Into the Promised Land
What is one thing you plan you plan to do this week? One thing I plan to do is be at Vacation Bible School. But as you and I think of what we plan to do, we need to realize something. What we plan might not happen. For instance, we could get sick and not be able to do what we plan. Or a family emergency might come up that will send us a different direction, away from what we plan. Any of a number of things might happen to change what you and I plan, not only this week, but any other time.
The point is that life can sometimes be a wild ride. But even then, there is something we can count on. One thing that is certain. That is the promise of God to be with us and help us, no matter what we are facing, good and bad.
In fact, that is what is going to be discussed each evening of Vacation Bible School. Our plan is to begin VBS this evening and go through Wednesday evening. For the first three evenings, three examples of God’s help will be featured. We will celebrate God helping Moses when he was adrift on the Nile River, then God helping a man named Naaman when he was in the Jordan River, then God being with Jesus when He was in the Jordan River.
In this message and the one next Sunday, two other examples of God’s help will be discussed, both of which also have something to do with water. Next week, God saving Paul in the Mediterranean Sea. Today, God helping His people into the Promised Land.
Let’s rejoice that God’s promises never fail, including the promise that when any of us pass through waters, which refers to going though troubled times, God will be with us and help us.
To set the stage, let me attempt to condense a few hundred years of history into just a few minutes. It will more likely be several minutes, but in the Book of Genesis we are told of the creation of the universe. That included the creation of Adam and Eve.
From Adam and Eve, generations started, beginning with Cain and Abel, who were the first two children of Adam and Eve. Unfortunately, Cain killed Abel, which caused him to be banished from the family, but after that, Adam and Eve had other children. From them, generations continued. There were many, many generations, but for our purpose in this message, we will skip to Jacob, many, many years later.
With two wives and two other women, Jacob had twelve sons. His favorite was Joseph, which of course led to jealousy on the part of Jacob’s other sons. That was increased because of an arrogant attitude Joseph had.
So it was, when Joseph was 17 years old, his brothers, while they and Joseph were out in a field, sold him to some merchants passing by. Those merchants then sold Joseph into slavery in Egypt.
In Egypt, Joseph was a slave, and later a prisoner, but he became very important. In fact, he rose to the second-most powerful position in Egypt. With that power, he was able to develop a system of storing grain that allowed the people of Egypt to, after several years of storage, survive a horrible famine.
Not only Egyptians, but some others benefitted from the food, including Joseph’s family - including the brothers who had sold him. How good it was how things turned out, one part of which was the fact that over time, the people of God, including those descended from Joseph’s family, became a large part of the Egyptian population.
However, many years after Joseph, the Pharaoh of Egypt - the leader of that great nation - a leader long after the one who had made Joseph so important - began to be bothered by having so many people of God in his nation.
To fight against the influence of the people of God, Pharaoh first of all, as reported in the Book of Exodus, tried to kill all the baby boys of the people of God, in that way stopping the population growth of the foreigners. When that did not work, the people of God were enslaved, which lasted for over 400 years. It continued until, under the leadership of Moses and with the power of God, the slaves were freed.
Even then, life was not easy. As also reported in Exodus, the people just freed from slavery went into the wilderness that is the Sinai Peninsula.
At one point they were trapped at the Red Sea. A miracle of God got them to the other side of the sea, so they survived.Another time they were trapped at the Jordan River. Another miracle of God got them to the other side of that body of water.
And the people would have starved to death except for God providing manna. They would have died of thirst except for God providing water for them.
For 40 years following their escape from slavery in Egypt, the people of God remained in the wilderness. There is much more that could be said about their time there, but for our purpose of this message, in the first part of the Book of Joshua, it came time for the people of God to leave the wilderness and enter a land promised to them by God. A land promised to them before they had left Egypt. An entering under the leadership of Joshua, who was the replacement for Moses, who had died.
In the first chapter of Joshua, the new leader was told a number of times by God to be strong and of good courage. Remember the theme that God will be with us when we go through troubled water - troubled times. Apparently Joshua was fearful having to lead a huge group of God’s people, once again across the Jordan River, doing so in the shadow of the great Moses.
Joshua needed to be encouraged, which he was, enough to begin the journey into the Promised Land, which brings us to chapters 3 and 4 of Joshua.
