STEPPING OUT IN FAITH SEEMS RISKY BUT IS THE ONLY COURSE OF ACTION THAT ALLOWS THE LIVING GOD TO WORK ON OUR BEHALF
David Howard: Chapters 3–4 belong together, since they both discuss the crossing of the Jordan River. The emphasis in these two chapters is not so much on the crossing per se—this could have been mentioned in a few short verses—as it is on Israel’s proper observance and remembrance of this great, defining event. The crossing itself was an event on a par with the crossing of the Red Sea. Both involved God’s miraculous intervention in parting (the Red Sea) or stopping up (the Jordan River) waters that were barriers to Israel. These are the only two events in the entire Bible where this type of divine intervention on behalf of the nation takes place.
Crossing the Jordan River to engage the enemy and attempt to claim God’s promises for Victory was a great Crisis of Faith for a generation that had a lot of baggage –
Last week we looked at avoiding the Grasshopper Mentality = that mindset that sees obstacles as Giants and ourselves as powerless grasshoppers – but through the eyes of Rahab, God gave the two spies that were sent to check out Jericho the vision that the enemy was quaking in their boots and aware of the awesome power of the God of Israel.
As Christians we too easily fall into the pity trap of the culture around us – that “Woe is Me” spirit of despair where we view ourselves as helpless victims of the world around us and the enemy within; I can’t possibly experience spiritual victory …
- my Dad was just a very weak person – look at my genes – I have serious limitations ….
- I know God has called me to be bold to witness … but I’m just a coward – that’s just the way I am … I can’t help it;
- our church doesn’t even have its own building … what can God really expect us to accomplish? I think I will curl up here in my comfort zone and just try to avoid getting trampled by the world;
- Develop and use my spiritual gifts? That sounds awful risky – I need my free time and my own space just to relax and to do what I want to do
What does your inner voice say to you about your prospects for experiencing Spiritual Victory?
Today we are going to look at a second obstacle to claiming God’s promises for spiritual victory in our Christian walk: the Victim Mentality —
3 Manifestations of a Victim Mentality: (Instead of a Victor Mentality) – children of Israel were locked into these types of negative thought patterns as they wandered for 40 years in the wilderness … missing out on God’s best for them –
1) Playing the Beat Yourself Up Game (Woe is Me Game) — Mindset that bad things are destined to happen to you – expectation that things will go wrong; self-pity party
We aren’t going to have anything to drink – We aren’t going to have anything to eat …
God has led us out into this wilderness and forgotten all about us …
Meanwhile, God is performing one spectacular miracle after another to demonstrate His glory and to show the people His Providential love and provision for them.
2) Playing the Blame Game — Mindset that it is not ultimately your fault for your bad lot in life – blaming environment or someone else; never facing your own responsibility – Placed the blame on Moses and Aaron – determined to appoint new leaders that would take them safely back to bondage in Egypt.
3) Playing the Bitterness Game – sense of resignation; giving up
“Would that we had died in the land of Egypt! Or would that we had died in this wilderness!”
Stepping out in Faith is the only answer to the Victim Mentality
4 INITIATIVES IN STEPPING OUT IN FAITH
1ST INITIATIVE IN STEPPING OUT IN FAITH
I. PUT IT IN GEAR WHEN THE TIME IS RIGHT —
(:1) INTRODUCTION — FAITH INVOLVES A COMMITMENT TO ACT ON GOD’S PROMISES AND WAIT UPON GOD’S TIMING
“Then Joshua rose early in the morning; and he and all the sons of Israel set out
from Shittim and came to the Jordan, and they lodged there before they crossed.”
– No Procrastination – when the time is right, let’s get moving
Cf. trying to get an early start on vacation trips … lots of details to take care of,
never goes as smoothly as you want
– Deliberate, careful action; counting the cost
– No small feat – Chap 3 of the book of Joshua is about crossing over from the futile Christian walk of self-effort and defeat to the victorious life of faith that overcomes the world.
– A nation of 2.5 million people involved here; talking about quite a bit of real estate in the Jordan River … not some small path as is pictured in Sunday School stories
What has been causing us defeat in our Christian walk? Where do we need the victory? What types of Jordan Rivers … impossible boundaries … do we need to cross today?
