THE CONQUEST OF CANAAN: ACHAN’S SIN AND PUNISHMENT: 7:1-26

            To this point we have studied the first six chapters of the book of Joshua.  In chapters one and two we saw Joshua’s preparations for the crossing of the Jordan River.  And then in chapter three we saw the actual miraculous crossing of the river. 

 
            In our application of the passage, we noted that Israel’s crossing of the Jordan is a type of the New Covenant experience of entire sanctification.  As the children of Israel entered the Promised Land by means of a physical miracle, so we enter the promised land of holiness by means of a spiritual miracle.  In both cases the faith was, or is, the key.

 
            In chapter four, we saw Israel memorialize the crossing of the Jordan.  Joshua summoned the twelve men who had been selected from each tribe, and instructed them each to take a large stone from the middle of the Jordan and carry it to the place of encampment, where the stones were made into a pillar as a sign, in the sense of a memorial.  The pillar was to be a constant reminder of the day when God miraculously cut off the waters of the Jordan and enabled the people to cross on dry ground.  Indeed the stones would prompt questions from the children, which would provide opportunities to tell the story to new generations.

 
            In the first part of chapter five, we saw Joshua do something very significant.  He took advantage of the fact that the inhabitants of the land were in great fear of Israel because of the miracle that God had worked in drying up the Jordan River bed.  But instead of using that advantage to attack, Joshua used it to bring the nation back into covenant relationship with the Lord.  Joshua remembered that the Lord had said, “Only be strong and courageous, being careful to act in accordance with all the law . . . do not turn from it to the right hand or the left, so that you may be successful wherever you go” (1:7). 

 
            In order to bring the nation back into covenant relation, Joshua had to circumcise the multitudes of men who had been born since the Exodus and get the people to begin to obey the requirements of the law.  In order to do the latter, the former had to done immediately, because the time to celebrate the Passover was only four days after the people crossed the river; and the law declared of the Passover, “no uncircumcised person shall eat of it” (Ex. 12:48).  So while the Canaanite nations were immobilized by fear, Joshua circumcised all of the males, and the nation celebrated the Passover together for the first time in about 40 years.

 
            In our last essay, we took up the conquest of Jericho in 5:13-6:27.  With the nation back in covenant relationship with God under the law, Joshua could turn to the task at hand.  “The commander of the army of the Lord,” whom we identified with Christ himself, gave Joshua direction on how to take Jericho.  Those directions were carried out and the victory won just as the Lord had said.

 
            In this essay we take up chapter seven, which is one of the scariest stories in the Bible.  Verse one informs us that during the capture of Jericho, a man named Achan had violated the ban (described in the previous essay) against the city and its contents, which was a grievous sin.  Then in verse two the scene shifts to the next step in the conquest of the land; namely, to take a small town named Ai.

 
            Spies told Joshua that Ai offered no special problem.  Compared to Jericho, Ai was small; it was unfortified; and Israel had a battle-hardened army that could take it with ease.  Yet as verses 3-4 tell us, when Joshua sent three thousand men to take it, the people of Ai routed them; and 36 of Israel’s war party were killed. 

 
            Shock isn’t a strong enough word to express the reaction.  This was not supposed to happen.  Joshua sent those people to Ai out of a feeling of invincibility.  Hadn’t the Lord miraculously cut off the waters of the Jordan and felled the walls of Jericho.  Who could stop Israel now?  Apparently a few amateur soldiers from the little insignificant town of Ai could do it now.  The question is, why?

 
            So Joshua begins to pray, or perhaps whine would be as better term; and he gets a very specific answer in verses 6-15.  The implication of Joshua’s prayer is that the Lord was somehow at fault.  But the Lord replied with anger.  The fault lay with Israel.  The ban was violated.  Someone had stolen some of the devoted things.  The covenant relationship so recently restored had been broken.

 
            So the Lord challenged Joshua.  “Why have you fallen on your face?” he asked (v. 10).  In other words now is not the time for prayer.  Now is the time for action to discover who brought the consequences of the ban on the nation.  The reason the Israelite soldiers turned their backs on their enemy was because of the sin of violating the ban.  God declares that he will not help Israel any more unless the ban (NIV, “whatever among you is devoted to destruction”) is removed from the nation (v. 12); and the Lord explained to Joshua how that could be done (vv. 13-15). 

