So we’re in the book of Joshua. And what we’re seeing in this book is that God keeps his promises. Last week God encouraged Joshua to believe those promises. God encouraged Joshua with his own divine words, through the words of his fellow Israelites – which actually included some of God’s words, just repeated –, and with the reaction of the Gentiles – fear in all, faith in one – Rahab.
Now this week we’re going to study Joshua chapters 3 and 4. In these chapters we’re going to see Success through Obedience. Well, wait a minute! I thought we were talking about God keeping his promises in this book. How does the idea that Israel would be successful through obedience come in to the picture? How does that message relate to the rest of the book of Joshua?
Think about it. Remember our 1-lesson study in Deuternomy? God made a few promises in that book, didn’t he? But one of the most unavoidable promises in that book was this – if you (Israel) obey me, I will bless you. That’s what God wanted to do. He wanted to bless them. He wanted to make them successful. But he couldn’t do it if they were disobedient to him. So Israel needed to love and obey God. And as a result they would be blessed.
And that’s exactly what we see here in this section. God is keeping his promise to Israel. When they obey they are blessed. Israel and Joshua their leader find Success through Obedience.
Now, there is something noticeably absent from this section. I just need to warn you about it. One of the things that makes for an interesting, engaging story is conflict. Conflict between man and God or between man and other men or between man and nature. I’ll tell you now that there really is none of this in this section. There’s certainly no conflict with God. Joshua obeys him and is rewarded with success. At this point in the story there isn’t even conflict between man and other men. That’ll come in our next lesson — during the conquest of Jericho. You might think that crossing the Jordan might point to a conflict between man and nature. Well, if Joshua is pictured here as if he’s in some conflict between himself and the Jordan, the Jordan really doesn’t put up much of a fight. The river doesn’t fight back at all. It just stops flowing when the priests’ feet enter the river. And then it comes back when the priests leave the river. So, there isn’t even conflict between man and nature in this section.
Why do I mention this? I mention it because you might be tempted to think this section is a little boring. Be honest, you want to hear about the action. You want to hear about Jericho and how “the walls come tumblin’ down”! You want to hear about Achan and his sin and how Israel stoned him. You want to hear about Bethel and Ai and the ambush that Joshua set for them. You want to hear about the non-stop action that we see from chapter 5 through chapter 11. Victory after victory for Joshua and Israel. And you’re not alone. I want to hear about those victories and that action, too. But we need to get there first. And the way to chapter 5 is through chapters 3 and 4.
And it’s really so sad that these chapters can seem so uninteresting. I’m going to give you a second reason why you might not be as interested in these two chapters as you are in the rest of the first 11 chapters of this book. What was the first reason these chapters might seem uninteresting? There’s no conflict. The second reason I’ve become convinced of as we’ve been studying through this book. We’ve jumped in to the book of Joshua. Yes, we took one lesson to cover Deuteronomy. So we got a little background. But really what we’ve done in going straight to the book of Joshua and bypassing the Pentateuch – Genesis through Deuteronomy – is that we’ve really come in on the climax of the promises made throughout the Bible up to this point. If you start with Genesis and then come to the book of Joshua you’d be on the edge of your seat. You would have been hearing constantly about this promised land that Israel was going to get. You would have experienced the dissapointment of the people not entering the land and having to wander for 40 years. So then entering the land wouldn’t induce a yawn. It would call for attention and excitement.
So, keep these things in mind as we study this section today. There’s no conflict to naturaly stimulate interest in you. And we’re just kind of walking right in to the climax of what’s been building for 5 whole books before this.
With all that in mind, let’s witness the Success through Obedience that Joshua experiences in this book. We’ll just walk through the text and see what the Lord teaches us from his word.
Alright, so let’s just very quickly get us to where we are in this book. Chapter 1 has the Lord encouraging Joshua to enter the land. Then Joshua turns around and encourages Israel to enter the land. Chaper 2 sees Joshua sending spies to Jericho. They enter the city and are discovered. Rahab hides them and confesses her faith in their God. She asks for mercy and deliverance from Judgement and the spies grant it. She sends the spies away in peace and they return to the camp and tell Joshua all that they’d experienced.
And now, 3:1.
[3:1 And Joshua rose early in the morning; and they removed from Shittim, and came to Jordan, he and all the children of Israel, and lodged there before they passed over.]
Remember, Shittim is where Israel was camping on the east side of the Jordan in the first 2 chapters of this book. it was right across the Jordan from Jericho – probably even visible from Jericho. And so the children of Israel lodge there a few days.
Let’s read verses 2-4.
