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Joshua Chapters 3 and 4

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Joshua Chapters 3 and 4

Forward by Faith
We’ve just examined the faith of an individual, Rahab; and now the focus in the Book of Joshua moves to the faith of an entire nation.
As you study, keep in mind that this book deals with much more than ancient history—what God did centuries ago for the nation of Israel.
It’s about your life and the life of the church today—what God wants to do here and now for those who trust Him.
The Book of Joshua is about the victory of faith and the glory that comes to God when His people trust and obey.
British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli said, “The world was never conquered by intrigue; it was conquered by faith.”
In the Christian life you’re either an overcomer or you’re overcome, a victor or a victim. After all, God didn’t save us to make statues out of us and put us on exhibition.
He saved us to make soldiers out of us and move us forward by faith to claim our rich inheritance in Jesus Christ.
Moses said it perfectly: “He brought us out … that He might bring us in” ().
Too many of God’s people have the mistaken idea that salvation—being delivered from the bondage of Egypt—is all that’s involved in the Christian life; but salvation is only the beginning.
Both in our personal spiritual growth and in our service for the Lord, “there remains, very much land yet to be possessed” (, NKJV).
The theme of the Book of Joshua is the theme of the Book of Hebrews: “Let us go on” (); and the only way to go on is by faith.
Unbelief says, “Let’s go back to where it’s safe”; but faith says, “Let’s go forward to where God is working” (see ).
Forty years eairlier, Joshua and Caleb had assured the Jews, “Let us go up at once, and possess it; for we are well able to overcome it.” That’s faith!
But the people said, “We are not able!” That’s unbelief, and it cost the nation forty years of discipline in the wilderness (see ).
“And this is the victory that has overcome the world—your faith” (, NKJV).
God hasn’t changed, and the principle of faith hasn’t changed. What seems to have changed is the attitude of God’s people:
We no longer believe God and act by faith in His promises.
His promises never fail (; ; ), but we can fail to live by the grace of God and not, enter into all that He has promised for us (; ).
God has “brought us out that He might bring us in,” but too often we fail to “enter in because of unbelief” ().
In and 4, God illustrates for us three essentials for moving ahead by faith and claiming all that He has for us:
· the Word of faith.
· the walk of faith.
· the witness of faith.
1. The Word of faith ()
As the nation waited by the Jordan River, the people must have wondered what Joshua planned to do.
He certainly wouldn’t ask them to swim the river or ford it, because the river was at flood stage (3:15). They couldn’t construct enough boats or rafts to transport more than a million people over the water to the other side. Besides, that approach would make them targets for their enemies. What would their new leader do?
Like Moses before him, Joshua received his orders from the Lord, and he obeyed them by faith. “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (, NKJV).
It has been well said that faith is not believing in spite of evidence but obeying in spite of consequence.
When you read , the great “faith chapter” of Scripture, you discover that the people mentioned there all did something because they believed God.
Their faith wasn’t a passive feeling; it was an active force.
· Because Abraham believed God, he left Ur and headed for Canaan.
· Because Moses believed God, he defied the gods of Egypt and led the Jews to freedom.
· Because Gideon believed God, he led a small band of Jews to defeat the huge Midianite army.
Living faith always leads to action. “For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also” (, NKJV).
James 2:26 ESV
For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.
Then Joshua rose early in the morning and they set out from Shittim. And they came to the Jordan, he and all the people of Israel, and lodged there before they passed over. 2 At the end of three days the officers went through the camp 3 and commanded the people, “As soon as you see the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God being carried by the Levitical priests, then you shall set out from your place and follow it. 4 Yet there shall be a distance between you and it, about 2,000 cubits in length. Do not come near it, in order that you may know the way you shall go, for you have not passed this way before.”