 
            The next morning Joshua followed the directions given by the Lord; and Achan was discovered to be the one who stole the items and brought the ban on the people (vv. 16-26).  The discovery was made by means of the sacred lot.  No one today knows exactly how they cast the lots to determine the tribe, clan, family, household and individual; but they had a set procedure that they followed.  God evidently manipulated the lots, because the guilty man was found (v. 18).  And once found, he confessed (v. 20).

 
            The punishment seems harsh to many modern readers.  Not only Achan, but also all of the animals he owned and his children were stoned to death.  And all of his possessions were destroyed.  As for the killing of the children, it can be presumed that they participated in the crime, since he hid the things in the tent, which would imply their knowledge.  Moreover Deut. 24:16 clearly forbids the killing of children for their parents crimes. 

 
            But we must not lose sight of the interconnectedness of the people under the Old Covenant.  Notice that the consequences of the ban didn’t come down on Achan personally until he was discovered.  But the consequences came down upon the nation at Ai.  The blessing of God was withdrawn from the nation because of the act of an individual and his family, and 36 men lost their lives as a result. 

 
            Turning now to application, we first want to deal with the failure at Ai.  There are at least three reasons for the failure.  First, was prideful overconfidence.  After the taking of Jericho Israel felt invincible.  They believed they could take a village like Ai with a small band of soldiers.  They either believed that they didn’t need the help of the Lord, or they presumed it would be there.  Either way they were wrong.  In our own Christian lives, we often are vulnerable after high moments or experiences.  We have a great spiritual victory, and in the flush of that victory comes the temptation of prideful over-confidence.  And sometimes we fall.

 
            The second reason for failure at Ai was lack of prayer.  There is no indication whatsoever that Joshua prayed before the attack on Ai.  As Alan Redpath says, “Had he prostrated himself in humility at the time when the people shouted for victory at Jericho, he would never have been humbled to the dust over the defeat at Ai.  If only he had sought God’s counsel at the moment of triumph, he would have discerned immediately that there was sin in camp.  Failure to pray always makes us insensitive to sin.”

 
            As for us, if we will pray during victory, we will not have to plead in a time of defeat.  Indeed as we have seen here, pleading with God at a time of defeat is a waste of time.  Rather that is a time to do something about the sin.  And that brings us to the third reason.

 
            The third and obvious reason for failure at Ai was the sin itself.  Notice in verse 11 that God told Joshua, “Israel has sinned.”  It was an individual who stole the items, but the Lord declared that the nation had sinned.  One man had fallen, but the entire nation was defeated at Ai. 

 
            Again in the case of our sins, we never affect only ourselves.  Our culture says otherwise.  It consistently screams that what we do is our business, and that we hurt only ourselves when we choose to do wrong.  But that is a lie of the devil.  Our sins always affect others.  And if there is sin in the camp, it needs to be repented of and confessed so that God’s people can be pure before him.  If it is our sin, our repentance and confession are in order.  But no matter whose sin it is, it is unacceptable to God.

THE CONQUEST OF CANAAN: CONQUEST OF JERICHO: 5:13-6:27

            Thus far we have studied through chapter five, verse 12, of the book of Joshua.  In chapter 1, we saw God command Joshua to “cross the Jordan” in order to begin the conquest of the Promised Land.  We saw the Lord encourage Joshua by promising to be with him every step of the way.  And we saw Joshua do his part as the leader of the people.  He had the people prepare the necessary food, and he made certain that all of the tribes would participate in the invasion.  Then in chapter 2 Joshua sent spies into the land to explore it and to learn the attitude of the people there.

 
            In chapter 3 we saw the actual crossing of the river.  Crossing the river required a miracle; just as crossing the Red Sea 40 years earlier had required a miracle.  As the people looked on, twelve priests stepped into the river, and the flooding waters began to roll back as if moved by a mighty hand, leaving essentially dry ground before the priests.

 
            In chapters four and five we saw Israel memorialize the crossing of the Jordan and begin once again to keep the Mosaic Law.  Joshua circumcised all of the males born since the Exodus and led the nation in a celebration of the Passover for the first time in 40 years. 

