Message: The Lord of All The Earth | Scripture: Joshua 3:7-13 | Speaker: Pastor Stephen Choy
As Israel sits on the precipice of seeing the promises of God realized in their time, a problem lies before them, as it once did when they left Egypt, and they’re left in a situation of great uncertainty–how will God deliver us from the problem that lies before us? In similar fashion to what he did then, the Lord sends a mediator to guide them, he reveals the promises and reason for his providence through his mediator, and he leaves some things as a mystery so that his people might grow in their trust and confidence in him. This sounds familiar to us as Christians, does it not? Christ is our mediator. He provided us promises and grounded those promises with his own blood. And he has told us that God intends to reveal more to us in his time. Clearly, throughout history, and in our present, God is in control of everything–all things and all times are owned by him. It is now our duty to live in light of this amazing truth until he returns to reveal the remainder of his wondrous plan to us.
- What, in your life, makes you anxious on a regular basis, and how do you, reflexively, seek to relieve yourself of that anxiety? Why do you seek to find your relief this way?
- Why does the author of Joshua give us bits and pieces of the story at a time?
- What do we come face-to-face with in verses 1-6 of Joshua 3? What do we, then, come face-to-face with in verses 7-13?
- Why is the commissioning and exalting of Joshua so important to us as Christians now? Why should the hope of Israel in Joshua be even more pronounced in our lives? Is it (is the hope of Israel in Joshua more pronounced in our lives)?
- It’s through Joshua that the presence of God moves amongst his people–it’s through Christ that the presence of God the Spirit moves amongst us. Would you say that we’re a people moved by the Spirit to do great works and to humbly expect the wonder/presence of God to become manifest in our midst through our acts of service, gifts, encouragement, admonishment, etc.? Why/why not?
- How might we be increasingly encouraging and helpful to one another as a small group/community when one of us feels like we’re “drowning” in our situation and circumstances?
- Where in your life have you become most self-sufficient? In what way do you lack hope that God will bring about what is not only good but also what is also best for you? Is there anything/anywhere in your life that you feel you do not submit to God as the Lord of all the earth?
- In the unknown/uncertainties of life, do you seek to wait for God and to hear his voice in your praying, devotions, meditation, fasting, etc., or do you tend to resolve the tension on your own terms, in your own time, without seeking guidance from the Word, other members of your church, pastors, etc.? (this may have been discussed in your group already)
- In what ways, these past few months, weeks, or days have you seen yourself grow in trusting and being satisfied in God? How have you been challenged recently to become more dependent upon God’s grace and work in your life?
- In what ways, have you seen this community grow (more spiritually speaking) in the past few months, weeks, or days? Take some time to encourage one another.
- What is a praise or prayer request that we can lift up to the Lord for you this week? Take some time to pray for one another.
One of the things that I both love and hate the most about my dad’s tendencies is whenever I watch a movie with him. He has this tendency to ask or guess what’s going to happen in a movie before he’s even watched it, and this doesn’t only happen before the movie starts—he does it as the movie is playing in front of us. He doesn’t just do this for the endings of movies, he’s doing this for every scene. The interjection “SHHH!” was a constant refrain in the Choy household on movie nights. What’s even more endearing and annoying at the same time is when he guesses right. Because in those rare occasions where he does predict what’s about to happen or the general direction of the story, he goes, “Ahh! I could have written this story!” It’s both infuriating and hilarious at the same time, but above all of it, it’s not the way you’re supposed to watch a movie.
Does this describe you in any way—this constant need to know what happens next—the need to control the narrative? Is the most uncomfortable feeling to you the unknown and the mysterious? Does the thought of an unpredictable tomorrow give you anxiety? I’ll be the first to admit in this room that my answer to all of these questions is very often yes. The unknown is a vastly uncomfortable thing—we want to be in control. But the author of Joshua makes it very clear throughout his book, and especially in our passage this morning, that what we need and what is true is often very opposed to what we want. What’s good for us isn’t our ability to control and dictate our lives. Rather, what’s good for us is knowing that we don’t—it’s knowing that the narrative of our lives and of history-as-a-whole belongs to God. This is what the author of Joshua is trying to teach us in our text this morning—he wants to enforce this truth to us in these chapters. So, let’s look at how he does that in our text now, Joshua 3:7-13. TWoL.
