|Sermons from Lone Rock Bible Church
September 7, 2003
Memorials That Move
Before the people of Israel faced their first military challenge at Jericho, the Lord reestablished them as His special people by refreshing their memories and pointing them forward. He used a variety of "living" memorials, which were:
Joshua 5 is all about spiritual preparation because the people of God are now across the Jordan River, and facing them there on the west side of the Jordan is their first serious challenge in the Promised Land: the city of Jericho. They arent yet quite ready to take that on.
A lady I know recently went in for open-heart surgery. She went in very, very fearful. In the days prior to her surgery, her words were, "I dont even dare to sleep at night; Im afraid I wont wake up." She went in for quadruple bypass. Ive known others who have gone into serious surgery with peace and even with joy, saturated with trust in a sovereign and loving God.
Whats the difference? One knows Him, the other doesnt know Him, or doesnt know Him very well. Very frequently, fear and apprehension that can paralyze us, and even make matters worse, is the order of the day. Life really is a series of challenges. It doesnt have to be open-heart surgery; even little kids face challenges at tender ages, and we face them all of our lives. Whether its a new adventure in school or in the neighborhood, maybe moving to a new town, getting adjusted to a new situation, interviewing for a new job, taking a new class, graduating and moving on, or facing a health crisis, its just the nature of life, a series of challenges.
The Bible says here and elsewhere that if we are believers, if we know the God of heaven and if we understand that He is sovereign over our circumstances, that He goes before us, and that He makes and keeps His promises, then He is to be trusted. Now God doesnt have a problem being trusted. God is God and theres a not a fault nor a flaw to be found anywhere in His character. The problem lies with us. We are made of flesh. "He knows our frame" (Psalm 103:14); Hes mindful that we are but dust. Thats the problem.
We have these people, hoards of them, people of God, children of Israel, standing before what is a tremendous challenge to them, the city of Jericho, and they will face another challenge, and another, and another. Theyll face them nationally, and theyll face them individually, before theyre settled in the Promised Land.
What is happening in these twelve verses of Joshua 5, is preparation for the children of Israel. They need to be prepared. Its similar to what we talked about a week ago, having a memorial, a pile of rocks to call back to. What we have here is a bit of a different twist. This is like a maintenance memorial, an on-going issue, what we need perpetually in life.
The other evening we were out for a walk. I like to look at the road and see what I can find out on the gravel. Last night I picked up a cap off a U-joint and I thought, "By now, someone knows this is missing." You see, if maintenance is not accomplished, the challenge then presents itself.
Periodic maintenance isnt a bad idea, and thats what were dealing with here. I want to get into that from three different standpoints, which Ive broken into three unequal sections.
Joshua 5:1 ---- Ongoing Maintenance
The first one just has to do with the first verse; I call it "Ongoing Maintenance". It is this: Gods people need to realize that He has gone before, that He has gone ahead of us, regardless of our circumstances, regardless of the problem as it is presented, regardless of anything; God has already gotten there.
I love the 10th chapter of Acts. Its all about how God sets up two situations in order for them to supernaturally collide. He visits a Gentile centurion named Cornelius. Cornelius is a man of God, hes been in prayer, and God says, "Im going to answer your prayers. Send a couple of your servants to the house of Simon the tanner down the coast of Joppa, and theyll find a man named Peter there." Cornelius sends these guys off to find Peter.
Meanwhile, God has Peter on a rooftop. There on the rooftop, Simon Peter has this vision of the sheets and the critters. "Arise, Peter, kill and eat." Its basically a preparation. God is setting him up, telling him, "Dont be afraid of the Gentiles when they show up. Theyre coming; theyre almost here." He wakes up and theres a knock at the door; the guys have arrived. Its all perfectly coordinated because God is ahead of both of them, and thats true for us.
A number of months ago we were having a discussion in our home. I was missing a particular book that I thought we could well benefit by, and I mentioned that I hadnt seen the book for years. Two days later it arrived in the mail from a friend who had it for, I think, ten years. Isnt it so that God is always a step ahead, or two, or more? He knows; Hes already there.
