“…When you see the Levitical priests carrying the Ark of the Covenant of the LORD your God, move out from your positions and follow them. Since you have never traveled this way before, they will guide you….” “…Purify yourselves, for tomorrow the LORD will do great wonders among you.” (Joshua 3:3-5 NLT) The big day – the day they were to enter into the Promised Land – was now just one day away. Over fourteen thousand days had passed since their journey began, and only one day remained. i have no idea the journey that you are currently on, but i would venture that for most of you, the journey has been a whole lot less than fourteen thousand days. And though it may seem that you have been walking this path for that long – or longer – and whether God is now enabling you to cross over into the promise He has given you – or that time is still in the future – be mindful that you have not passed this way before.
You are journeying into the unknown. There are barriers ahead – those you can see (like the Jordan River and the city of Jericho), and those you have not yet seen. There are adversaries ahead – those that will be obvious (like the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Hivites and the termites) and those that will not be so obvious (like the Gibeonites – which we will look at later). God has never said that His promise ahead would be absent of barriers and adversaries. However, He has said that He will never leave you or forsake you (Hebrews 13:5). And just like the day in this passage on the banks of the Jordan River, He has promised that He will go before you and go with you.
A significant change has just taken place in the journey of the Israelites. For forty years they have been led in their journey by a pillar of cloud or a pillar of fire. Wherever God has led the people, a pillar has gone before them. Now, as they prepare to cross the Jordan, God makes no mention of a pillar. The pillar has been a clear indication of His direction and His presence. The Ark – representing the covenant (His Word) between God and His people – will now go before them. His Word will now be leading the way – heralding His promise that if He “is for us, who can be against us” (Rom 8:31) – and marking out the path before them. Inside the Ark were the tablets containing the Law. On the outside was the mercy seat – representing God’s judgment and grace. Together, the Ark was the picture of God’s divine law under His judgment and grace – a perfect representation of not only His presence but also His favor. It is a picture to us of the embodiment of His Word and His Spirit as He leads and directs us in our steps.
When they saw the Ark move, the people were to follow it. This is an important distinction. The people were not taking the Ark with them; rather, they were following the Ark. It was not their role to establish the direction and then justify it with the presence of the Ark. Rather they were to walk fully-surrendered and under the complete direction of the Ark. Our pride rebels against doing that. We are willing to cry out to God to ask for His wisdom as long as we get to make the decision. But the point of following the Ark was that God made the decisions! They were to follow His Word, walk under His grace and be led by His Spirit. Does that mean that they were to be mindless drones? No, it means they were to be children and servants of the Most High God walking in wisdom, which begins in the fear of the Lord (Proverbs 1:7 NKJ). They were to walk as far as He directed in the path He directed, and no further until He led further.
And they were to keep a clear distance between themselves and the Ark. i believe there are three visuals that result from this distance. First, the Ark did not require the protection of the Israelites, rather they required the protection of the Ark. God’s Word, leadership and direction in our lives does not require our defense or protection, rather we are to align our lives with His Word, His Spirit and His leadership and live and rest under the shadow of the Almighty (Psa 91:1). There are times that God will clearly direct you to do things that make no earthly sense. But you know that you are doing exactly what God has directed you to do. Resist the temptation to “defend” God’s Word. If you have clearly heard from His Word, and He has affirmed that direction through godly counsel and circumstance, follow Him boldly – clearly articulating His Word and His direction – and setting it before you so that others can know it. Then allow Him to protect and defend His own Word.
Second, setting the Ark a clear distance ahead enabled the Israelites to clearly see His direction. Continue to stay in a position to His Word, His Spirit and His leadership in such a way that YOU are following Him – not turning to the side, not running ahead, but staying on pace with Him – keeping Him clearly in your sights.
Third, setting the Ark a clear distance ahead insured that others saw that it was the God of Israel who was leading. Make sure that you are walking in a way that clearly communicates that your life and walk are in complete alignment with His Word, His Spirit and His leadership. Do not make compromises that detract from His leadership.
In that regard, Joshua admonished the people to purify themselves – to be prepared to follow the Ark. He assured them – just as we need to be assured – that the Lord would do great wonders before them and in their midst. They – and you – are walking in a way that you have never gone before. There are no other tracks to follow or on which to rely. That can be a scary place – but take heart in Who you are following.
Separate yourself from anything that will distract you or cloud your vision. The fact that there are “no tracks to follow” may in fact help us on this point. Stay focused on the One who is leading, not the journey itself or the distractions along the way.
And lastly, be mindful that as He goes before you; He is wholly-devoted to you. He has extended His love, His grace and His mercy – even His own Son – that you might walk clothed in His righteousness in a relationship with Him. He chose you. He saved you. He goes before you. The path that He is leading you on right now – whatever it is – God can accomplish whatever needs to be accomplished. He can do it without us. But we cannot do it without Him! Stop, right now – acknowledge Him! You have not passed this way before. But by His grace, He is going before you. And He will lead you through!
(Excerpt from “Lessons Learned In The Wilderness — Possessing The Promise”. For more information about the book see http://www.wildernesslessons.com/Possessing_The_Promise.html.)