Early one morning, Joshua rose and, with all the people of Israel - all of God’s people - marched to the Jordan River, where they stayed for three days.
At the end of three days, the officers under Joshua went through the camp and commanded the people, “When you see the ark of the covenant of the LORD your God [the ark contained the law given by God to Moses, so it represented God’s presence, and was therefore considered very holy] being carried by the Levitical priests, then you shall set out from your place. You shall move from where you are staying and follow it. The ark - those who carry it - will let you know the way you shall go in crossing the river. That is important, for you have not passed this way before.” And yes, the people of God had, shortly after escaping slavery, crossed the Jordan River, but not here. It had been a different part of the river.
And one more thing, the officers commanded. There was to be a space between the people and the ark. A distance of about three thousand feet. That is quite a distance -more than a half mile - but “do not come near the ark,” was the command.
All that was to happen the next day. Then Joshua said to the people, “Until then, sanctify yourselves.” Get ready, not only physically, but also spiritually. “For tomorrow the LORD will do wonders among you.”
The next day, Joshua said to the priests, “Take up the ark of the covenant and start out before the people.” The priests obeyed.
Then the LORD said to Joshua, “This day I will begin to exalt you in the sight of all Israel, that they may know that, as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. And you shall command the priests, telling them, ‘When you come to the brink of the waters of the Jordan, you shall stand still in the Jordan.’”
With that, Joshua said to the people of God, “Come and hear the words of the LORD your God. You shall know that the living God is among you.” That was a wonderful promise. “You shall know that He will, without fail, drive out from before you the people of the Promised Land.” That, too, was a wonderful promise because many years earlier, some of the people of God had seen the people in the Promised Land. They had been afraid of those people. “No more,” said Joshua. “Canaanites, Hittites, Hivites, Perizzites, Girgashites, Amorites, Jebusites - do not be afraid of any of them. God will drive them out.”
Joshua continued, “Here is the plan. The ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth is to pass over before you into the Jordan River. When the soles of the feet of the priests who bear the ark of the LORD shall rest in the waters of the Jordan, the waters of the river shall be stopped from flowing, and the waters coming down from above shall stand in one heap.”
That could not have made sense to the people of God. It could not have made sense in a physical way. However, the people had, over the years, seen so many miracles of God - rescue from famine, escape from Egypt, escape at the Red Sea, escape at a different part of the Jordan River, being given food, being given water. The people had seen so many miracles, this one they would believe.
And guess what. When the feet of the priests carrying the ark entered the water, the Jordan River did indeed stop flowing. That is especially impressive since, it is reported, this was during the season of flooding. That means there was more water in the river than was usually normal. The water stopped flowing downriver. It just stood in a heap far off. What an impressive sight that must have been.
Then another miracle happened. The riverbed dried out, doing so completely. The result was that the people of God were able to cross from the wilderness to the Promised Land, near the city of Jericho.
The priests holding the ark remained in the river. Where the river had been. They remained on the dry river bed. While doing that, God spoke to Joshua, giving him some more instructions. “Take twelve men, one from each tribe. Command those men to take twelve stones from the Jordan, from the place where the priests' feet stood, and have them carry the stones and lay them down in the place where you will sleep this night.”
Joshua would later build those stones up. The stones were collected. Then Joshua gathered twelve other stones from the river bed and built them up, also where the priests were still holding the ark of the covenant. Only then did the priests carry the ark the rest of the way to the Promised Land. Only then did the water of the Jordan River resume flowing, again overflowing the river banks.
You know, the people of God had had a rough time of it for centuries - famine that took them from where they had lived to Egypt, eventually a long, long time of slavery in Egypt, after slavery spending 40 years in a wilderness.
All those problems were alleviated by God. What miracles God did for His people, over and over again. Now they were in the Promised Land, which was a good thing. However, it was not the end of problems for the people of God.
Let me go just a bit further into the Book of Joshua.
Remember the people of God arrived in the Promised Land near the city of Jericho. It was a large city. A city of great importance in trade in the area. A heavily-fortified, walled city. The wall, which encircled the city, is reported to have consisted of a retaining wall of stones, topped by another wall of stones, that wall measuring six feet thick- together. The entire wall rose 30 to 40 feet into the air.