Joshua 3 ESV
Then Joshua rose early in the morning and they set out from Shittim. And they came to the Jordan, he and all the people of Israel, and lodged there before they passed over. At the end of three days the officers went through the camp and commanded the people, “As soon as you see the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God being carried by the Levitical priests, then you shall set out from your place and follow it. Yet there shall be a distance between you and it, about 2,000 cubits in length. Do not come near it, in order that you may know the way you shall go, for you have not passed this way before.” Then Joshua said to the people, “Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do wonders among you.” And Joshua said to the priests, “Take up the ark of the covenant and pass on before the people.” So they took up the ark of the covenant and went before the people. The Lord said to Joshua, “Today I will begin to exalt you in the sight of all Israel, that they may know that, as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. And as for you, command the priests who bear the ark of the covenant, ‘When you come to the brink of the waters of the Jordan, you shall stand still in the Jordan.’ ” And Joshua said to the people of Israel, “Come here and listen to the words of the Lord your God.” And Joshua said, “Here is how you shall know that the living God is among you and that he will without fail drive out from before you the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Hivites, the Perizzites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, and the Jebusites. Behold, the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth is passing over before you into the Jordan. Now therefore take twelve men from the tribes of Israel, from each tribe a man. And when the soles of the feet of the priests bearing 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 from flowing, and the waters coming down from above shall stand in one heap.” So when the people set out from their tents to pass over the Jordan with the priests bearing the ark of the covenant before the people, and as soon as those bearing the ark had come as far as the Jordan, and the feet of the priests bearing the ark were dipped in the brink of the water (now the Jordan overflows all its banks throughout the time of harvest), the waters coming down from above stood and rose up in a heap very far away, at Adam, the city that is beside Zarethan, and those flowing down toward the Sea of the Arabah, the Salt Sea, were completely cut off. And the people passed over opposite Jericho. Now the priests bearing the ark of the covenant of the Lord stood firmly on dry ground in the midst of the Jordan, and all Israel was passing over on dry ground until all the nation finished passing over the Jordan.
The officers’ message to the people (vv. 1–4).
Joshua was an early riser (6:12; 7:16; 8:10), who spent the first hours of the day in communion with God (1:8).
Other early risers in scripture;
· Moses (; ),
· David (; see 119:147),
· Hezekiah (), and our
· Lord Jesus Christ (; see ).
It’s impossible to live by faith and ignore the Word of God and prayer (); for faith is nurtured by worship and the Word.
The people God uses and blesses know how to discipline their bodies so that they can give themselves to the Lord in the early morning hours.
Joshua ordered the camp to move 7 miles from The Acacia Grove (Shittim) to the Jordan; and no doubt the people in Jericho watched this march with great apprehension.
It probably took Israel a day to make this journey; they rested another day; and on the third day, the officers gave them their orders: The people were to cross the river, following the ark of the covenant.
The ark is mentioned sixteen times in chapters 3 and 4.
· It’s called “the ark of the covenant” ten times,
· “the ark of the Lord” three times,
· and simply “the ark” three times.
It was the “throne of God,” the place where His glory rested in the tabernacle () and God sat “enthroned between the cherubim” (, NIV).
The Law of God was kept in the ark, a reminder of God’s covenant with Israel; along with Aaron’s rod that budded, and the golden pot of manna, and the blood of the sacrifices was sprinkled on the mercy seat on the annual Day of Atonement (). (Yom Kippur)
The ark going before the people was an encouragement to their faith, it meant that their God was going before them and leading the way.
God had promised Moses, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest” (, NKJV). When the nation had marched through the wilderness, the ark had gone before them (); and Moses would say, “Rise up, O Lord! May Your enemies be scattered; may Your foes flee before You” (v. 35, NIV).
During that time, the presence of the ark was a guarantee of the presence of the Lord.
Each of the tribes had an assigned place in the camp and an assigned order in the march when they broke up camp ().
When the leaders of the tribes saw the priests bearing the ark and moving toward the river, they were to prepare their people to follow. Since the people had not traveled this way before, they needed God to guide them.
But they were not to get too close to the ark, for this was a holy piece of furniture from the tabernacle; and it was not to be treated carelessly.