 
            In this essay we take up the conquest of Jericho in 5:13-6:27.  With the nation back in covenant relationship with God under the law, Joshua could turn to the conquest.  As he stood before Jericho, presumably thinking about how he was going to attack the city, we are told in 5:13-15 that “the commander of the army of the Lord” confronted him.  The expression, “the army of the Lord,” is the equivalent of “the host of heaven” in 1 Kings 22:19.  This is God’s heavenly army; and the “commander” is “the angel of the Lord” who appeared to Moses in the burning bush, and who was identified as God himself back in Ex. 3:1-6.  Those many years before God had told Moses the same thing he tells Joshua here; namely, to take off his shoes, because he was standing on holy ground.

 
            Next, in 6:1-5, the commander explains to Joshua how the city would be given into Joshua’s hands.  Notice that the author, before giving the Lord’s revelation to Joshua, reminds his readers of Jericho’s impenetrability (v. 1).  Then in verses 2-5 Joshua gets the instructions that will give him a victory over Jericho without a fight. 

 
            Verses 6-27 show the instructions carried out and the victory won.  You may notice as you read through these verses that we get additional details about the plans for the conquest from the account of the plans being carried out.  Apparently the author didn’t want to repeat everything, so he didn’t include it all in verses 2-5.  For example, we see the order of March in verses 8-10.  The army marched both in front of and behind the priests with the trumpets and the ark.  In addition we are told that the priests blew their trumpets continually as they circled the city (vv. 8, 9, 13).  Moreover it also becomes clear that the people were to raise the shout only on the seventh day, on the seventh trip around the city (vv. 10, 16).  And finally, there is the set of instructions, in verses 17 and following about devoting the captured city and its spoils to the Lord.

 
            Turning back to verses 6-11, we see Joshua giving instructions to the priests and the people; and then they carry out the instructions and make the first trip around the city.  Armed men set out followed by the priests blowing their trumpets.  They were followed in turn by the Ark of the Covenant, which was followed by more soldiers.  The entire procession circled around the city and came back into the camp.  Then verses 12-14 tell us that the whole procedure was repeated on the five succeeding days. 

 
            As we continue with the narrative, on the seventh day the marching began very early in the morning, because they had to circle the town seven times.  On the seventh circuit, not only were the trumpets blown, but the people shouted, because as Joshua had announced to the people, Jericho would be given into their hands.  And it was!  “They raised a great shout, and the wall fell down flat.  So the people charged straight ahead into the city and captured it” (v. 20).  And then in verses 22-27 Rahab was saved as promised; the destruction of the ban was carried out; and Joshua put a curse on Jericho.

 
            Now then, we need to say a word about this matter of devoting the captured city to God. This was an old covenant matter.  It was based on Lev. 27:28-29, which reads:

 
Nothing that a person owns that has been devoted to destruction for the Lord, be it human or animal, or inherited landholding, may be sold or redeemed; every devoted thing is most holy to the Lord.  No human beings who have been devoted to destruction can be ransomed; they shall be put to death.

 
            The Hebrew word that is translated “devoted to destruction” has to do with things or people consecrated to God as holy things.  Those things or people cannot be put to use by any human beings, because they belong to God.  They are under a ban in the sense that they are banned from use. 

 
            In this case, because the Lord had given Jericho into the hands of Israel without a fight, they were to consecrate it to him as a ban.  That meant, according to Leviticus, that every animal and human being had to be killed.  The only exception was Rahab the harlot and her family, because of her role in hiding the spies. 

 
            The valuables of the city were not destroyed; but they were holy to the Lord.  And they could only be placed in the treasury of the tabernacle.  As verse 18 indicates, if anyone took any of the things devoted to God, they would bring the ban on themselves [NIV translation is better than NRSV].  Indeed they would cause the camp of Israel itself to come under the ban.  That is why Joshua warned them to keep away from the city’s valuables.

 
            As you may know, some scholars have attempted to find a natural explanation for the breakdown of the walls.  They have proposed an earthquake, or some sort of huge storm, or something.  But a miraculous breakdown of the walls is perfectly appropriate following the miraculous crossing of the Jordan River.  The more difficult question is why would God miraculously deliver Jericho into their hands, and then make them take the rest of the land by force of arms?

