Joshua's first command to the people of Israel seems clear enough. Yes, he had given instructions to the spies he sent into the Promised Land ahead of the nation. But, Joshua 3:5 is the first of many commands that he gave to the nation at large. He commanded them to---
Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do wonders among you.
There's been a good bit of debate about the actual meaning of the Hebrew word qadash in this particular context. There's little doubt that the word usually describes acts of purification, sanctification, or cleansing. When used at Exodus 19:10-15 it described the process by which the nation of Israel could be ritually clean prior to approaching Mount Sinai and waiting for Moses and Aaron to receive the law from God. In the Exodus passage three days permitted them to set limits around the mountain, wash their clothing and belongings, and abstain for sexual relations. It should be noted that Moses consecrated the people at Mount Sinai.
In the commanded consecration at the Jordan River the people were to consecrate themselves. The question for me is whether or not this was a ceremonial cleansing or something more intensely personal. Did Joshua command the people to go through an elaborate ritual of sanctification, or to do something less external and more intentionally personal? it's a consideration for any of us entering the unknowns, even the unexplored territory of a New Year.
One of the commentators indicated that this time of consecration was more of the internal type of personal consecration. More than a liturgical step-by-step process of purification it was the people composing their hearts and minds to hear from God and see him. This first command was more about separating themselves from the many distractions they would experience so that they could be attuned to God. Surely they would be concerned with the matters of warfare, the safety and welfare of their families, the joys of finally occupying the land promised to their forefather Abraham. Joshua's first command wasn't so much about an order of worship, the sacrifice of animals, or the legalistic demands of pleasing God. In one day they were to consecrate themselves. It must have been a command of readiness, that they should be prepared to witness what God was going to do in their lives.
Joshua knew that the Lord would do wonders among them as they crossed the Jordan River in harvest season and conquered the inhabitants of the land. He also knew their tendency to miss the miraculous wonders God performed, to attribute their victorious entrance to the Promised Land to their military skill and expertise, and to be so entangled in the metrics of their advance that they would misinterpret God's action on their behalf. Fast forward to Judges 2: 10 to see the new generation that neither knew the Lord or what he had done to deliver the nation of Israel! Joshua's command to "consecrate yourselves..." was a command for them to shift away from the common so that they could commune with the Holy God. English theologian Alexander Maclaren wrote, "The best security for tomorrow's wonders is today's sanctifying".
Entering a New Year may not be as dangerous or threatening as crossing the Jordan River to begin life in a land occupied by seven other people groups. But, the first command of Joshua is one that strikes my heart strongly in the first days of 2018. The holiness of God, in fact, is a distant theological consideration for contemporary Christians. Up front most of us would confess a total inability to be sanctified enough for communion with God. But, there's a truth here too. Most of us are so worldly that we can no longer detect the hand or voice of God in the madness of life. The idea of consecration may actually be the New Year adjustment of our minds and hearts so we can hear his voice and detect his hand in the congested freeways of life. Moving into the unknown of a New Year may require some similar separation from the distractions that could prevent us from seeing and hearing God.
it is a strong new Testament theme, our positioning to see God's hand and hear his voice. In the din of everyday life we're supposed to be "slow to speak and quick to listen..." (James 1:19). As Paul reminded Timothy "No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him" (2 Timothy 2:4, ESV). With Simon Peter we know, "As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance , but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in your conduct..." (1 Peter 1: 14-15, ESV).
Entering the unknowns of a New Year or a new land requires that we be alert and attentive to God's presence and guidance. He desires to accomplish wonders among us. And, we should be prepared to note them and glorify him as the one whose presence and guidance leads us.
Happy New Year. Welcome to 2018. Enter the unknown with his presence, guidance, and a consecrated heart and mind. Rejoice and be glad.
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