Sunday, August 4, 2019

Book of Joshua Week 4: Calamity and Calm

I’ve shared before that my biggest struggle is with anger. Ever since I was young it has consistently gotten me into trouble. It has also been because of my anger, that I have been humbled many times. 
One of those times I think I was both justified in my anger, and not justified. In the fall of my junior year of college, I was practicing with my baseball team at a high school field. It was a semi live batting practice, where one of the coaches would throw pitches to us. We went in battling order and that meant I was fifth in rotation. Which I think is one of the best places to be in the batting line up. But our coach wasn’t the best pitcher. I loved the guy, but he was horrid when it came to throwing this type of practice. The balls would be everywhere; from eye level, to in the ground, and a foot on either side of home plate.
Throughout my life as a batter, I was pretty aggressive, going after a lot of junk pitches. The year before, this practice, a previous coach told me to be more picky at the pitches I swung at. He would say, “You chose what you’re going to swing at, don’t let the pitcher choose for you.”
That stuck with me, and so when the new year started it was my goal to be more picky about the pitches I took. This, however, didn’t sit well with my new coach. It didn’t matter where he threw it, he wanted me to swing at it. Let’s just say, that this interaction, didn’t turn out right, with me and him almost getting into a physical altercation.
I was wrong in my reaction and disrespect to the coach, and I apologized to him later. But I still hold that I was in the right, to not swing at junk pitches, because I was trying to train myself to do the opposite. In fact, when I began coaching myself, I would tell my players to not swing at the bad pitches I threw. And their stats reflected their learned ability to distinguish between a good and bad pitch.

It’s this idea of recognizing a necessity before it’s a need, that brings us to our passage in Joshua 3 today. So if you have your Bibles, we’ll be covering another full chapter in the book of Joshua, starting in verse 1 of chapter 3. And as we open together, let’s talk about where we’re at so far in our fourth week in this summer series of Joshua.

In week one we talked about the character of Joshua, and how, even though he was already a well established leader in his community, he still needed encouragement from God as he took on the role of leader over the entire nation. We saw how if Joshua was someone that needed encouragement from God, how much more do we need that same type of encouragement in our own lives.
That took us into week two, where we saw Joshua face a potential split in the nation with one group already being given their land allotment, while the majority of the people had not. Joshua reminded the group that had their allotment, that they still needed to help the rest of the people achieve theirs. This could have caused a split, but because Joshua trusted God to do what he said he would, the group followed Joshua’s lead. From this we talked about how God has work for us to do, and we can’t think that we’re done, when there’s so much work left.
Then last week, while this was going on, we saw Joshua send out two spies. Their job was to get information on the region and, in particular, the city of Jericho. These spies tried to be inconspicuous by going to a prostitute’s house, but they were found out. Yet the prostitute had come to believe that the God of Israel was the true God, and even though she went about saving these spies from capture through the sinful act of lying, God saved her and used her, because she put her trust in him. So we took away from Rahab’s story that, even in our imperfect faith, God still saves us and is still wants to utilize us for his work.

This all brings us to our passage in Joshua chapter 3. Where, like last week, we’ll be looking at some key verses in the chapter to understand what God is trying to show us today. 

We’re going to read three parts to the passage, so let’s drop down to verse 3, where Joshua is speaking to the people.

3 giving orders to the people: “When you see the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God, and the Levitical priests carrying it, you are to move out from your positions and follow it. 4 Then you will know which way to go, since you have never been this way before. But keep a distance of about two thousand cubits between you and the ark; do not go near it.”
5 Joshua told the people, “Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do amazing things among you.”
6 Joshua said to the priests, “Take up the ark of the covenant and pass on ahead of the people.” So they took it up and went ahead of them.

So here we have a few things happening. Joshua is getting the people ready to finally cross over the Jordan. This is a day that the people of Israel have been waiting for, for over 40 years. 
But we need to tackle a few things that are found here. First, what’s the ark of the covenant? Without going into too much detail, it’s a gold box built to house the original commandments given to the people and broken by Moses. It also was to house a gold pot of manna or bread from heaven, and it was to house Moses’ brother Aaron’s staff that had budded. The ark was used by God to direct the people where to go, and it represented his presence with them.
Second, what’s the Levitical priests? These were the descendants of the man Israel’s third born son Levi. This is also the lineage that Moses was from. We’ve talked before that since God had called the Levites to be his priests, they wouldn’t inherit a section of land for themselves. Rather their allotment in the Promise Land was God himself, not physical land.
Third, Joshua tells the people that the ark of the covent will go before them and that they need to keep back about 2,000 cubits, or in modern measurements about 1,000 yards, or 3,000 feet. That’s 10 football fields distance. That’s over a half a mile. That means that the people are to stay over a half mile away from a few priests, as they carry the ark of the covenant to the Jordan River.
Finally, Joshua tells the people that they must consecrate themselves. This is the Hebrew word qadash (kaw-dash’), which has the understanding of being cleaned physically spiritually, and mentally for the work that God is about to do. It’s to physically wash, while getting spiritually right with God. Confession, and repentance is also apart of what it means to be consecrated.

So with those preparations, Joshua sends out the priests a half mile ahead of the people, with the ark of the covenant leading the way.

Let’s pick this up in verse 7.

7 And the Lord said to Joshua, “Today I will begin to exalt you in the eyes of all Israel, so they may know that I am with you as I was with Moses. 8 Tell the priests who carry the ark of the covenant: ‘When you reach the edge of the Jordan’s waters, go and stand in the river.’”

