Sunday, December 31, 2006

Joshua 3-4 - Crossing Over into the New Year

Opening thought: Never Disappointed

A pastor visited an old man suffering from painful rheumatism and found him with his Bible open in front of him. The minister noticed that the word "proved" was written repeatedly in the margin. He turned over a few pages and found, "God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble." "Proved." And so it went on through the Book. Next to John 1:12 (KJV: “But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name;”) he had written "Proved." He had received Christ by believing and had indeed become a child of God. He had proved that promise of God's Word. Millions of other born-again believers could write "proved" next to this verse. There isn't a single one who has put this promise of God to the test and been disappointed.[1]

Contextual Notes:
The narrative arrangement of Joshua 3 and 4 is remarkable. Some scholars suggest later editing and combining of two accounts, but a simple view of the text shows the writer’s genius and negates any attempt to say this text is somehow a patchwork of motley hero stories.

The passage has four sections: the preparation (Joshua 3:1-6), the passage (Joshua 3:7-17), the memorial stones in the river bed (Joshua 4:1-14), and the return of the river flow and the memorial stones at Gilgal (Joshua 4:15-24). Each section closes with a summary statement, a common Hebrew OT historical mannerism.

In each of the last three sections, there is a triple division: God’s command, Joshua’s command, and the execution of the command. For example, God’s command (3:7-8), Joshua’s repetition (3:9-13), and the action (3:14-17) Verse 17 gives the customary summary.

Chapter 4 is divided into two sections. Verses 1-14 are about the bringing of twelve memorial stones from the Jordan. Verses 15-24 conclude the whole event. The same pattern is here of God’s command, Joshua’s repetition of command, and the action of the command.


1. Preparation to Cross Over (3:1-8)
a. We must listen to the Lord’s instruction.

i. “move out from your positions and follow [the ark]”(3:1-3)
b. We must trust the Lord for the future.
i. “You have never been this way before” (3:4)
ii. Who would have expected September 11th or even December 7th? Who would have expected a few years ago that Saddam Hussein would have actually been hanged this weekend?
iii. Our lives are filled with sudden surprises, sudden temptations, sudden earthquakes, sudden calamities, sudden joys. Who might you meet this year who will change your life? What might happen at work that throws all your plans off? Maybe a promotion or maybe a layoff? What might the doctor say to you this year that will scare you or make you very happy?

c. We must respect the Lord’s guidance.
i. “keep a distance . . . between you and the ark” (3:4)
ii. 2000 cubits = 1000 yards = ¾ mile
iii. What was the Ark of the Covenant? It was the symbol of the Presence of God, built by Bezalel in the wilderness, with the tablets of the Ten Commandments on the inside.
iv. It was a new thing for the ark to lead. For forty years, since leaving Egypt, a pillar of cloud by day and fire by night guided Israel. The ark was in the center of the column. Now the ark takes the lead.
v. If you are not sure what God wants you to do, wait on Him. Better by far to spend hours or days or years waiting in silence, although people who don’t understand will call it indolent – waiting for God’s clear will, than to hurry down a path and after going too far, find yourself not in God’s will at all, and it being too far to turn back.
vi. Following Him means the suppression of our will. We must keep our own will in subordination to His. We must keep near Him, in order to hear His lightest whisper. Do you want to know God’s will for you? “Keep near Him, and you will not lack direction.”

vii. J.E.B. Stuart was the most famous cavalry general of the War Between the States. Years earlier, as he was preparing to graduate from West Point, he wrote his father about his plans, “I have not as yet any fixed course determined upon after graduation; still I can't help but regard it as the important crisis of my life. Two courses will be left for my adoption, the profession of arms and that of law; the one securing an ample support, with a life of hardship and uncertainty,--laurels, if any, dearly bought, and leaving an empty title as a bequeathment; the other an overcrowded thoroughfare, which may or may not yield a support, -- may possibly secure honors, but of doubtful worth. Each has its labors and its rewards. In making the selection I will rely upon the guidance of Him whose judgment cannot err, for "it is not with man that walk-eth to direct his steps.” (Jeremiah 10:23).

d. We must be made holy under the Lord’s hand.
i. “’Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do amazing things among you’” (3:5).
ii. Not just externally making everything look good. A lot of us are good at making things look good to others. We think we are, but there are those who can see right through us no matter how hard we try. We are talking about internally asking forgiveness of our sins, clearing any blockages to fellowship with the Lord like unforgiveness of others, etc., turning to the Lord in intimacy. If you want the power of God in your life? Do you want healing of your spirit, mind, or body? Do you want to see God move with power in answer to your prayers? Then consecrate yourself so that the Lord may do amazing things in your life.
iii. Alexander Maclaren: “The best security for tomorrow’s wonders is today’s sanctifying.”

