We are a chapter away from some big-time action in this Joshua series. But before we get there, chapter 5 reveals some final preparations that God does before he acts. As we take a look at these, it’s interesting to note that God uses very similar things to prepare us before we enter the Promised Land above.
So as always, before we begin, let’s say a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth, your Word is the truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see. Open our ears to hear what you want us to hear. Open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Preparations for Jericho
Take a look at the first preparation. It isn’t even a preparation on the hearts of the Israelites. It’s on the hearts of the Canaanites. Take a look:
Now when all the Amorite kings west of the Jordan and all the Canaanite kings along the coast heard how the LORD had dried up the Jordan before the Israelites until they had crossed over, their hearts melted in fear and they no longer had the courage to face the Israelites. (5:1)
It makes sense that the Canaanites are afraid. Because if you remember when we were talking about Rahab – the people of Jericho had already heard of God’s awesome work in the desert. They had heard of God’s promise to give the Promised Land to the Israelites. They had heard of all the miracles he had done in the desert to get them to the Promised Land’s borders.
Now? They heard that their God had split a raging, white water rapids in half – wide enough for a million some odd people to cross!
This miracle was from God.
This miracle caused the people of Jericho to be afraid.
God caused the people of Jericho to be afraid.
…this was a blessing.
This fits in well with a question that a few different people have asked me recently.
What did Jericho do wrong?
And to be fair that’s a question I’ve pondered before. They seem to be minding their own business. They weren’t like the Egyptians who held the Israelites in slavery. They weren’t like the kings in the desert that attacked the Israelites. They were just enjoying life in the land of Canaan.
What’d they do to get kicked out of their city?
Why was God attacking them?
Why is God being so mean?
While I understand where that line of questioning comes from (and there’s a lot of forms in it when it comes to Old Testament God), that line of questioning makes two incorrect assumptions:
(1) “People are generally good.”
Do you know what bias is? Bias is the underlying worldview or notion that someone has when they look at a particular event. Bias isn’t always a bad thing, but bias can absolutely affect the way that you react to or report on a certain event.
Take the new:
One network says, “Republican does dumb thing.”
Another network says in the exact same story, “Republican stands up for what is right.”
One network says, “Democratic is whiny.”
Another network says, “Democratic defends freedom!”
Did you know that there’s a bias that humans naturally read the Bible with? A bias that humans are naturally good. Why do we have that bias? Because…(Wait for it)…we’re humans! I like to think of myself as good.
So…when I come across instances in the Bible where it pits God against humans and I don’t find an immediate obvious sinful thing (like Pharaoh horribly mistreating hundreds of thousands of Israelite slaves) my human bias tends to demonize God.
He’s being a jerk.
He did wrong.
He is a monster.
Is that right?
Is God a monster?
Think about it!
Our God created us – he didn’t have to.
Our God gave us this wonderful world – he didn’t have to.
Our God died for us – he didn’t have to.
Our God rose to save us – he did not have to.
Our God did this because our God is good.
All the time good.
When God and humanity clash?
That’s not on God.
That’s on us.
In fact, this is exactly what Scripture says, “The sinful mind is hostile to God.” (Romans 8:7) Hostile means an enemy. A violent enemy. A violent enemy with a bias on the opposite side of God.
Don’t be surprised when your sinful human bias look at a Bible story and wants to rewrite the history to make God the villain!
That’s the wrong narrative.
It’s the sinful, broken, imperfect narrative.
The narrative is not about a good people and a cruel God.
The narrative is about a good God and a cruel people.
And…maybe you know that?
Because you know this world is broken.
To name a few.
And at least a few of those made your heart squirm because you’ve walked a bit close to those lines.
Let me tell you.
That uncomfortable feeling?
Proof that God’s always in the right.
(2) “That God didn’t care about the people of Jericho.”
If you were here last week, do you remember one of the purposes of the memorial that God had his people build? It was so that “all the nations on earth might know that the hand of the LORD is powerful.” (v.24) That’s a key purpose. Because it shows you that with these miracles – with this memorial – with the message that was striking fear into the hearts of the Canaanites – God was making it very obvious:
I am the LORD.
That’s what Rahab did! Remember the prostitute? She concluded that God was with the Israelites. She concluded that God was going to use the Promised Land for HIS purposes! And…rather than fight, she concluded that she would follow the true God.
Was Rahab the only one who knew about God’s power and Strength?
Nope. She’s just the only one who decided not to fight God.
But even after that…Chapter 5:1 is proof – yet again – that God wanted these Canaanites to recognize him as the one true God. He splits the Jordan River. (1) to get Israel across (2) to give Israel confidence (3) to give the Canaanites a warning! They were up against the One and Only God of Heaven and earth! That fear they were feeling? Was a gift! – a warning – a divine smack in the back of the head – to listen to him and follow him, lest they be destroyed!
The fear then is proof that God cared about the people of Jericho.
1 Timothy 2:4 says this about this God of the Old Testament, “God our Savior, wants all to be saved.”
That includes the people Israel, sure.
But it also includes the people of Jericho.
In fact, that’s the ultimate purpose of Israel having ownership of the Promised Land, isn’t it?
God wanted the Promised Land because…
God promised a man named Abraham his descendants (the Israelites) would dwell in the Promised Land, because…
God also promised that same man a Messiah would be born in the Promised Land, because…
God would one day send his son Jesus to be born in the Promised Land, because…
God wanted it to be clear and simple and obvious that Jesus Christ was the promised Messiah, because…
God wanted all people – even the people of Jericho – to read these prophecies, trust in this Messiah and be saved.
What does this mean?
It means this fear isn’t God being a big meanie.
This fear is a gift from God.
A gift to get them on his side.
A gift to get them to listen to him.
