Joshua 3 – 3 Oct 2009
The book of Joshua records Israel’s conquest of the land of Canaan.
Israel portrays the Christian Church.
Canaan portrays heaven.
The journey of Israel towards Canaan can be seen as the pilgrimage of the Christian Church towards heaven.
And on this journey, there are victories and there are defeats.
1 Cor 10:11 tells us that all these incidents were recorded as examples for our learning.
The defeats serve to warn us against succumbing to temptations that can lead to our downfall.
The victories encourage us that we too can experience a life of blessing if we were to be faithful & obedient to God.
Most importantly, the overall theme points us towards a Saviour.
A Saviour whom we need, and a Saviour who alone can lead us to heaven.
Friends, at the end of this morning’s meditation, it is my desire that you will know and appreciate this Saviour: Jesus Christ – the Son of God, God Himself.
Here in Joshua Chapter 3, Israel commences its journey towards the first battle they will fight in the land of Canaan.
I will cover this chapter under the following 3 headings.
1) The Preparation for the way Ahead
2) God’s Ways are Not Our Ways
3) The glory of any victory belongs to God and God alone
1) The preparation for the way ahead
In Josh 3:1-4, we read about instructions given to the people regarding moving from their current location.
It was an exciting time – just like the commencement of a military operation.
And in the midst of all the flurry of activities, Joshua says this to the Israelites in Joshua 3:5:
“Sanctify yourselves: for tomorrow the LORD will do wonders amongst you.”
This was a call for individual and national preparation before they launch into all their activities.
There was to be individual spiritual preparation.
The heads of the families and the tribes had to prepare their families and tribes spiritually.
They were to keep themselves clean as part of this preparation.
Why do they need to sanctify themselves?
Because the LORD was going to do wonders before their eyes.
And they have to be prepared in order to appreciate all that would happen.
Otherwise, they won’t recognize the hand of God in what comes to pass.
Otherwise, they will be absorbed in their own distraction because they were concentrating only on themselves.
There are 2 immediate applications that come to my mind regarding this:
a) We need to spend time on spiritual preparation before we embark on our busy schedule every day
I believe it is very common for people to wake up, wash up and be on their way every day.
Some who travel long distances to school or to work may take a nap on their journey.
And when they reach their destination, they launch straight into whatever they need to do.
And we find ourselves overwhelmed by difficulties, challenges and all kinds of unhappiness as we face the day.
And it becomes unnatural for us to turn to the Lord during the day because we never started the day with prayer!
Some of you may say, come on Lye-Sum, be realistic, I don’t even have enough sleep – how to talk about preparation?
I empathise with you but I still have to tell you that spiritual preparation is necessary before you launch into your schedule.
The busier your day will be, the more important spiritual preparation is.
Martin Luther once said: “Oh, it’s going to be such a busy day; I better spend another 4 hours praying”.
If you remember that your life is a spiritual battle, you will appreciate that you need spiritual preparation for it.
Lay out the schedule of that day before the Lord.
Seek His presence for all your activities and commit them to Him.
Then it will be natural for you to keep in touch with Him throughout your busy day of activities.
It is my experience that my day goes haywire when I launch into it without any spiritual preparation.
But when I start a busy day praying for every activity in that day, somehow I have peace even when I face challenges during the day.
I therefore recommend that you must make spiritual preparation before you embark on your busy day.
b) Secondly, there is a need for us to prepare for the various Church meetings we have every week
Proverbs 16:1 tells us “The preparation of the heart belongs to man, but the answer of the tongue is from the LORD”.
We need to prepare ourselves for the various Church meetings that we attend.
Very often, we hear people say that the sermon is so dry.
In response, I’ve heard many preachers ask their congregations whether they have prayed for the preacher and themselves.
Sometimes, the congregation may think that the preachers are making excuses.
As the preacher today, I will tell you (as I have told our pastor many times): “if I have a choice, I will not want to preach”.
Because preaching is not about making a good presentation.
All of us need to be fearfully aware that we are dealing with spiritual and eternal things here.
Every preacher who fears the LORD will try his very best to prepare a sermon that is well organized and easy to understand.
But more importantly, every preacher will try to give time to prayer and preparation of his own heart.
God must be pleased to use the preacher as the instrument through which we all receive blessing.
Would any preacher who understands this dare to come without preparation?
And Heb 13:17 reminds us that we who “watch out for your souls” must give an account to God.
And this strikes fears in me as it does in most preachers.
And it is something that I do with fear just like Moses was fearful to be the leader of Israel in Ex 4.
Very few people will admit that they came to Church without preparation.
They forget that this is a spiritual exercise.
They forget that invisible to their eyes, God is sitting on the throne in heaven, ruling overall.
If we can just be aware that God is looking down graciously at our worship right now, will we all not be trembling?
Will we not be praying for the preacher and all worship proceedings throughout the week?
Will we not come early to quieten our hearts to wait upon the LORD expectantly?
Joshua tells the Israelites: “Sanctify yourselves: for tomorrow the LORD will do wonders amongst you.”
Friends, for EBENEZER Church to grow and mature spiritually, every one of us must be involved in this preparation.
