any capacity, whether it is at work, in a ministry at church or as a parent leading your family, it takes strength and courage to lead others to inherit their land because there will be difficulties ahead. Three times God told Joshua to be strong and courageous. That was because the Israelites would be facing fierce enemies and even Joshua might be tempted to be afraid and discouraged. God wanted to emphasize to Joshua (and therefore to us) that he would need courage to lead the people to take hold of what He wanted to give them. So don’t be surprised when you face discouragement or fear in difficult situations, just remember that in the same way God was with Joshua and promised never to leave or forsake him, so today He has made the same promise to us (Hebrews 13:5). We should also remember that God has not given us a spirit of fear but of power and love and self-control (2 Timothy 1:7).
Actually under the New Covenant we have even better promises than Joshua had (Hebrews 8:6). We have become one with Christ in Spirit so it is impossible for Him to leave us (1 Corinthians 6:17, John 17:21, Romans 8:9)! And we have been freed from having to obey the Law in order to be prosperous and successful. The success of the Israelites depended on their obedience. But Jesus has perfectly fulfilled the Law on our behalf and today through faith, we can receive all the Deuteronomy 28 blessings of obedience as if we ourselves have perfect obedience. Jesus set us free from the Law to receive the blessing given to Abraham by faith (Galatians 3:14). Reminding ourselves of these truths is important when we face any kind of battles in our lives.
Circumcised and Battle Ready
It’s important for us to be ready for battle. Though the Israelites didn’t need to fight when the Egyptians pursued them because God fought for them (Exodus 14:14), they left Egypt “ready for battle” (Exodus 13:18). Similarly when Joshua led the Israelites to cross over the Jordan they were armed for battle (Joshua 4:13) but they could not fight their enemies straight away. Before they could take territory, Joshua needed to circumcise them:
2At that time the Lord said to Joshua, “Make flint knives and circumcise the Israelites again.” 3So Joshua made flint knives and circumcised the Israelites at Gibeath Haaraloth.
4Now this is why he did so: All those who came out of Egypt—all the men of military age—died in the wilderness on the way after leaving Egypt. 5All the people that came out had been circumcised, but all the people born in the wilderness during the journey from Egypt had not. 6The Israelites had moved about in the wilderness forty years until all the men who were of military age when they left Egypt had died, since they had not obeyed the Lord. For the Lord had sworn to them that they would not see the land he had solemnly promised their ancestors to give us, a land flowing with milk and honey. 7So he raised up their sons in their place, and these were the ones Joshua circumcised. They were still uncircumcised because they had not been circumcised on the way. 8And after the whole nation had been circumcised, they remained where they were in camp until they were healed.
9Then 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.
Their circumcision represented their freedom from the shame of their slavery in Egypt and placed them back under the covenant God had made with their ancestor Abraham. Victory would only come through their covenant relationship with the Lord (Genesis 17:10). So it is for us. The name Joshua in Hebrew is Yehoshua (יְהוֹשׁ֫וּע) meaning "the LORD is salvation". It is also the Hebrew name for Jesus.
Joshua’s circumcision of the Israelites represents the circumcision that Jesus has performed of our (sinful) flesh:
Colossians 2:11, 13-15
11In him (Christ) you were also circumcised with a circumcision not performed by human hands. Your whole self ruled by the flesh was put off when you were circumcised by Christ,
13When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, 14having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. 15And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross
Our circumcision has made us battle ready. It has freed us from the shame of our slavery to sin and made us alive with Christ. It has made us partakers of the New Covenant, a better covenant than the Israelites had (Hebrews 8:6) in which our sins have been forgiven forever (Hebrews 8:12) and the demonic forces which battle against us have been disarmed (Colossians 2:15). And in this New Covenant there are new laws which God has written on our hearts and minds (Hebrews 8:10-12). His new laws are to “believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ and to love one another” (1 John 3:23). He even gives us the gift of faith (Ephesians 2:8) and the spirit of love (2 Timothy 1:7) to enable us to keep these new commands so they are not burdensome but rather empower us for victory (1 John 5:4).
Remember the Lamb
After they were circumcised the Israelites celebrated the Passover (Joshua 5:10). As they ate the Passover lamb they would have remembered how the blood of the lamb prevented death from entering their homes in Egypt while eating its meat healed them of all their diseases so that none of them left Egypt frail (Psalms 105:37). Jesus is our Passover lamb and when we feed on His body and blood we also remember that He has given us victory over death (1 Corinthians 15:54), taken our diseases and pains upon Himself, taken the punishment for our sins to make us whole (Isaiah 53:4-5) and broken Satan’s power (Hebrews 2:14, 1 John 3:8) freeing us to take hold of abundant life.
So for the Israelites, being armed and ready for battle involved overcoming their fear, standing firm and trusting in the Lord’s power to deliver them. It required courageous leadership, obedience, the covenant of circumcision and celebrating the Passover. Then they were ready to take Jericho.
Victory through His Finished Work
So how did they take Jericho? All the armed men marched round the city carrying the Ark of the Lord with them. Seven priests were to march in front of the Ark blowing trumpets with an armed guard in front of them as well as an armed guard behind the Ark. They were to do this once a day for six days but on the seventh day they were to march seven times around the city in the same way carrying the Ark and blowing the trumpets. The seventh time at the sound of the trumpet blast, all the men were to shout and the walls of Jericho would fall and they would be able to charge straight in and take the city.
The Ark contained the very presence of God. So they were marching with the presence of God. Marching around the city daily for six days with the Ark and blowing the trumpets would have made their enemies in Jericho aware that Israel was there with their God which no doubt filled them with fear. Often our “work” is simply to be aware ourselves and to make the enemy aware that we carry the presence of God with us in every circumstance. Additionally the number seven in the bible represents completion and the finished work of Jesus. As they marched seven times around the city on the seventh day and then blasted the trumpets and shouted they were declaring the victory of the finished work of Jesus. And in every trial we face we need to declare the finished work of Jesus. His finished work is both our battle cry and our victory shout!
Weapons of Righteousness
Finally let’s take a look at the weapons the apostle Paul used in the New Testament: he faced great trials with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left (2 Corinthians 6:7). Jesus’ finished work is our battle cry and victory shout and His gift of righteousness, which we receive by faith (Romans 5:17, 2 Corinthians 5:21), is our most powerful weapon. This is the means by which we receive every promise.
Speaking about how Abraham received the promise that he would be heir of the world, Paul said this:
It was not through the law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise that he would be heir of the world, but through the righteousness that comes by faith.
Though Abraham was about a hundred years old and his wife Sarah was ninety and well past natural childbearing age Abraham was “fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised” (Romans 4:21), i.e. to give them a son of their own flesh and blood. Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness. (Romans 4:3). Paul goes on to say:
23The words “it was credited to him” were written not for him alone, 24but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness—for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead.
So God credits righteousness to those who believe that He raised Jesus from the dead. Jesus’ finished work is the doorway to our inheritance and the righteousness of faith allows us to walk through it.
Beloved if you are facing a battle right now, be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go. Stand firm and trust in your covenant with Him. Declare Jesus’ finished work to your enemies and enter into your inheritance through the righteousness that comes by faith!