The Ark of the Covenant crossing the Jordan River
It was Mothering Sunday and I was reading Joshua 3
when I sensed the two had something in common: like Moses, mothers and fathers get to lead their family on a long trip where all the family do is complain and bicker amongst each other!
Parents are also prime examples of something else, unconditional love and investment in their children. It’s something though that isn’t, or rather shouldn’t be left to parents and their children. In Moses’ relationship with Joshua is unconditional investment personified, and is what jumped out as I read and prayed over the passage. It’s what I felt God was wanting me to speak about tonight.
There’s something a little sanguine in unconditional investment, but nevertheless something God wants us to think about. Moses invested a lot of time in leading the Israelites, in teaching them as God intended so that they could live life to the full, and in preparing them to live in the promised land. Yet Moses, like most parents, didn’t get to see the end of the story.
Although Moses knew He had life in eternity with God I suspect it must still have been frustrating, even painful, that after all that he had gone through to not be able to enter the promised land himself. All that emotional investment in the Israelites and he didn’t even get to see the end of the story.
It’s like my wife’s mother. She had invested her all in bringing her up, in helping to shape the woman she became. Yet soon after she finds out that her daughter is going to get married to me, she finds out that she won’t get to see the end of the story, the wedding. She finds out that she has a brain tumour that’s going to kill her. But just like Moses when he found out he wouldn’t get to see the end of the Exodus story, she didn’t stop investing in her. She and Moses kept on investing right on to the very end. Her faith meant she trusted God to take care of her daughter… and me if I messed up!
So what do we know about Joshua. Well, he likes Star Wars, colouring in and… sorry, wrong Joshua!
Joshua was 1 of 12 spies sent into Canaan to check it out and report back (Numbers 13 and 14). Of the 12 it was only Joshua and Caleb that gave good and proper accounts of what they found and believed that God could conquer the land. Their faith that God could deliver what He had promised was rewarded in that unlike the rest of his generation Joshua was allowed to enter the promised land. He succeeded Moses in leading the Israelites shortly before Moses’ death at 120 year of age, when Joshua was 75! So there’s hope for all of us!
But let’s back up a bit.
Moses had led the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt. God had performed miracle after miracle just in getting them out of the country. He proved to the Egyptians that He was real and almighty, that their gods were concepts without power. He proved to the Israelites that He was with them and would care for them – He parted the Red Sea until they had safely crossed to the other side. He provided food for them in the desert.
Yet time and time again the Israelites grumbled and complained and turned away from God.
Moses, knowing that Joshua was God’s appointed successor to him, invested time in Joshua. He mentored him. Joshua was a spiritual son to Moses. Joshua was with him on the mountain when God wrote the 10 Commandments into tablets of stone (Exodus 24:13-14). He entrusted Joshua to guard the Tent of Meeting in which God dwelled (Exodus 33:11). He prepared Joshua for the future, a future that Moses knew he wouldn’t get to see or be a part of.
Moses invested in something that he wasn’t going to be rewarded for, in worldy terms at least. In doing so though he was being faithful to what God was asking him to do. He wasn’t just carrying out his duties as a leader in training up the next generation of leaders, he was being faithful to God’s call and God’s commandments.
God isn’t just saying we should invest in the next generation, in the people to take over when we’ve joined the great party in Heaven. We’re called to invest in those that cross our path, to do so expecting nothing in return. It’s great when we do get to see the fruits of our labours, the impact of our time investing in people’s lives, but we shouldn’t live for that.
There’s more and more of this investing going on right here. There a mentoring scheme to put people with skills, experience and knowledge in one area alongside those who want to grow in those areas. There’s the Marriage Mentoring that has started up again. My wife and I were beneficiaries of it when the church first did it and now we’re training to be Marriage Mentors ourselves to help others build solid foundations in their relationships.
We’re not saying we have the perfect marriage. Neither are those mentoring people in other areas claiming to be the perfect article. Moses certainly didn’t. Only Jesus managed to pull that one off. Moses passed on what he knew, and let Joshua run with it.
We, you, have so much to offer, so much that God is phenomenally proud of that He wants to make use of. God wants you to share the gifts you have been given, He wants others to enjoy them as He does. Think about it, pray about it.
God, and Moses, didn’t tell Joshua that he was wonderful, that he was unstoppable and the best. This wasn’t the X-Factor. They told him how it was going to be. Joshua might have expected that when the Israelites finally reached the Promised Land that all the moaning and rebellion towards God would cease. But Joshua gets told (Deuteronomy 31) in no uncertain terms that the behaviour of the Israelites he has witnessed during the Exodus is going to continue under his tenure.
It’s a pretty bleak and depressing bit of knowledge to be given just before taking over the leadership!