God is our companion as we go through life, but we have to be careful not treat Him like a “buddy.”
Then Joshua said to the people, “Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do wonders among you.”
Joshua’s message to the people.
This was both an order and a promise, and the fulfillment of the promise depended on their obedience to the order.
Some of God’s promises are unconditional, and all we have to do is believe them; while other promises require that we meet certain conditions.
In meeting these conditions, we’re not earning God’s blessing; we’re making sure our hearts are ready for God’s blessing.
If the experience of Israel at Mt. Sinai was the pattern (), “sanctify yourselves” meant that everybody bathed and changed their clothes and that the married couples devoted themselves wholly to the Lord ().
In the Near East, however, water was a luxury that wasn’t used too often for personal hygiene. In our modern world we’re accustomed to comfortable bathing facilities; but these were unknown to most of the people in Bible times.
In the Bible the imagery of washing one’s body and changing clothes symbolized making a new beginning with the Lord.
Since sin is pictured as defilement (, ), God has to cleanse us before we can truly follow Him. When Jacob made a new beginning with the Lord and returned to Bethel, he and his family washed themselves and changed their garments (). After King David confessed his sin, he bathed, changed clothes, and worshiped the Lord (). The imagery is carried over into the New Testament in ; , and .
The promise was that the Lord would do wonders among them. As He opened the Red Sea to deliver Israel from Egypt, so also He would open the Jordan River and take them into the Promised Land. But that would be just the beginning of miracles, for the Lord would go with them into the land, defeat their enemies, and enable the tribes to claim their inheritance.
And Joshua said to the priests, “Take up the ark of the covenant and pass on before the people.” So, they took up the ark of the covenant and went before the people.
Joshua’s message to the priests.
The priests had the responsibility of bearing the ark of the covenant and going before the people as they marched. It was the priests who had to get their feet wet before God would open the waters. The priests would also have to stand in the middle of the riverbed until all the people had passed over. When the priests arrived on the other side, the waters would return to their original condition. It took faith and courage for these priests to do their job, but they trusted God and relied on the faithfulness of His Word.
The Lord said to Joshua, “Today I will begin to exalt you in the sight of all Israel, that they may know that, as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. 8 And as for you, command the priests who bear the ark of the covenant, ‘When you come to the brink of the waters of the Jordan, you shall stand still in the Jordan.’
The message of the Lord to Joshua.
When Moses led the nation through the Red Sea, this miracle magnified Moses before the people; and they recognized that he was indeed the servant of the Lord ().
God would do the same thing for Joshua at the Jordan; and in so doing, He would remind the people that He was with Joshua just as He had been with Moses (; see 1:5, 9). Both Moses and Joshua had received their authority from the Lord before these miracles occurred, but the miracles gave them stature before the people. It takes both authority and stature to exercise effective leadership.
And Joshua said to the people of Israel, “Come here and listen to the words of the Lord your God.” 10 And Joshua said, “Here is how you shall know that the living God is among you and that he will without fail drive out from before you the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Hivites, the Perizzites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, and the Jebusites. 11 Behold, the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth is passing over before you into the Jordan. 12 Now therefore take twelve men from the tribes of Israel, from each tribe a man. 13 And when the soles of the feet of the priests bearing 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 from flowing, and the waters coming down from above shall stand in one heap.”
Joshua’s message to the people (vv. 9–13).
Having instructed the priests bearing the ark, Joshua then shared the words of the Lord with the people. He didn’t magnify himself; He magnified the Lord and His gracious blessings to the nation.
True spiritual leadership focuses the eyes of God’s people on the Lord and His greatness.
Much of what Joshua said in this brief speech was recalled from Moses’ last speech to Joshua (), as well as the Lord’s words to Joshua when he took Moses’ place (). Joshua didn’t give the people a “religious pep talk.” He simply reminded them of the promises of God—the Word of faith—and encouraged them to trust and obey.