7The LORD said to Joshua, “Today I will begin to zexalt you in the sight of all Israel, that they may know that, aas I was with Moses, so I will be with you. 8 And as for you, command bthe priests who bear the ark of the covenant, ‘When you come to the brink of the waters of the Jordan, cyou shall stand still in the Jordan.’” 9 And Joshua said to the people of Israel, “Come here and listen to the words of the LORD your God.” 10 And Joshua said, “Here is how you shall know that dthe living God is among you and that he will without fail edrive out from before you the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Hivites, the Perizzites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, and the Jebusites. 11 Behold, the ark of the covenant of fthe Lord of all the earth2 gis passing over before you into the Jordan. 12 Now therefore htake twelve men from the tribes of Israel, ifrom each tribe a man. 13 And jwhen the soles of the feet of the priests bearing the ark of the LORD, fthe Lord of all the earth, shall rest in the waters of the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan shall be cut off from flowing, and the waters coming down from above shall kstand in one heap.”
It might not be obvious from just this text, but what I want to unpack for us this morning is that these verses here teach us all about anxiety and our disposition towards the unknown. The author is doing something very intentionally to make us keenly aware of how worked up we get when we aren’t in control of something, and the consequence is that there’s supposed to be a real heart check as we go through these first few chapters of Joshua. Ultimately, what the author is telling us, particularly, in these verses, is not to be afraid or anxious about the unknown because God is sufficient for the day—he is sufficient for those unknown details—he is sufficient for us in himself. And he shows us that he is sufficient, in our text, in three specific stages—it’s to those phases that show us that God is sufficient in our times of waiting, anxiety, doubt, and fear—it’s to those stages that we turn to now with our first point:
1) Stage 1: God’s Servant Confirmed and Exalted
Before I really get into why these phases are significant, or what they even are, let me explain something to you about the structure of the text. If you’ve had the chance to read chapters 3-4, then perhaps you’ll have noticed that the details of these chapters are kind of all over the place. They’re constantly going back and forth as if the author of Joshua did not know what he wanted to say, or how to say it. But I want to tell you that what the author is doing here is quite intentional. His writing is attempting to increase the drama of the events without compromising their historical truth. See, all of these events happened, but they’re not being recorded here chronologically. They’re being recorded in such a way to communicate to us, the readers, certain theological truths. And the way he does this is by building our anticipation, revealing bits at a time, going back and forth in time until that big event takes place.
In these first 13 verses, we see two sides of the same coin. Verses 7-13 most likely take place between the events of verses 1-6. I’m not sure exactly where or when, but my inclination tells me that verses 7-13 actually take place before verse 1 of Joshua 3 since verse 8 seems to tell us that Israel was not yet at the brink of the waters of the Jordan, whereas verse 1 tells us that the people had already come to the Jordan and lodged there.
Right? When we read the text in verses 1-6, we need to be asking these questions: how do the officials know that the ark of the covenant is coming? How do they know to instruct the Israelites how far back to stand? How does Joshua know that the Lord will do wonders among the people? How does he know to instruct the Levitical priests to pass on before the people? It’s upon receiving the instructions of verses 7-13 that the officers in verses 2-4 are able to instruct the people on observing the ark of the covenant followed by Joshua’s instructions in verses 5-6 for Israel to consecrate themselves in preparation for the wonders of what God is about to do as the ark goes before the people.
Why is it so important that we read Scripture in this way—asking these questions? It’s because what we’re trying to determine when we read the Bible is what the author intended to tell us. In our text, the author scatters all of these details all over the place so that we might pay attention and ask, “why?” And very often, the answer as to why authors do this kind of detail reorientation is because they want to convey something theologically appropriate to us. He is trying to help us feel and experience what the main characters of his story are feeling and experiencing.
Thus, what verses 1-6 tell us is that as Israel approaches the promised land, they have no idea what to do or to expect. They’re like deer caught in headlights: “how are we going to pull this off?” What’s more is that these first six verses do nothing to answer this question. God himself does not speak once in them. Do you notice that? And yet, we have to ask, “is there a sense of God’s presence throughout these six verses?” You bet. He might say nothing, but his sudden appearance through the ark of the covenant communicates to us his nearness. Verses 1-6 teach us that even if God seems far or silent, he’s right there with us! He has not forgotten us! This is why we need to prepare ourselves because when he finally pulls the curtain back to reveal his face, it’ll be more glorious, beautiful, and magnificent than anything we’ve ever experienced.