There was a mountain of theology presented by Jesus, probably landing on deaf ears, in the 8th chapter of Johns gospel, where Hes verbally boxing it out with the Pharisees, and theyre comparing Him to Abraham and their faith to Abrahams faith, and Hes telling them, "You people dont have a clue. Abraham rejoiced to see My day." They said, "How can that be?" Jesus then said, (John 8:58), "Before Abraham was, I Am [always]."
Whats introduced at this juncture is the eternality of God. When the children of Israel are standing there facing the city of Jericho, nothing has happened yet to Jericho, and yet, the fear of God has preceded the people, and the folks in Jericho are prepared. They are in utter dread. Theyre scared, theyre desperate; its as though theyre in a plane they know is going down and their state of mind is anything but good. They are ready for what God is about to do to their detriment; to the benefit, however, of the children of Israel.
This is interesting to me -- we talk about ourselves being prepared for new experiences, and we need to be; the maintenance, the constant awareness that God is already ahead of us. Thats maintenance, step number one - Hes already there when we move into that new neighborhood, or when we take on that new job, or when we encounter that new experience. It strikes me that God not only prepares us for our new experiences, but Hes also working on the hearts of those with whom we will have to do. Hes ahead of us. Hes prepared even the obstacle for the event that is about to happen.
Joshua 5:2-8 --- Only Once
I want to move now to a very peculiar portion of Scripture and a peculiar doctrine in history, that takes up verses 2-8: this notion of circumcision. What basically is happening at this very juncture is that Joshua is told that all the males of Israel, who have not been circumcised, must now be. They had surgery en masse, and it took them a while. There was a healing up time, and then God said, "OK, lets have a Passover celebration."
Whats happening is that God is confirming, or reaffirming, a covenant relationship, a promised, contract relationship with the children of Israel. It is not new. For the children of Israel, the notion of circumcision begins with Abraham in Genesis 17, but historians really arent sure exactly where the practice began, but it began long before Abraham, and Abraham was 2000 years before Jesus.
There are a number of theories as far as where this surgery came from. What sense did it make? Nobody really knows absolutely for sure, but here are a few possibilities. One is strictly a sanitary issue; strictly a cleanliness issue. Another is, some scholars of the ancient Near East say its kind of like tribal markings. In some cultures, tattoos would suffice. An individual then would be able to recognize another tribe in some sense by a tribal marking on the flesh; I suppose thats a possibility.
Others have said that perhaps the surgery marks a rite of passage for a young man, the gateway to adulthood, as it were. Others suggested it has to do with a fertility rite. In the ancient world, reproduction was everything to survival for those folks, whether it was their flocks and herds, or whether it was their fields, or whether it was their families; procreation had to happen for them to survive, and they knew it. It was a big deal and they built whole religious systems around that issue. So in all likelihood, thats probably where this originated as far as Gods use of it in the lives of His people are concerned. It had to do with fertility, and also it was combined with the notion of a blood covenant.
Blood was shed and a promise was struck, as it were. A deal was made and, in the mind of the ancient pagan, "OK, Ive done this thing. Ive ratified my commitment to this god (small "g"), and Ive ratified it with blood; therefore he should bless me with fertility."
God spoke to Abraham very clearly. Now Abraham at this point, not only was a man of faith, but he also had trusted God completely with his heart, and soul, and life. God has revealed to him, "Abraham, from you Im going to create a great nation and Im going to pledge Myself to you; Im going to promise Myself to you that I will always be with you, that I will always take care of you and that I will lead you into a land that I will give you."
An outward sign, and this is really the key, of membership in a contract with God. The Bible goes on to discuss how Abraham was circumcised at the tender age of 99. His son Ishmael, all his servants, everyone who was connected in any way with his household who was male, underwent the surgery as an outward sign that they were identifying themselves as Gods people. It doesnt end there; it was just where the rite was originated for Gods people, and it reflected a promise of His Presence and a promise of His favor.
