June 10, 2010 David Balzer

Joshua 2:1-5:12: God prepares the way

The American Superbowl was on during the week. That’s Gridiron, or American football, in case you didn’t know. It’s an amazing game to watch. Like no other game.

There are 11 players per side. But the basic setup involves two lines of 7 men who stand facing each other. They’re all the size of mountains. The middle guy is called the centre. He starts with the ball. And he flicks it between his legs to the quarterback. That’s called “the snap”.

Now the quarterback is a lot smaller than these linemen. He’s only the size of HALF a mountain. And his job is to pass the ball to a team-mate so his team can score a touchdown.

On the other side of the line are the defensive team. Seven enormous gorillas who’s first job is to get the quarterback before he passes the ball.

Most quarterbacks, understandably, are pretty good at getting rid of the ball quickly – before they get pulverised. But just occasionally they do something unexpected. They actually RUN WITH THE BALL. It’s even called a “quarterback sneak”

And whenever a defensive lineman sees a quarterback, with the ball in his hand, starting to run, his eyes light up. “Me see quarterback. Me, kill!” Because if they can take the star quarterback out of the game, there’s a good chance they’ll win the game.

So a quarterback has to be pretty sure that he’ll be safe/ before he decides to run with the ball.

And there was a situation just like this during the Superbowl this week. One team was about 1 yard away from a touchdown. The teams lined up. It looked like the quarterback was going to pass to someone else.

The centre snapped the ball between his legs/ into the hands of the quarterback. Everyone looked to the left and the right/ expecting a teammate to receive the ball. But at the last minute, the CENTRE put his head down, barged straight ahead, right through the middle of three defenders. And the quarterback followed straight behind, right into the end zone. He scored a touchdown, with hardly a finger laid on him.

It all depended on the enormous centre doing his job properly. Paving the way. Preparing the ground/ so the quarterback would have a clear path.

And in the end he did it easily/ because of his power and size.

And PREPARING THE WAY is what we see God doing here for the Israelites. He’s making it easy for his people to take the land.

In Ch 2 we see how he prepares the way by melting the hearts of the Canaanites – striking fear into the foreigners. In Ch 3 we see how he parts the waters of the Jordan river so his people can cross over.

And in chapter 4 we see how he prepares the way by HELPING THE PEOPLE TO REMEMBER his goodness and his power. It’s important that they don’t forget God’s actions. That they don’t fall for the folly of forgetfulness.

1. God prepares the way – fear for foreigners

So let’s start by having a look at Ch 2. God prepares the way by creating fear for the foreigners. Verse 1. Joshua wants to check out the land. So he secretly sends two spies. “Have a look over the land. And take a special look over Jericho. It’s the big one we need to conquer.”

So the two spies go. They get to Jericho, and night falls. And the city gates are shut. There’s no escape now – even if they wanted to. They’re in for the night.

Now, we’re not told much about them. We’re not even told their names. But we ARE told who’s house they end up in/ come nightfall. Rahab. And perhaps of even MORE interest is her occupation. She’s a .

Now if you think about it, it makes pretty good sense to stay there. Noone would look twice at a of strange men who stay the night.

But the word has got out about the Israelites. And someone works out who the two strangers are. Verse 2.

(Josh 2:2-3 NIV)  The king of Jericho was told, “Look! Some of the Israelites have come here tonight to spy out the land.” {3} So the king of Jericho sent this message to Rahab: “Bring out the men who came to you and entered your house, because they have come to spy out the whole land.”

But for some reason Rahab DOESN’T sell them out. She protects them. Verse 4.

(Josh 2:4-6 NIV)  But the woman had taken the two men and hidden them. She said, “Yes, the men came to me, but I did not know where they had come from. {5} At dusk, when it was time to close the city gate, the men left. I don’t know which way they went. Go after them quickly. You may catch up with them.” {6} (But she had taken them up to the roof and hidden them under the stalks of flax she had laid out on the roof.)

So she sends them on a wild goose chase. They race out of the city. And the gates are shut again.

Now that the coast’s clear, we get to the central part of the chapter. As far as ACTION goes it’s not too interesting. But it’s the most important part. Because it’s here we learn WHY Rahab does what she does. It’s all to do with what she’s learned about Israel’s God. Look at v8.

(Josh 2:8-11 NIV)  Before the spies lay down for the night, she went up on the roof {9} and said to them, “I know that the LORD has given this land to you and that A GREAT FEAR OF YOU HAS FALLEN ON US, so that all who live in this country are MELTING IN FEAR because of you. {10} We have heard how the LORD dried up the water of the Red Sea for you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to Sihon and Og, the two kings of the Amorites east of the Jordan, whom you completely destroyed. {11} When we heard of it, OUR HEARTS MELTED and everyone’s courage failed because of you, for THE LORD YOUR GOD IS GOD IN HEAVEN ABOVE AND ON THE EARTH BELOW.

This Gentile harlot, for all her failings, looks at what God’s done, and recognises who He is. And just like always happens when someone sees God clearly, she RESPONDS to her knowledge. Verse 12.

