Moses is dead.
I hope this didn’t come as a shock to you. It’s been in the news for almost 3500 years.
Moses was preceded in death by his forefathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who were given the following promise in Genesis 13:14-17 –
The Lord said to Abram, after Lot had separated from him, “Now lift up your eyes and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward; for all the land which you see, I will give it to you and to your descendants forever. I will make your descendants as the dust of the earth, so that if anyone can number the dust of the earth, then your descendants can also be numbered. Arise, walk about the land through its length and breadth; for I will give it to you.”
The Lord will give Abram the Promised Land, but it came with a caveat. Genesis 15:13-16.
God said to Abram, “Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, where they will be enslaved and oppressed four hundred years. But I will also judge the nation whom they will serve, and afterward they will come out with many possessions. As for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you will be buried at a good old age. Then in the fourth generation they will return here, for the iniquity of the Amorite is not yet complete.”
If you’re reading your bible chronologically, Jacob’s brothers threw him in a well, he was taken to Egypt where he became Pharaoh’s Vice President, and eventually Jacob’s brothers and their father Isaac relocated to Egypt because of a great famine. And they liked the neighborhood so much, they stayed in Egypt for 400 years, fulfilling the first part of this prophecy.
But it turned out to be a trap.
Pharaoh enslaved the Israelites living there. Then the people cried out and the Lord heard their calls, and the Lord raised up Moses to free His people. In Exodus 3:7-9, God tells Moses it’s time to complete this prophecy,
The Lord said, “I have surely seen the affliction of My people who are in Egypt, and have given heed to their cry because of their taskmasters, for I am aware of their sufferings. So I have come down to deliver them from the power of the Egyptians, and to bring them up from that land to a good and spacious land, to a land flowing with milk and honey, to the place of the Canaanite and the Hittite and the Amorite and the Perizzite and the Hivite and the Jebusite. Now, behold, the cry of the sons of Israel has come to Me; furthermore, I have seen the oppression with which the Egyptians are oppressing them.
Therefore, come now, and I will send you to Pharaoh, so that you may bring My people, the sons of Israel, out of Egypt.”
The Lord then freed them from Pharaoh. The Israelites left Egypt after Passover, crossed the Red Sea, collected the Ten Commandments, they did not pass God, and the Lord brought the Israelites into a covenant relationship unto himself. But then the Israelites created idol worship in the form of a golden calf because they are a stiff-necked people. To once again purify His people, the Israelites wandered in the wilderness for 40 years while the old, rebellious generation died off. Including Moses.
The year is approximately 1400 B.C., maybe 1370 B.C. Moses has just passed away at the ripe old age of 120 years old and buried at the top of Mount Nebo in Moab.
And then I went down the rabbit trail. Sometimes I get so caught up in interesting information that has nothing to do with the lesson, and I learned a great deal about Moses. Which isn’t important to today’s lesson because…
Moses is dead.
But in the past when I’ve gone down the rabbit trail, some of you have told me you like coming with me in case we catch a rabbit, so I’m going to share a view things I learned about Moses. First, Moses is dead.
We know that because of Deuteronomy 34:5-7,
So Moses the servant of the Lord died there in the land of Moab, according to the word of the Lord. And He buried him in the valley in the land of Moab, opposite Beth-peor; but no man knows his burial place to this day. Although Moses was one hundred and twenty years old when he died, his eye was not dim, nor his vigor abated.
Before he died, there were some odd facts –
- Moses probably stuttered. Exodus 4:10, Moses said, “O Lord, I’m not very good with words. I never have been, and I’m not now, even though you have spoken to me. I get tongue-tied, and my words get tangled.”
- Moses led the Exodus when he was 80 years old. I’m doing the MS150 at the age of 58 and it doesn’t seem like such an accomplishment when I think of how old Moses was.
- Moses was scared of snakes. In Exodus 4:3, the Lord tells Moses to throw his staff on the ground. It turned into a snake and Moses ran away.
- Moses had leprosy for probably 3 seconds in Exodus 4:6. The Lord gave it, and the Lord took it away.
- During the Exodus, Moses’ wife and sons were not with him. He sent them to live with his father-in-law. His wife and sons returned to him after the Exodus at the base of Mount Sinai, Exodus 18:7.
