The Book of Joshua

6. Entrance into the Promised Possession.

Joshua 3:2-5, 7.

The action of the book begins with recounting how Joshua rose early in the morning, and, with all Israel, left the camp at Shittim and came to the borders of the Jordan. There is a remarkable group of lessons in the teaching commencing with the third chapter and ending with the sixth. Such divine instruction as these chapters contain demands, as the very first requirement in those that hear them, diligence of soul. Joshua, in his energy, rose early in the morning; a lively state of soul is needful if we would not miss our lessons in grace and glory. Christians cannot see divine truths so long as they sleep. "Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light" (Eph. 5:14).

Three distinct lessons shine out in the verses given at the head of this chapter. First, every eye was to be on the ark; second, the people were to sanctify themselves; third, Joshua, personally, was to be magnified.

The first is of the deepest practical importance. Fixing the eye on Christ, the ark, is the only means whereby God's ways for His people can be understood. By no other plan will the soul be filled with God's thoughts. The officers went through the host with the command: Observe the ark, leave a space between it and you, for Israel is going a way never before trodden. Every genuine officer amongst God's people, every servant duly commissioned by God to lead, has but one voice to those he addresses "Look at Christ, keep the eye on Christ. With reverential steps give Him the pre-eminence. Follow where He leads." Where the path may be is not the question; where Christ leads is the consideration. Obedience to His voice relieves from the thousand questions and difficulties which hinder progress in divine things.

Israel had the pillar of fire to lead them out of Egypt, they had the ark to lead them into Canaan. In either case they had but to follow the divine guidance, for they could not make a way for themselves through the waters. Efforts after path-making hinder many from treading that which God has made, but in looking to Christ the path of blessing appears before the feet. The steps of faith are of necessity ever new, and it is simply by looking off unto Jesus that we can "know the way by which we must go."

In the wilderness, if the ark abode beneath its curtains, the people remained in their tents; if it went forward, they followed. And as they were now about to tread a path hitherto untrodden, one of which they had no knowledge, in an especial manner they needed to observe the leadings of the ark — "that they might know the way by which they must go."

Yet while they were to observe the ark, and follow it, they were not to come near to it; far from pressing upon it, they were to leave a set distance between it and them, a measured space of two thousand cubits. And the Christian must ever give the Lord Jesus Christ His full place, for in all things He must have the pre-eminence (Col. 1:18). There is a divine distance between Him and His people. He is the way, and He has made it. He is the leader, and He leads. We learn God's way as we see Him, we take it as we follow Him. If looking one at another, we are not looking off unto Jesus. Every eye must be on Him. If the Israelites had not left a space between themselves and the ark, the fore ranks would have prevented those that followed from seeing it. How happily the officers directed the eyes of the people from their own guidance to the guiding ark! What a brilliant example for preachers and teachers of Christ! The Christian must have an uninterrupted view of Christ if he would walk in God's way, a view of Christ Himself and not of officers, who, though they can direct where to look for salvation and blessing, can neither save nor bless. "Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom ye believed?" The great Apostle never obstructed the vision of the weakest saint by placing himself between that saint and Christ.

At the Red Sea, God made the path by the rod of His power; there Israel had the pillar of glory behind them, and the way cleft through the sea before them. At Jordan, the rod gave place to the ark. The ark, in a special way, represents a personal Christ: its shittim wood — His humanity; its gold — His deity; its contents (the law) — His righteousness as a man. All testify to Him personally. The sign for their movement, their only sign, was the guiding ark.

"Ye have not passed this way heretofore" (since yesterday, and the third day, margin) is true experimentally of numbers of God's people in relation to their entrance into the heavenly places. Experimentally, we say; for, in fact, all saints of God are now seated in the heavenly places in Christ. It is not possible to be a true Christian, and not to be seated by God in Christ in the heavenly places. Yet, if following God, the believer will often find himself, practically speaking, treading an unknown path — a simple but solemn reality, which tests faith.

In the next place, the word to Israel was, "Sanctify yourselves." Reverence and holiness were the necessary conditions to seeing the wonders the Lord was about to work for them. No truth of God can be lightly taken up by the believer save at his spiritual peril; and unless there be this holy fear of the Lord our God, we shall not in spirit truly enter into His work for us. Walking by faith in the way the Lord Jesus has made, apart from reverential footsteps, is impossible. Then how shall we sanctify ourselves? No outward sanctification, or external separation from any form of evil, will avail. True heart work, in the power of the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, is essential. "The flesh profits nothing." The Spirit of God is the Sanctifier. The more closely the Jewish ceremonial sanctification is regarded, the more evidently is it seen that its figures pointed to true heart and conscience work.

In the third place, Jehovah promised Joshua a place of glory in the sight of all Israel, such as he had never had before, one which was to be as that of Moses when he was the divinely appointed leader of God's people. This is very sweet to the true Christian, who loves his blessed Lord and Saviour. It is a joyous thing to know that the mighty work of God in raising up the Lord from the dead, and in giving life in Him risen to all for whom He died, is direct honour and glory to the Lord Jesus Christ. The more genuinely believers receive in the soul what God has done in raising up Christ from the dead, and in setting them in heavenly places, the more their hearts magnify Christ.

Let us exalt Jesus, as our Saviour from sin and from this Egypt's doom, and also as our Leader, step by step, through this wilderness world; let us also magnify Him as He is, the ascended Son of Man in glory. He is not fully magnified in the soul until He is known as the Joshua, the risen and ascended Lord. Jehovah promised that Joshua should be magnified before the Jordan was passed, and Israel accepted Joshua as their God-honoured leader by the emptied Jordan. Christians know Christ as their Joshua by His having overcome death, and by His entrance into heaven. If the true Christian has one desire more deep than another in the blessing of God's people, it is that they should so know and so enjoy their blessings in Christ risen as to magnify Him.