What were the people thinking as they spent these three days of preparation waiting for the command to move out? How impossible the situation must have looked to them.
They did not yet know how they were even going to cross the Jordan River.
Goins: There is a similar tension for the disciples of Jesus implied at the end of Luke and the beginning of Acts, after his resurrection and his ascension into heaven. Jesus had said, “…Stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:49). And for forty days the disciples had to wait for the promised gift of the Holy Spirit, the resource they needed to live a life of overcoming faith. Remember, the power of God was demonstrated for the church at Pentecost, and it would be demonstrated here for Israel on the fourth day at the Jordan in a miraculous crossing over into the promised land. But waiting on the Lord is hard to do.
Richard Hess: These events in Israel’s history describe a time of preparation for this new generation who would be called upon to occupy the land. Although Christians are not called to carry out the same physical acts, preparation is necessary for any life of ministry and service. As with Israel’s preparation, it involves hearing and believing God’s Word and the discipline of obedience to that word. As with the spies, conﬁdence in God’s calling and direction in life can provide the spiritual strength to face great obstacles (Matt. 17:20; Luke 17:6).
2ND INITIATIVE IN STEPPING OUT IN FAITH
II. (:2-6) PURSUE THE PRESENCE OF GOD — FAITH RALLIES AROUND THE PRESENCE OF GOD – COUNTING ON HIS BLESSING – STAYING FOCUSED ON HIM
A. (:2-3) God Always Leads the Way – We Must Follow
“When you see the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God with the Levitical
priests carrying it, then you shall set out from your place and go after it.”
Notice how many times the ark of the covenant is referred to in this chapter (10 references in 17 verses – pretty significant – that is what I highlighted in my Bible) – the ark plays the central role – not the courageous leadership of Joshua or the willingness of the valiant warriors … It represents the presence of the Lord and His covenant commitment to bless His people as they obey His law
Important occasion – Levitical priests instructed to carry it here; normally the Kohathites had that responsibility.
Keeping our eyes on God is the message here
“Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus” – one of my favorite hymns; remember Peter taking his eyes off Jesus
Heb 12 – “fixing our eyes on Jesus the author and perfector of our faith”
B. (:4) Do Not Act Presumptuously and Profane what is Sacred
“However, there shall be between you and it a distance of about 2,000 cubits by
measure. Do not come near it, that you may know by which you shall go, for
you have not passed this way before.”
Don’t Crowd God’s Holy Space – would not want to accidentally bump into it …
We have been called to a relationship of intimacy with God … so much so that Jesus is not ashamed to be called our brother …
But we are never to forget God’s awesome Holiness and Majesty and Transcendence – The Creator is far above the creature and to be feared and respected as such
David Howard: The verse begins with an emphatic particle ( ak) that introduces the warning about keeping a one-thousand-yard distance from the ark, and the first sentence might be translated, “Be very sure that a distance of a thousand yards remains between you and it.” This emphasizes the sacredness of the ark and the awesomeness of God’s glory. Even though the ark symbolized God’s presence among his people, his presence among them was not to be taken lightly or abused (as it was on a later occasion, when the ark was taken into battle in order to “guarantee” a victory over the Philistines [see 1 Sam 4:3–11]). When the Israelites prepared for receiving the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai, they were to keep their distance from that mountain where God was as well (Exod 19:12, 23–24). These two aspects of God’s nature—his close, comforting presence and his awesome, fearsome glory—are kept in a healthy balance in the Bible, but the latter is in danger of being forgotten in some wings of the church today.
2 Purposes mentioned for maintaining this space:
1) Need a clear line of sight — so that everyone can keep their eyes fixed on the Ark; we are not called to depend on the sight and faith of another;
Our faith is a personal commitment through the only mediator that can faithfully represent us to the Father … the God-man Christ Jesus
2) Striking out into new territory – We need God’s guidance and presence
Think of the exciting tension there must have been to travel to the moon and take that first step onto unknown terrain … God calls us at times to leave our comfort zone and step out in faith and tackle new frontiers and challenges … but we can be confident of His presence with us
C. (:5) Consecration Precedes Any Demonstration of God’s Power
“Then Joshua said to the people, ‘Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord
will do wonders among you.’”