 
            The answer to that has to be theological, because it’s a theological problem.  I believe the best answer is that God gave them the strongest city in Canaan without any effort on their part to symbolize that he had given them the whole land, as he had promised Abraham long before.  Both the miracle of crossing the river and that of taking Jericho demonstrated to Israel that they were dependent on the Lord for the fulfillment of his promises.  They never could regard the conquest as their own work, as a possession that they earned, rather than a gift from the God.

 
            Turning to application, once again the narrative is an old covenant type of our new covenant salvation.  When we enter into entire sanctification, God does it.  It is not our work, even though we have to battle temptation throughout the experience; and we can fail to be obedient and sin. 

 
            Thus the fall of Jericho is a symbol and type of the overthrow of every worldly power by the Lord.  When we enter into full salvation by faith, it is a great, miraculous gift from God, just as Jericho was a great, miraculous gift to Israel.  And once we are in the “land” of holiness, we have to fight to possess it, just as Israel had to fight to possess Canaan. 

THE CONQUEST OF CANAAN: RECOMMITMENT TO THE LAW: 5:1-12

            In the last essay, when we studied chapter four, we saw Israel memorialize the crossing of the Jordan.  And now we are ready for chapter five.  This passage is quite important.  The nation was in Canaan; and their armies were poised to conquer its inhabitants.  Moreover, because of the miracle that God had worked in drying up the Jordan river bed, the hearts of the inhabitants had “melted, and there was no longer any spirit in them.”  In other words they would be “easy pickings,” as the saying goes.  Surely this was the time to strike!  An immediate all-out offensive seemed to be thing to do.

 
            But that isn’t what Joshua did.  Joshua remembered something that is recorded back in chapter one, verse seven.  God had told Joshua, “Only be strong and courageous, being careful to act in accordance with all the law . . . do not turn from it to the right hand or the left, so that you may be successful wherever you go.” 

 
            Joshua remembered that.  And so he set out to be obedient.  Somehow he understood that God never is in a hurry.  And that it is important to be what God wants us to be, before we set out to do what God wants us to do.  And so Joshua delayed the military operation to bring the entire nation back into covenant relation to the Lord under the law. 

 
            Two things were necessary to accomplish that.  One, it was necessary to circumcise the multitudes who had been born since the Exodus.  And two, it was necessary to get the people to begin to obey the requirements of the law.  Under the circumstances then present, the way to do it was to circumcise the males immediately.  Remember the timing of the crossing.  They came out of the river on the tenth day of the first month, the anniversary of the setting aside of the first Passover lambs.  That meant that if the people were to celebrate the Passover in four days, as the law required, the circumcision of the men would have to be done immediately, because the law also declared about the Passover, in Ex. 12:48, that “no uncircumcised person shall eat of it.”

 
            Thus we see the theological pressure on Joshua.  So he took advantage of the fact that the surrounding nations were cowed by the Jordan miracle, and made the nation very vulnerable by circumcising all of the males at the same time.  However he was convinced that they would not be attacked at that particular time.  So he went ahead with it; and it worked out.

 
            Verses 4-7 give a reason why a general circumcision was needed.  But the verses do not give a reason why those who had been born in the wilderness were not circumcised.  To learn that we must go back to Num. 14:29-33, where it is recorded of those who disbelieved in the wilderness:

 
your dead bodies shall fall in this very wilderness; and of all your number, included in the census, from twenty years old and upward, who have complained against me, not one of you shall come into the land in which I swore to settle you, except Caleb son of Jephunneh and Joshua son of Nun. . . . And your children shall be shepherds [that is, nomads] in the wilderness for forty years, and shall suffer for your faithlessness, until the last of your dead bodies lies in the wilderness [my italics].

 
            Did you catch it?  The sons who were not to die in the wilderness, nevertheless were to suffer the punishment of rejection with the fathers until the fathers were dead.  The blessings of the covenant were withdrawn.  The sons were not circumcised.  The Passover was not celebrated.  And the people were not blessed as God had planned for them to be.  This time of rejection was completed when the people entered Canaan.  And so the sons had to be circumcised, and the Passover celebrated. 

