Preparing to Enter the Land

Dr. Brian Allison

I would like to put a copy of "A Message to Garcia" in the hands of every Christian believer and worker. Elbert Hubbard, the author of this small work, penned timeless words that have proved to be of profit to many. He wrote this work in about an hour in 1899. The content of the work was of such vital and basic importance that by the year 1913 there were about 40 million copies in print. During the Russo-Japanese war (1904-1905), every Russian soldier who went to the front lines took a copy with him. The Japanese were so impressed at how many copies they confiscated from the Russian prisoners that the government immediately decided to make a translation of it. In fact the Mikado (i.e., emperor) ordered that every soldier and civilian working for the government was to receive a copy. This work has been translated into different languages and has had a profound effect. "A Message to Garcia" begins as follows:

In all this Cuban business there is one man [who] stands out on the horizon of my memory like Mars at perihelion.

When war broke out between Spain and the United States, it was very necessary to communicate quickly with the leader of the Insurgents. Garcia was somewhere in the mountain fastnesses of Cuba – no one knew where. No mail or telegraph message could reach him.

The President must secure his cooperation, and quickly.

What to do?

Someone said to the President, "There is a fellow by the name of Rowan [who] will find Garcia for you, if anybody can.

Rowan was sent for and given a letter to be delivered to Garcia. How the "fellow by the name of Rowan" took the letter, sealed it up in an oilskin pouch, strapped it over his heart, in four days landed by night off the coast of Cuba from an open boat, disappeared into the jungle, and in three weeks came out on the other side of the Island, having traversed a hostile country on foot, and delivered his letter to Garcia – are things I have no special desire now to tell in detail. The point that I wish to make is this: [President] McKinley gave Rowan a letter to be delivered to Garcia. Rowan took the letter and did not ask, "Where is he at?"

By the Eternal! there is a man whose form should be cast in deathless bronze and a statue placed in every college of the land. It is not book learning young men need, nor instruction about this or that, but a stiffening of the vertebrae which will cause them to be loyal to a trust, to act promptly, [to] concentrate their energies: do the thing – "Carry a message to Garcia."

Rowan immediately responded to and complied with that which was required. Such was the case with Joshua; and such should be the case with us.

Immediately responding to God's will

Joshua was called, commissioned, and commanded by the Lord to lead the people of Israel into the Promised Land. He immediately responded to and complied with the voice of God. We read, "Then Joshua commanded the officers of the people" (Josh. 1:10). Joshua did not delay to act when God directly addressed him concerning a mission. Is that true of you? When God has given you a vision, when He has communicated to you a particular mission or task or ministry to perform, have you immediately responded in compliance? Would you be one who would take the message to Garcia? When God said to you that you should give your children religious training so that they might be nurtured in the truth of God, and you knew that it was God's will, did you immediately respond? When God said to you that you should contact or write to someone in order to minister to him or her, did you immediately respond? A distraught student phoned me yesterday. He had learned the previous night that his grandmother had died; she was not a Christian. He said that the Lord had been speaking to him for a long time to write a letter to his grandmother and to share his faith. God spoke to him, and he failed to immediately respond; and it may be (though we believe in the sovereignty of God) that here was a soul who has gone into eternity without plainly hearing the Gospel. Has God come and spoken to you and laid something on your heart to speak to someone or to engage in some ministry or to perform some task, and have you delayed?

We may delay for a number of reasons. Perhaps a main reason is insecurity, fear, anxiety, or doubt. These states of mind cause us to hesitate, even though we know God's will. I was speaking to a young man this past week. About ten years ago, he claims that God distinctly called him into the ministry. He has not yet taken steps to prepare for the ministry. Because of fear and doubt, he has delayed. Is that what is holding you back? Now, we can overcome these states of mind, which prevents us from doing God's will, by recognizing that God can be trusted. Again, God calls His people to be strong and courageous.

Another reason why Christians hesitate and delay in immediately responding to the 'divine' vision is laziness and the lack of interest. You may know what God's will is, you may know what God wants you to do, but you may put it off because you have a lack of desire. But it should not be a question of desire that necessarily controls you, but rather a question of obedience to God, a question of humbly responding to what He tells you, whether you feel positive about it or not. I think of family devotions. I know that many families wrestle in this area. Yes, many Christian parents say that when the children are small and growing up, they should be read Christian stories at bed time, they should be subject to family devotions, they should be catechized and grounded in the truth; yet parents put these practices off because of laziness and lack of interest. Now, we can overcome these behaviours by recognizing that we are to fear God, and thus are to be committed to rendering obedience to Him.

So, do you immediately respond when God speaks? If not, you may lose out on the blessing. Now, you may seek to justify yourself by saying, "Well, God is sovereign and if it is meant to happen, then it will happen. It really doesn't matter what I do." My Christian friend, that is a wrong way to think. We should believe that it is 100 percent God, but also 100 percent person. It is not either/or, it is both/and. In the mystery of His wisdom, God is pleased to work through our freedom and decision-making in the execution and outworking of His purposes. Our freedom and decisions are intricately involved in, and a part of, His sovereign control; and we will never know how the divine and human elements relate to each other. So, it is possible for you to lose out on the blessing in your delay and your hesitation.

