Joshua 3 & 4
Crossing the Jordan
In our earlier studies in the Book of Joshua we
have begun to notice that there are a number of themes which are
important for us to try and grasp if we are to understand what this book is
The first is that when God makes His
covenant promises He always keeps them. He had promised to give these people
a land flowing with milk and honey, which in plain language means that it is a
land fit for kings to live in. And He is in the process of fulfilling that
covenant promise. That is a principle that is operative today. Whatever God has
promised, He will perform.
He calls His people to covenant faithfulness. I’ve written about this a
little in the bulletin. Technically, the covenant that God makes is bilateral:
it has promises, but it also has stipulations. These are not stipulations of the
sort that say: if you will be obedient, God will bless you. No, they of the
sort: because has blessed you, this is how you show this to be the case. If
they are to live in a land fit for kings then they must live like kings who are
fit for such a land. And so from the beginning of the book and we see this
note struck here in chapters 3 and 4, the people of God are to listen to and
be obedient to everything that the Lord says to them.
God who keeps His covenant promises and calls His people to covenant
faithfulness, intends to employ Joshua as the instrument by which these
promises are going to be fulfilled. And this brings us to notice something
that will help us as we read through Joshua that we have not yet noticed: that
this central character, Joshua whom God has appointed as the leader of the
people, Joshua the son of Nun, has been renamed in order that he may fulfill the
particular ministry God has for him to do. Nun, his father, did not give him the
name Joshua. The name that was given to him, presumably at his
circumcision, was the name “Hoshea” which means salvation (Numb
13:16). And it was only as Joshua had begun to demonstrate to Moses that he was
the Lord’s appointed man in bringing the people of God into the land, that
Moses said, your name will no longer be Hoshea (which means salvation) but
Joshua (which means the Lord is salvation” or “The Lord is the
Savior”). There is no doubt as we read this story from the vantage point of
new covenant fulfillment in Jesus Christ, that change of name has far greater
significance than it would have been apparent to Moses and Joshua. That change
of name was an indication that in Joshua, God was going to demonstrate to His
people a pattern of salvation which He would bring to its final example only in
the person of His Son the Lord Jesus Christ. You may recall Matthew says, in
Matthew 1:21, Jesus was called “Jesus” or “Joshua” because
He would save His people from their sins. And there can be no doubt that in
the broad picture the reason why Moses changed his name from Hoshea to Joshua is
because he has a sense in what God will do in the ministry of this man, He is
giving to His people in Old Testament days an illustration of the way in which
God works in the salvation of His people. And that’s why we are able to
take these great stories and see the pattern of God’s working in those
days as illustrations of the way He continues to work in and through the
fullness of His purpose in our Lord Jesus Christ.
Now when we come to these particular chapters we
come to one of those great transition points in Old Testament
history. The people are standing outside of the fulfillment of God’s promises.
All the blessings of the land flowing with milk and honey lie on the other side
of the River Jordan and they have come to a great crisis point, a great decision
point. And this is signaled to us by the fact that we are given the date for
this event very precisely. We are told in 4:19 that it was the tenth
day of the first month that the people crossed the Jordan.
And the reason why that day is of particular significance is because it was the
very same day forty years before that the people were called to choose the Passover
lamb and to begin the great event of the exodus which forty years
later would bring them to this significant point.
In a way, forty years previous they had faced the
most monumental decision in their nation’s history and they had come out of
the land, and yet for forty years they had wandered in their disobedience and
they had never tasted of the land flowing with milk and honey. Joshua recognizes
that God has brought these people back to a great point of decision: will
they now take the step of faith that they refused to take in all these previous
years? And like all these narrative passages in the Bible, the best way to
read it is to think of it like a moving cinema camera, and as it moves
through the narrative, the thing to look out for is the place or places it
lingers and pauses in the story; or even the places to which the camera may
return as though God is saying, I want you to focus on these particular issues.
And if you read through the passage in that light, you will note that there are
four things to which the camera returns:
1. God bids us to
focus on the consecration of the people of God.