God Demands our Personal and Corporate Purity before He is willing to work wonders on our behalf.
The urgency of crossing the Jordan and getting moving did not rise above the necessity of having prepared hearts.
Sometimes we can be all about action when we have neglected our devotion and worship.
What steps did the Israelites take to consecrate themselves:
- probably involved fasting
- probably involved abstinence from sexual relationships
- certainly involved asking the Lord to search their hearts for any sin
Remember the message of Isaiah chapter 1 – God tells His covenant people that their idolatry is a stench to Him … He is sick of their sacrifices and prayers and offerings and solemn assemblies because their heart is not right – lots of activity – but no blessing from God – Repentance and faith have always been the conditions for God’s blessing:
“Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from My sight. Cease to do evil, Learn to do good; Seek justice, Reprove the ruthless; defend the orphan; plead for the widow.” Then He offers that great promise of forgiveness if we will repent and seek purity:
“Though your sins are as scarlet, They will be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they will be like wool.”
There can be no consecration if we have never humbled ourselves before the Lord; admitted our sinfulness and inability to save ourselves; and placed our faith in the death of Jesus Christ to pay the penalty for our sins. This is how we receive the free gift of forgiveness of sins and are able to be united with the resurrection life and power of our risen Lord.
But maybe we are hanging on to some sins that we just have been unwilling to give up ..There is no victory in that type of lifestyle … the message of Joshua is
‘Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do wonders among you.’”
D. (:6) Obedient, Faithful Leaders Encourage the Faith of God’s People
“And Joshua spoke to the priests, saying, ‘Take up the ark of the covenant and
cross over ahead of the people.’ So they took up the ark of the covenant and
went ahead of the people.”
Do you think it was an easy thing for the priests who were leading the way to walk out into the raging current of the Jordan River in its most volatile flood stage?
No, it was a crisis of faith for them .. but someone has to lead the way and encourage the others
God doesn’t usually reveal to us all of the details of His plan for our future … He wants us to take one step at a time, trusting in Him and looking for Him to guide us into the next step
When Abraham was called to leave his homeland of Ur of the Chaldees .. he didn’t know all that was ahead of him …
“by faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed by going out to a place which he was to receive for an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing where he was going”
neither did Moses – “by faith he left Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king; for he endured, as seeing Him who is unseen” – He had his eyes set on the Lord
3RD INITIATIVE IN STEPPING OUT IN FAITH
III. (:7-13) PROVE THE SUFFICIENCY OF THE POWER OF GOD —
FAITH THAT IS WILLING TO TAKE GREAT RISKS WILL SEE DRAMATIC RESULTS
A. (:7) God Validates His Chosen Leaders to Confirm Their Calling (or Giftedness)
“Now the Lord said to Joshua, ‘This day I will begin to exalt you in the sight of
all Israel, that they may know that just as I have been with Moses, I will be with you.’”
What an encouragement to Joshua! Remember, he is primarily a type of Christ … it was on the cross that God the Father lifted up His Son and exalted Him and then showed by raising Him from the dead that this truly is my Beloved Son in whom I am well pleased … and this very Lord Jesus will be the one ultimately exalted so that every knee will bow and every tongue will confess His Lordship
We need to be confident of God’s presence with us.
B. (:8) Faith Puts Us At Risk Where We Then are Called to Stand Still and See the Deliverance of the Lord
“You shall, moreover, command the priests who are carrying the ark of the
covenant, saying, ‘When you come to the edge of the waters of the Jordan, you
shall stand still in the Jordan.’”
Leaving our comfort zone; river over a mile wide
The “Jordan River” – is not a wide river. Normally… It was about 40 feet wide at the widest point.
In the springtime – the normally narrow river flooded its banks. In places it could be around 150 feet deep and as much as a mile wide.
Not even easy to keep your balance in a raging river – especially when you are carrying something bulky like the ark of the covenant.
I wonder if there were spies from Jericho that were watching these events unfold and wondering at these strange tactics for entering into warfare.