Scripture goes on to teach that with Gods people, the neglect of circumcision reflects Gods disfavor. Throughout the wanderings of the children of Israel in the wilderness for all those forty years, they were under the disfavor of God. They didnt circumcise their men because they saw themselves as, in a sense, outside of Gods grace, at least His grace as far as that covenant was concerned, so it was overlooked.
Theres an interesting passage that underscores that in the book of Exodus 4. At first appearance it seems to be sort of a mysterious and out of place little episode. Here we have Moses, and hes on his way to deliver the children of Israel out of bondage in Egypt. God has given him his orders, but he has not been among Gods people for years. He has not married of Gods people; he married a Midianite woman, so now business has to be taken care of.
Then Moses proceeded on to meet with Aaron, and to begin dealing with the children of Israel and to get them out of the land. Whats going on here? Abraham predated Moses by 600 years. You cannot be Gods person in this economy without being circumcised. Moses has married a woman to whom circumcision was nothing, and we can understand by this little spat that it was an issue with them. Moses understood the significance of circumcision. Zipporah is saying, "Whats the point?" So God said, "We go no further. As a matter of fact, Moses, I can replace you if you dont deal with the sign of the covenant here and now." So Zipporah said, "Ah, nuts," and took care of it herself.
"Bridegroom of blood" -- a tough mark of the covenant.
So, now we come to Joshua 5. Much of what Moses went through, Joshua did also. Here in Joshua 5, all that is going on, is that the covenant is reaffirmed. Its a confirmation of Joshuas taking Moses place, a reminder that God had gone nowhere, that He was still there and the contract was still in effect. The people were getting back to where God wanted them to be; the males are circumcised. They now are outwardly identified as the people of God. They are prepared to move forward. The point is, if you want security in the Lord as Gods people, if you want to know God is with you, be sure that the covenant is reaffirmed.
There is much security in a covenant, much security in a contract. Sometimes thats all we have. "But we made a deal, we signed a paper," and sometimes that takes us even to a court of law in order to enforce the terms of a covenant, of a contract. And thats exactly whats going on here. This is an outward sign for the nations well being before God, and sometimes this gets confusing for Gods people because God dealt, in these chapters of the Bible, with Israel as a nation. Not everything that God dealt with as a nation transfers to the individual believer. This is a national issue here. These are Gods people so if they want as a nation to occupy the land that God has specifically set out for them, then this they must do.
The Bible writers, though, were fully aware that simply being circumcised, while it may identify a person with the nation of Israel, and while it may get that person across the Jordan and into the Promised Land and beyond Jericho, that doesnt get a person to heaven. Thats why the prophets, Ezekiel and Jeremiah and Amos, would come back to the notion of circumcision of the heart being what God is really interested in. Where is your heart? Even a pagan who is physically uncircumcised, if his heart is circumcised, in other words, made right with God, then heaven awaits.
The Bible always brings us back to the heart issue. Heavens requirements, doesnt enter in at this point, under this covenant. The requirement to get to heaven comes under what we call the New Covenant, and the New Covenant is introduced as a covenant of the heart and referred to as a circumcision of the heart. Its on this side of the cross.
I want to introduce you to a passage of scripture in the book of Colossians, which I find to be a very interesting connection with where we are. In Colossians 2, theres a transition that has occurred between the Old Testament economy and that of the New. Now were not dealing only with the ethnic Israelites, now were dealing with the nations of the world. Weve moved beyond the outward sign of physical circumcision. The emphasis of the Scripture is on the disposition of the heart. In Colossians 2, beginning in verse 9, watch the transition that the apostle makes:
A supernatural one. In Him youve had surgery, but not a physical surgery; a circumcision made without hands and the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ. What does he mean? He tells us in verse 12:
This means, that as far as Jesus and the apostles and the early church and the Christian church are concerned, baptism -- and were talking now about water baptism by immersion -- takes the place of circumcision. In what sense? As an outward sign, an outward symbol, outward gesture of an inward desire of the heart and commitment to the Lord, basically the same thing that was enjoined upon the children of Israel in Joshua 5.