[2 And it came to pass after three days, that the officers went through the host; 3 And they commanded the people, saying, When ye see the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God, and the priests the Levites bearing it, then ye shall remove from your place, and go after it. 4 Yet there shall be a space between you and it, about two thousand cubits by measure: come not near unto it, that ye may know the way by which ye must go: for ye have not passed this way heretofore.]
God’s presence – symbolized by the ark of the covenant – was to go before Israel. But they weren’t to follow it too closely. They needed to leave about 2,000 cubits between it and them. That’s about 8 football fields long. Why did they need to keep this distance? The officers tell the people that they need to watch where the ark goes. The people don’t know this area. They haven’t been here before. They need God’s guidance. No one was to run before the Lord as if to guide him. They all needed to follow the Lord. So the officers have their say.
Joshua also wants to say something to the people. Verse 5.
[5 And Joshua said unto the people, Sanctify yourselves: for to morrow the Lord will do wonders among you.]
Wonders?! This sounds exciting! And how were the people to prepare themselves for the Lord to do these wonders? They needed to sanctify themselves. Set themselves apart. Get ready for this awesome event!
And then Joshua gives the word in verse 6.
[6 And Joshua spake unto the priests, saying, Take up the ark of the covenant, and pass over before the people. And they took up the ark of the covenant, and went before the people.]
You’ll see this kind of thing happening a lot in this section. Someone – the Lord or Joshua or the officers – tell someone else – Joshua or the people – to do something. Then right after that command, the people do whatever is commanded. There’s this very precise attention to the details of the obedience that was evident in these 2 chapters.
So the priests take up the ark of the covenant. And then it’s as if the Lord pulls Joshua aside and gives him these encouraging words in verses 7 and 8.
[7 And the Lord said unto Joshua, This day will I begin to magnify thee in the sight of all Israel, that they may know that, as I was with Moses, so I will be with thee. 8 And thou shalt command the priests that bear the ark of the covenant, saying, When ye are come to the brink of the water of Jordan, ye shall stand still in Jordan.]
So the Lord again promises Joshua that he will be with him just as he was with Moses. And now here’s this promise to magnify Josua in the sight of all Israel. How gracious the Lord is being to Joshua, a man just like you and me.
And then the Lord tells Joshua to command the priests to stop when they get to the Jordan River and to stand in it. Then Joshua gives Israel an amazing message from God in verses 9 through 13.
[9 And Joshua said unto the children of Israel, Come hither, and hear the words of the Lord your God. 10 And Joshua said, Hereby ye shall know that the living God is among you, and that he will without fail drive out from before you the Canaanites, and the Hittites, and the Hivites, and the Perizzites, and the Girgashites, and the Amorites, and the Jebusites. 11 Behold, the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth passeth over before you into Jordan. 12 Now therefore take you twelve men out of the tribes of Israel, out of every tribe a man. 13 And it shall come to pass, as soon as the soles of the feet of the priests that bear the ark of the Lord, the Lord of all the earth, shall rest in the waters of Jordan, that the waters of Jordan shall be cut off from the waters that come down from above; and they shall stand upon an heap.]
God will drive out the 7 nations in the land of Canaan. Want proof? he says to Israel. God is going to stop the waters of the Jordan river from flowing. When the priests reach the Jordan, the waters north of it will just stand in a heap. And the waters south of that point will just stop and dry up. And I imagine this process was pretty sudden and complete. But here’s a curious statement in verse 12. Joshua tells them to pick 12 men from among them – one man from each tribe. And… he doesn’t say anything else about that matter. Well, what are those guys supposed to be doing? We’ll find out later. But not until 4:2.
OK, what happens next? Just what Joshua promised would happen – the Jordan stop flowing. Let’s read verses 14 through 16.
[14 And it came to pass, when the people removed from their tents, to pass over Jordan, and the priests bearing the ark of the covenant before the people; 15 And as they that bare the ark were come unto Jordan, and the feet of the priests that bare the ark were dipped in the brim of the water, (for Jordan overfloweth all his banks all the time of harvest,) 16 That the waters which came down from above stood and rose up upon an heap very far from the city Adam, that is beside Zaretan: and those that came down toward the sea of the plain, even the salt sea, failed, and were cut off: and the people passed over right against Jericho.]
Just what God told Joshua and that Joshua told the people came to pass. The priests got to the Jordan, dipped their feet in the water and immediately the water stopped flowing. The Bible at this point mentions a name of a city where the water piled up in a heap. It says Zarethan, which is about 20 miles north of Jericho.
And because the water stopped, the action of verse 17 could happen, to end chapter 3.
[17 And the priests that bare the ark of the covenant of the Lord stood firm on dry ground in the midst of Jordan, and all the Israelites passed over on dry ground, until all the people were passed clean over Jordan.]
So, that’s a pretty quick statement of what happened. The priests stood in the midst of the Jordan and all the people passed through the Jordan.