This is the first time we’re hearing from God since he encouraged Joshua back in chapter 1. In this one verse, there are two things that stand out to me. First God says, “…I am with you as I was with Moses.” And second, he tells Joshua that the priests are to go and stand in the water of the Jordan.
Not much is said, but at the same time everything Joshua needs to know is given to him. 
I mean think about it, what is there that gives Joshua any instruction? All God has said is stand in the water with the ark. Which doesn’t seem to be much direction, but in reality, God has told Joshua what is about to happen. 
Because God proceeds the direction of, “go stand in the river” with, “I am with you as I was with Moses.” He’s telling Joshua, I’m going to do, what I did for Moses, for you. But this isn’t the first time that this phrase has been used to prepare Joshua for what God is about to do. It’s actually the third time so far, in this book that Joshua has this same phrase said to him. God says it back in chapter 1 verse 5, and then the two and half tribes that had already received their allotment said it to Joshua in chapter 1 verse 17. God has confirmed two times before this, that the work that was done through Moses, would continue through Joshua. 
So when God says go and stand in the river. Joshua knows that God’s about to part it, just like he did for Moses back in Exodus 14. And how do we know that that’s how Joshua understood what he was supposed to do? Because of what he tells the people in verse 13.

13 And as soon as the priests who carry the ark of the Lord—the Lord of all the earth—set foot in the Jordan, its waters flowing downstream will be cut off and stand up in a heap.”

Joshua understood that God was working just as he had with Moses. Joshua must have saw the flooded river before him, but God reminded him that like he had been with Moses, he would be with Joshua. And Joshua immediately understood, and told the people what to expect. 
That brings us to our final section, picking up in verse 14.

14 So when the people broke camp to cross the Jordan, the priests carrying the ark of the covenant went ahead of them. 15 Now the Jordan is at flood stage all during harvest. Yet as soon as the priests who carried the ark reached the Jordan and their feet touched the water’s edge, 16 the water from upstream stopped flowing. It piled up in a heap a great distance away, at a town called Adam in the vicinity of Zarethan, while the water flowing down to the Sea of the Arabah (that is, the Dead Sea) was completely cut off. So the people crossed over opposite Jericho. 17 The priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord stopped in the middle of the Jordan and stood on dry ground, while all Israel passed by until the whole nation had completed the crossing on dry ground.

Here God’s words come true, “I am with you as I was with Moses.” Moses and the Israelite people had experienced this type of miracle over 40 years earlier. Joshua was probably there among the young boys walking through the Red Sea on dry ground. Now, years later, Joshua was the one leading his people through another miracle of dry ground from a river bed that was just moments before flooded.

Again and again Joshua was encouraged to remember that God was with him, just as he was with Moses, and now Joshua saw just how closely that work was. God was retreading an old miracle with this new leader. 

But even though it’s a similar miracle, the circumstances could be more different. If you go back and read Exodus 14 where the Israelite people crossed the Red Sea on dry ground, you’ll notice one huge difference in what was happening at that moment. 
Moses and the Israelites were running for their lives from the Egyptian army. God had led them by a cloud to a point where there was no crossing over the water. Within moments, the greatest military force at that time would be upon them, and they would be slaughtered. It was when the Israelites’ backs were against the water, and their enemy was right at their heels, that the cloud that they had been following, moved between them and the Egyptians. A darkness hide them, the sea parted, and they began to walk through the water’s bed on dry ground. It was a time of great fear, because their deaths could happen at anytime, from either the Egyptians or the water crashing back on them.

The parting of the water for Moses was in a time of calamity, but not so for Joshua. Joshua, had no army at his back. Joshua had no urgency to push him into the water. Instead Joshua had calm as he went forward. Even giving the people a half mile distance between them and the ark as they proceed ahead. 

And yet, God tells Joshua, “I am with you as I was with Moses.” And Joshua walked forward expecting the same miracle that God had done for Moses in the Red Sea.

This is the simple teaching that God has for us today: He has us. In times of great duress like with Moses, or in times of calm, like with Joshua. God has us.

See it’s so easy for us to call on God for miracles when the world around us is attacking. We feel like we have enemies behind us, and no options before us, and so we call out for God to come save us, and we expect something to happen. 
And it’s true that God is with us in those moments of great calamity. But we also need to seek God in the times of calm. God still wants to perform miracles in our lives, even when they’re not needed to fix something. Sometimes, God just wants to show us something amazing, because he’s there. 
But a lot of the time, we forget to call on God during these times, because everything’s good. We use him in the moments of calamity, and forget him in the times of calm. 

Yet if we seek God in the times of calm, we will be better prepared when the calamity comes, because we will already know that he’s there. We will already know that the miracle will happen. And it will give us peace to walk where he brings us.

In Joshua’s life, it won’t belong before he’s going to be facing war, and when the war comes, he will need to know that God is there. And so God is showing him and preparing him for that time, that he is there, like he was with Moses.

That’s what God wants to do for us. Some of us are going through calamity right now, and we need miracles to happen. God is with you, stop asking God for miracles, and instead ask him to show you what he’s planned to do, so that you can be ready to move on dry ground when the waters part.
Some of us are at calm point, we need to seek what God is doing now, to prepare us for that next moment of calamity. In both cases, we need to be growing in our love and trust of God.
This week I want to challenge you to go into the desert, and pick up a good size rock. A rock that is as at least as big as your hand. Keep it were you’ll see it every day, as a reminder that God is there, in both calamity and calm. Then, next week bring it to the church, because we’re not out of the Jordan River yet, and it’s in this river that God has more to teach us, about him being there at all moments of our life.

Let us be a people that sees God’s miracles when the calamity hits, and when we’re surrounded by the calm. Amen.

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