 
            Now then, coming back to the book of Joshua, in verse nine we see the Lord pronouncing the end of something else to Joshua, quote: “The Lord said to Joshua, ‘Today I have rolled away from you the disgrace of Egypt.’  And so that place is called Gilgal to this day.” 

 
            The name “Gilgal” is related to the Hebrew word that means, “to roll.”  Now notice that the thing “rolled away” was the “disgrace of Egypt,” which has to be something different from the punishment of rejection by God.  When we ask what “the disgrace of Egypt” was, we cannot be certain.  But it could have meant the social disgrace of Israel as slaves in Egypt.  Whatever the “disgrace of Egypt” was, it was “rolled away” when the people entered the land and were circumcised. 

 
            All right, in addition to circumcising the males, the second thing Joshua did to once again bring the people under the Old Covenant law was to keep the Passover.  We see this in verses 10-12.  “The fourteenth day of the first month” was the day the law set aside to celebrate the Passover, and so they celebrated it on the proper day.  Then the very next day the manna ceased; and they began to eat “the produce of land” of Canaan. 

 
            Now then, as we seek to apply this passage to our own lives, I will remain consistent with my previous applications.  I have been seeing the crossing into the promised land of Canaan primarily as an Old Covenant type of our New Covenant crossing into the promised land of holiness.  Thus the first way I would make application of these verses is to remind us that entire sanctification is a time of full salvation.  When we enter the promised land of holiness, we are delivered not simply from the guilt of sin, but from the power of sin.  The sanctifying grace of God cleanses us from sin, enables us to love God with all our heart and our neighbor as ourselves, and empowers us for service.  So it is a time of full salvation.

 
            Second, entire sanctification is a time of renunciation.  To be entirely sanctified is to have our will in harmony with God’s.  Therefore we have to renounce our own will in favor of God’s. All of our personal ambitions and desires are placed on the altar of sacrifice and subordinated to the will of God.  We will go anywhere that God calls us to go, and we will do anything that God calls us to do.  Thus it is a time of renunciation.

 
            Third, entire sanctification is, in one sense, a time of restoration.  When Joshua restored the Passover to Israel, the nation once again could enjoy the blessedness of remembrance and feasting.  When we are filled with the Spirit, it isn’t quite the same, because we were restored to favor with God when we were saved.  But it is a restoration in the sense of now being on the positive side of the renunciation just discussed.  As I just indicated a couple of paragraphs ago, renunciation of sin and self-interest restores our will to harmony with God’s will. 

 
            In addition, when the New Covenant later replaced the Old, the blood of the messianic Passover lamb was shed on the cross.  And Jesus, while hosting a Passover meal the night before his death, instituted a sacrament of remembrance of his own shed blood, the sacrament of Holy Communion. 

 
            Our entry into the promised land of holiness, of entire sanctification, is a time of full salvation, a time of renunciation, and a time of restoration.  May all of us enter into and enjoy that experience to the glory of God. 

THE CONQUEST OF CANAAN: MEMORIALIZING THE CROSSING: 4:1-24

            Thus far in our study of Joshua, we have seen God command Joshua to “cross the Jordan,” which meant, it was time to conquer the land of Canaan (1:2).  We also saw the Lord encourage Joshua by promising to be with him every step of the way (1:5). Then Joshua had to do his part as the chosen leader of the people.  He had to mobilize them for the war of conquest.


            Joshua accomplished that in three ways.  First, he instructed the people to make ready provisions for the invasion (1:10-11).  Second, Joshua made final preparation of the troops (1:12-18).  And then, third, Joshua sent spies to explore the land and to get a handle on the attitude of the people of the land, especially in Jericho, which was his primary target.  When the spies returned and gave their encouraging report to Joshua, Joshua’s preparations for the invasion were complete. 


            In chapter three, we saw the actual crossing of the river.  God miraculously stopped the flooding River Jordan from flowing, just as Joshua had said he would.  God exalted Joshua as he earlier had exalted Moses.  And as the priests who were carrying the ark stood in the middle of the river, the entire nation of Israel passed through the riverbed on dry ground (v. 17).  Likewise we must step into the river by faith in Jesus, and let him open the waters to victory.  Are there any comments or questions on the review?