Then verse 7 comes, and God now speaks. What does he say? He says that now is the time when he shall exalt his chosen leader before his people as a sign that he shall and has already prevailed. Do you see what’s taking place in these verses? In verses 1-6, we’re brought face-to-face with the heart of our desires, motivations, and expectations. The author of Joshua is asking us, “where have you set your eyes? On whom or on what have you placed your trust and hope? Is it on the living God or on things that are inordinate and unsatisfying?” Then, in verses 1-7, after confronting our hearts and calling us to examine the corruption and pollution of our sin, the author of Joshua brings us face-to-face with the glory of his redemption. “Consecrate yourselves,” says Joshua, in verse 6. “here is Joshua, my beloved servant,” says God, in verse 7. “Look before you, Israel! Here stands the man who is closest to my heart.” See what words are used in verse 7? The purpose that God exalts Joshua is that Israel might know God’s presence is with them. The ark of the covenant is symbolic for his presence, but, here, in the man, Joshua, the presence of God is embodied.
All of your fears, all of your doubts, all of your concerns that the task is now impossible without Moses—they have no merit anymore because God has raised up a man that not only points you to the wondrous things that God will do, just as Moses did, but he, himself, is a wonder of God. In his person is the glory and faithfulness of God made manifest.
Then, what’s more, is that in verse 8, we’re told that it is through him that the presence of God is made to move. Instead of God himself telling the priests to act in a certain way, God tells Joshua to command the priests to bear the ark of the covenant. In other words, it is through this man of God that the presence of God finds its way into the midst of Israel. It is through the man of God that we come to know the mind of God, and how he intends to fulfill his promises.
So, what is it that we learn? We learn that the first stage in how to deal with our anxiety and our uncertainty is to look to the Man that God has prepared for us. It is in this man that we find our paths directed. It is in this man that we find our concerns assuaged. He considers and knows our circumstances intimately, and he lives the same path that we do, but he lives it as one who is set apart from us as God’s most pleased and exalted servant. By the name Moses from before, and now, Joshua, the Israelites would come to know that God was with them—he would not forsake them or make them feel unwanted. And for us, it is by the name Jesus, that we, the Church, know that God is permanently with us—for those who believe.
Thus, when God, through Joshua, instructs the priests to go and stand in the Jordan—a Jordan, which during this season is in flood and flowing with raging water—you know that they will not be swept aside, why? Because Joshua is the one who told them to go, and Joshua is the one who possesses, in himself, the presence and delight of the Lord.
See, in verses 1-6, nothing is revealed about what the Lord is to do, but here in verses 7-8, God reveals his plans through this Man—and they are dangerous plans. Frightful plans. Perhaps, Israel is thinking, “we should wait until the flooding season is over and pass over the fords of the river when they’re shallow and safe,” but God is telling them to go in the midst of a strong tide and stand there with the weight of the ark, which is covered in gold, bearing upon them. And not only is the ark heavy, but what it means to Israel and their success in the promised land is everything. If these men are lost—if that ark is lost—so too would the hope of all the nation! To any normal observer or hearer of these instructions, you’d think that Joshua had consigned these men, and Israel, to their deaths. But he hasn’t, and they will not perish because the man of God is here—he has come into our midst—and with him is the presence and comfort of God himself.
We can trust him in the unknown. We can trust him in our anxieties and fears because his work is not in the abstract. We aren’t told to guess or interpret how he feels about us based upon signs and mysterious symbols. No, he’s sent his own Son to make it very clear to us that, as long as we look to him and believe in his abiding power, through his death upon a cross, resurrection from the grave, intercession in the heavens, and gift of the Holy Spirit—we will not be swept away by the flood. As he calls us to stand still in the midst of raging water, he is, at the same time, enabling us to stand.
I could keep going and talk about the fact that these instructions from God in verse 8 seem to be unfinished, but I’ll have more to say about that later on. For the time being, let’s rest in the knowledge that God’s first order of action when we’re facing anxiety of the unknown is to remind us that he has not forsaken us. He has sent us a reminder in the form of a real, tangible person, and by God’s confirmation and exaltation of him, we shall not be led astray.
2) Stage 2: God’s Promise Delivered and Grounded
Look with me at verses 9-11 and 13: “9 And Joshua said to the people of Israel, “Come here and listen to the words of the LORD your God.” 10 And Joshua said, “Here is how you shall know that dthe living God is among you and that he will without fail edrive out from before you the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Hivites, the Perizzites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, and the Jebusites. 11 Behold, the ark of the covenant of fthe Lord of all the earth2 gis passing over before you into the Jordan… 13 And jwhen the soles of the feet of the priests bearing the ark of the LORD, fthe Lord of all the earth, shall rest in the waters of the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan shall be cut off from flowing, and the waters coming down from above shall kstand in one heap.”