A gift to cause them to be just like their friend Rahab – and turn to him as their Savior.
It’s a wonderful blessing from God--
They just didn’t listen.
II. Preparations for Israel
Let’s shift. While this fear spreads over Jericho, Joshua is following God’s instructions to prepare the Israelites. Look at verse 2 (Yes, we are at least ten minutes in and haven’t even made it past the first verse…but I digress):
1. The Preparation of Circumcision
2 The Lord said to Joshua, “Make flint knives and circumcise the Israelites again.” 3 So Joshua made flint knives and circumcised the Israelites…
I’ll say it once so we don’t linger on it. Circumcision is exactly what circumcision is today. It’s the cutting off of skin in the male private area. Interesting note – this was done amongst the ancients for a lot of reasons: health benefits, a tribal mark, a rite of passage, or even simple hygiene.
Biblical circumcision was a visual, outward reminder of God’s personal promise to the recipient. It’s similar to a tattoo of a cross or a key chain that says John 3:16. It’s a very personal reminder of God’s promise.
And it’s permanent! You can’t undo it. Just like you couldn’t undo God’s promise – Even when you faced terrifying things:
In battle and surrounded by the enemy? I have been circumcised – God has promised to be with me.
Walking around a giant, impenetrable wall? I have been circumcised. God has promised to be with me.
Setting up my home for my first year in the Promised Land? I have been circumcised. God has promised to be with me.
2. The Preparation of the Passover
10 On the evening of the fourteenth day of the month, while camped at Gilgal on the plains of Jericho, the Israelites celebrated the Passover.
Remember – the Passover was a reminder of how God saved the Israelites from Egyptian slavery. In the final plagues, he sent the angel of death to kill the firstborn son of every family in Egypt. But to those who trusted God, they need only take an innocent lamb, slaughter it and paint its blood on the wooden frame of the door. Then, the angel of death would “pass over” them and they would be safe.
The Passover was a bit different from circumcision then. The Passover was a visual, outward reminder of God’s public promise to the recipients. He would be with them. He would deliver them to the Promised Land.
And I love the very special meaning behind this Passover. Because it was the first Passover that had ever been eaten in the Promised Land. Look at verse 11: The day after the Passover, that very day, they ate some of the produce of the land: unleavened bread and roasted grain. (5:11) Because they were where God had promised the nation that they would be.
Can you imagine the patriotic spirit that night?
4th of July was cool, but…think of it like the 4th of July in 1779 – they year after the Revolutionary War was over!
That’s what was going on for the Israelites.
They had made it.
God had made it for them.
That night -
They reminded each other.
They celebrated together.
They encouraged each other in God’s promises.
III. What Now?
A couple things from these lessons –
1. Thank God for Fear
Because maybe earlier…you felt a bit uneasy when we talked about sin and being enemies of God. That’s a good thing.
It’s similar to the uneasy feeling that you might get if you head to the zoo and you get a bit close to the giant jungle python. It’s behind bars. It’s behind the glass that’s supposed to not break – but still you don’t tap on the glass because you’ve got a healthy fear and respect for the giant serpent.
Same thing with God.
Fear means a healthy respect and awe and wonder and yes – even a bit of – unease. It recognizes the danger we are in as we, sinners, approach God.
Don’t fight him.
Fall at his feet.
Ask for forgiveness.
Ask for his mercy.
Ask for his compassion.
Be confident that he has sent it – in the form of his Son Jesus Christ dying on the cross for your sins.
Moving us from enemies – to friends.
2. Remember God’s NEW Personal Promise
Because circumcision is no longer a church ceremony. Still – we have a ceremony – a beautiful, divine ceremony in which God places his personal promise onto our hearts.
In Him [Christ] you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ; having been buried with Him in baptism. (Colossians 2:11-12)
See the connection? Just as Old Testament circumcision involves the cutting off of flesh, so baptism involves the spiritual cutting off of sin from our hearts! And what’s more? That sin that’s been cut off has been tossed into the grave.
It’s been left behind.
It is no longer who you are.
Have you been baptized? This is God’s personal promise to you.
Want to be baptized? Wonderful. Let’s talk. And God will make his personal promise to you.
3. Remember God’s NEW Public Promise
In fact, as related as circumcision seems to be to baptism; there is an even simpler and easier to see correlation between the Passover and a different New Testament ceremony.
While Jesus and his disciples were eating the Passover Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. (Matthew 26:26-28)
The connection is greater than just Jesus started the Lord’s Supper in the middle of the Passover meal.
Scripture calls Jesus the “Lamb of God.” (John 1:29)
In fact, the “Passover Lamb” (1 Corinthians 5:7)
And “The blood of Jesus purifies us from all sin.” (1 Jn. 1:7)
In other words, because of Jesus blood – God’s wrath passes over us.
That’s what’s going on when we partake of the Lord’s Supper.
It’s a big deal.
It’s one of the reasons that we ask people who haven’t been through our newcomer’s class to go through our newcomer’s class before they come up here for Lord’s Supper. Because this is a big deal what’s going on up here and I don’t want you to miss it.
And honestly, if you have kind of forgotten why it’s a big deal – come back to newcomer’s class. I’ll call it “review class.” Learn again what your Savior did for you.
I love the ending to this section: The manna stopped the day after they ate this food from the land; there was no longer any manna for the Israelites, but that year they ate the produce of Canaan. (5:12)
Cool. They are no longer desert dwellers.
They are no longer warriors.
They are home.
Though there are battles to come, because of God’s promises – they are as good as home.
The same is true for you.
Humbled by our fear of God.
Trusting in God’s mercy.
Dwelling in the promise of baptism.
Meditating on the promise of Lord’s Supper.
We aren’t home.
But we’re as good as home.