But Joshua’s God was more than just the God of Israel. He was “the living God” (3:10) and “the Lord of all the earth” (vv. 11, 13).
Because He is “the living God,” He can defeat the dead idols of the heathen nations that then inhabited the land (). Because He is “the Lord of all the earth,” He can go where He pleases and do what He wishes with every land and nation. “You shall be a special treasure to Me above all people,” God had told them at Sinai, “for all the earth is Mine” (, NKJV).
Joshua explained to the people that God would open the river as soon as the priests bearing the ark put their feet into the waters of the Jordan.
He also ordered each tribe to appoint a man to perform a special task that was explained later (). God was going before His people, and He would open the way!
As you review these five messages, you can see that the Lord gave them all the information they needed to accomplish what He wanted them to do.
You find conditions that the people had to fulfill, orders they had to obey, and promises they had to believe. God always gives His “Word of faith” to His people whenever He asks them to follow Him into new areas of conflict and conquest.
God’s commandments are still His enablements, and God’s promises do not fail.
The counsel of King Jehoshaphat centuries later is still applicable today:
“Believe in the Lord your God, and you shall be established; believe His prophets, and you shall prosper” (, NKJV). “There has not failed one word of all His good promise” (, NKJV).
So when the people set out from their tents to pass over the Jordan with the priests bearing the ark of the covenant before the people, 15 and as soon as those bearing the ark had come as far as the Jordan, and the feet of the priests bearing the ark were dipped in the brink of the water (now the Jordan overflows all its banks throughout the time of harvest), 16 the waters coming down from above stood and rose up in a heap very far away, at Adam, the city that is beside Zarethan, and those flowing down toward the Sea of the Arabah, the Salt Sea, were completely cut off. And the people passed over opposite Jericho. 17 Now the priests bearing the ark of the covenant of the Lord stood firmly on dry ground in the midst of the Jordan, and all Israel was passing over on dry ground until all the nation finished passing over the Jordan.
1. The Word of faith
2. The walk of faith ()
During most of the year, the Jordan River was about a hundred feet wide; but at the spring flood season, the river overflowed its banks and became a mile wide. As soon as the priests bearing the ark put their feet into the river, the water stopped flowing and stood like a wall about twenty miles away upstream, near a city called Adam. It was a miracle of God in response to the faith of the people.
Unless we step out by faith (1:3) and “get our feet wet,” we’re not likely to make much progress in living for Christ and serving Him.
Each step that the priests took opened the water before them until they were standing in the midst of the river on dry ground. They stood there as the people passed by; and when the whole nation had crossed, the priests walked to the shore and the flow of the water resumed.
When God opened the Red Sea, He used a strong wind that blew the whole night before (). This was not an accident, for the wind was the blast of God’s nostrils (15:8). When Moses lifted his rod, the wind began to blow; and when he lowered the rod, the waters flowed back and drowned the Egyptian army (14:26–28).
When Israel crossed the Jordan River, it was not the obedient arm of a leader that brought the miracle but the obedient feet of the people. Unless we are willing to step out by faith and obey His Word, God can never open the way for us.
As I said before, the crossing of the Jordan River is not a picture of the Christian dying and going to heaven.
The crossing of the Red Sea pictures the believer being delivered from the bondage of sin, and the crossing of the Jordan River pictures the believer claiming the inheritance in Jesus Christ.
Joshua is a type of Jesus Christ our Conqueror who leads us from day to day into the inheritance He has planned for us (). “He shall choose our inheritance for us” ().
What a tragedy it is when God’s people fail to claim their inheritance and wander aimlessly through life as Israel did in the wilderness.
The Book of Hebrews was written to challenge God’s people to go on in spiritual maturity and not go backward in unbelief. In , the writer used Israel’s experience to warn foolish Christians not to come short of all that God had planned for them. We never stand still in the Christian life; we either move forward in faith or go backward in unbelief.
