3:7 - 4:3
text this morning comes from Joshua. When you think of Joshua,
what is the first thing that comes to your mind? The battle of
Jericho, right? [even a song about it ..... "the walls come
tumbling down"]. Yeah, it's a great song. If you have
children in this age you've undoubtedly been exposed to
Veggie-Tales, a lot of our children watch, some teenagers and even some adults,
cute little version of the Battle of Jericho, with tomatoes and
cucumbers and ice cream being thrown over the walls.
reality is, if you know the story of Jericho in Joshua, it's a very
gruesome story. When the walls come down, it's not a pretty
picture. Men, women, and children alike are all massacred.
Even the animals -- all living things are killed in this holy war against
the inhabitants of Jericho. Save one household -- a prostitute of
all things, Rahab, and members of her household because they hid the
that Joshua had sent out. So it's not a pretty story. It's
not a children's story at all.
I have managed to avoid preaching on Jericho all these years in part
because it's so uncomfortable to talk about these things. But also
because the lectionary of Joshua falls typically in October when we're
doing our Fall financial campaign (this year we moved it earlier), so
now I'm dealing with all these texts I've never had to deal with before
because this is not the kind of story you want to use for a stewardship
campaign. I mean, if you took a model from Joshua, it would be
something like 'Give your money to God or else!'. It's probably
not the kind of image we want to portray during those stewardship
the battle of Jericho that seems so prominent in our minds does not
appear again in scripture outside of Joshua until we get almost to the
end of the Bible, in the letter of Hebrews in the New Testament, there's
one obscure reference to the conquest of Jericho. So biblically
speaking, the story of the fall of Jericho hardly registers a blip on
the radar screen of God's activity.
there is another event in the story of Joshua that is very prominent
throughout scripture, both in the Hebrew scripture and in the New
Testament. And that is actually the subject of this morning's
passage. But before I read it, I need to back up and give just a
little history and geography.
story of Joshua really begins back in Exodus. When Moses leads the
Hebrew slaves to freedom and of course across the Red Sea into the
wilderness where they wander for 40 years and then up the eastern slope
of the Dead Sea to the Jordan valley. It's there that Moses, the
last of the survivors out of Egypt, is allowed to see the promised land
but is not allowed to enter in. And that place where Moses sees
the promised land -- you know the name of it? Mt. Pisgah.
Yes, Mt. Pisgah, that's where Moses sees the promised land. That
was the inspiration from Elijah Bristow, why he named Mt. Pisgah (in our
area). Because this is the promised land.
all knew that, right?! At any rate, that is the image too that Martin
Luther King draws upon in that last sermon he gave before his
assassination. When he said to the congregation ". . that I
might not get to the promised land with you. But I've been to the
mountaintop, and I've seen the promised land, and I want you to know
that we as a people will get there. And so I'm happy tonight
because mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the
Lord". Then he was killed.
also then on the mount Moses dies, and the story comes to an end at the
conclusion of Deuteronomy, then Joshua begins. And Joshua opens,
after the death of Moses, the Lord speaks to Joshua and says "You
are to lead the people across the Jordan". Picking up then,
in chapter 3, we read that early in the morning Joshua rose and set out
from Shittim with all the Israelites, and they came to the
The LORD said to
Joshua, "This day I will begin to exalt you in the sight of all
Israel, so that they may know that I will be with you as I was with
Moses. 8You are the one who shall command the priests who bear the ark
of the covenant, 'When you come to the edge of the waters of the
Jordan, you shall stand still in the Jordan.'" 9Joshua then said
to the Israelites, "Draw near and hear the words of the LORD your
God." 10Joshua said, "By this you shall know that among you
is the living God who without fail will drive out from before you the
Canaanites, Hittites, Hivites, Perizzites, Girgashites, Amorites, and
Jebusites: 11the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth is
going to pass before you into the Jordan. 12So now select twelve men
from the tribes of Israel, one from each tribe. 13When the soles of
the feet of the priests who bear the ark of the LORD, the Lord of all
the earth, rest in the waters of the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan
flowing from above shall be cut off; they shall stand in a single
14 When the people set
out from their tents to cross over the Jordan, the priests bearing the
ark of the covenant were in front of the people. 15Now the Jordan
overflows all its banks throughout the time of harvest. So when those
who bore the ark had come to the Jordan, and the feet of the priests
bearing the ark were dipped in the edge of the water, 16the waters
flowing from above stood still, rising up in a single heap far off at
Adam, the city that is beside Zarethan, while those flowing toward the
sea of the Arabah, the Dead Sea, were wholly cut off. Then the people
crossed over opposite Jericho. 17While all Israel were crossing over
on dry ground, the priests who bore the ark of the covenant of the
LORD stood on dry ground in the middle of the Jordan, until the entire
nation finished crossing over the Jordan.
1When the entire nation had finished crossing over the Jordan, the
LORD said to Joshua: 2"Select twelve men from the people, one
from each tribe, 3and command them, 'Take twelve stones from here out
of the middle of the Jordan, from the place where the priests' feet
stood, carry them over with you, and lay them down in the place where
you camp tonight.'
then the story concludes at the end of chapter 4, beginning with verse
The people came up out
of the Jordan on the tenth day of the first month, and they camped in
Gilgal on the east border of Jericho.