It gets worse though. Not only did Joshua know the Israelites wouldn’t change much he knew that he wouldn’t have his mentor with him to help. It was why he was instructed and encouraged by Moses to be strong and courageous, and to depend in the word of God (Deuteronomy 32:47) “these are not just idle words for you – they are your life. By them you will live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to possess”.
It wasn’t done to depress Joshua or destroy his spirit before he even begins. It was more that God and Moses were saying that they knew that he would be okay. They had confidence that Joshua would faithfully serve God and the Israelites. When the Israelites would turn from God they didn’t want Joshua to wonder whether he really was anointed by God. The didn’t want him to be consumed by doubt when things went wrong. “Go into this Joshua with open eyes and a strong heart” (Joshua 1:1-9)
So we have Joshua, all set up. Moses has died. He’s the man in charge now. Everyone’s looking to him. No pressure then!
As God did with Moses and the Egyptians, God ‘repeats’ the miracle of crossing water with Joshua, in front of the Israelites and Canaanites. It was one of Gods ways of demonstrating to the Israelites that Joshua was His main man, His chosen successor to Moses and their new leader.
It had another side to it too. The Cananites believed in a god named Baal. He was their god of rain, storm and sun, and provided the fertility crops needed. They believed he reigned as king of the gods because he had defeated the sea-god. People would be thrown into a full-on river for the gods to cast their verdict on them. If they drowned they were guilty. If they survived they were innocent the gods were backing them, so the people did too.
In stopping the flow of the Jordan God was saying “Baal is nothing, I am the Lord of the water”, just as He did when he in parting the land and sea, with Moses and at the Red Sea some 40 years previously (Exodus 14 and 15). God was proving His existence, His power and authority. He proved Baal to be nothing but an idea.
It also acted as a way of God saying to both the Canaanites and Israelites that Joshua was backed by God, so they should back him too (Joshua 3:7). For the Canaanites it tapped into their practice of throwing people into the river. For the Israelites it was by performing a similar miracle to stopping the Red Sea flowing under Moses’ leadership.
So God stopped the Jordan in its tracks. The Ark of the Covenant, the Priests and Joshua stood in the middle of a dried up river bed until the Israelites, twice the population of Birmingham, had crossed into the Promised Land. That would have taken a long time.
There’s actually been recorded occurrences of the Jordan being blocked and the water cut off. In 1927 a blockage in the area stopped the water flowing for over 20 hours. Some archaeologists have claimed to have found evidence that suggests an earthquake happened at the time of Joshua which moved rocks into the right place to have cut off the Jordan at that point in history. This doesn’t suggest that God wasn’t involved, it’s physical evidence of His involvement – the timing needed to have blocked the Jordan at the right time and the right duration is just too coincidental for it not to be God!
Moses didn’t get to see the end of the story but he trusted God to take care of everything when he was gone. He invested his love, time and effort in Joshua as God had wanted. Joshua had finished the journey that Moses had started 40 years earlier. God’s and Moses’ faith in Joshua had been rewarded by his faith in them.
God doesn’t want to do all the work on His own, he wants to do it through us and with us. He’s given us what we need to do the job. He gave Moses what he needed and transformed Moses in the process. And as Moses investing in Joshua helped their faith deepen and mature, so it can be so with us. By loving and investing in people we become less selfish and more selfless, we experience more of the freedom Christ won for us.
We need to be like Moses and look for our Joshuas to invest in. Do you have a Joshua on your heart? If you don’t but want one, pray for one, ask for one. If you think you have nothing offer, think again! God knows you do, so don’t waste your gifts, talents and experience, pass them on!
Like Moses, we need to trust God to help our Joshuas complete the journey when we can’t be there to help them. I’m not just talking about us as parents or Grandparents. This isn’t just about the next generation: Joshua to us is whoever God places on our path, friends, strangers, people with us for a long time or people with us for the briefest of moments.
In the Exodus they cross into a time of testing, in the Book of Joshua they cross into a time of resting. And so should we.
Questions to ponder:
- The Israelites had a habit of forgetting God’s miracles and provision, then complaining and rebelling against God. How can we avoid making the same mistake?
- Were God and Moses right to tell Joshua that things were not going to turn out rosy for him? What does it mean to be constructively honest?
- What does unconditional investment mean to you? What do we gain by loving and investing in people unconditionally?
- Should we be entitled to see the results of our investment? How does it feel when we don’t?
- It is wrong to gain satisfaction from helping someone? Why or why not?
- God has given you tremendous gifts, skills and talents. How hard is it to identify them? Do you find it difficult to value and accept them as good things?
- How can we invest in people who might only cross our way for a brief moment?
- Who is God asking you to invest some time in mentoring? If no one comes to mind why not pray for someone?