Working with other leaders and the people

Joshua's first action in immediately responding or obeying God is that he assumes strong leadership as God commanded – "Then Joshua commanded the officers of the people" (1:10). It did not matter what people would say or think about him. He had heard from God, he had received orders from God; and that was his confidence, as well as his justification for assuming strong leadership. So, he did not hesitate in addressing his officers through whom he would exercise his leadership.

Further, Joshua was very clear on what to do and how it was to be done. In commanding the officers, Joshua said, "Pass through the midst of the camp and command the people, saying, 'Prepare provisions for yourselves, for within three days you are to cross this Jordan, to go in to possess the land which the LORD your God is giving you, to possess it'" (1:11). That is a mark of good leadership: knowing what to do, and how to do it, and clearly presenting it to the people.

Further, Joshua worked within a certain organizational structure. There were clear lines of authority. Joshua was the leader and yet he had his officers. He gave orders to, and dispatched, his officers. He delegated responsibility. Moreover, he employed the people in the accomplishing of this mission. Joshua recognized that it was not a 'one man' job; that it had to be a 'team effort' in order to accomplish the mission. It was too big for one individual.

If God has given a Church a vision, I submit to you that this vision will not be fulfilled by one individual, or even by two individuals, but will only be fulfilled if the Church works together. God expects the leader and his officers to mobilize the people, and to encourage them, to arise for battle, to prepare them to march; and hopefully the people will be willing. It would have done Joshua no good to simply have a well-orchestrated plan, but no 'hands' or 'feet' to implement the plan.

Now, in giving these orders to the officers to employ and direct the people, Joshua reminded the officers (who were to similarly remind the people) that God is faithful and would guarantee success – "For within three days you are to cross this Jordan, to go in to possess the land which the LORD your God is giving you, to possess it" (1:11). Joshua reminded the officers that God had already secured the land for them. The victory was already certain. Similarly, my Christian brothers and sisters, God has set the 'land' before you, in your individual lives and in your community. The victory is already certain, success has already been determined; and God says to you, "Now, go in and get it." That is your encouragement and that is your confidence, and that should become your motivation.

Generally speaking, people are better motivated and prepared to work and serve through encouragement rather than through castigation – particularly encouragement that focuses on God and His faithfulness. For instance, God called Nehemiah to rebuild the wall of Jerusalem. Having prayed to God, and having heard from God, Nehemiah surveyed the land and devised a plan. Then he called the people together – "Then I said to them, 'You see the bad situation we are in, that Jerusalem is desolate and its gates burned by fire. Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem that we may no longer be a reproach.' And I told them how the hand of my God had been favourable to me, and also about the king's words which he had spoken to me. Then they said, 'Let us arise and build'. So they put their hands to the good work" (Neh. 2:17,18). Nehemiah encouraged the people by referring to God's faithfulness and goodness; and as a result they were motivated to action.

Just as an aside, leadership is not perfect. Leadership is not always right; but leadership still demands loyalty and support. For instance, Joshua said, "Prepare provisions for yourselves for within three days you are to cross this Jordan" (1:11b). It did not happen that way. Joshua did not anticipate the obstacles and opposition. All things being equal, it would have taken the spies, whom he had sent on the reconnaissance mission to Jericho, about three days to return, with some time to spare. The spies, however, were detected and they had to hide in the hill country for three days and then return to the camp. So, what Joshua anticipated did not work out. Rather, it took about 7 or 8 days to cross the Jordan. Leaders may have the best of intentions and make apparently good decisions, but they cannot always anticipate the obstacles and opposition. Leaders must make the best decisions and take the most appropriate action that they can on the basis of the information that they have; but they are to be continually monitoring their progress and thus adjusting their strategy. Accordingly, that is what Joshua did.

Failing to enter the land and receiving God's best

So, first, Joshua addressed the officers. And leaders must first speak to their officers in prosecuting the vision. Joshua then addressed two and a half tribes – the tribes of the Reubenites, the Gadites, and the half tribe of Manasseh. We read, "Joshua said, 'Remember the word which Moses the servant of the Lord commanded you, saying, "The LORD your God gives you rest, and will give you this land." Your wives, your little ones, and your cattle shall remain in the land which Moses gave you beyond the Jordan, but you shall cross before your brothers in battle array, all your valiant warriors, and shall help them, until the Lord gives your brothers rest, as He gives you, and they also possess the land which the LORD your God is giving them. Then you shall return to your own land, and possess that which Moses the servant of the LORD gave you beyond the Jordan toward the sunrise'" (1:12-15).

This address to these tribes was necessary in preparing to enter the land. In Numbers 32, we are given the account of the Reubenites, the Gadites, and the half tribe of Manasseh approaching Moses and requesting of him the land on the other side of the Jordan, not the Promised Land. These tribes had much livestock. They looked on the land of Gilead and Jazar, on the other side of the Jordan, and they concluded that this was a good land for their livestock. Subsequently, they said to Moses that they did not want to go into the Promised Land, the land 'flowing with milk and honey'. Moses consented, with one condition: they had to go into the Promised Land before their brothers, and help secure the land for them. The tribes agreed. So, Joshua reminded them of that stipulation and pledge.

