NOTES on Hebrews
11:30-31 (click here for study)
In these verses the author of Hebrews moves ahead in Israel's history to Joshua's leadership. Joshua led Israel into Canaan, and Jericho was the first Canaanite city that Israel took. The story of its conquest is an account of God's sovereign leading in the Israelite's lives. Before they took the city, however-indeed, before they even entered the land of Canaan, Joshua sent spies to gather military intelligence so the Israelites would have a better idea what they would find when they went against Jericho.
When the spies went to Jericho, they stayed in the home of the prostitute Rahab. She lived in the city wall, and her house was a convenient place for the two Israelites to hide. It was on the periphery of the city, and two Israelites visiting a prostitute were less likely to cause alarm than if they had walked openly about the city.
Rahab-Already a Believer
Rahab, they found, had become a believer in the God of the Israelites because of the stories that had reached Jericho about God's miraculous interventions with the Egyptians at the Red Sea and with the Amorites east of the Jordan River. As she declared her personal confession of belief in God, she explained her convictions by giving the spies the information Joshua needed in order to understand what they would meet at Jericho.
She explained her conviction that the Lord had given them the land, and she told the spies that "a great fear of you has fallen on us, so that all who live in this country are melting in fear because of you." (Josh. 2:9) She further said that when they heard about the Egyptians drowning in the Red Sea and the Amorite kings Sihon and Og being completely destroyed, "our hearts melted and everyone's courage failed because of you, for the Lord your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below." (Josh. 2:11)
From this information the spies knew that Jericho was already afraid of Israel. They feared Israel's God, believing from the stories they heard that powerful armies were powerless before this Deity. Jericho would not be a powerful, confident opponent.
Rahab was ready to help the Israelites, and she made a deal with the spies that because she hid and helped them, they would spare her and her family alive when they ambushed the city. The spies told her to hang a red cord in her window, and when the soldiers saw it, they would save all her family who were in her home with her. If family members were not in her home, however, they would perish.
The red cord in Rahab's window functioned like the blood on the doorposts of the Israelites' homes during Passover. Rahab believed that Israel's God was the true God, and she was ready to give up her life as a Canaanite and live with the Jews. Because of her faith, she and her family were saved under the sign of the blood of the Lamb.
The epilogue to Rahab's story is striking. She lived the rest of her life with the Israelites, and she became the mother of Boaz who married Ruth the Moabitess. Boaz became the great-grandfather of King David, the ancestor of Jesus. Because of her faith, Rahab the Canaanite prostitute became the great-great-grandmother of David and holds a place in the lineage of Jesus.
The Sovereign God
The two spies returned to Joshua and said, "The Lord has surely given the whole land into our hands; all the people are melting in fear because of us." (Joshua 1:24) After receiving this news, Joshua prepared the Israelites to enter the land of Canaan.
God no longer led Israel with a pillar of cloud and fire. Since Moses had delivered the Ten Commandments and the laws of the Old Covenant to the people, God's visible, physical dwelling in Israel was the Ark of the Covenant in the Most Holy Place in the tabernacle. The golden box which held the Ten Commandments, the heart of Israel's government and worship, was the spot where God's cloud of presence rested. Now whenever Israel received marching orders from God, instead of the pillar of cloud leading the way, the priests carrying the Ark of the Covenant led the way. God still led the people, but God sanctified the symbols of himself by using them to express his physical presence.
God told Joshua to have the priests carrying the Ark lead Israel to the Jordan River, the border of the Land of Canaan. There the priests were to put their feet into the water and stand in the middle of the river. The water would stop flowing when the priests entered it, and it would "stand up in a heap" upstream from them until the people passed over on dry ground. (Josh. 3:13, 17)
God also promised Joshua that on the day they passed through the Jordan, God would "begin to exalt you in the eyes of all Israel, so they may know that I am with you as I was with Moses." (Joshua 3:7) This promise exactly paralleled what God did when Israel crossed through the Red Sea. On the day God saved the Israelites from the Egyptians and Israel saw "the great power the Lord displayed against the Egyptians, the people feared the Lord and put their trust in him and in Moses his servant." (Exodus 14:31)
God established both Moses and Joshua as leaders of Israel by piling up impassable waters into walls and having the two men lead the people through the miraculous pathways on dry ground. To the ancient people of Canaan, this sovereignty over flooding rivers and seas was significant.
The chief deity of Canaan, Baal, was considered kings of the gods because he had defeated the sea-god. Being lord over uncontrollable waters which had the power to kill humans established the gods' power over the people. In the ancient Near East, people suspected of crimes were tried by a water ordeal. The suspected criminal was thrown into a river. If he drowned, he was considered guilty; if he lived, the people believed the gods had found him innocent and delivered him from the gods' territory, the water.
By leading Israel into the Jordan River and making a dry pathway for them to cross, God was establishing two things. First, he was establishing himself as the one true and mighty God. He was demonstrating to both Canaan and Israel that he had ultimate power over the waters, and he could accomplish his will by his sovereign might as he had at the Red Sea, and as he also had at the time of Noah's flood and at Creation. Perhaps God's sovereign power over the waters at Creation and during the flood helped contribute to the pagan's beliefs that the sign of the most powerful god was the ability to control the waters.