            All right, we are ready for chapter four, in which Israel memorialized the crossing of the Jordan.  Joshua summoned twelve pre-selected men (3:12) and gave them their instructions; namely, for each to take a large stone from the middle of the Jordan and carry it to the place of encampment (vv. 4-5).  This they did (v. 8).  However, at this point that’s all they did.  They just carried them to the pace of encampment.  The stones were not set up as a memorial until a little later, as recorded in verse 20.


            Verses 6-7 give the purpose of the stones.  The stones were to be a sign (v. 6) in the sense of a memorial (v. 7).  They were to be a constant reminder of the day when God miraculously cut off the waters of the Jordan and enabled the people to cross on dry ground.  Indeed the stones would prompt questions from the children, which would provide opportunities to tell the story to new generations. 


            Verses 9-14 offer more details on the crossing.  Verse nine presents a couple of minor problems.  First, the author inserts verse nine as a sort of parenthesis; and he informs us of a second pillar of stones that we had not heard about before.  He tells us that Joshua himself set up twelve stones in the middle of the Jordan, where the priests had stood.  However we aren’t told whether God ordered the setting up of this pillar, or Joshua made that decision on his own. 


            A second problem appears at the end of the verse, where it says that the pillar remained there to the day that the book was written.  Some interpreters have seized on that and have suggested that the pillar would not have been visible once the river covered it; and some also have suggested that the pillar would have washed away when the floodwaters were loosed again.


            All one can do with this is speculate, because there are a lot of unknowns.  For instance we do not know exactly what it meant to place the pillar “in the middle of the Jordan.”  Perhaps it was in a relatively shallow spot.  We also don’t know how large the stones were, though if the narrative is implying that Joshua lifted them himself, they could not have been huge.  And we have no idea how firmly the stones were placed.  The author may have been saying that the pillar was visible and standing in his day.  On the other hand, it may be that he simply meant that the stones were there in the river, whether or not they could be seen in his day.  We cannot know.  At any rate, the work with the stones was done while the people were crossing the riverbed.  It would have taken quite some time for them to cross. 


            Still another problem arises at verses 12-13.  These verses seem to be out of place, because as the verses say, those armed men crossed the river before (v. 12; cf. 1:14), not after the main body of the people.  But in any case the author chose to remind his readers here of what they had done, rather than earlier in the story.  Then in verse 14 the author reminded his readers that the Lord had exalted Joshua before the people as he previously had done for Moses (3:7). 


            Moving to verses 15-24, verses 15-18 conclude the account of the crossing.  And then verse 19 gives a very important theological note; namely, that they came out of the river “on the tenth day of the first month.”  It was the anniversary of the day forty years earlier when Israel began to prepare for the Exodus by setting apart the first Passover lambs (Ex. 12:2-3).


            And finally, in verse 24, we see two additional reasons for the memorial pillar at Gilgal.  They were, first, “that all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the Lord is mighty;” and second, that Israel would fear the Lord their God always. 


            Now then, turning to application, I see at least four applications, here that we can put into homiletical form.  First, mark your memory.  When the Lord ordered Joshua to place the pillar in Gilgal, the main purpose was to mark the memory of the nation in respect to what God had done for them.  And that is a good lesson for us.  When we cross our Jordan into the “promised land” of full sanctification, we should somehow mark our memory so that we won’t forget what God has done for us.  Some mark it by making the place a special point of remembrance.  Hughes Auditorium on the campus of Asbury College is a sacred place for many for that reason.  Others form a special bond with a person, perhaps the person who led them into the experience, as a means of marking the memory.


            Second, challenge your children.  As we saw earlier, the pillar was to prompt questions from the children, so that the story could be told again and again.  And we need to find a way to do the same thing.  We need to remember to tell our stories to the children.  And if that takes some kind of visual reminder placed in the home, so be it.


            Third, witness to your world.  That is how I would understand the clause, “that all the peoples of the world may know that the hand of the Lord is mighty,” in verse 24.  Joshua was to raise the pillar as a witness to the nations of the world “that the hand of the Lord is mighty.”  And we have that same kind of mission.  The Lord is mighty to save and sanctify the ungodly.  He is mighty to bring multitudes out of their Egypt’s of sin and shame, and into their Promised Land of full salvation.


