Today’s passage: Joshua 3-4
It had been about 40 years since the people of Israel had been rescued from the land of Egypt – the land of slavery. The escape from Egypt had been incredible. There was no doubt in anybody’s mind that Israel’s escape was a “God-thing”. To experience not only the plagues (including the angel of death), but also the crossing on dry ground of the Red Sea could leave nobody in any doubt that the God of Israel was not like any other gods. This God was awesome in power and might. He could do the impossible. And he had decided to take his people and bring them into a land of their own. His big plan: to bring about through them the means to reconcile all people to himself.
But, despite the awesomeness of their escape, the people of Israel quickly forgot the might of God. The Red Sea was far behind them, the memorial that had been set up wasn’t one that they often passed by. Arriving at the borders of Canaan – the land of the promise – their fear of the future and the inhabitants of the land proved stronger than their trust in God’s strength. Of 12 spies that Moses sent into the land to report on conditions there, all but two told horrific tales of how impossible a task an invasion of that land would be. Only two of the spies, Joshua and Caleb, urged the people to recognise that if God was with them, there could be no doubt that the land would be taken easily. The people of Canaan, they said, had “no protection, but the Lord is with us! Don’t be afraid of them!” (Numbers 14:9)
Instead of entering the land at that time, the people’s lack of trust in God doomed them to 40 years of wandering in the desert. Finally, they find themselves once more on the edge of Canaan, with a new representative of God leading them. They camp at the edge of the Jordan river, the boundary of the land, a river swollen and overflowing with the excesses of snow-melt and spring rain.
Their challenge – to trust God, and to expect great things from him. The flooded Jordan river seemed an insurmountable obstacle to their taking the land. But I have no doubt that God specifically timed their arrival at the river at such an impossible time to cross. God wanted to show to that generation – and all that would follow – his awesome power. He was going to demonstrate to them that their task was one that could only be accomplished if they put their trust in him; that he was going ahead of them; that nothing is impossible for God.
The miracle at the Jordan was amazing. But it was for more than just that generation. What God did there was a demonstration of his power and love and presence for all future generations of God’s people. God specifically had Joshua set up memorials to keep the experience fresh in the nation’s national conscience.
What about us today? Do we expect great things from God when the path ahead seems blocked? Do we remember all the evidence that God has given us – as the church corporate and as individuals – of his presence and power and might? Do we trust that the future need hold no fear if God goes ahead of us? Do the memorials of God’s love – including communion and baptism – draw us back into the shared experience of God’s mighty acts? Where do the stones of our memorial to God’s might and goodness come from?