Some friends and I are still “Backpacking Through Joshua” together. I probably won’t post my trail notes here at Snoodlings every week, but occasionally I will share with you some of the things I’m learning from Joshua and the Israelites.
This week we studied Joshua 3. When I first read it, it reminded me of how the Israelites had begun their journey to the Promised Land. I read Exodus 14 again and made a list of the way the two stories were similar. In both stories Moses and Joshua told the people to get ready to see God do something big (Exodus 14:13-14 and Josuha 3:5) and in both stories God piled up bodies of water so that His people could walk across on dry land (Exodus 14:21-22 and Joshua 3:17).
But if you look very closely, these stories have some interesting (at least to me) differences. I think the distinctions make an argument for the notion that as we go farther on our journey with God, He may lead us differently than He did at the beginning of our trip. Or it may just be evidence that God leads us different ways at different times, regardless of where we are in our relationship with Him. I don’t know for sure, but I thought I’d share with you some of the variances between the two stories that I observed.
I first noticed the difference in the people’s attitudes. In Exodus, the Israelites are whining and complaining (again) because Pharaoh had changed his mind (again) and was coming after them with his army (Exodus 14:10-12). Moses didn’t go forward until God told him when and where to go. On the other hand, Joshua moved the people before he’d heard the plan details. He told them to get themselves ready for what the Lord had them next. I read somewhere that it was important to note that Joshua didn’t tell the people to make military preparations, even though they were getting ready to cross over into enemy territory. Instead it was more important that they were spiritually prepared. To drive the point home, instead of having the armies leading them into the Promised Land, Joshua chose the the priests to lead the people across the Jordan River. It seems to me like in Exodus the people are running away from the enemy into the unknown while in Joshua, the people are running towards a known enemy.
In Exodus, the people were led by a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night (Exodus 13:21-22). In Joshua, the people were told that they would now be following the ark of the covenant. I am by no means a Bible scholar which I why I feel a little uncomfortable doing a post like this where I tell you what I think the Bible is saying. That said, I think that maybe it took more faith to follow the ark of the covenant than it did to follow the cloud/fire pillar. At least I think it took a different kind of faith. Moses couldn’t make pillars of cloud or fire appear by his own doing, it was definitely a God thing. But how could the Israelites know that when the ark of covenant moved, God was the one leading the moving? Unless the ark of the covenant got up and walked on its own accord, which I couldn’t find any reference to when I looked.
The final big difference I noticed had to do with the water crossings. In Exodus, Moses stretched out his hand, the Red Sea divided, and the people walked across on dry land (Exodus 14:21-22). When the Israelites crossed the Jordan River, the priests had to get their feet wet (Joshua 3:15-17). They had to take that first step into the water and then God parted the waters so they could walk across.
Do any of these idiosyncrasies have any relevance to us today or are they just little bits of trivia that are fun to discuss over supper? For me, the differences reminded me that sometimes it’s easier to follow God than it is at others. For me the verse in this chapter that had the most impact was the first part of Joshua 3:4:
“Then you will know which way to go, since you have never been this way before…”
For forty years the parents and grandparents of these people who were camped on the banks of the Jordan River had traveled in circles through the desert. Year after year, they learned, relearned, and refused to learn the same old lessons. They’d been there, done that, and had their desert t-shirts. But now it was finally time to take the next big step. They were finally the grown-ups and it was time to see if they were going to go farther than their parents had gone.
I was looking through a Bible commentary I have to see what the authors had to say about this chapter in Joshua (and to see if I was completely off-base with my assessment so far) and I liked this quote that I found:
“Crossing Jordan represents passing from one level of the Christian life to another…..(It is a) picture of entering into spiritual warfare to claim what God has promised.” (The Bible Knowledge Commentary, edited by John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, Cook Publishing, 2004).
Sometimes I feel like I’m ready for the next level, other times I feel like a whiney, unprepared Israelite who needs God to lead me by a pillar of fire. I would even settle for a pointed fortune cookie message or a meaningful sky writing message. And sometimes God obliges and the next step is perfectly clear. But sometimes, he wants me to go ahead and stick my feet in the ice, cold water and trust He’s going to make a way for me where I don’t see a path. I just pray that however He chooses to lead me, I will always be quick to follow.