2. Power to Cross Over (3:9-17)
a. God’s Word is powerful.
i. “Come here and listen to the words of the Lord” (3:9)
b. God’s Presence is powerful.
i. “this is how you will know that the living God is among you” (3:10)
ii. At Kadesh Barnea, five tribal names from the spies scared the congregation into rebellion. Here the whole seven names gives confidence to Israel. Romans 8:37-39

c. God’s Guidance is powerful.
iv. “the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth will go . . . ahead of you” (3:11)
v. He controls everything. He is Lord of all the earth, not just a territory.
vi. This name “ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth” tells them that wherever it leads, they need not fear to go.

d. With God nothing is ever impossible.
i. Despite flood stage, “the water from upstream stopped flowing” (3:15-16)
ii. Piled up at Adam (symbol of man) (3:16) See same word “heaped up” at Exodus 15:8.
iii. Verses 14-16 are one long sentence, like a long flow of water which was stopped or a great long shout of triumph, rolling, rushing, like the flow of two million people across the river bed of the Jordan. Verse 17 gives the customary summary. Luke 1:37; Philippians 4:13

e. With God nothing ever changes.

i. “The priests . . . stood firm on dry ground . . . , while all Israel . . . completed the crossing on dry ground” (3:17)
ii. Maclaren: “May we not learn the lesson to stand fixed and patient wherever God sets us, as long as He does not call us thence?”
iii. God is not willing that any should perish. His character is to condescend to weak faith, to wait until the last loiterer makes it to the other bank, Until then, he remains providing a way. 2 Peter 3:9; 1 Timothy 2:4

iv. Same God who produced the wonder at the Red Sea now both confirms Joshua as the new Moses and communicates his unchanging power to a new generation that only heard about the Red Sea while growing up in the desert. Only Caleb and Joshua saw the Red Sea. While their enemies trembled in fear, the children of Israel crossed over 2-3 million strong, and camped in an indefensible location at Gilgal.
v. The miracle’s purpose was two-fold: to stamp God’s seal of authority on Joshua and to encourage the people of God’s fighting for them. Here God “begins” to exalt Joshua (3:7; 4:14). The miracle’s parallel with the Red Sea is obvious. Joshua was elevated to Moses’ level. But Yeshua, the writer of Hebrews says, is greater than Moses and Joshua. Hebrews 3:3, 5-6; 4:8

vi. For us, Jesus is the Ark of the Covenant of God. He is not just a symbol of the divine Presence. He IS the Presence of God. He is the law of God. He is the Covenant with the people.
vii. And it was here at this crossing place that centuries later John the Baptizer immersed Jesus at the Jordan. He was announcing that He would stand in intercession as a priest (3:3) and that all He would overcome all the sin that had cut off the Promised Land, heaped up all the way back to Adam (3:16).
viii. Don’t miss the parallel in 4:19. “The tenth day of the first month” is 40 years to the day since the first Passover Lamb was slain in Egypt. Jesus is our Passover Lamb who was slain. (Joshua 5:10)
ix. The ark moved first to guide Israel into the Promised Land. It opened the path and pushed back the torrent so that Israel could pass through to the Promised Land on dry ground. It stood watch to guard Israel as they crossed the river. Jesus is our Guiding Ark, summing up all human duties in one sweet invitation, “Follow Me.”
x. This is also why He can be both the Shepherd and the Gate John 10:7, 9, 11, 14

xi. Alexander Maclaren: “The one Pattern for us, the one Example that we need to follow, the one Strength in our perplexities, the true Director of our feet, is that dear Lord, if we will only listen to Him. And that direction will be given to us in regard to the trifles, as in regard to the great things of our lives.”

3. Perspective to Cross Over (4:1-24)
a. Listening to the Word of God brings perspective.
i. “the Lord said to Joshua” (4:1)
b. Listening to your leadership brings perspective.
i. “Joshua called together the twelve men he had appointed . . . and said to them” (4:4-6a)
c. Teaching your children brings perspective.
i. “In the future, when your children ask you, ‘What do these stones mean?’ tell them” (4:7); “In the future, when your descendants ask their fathers, ‘What do these stones mean?’ tell them (4:21-22)
ii. Teach them God’s power (4:6-7, 21-22)
iii. Teach them God’s faithfulness (4:23)
iv. Teach them God’s missionary heart (4:24).

v. The Lord’s Supper is a memorial to remind us vividly through the humble bread and wine that Jesus gave his body and blood for us

vi. God is very much concerned that each generation be trained in righteousness. We are one generation away from the extinction of Christian families. Look around this sanctuary. In fifteen years, how many will be here? Who will keep the lights burning? Who will reach out to the masses of unchurched moving into this area? It is your responsibility before God to get your children and grandchildren involved in church. Not the preacher’s. Not the youth directors’. Not the Sunday School director’s or teacher’s.

vii. It is the parents’ responsibility to train children, not the Sunday School teacher, not the pastor, not the school teacher, not the television, not the computer.

· Getting into the Scripture afresh and getting close to the Lord again are the best ways to prepare for a good new year.
· Trusting Jesus’ heart for you this year is the best way to handle things when the tough times come. He is faithful and he does not change on you.
· Take time this year with the younger folks around you, whether children, grandchildren, or just friends. Mentor them. Share a story about how God met you in crisis, how the Lord rescued you from darkness, what your faith in Jesus and the Word of God means to you, and why it has been a strong foundation for you through the school of hard knocks.

We have looked today at the Israelites who crossed over from the desert to the Promised Land. Have you crossed over from death to life? Have you made the decision to follow the ark, to pass through the water, to be baptized?

Are you thinking about crossing over in that decision you’ve been pondering? In the new year, are you thinking about going back to school? Are you thinking about changing jobs or starting your own business? Are you trying to decide about surgery? Are you wondering if that special someone might be the one? Are you thinking of joining this church? Are you contemplating surrendering your life to vocational ministry in the Kingdom in some new way?

[1] 2000+ Bible Illustrations, “God: Faithfulness,” e-sword.
[2] Alexander Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture: Deuteronomy – 2 Kings 7,, 57-8.
[3] Maclaren, 61.
[4] Maclaren, 65.
[5] Maclaren, 58.