Here it is. There’s this movie that I’ve seen a couple of times, it’s a remake of an older classic called Ocean’s Eleven. Perhaps, some of you have seen it, and can recount in that movie that Danny Ocean is motivated to rob this casino whose owner is dating his ex-wife, and like the title suggests, he assembles a team of eleven specialists—people good at demolition, acrobatics, talking their way into and out of trouble, acting, etc. And he hires these people because he needs help getting into a vault that’s near impossible to get into. As we progress throughout the movie, we get glimpses of the roles that these specialists play in the grand scheme of the heist. But the movie is shot in such a way where we’re given just enough information to stay connected to the characters, and yet, by the end of the movie, after the heist has taken place, you’re left wondering with the casino owner, “what exactly happened? How’d they do that?” And just before the credits roll, there’s this fairly extended montage of how every person’s job comes together to execute this perfectly detailed plan set in motion by the genius and inventiveness of Danny Ocean. Not only does he pull off an impossible heist, but he also gets back the girl, shows us the sleeziness and evil of the casino owner, and you’re left in a kind of “ah hah” moment, “now I get it,” but I wouldn’t have been able to piece it all together until the director of the movie let me see it.
Well, up until verse 8, the director of this narrative, that is God and the author of Joshua working simultaneously, they’re giving us pieces to work with—just enough to keep us engaged and theologically centered. But it’s not until verses 9-11 and 13 that we finally get the full picture of what God intends to do—how he intends to deliver Canaan into Israel’s hands.
We have to note, first, that the means by which God reveals his plans to his people is through the man whom he’s sent us. It’s Joshua, in verse 9, that tells the people to gather around him and to listen to God’s instructions. There’s a lot here theologically, but let me state briefly that when we are faced with uncertainty, God does not just send his appointed servant to be in our midst, but in sending him, he also gives this person words to speak to us—to tell us that God hears our cries, and he desires to meet us in our deepest pain and despite our sin, both to understand us and deliver us from it. Our God is not a silent God. He wants us to know exactly what he’s thinking about us, and he sends his exalted agent to tell us outright.
And what is it that he tells us through this mediator? He tells us two things: a promise and the reason for that promise. The promise is what we read in verses 10 and 13—he will, as he promised you through Moses in Exodus and Deuteronomy, drive out those who do not belong to Israel from the land, and he will display his ability to do this, by cutting off the flow of the waters, just like he did for Israel when they left Egypt. Just as the Egyptians had no chance to stand in the way of God’s prerogatives, so too will be the fate of the Canaanites.
The second thing he tells us is in verse 11, and it’s the reason why his promises in vv. 10 and 13 are believable. Why can we be assured that God will, in fact, do these things? It is because the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth is passing over before you into the Jordan. Let’s get one thing straight about the Hebrew in these texts. For smoothness of translation, we read the reference to the ark as the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth, but the more literal and proper way to read it is the ark of the covenant, the Lord of all the earth. What I mean is that when we read this text, we can read it as the ark of the covenant is passing over before you, but we can also read it as the Lord of all the earth is passing over before you. For the ark of the covenant to pass over before Israel is the same as the Lord of all the earth to pass over before Israel.
Why is this important? Because the author of Joshua is telling us why God can be trusted in the promises that he gives through his chosen mediator. How shall God deliver the land to you? How shall he separate the sea and the rushing water? He shall do it not only as the God who is with you, and not only as the God who leads you by going before you, but he shall do it as the Lord who owns the earth. Why does Israel have nothing to fear? Why do we have nothing to fear? It’s because everything belongs to God. This is why those verses in Romans 8:31-39 are so unbelievably precious to us: For those who have been foreknown, predestined, called, justified, and glorified, what then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?
Brothers and sisters, the hope of our every circumstance is in these verses before us. Romans 15:4 says this, “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” If you are struggling with anxiety. If you feel hopeless in your situation. If you are languishing in the uncertainty of your circumstances, remember this: God has given you his own presence through his own mediator, and through his mediator, he assures us that all he has is ours as well! The first stage of receiving his mediator and his presence almost makes this second stage superfluous. But God speaks to us intentionally and intimately so that we do not have to guess. He desires to reinforce to us the fact that he is God! To have God is to have what belongs to God. To know God is to be fully, finally, and eternally satisfied in God. In him, our hope shall not be put to shame. He has not come to us as one who gambles with our lives. He takes no chances with those whom he loves. So, take heart in the unknown. Take heart in the uncertain, because it is in the unknown that God intends to prove to us, once again, that his care for us and his provision over us is unmatched. He is the Lord of all the earth, and he goes over before you.
3) Stage 3: God’s Command Considered and ?
