Thursday, January 15, 2009

Joshua Leads Israel

International Sunday School Lesson
For Week Ending January 18, 2009

Scripture Text: Joshua 3:1-13 (NRSV)

Purpose: To recognize the power of ritual and history to strengthen our commitment to God

Joshua 3:1-13 (1)Early in the morning Joshua rose and set out from Shittim with all the Israelites, and they came to the Jordan. They camped there before crossing over. (2)At the end of three days the officers went through the camp (3)and commanded the people, ‘When you see the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God being carried by the levitical priests, then you shall set out from your place. Follow it, (4)so that you may know the way you should go, for you have not passed this way before. Yet there shall be a space between you and it, a distance of about two thousand cubits; do not come any nearer to it.’ (5)Then Joshua said to the people, ‘Sanctify yourselves; for tomorrow the Lord will do wonders among you.’ (6)To the priests Joshua said, ‘Take up the ark of the covenant, and pass on in front of the people.’ So they took up the ark of the covenant and went in front of the people.

(7)The Lord said to Joshua, ‘This day I will begin to exalt you in the sight of all Israel, so that they may know that I will be with you as I was with Moses. (8)You are the one who shall command the priests who bear the ark of the covenant, “When you come to the edge of the waters of the Jordan, you shall stand still in the Jordan.” ’ (9)Joshua then said to the Israelites, ‘Draw near and hear the words of the Lord your God.’ (10)Joshua said, ‘By this you shall know that among you is the living God who without fail will drive out from before you the Canaanites, Hittites, Hivites, Perizzites, Girgashites, Amorites, and Jebusites: (11)the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth is going to pass before you into the Jordan. (12)So now select twelve men from the tribes of Israel, one from each tribe. (13)When the soles of the feet of the priests who bear the ark of the Lord, the Lord of all the earth, rest in the waters of the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan flowing from above shall be cut off; they shall stand in a single heap.’

My Thoughts by Burgess Walter

How appropriate that our lesson this week has to do with a change of leadership. For the past forty years the nation of Israel had been under the leadership of Moses, now Moses is being replaced by Joshua. There are some similarities and also some differences in their style of leadership. For the past forty years God has been providing manna every day (except the Sabbath) for the Israelites. Now they are about to take possession of a land God has promised and they will have to provide their own food and water, and for the last forty years their clothes have not worn out, now they will be expected to start sewing and making clothes again, I can only imagine that a change in fashion might be a welcome thing amongst the female population.

At the base of Mount Sinai, Moses instructed the people to prepare themselves (Exodus 19:10-15) by sanctifying themselves and washing their clothes and practicing abstinence. In addition they were to maintain a barrier between themselves and the mountain. In today's story they were to again sanctify themselves, and maintain a distance of about a half of mile between themselves and the Ark of the Covenant. Isn't it interesting how God maintains the mystery of His presence and transcendence, while He is showing His power by His actions, He does not lower himself, so that the congregation can somehow think they can take God for granted, God is all powerful, and the congregation needed to know at this point God is not going to make Himself into a mortal being as He does when His own Son becomes one of us. The Ark and the distance required demonstrates the people's need to display a reverence and respect of the creator God.

We can probable assume the three days that Joshua uses to prepare the congregation, also allows time for the spies to go into Jericho and spy out the town, as we studied last week. This demonstration of power and awe is about anointing Joshua as the new leader, God promises Joshua, “I will begin to exalt you in the sight of all Israel, and be with you as I was with Moses.”

Just as the journey began with the crossing of the Red Sea under the leadership of Moses, it will end with the crossing of the Jordan River under the leadership of Joshua. Joshua instructs the people just as God had told him and Joshua makes sure that the congregation understands all that is expected of them. He also makes sure they make a memorial or memory of this occasion by erecting the twelve stones as a monument to this event.

Memorials and traditions are an important part of our Christian experience, When we take Communion we are remembering an event and what it means, when we recall our baptism, by the sprinkling of water on us as we approach the altar or communion rail, we are remembering our own baptism.

One of my favorite hymns speaks of this, in the second verse of "Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing" Robert Robinson, the author says, "Here I raise mine Ebenezer, hither by thy help I'm come; and I hope, by thy good pleasure, safely to arrive at home. Jesus sought me when a stranger, wandering from the fold of God ; He to rescue me from danger, interposed His precious blood.” It is important to have Ebenezers that we can remember. Isn't it interesting that Jesus chose this very spot in the Jordan River to be baptized by John and the Holy Ghost. I do not know how God achieved the heaping up of the Jordan River at Adam, (vs. 16) and like the Children of Israel, God has kept me at a distance from knowing all that God is, but I am thankful that I can trust in His leadership, and with faith I can get where I want to go, but more importantly where He wants me to go. The hymn above closes with these words: "Here's my heart, oh take and seal it, seal it for thy courts above."

(For the story of the Ebenezer Stone see I Samuel 7:12)

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