Twelve Memorial Stones from the Jordan
When all the nation had finished passing over the Jordan, the Lord said to Joshua, 2 “Take twelve men from the people, from each tribe a man, 3 and command them, saying, ‘Take twelve stones from here out of the midst of the Jordan, from the very place where the priests’ feet stood firmly, and bring them over with you and lay them down in the place where you lodge tonight.’ ” 4 Then Joshua called the twelve men from the people of Israel, whom he had appointed, a man from each tribe. 5 And Joshua said to them, “Pass on before the ark of the Lord your God into the midst of the Jordan, and take up each of you a stone upon his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the people of Israel, 6 that this may be a sign among you. When your children ask in time to come, ‘What do those stones mean to you?’ 7 then you shall tell them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it passed over the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. So these stones shall be to the people of Israel a memorial forever.”
8 And the people of Israel did just as Joshua commanded and took up twelve stones out of the midst of the Jordan, according to the number of the tribes of the people of Israel, just as the Lord told Joshua. And they carried them over with them to the place where they lodged and laid them down there. 9 And Joshua set up twelve stones in the midst of the Jordan, in the place where the feet of the priests bearing the ark of the covenant had stood; and they are there to this day. 10 For the priests bearing the ark stood in the midst of the Jordan until everything was finished that the Lord commanded Joshua to tell the people, according to all that Moses had commanded Joshua.
The people passed over in haste. 11 And when all the people had finished passing over, the ark of the Lord and the priests passed over before the people. 12 The sons of Reuben and the sons of Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh passed over armed before the people of Israel, as Moses had told them. 13 About 40,000 ready for war passed over before the Lord for battle, to the plains of Jericho. 14 On that day the Lord exalted Joshua in the sight of all Israel, and they stood in awe of him just as they had stood in awe of Moses, all the days of his life.
15 And the Lord said to Joshua, 16 “Command the priests bearing the ark of the testimony to come up out of the Jordan.” 17 So Joshua commanded the priests, “Come up out of the Jordan.” 18 And when the priests bearing the ark of the covenant of the Lord came up from the midst of the Jordan, and the soles of the priests’ feet were lifted up on dry ground, the waters of the Jordan returned to their place and overflowed all its banks, as before.
19 The people came up out of the Jordan on the tenth day of the first month, and they encamped at Gilgal on the east border of Jericho. 20 And those twelve stones, which they took out of the Jordan, Joshua set up at Gilgal. 21 And he said to the people of Israel, “When your children ask their fathers in times to come, ‘What do these stones mean?’ 22 then you shall let your children know, ‘Israel passed over this Jordan on dry ground.’ 23 For the Lord your God dried up the waters of the Jordan for you until you passed over, as the Lord your God did to the Red Sea, which he dried up for us until we passed over, 24 so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the Lord is mighty, that you may fear the Lord your God forever.
1. The Word of faith
2. The walk of faith
3. The witness of faith ()
The Lord was in control of all the activities at the Jordan River that day. He told the priests when to enter the river and when to leave and go to the other side. He told the water when to roll back and when to return. Both the water and the people obeyed Him, and everything worked out as God planned. It was a day that glorified the Lord and magnified His servant Joshua (v. 14).
Two heaps of stones were set up as memorials of Israel’s crossing of the Jordan River: twelve stones at Gilgal (vv. 1–8, 10–24), and twelve stones in the middle of the river (v. 9).
They were witnesses that God honors faith and works on behalf of those who trust Him.
The stones placed at Gilgal were carried over by twelve previously selected men, one from each tribe (3:12). When these men reached the middle of the river, they each picked up a large stone and carried it about eight miles to Gilgal where the nation camped for the night.
Gilgal was about two miles from Jericho and excluding the transjordan area, it was the first territory in Canaan claimed by Israel for their inheritance.