One thing remains and that is dealing with the mystery of verse 12, which is very much like the unfinished business I talked about in verse 8. In the midst of giving the promises of God and the reason why those promises are believable, he adds a random inference in verse 12, which reads, “Now therefore, take twelve men from the tribes of Israel, from each tribe a man.” And then, he continues telling us what God intends to do with the priests and the cutting off of the flowing river. It is the most random and quizzical part of the entire paragraph. The ark is going over you, therefore take twelve men. And we’re left asking, “take twelve men for what?!”
In these verses, there’s absolutely no answer. Just like if we stopped at verse 8, as some commentaries do, there would be no answer for the next part of the story. Verse 8 ends with, “you shall stand still in the Jordan. “Then what?!” Are they just supposed to stand there? And here, in verse 12, is the process done with the selection of these twelve random men? What is the author doing? Why is he telling us these things in this way?
Here’s what I believe he’s doing, and our clue goes back to the initial instruction that Joshua gives in verse 9, “Come here and listen to the words of the Lord your God.” Over and over, the author of Joshua is constantly providing us details and leaving them unfinished. He provides us the details of the spies going into the land, without telling us whether what Joshua commands is right or wrong. He gives the details of Rahab lying to the guards, without making moral prescriptions. The officials in chapter 3 tell Israel to follow the ark of the covenant 1000 yards away, why? We don’t know. Joshua tells them to consecrate themselves for wonders that the Lord will perform. What wonders? Not immediately communicated. He commands the priests to go stand still in rough water. For what reason? Maybe just to get their legs wet? Now, he tells Israel to pick twelve men from each of the tribes. Again, is there a reason or a purpose for this? From just these verses, we have no clue.
But what is it that we do know? We know the ark of the covenant is amongst us. We know that the ark of the covenant goes before us. We know that God has appointed for us a man who is filled with the Spirit of God. We know that he has been put in charge over us for our good and God’s glory. We know that God has made us a promise. We know that that promise is assured because he has done it all before, and because he is the God who owns everything. We know that he is a God who is intimately and intricately present with us as the omnipotent God who loves us—infinitely and jealously so.
So, let me ask you—in light of these few things that we don’t know in comparison to these things that we do know, what holds more sway in your heart? What is gripping you and your attention as you read this story? Is it the details that seem to be unfinished and, for some reason to the author, unconcerning? Are you caught up in the facts of the lives of these Israelites, just like how you might be caught up in the details of your life that still don’t make sense? Is your vision on the human dilemma? OR is it caught up in the fact that God, through his exalted servant, calls you his people and says, “Come here and listen [to me].”
See, the point of what the author of Joshua is doing here is quite simple, but it’s not immediately obvious. The author seems to be confused, but when we consider what’s happening in the story, when we consider the circumstances of Israel and their bewilderment these last 500 years since the initial promise to Abraham, we recognize that the author is just trying to do for us what God tried to do for Israel. The point was never to know how or when God was going to deliver. No, the point was always just to know that God is there and that he alone can deliver. All God wants from you is to want him for him, and not for the things that he has to give you. The things are nice, but God is far nicer.
All of these points, all of these uncertainties, the author of Joshua litters throughout his story because he wants to draw your attention away from the movement of history and the circumstances of these people, and repeatedly fix your eyes on the God who is orchestrating all of these things—the God who is calling his people, appointing his servant, and speaking in their midst. Stop trying to figure things out, and give God your attention, because he is a God who is undivided for you—be undivided for him. Don’t get caught up in the unfinished details, because it’s in the unfinished details that God is trying to speak to you, to turn your eyes to him. Stop being self-obsessed. Stop filling yourself with self-pity and excuses that God doesn’t care about you because he’s there! He’s always been there! He will always be there! History, as we know it or don’t know it, has been decided, but do you know him who’s decided it because he knows you.
He considers us so tenderly and carefully that even when Israel forgot about his presence, even when the Jews began to look for the solution to the unknown things in other gods, even when his chosen people sought to redeem themselves in their frustration, he sent his Son, whom they refused to know, to die upon a cross, to rise from the grave, to conquer sin and death, and to bring us back to himself so that we might be known by him. This story that the author of Joshua is bringing us through, it’s not just history. It’s our story, and the author is compelling us not to repeat the mistakes of the past. We have to decide, as the author intended, whether or not the answers to our anxiety and the unknown circumstances of our future are more important to us than the fact that God is here, with us now beckoning us to come and listen. Is that enough for you? Is he enough for you? Do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble, Matthew tells us, and yet sufficient for our trouble is the God who satisfied us yesterday, who satisfies us today, and who shall, without fail, satisfy us tomorrow. Trust in the God who is sufficient for the unknown. Trust in the God who is sufficient for your anxiety. Trust in the God who is sufficient for you for he is the Lord of all the earth.