Thursday, July 19, 2012

Lessons from Joshua, Part II: Crossing Over At Last

The day Israel finally crossed over the Jordan into the Promised Land had to have been a momentous occasion for Joshua—Joshua 3. He may have had early childhood memories of being part of another miraculous crossing—Exodus 14—but now he was the one leading Israel as they “cross over” to Canaan.  Years earlier, he tasted the fruit from the other side of the Jordan—Numbers 13:21-24—and he was ready to go then, but his “youthful optimism” was quashed and the “wisdom” of the elders prevailed—Numbers 13:30-33.  His faith was no doubt severely tested by years of waiting in the wilderness, but despite having his hopes deferred and his deepest desires rebuffed—Numbers 14:5-10a—Joshua remains loyal and obedient.  He continues to serve as second in command to the elder Moses until the moment finally comes for him to take center stage—Deuteronomy 31:1-8.

I wonder if Joshua ever felt like he was squandering the best years of his life working the hard-scrabble in an arid, inhospitable place when a much more verdant place, pulsing with potential and possibility, was waiting for him (and for his people) just over the Jordan—if they would just step out in faith.

I imagine the waiting was hard for Joshua; it would have been for me.  There had to have been moments of doubt, cynicism, bordering on despair.    After so many years of waiting, Joshua must have wondered if Israel would ever be ready to “cross over?”  But, even if he didn’t know it when he was in the middle of it, the waiting served a purpose; it prepared him for what lied ahead.   When the day finally came, it came without much warning, but Joshua is ready to respond—quickly.  The waiting has done its work!  He and his people scramble to “get ready” for what God was about to do—Joshua 3:5.
After 40 years of wandering and waiting,
Joshua and the people of Israel "cross over" the Jordan. 

Joshua 3:14-17

My experience is that when something happens that we’ve wanted for a long time we are often both excited and overwhelmed at the same time.  It’s sometimes hard to trust that it’s real; we worry that it’s too good to be true.

To finally sense that God is saying to him, “get ready, because very soon, you will lead the people across,” no doubt energized Joshua, but it must have also been something of a shock for him—Joshua 1:10-11.  It was something he longed for and dreamed about for so long, but after all this time, he probably wasn’t expecting it to happen anytime soon.  He still hoped for it perhaps, but he just wasn’t sure anymore.  Then like a spark on dry grass, God speaks, and, in an instant, the fire is lit again with Joshua.  God tells the people, “get ready, because this thing you’ve dreamed about is about to become reality.”  The hectic days of preparation leading up to the crossing must have seemed a bit surreal to Joshua. Although, if he’s anything like me, he didn’t have much time to think about it ahead of time; he was too busy getting “packed” and ready to go! 

Then again, like me, he probably didn’t sleep well the night before the “move.”  His mind was no doubt consumed with what was about to happen—and the fact that God had seemingly placed him right in the center of it all.  Joshua has had his hopes deferred many times.  Did he wonder if this would be another disappointment?  Would something go wrong at the last minute?  But this time, it actually happened.  Israel crossed the Jordan successfully and Joshua was the one who led them across!   When he stepped on dry land on the “other side,” Joshua and the elders of Israel rejoiced and praised God—Joshua 4.  Worship is the natural response when God answers the deepest desires of our heart. 

On that day the Lord exalted Joshua in the sight of all Israel; and they stood in awe of him, as they had stood in awe of Moses, all the days of his life.  —Joshua 4:14.

Moses passed the mantle of leadership to Joshua, but Joshua had to earn the right to wear it.  Joshua has now earned that right; he has proven himself to the people.  They will now put their trust in him to lead them to take possession of the Promised Land.

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