We cannot assume that the worship service will just take place every Sunday.
We cannot assume that there will be a speaker, teacher, pianist and other brethren present.
As people in this Church, we must “prepare” for this to happen.
We must pray for the various people involved in the worship – the song leader, the preacher, the translator, the pianist.
We must pray for ourselves, that we come expecting to experience the presence of God.
We must be concerned that God will be glorified in His worship.
Parents must be responsible to prepare their children for worship.
We need to tell them what is expected of them and why they ought to do what we tell them to do.
At the end of the worship, we ought to reflect on this spiritual exercise we had just undertaken.
We ought to pray with your children before they launch into other activities.
I want to suggest to you that spiritual preparation is a great need for us in our spiritual lives.
Israel made preparation before they moved out for their journey.
And they witnessed the great working of the hand of God in the way ahead.
Our attendance in Church will end up as a routine unless we learn to make preparations for it.
If we are interested that God be glorified, then we need to sanctify ourselves.
Otherwise, how can we expect the Lord to do wonders amongst us?
Friends, if this matter is recorded in the Bible, then it must be important for us to take note of.
So I urge you to pay attention to this.
Joshua says: “Sanctify yourselves: for tomorrow the LORD will do wonders amongst you.”
2) The second point I want to make on today’s passage is “God’s ways are not our ways”
This is taken from Isaiah 55:8 – “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, says the Lord”.
If you recall, this was one of the key takeaways from Joshua 2 last week.
But it looks like this lesson keeps coming out from the book of Joshua.
So in our Christian lives, we need to always remember these words of scripture.
God’s ways are never our ways.
Our ways are clearly limited by our understanding, our perspectives and our experiences.
But God always surprises and amazes us with how He brings things to come to pass for His own glory.
Look at what happened here in Joshua 3.
Remember Joshua sent 2 spies to check out Canaan and Jericho?
One would have expected that these 2 spies would be leading the way to Canaan.
That is the most logical thing to do.
The spies have gone to Jericho and they know the way to be taken there.
Any military commander will tell you that this is the right thing to do.
But that’s not God’s way here in Joshua 3.
Instead, Joshua told the people to let the priests lead the way.
The priests were to carry the ark of God and lead the way.
If I were the enemy, that would be the biggest and easiest target to hit.
We are again reminded of what the Apostle Paul said in 1 Cor 1:27-29 – that God “uses the foolish things of the word to put to shame the wise, the weak things of the world to put to shame the mighty, the base things of the world, the things that are despised and the things that are not to put to nothing the things that are”.
Paul was specifically referring to the atonement of Christ being totally unexpected by men as a way of salvation.
To man, that was foolishness, but it was God’s way of effectual redemption.
And to man, it would be foolish for the priests carrying the ark to lead the way.
But that is the wisdom of God.
The ark of God represented the presence of God with the people.
In essence, it was the LORD leading Israel through the hands of the priests.
And in what appears to be the silliest thing to do, God used it to lead Israel in the way He wanted them to go.
Friends, God’s ways are just not our ways.
My wife and I visited Queenstown, New Zealand in 1993.
There was no reformed Church there, so we attended a general Baptist Church for Sunday worship.
It was evident that the Church was having internal issues.
On that Sunday morning, the Pastor used his sermon to propose a new organisational structure for the Church.
That sounds awfully familiar to what typically happens in the commercial world.
Whenever a company does not meet its financial expectations, there must be restructuring.
There must be re-organisation so that the company can function more effectively.
That is the wisdom of the world, and that is a typical consultant’s recommendation.
But the greatest mistake one can make is to bring those worldly practices into the Church.
It is wrong to use our worldly wisdom to solve a spiritual problem.
The way to solve slothfulness in the Church is by repentance and prayer.
No organizational structure can ever solve that problem.
Friends, I say all these not to put down that Church in Queenstown, New Zealand.
EBENEZER Church is subjected to the same dangers unless the grace of God sustains us.
Let me tell you what I mean with a contrasting example to Joshua 3.
We read 1 Sam 4 earlier where Israel lost a major battle at a place called Ebenezer.
The elders decided that the way to win back what they lost was to bring the ark of God into the battlefield.
They probably read Joshua 3 and thought that bringing the ark into the battlefield would solve their problem.
The difference is that God was not present with them even though the physical ark of God was there.
At that time, Israel was still lingering in sin under the leadership of Eli and his sons.
And God did not tell them to bring the ark of God into the battlefield the way He had instructed Joshua here in Joshua 3.
You see, when there is no repentance, the inappropriate use of spiritual emblems can lead us to disasters.
That is also why the Apostle Paul warns us regarding abusing the Lord’s Supper in 1 Cor 11:29-30.
Israel got back on track only when Samuel led the nation on the path of repentance.
Obedience to God’s word is always the way to having God’s presence with us.
Now, coming back to Joshua 3, we now see the priests leading the way and standing at the edge of the River Jordan.
I once read a Christian cartoon picture that illustrated this incident.
4 priests were carrying the ark of God and standing at the edge of the river.
In that cartoon, one of them whispered to the other and said this:
“Have you ever considered how foolish we would look if Joshua was wrong?”