Second, by leading Israel through the dry Jordan riverbed, he was answering the question of who had the ultimate right to the land of Canaan: the Canaanites or the Lord God? The significant part of this question is that the dispute was not between the Canaanites and the Israelites; it was between the Canaanites and the Lord God. God led the Israelites through the dry riverbed into the land of Canaan; God conquered the walled city of Jericho. The Israelites followed his instructions, but they did not exercise the power that stopped the waters and brought down the walls. God established his sovereignty and his onwership of Canaan by his acts at the Jordan and at Jericho. Neither Israel nor the Canaanites could say the Jews had the superior strategy and power. Both groups of people had to bow before the sovereign power of God.
As Rahab had previously told the spies, the news of God's miraculous power had preceded Israel, and the Canaanites quivered with fear as they saw Israel approaching, led into victory after victory by their God who performed acts that surpassed anything their gods had ever done.
Keeping the Covenant
Once they heard how God had dried up the Jordan, the Amorite and Canaanite kings were terrified. "Their hearts melted and they no longer had the courage to face the Israelites." (Josh. 5:1b) It was nearly time for Israel to take possession of their first Canaanite city, Jericho.
Before they could go against Jericho, however, God had to prod Israel to keep their part of their covenant with him. The Israelites that left Egypt had been circumcised, but the generation born in the desert had not. Before they could officially occupy the land of promise, God required that they bear the covenant sign. Their parents, who had grumbled and died in the wilderness, had not been concerned about making sure their children bore the mark of God's people. They were longing for Egypt, and they allowed their children to be just like the children of the surrounding nations. They did not identify strongly with their calling to be God's chosen people. That was an identity they bore badly, and they didn't care about being sure their children understood who they really were, either.
Circumcision was important not only because it was a physical sign of the covenant; its importance lay in the fact that it represented the promised Seed which God pledged to Abraham. Circumcision was the continuing sign that a man was a Jew; the bloodline of the promised Messiah and his people was to be kept pure from intermarriage with the heathen nations. Consequently, before taking their first heathen city, Israel had to be circumcised. They had to embrace who they were, and they had to accept the responsibility of their identity.
As the Canaanite and Amorite kings trembled with fear, Israel camped at a place named Gilgal, and Joshua circumcised all Israel. They stayed camped at Gilgal "until they were healed." (Josh. 5:8) After they recovered God told Joshua, "Today I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you." (Josh. 5:9)
While they were camped at Gilgal, freshly healed from their new mark of belonging to God, Israel celebrated Passover. On the day after Passover, they ate produce from the land of Canaan for the first time. The next day, the manna which had sustained them for years in the desert stopped. Israel, firmly established as God's chosen people, were finally in the Promised Land, and they would now receive their sustenance from their new land. The manna was no longer necessary; the land flowing with milk and honey of which the manna had been a shadow was finally a reality. Reality replaced the shadow, and Israel now officially realized God's promise.
Commander of the Army
Joshua was near the city of Jericho one day when he looked up to find an armed soldier standing in front of him. Not knowing who he was, he asked the soldier if he was for Israel or for their enemies.
The answer was surprising. "Neither," he replied, "but as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come." (Josh. 5:14) He proceeded to tell Joshua to remove his shoes because he was standing on holy ground. As he had done with Moses years before, God personally confronted the leader of his people and gave him instructions for the nation's first victory over its enemies as they began life in their new role.
Moses had led Israel, an unorganized group of slaves, out of Egypt to become disciplined in the desert in preparation for becoming the inheritors of God's promise. Joshua now led Israel, fresh from their desert years and bearing the new marks of their covenant relationship with God, against the first enemy city in the Promised Land. Israel was finally beginning to inherit God's promise.
A significant part of the divine soldier's message to Joshua was that he was neither for Israel nor for Canaan. He was above human loyalties. Although Israel was God's chosen nation and God fought for them, he was not FOR Israel and AGAINST Canaan. God's purposes included saving both Israel and the Canaanites. The Commander of the Lord's army was fighting God's battles, not human battles. God's purpose in fighting Israel's wars was to establish His sovereignty and authority. Israel was merely the means through which God established himself as the Almighty God, the God of all the earth. God established and blessed Israel as a means of showing all the world that he was a God of justice, mercy, love, righteousness, power, and grace. He was FOR God's reality, not Israel's or Canaan's.
God told Joshua to have seven priests carrying ram's horn trumpets lead the priests carrying the ark. They were to lead all Israel's armed men in a march that circled the city. They were to march around the city once a day for six days, and on the seventh day they were to march around the city seven times with the priests blowing the trumpets.
The trumpets the priests carried were not instruments of music; they were used to signal people. Priests blew these trumpets to announce the presence of the Lord.
When the priests blew a long blast on that seventh day, all the people were to shout . When they did, the walls of the city fell down, and the people went in and took the city.