            Finally, fourth, fear your Friend, capital “F.”  We must never forget to hold the Lord of all in reverence.  We must give him utmost respect; we must be in awe of his holiness and power.  That is the message of the last clause of verse 24.  The Lord is our Friend.  He is merciful and loving.  And he has chosen to allow us to be part of his family.  But that does not mean that we can be flippant or unduly familiar with him.


            In summary, as you enter into the experience of full salvation, mark your memory, challenge your children, witness to your world, and fear your Friend. 

THE CONQUEST OF CANAAN: PASSING OVER THE JORDAN: 3:1-17

            In the last essay we studied Joshua 1:10-2:24 in which we saw Joshua make preparations for Israel’s conquest of Canaan.  In this essay we take up chapter three.  In Josh. 3:1-6 we see what might be called Joshua’s final plans.  First, we are told that the morning after the spies returned, Joshua moved Israel’s army from Shittim to the bank of the Jordan, where they camped for three days, allowing for final preparations as well as final plans (v. 1). 

 
            There are a couple of important things to note in verses 2-6.  The first is the prominence he gives to the Ark of the Covenant at the crossing of the Jordan.  The people were not to begin crossing until after the priests carrying Ark of the Covenant began to cross.  Then they were to follow it at a respectful distance. 

 
            Verse four says that this would enable the people to know the way to go.  Now this was not to enable the people to know the way to go in a physical sense, as if they would otherwise not know where they were to cross the river.  Rather, as we shall see, the ark was carried in front of the people in order to show the way in the sense of opening up a way for the people to cross. 

 
            The people had not passed that way before.  That is, the nation never had traveled on the western side of the Jordan since coming out of Egypt.  They had come out of Egypt by miraculous means.  But that had been forty years earlier; and of all the people who were now poised on the bank of the Jordan, many had not been born at the time of the Exodus.  And none had been more than teenagers.  So the ark was important, because it would make a way for the people to cross. 

 
            The Ark of the Covenant was significant in another sense.  The people, as they passed through the Jordan, were supposed to keep a distance of 2,000 cubits from it.  And notice that the people were ordered to sanctify themselves; that is, they were to make themselves holy (v. 5). 

 
            These two facts are related.  The ark, which represents the presence of God, is holy.  That holiness must be respected, because it represents God’s presence.  Thus because human beings are to fear God, to be in awe of him, the people must keep a respectful distance from the ark.  They must not approach him casually, or without being ceremonially pure.  Thus, in order to participate in what God was going to do, the people also needed to be holy. 

 
            We are dealing here with what is called a purification ritual.  The Hebrews had certain rituals they used to prepare themselves to enter the presence of God.  And with the Ark of the Covenant in view, they had to perform those rituals in order to be ceremonially pure and holy.  Moreover, Joshua informed them that God was going to do wonders among them the next day (v. 5).  But the holiness issue went deeper than we have seen thus far. 

 
Deut. 23:14 tells us that Israel was required to keep heir camp holy when they were facing their enemies.  The verse says, quote, “Because the Lord your God travels along with your camp, to save you and to hand over your enemies to you, therefore your camp must be holy, so that he may not see anything indecent among you and turn away from you.”  Thus we see that under the circumstances present at the Jordan River, with the people in the presence of the Ark of the Covenant, and with the army moving out against their enemies, all of the people (not just the army) needed to be holy; and the camp also had to be holy.  So Joshua ordered them to sanctify themselves (v. 6). 

 
            Next, Joshua ordered the priests to take the Ark of the Covenant to the front of the people.  Thus the final plans were completed; and Israel was ready to pass over the Jordan the next day. 

 
            In verses 7-8 God promised to exalt Joshua.  This was quite a promise.  God assured Joshua that he would make Joshua great in the eyes of Israel, so that they would know God was with Joshua as he had been with Moses.  In other words he would make Joshua like Moses in Israel’s sight. 