C. (:9-13) The Demonstration of the Power of God Assures Us of Victory Over Our Powerful Enemies
- (:9) The Power of God’s Word
“Then Joshua said to the sons of Israel, ‘Come here, and hear the words
of the Lord your God.’”
When we are entering into battle, we can’t get too much of the Word of
God; that is our offensive weapon; the sword of the Spirit; that is how
we combat Satan just as Christ did in His temptation.
- (:10) The Power of God’s Presence
“And Joshua said, ‘By this you shall know that the living God is among
you, and that He will assuredly dispossess from before you the
Canaanite, the Hittite, the Hivite, the Perizzite, the Girgashite, the
Amorite, and the Jebusite.’”
We don’t need to be experts in all of the nuances of these different enemies … we need to be confident in the power of the living God who
is on our side and fighting for us.
Richard Hess: As has been observed, God promises ‘wonders’ as a means of demonstrating his power over nations of the world and in order to preserve his own people. The structure of the instructions to Joshua also corresponds to that of Joshua’s instructions to the people: speciﬁc directions follow promises of divine presence and support. The opening of Joshua’s address has three parts: a call to listen to words of divine authority, a promise of God’s presence, and a promise that God will dispossess the inhabitants of Canaan. The ﬁrst part is a divine means of informing Israel that what is about to be said is important and therefore worthy of attention. The second part corresponds to God’s promise of his presence with Joshua but the structure is slightly different from that of the ﬁrst part, giving the sense of being more removed: God is with Joshua whereas he is among Israel. The living God (Heb. ’ēl ḥay) is a phrase which occurs twice in the Psalms in parallel with God (42:2 [Heb. 3]; 84:2 [Heb. 3]) and once in Hosea 1:10 (Heb. 2:1) in a reference to the future renewal of Israel and their reunion with their covenant God. This aspect of God, one who is faithful and keeps his promises, seems to be involved when God promises to dispossess the inhabitants of Canaan. The verb drive out (Heb. yrš) occurs in an emphatic form, to conﬁrm the divine guarantee. It often describes Israel’s occupation of the land (e.g. Num. 14:24; 32:21; 33:52–53, 55; Deut. 4:38; 7:17; 9:3–5; 11:23).
- 3. (:11) The Majesty of God’s Presence – His Reputation is at Stake
“Behold, the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth is crossing
over ahead of you into the Jordan.”
Theme of difficult cross overs we may be facing; natural fear of change; times of transition are difficult.
Theme of reaching our potential; fulfilling our dreams despite disappointments of the past.
- (:12) The Power of Plural United Leadership
“Now then, take for yourselves twelve men from the tribes of Israel, one
man for each tribe.”
- (:13) The Demonstration of God’s Awesome Power
“And it shall come about when the soles of the feet of the priests who
carry the ark of the Lord, the Lord of all the earth, shall rest in the
waters of the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan shall be cut off, and the waters which are flowing down from above shall stand in one heap.”
Robert Hubbard: Three wordplays in v. 13 underscore the significance of the amazing event.
(1) According to Joshua, the event’s trigger is the entry of the (lit.) “soles of the feet” of the priests into the river, a key phrase in both vv. 8 and 13. The Old Testament often associates that term (NIV “set foot”) with the conquest of enemies (Deut. 2:5; 11:24; 1 Kings 5:3; Mal 4:3). The motif here may stamp the present story with a similar sense of conquest (cf. Josh. 1:3; 4:18): Yahweh asserts his authority over the Jordan River and all land westward.
(2) A second wordplay connects the “standing” (ʿamad [v. 8b]) of the priests with the ark mid-river as the actual cause of the “standing (still)” (ʿamad) of the Jordan’s flow (v. 13; cf. vv. 15–16).
(3) A third wordplay makes an even wider, more important connection. The waters are to stand in a “heap (of water)” (ned), a term that elsewhere only describes what Yahweh did at the Red Sea (Ex. 15:8; Ps. 78:13). The pun hints that Yahweh is about to perform at the Jordan as stunning a miracle as he did at the Exodus. It also implies that the Jordan and Red Sea crossings are somehow connected, a point made explicit later (see 4:23). In short, the river’s waters are to be “cut off” and “stand up in a heap” upstream—an incredibly stunning way for the sovereign “LORD of all the earth” to open the gates of Canaan for Israel to enter!
