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Pastoral Reflection for December & January

Rev Kenneth I Macleod considers what lessons we may learn from Joshua and the Israelites crossing the Jordan, to encourage us as we step into 2021.

“Do not come near it (the ark), in order that you may know the way, for you have not passed this way before.” Joshua 3:4

As we move from 2020 into 2021, I thought that this verse was so appropriate. Whatever the situation or experience we are going through, there is always something in the Scriptures to guide and help us. The Book of Joshua is a thrilling and dynamic book. It’s a journey of progress, conquest and victory all undertaken by faith.

One of the key lessons in the book is discovering how important it is to follow God’s timetable and directions. It is a lesson that is absolutely essential for our journey of faith through this world. We have to learn to go at God’s pace and do just as He says. We want to do everything the way we want and when we want. However, that might not be God’s way.

Joshua and Israel learnt that the hard way, for example at Ai, when they didn’t wait on God’s time or direction, and suffered quite badly as a result. We can never tie God down to a particular timetable. Sometimes He works with amazing speed. Sometimes He works so slowly it would almost seem that for a long time, He is not working at all. There are other times and it would almost appear as if God was working against Himself. Sadly, sometimes during these times we begin to question God. We wonder has He forgotten about us. We can even question His knowledge and power. We really are so slow to learn and completely trust Him.

In Chapter 3, Joshua and all of Israel had come to the banks of the river Jordan and had camped for 3 days. The river at this time of year would have been a raging torrent of water – verse 15 shows how the Jordan had flooded her banks. For 3 days, Israel were left gazing at this rapid flowing river in full spate, wondering how on earth they were going to cross. There were old grandparents along with tiny children that would have to make their way across, along with everyone else.

From a human point of view, the longer they gazed on the flooded river the more impossible the crossing would appear. Through this, God was impressing upon Israel their own utter helplessness in the situation, and that if they were to cross into the land of promise, it could only come from the Lord’s enabling. God often does that with us too. In many different situations He brings us to the end of ourselves. As long as we feel that we are able to do, we will never trust the Lord entirely as we should. However, Joshua and Israel are looking only to the Lord. They have been learning that this is a spiritual journey. The preparation has to be spiritual. It also has to be spiritual with ourselves too, as we take on the mighty forces of atheism and humanism. There are great strongholds of apathy and idolatry filling our land, and only being well prepared spiritually gives us any hope against such formidable enemies.

As Israel prepare to cross the Jordan, focus is brought onto the ark of the covenant - a small chest of wood and overlaid with pure gold. Inside were the 2 tables of the law, along with a pot of manna and Aaron’s rod that blossomed. It had rings on it, where poles could be pushed in so that the priests could carry it. It was 45” long, 27” broad and 27” high. Covering the ark was the mercy seat; a plate of gold with 2 golden cherubim at either end. It was on the mercy seat the blood was sprinkled, on the great Day of Atonement.

The ark of course symbolised the presence of God. This became a pivotal moment for Israel, because up till now, the pillar of cloud by day and fire by night had been the guide Israel followed. Now God is requiring that they follow the ark held high by the priests. They had followed the ark before, as we read, for example, in Numbers chapter 10, of how the ark went before them to seek out a resting place. However, not only is the ark to be that which goes before them instead of the cloud, but the manna was about to stop, and they were going to be able to eat of the produce in the land of promise. So, as the priests carrying the ark step into the fast flowing waters, the waters stop, and they and all Israel cross. That is why this verse is so significant and true for them, “In order that you may know the way, for you have not passed this way before.”

As we leave behind a very difficult year and enter what appears to be an even more challenging year, with all the uncertainties that are before us, it is true that we have not passed this way before. It would be so depressing if we were to start listing all the difficulties and challenges, at every level, that appear to lie ahead. Now, while we have to be realistic, we have also to be spiritual. We are people of faith, just like Israel back then. They faced, naturally speaking, insurmountable challenges, but their eyes weren’t on the giants and the fortified cities that had broken the previous generation; their eyes were on the Lord. That is the all-important lesson. The priests, walking with the ark held shoulder high, had to walk about 900 metres ahead of the people. They walked that far ahead so that ALL the people could see the ark and follow the ark. That was key to their success.

This is THE ONLY WAY for us to go forward into this New Year as well. We must have our eyes fixed on Jesus and listen to what He says. Some may think when leading a military campaign that there should have been soldiers out front to protect the priests and the ark. No. It was the Presence of God symbolised in the ark That Was Protecting Them. God is our Protection. God is our Guide. God is our Salvation. God is our Hope. God is our future.

Let us pray our leaders may understand this. Let us pray that we truly lay this to heart. It is the only way forward. As we enter a new period in our lives may we truly follow the Shepherd, with our eyes fixed on Him. “When He has brought out all His own, He goes before them, and the sheep follow Him.” When people look to the Lord and implicitly trust Him, He consistently does great things for them.

I pray God’s rich blessing upon everyone throughout 2021.

Love and prayers, Kenny