- Most Renaissance statues of Moses depict him with horns like a bull. Here is Michelangelo’s sculpture of Moses. This is because of a terrible translation of the original Hebrew. Exodus 34:29 says when Moses came down from Mount Sinai his face shown, like with rays from the sun. But the Latin translation from the Hebrew used a word that could also mean “horned,” as if on a bull. So for centuries, Moses was shown with horns.
So these are the interesting things about Moses before he died. But then after the death of Moses – because, after all, Moses is dead – came these odd facts –
- Michael the archangel and the Satan fought over the body of Moses. Really. Jude 1:9, “But Michael the archangel, when he disputed with the devil and argued about the body of Moses, did not dare pronounce against him a railing judgment, but said, ‘The Lord rebuke you!’”
- Moses was resurrected before Christ. In the Old Testament, we know that Elijah was taken up to heaven, bypassing death. And we know that Moses died, according to Deuteronomy 34 which we just read a few moments ago. All other old testament righteous Jews went to paradise or “Abraham’s bosom” and they wait for the second coming of Jesus, but Moses was resurrected and appeared with Elijah before Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration in Matthew 17:2-3. There was a whole ‘nother rabbit hole of the differences between sheol, hades, hell, heaven, and the lake of fire that I also went down at this point but if we want to finish before the Methodists, I’m going to have to wrap this part up.
- One last thing, I think there’s still one more task for Moses. In Revelation 11, there are two witnesses that prophecy of the tribulation. Most scholars believe these are again Elijah and Moses because of the miracles they perform in Revelation and that the last chapter of the Old Testament, Malachi 4:4-6, mentions Elijah and Moses together in the end times. And I did not go down the Revelation rabbit hole because I’ve peeked down that hole and it’s a very long, long, long rabbit hole.
So after finishing these 3 rabbit holes of Moses, Hades vs Hell, and the book of Revelation, where were we? Oh yes.
Moses is dead.
In the book of Joshua we see a new generation of Israelites, poised at the edge of the Jordan River, preparing to cross into their new beginning and take possession of the land. The Promise is about to be fulfilled. But who would lead them? Somebody new must take the place of Moses to lead the people to the Promised Land. There was one young politician that was a possibility, named Bernie Sanders, but since he was only in his 20’s at this time, he was considered too young and inexperienced.
So who led them into the Promised Land? I’ll give you a hint. We’re studying the book of Joshua, so the new leader is… Joshua. Joshua is first introduced to us as Moses’ assistant in Exodus, and in Joshua 1 we see he is now the leader of the people, and the Lord now speaks to Joshua in the opening verses of Joshua 1:1-4:
Now it came about after the death of Moses the servant of the Lord, that the Lord spoke to Joshua the son of Nun, Moses’ servant, saying, “Moses My servant is dead; now therefore arise, cross this Jordan, you and all this people, to the land which I am giving to them, to the sons of Israel. Every place on which the sole of your foot treads, I have given it to you, just as I spoke to Moses. From the wilderness and this Lebanon, even as far as the great river, the river Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites, and as far as the Great Sea toward the setting of the sun will be your territory.
And the Lord gives Joshua specific instructions for taking possession of their new land in the next 3 verses, Joshua 1:5-7:
No man will be able to stand before you all the days of your life. Just as I have been with Moses, I will be with you; I will not fail you or forsake you. Be strong and courageous, for you shall give this people possession of the land which I swore to their fathers to give them. Only be strong and very courageous; be careful to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, so that you may have success wherever you go.
God had kept His promise to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Moses. Abraham’s children may have numbered in the millions already, and they were on the brink of entering the Promised Land. And now, the Lord will use Joshua to lead the Israelites to take possession of the land. The Lord affirms that the time is now for Joshua to step out in faith, to step into His new purpose, and to lead the Israelites into the Promised Land.
To take the first step toward this new beginning, Joshua believed the Word of God. Joshua trusted the promises of God. And Joshua’s belief determined his behavior. He was ready for the next step, to step out in faith across the River Jordan.
Let’s have a short show and tell about the River Jordan.
Its Hebrew names is נְהַר הַיַּרְדֵּן Nahar ha-Yarden; the river runs 156 miles north to south through the Sea of Galilee and ends in the Dead Sea. Despite the old song that says the river is deep, the river is wide, the Jordan River is neither; the river is about 30 feet across and six feet deep.
Here’s a before and after picture when Diane and I went to Israel. This is before being baptized in the River Jordan…
…And this is after being baptized. Now, both of us had already been baptized earlier in our Christian life, but neither of us wanted to pass up the opportunity to get baptized in the same water that Jesus did.