 
            Joshua orders the priests to move into the waters of the Jordan, and verses 9-13 record his dramatic announcement.  Joshua, pumped up by what God had revealed to him, announces not only that God was going to drive out the seven named nations before Israel (v. 10), but he announces also how God would make a way across the Jordan: “When the soles of the feet of the priests who bear the ark of the covenant of the Lord, the Lord of all the earth, rest in the waters of the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan flowing from above shall be cut off; they shall stand in a single heap” (v. 13). 

 
            What drama!  As the people watched, the priests took the ark by its poles, lifted it, and moved toward the river.  Imagine the feelings of those thousands of people as they witnessed the scene unfold.  Verse 15 tells us that it was the flooding season, which made the problem of crossing the river even more difficult.  Indeed it must have seemed impossible. 

 
            So they watched as the priests carried the ark to the flooding waters.  Surely they must have wondered if Joshua knew what he was doing.  Would it not have been better to wait until the flood had subsided?  Perhaps they should have waited until the river was low and could easily be forded.  But the decision was made.  Joshua was out on the proverbial limb. 

 
            As the people looked on, the twelve priests drew near to the river.  But the flood continued to roll by.  They came to within a yard of it, but the river remained unchanged.  When the first of the priests entered the water, still nothing.  But then, when the soles of all the priests were in the river, the waters began to move in an unusual manner.  They began to roll back as if moved by a might hand, leaving essentially dry ground before the priests. 

 
            Verses 14-17 sum up the situation.  Everything God had told Joshua would happen had happened.  First of all, God miraculously stopped the flooding River Jordan from flowing, just when Joshua had said he would. 

 
            And second, God exalted Joshua as he earlier had exalted Moses.  Just as Moses was exalted in the sight of the people by the miraculous division of the Red Sea (Ex. 14:31), so Joshua was exalted as the leader of Israel by means of a similar miracle. 

 
            Furthermore, third, as the priests who were carrying the ark stood in the middle of the river, the entire nation of Israel passed through the riverbed on dry ground (v. 17).  What a marvelous miracle of God! 

 
            All right, as we seek to apply the passage to our modern, Christian context, I believe the crossing of the Jordan is a type of the Christian crossing into the “Promised Land” of full salvation, or full sanctification.  It was not uncommon in years past for preachers to see it as a type of our crossing into heaven.  But the Promised Land of Canaan was not analogous to heaven.  Yes, it was a land of milk and honey; but it also was a place of warfare, strife, and struggle against sin.  It is much better to understand it as a type of God’s willingness to sanctify us in the midst of our struggles.

 
            Just as the river Jordan seemed impossible to cross in that ancient day, and Israel depended on God, whose presence was symbolized by the Ark of the Covenant, we have our own “Jordan Rivers” that seem impossible to cross; and we must depend on Christ to see us through. 

 
            Some are not victorious over sin, because their theology holds them in bondage.  That is, they have been taught that they must sin a little every day; and they do.  Others are not victorious, because of addictions, to alcohol, sex, drugs and the like.  Still others have besetting inner sins such as pride, greed, envy, etc.  These flooding “rivers” seem impossible to cross.  But the New Testament says we can cross into the Promised Land and be victorious over the power as well as the guilt of sin.

 
            And we must never forget that our primary warfare is against principalities and powers, not flesh and blood.  Fortunately, the Lord Jesus, on Mt. Calvary, went through the flood of floods and came out by means of the resurrection victorious over those principalities and powers.  And we need not fear them. 

 
            So what do we do to pass from the self-life on this side of our spiritual Jordan to the Christ-life on the other side?  Well, first just as the Israelites kept their eye on the Ark of the Covenant while they crossed the Jordan, we must keep our eye on Jesus while we cross our “Jordan.”  That is, we enter into the experience of full sanctification through faith in Jesus.  Thus the power we need is in Jesus.  He holds back the fire of sin and temptation; he rolls back the “waters” of the impossible. 

 
            As we have seen, the children of Israel approached and saw the Promised Land in the distance, but realized that between them and the blessing of the land was the “impossibility” of the flooded Jordan.  Likewise we approach and see the promised land of holiness, but we realize that between us and the blessings of holiness flows a river of impossibility, a river of shame, sin or defeat.  Therefore we must step up to our impossibility by faith just as Israel by faith stepped up to the Jordan and walked in.  Likewise we must step into our” river” by faith in Jesus, and let him open the waters to victory.