The wall was impregnable, but the people of God would have to get past the city if they were indeed going to take over the Promised Land.
Everyone knew there was going to be a battle. War was going to be needed to defeat Jericho, which was the first obstacle the people of God had to face in the Promised Land.
Interestingly, there is no report of any fear on the part of the people of God. They had been afraid over and over again in the past, but not now. Perhaps that was because in their group there were 40,000 men who were ready and armed for war.
Also interestingly, there was no battle. What happened was God told Joshua to have the men of war, then priests blowing rams’ horns, then other priests to carry the ark of the covenant, and then a rear guard march around Jericho once a day for six days. There was to be no talking whatsoever. The only sound from the people of God was to be the blowing of the horns.
With those instructions from God, Joshua organized the marchers, who obeyed the instructions. I imagine the people of Jericho, looking down from the top of the wall, got a kick out of what the people of God did. How silly it looked to have armed men just walking, not even saying any threatening things. Of course, there was the constant blowing of the horns. That probably got on the nerves of the people of Jericho.
That happened each day for six days. Once around the city each day.
Then came the seventh day. As also commanded by God through Joshua, that day the entourage walked around the city seven times. The people of Jericho must have found that strange. Maybe even more annoying since the horn playing went on longer and longer.
The people of Jericho watched the usual time around. Then a second and third time. Then a fourth, fifth, and sixth march around the city. Then a seventh time.
At the end of the seventh time around, the horn players stopped. For a moment there was a sudden peaceful quiet. But then, as instructed by God through Joshua, the horns sounded one more time. At that sound, all the people - not just the marchers, but all the people of God - all at one time shouted.
What they shouted is not recorded, but so great was the sound - so miraculous was God - that the wall around Jericho immediately collapsed. It collapsed inward, making it easy for the people of God to enter the city and then completely destroy it, killing everyone except a woman named Rahab, who, a few years earlier, had helped some spies from God’s people. Rahab and her family were spared. Everyone and everything else was destroyed.
By the way, why do you supposed Jericho was defeated in a way other than war? I suspect it was so the people of God would know it was God, rather than their strength, that had won. What happened solidified their trust in God. It was an encouragement for them to continue to rely on God alone.
What does all that have to do with trusting that God will be with us and help us when we go through troubled waters? Troubled times? Let me suggest this in the form of some questions. Did God’s people plan on experiencing a famine? I doubt it. Once in Egypt, did they plan to become slaves? I doubt it. After escaping slavery, did they plan to spend 40 years in a wilderness? I doubt it.
However, each of those things they did experience. While none of them were pleasant, in each case, God was with them and got them out of their problems. God’s help did not usually happen as soon as His people would have liked, but He did work it out so His people did survive the famine. He did eventually work a number of miracles that eventually persuaded the Pharaoh of Egypt to release the people of God from slavery. He did provide both food and water for His people in the wilderness. And yes, He did get His people across the Red Sea and the Jordan River, doing that twice. He made it possible for them to cross safely. And yes, He took care of giving them victory over the first obstacle in the Promise Land.
You - I - we - may find ourselves in situations we do not plan on being in, but even when strange - even when difficult - times surround us, the promise is that God is with us and He will help us. We may have discouraged feelings, but such feelings can be overcome if - when - we will take the time to know that, just as God helped His people early in the Old Testament, He will help His people even now.
So, whether what you and I plan to do this coming week, and beyond, happens or not, let’s remember and rely on and live by the promise that God will be with us to help us. Let’s be determined to let Him help.
Today’s closing song is Be Still and Know. As we sing, let’s feel God’s presence. Let’s know His offer to help in every situation we are in, whether planned by us or not. The song is short, so we need to feel and know His presence and His hope quickly.
Be still and know that I am God.
Be still and know that I am God.
Be still and know that I am God.
In Thee, o God, I put my trust.
In Thee, o God, I put my trust.
In Thee, o God, I put my trust.
God, as You were with Your Old Testament people, You are with us now. Thank You for Your presence. Thank You for Your help. Make us and keep us willing to rely on You, whether it is our plans or Your plans that we experience, and thank You for the opportunity to keep celebrating Your promise to be with us. Thank You, God. Amen.