Apparently there are no baptisms allowed except in designated areas, so be forewarned.
So up until this time, the Israelites had been wandering in the wilderness, led by a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night, eating manna day in and day out. The time had come for them to step out in faith, step into the purpose and promise of God, and take the land that He promised them. It was time to cross the River Jordan. But are they ready for their next step?
Set Our Eyes on Him
The first step for Joshua and the people were to make sure their eyes were set upon the Lord. Joshua 3:1-4,
Then Joshua rose early in the morning; and he and all the sons of Israel set out from Shittim and came to the Jordan, and they lodged there before they crossed. At the end of three days the officers went through the midst of the camp; and they commanded the people, saying, “When you see the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God with the Levitical priests carrying it, then you shall set out from your place and go after it. However, there shall be between you and it a distance of about 2,000 cubits by measure. Do not come near it, that you may know the way by which you shall go, for you have not passed this way before.”
Joshua rose early – maybe not as early as I do. I like to say that I don’t mind waking up at 4:20am, but it comes so early in the morning. Anyway, Joshua rose early and ordered the camp to move alongside the Jordan River and camp there for three days.
As the tribes of Israel traveled through the wilderness, each tribe had an assigned place and an assigned order in the march. Since they had never come this way before, Joshua tells the people they would follow the Lord. The Lord will lead the way and guide them. The people were to remain 2,000 cubits behind, which is just over ½ mile. In metric units, that’s about 400 centipedes. Joshua wanted them to stay back so everybody could see the ark. If they crowded too close, only a few in the front could see it.
In Exodus 25, God provides instructions for building the ark of the covenant and verse 22 explains God’s presence:
There I will meet with you; and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim which are upon the ark of the testimony, I will speak to you about all that I will give you in commandment for the sons of Israel.
To the Israelites, the ark symbolizes God’s presence. God tells the priests to carry the ark and lead the people. God is saying, “I am with you.” God is letting them know that if they focused on Him, He would carry them into the Promised Land.
Set Ourselves Apart
Then Joshua said to the people, “Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do wonders among you.” And Joshua spoke to the priests, saying, “Take up the ark of the covenant and cross over ahead of the people.” So they took up the ark of the covenant and went ahead of the people.
This was both an order and a promise. Some of God’s promises are unconditional; they require only that we believe them. Other promises are conditional; certain conditions must be satisfied before the promise is met.
Joshua was making sure the Israelites’ hearts were ready for the next step through consecration. This was a process of bathing and changing clothes. It was symbolic of getting prepared for a new beginning. Before setting out on the Lord’s direction, the people had to be prepared.
Joshua understood that following the Lord successfully required preparation, a recognition that God is holy and lives should be properly prepared for the work ahead. This would allow the Israelites to prepare for a new life with the Lord.
Step Out in Faith
Now the Lord said to Joshua, “This day I will begin to exalt you in the sight of all Israel, that they may know that just as I have been with Moses, I will be with you. You shall, moreover, command the priests who are carrying the ark of the covenant, saying, ‘When you come to the edge of the waters of the Jordan, you shall stand still in the Jordan.’”
It was the responsibility of the priests to carry the ark of the covenant and go before the people as they marched. But there was still an obstacle in front of them – the River Jordan, which was wide and deep. After freeing the people from Pharaoh and giving them the Ten Commandments and proving manna in the wilderness, does God still provide miracles?
Then Joshua said to the sons of Israel, “Come here, and hear the words of the Lord your God.” Joshua said, “By this you shall know that the living God is among you, and that He will assuredly dispossess from before you the Canaanite, the Hittite, the Hivite, the Perizzite, the Girgashite, the Amorite, and the Jebusite. Behold, the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth is crossing over ahead of you into the Jordan. Now then, take for yourselves twelve men from the tribes of Israel, one man for each tribe. It shall come about when the soles of the feet of the priests who carry the ark of the Lord, the Lord of all the earth, rest in the waters of the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan will be cut off, and the waters which are flowing down from above will stand in one heap.”
Living faith always leads to action, and action always requires a first step. Joshua reminds the people that they serve a living God who is able to do abundantly more than they can even imagine.