(Josh 2:12-13 NIV)  Now then, please swear to me by the LORD that you will show kindness to my family, because I have shown kindness to you. Give me a sure sign {13} that you will spare the lives of my father and mother, my brothers and sisters, and all who belong to them, and that you will save us from .”

Despite being full of fear, she throws herself at the MERCY of God. She asks that he will show her KINDNESS. It’s the word for loving-kindness – the particular faithfulness that God shows to his covenant people Israel. And here, a GENTILE SINNER is asking for that same privilege!

And it’s here that the spies speak up for the first time. They promise that they’ll protect her. And in the end, God miraculously saves her family – when the walls of Jericho collapse – all except for the one part where Rahab’s house is!

And in Ch 6 v 25 we read that she lives among the Israelites to this day. In other words, at the time the story was written down, she and her family are living as God’s people.

In the midst of whole cities being wiped out, and every living thing being destroyed, God spares one Gentile family. That’s so often the way with God – that in the midst of punishment and vengeance/ there’s grace and forgiveness.

God saves one Gentile family because that what he promised to Abraham. Back in Genesis 12 –  that ALL NATIONS would be blessed through him. And this is the start.

But the bigger picture of this chapter/ is what God’s done in the hearts of the whole city. It’s fear, alright – just like for Rahab. But it’s not fear that leads to faith. God melts their courage. It’s BLIND fear freezes their brains/ and ties up their hands. Panic that petrifies. They’re like rabbits caught in the spotlight. Frozen, just waiting to be finished-off.

In Ch 1 God’s encouraged Joshua to NOT fear. Here, he causes the people of the land TO fear. God’s preparing the way for Israel’s victory.

And that’s what the spies report when they make it back to Joshua. Have a look a bit further on. At Ch 2 v24.

(Josh 2:24 NIV)  They said to Joshua, “The LORD has surely given the whole land into our hands; all the people are melting in fear because of us.”

God prepares the way.

2. God prepares the way – a feat for feet! (3)

And next, in Ch 3, God prepares the way by parting the waters of the Jordan.

The whole chapter makes the point again and again, that this is God’s doing. He’s the one the people are following. He’s the one who knows where to go. He’s the one who parts the waters.

Verse 1. The next morning, Joshua gets everyone ready. They pack up, and move to the edge of the Jordan river.

And then in v3, the attention shifts to the Ark of the Covenant. Remember that’s the box that represents God. It’s got the Ten Commandments inside it, and it’s carried around by the priests. Look at v3.

(Josh 3:3-4 NIV)  …”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. {4} Then you will know which way to go, since you have never been this way before. But keep a distance of about a thousand yards between you and the ark; do not go near it.”

The point is/ it’s God who’s leading them. Where God goes, they follow. But notice that they’re not to follow TOO close. He’s a God who’s interested in his people, but he’s still much too holy for them to get too close. They’re to watch from about 1000 yards.

Perhaps it’s so they can get a good view of what happens next. Have a look down at v14.

(Josh 3:14-17 NIV)  So when the people broke camp to cross the Jordan, the priests carrying the ark of the covenant went ahead of them. {15} Now the Jordan is at flood stage all during harvest. Yet as soon as the priests who carried the ark reached the Jordan and their feet touched the water’s edge, {16} the water from upstream stopped flowing. It piled up in a heap a great distance away, at a town called Adam in the vicinity of Zarethan, while the water flowing down to the Sea of the Arabah (the Salt Sea ) was completely cut off. So the people crossed over opposite Jericho. {17} The priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the LORD stood firm on dry ground in the middle of the Jordan, while all Israel passed by until the whole nation had completed the crossing on dry ground.

As soon as their feet touched the water, the water stopped flowing! And this was even during the flood season! What an amazing FEAT FOR FEET!

But of course, it wasn’t the feet that did it – it was the God they served. The God who was represented by the Ark they carried. And as long as the priests stood in the middle of the river, the bed was dry. And all Israel crossed over.

God was in the middle of the river. Right in the place of danger. Protecting his people as they crossed over. Just like that big centre in the Super Bowl. Holding back the opposition. Protecting his quarterback.

3. The Folly of Forgetfulness

But why so spectacular? Wouldn’t it have been EASIER if they just crossed at a different time of year? When they could just paddle across?

God does it in such a SPECTACULAR way because he wants to make sure the people DON’T FORGET. They needed to know the folly of forgetfulness.

And let me suggest two reasons why it’s important to remember.

  1. It’s important to remember when things get TOUGH.
  2. And it’s important to remember when things are EASY.

Firstly, it’s important to remember when things get tough. Have a look back at Ch 3 v9.

(Josh 3:9-10 NIV)  Joshua said to the Israelites, “Come here and listen to the words of the LORD your God. {10} THIS IS HOW YOU WILL KNOW THAT THE LIVING GOD IS AMONG YOU and that he will CERTAINLY drive out before you the Canaanites, etc”

And then he proceeds to tell them how the river would be stopped. Do you see the connection? Down the track, when they’re in the middle of a battle, surrounded by enemies, and they start to wonder, “Gee, Is God REALLY going to give us the land?”, then they’ll remember what God did to the Jordan.