Now, from their perspective, these tribes had 'struck up a good deal'. It was wonderful: all the land of their choice. But, in a sense, it was a real tragedy that they did not go into the Promised Land. They did not seek or want God's best. They received a possession of land, but it was not what God planned or intended for them; but God allowed them to have it. It is possible for God to intend something wonderful and great for you, but you decide that you do not want it; and thus you decide on second best. I am not, as already mentioned, denying the sovereignty of God; but it is a mystery how the divine and human elements interrelate. Yet, in a very real sense, you can decide to have second best, rather than God's best of entering to possess the land – the 'land flowing with milk and honey'.

These tribes' wants came in conflict with God's will; and God accommodated their wants, and thus they missed out on living God's will. Similarly, you may miss out on living God's will. God may let you have your desire and thus miss His best. For instance, God may come to you with a new position, or a new job, or a new opportunity. It may be challenging, it may appear to be difficult, yet that may be the 'land' that God sets before you; and you have the freedom to say, "No!" You may turn it down because you are very comfortable and happy in your present job; and as a result, you will miss out on God's best. Or, God may come to you with a new set of relationships, new social connections, and it may seem a little scary. Consequently, you may say, "No!" because you are secure in your present relationships. Or, God may come to you with an opportunity to give your testimony to a large adult group, those who have not heard the Gospel; and because of your fear, you may say, "No! I am already working in Sunday School with the younger children. I am already serving God." So, it is possible to miss out. Such was the case with the Reubenites, the Gadites, and the half tribe of Manasseh.

Are you settling for second best? Be honest now. Are your wants conflicting with His will. Do not justify your actions by saying, "Well, God will wrestle me to the ground if I go astray." Yes, God can make you willing in the day of His power, but Romans 1 reminds us that He is pleased to give people over to their desires (which serves as a form of judgement). Remember, God supplied Israel with manna, but Israel wanted meat. We read, "And in their heart they put God to the test by asking for food according to their desire. Then they spoke against God; they said, 'Can God prepare a table in the wilderness.... So they ate and were well filled; and their desire He gave to them. Before they had satisfied their desire, while their food was in their mouths, the anger of God rose against them, and killed some of their stoutest ones, and subdued the choice men of Israel" (Ps. 78:18,19, 29-31). God wants you to have His best, and it may not be an easy road. Entering and possessing the land of Canaan was not an easy road for Israel. There was blood spilt and lives lost, but it was God's best.

Entering the land requires corporate obedience

Now, we should not judge and condemn too harshly the Reubenites, the Gadites, and the half tribe of Manasseh. We should also commend them, in that they redeemed their pledge that they had made to Moses. We read, "And they answered Joshua, saying, 'All that you have commanded us we will do, and wherever you send us we will go. Just as we obeyed Moses in all things, so we will obey you; only may the LORD your God be with you, as He was with Moses" (1:16,17). Notice, first, that they were prepared to sacrifice, not for personal gain or profit, but for the good of the group. Many of these men would not be returning to their families and their homesteads. They were not only faithful to their pledge, but they were redeeming their pledge eagerly and cheerfully.

Notice, second, that they were men of integrity. They already had their possession, and they could have reneged on their pledge (even though God would have punished them for it). Yet they honoured their pledge, and they did so with deep commitment, involvement, and resolve. They rendered undivided allegiance to Joshua – "And they answered Joshua saying, 'All that you have commanded us we will do, and wherever you send us, we will go'" (1:16). There is no greater tribute, no greater respect, that you can render to a leader than the commitment of your undivided loyalty and support.

Now, the only requirement by these men of Joshua, in exchange for such loyalty and support, was simply the realization that God was with Joshua and that God was leading him – "only may the Lord your God be with you" (1:17b). They said, in effect, that as long as they knew that God was with Joshua, they would give undivided loyalty and support. They were willing to be submissive in "all things" (1:17a). They realized that if God were with Joshua, then they had no choice but to follow. Matthew Henry wrote, "Those that we have reason to think have favour from God should have honour and respect from us." So was the case with Joshua. These men granted carte blanche leadership to Joshua – "Anyone who rebels against your command and does not obey your words in all that you command him shall be put to death" (1:18a). Moses did not even have that kind of support. That statement certainly reveals to us the depth of their commitment. What a vote of confidence for Joshua! Do you think Joshua was encouraged? No doubt he was. They wanted him to lead and they wanted him to be successful.

They further required and expected a certain disposition from Joshua – "only be strong and courageous" (1:18b). What they were saying is this: We are willing to follow, but you be worthy to be followed. Lead in such a way that you are worthy to be respected.

Preparation is required in order to enter and possess the land. In assuming the command, Joshua prepared the people to decamp and enter. Again, what is the 'land' that the Lord wants you to enter and possess? How is He preparing you to enter? Are you allowing Him to prepare you? Are you open to His leading? Will you settle for second best or for God's best?