The fact that God's strategy involved groups of sevens-seven priests with seven trumpets, seven days and seven encirclings-indicates that the campaign was holy.
The Sabbath is not mentioned in this story. It merely says that they marched seven days. We do not know whether or not the seventh day of the march was Sabbath, but it doesn't really matter. They did march on the Sabbath, regardless of which day among the seven it fell. The significant thing is that on the seventh day, the walls fell down.
The Israelites did not fight for Jericho. God orchestrated the siege, and it was God's power that brought down the walls. The people did nothing to breach the city. Their marching, blowing and shouting undoubtedly unnerved the residents and frightened them. But the Israelites did not destroy the city.
On the seventh day, God completed the work he had begun seven days before, and God himself caused the walls to collapse. On the seventh day, the people entered Jericho, the first city in the Promised Land which they took. Through no warfare on Israel's part, God destroyed Jericho, and the people simply entered their rest after God completed his work.
Some theologians say that the story of Jericho deliberately evokes the story of creation. For six days God created the universe. On the seventh day he rested from his work. By his sovereign power God began a new order on earth on the seventh day. Similarly, God sovereignly began a new order on the seventh day when he conquered Jericho, and Israel officially entered its promised land of rest.
Both the story of Jericho and the story of creation foreshadow Sabbath rest in Christ. In both instances, humanity entered God's rest through no effort of its own. People did not have to create anything or fight the enemy in order to enter rest. God did the work.
We enter rest in Christ when we accept his work on our behalf. When we accept his death on the cross and his resurrection, we enter Sabbath rest. We have done and can do nothing to accomplish our own salvation. Jesus did all the work. All we have to do is move into the rest he has already provided. Just as Israel moved into a conquered Jericho, we move into rest from our works. Jesus has saved us; it is a finished work. We can live in rest.
God is asking us to let him be sovereign in our lives. He wants to fight our battles for us. It requires our trust to let go of planning and strategizing our lives and allow God to lead us. Like Joshua, we have to realize that God is not for our causes. He is for his sovereign cause. When we understand that God's sovereign love intersects our lives, we can relax and allow him to reveal his will to us. We no longer have to feel compelled to make things happen that we think should happen. God sees all of reality, and he knows how he wants us to figure into his plans. He will bring his redemption into our lives and the lives of those with whom we live and work, and he will do it in a way that will glorify him and establish him as the sovereign Lord. All he asks of us is that we trust him, that we stand and be still before him.
Every one of us faces a Jordan River-sometimes many in our lifetimes. At flood stage, the Jordan will destroy us. At low tide, it will still make us uncomfortably wet. God is asking you to allow him to lead you into the Jordan. There's no way around it; if you don't cross it, you never will enter the promised land of rest.
If you plunge into the Jordan with your own will power, you will drown. If you allow God to lead you into it, on the other hand, he will create a way for you to walk through safely. No matter what struggle or heartache you face, it will scar you and leave you crippled if God does not lead you into it.
God asks us to face and enter our sorrow, our pain, our heartaches. If we try to rationalize and avoid them, they will still mark us. But God beckons us to enter our pain-and the miracle is that he enters it with us if we invite him in.
Just as God saves us IN our sins and then gives us a new heart and changes us from the inside out, just so God asks us not to avoid the trauma of our lives. He asks us not to try to explain it away but rather to ask him to go through it with us. Just as Jesus entered the fiery furnace with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednigo, Jesus will enter our struggles and our pain. If we face reality and ask for God's redeeming presence to be with us, he will provide insights and solutions and comfort and redemption that we could never foresee.
If we live in denial and avoid the seriousness of our suffering, we will become depressed and insincere. Only Jesus can turn our suffering into victory. Only Jesus can keep us full of integrity in the face of destructive pain. Only Jesus can provide the strength we need to endure deep hurt but to emerge sheltered instead of shattered. Only Jesus can keep us grounded in reality.
Jesus is asking you to accept your identity in him. In him you are a conqueror; in him you have eternal life. In Jesus you can face life without fear; in Jesus you can experience peace and rest while chaos swirls around you. Jesus is asking you to walk into your Sabbath in him.
Let Jesus show you his plan for your life. Let him reveal his will for your intractable problems. Let him be sovereign in your life.
God is asking you to stop trying to figure out the solutions for your unsolved problems. He knows already how the problem will resolve, and he knows how he wants to reveal himself to you and to the others involved. Let your anxiety and urge to control go; place your fears and concerns and frustrations in his hands, and ask him to hold them and take care of them for you. Ask him to give you peace. Let him love you and reveal his wisdom and will to you. Let the Holy Spirit help you to grow in knowledge and depth of insight.
God wants to be sovereign in your life. He has already saved you; he will continue to provide everything you need. Trust his love and power.
Praise God for his sovereign power over us. Praise Jesus for bearing the responsibility for our sins. Praise the Holy Spirit for giving us a new life of peace and victory.
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Spirit for giving us eternal rest!
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Studio, Redlands, CA USA. All rights reserved. Revised August 11, 2001.