Dr. Jim Denison
Thesis: We must step by faith into the purpose of God to receive the power he gives.
Goal: Step into the next stage of faithfulness as revealed to you by God.
There’s an old story about a council meeting in the halls of Hell. Satan was seeking an infallible strategy for defeating God’s Kingdom on earth. One demon stood and said, “I shall go to men and tell them there is no heaven.” But Satan said, “That will never work, for in the heart of all mankind there beats a hope of life eternal. They will not believe that there is no heaven. You shall not go.”
Another demon stood and said, “I will go and tell them there is no Hell.” And Satan said, “That will not work either. Men know that there is right and wrong, and that wrong must be punished. They will not believe there is no Hell. You shall not go.”
Finally a small demon at the back of the meeting room stood and said, “I will tell men that there is a Heaven and there is a Hell. But then I will tell them that there is no hurry.” And Satan said, “Go!”
He’s still in our world and our minds today. Joshua is calling our people and church to follow the Lord into his future by faith. If our enemy cannot persuade us to refuse the Promised Land intended for us by our Father, he will do all he can to distract us, to lead us to complacency and delay. For he knows that “later” with God means “no” today.
For each of us, there is a call of God to go forward now. We each have a flooded river to cross if we would enter the purpose of God. Where is yours? What step will you take today?
Prepare to see the power of God (3:1-13)
We must build the fireplace before God can send the fire. A couple must prepare for a baby before an adoption agency will give one to them. Joshua and his people were called by God to prepare for his power before they would see it. So are we.
Trust in his presence (vs. 1-4)
Joshua’s officers began with this word to the nation: “When you see the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God, and the priests who are Levites, carrying it, you are to move out from your positions and follow it” (v. 3). This “ark” was the most sacred possession of the people. It was first built for the Tabernacle (Exodus 25:10-22), the portable sanctuary used by Israel until they came into their permanent homeland. Overlaid with gold, it was constructed with a golden angel at either end. Only four feet long by 2.5 feet wide and 2.5 feet deep, it was so sacred that it was carried on poles attached permanently to its sides, because no human was allowed to touch it. It contained the ten commandments, as well as a jar of manna from the wilderness (Exodus 16:33-34) and a copy of the book of Deuteronomy (Deuteronomy 31:24-26).
The ark was kept at Gilgal, Shechem, Bethel, Shiloh, and Keriath-Jearim before being placed permanently in Solomon’s temple at Jerusalem. It was the most significant symbol of the Jewish nation, much more than a flag to us, for it represented the throne and presence of Almighty God himself.
When the ark preceded the people, they would know that the Lord was present with them, marching at their front, leading them into the river and the land beyond. The ark gave them courage and faith to know that their Lord would indeed never leave or forsake them. But they must follow it at a distance of a thousand yards (v. 4), for it was too sacred for their close presence. So long as the ark went before, they could follow behind in confidence.
Today the ark is no more. Lost or destroyed in the Babylonian captivity, its fate has never been determined with certainty. Some Jewish archaeologists believe that it was stored by the rabbis in tunnels beneath the Temple Mount when the Babylonians were approaching, and awaits discovery at a time when the Muslim authorities permit such excavation. Others think it was taken with Jeremiah to Egypt in exile, or to Babylon. And some think the Jews destroyed it lest it fall into pagan hands. But no one is certain.
Nor is it needed now. Jeremiah told his people not to mourn the loss of the ark, but to trust in the God it represented. When the Messiah comes, the prophet promised, “men will no longer say, ‘The ark of the covenant of the Lord.’ It will never enter their minds or be remembered; it will not be missed, nor will another one be made. At that time they will call Jerusalem The Throne of the Lord, and all nations will gather in Jerusalem to honor the name of the Lord. No longer will they follow the stubbornness of their evil hearts” (Jeremiah 3:16-17). Now that the Messiah has arrived, his followers are God’s temple, with God’s Spirit living in us (1 Corinthians 3:16). His word is no longer kept in a box, but is alive in our hearts (Hebrews 4:12).
He is just as present in our lives as he was with their ark. As we step into the water of obedience, we can trust his presence and protection. He will lead us wherever we are to go. When we follow in reverent faith, the other side is sure.
Consecrate yourself (v. 5)
In preparing to see the power of God, the people must first believe that his presence would lead and protect them. Next, they must be ready spiritually to walk in that holy presence: “Joshua told the people, ‘Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do amazing things among you'” (v. 5).
To them such “consecration” meant to wash their clothes and bodies, to abstain from sexual relations, and to prepare spiritually (Exodus 19:10, 14-15). To us it means preparation which is more spiritual than physical. At issue is not what we can see with our eyes, but what the Lord can see by his Spirit. In calling the Pharisees to such spiritual consecration, Jesus had to say to them, “on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness” (Matthew 23:28). We must be clean in our hearts to be close to God with our lives.