Step Into the Promise
So when the people set out from their tents to cross the Jordan with the priests carrying the ark of the covenant before the people, and when those who carried the ark came into the Jordan, and the feet of the priests carrying the ark were dipped in the edge of the water (for the Jordan overflows all its banks all the days of harvest), the waters which were flowing down from above stood and rose up in one heap, a great distance away at Adam, the city that is beside Zarethan; and those which were flowing down toward the sea of the Arabah, the Salt Sea, were completely cut off. So the people crossed opposite Jericho. And the priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord stood firm on dry ground in the middle of the Jordan while all Israel crossed on dry ground, until all the nation had finished crossing the Jordan.
Most of the year, the Jordan River was about thirty feet wide, but during flood season, the river could overflow its banks and expand to about a mile wide. For three days, the Israelites camped beside the river, watching the impassable waters, hearing the rush of the river all hours of the day and night, not knowing how they were going to cross. It was a tremendous obstacle.
But God’s plan was simple. God said, “Set your eyes on me. Consecrate yourselves. And trust Me.” As the priests led the way by stepping out in faith into the waters, the Lord responded with a miracle, stopping the flow of water. With each step, the water rose up, many miles away. Commentators say Zarethan was 30 miles upstream. God made a wide path for His two million Promised Land people to take their next step.
We see in verse 15 that the feet of the priests were “dipped in the edge of the water” until they were standing on dry ground in the middle of the river. It was the smallest of steps, but it was enough to begin a mighty miracle. Through the obedient feet of the priests, stepping out in faith and into His promise, the way was opened for them all to move forward.
What Does It Mean?
The Israelites crossed the River Jordan and camped at Gilgal where they erected a stone memorial to commemorate God’s deliverance of the Promised Land. After instructing the people to focus on the Lord and consecrate themselves for a new beginning, Joshua instructed the Levite priests to pick up the ark of the covenant and step into the River Jordan. When they did, like the parting of the Red Sea, the water stopped and allowed the people to cross.
So what does it all mean? Can we learn faith and obedience from Joshua?
First, we should focus our eyes on what the Lord wants from us. In the familiar story from Matthew 14, Jesus walks on the water. Peter is a lot like all of us, I believe. We, too want to be like Christ. So Peter calls out to Jesus and says, “Let me walk on the water, too!” And he does. But then he takes his eyes off Jesus and immediately begins to sink.
The world tells us that we should be rich. Or powerful. Or successful or beautiful or funny or outgoing or anything. This is not the word of the Lord, and it distracts us from Him. And we help the world by filling our minds with junk. Xfinity and Netflix, Youtube and Hulu and Disney and a thousand other distractions. When our eyes are on the world, they are not on Christ. And when our eyes are on Christ, they are not on the world.
Then, like the Israelites, we prepare ourselves for our New Beginning. We consecrate ourselves. But most of us, me included, spend way too much time holding on to our old life. We have a new beginning in Christ. 2 Corinthians 5:17 says,
Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.
Yet when we walk outside of the church doors, I bet our neighbors and coworkers see more of our old life than our new life. I have already entered into eternity with Christ Jesus, yet I’m still dragging around my earthly possessions, still gossiping about others, expressing indignation and unforgiveness over the slightest infraction. Who am I? Am I still in the world? Or have I consecrated myself for the One who purchased me with His blood?
Prepare ourselves by filling us with the Word every day and putting on the whole armor of God. Be prepared for the day that God has given us.
Once I’m focused on the Lord’s will and dedicated myself to His purposes, it’s time for me to step out in faith. An important observation about our study of Joshua 3 is that the water didn’t first stop, and then the people crossed. Oh no, they had to step into the water first, then the water stopped. God is capable of every miracle imaginable, but he wants us to trust Him. Step into the water, and trust God that He will act.
It is time for us to get our feet wet. Many of us are still sitting by our River Jordan, watching the river flow by and waiting for some sort of sign it’s time to step up. But God will never show us the way if we’re not going anywhere.
So until we are willing to step out in faith and step into the purpose and promise God has for us, our new beginning won’t be in the here and now, this very minute, our present. Our new beginning will only be in our future. It’s a waste of this very minute of time, this very breath that the good Lord gave us.
But if we focus on the Lord, remove earthly distractions, and take that first step in faith, God will stop the river, He will part the sea, He will move the mountains, He will slay the giants, and He still the storms.
If only there was some song that captured the essence of stepping into the River Jordan in faith…
Step out in faith, sanctified and focused, and see the miracles God will do.
If only there was a song that captured stepping into the River Jordan in faith…
Are we in? Focus, Get Prepared, and Dive in. And All God’s people said…
To God be the glory. Amen.