“If God can do THAT to the Jordan, then victory over this army is NOTHING!”

It’s important to remember God’s miracles in the tough times because it’s THAT REMEMBERING that gives us the FAITH and the CONFIDENCE to make it through.

You’re sitting in the doctor’s waiting room. The biopsy results are back. They’re not good. Can God get you through? Of course he can! He got you through the sickness of your kids, or your unemployment, or the of your father.

Or you’re at home. Another screaming match with the kids, or your husband, or your wife, or your parents. And you decide you’ve HAD it. You’ve put up with this rubbish for long enough.  You’re leaving. And you’re not coming back.

But then you remember that God never gave up on you. He chased you for years. He kept putting Christians across your path. He kept doing things in your life that pushed you one step at a time towards him. And eventually you stopped running. And you fell in love with Jesus.

Remembering. It’s important in the tough times.

It’s exactly the same thing that Paul does in Romans Ch 8. He went through more trials, and suffered more than most people. But in the midst of it all, he kept his faith, because he remembered what God had done for him in Jesus. He knew that God loved him because he remembered THE CROSS. Romans 8: 35

(Rom 8:35-39 NIV)  Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or ness or danger or sword? {36} As it is written: “For your sake we face all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” {37} No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. {38} For I am convinced that neither nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, {39} neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

So, it’s important to remember/ when times are TOUGH. But it’s also important to remember/ when times are EASY.

Everyone makes it across the river bed safely. But before the water rushes back, God has one more task in mind. One more job to help them remember. And this is aimed at the generations to come. Look at what he says in Ch 4 v5. He’s talking to 12 men – one from each tribe.

(Josh 4:5-7 NIV)  “Go over before the ark of the LORD your God into the middle of the Jordan. Each of you is to take up a stone on his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the Israelites, {6} to serve as a SIGN among you. In the future, when your children ask you, ‘What do these stones mean?’ {7} tell them that the flow of the Jordan was cut off before the ark of the covenant of the LORD. When it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever.”

It’s not just THESE people that God’s saving. He’s saving the whole future nation as well. And so the next generations need to know what’s happened, too.

And so he gets these 12 men to pick up twelve round boulders. Right from the middle of the river where the priests were standing. And to carry them to the other side.

And at the end of the day he sets them up at Gilgal. Maybe four or five km’s from the river. 12 large round boulders standing up in some sort of monument. Probably on a high point somewhere. They’d stick out like sore thumbs.

You can just imagine people in years to come. Everything’s settled. Life’s good. Plenty of milk and honey for everyone. And a father and son are walking along the road one day. All of a sudden, the son says, “What are those RIVER ROCKS doing there? It’s MILES to the river! And how come they’re all standing up against each other?”

“Well son, that’s to remind us what God did for us. Back when we came into the land. It was a miracle. Let me tell you about it!” And so God’s people would be reminded of God’s GOODNESS and POWER and FAITHFULNESS.

It’s important to remember in the EASY times/ as well as the tough times. God knows how quickly we forget about him. How easily a warm bed and a full stomach, can cause spiritual amnesia.

You see, following God is a bit like marriage. In a marriage, for most people, the greatest threat is not infidelity, (an obvious, complete act of betrayal) but simply the slow process of forgetting, of taking for granted. The gradual failure to remember how precious the other person is.

It can happen in marriage, and it can happen in our Christian walk. We can gradually take God for granted. We assume that we’re saved because basically we’re pretty good people. We assume that life goes well because we’re basically making good choices. But it’s not true. Every day. Every hour. Is God’s gift. And we need to acknowledge that.

Just like Israel, we need reminding.

4. God prepares the way FOR US – freedom from failure and fault

And that’s just what God’s done. Given US reminders of his saving action. Of how he’s prepared the way for US.

He’s prepared the way for us to come back into friendship with him. He sent Jesus to lead the way back. To lead the sinless life WE should have. To die the WE deserved. To be raised to life like WE will one day.

Jesus is the Superbowl centre who leads the way for us to follow.

And just like crossing the Jordan, God’s given US a MEMORY AID, too. There’s a wonderful connection between that saving event. And the saving event of Jesus’ .

Ch 4 v19 of Joshua tells us that all this took place on the tenth day of the first month. Those of you who know your Jewish calendar will know that that’s the day of preparation for Passover. The day when God first passed-over the Israelites in Egypt. When he killed the Egyptian babies. And led his people out.

Now flip forward nearly 3500 years. Jesus. In Jerusalem. The night before his . And what’s he celebrating with his disciples at that Last Supper? Passover.

And what does he do at the last supper? He gives them a reminder of HIS saving act. When he’s gone, he tells them to remember his every time they eat and drink. “This bread is my body. This wine is my . Do this in REMEMBERANCE of me”.

God prepared the way for his people to enter the land. He wanted them to remember what he’d done. God’s prepared the way for us to come back to him. And, in the Lord’s Supper, we have a reminder of what he’s done.

That’s what we’re going to do now.

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