Verse 5. “Consecrate
yourselves, for tomorrow…” He says, in order for you to enter the
blessings God is giving you it is necessary for you to yield yourselves to God
in a fresh and decisive way. You know that the language in the Old Testament for
consecration, “sanctify” is language which on the one level
suggests separation. But interestingly, on the other hand the idea of
“shining.” So that taking those ideas together, it seems to
suggest that we give ourselves unreservedly to the Lord in such a way that we
separate from the agenda that characterizes the world and as a consequence, we
begin to shine. As we give ourselves and walk into His presence, God’s own
glory begins to reflect itself in us and upon us. As He has given Himself to us,
His glory begins to be reflected in our love and devotion to him.
Now what exactly would this have involved? Verse
5? Well, it was probably the same things that had been involved in previous
occasions. For example, Exodus 19 when God had said,
“consecrate yourselves to Me.” And they had done two things,
you remember. On the one hand, they had washed their clothes
and on the other they had abstained from sexual relationships.
Now to us, that may seem as rather odd, but what that command meant was deeply
significant. Washing their clothes, for example, was deeply symbolic
of removing every vestige of the past, of where they had
been, from their lives. And they were even prepared to stop legitimate functions
within the bond of the closest relationships in their lives, marriage, and to
regard them as secondary to the summons of God. There was no area of their lives
they were not prepared to yield up to God and say:
“there isn’t one aspect that I’m not willing to give to you. Just tell
me what it is and I will do it for You.” And of course, that’s the very
thing that Jesus picks up whenever he says that if you are going to be My
disciple there must be a decisive rejection of the past and there must even be a
willingness to yield up to Me the things that are most precious to you and
to which you may feel you have a right and privilege, but you must be prepared
to deny everything for My sake and the gospel’s. So that even your devotion
to father and mother might seem like hatred in comparison with your zeal to
give yourself to Me.
Is there an area of your life that you simply
refuse to yield up and hand over to Jesus’ Lordship? And if so what is it? Don’t
squirm around this issue but deal honestly with the Lord and tell Him just now
what that area is and see it for what it is: a wicked refusal to allow the
Lordship of Christ to dominate in your life. Brothers and sisters,
consecrate yourself to the Lord. It’s the only way to open the floodgates of
blessings into your life.
But notice (and this is so very important),
notice, the consecration of the people of God is not so much something
that qualifies them to get the blessing, as it is the necessary
means of receiving the blessing that God intends to give
them. It isn’t, “Lord, if I give myself to You… I’ll do some kind
of deal with You and get more blessings in my life.”. No! God says,
“This land, it’s yours!” But there is no other way
into that land except unreserved consecration to Me.
When you read through this passage you
will see that though this idea of consecration is essential it is not
the central thing in the passage. The central thing in the passage, you
simply cannot miss it, is the presence of the Ark of the covenant of God.
2. God bids us focus,
then, on the Ark of the covenant of the Lord.
The Ark of the covenant, was a
little box. The size of an ottoman at the end of your bed. It was
made under the command of God to be a physical symbol of the presence
of God. It was more than that: a physical symbol of the very throne
of God. That’s why these creatures, the cherubim, were built onto the
end of it, covering the mercy seat of gold that was placed on top of the ark. So
that it was between the cherubim that God would make Himself known to his
The Ark of the covenant was the physical
expression to the people of the power of God and presence of God and the
purpose of God. That’s why Joshua said to the people, that you need keep
some distance between yourself and this Ark, not only because the Ark was
holy, but so that the people could stand back far enough to keep it in their
vision. So that Joshua could say: when you see the Ark moving, move! It’s
the sign that God Himself is moving. And when the Ark is brought into the River Jordan
a kind of repetition takes place of what had taken place 40 years
previous at the Red Sea. And they stand, these priests, as
they carry this Ark into the waters, and just as the waters fled when Jesus
stilled the storm, the waters flee at the presence of the Ark of the covenant.
And the author of Joshua is at pains to tell us that the waters were in full
flood. God didn’t bring them across at the easy time of year, but when it
seemed an impossible challenge.
What is the message here?
This strange box that is carried by the people through Old Testament history,
where God meets with His people, where there is a mercy seat, where they come
once a year to pour the blood of sacrifice for the forgiveness of the sins of
the people of God? Well, of course our New Testament tells us in detail what
this box means. Just as Joshua’s experience in leadership is a miniature of
the way in which God will bring salvation to His people in Jesus Christ; so this
box, the Ark of the covenant of the Lord, which has the mercy seat, and the
tables of the law written on tablets of stone in its heart, is a miniature of
the true Ark of the covenant, our Lord Jesus Christ. It is a display in Old
Testament terms, of where men and women have to look in order that they might be
brought into the blessings of God’s salvation. That’s why Hebrews tells us
that Moses and Joshua had faith to cross the Red Sea and the Jordan. Now, what
you have to do is to fix your eyes on Jesus who is author and finisher of our
faith. That is why you are to lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily
besets us, as you cross from condemnation to salvation.
