Joshua 1: 1-9
Joshua 3: 14-17
Stepping Into the Jordan River
Rev. Kit Billings
November 10, 2002
I'm filled with awe after reading the first six books of the Old Testament seeing all that it took to gradually form the Children of Israel into a nation of followers of the Lord. Such what it took to get them dislodged from the tenacious and merciless grip of Egypt. Who can forget their wandering in the desert for 40 years, and finally their entrance into and hard but glorious work of inhabiting the Promised Land. The time! The development. The learning of the ten essential spiritual laws known as the Ten Commandments. Their growth in character and strength. The miracles and the unending care the Lord provided.
Why it's simply amazing all that it took to bring the Hebrews to this point in the early chapters of Joshua this morning!
Our New Church theology reminds us that the literal story of the Hebrews gradual growth and preparation through 40 years of wandering in the desert reflects our own internal journey of spiritual growth, which is needed before we're ready to start entering wholeheartedly into the "Kingdom of heaven within." To be sure, the journeys we each go through internally before we're ready to enter the Promised Land of spiritual milk and honey (of serious love and faith) is just as awesome and wonderful as the literal story of Moses and the Jews.
In other words, what must take place inside a human being to get us ready to begin to move in and take possession of the gorgeous heavenly character we're destined to enjoy is reflected in the drama of the Patriarchs-Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph and Moses. Thus, we might say that the period of the Patriarchs reflects our infancy, childhood, teenage and young adult years of life. THE PATRIARCHS IS THE FIRST MAJOR PHASE. Phase two of "SALVATION" starts with Joshua!
As an important side note, the symbolism of the God's Holy Word isn't like one plus one equals two however. Some folks, for example, may go through their years of wandering and passionate griping "wandering in the desert" so to speak, not only in their 20's but on into their 40's or even early 50's. While others, unfortunately, are determined wanderers until their dying day here on Earth.
After the great leader Moses had died, and was buried in the earth along with the more timid and immature generation of Hebrews who were brought out of slavery in Egypt, the next generation of Israelites were ready for testing and taking possession of their greatest destiny. An entirely new generation of Israelites were born and raised as nomads in the desert; they were raised on the manna God had provided from heaven!
They were tough, ruddy, and had been forced into military readiness by the cowardly yet vicious attacks by the Amalekites. These Hebrews had grown into the thousands with God's care and leadership through Moses. With 40,000 faithful men and women and children the Hebrews gathered on the east side of the Jordan-and each person there was raised on the power of God leading them as a pillar of smoke and fire. They were raised on the spiritual precision of the 10 Commandments where God Himself says:
"Thou shalt have no other God's before me.
Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy.
Thou shalt not kill.
Thou shalt not steal.
Thou shalt not lie.
Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's possessions."
They lived and breathed these essential spiritual laws, and in order to keep their covenant with the Lord they had to trust and obey under Moses' leadership. However, just before our reading in Joshua this morning, Moses has died. The Jews had a new commander now. Joshua was the man! And the Jews that followed the Lord through Joshua were keen on their mission to inhabit the great land promised to them by the Lord. Now all they needed was the go ahead, and also the faith to take that first fateful step!
Can't you just feel the anticipation as 40,000 people encamped at the edge of the swift spring-fed Jordan River now that the snowmelt had swollen its banks?! 40 years had passed of walking in the desert, of hearing about the lush lifestyle of succulent fruit and rich farming happening in Canaan. And now…AND NOW this incredible dream was about to come true! A terrific promise was about to be fulfilled. God had great plans for His faithful followers, for them to be a holy nation of good men and women that would inhabit a beautiful and sacred land-a "promised land" of milk and honey. No more to be wanderers and nomads. Yet just on the other side of the Jordan was visible to them their first important conquest, the walled city of Jericho. But this generation of Jews knew where their real powered stemmed from-from God! They knew their covenant with the Lord through the Ten Commandments was the key to it all and so they kept that sacred box in front of their people at all times.
And by their faithful example we've been given a symbolic story, a vivid parable you might say, of what it takes for you and I today to step faithfully and courageously into the "promised land of heavenly character" that God has destined us to enjoy and work toward over time.
Our spiritual Promised Land, like their geographical Promised Land, has a serious boundary around it. Before the Jews crossed the Jordan and began taking over the Holy Land first they had to cross the Jordan River, which at that point in the story symbolized the immense and hard-to-cross-through river of falsity and rationalizations people maintain before being ready to take that first step toward spiritual greatness.
