To state the obvious, preaching from Joshua is a challenge. Especially for churches from pacifist traditions. Joshua is full of war. It is aggressive. It is violent. And God is involved in it. That makes Joshua an invitation to participate in a difficult conversation. Preaching Joshua should allow for feelings of disagreement but the text must be taken seriously. Preaching Joshua includes the temptation to make the text more acceptable or to force it into saying something that matches our presuppositions. Or even to dismiss portions of the text.
There are parts of this narrative that pull us into the story. Although violent, Joshua is adventurous. Partnership in warfare is not the usual way God intervenes. However, in Joshua we cannot walk over it, cannot go under it, and cannot walk around it. We must walk through it. Joshua must be seen in its place in the biblical storyline. Such warfare may not be found in other parts of the story, but it is here and we cannot pretend it is not.
Joshua is like an arena that hosts a contest involving text and listener. We struggle between rational thinking vs. faith in God. We struggle with violent warfare vs. worshipful celebration. There may even be a sense of preacher vs. God. We would do well to reread the encounter at 5.13-15 before we preach, regardless of the text for the day. Far too often, preachers have come up with a plan and afterward asked that God endorse it. We may be tempted to enter the situation asking whether God is for us or against us. The text is clear this is the wrong question. The right question is “Whose side are we on?”
Preaching Joshua will leave us with unresolved questions. But we can be certain about this God who demonstrates strength and salvation through strange strategies. Joshua makes us aware of the reality of God.
Ultimately, preaching Joshua takes us to the question, “Who will you serve?” This is the conclusion of the book. After 23 chapters of following this God through the Jordan River at flood stage, circling the city of Jericho, and wandering deeper into the promised the land, we know the correct answer. Joshua reviews what this God has already done, the answer seems obvious. Yet preaching Joshua admits it is difficult to be a disciple. It is to admit out loud that to serve the Lord is not an easy decision. This is the most serious of questions “Who will you serve?” This is where things become difficult. “We will serve the Lord” we say. And the preacher replies “No you can’t do it.” We insist we can and face a challenging future. Other gods are easier to serve. Other kings easier to follow. Allegiance is a difficult decision to make.
Preaching Joshua is to preach about discipleship. To serve the Lord means you cannot serve other gods. You cannot have a foot in two different kingdoms. To preach Joshua is to be reminded of the words that come later from Jesus “No one can serve two masters.”