There is life for a look at the crucified One;
There is life at this moment for thee;
Then look, sinner, look unto Him and be saved
Unto Him who was nail’d to the tree.
I need to pause and ask you whether you have done
that. I need to ask you, “Are you looking to the Ark of the covenant? Have
you crossed over? Do you understand where to look for salvation? Do you
understand the One you are to follow in order to enjoy the blessings of
3. God bids us focus on
exaltation of the servant of God.
3:7; 4:14 Now, I didn’t expect that. If our
eyes are to be fixed on the glory of God as He leads us to salvation, the last
thing we would expect is that we should fix our attention on a human being in
all of this. Why? Part of the reason is, of course, is that Joshua is a working
model of Jesus. It is a miniature expression of the exaltation of Joshua-Jesus!
There must have been people there who said,
“We knew his father!” But
something of great significance had happened to Joshua. You remember when the spies
had gone out and Joshua and Caleb had said, “We need to go
in to the land now.” And the people were so furious at what
Joshua, the Lord is salvation, had said to them and they took up stones to
humiliate and kill him. Hundreds of thousands of people were now to say to
themselves, ” I can recall when this man was humiliated before all Israel,
but now God has raised him up and given him a name: the Lord is
salvation that is greater than any other name and he’s called us to follow
him into the promised land.” Now, with all our Reformed pedigree and
suspicion of reading into the Old Testament things that are not there, do we not
have here some kind of foreshadowing, a kind of miniature play being acted out
before the eyes and ears of these people that we, with our vantage point are to
take up and say: Yes, I see it now. Lord you were telling the story of the
gospel in all its beauty and magnificence, clothing it in these historical
forms. Even in the Old Testament men and women might catch a glimpse of how
God saves: through the exaltation of one He has humiliated.
And, and this too is very important, there is
here a pattern of what God does generally in the lives of
all those whom He intends to use in His service: generally
speaking, they have been marked by the fact that they have been humbled under
the mighty hand of God in order that in due season they might be exalted.
the exaltation of Joshua was connected to the blessings of God’s people
because it is a general principle that where those who lead God’s people are
not worthy of spiritual respect, the people cannot be led into spiritual
blessing. And where their leaders are worthy of spiritual respect but fail to
receive it, they will not be the recipients of spiritual blessing. The New
Testament brings us to this:
The blessings of the fellowships to which we
belong will be tied to the respect-worthiness of those who lead.
What a word that is to those preparing to be
leaders in the church of Christ.
4. God bids us
focus on the building of a memorial to the work of God.
stones: one for each tribe. 4:6. Exhibitions of the power of God that would lead
generations of men and women yet unborn to cry: “Lord, God of Joshua, show
Your power again! Show Your power again!”
Many of us have such monuments. They enable us to
recall God’s work in our lives or in the lives of others and hopefully in us.
Books, records of great revivals, perhaps to look back into the history of the
gospel in this great country: “Lord, do it again!”
There is one such standing stone in Glasgow, from
the East side of the city, you may gaze up the city acropolis: the stature of
man you cannot discern from the road. The inscription reads of the ministry of
John Knox and how God turned the country around. “O God, couldn’t you do
You have standing stones? For some of us it is a
building where we first met with God for the first time in our lives, where as
we recall it now, we want to give ourselves again to the doing of his will and
the service of his kingdom. For many of you, I fancy, it may well be this
building! But for me it is this:
John Stott Basic Christianity
David C. K. Watson My God is Real
© 2019 First Presbyterian Church.
This transcribed message has been lightly edited and formatted for the Web site. No attempt has been made, however, to alter the basic extemporaneous delivery style, or to produce a grammatically accurate, publication-ready manuscript conforming to an established style template.
Should there be questions regarding grammar or theological content, the reader should presume any website error to be with the webmaster/transcriber/editor rather than with the original speaker. For full copyright, reproduction and permission information, please visit the First Presbyterian Church Copyright, Reproduction & Permission statement.
To view recordings of our entire services, visit our Facebook page.