Circumcision now, according to the apostle Paul, is represented in the waters of baptism;
not going into the water of baptism in order to become a Christian, but going into the water to identify with the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Saying, "If Im in Him, and He lives forever, so do I." The outward sign for us today is baptism, according to the Scriptures.
Ongoing preparation, all the time, knowing that God is ahead of us. Only once ought we need to be baptized. The surgery that these gentlemen endured many years ago, was only one surgery. Beyond that, they are forever identified as sons of the children of Israel.
Joshua 5:9-12 --- Maintenance on Occasion
Our third point of emphasis has to do with "Maintenance on Occasion." Beginning in verse 9, we come to what I would call a living memorial, on occasion, a once in a while memorial. Look what happens, beginning in verse 9:
The manna ceased at that time. No more manna on the ground. Theyre now in the land. Heres the living memorial, and this is what I mean by living memorial -- three reminders here of what God has done.
First, is in this notion of Gilgal. Now that you have crossed the river, now that you have renewed your identification as the covenant people of God, now that thats done, the reproach of Egypt has rolled off of you. What does that mean? In Exodus 32, there are a couple of references for this. Here is the concern expressed by Moses in verse 12. This is right after the golden calf, and God is ready to wipe these people out.
Why? Because Your reputation with the Egyptians is at stake. In Numbers 14, thats elaborated just a bit, making God look like Someone Who doesnt keep His word. In Numbers 14:13, Moses is again pleading for the people after they decide they dont want to go into Canaan. This is just before they took their 38 years around Mount Sinai.
Theyll say, "He didnt keep His promises. He promised to take them out; He promised to get them through; He promised to get them into the land." Now if you slay them, Lord, what will that do? That will bring reproach upon Your name from Egypt!
But they come to Gilgal, they cross the river, they undergo circumcision and God says, "There, I did it. All that nonsense talk about Me not keeping My promise that would come from the Egyptians, is silenced because youre here and well call the place Gilgal, meaning, A rolling away. I rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you."
Secondly, we have the manna ceasing. They have years to remember Gods gracious provision of that staple food while they wandered in the wilderness. Thats gone now and theyre beginning, as He promised, to eat of the produce of the land.
They remember His gracious provision, but really, the centerpiece of these verses is the Passover. According to Scripture, the uncircumcised arent supposed to celebrate the Passover. Thats been taken care of and now theyre in the land, and annually they reinstitute their feast that does two things for them. It points them back to the way that God miraculously pulled them out of Egypt, rescued them, delivered them from Egypt, and it points them to the future, to the Messiah Who would one day for real, pay for their sins.
The Passover is really what this is all about, and the Passover is then their periodic exercise of maintenance, if you will, where regularly on the calendar they stop and look back and look forward.
I look at Luke chapter 22 and think, "Whats that for us?" Jesus tells us in Luke 22, beginning in verse 14, a passage with which we ought to be quite familiar:
Do you see whats happened here? In one quick narrative story passage in Joshua, we see circumcision and we see Passover, and, as far as the New Testament addresses the issue, how readily we see circumcision for us is baptism; Passover for us is the Lords Supper. The point of both is the same. Its to recall to us one time in baptism, and periodically, over time in the Lords Supper, to recall to us the reminder of what He has done, and to point us to the future, to what Hes yet going to do. Its our maintenance schedule from God, and I think its wonderful!
Well have baptism today; in two Sundays well celebrate the Lords Supper. It didnt just begin here, though. It didnt even just begin with Jesus and the apostles; it began long before, when Gods people first realized that they needed to focus on Him regularly to be maintained for the obstacles that would lie ahead.
© Jim Carlson 2003, Lone Rock Bible Church, Stevensville Montana, USA