Dear Brothers and Sisters, today I would like to share with you my reflections on Joshua 3 & 4. This was something that I had shared with the young adults at the YACHT Annual Re-Dedication Retreat last weekend and thought that it might encourage you as well.
The scene is set at the banks of the Jordan River, directly across from the land that God had promised to Abraham some 700 years before. A whole generation of Israelites had perished in the desert since their exodus from Egypt except for Joshua and Caleb. God wanted to establish the leadership of Joshua before the eyes of all Israel, and He also wanted to strengthen the faith of the people by assuring them with His presence. So God gave specific instructions for Joshua to prepare the people as He would bring them across the Jordan by stopping the river’s flow so that they could cross on dry ground.
From this account I’ve gathered three key application lessons which I thought might encourage us as we cross our own rivers in 2018 and face the many unknown challenges that the year may bring:
(i) Acknowledging God (Joshua 3:1-14)
The people were given specific instructions to follow the Ark of the Covenant which was to be carried only by the Levitical priests, but from a safe distance. The Ark represented the presence of the LORD so it was to be treated as Holy, and where the Ark went, the people were to follow. The people were also told to consecrate themselves which would involve washing themselves and their clothes, and keeping themselves pure. Finally, Joshua gathered the people and told them to listen carefully to the instructions that he had received from the LORD.
As we face the new year ahead, may we be reminded to accord to the LORD our God His proper place for He is the Holy Other. As such, we need to constantly consecrate ourselves by keeping away from things, thoughts or actions that contaminate our relationship with a perfect God. We also need to regularly confess our sins and seek His forgiveness as we do every Sunday, but more importantly, we need to truly repent and seek God’s strength to set ourselves right again with Him. Romans 12:1-2 tells us to constantly offer ourselves as living sacrifices that are holy and acceptable to Him for His service. God is also a personal God who wants to lead us with His presence and through His Word which we need to pay careful attention to. This requires regular studying of His Word and reflection.
(ii) Crossing the River (Joshua 3:15-17)
We are told in the passage that the Jordan was at flood stage – which meant that it would be overflowing its banks and likely to be moving very fast. This usually happens during spring time when the rains come and the snow on Mt Hermon upstream melts. The priests were told to get in and stand in the river – a command that could have felt illogical at the time given the condition of the river. We are also told that the river stopped flowing as it piled up at a place called Adam, which was some 30 km upstream. That would mean that for the water to stop flowing when the priests stepped into the river, the miracle would actually have taken place even before the priests reached the river!
As we face the challenges up ahead, we may sometimes feel confused as to why God is seemingly bringing us into difficult situations. It is in times like these that we need to ask Him to strengthen our faith and to learn to trust Him. If we read the account again, we are told that as soon as the feet of the priests touched the edge of the water, the river stopped flowing – so that would mean that they did not actually need to stand in the water as originally commanded! To me, this is a reminder for us that God is in control in every situation in our lives and He knows what He is doing even if things may appear to be illogical to us. Proverbs 3:4-6 says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” We can rest assured that He is always working out His good and perfect will in our lives, often in ways we cannot see, and perhaps miracles are happening even before we know it!
(iii) Remembering God (Joshua 4)
The people of Israel were told to choose 12 men, one from each tribe, to pick up a stone from the river bed near where the priests stood. These were to be carried on their shoulders to the other side and set up as a memorial at the place that they would camp. This was to be a constant reminder of how God had brought Israel through the River Jordan on dry ground and into the Promised Land, and also a testimony to next generation so that this memory could be passed on. So that is what they did, and there at Gilgal they set up camp on enemy territory, and they re-instated circumcision (which was a sign of the covenant between God and Abraham, but stopped when they were wandering in the desert), and God stopped the supply of manna because they could eat from the fruit of the land. There God forgave all the past sins of Israel and established for them a new beginning.
This chapter teaches us the importance of remembering to remember! People are always forgetful, especially forgetting God and what He has done for us. Through the ups and downs of the history of Israel, we see that every time they failed it was because they forgot God and they went back to their old sinful ways. Perhaps we really need physical reminders, like collecting stones and marking on them dates so that we can remember the significant milestones where God acted in our lives. Or perhaps write these significant moments in our journals. These would serve as constant reminders of how God showed His mercy and grace and how He answered our prayers. Then we will be more grateful people, and perhaps our worship would be more sincere, truly stemming from a heart of gratitude. Remembering God will also keep us from falling and failing in our daily walk with Him. These memorials will also serve as our testimony and witness for God to others – friends, relatives, our children – anyone who asks for their meaning.
The final reflection on this passage is on the fact that the people of Israel were camping on enemy territory. The victorious crossing of the river was only the beginning – the battle for the Promised Land was yet to begin. Right after this account we read of their successful conquest of Jericho, but the next battle at Ai was a disaster because they fell into sin again. This is a reminder for us that we are walking on ‘enemy territory’ every day and we must never let our guards down. 1 Peter 5:8 says, “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.”
To conclude, may I suggest a sort of Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for ‘river crossing’ in 2018? We must begin each day by Acknowledging God, according to Him His rightful place in our lives, consecrating ourselves as holy and acceptable living sacrifices for His service. Next we must fix our eyes on Him and trust Him as we are Crossing the River. Come what may, we know His presence is with us, even when things do not seem to make sense, and we can step forward with faith. And finally, we need to constantly Remember God, perhaps with the help of memorials to remind ourselves to be grateful, and to bear testimony of God’s work in and through our lives. Remembering God daily will also keep us from falling into sin as we fight on in ‘enemy territory’.
May the LORD, strengthen your faith and grant you His joy and peace in the year ahead.
Eld Aaron Tan