The Long Game of Spiritual Warfare
“Joshua made war a long time with all those kings.” Joshua 11:18
The Pentateuch can be frustrating to read. The Israelites are freed from captivity in Egypt by the very hand of God, yet time and time again they resort to grumbling, disobedience, and idolatry. We may ask ourselves, “When will these foolish Israelites get their act together?” This makes the book of Joshua all the more satisfying. The people of God finally enter the promised land behind Joshua’s strong and courageous leadership. Chapters 6-12 highlight their victories in battle and their trust in God. One by one, their enemies fall: the Hittites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Perizzites, and so on. As we read this exciting account of God’s faithfulness and the fulfillment of his promises, it seems as if all of these victories happen in a matter of days. That is until we come across one verse in particular.
“Joshua made war a long time with all those kings” (Joshua 11:18). It strikes me that this war was “a long time”. After all, Joshua was promised again and again, “Do not be afraid, I will give them into your hand, the LORD your God will be with you” (Joshua 1:9; 10:25; 11:6). God surely has the power to defeat an army in an instant, but commentators believe this war in chapter 11 could have lasted as long as seven years (ESV Study Bible). I can only imagine that Joshua and Israel were often discouraged by God’s seemingly slow-moving plan of victory. Perhaps God was shaping his people during this time by teaching them to believe him, to trust him, to seek him as a refuge, to fight the good fight of faith, and to enhance their deep longing for the promised land.
We can certainly apply this to our own sanctification. As Christians, we know that God has promised us victory and freedom from every sin (Romans 6:6-8). We declare war on and put to death what is earthly (Colossians 3:5), but our battle takes much longer than expected. Especially for those of us with besetting, habitual sins, the long game of spiritual warfare is often discouraging. In our sin, we ask ourselves as we once asked of Israel, “When will you get your act together?”
I plead and pray that you do not lose hope in your fight against sin. I invite you to consider that perhaps God is shaping you in a similar manner to how he shaped Israel. Believe God’s promises, and do not think of yourself more highly than you ought to think (Romans 12:3), for even the Apostle Paul had the thorn in his side (2 Corinthians 12:7). Seek the Lord as your refuge and ever-present help as you confidently draw near to the throne of grace (Psalm 46:1; Hebrews 4:16). Remember your great high priest and friend in Jesus, who suffered the fullest extent of temptation, yet without sin, so that he can help you in your time of need through his steadfast intercession (Hebrews 2:18; Romans 8:34). Remember that you have the Holy Spirit in you, who empowers you to obey and gives you the ability to properly wield your sword for battle, that is, the Word of God (Ephesians 6:17; Hebrews 4:12).
Spiritual warfare is a long game, but do not lose heart. God is enhancing your longing for him, for holiness, and for heaven. Fight the good fight of faith, for one day we will enter our promised land clothed in the imputed righteousness of our Joshua (Hb. Yeshua), Jesus Christ. God will prove himself faithful, sin will be no more, and the war will be over. In his book Ten Questions to Diagnose Your Spiritual Health,Donald Whitney says,“Growing Christians are groaning Christians.” Let this time of war fuel your anticipation for that day, where we will see Christ in all of his beauty, “and we shall be like him” (1 John 3:2).
Matt is an MDIV student at Reformed Theological Seminary in Charlotte, NC and a Youth Ministry Intern at South Charlotte Presbyterian Church. He is a graduate of UNC Wilmington with a BA in Film Studies, where he also served as a Young Life leader during his college years.