4TH INITIATIVE IN STEPPING OUT IN FAITH
IV. (:14-17) PERSEVERE IN ORDER TO FULLY CARRY OUT GOD’S PLAN
A. The Obedience of the Priests (who carried the ark of the covenant)
They were charged with a very difficult and courageous assignment.
Talk about “Be strong and courageous!”
They had to stand in the middle of the Jordan and be the last to cross over.
Being a Leader in God’s Army has always been about being a Servant
The priests did not have some cushy job where everybody catered to their needs and bowed down before them and served them hand and foot; the priests worked hard and sacrificially on behalf of the people; here they are charged with doing the dangerous duty on the front lines of the invading force.
B. The Obedience of the People
Leaving their comfort zone – “when the people set out from their tents”
Walking into new territory … yet with the history of how the Lord had enabled
the nation to cross the Red Sea in fleeing from Egypt
Obedience is Faith in Action – whole book of James written to illustrate this point … it’s a dead faith that just sits around and agrees intellectually with what God has said … but God is a living God and He demands living faith of us … faith that steps out and acts on what He has commanded.
C. The Sovereign Control Over Nature and Circumstances
- heaping up the waters of the Jordan River; flood season of course
- shutting off the inflow from the streams and tributaries
- causing the land to be dry ground for the crossover
David Howard: These verses are the climax of the chapter—indeed, of all of chaps. 3–4. Here, the narrative slows to a crawl, so that the reader can savor the wonder of the miracle and view it from as many different perspectives as possible. The author, by writing in this way, affirms God’s greatness and power and intervention on his people’s behalf. The point is not so much that the people were able to cross over the Jordan, but the manner in which they were able to cross: by a glorious and mighty miracle of God. The immediate purpose of the miracle was obviously to get Israel across the Jordan. However, the larger purpose was—as it is with all miracles—to testify to God’s greatness and faithfulness, both to Israel (v. 10) and to all the peoples of the earth (4:24a), and to stimulate proper worship of him (4:24b).
Being a Victim means you see yourself as limited by the circumstances that are dealt you; Being a Victor means you see yourself as under the Providential protection and guidance of an all powerful God who is working all things together for your good.
Goins: Although the Jordan River was only about a hundred feet wide most of the year, during the spring flood season it overflowed its banks and became up to a mile wide. But as soon as the Levites carrying the ark put their feet into the water, the river immediately stopped flowing and stood up like a wall about twenty miles upstream near the city of Adam. This was a miracle of God in response to the faith of the people.
D. The Dominant, Victorious Presence of the Ark of the Covenant
Referred to 10 times in this chapter … the dominant element
There could be no doubt whose doing this was; God does not like to share His glory with another – we will be looking at that concept next week in Chapter 4 when we study how to overcome the mentality of Big Shots.
Goins: The ark symbolized the presence and power of God with his people. The ark was the sign that God was leading them. They weren’t just a migratory people optimistically yet futilely thinking that they could go into the land of Canaan. They had to know that they were God’s people, being led by him. The ark also symbolized the specific teaching and direction that God had given to his people. They had the assurance of his guidance and leadership as they moved into the new, completely unfamiliar territory. If they didn’t follow the Lord, as symbolized by the ark, they would get lost and disoriented; they wouldn’t know where to go or how to live.
4 INITIATIVES IN STEPPING OUT IN FAITH
- I. PUT IT IN GEAR WHEN THE TIME IS RIGHT
- II. PURSUE THE PRESENCE OF GOD
- III. PROVE THE SUFFICIENCY OF THE POWER OF GOD
- IV. PERSEVERE IN ORDER TO FULLY CARRY OUT GOD’S PLAN
I like the worship song from Singspiration Music:
Got any rivers you think are uncrossable?
Got any mountains you can’t tunnel through?
God specializes in things thought impossible –
He does the things others cannot do.
(By Oscar Eliason (c) 1945, 1971 Singspiration Music.)
When it comes to claiming God’s promises for spiritual victory, we can’t look at ourselves as grasshoppers …. And we certainly can’t look at ourselves as victims.
“Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do wonders among you!”