As God's own words to us reveal, it takes MASSIVE SPIRITUAL STRENGTH, COURAGE and dedication to the literal and spiritual goodness and truth contained within the Ten Commandments for us to begin to inhabit the kingdom promised us as well. The Lord's words to Joshua are meant for your mind too: "Now proceed to cross the Jordan, you and all this people, into the land that I am giving them. Be strong and courageous, do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go!"
And you know, such words of strength and courage are quite appropriate aren't they? I mean, think about it. To step into serious, strong and joy-filled heavenly character may mean dealing with inner demons and enemies that on first glance might cause us to react like those first spies that Moses sent in to the Promised Land. You remember, the ones who said that there are many frightening enemies in there, some who look like giants!
For example, we may be called upon to do something about that powerful tendency to worry and fret over the lives of others, not to mention myself, instead of moving faithfully and peacefully with focus each day with God and His commandments leading the way. Or for example, if I step boldly into my heavenly character, then I might have to deal with my pleasure in being judgmental about others, instead of praying for them and helping them in any way that I can. Or, that tough inner desire at times to lust after people of the opposite sex. Or, to do so might mean seriously dealing with a tendency toward pretense and keeping others carefully and pridefully walled off from more deeply knowing who I really am. Or I may have to deal deeply and vulnerably with some of the neurosis instilled within me from long ago in childhood.
By stepping into Canaan, into the Promised Land of heavenly character, whatever stands in our way must be fought against and defeated by means of spiritual truth fighting for what's good and true-this is Joshua leading the Hebrew warriors into battle time and again. The truth that fights, which is really God fighting for your eternal salvation and happiness. But it's so vital to understand that we're talking about fighting with love, fighting by means of the truth. It's spiritual warfare, as compared to natural warfare. It's using the Infinite Power of God on our side, with prayer and meditation, study of His Holy Word, and the will to overcome in daily life those things that create hurt and emotional distance.
[…story of an old friend dealing with alcoholism]
The Lord's words to Joshua emphasize qualities required of Israel's new military commander in leadership. Joshua would lead the Children of Israel through the swirling waters of the great river Jordan, and then into battle after battle with enemy nations inhabiting the Land of Canaan. There's a Joshua-like commander in you too that is just as strong and valiant as the man that took over after Moses.
The Hebrews who had moaned and groaned a generation earlier to the Lord during harsh times in Egypt under an evil Pharaoh turned out to be mumblers and complainers in the desert too. Their faith and attitudes were not up to the task of making God and the spiritual goodness and truth of the Ten Commandments their number one priority. The Lord needed a certain quality of man and woman to go in and possess Canaan-people with focus, understanding, determination, deep love and the will to do what God was leading them to do.
Imagine yourself as one of the Levites, the Levitical priests, holding the Ark containing the 10 Commandments inside. Can you feel how precious the Ark is to you? It's LEADING THE WAY into this fast, dangerous river in front of you. God has told your new, great leader Joshua that you will take off the sandals from your feet and boldly put one foot and then the other into the dangerous river. This time the waters are not parted before you take that first step! This time you must walk forward on faith!
And as your foot enters the cool, swirling waters of the Jordan, it happens…the waters are held back above your position, and you sense and feel the great power of God that controls Mother Nature. And now, because of your faith and courage, 40,000 others pass by you, now finally entering the Promised Land!! After 40 years of patience and hardship, the time has come!
But with this glorious passage comes the greatest challenge and task of your life-actually DOING SOMETHING about the serious, difficult enemies within you that stand in the way of fully alive and developed heavenly character. This is also the most rewarding time of life too, since our love for the Lord and His truth is coming to life inside your will. There are new joys and new pleasure and determination to live as Jesus Christ once lived. And more than this, now, with a much more mature love and understanding for the Lord and the power within His spiritual Law and the Commandments, as the story says in the Bible, your enemies within you melt with the thought of you and God coming after them. Now they're on the defensive, and you and God are on the offensive!
You're now inside the Holy Land of heavenly character, and it's time to make hay with the character defects you've only been staring at from a distance. As a spiritual wanderer they were foreboding to you, now they're in the crosshairs of dealing with them once and for all.
Next Sunday we'll pick up this epic story with the terrific battle with Jericho and more useful wisdom God has for us within the symbolic meaning of His Holy Word. Tune in next time, same Bible time, same Bible channel!