Day 52--Moving Day!--"Holy Places" Joshua 4:1 - 6:27
February 21, 2021, 6:00 AM

Day 52—Moving Day—“Holy Places” Joshua 4:1 – 6:27

A lot can happen in three chapters, even though they are short!

The first is the establishment of a cairn, a pile of rocks with great significance to the Israelites. Note that they aren’t made into an altar—God does not want his people to stop there—but they are created for story-telling, for history-telling, and they are placed so the people themselves do not forget the providence of God in bringing them safely through the waters twice. I did notice that the Levites carrying the ark had to stand on the dry river bed the entire time that the people crossed over, which was different than the Red Sea crossing when there was no ark to carry. The ark, the symbol of the presence of God, becomes the central touchstone for the people, and it reminds them that God is present with them. However, the priests had to stand there while thousands of people crossed over, and then they had to continue standing there, bearing the burden of the ark, until the 12 stones were chosen for the cairn.

And the LORD tells them, reminds them of their story: the river was dried up by God for the crossing into the Promised Land so that “all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the LORD is mighty.” (4:24)

Then the entire camp is circumcised out of obedience to the covenant with God. I found it hard to believe that they needed to be reminded of this since the covenant with Abraham had occurred so long ago, and was central to their identity as a people group, but perhaps that is the sign that people will naturally ‘forget’ the ways of God over time. God reminds them, and they comply.

Quietly then, the manna dries up as the people find adequate food in the new land, and they celebrate the first Passover, which must have been a great celebration. Slowly, the new nation is finding a home, creating a home and they are continually reminded to center their community around the God who saved them, indicating to me a kind of super-patience in God’s temperament. He has to keep reminding them, reminding them. In our Eucharistic prayer we recite our own history:  “Again and again You [God] called us to return…” and it is still true in our own lives today.

In the midst of all this, before the famous battle of Jericho, the Commander of the Lord’s Army appears. Even those words sound so important on their own, don’t they? But Joshua marches right up to that angel holding a sword and asks him “Are you a friend or an enemy?” Talk about bravery! But Joshua completely trusts that God is with him and with the people of Israel. The angel says something familiar to Joshua “Remove your sandals, for where you stand is holy”(5:15) Remember that the same words were said to Moses at the burning bush. Joshua is clearly being presented as Moses 2.0, or as the new Moses.

Why is this interlude tucked in here? Because this encounter comes before the first great battle that the Israelites will face, and Joshua is being reminded that God goes with him, but also that God is holy, holier, holiest. Joshua’s successes will be based on his obedience to God, and the obedience of the people with him. Joshua passes the test, such as it is, and the next episode features the great noisy parade that resulted in the walls falling down so that the people of Israel could rush in and overcome the inhabitants.

How much do we ‘check in’ with God before big events, whether those are happy or challenging events? What does it mean for us to be obedient in our modern world where everything is literally at our fingertips as we order our food, our clothing, our wine, our books, our cars online? This ability in our now isolated world allows us to create our own environment in a way that may cause us to ‘forget’ who God is, to give up our rituals, to depend on technology to satisfy and reward us. C’mon, who doesn’t love seeing those cardboard boxes sitting at the door when you come home? Even when you have ordered the things in the boxes yourself, it still feels exciting, a little like Christmas, doesn’t it?

Today I also think about the obedience of Rahab, the prostitute who feared God, who protected the spies Joshua sent out to Jericho, who put herself at grave risk in order to do the work of God. She was not respected or held in high esteem. She remained, as far as we know, a prostitute until her rescue. Rahab had genuine faith, and her faith allowed her to be the only recorded survivor of the raid of Jericho. Rahab, the least likely among women, becomes a recorded ancestor of Jesus. It is her name that survives in the genealogy of Jesus, one of only two women mentioned besides Mary. (see Matthew 1:6) The least, the lost and the left out. God continues to bless a wider margin, and to see more clearly than we can ever see ourselves.

Be blessed, and be a blessing to others,

ML

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