In later years Gilgal became an important center for the nation. Israel crowned their first king at Gilgal (); there David was welcomed back after Absalom’s rebellion was subdued (); and Samuel thought Gilgal important enough to include it in his “ministry circuit” (). There was a “school of the prophets” at Gilgal in the days of Elijah and Elisha (; ). Gilgal was important to Joshua because it became his camp and center of operations (; , , ; ).
This heap of twelve stones was a reminder of what God did for His people. The Jews were great believers in teaching the next generation about Jehovah and His special relationship to the people of Israel (4:6, 21; ; ; ; see ; ; ; ; ; ).
To an unbeliever, the heap of twelve stones was simply another stone pile; but to a believing Israelite, it was a constant reminder that Jehovah was his or her God, working His wonders on behalf of His people.
But also note that Joshua put an obligation on the Jews to fear the Lord and bear witness of Him to the whole world (). The God who can open the river is the God everybody ought to fear, love, and obey!
Israel needed to tell the other nations about Him and invite them to trust Him too.
The God of Israel
· cares for His people,
· keeps His promises,
· goes before them in victory,
· and never fails.
What a witness to give to the world!
It’s unfortunate that this memorial at Gilgal gradually lost its spiritual meaning and instead became a shrine where the Jews sinned against God by worshiping there. The Prophet Hosea condemned the people for worshiping at Gilgal instead of at Jerusalem (; ; ), and Amos echoed simular warnings (; ).
Unless we teach the next generation the truth about the Lord, they will turn away and start following the world.
Joshua set up the monument in the midst of the river (v. 9);* and to the Jews, it must have seemed a strange thing for their leader to do. After all, who but God could see twelve stones heaped together in a riverbed? We aren’t told that God commanded Joshua to set up this second monument, but it’s likely that He did. At least, He didn’t reproach him for doing it.
The monument at Gilgal reminded the Jews that God had opened the Jordan River and brought them safely across into the Promised Land. They had made a break with the past and were never to think of going back.
The monument in the depths of the river reminded them that their old life was buried, and they were now to “walk in newness of life” ().
(When we study , we will see the spiritual significance for the Christian today of the establishing of this monument and the circumcising of the new generation.)
Meanwhile, whenever the Jewish children asked about the twelve stones at Gilgal, the parents would explain the miracle of the crossing of the river. Then they would add, “But there’s another monument in the middle of the river where the priests stood with the ark. You can’t see it, but it’s there.
It reminds us that our old life has been buried, and we must live a new life in obedience to the Lord.” The children would have to accept this fact by faith; and if they did, it could make a great difference in the way they related to God and to His will for their lives.
These two heaps of stones were the first of several stone monuments that the Jews put up in the land. In obedience to Moses’ instructions, they also set up the two “stones of blessing and cursing” at Mt. Ebal and Mt. Gerizim (; ).
They raised a heap of stones over Achan and his household (7:25–26); and at the close of his life, Joshua set up a “witness stone” at Shechem (24:24–28; Jud. 9:6). The two and a half tribes that lived east of the Jordan set up a “great altar” to remind their children that they were a part of the nation of Israel, even though the river separated them from the other tribes ().
There is nothing wrong with memorials, provided they don’t become religious idols that turn our hearts from God, and provided they don’t so link us to the past that we fail to serve God in the present.
The next generations need reminders of what God has done in history, but these reminders must also strengthen their faith and draw them closer to the Lord.
God brings us out that He might bring us in (), and He brings us in that we might overcome and claim our inheritance in Jesus Christ. Because God’s people are identified with Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection (6; ), they have “overcoming power,” and the world (6:14), the flesh (5:24), or the devil () need not defeat them. In Jesus Christ, we are overcomers ().
If you want to claim your spiritual inheritance in Christ,
believe the Word of faith and get your feet wet! Step out in a walk of faith, and God will open the way for you.
Surrender yourself to the Lord and die to the old life (), and He will bring you into the land and give you “days of heaven upon the earth” ().
The Israelites were now in the land, but they were not yet ready to confront the enemy. There was still some spiritual preparation necessary for the people and for Joshua.
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