I think that cartoon may not be wrong in showing the possible thoughts ringing through the heads of those priests.
The ways of God may indeed look very foolish in the eyes of men.
They way to cross a river is to build a bridge and not to stand at the water edge carrying the ark.
But that was God’s way of bringing the Israelites across that River.
That was God’s way of endorsing the leadership of His servant Joshua.
That was God’s way of fulfilling His promise to Joshua: “As I have been with my servant Moses, so I will be with you.”
Remember that none of this generation of Israelites has seen a waterway open before their eyes.
They may have heard their fathers talking about the opening of the Red Sea.
But now, they will see it with their own eyes through the leadership of Joshua.
It sounds incredible.
So incredible that it would be utter foolishness.
But that was God’s way.
And it was the way to victory.
So let us remember again: God’s ways are simply not our ways.
3) The Glory of any victory belongs to God and God alone
When God works a miracle, it is a miracle and it will be nothing less than that.
You will not be able to explain it with science or other reasons.
In this chapter, we see the miracle of the parting of the River Jordan.
We are told that the river is at its peak of height (verse 15).
It was harvest time.
It was not a time when the river was dry and the Israelites could just jump across the narrowest part of it.
The height of the river was at its peak.
It was at a time when its width was the widest.
This situation was like the time when Elijah was challenged on Mt Carmel in 1 Kings 18.
The prophets of Baal could not call fire from heaven.
They cut themselves all over, but nothing happened.
Elijah did not just take a simple victory.
It had to be resounding victory where there was no doubt that it was indeed a miracle.
He added buckets and buckets of water to the altar.
He increased the intensity of the difficulty where the miracle was to be staged.
And it was in this impossibility that God sent fire from heaven.
In this way, no one can doubt that it was a miracle.
No one can then say that the conditions facilitated what happened and belittle the miracle.
Friends, for this reason, I am personally not convinced of the gift of tongues that the charismatics claim to have.
They roll their tongues to facilitate the sounds they make.
How then can you call this a miracle of speaking in tongues?
A miracle is a miracle.
And the glory of the victory belongs to God and God alone.
And many times, God brings about a miracle when we are totally helpless.
For example, when the Israelites were confronted at the Red Sea, they had absolutely no where else to turn to.
The sea was in front of them and the Egyptians were behind them.
And in that moment of utter helplessness, God came in a rescue that was never seen before.
He opened the Red Sea.
No one could have thought that could happen.
And there was no doubt that it was indeed a miracle that God brought about.
And the glory of it all belonged to God and God alone.
Now I want you to think about the salvation that God offers to those who would believe.
If you can contribute anything to this offer of salvation, then Christ need not have died for you.
If your heart is not totally dead in sin, then you could have responded spiritually to God and you don’t need the Holy Spirit.
But the Bible tells us that we are totally dead in sin and we cannot see why we need God.
If you are not a Christian today, or you do not know whether you are a Christian, a miracle needs to happen for you.
God the Holy Spirit needs to open your eyes so that you can see your sin and your need for a Saviour.
The Holy Spirit needs to make you alive spiritually, where you were previously dead.
This is the miracle that has to take place.
So, call upon the Lord, ask Him to open your eyes, ask Him to make you alive!
Pray, pray that God will do that miracle in you so that you can see your great need for Jesus.
For the members of this Church, I want to turn your attention to the Reformed doctrines that we uphold.
Man is totally depraved and unable to respond to the gospel spiritually.
And out of depraved mankind, God elected His own that He would save.
For those He elected to save, He sent His own Son to pay for their sins.
In His good time and pleasure, His Holy Spirit works in the hearts of His elect and brings them into His kingdom.
And His elect will remain in His fold forever because it is Christ who died for them.
And if Christ is for you, no one can snatch you out of His hand.
Now, why should we be so particular that we should uphold these reformed doctrines?
It is because your salvation is totally a work of God and He should get all the glory.
If salvation in any other manner from what I have summarized for you above, then the glory does not belong to God alone.
And it is for this reason that we have to guard these doctrines of the Bible jealously.
Because the glory of our salvation must go to God and God alone.
We don’t take pride in these doctrines, but we take pride in the God who is sovereign and redeemed us with His own blood.
God alone initiated and accomplished salvation for us.
So let us give all glory to Him and Him alone.
Now, I’ve spoken a lot and it is time for me to bring our meditation to a close.
The River Jordan opened just like the Red Sea opened for the Israelites to cross over.
God was with Joshua just as God was with Moses.
But there is a difference that we need to take note of here.
The people who crossed the Red Sea with Moses all perished in the wilderness.
But the people crossing the River Jordan with Joshua now is a new generation.
And they are all earnestly obeying God and seeking His glory – they have all memorized Joshua 1:7-8.
Let me ask all of us: which group of people do we belong to?
Do we belong to those who perished in the wilderness because of their refusal to obey?
Or do we belong to those who are running with Joshua as they make their way into Canaan?
Friends, I urge you to follow the lead of our spiritual Joshua – Jesus Christ our Lord.
Do not turn from the right hand or to the left in our obedience to Him and He will lead us into heaven.
To God be the glory! Amen.