20 Those twelve stones,
which they had taken out of the Jordan, Joshua set up in Gilgal,
21saying to the Israelites, "When your children ask their parents
in time to come, 'What do these stones mean?' 22then you shall let
your children know, 'Israel crossed over the Jordan here on dry
ground.' 23For the LORD your God dried up the waters of the Jordan for
you until you crossed over, as the LORD your God did to the Red Sea,
which he dried up for us until we crossed over, 24so that all the
peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the LORD is mighty, and
so that you may fear the LORD your God forever."
want you to take note, and just mark for the moment, we begin from
Shittim on the east side of the Jordan, and end up at Gilgal, on the west
side of the Jordan.
the text then draws the connection between the crossing of the Red Sea
and the crossing of the Jordan. The exodus experience begins with
the crossing of one body of water and then ends with the crossing of
another body of water, both in this miraculous fashion.
only does the parting of the water show that God is with the people, but
note also that it shows that God is now with Joshua as God was with
Moses. And by the way, this splitting of the river Jordan occurs
again with Elijah and Elisha in the 9th century (Joshua is about the
13th century B.C.E). Elijah, before he was taken up into heaven,
crosses the Jordan, splits the water, and he and Elisha pass through and
then is taken up by the chariots of fire. And then Elisha takes
the mantle of Elijah and to demonstrate that the power and spirit of God
is also with him, strikes the Jordan and it parts, he crosses then back
into Israel and continues the ministry and mission of Elijah.
the Jordan thus becomes a symbol of the fulfillment of God's promise,
and for the new identity of God's people, the former slaves are now free
citizens in their own land.
so the prophet Micah, in the 8th century B.C.E., when he recounts the
story of how God saved the people of Israel, led by Moses and Miriam
through the wilderness, tells them to remember not the fall of Jericho,
but what happened from Shittim to Gilgal. And therefore Micah
says, what does the lord require of you? But to do justice, to
love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.
Because the God we follow is a God who leads people from oppression to
justice. From slavery to freedom. From the wilderness to the
promised land. That is what crossing the Jordan ultimately means.
there's a side story here, a diversion, if you will, that sidetracks us
from this meaning. It is, I think, a perversion which remains
awkwardly to this day. Archeologists have been telling us for
several decades, from their excavations of Jericho and the other
surrounding areas, that though they have found physical evidence of
invasions and violent conquests throughout Palestine during ancient
times, they have found no such evidence in Jericho and the surrounding
cities during the time of Joshua in the 13th century. And
therefore have concluded that the conquest of the promised land, while
it may have involved military conquest, more likely was more of a
gradual acquisition through assimilation.
biblical scholars at the same time have been saying for decades that
Joshua was written to reflect the facts of the 7th century B.C.E under
King Josiah, rather than the history of the 13th century under the commander
Joshua. And in that 7th century, Josiah led a major
reform of the religious practices of ancient Israel, including the
purging of all foreign cults and elements from the nation. Thus
what appears as ethnic cleansing in Joshua -- the annihilation of men,
women, children, and even animals in towns like Jericho -- actually
represents a religious cleansing of all non-Hebrew elements rather than
the murder of innocent women, and children.
this historical fact has largely been ignored resulting in those who too
easily justify the occupation of foreign lands and the killing of
innocent people as the will of God. Be they terrorists or Kings or
Presidents. It was not the will of God in Joshua's day and I don't
believe it is the will of God in our day.
I've gotten a little ahead of myself. There's one more piece of
this river Jordan story we have to look at. We touched the 13th
century (B.C.E.) under Joshua, the 9th under Elijah, the 8th under
Micah, the 7th under Josiah. I want to take you now to the Jordan
valley in the first century of this era (C.E.) when Jews were once again
beholden to a foreign ruler, only this time Caesar in Rome. And
the hopes for a Messiah began to rise, that one would come and would
free them from the oppression of Rome. And indeed one is
proclaimed the Messiah, King of the Jews, or so the sign said that they
hung on the cross where they crucified Him.
the odd thing is that instead of disappearing, his small band of
followers grew and spread throughout the Roman Empire.
Proclaiming that God had raised this Messiah from the dead and that he
would return to usher in a new reign of God, here on earth.
the Greek-speaking world we know this Messiah by the name of
Jesus. Do you know his name in Hebrew? Joshua! Joshua
is the Hebrew name of Jesus. The conqueror of Palestine.
They proclaimed him the the same name as the conqueror of
Palestine. It's no wonder the Romans grew nervous and crucified
if you think that comparison of Jesus to Joshua is a little far-fetched,
consider this: when the gospel of Mark opens, were you paying
attention? Where does it occur? At the Jordan. It's at the
Jordan where Mark introduces this new Joshua. And recall then what
happens when the ark of the covenant enters the Jordan River, when
Elijah and Elisha cross the Jordan River. What happens when Jesus
enters the Jordan and is baptized by John -- do you remember? It's
not the waters that part. Mark 1, verse 10: "And
just as Jesus was coming out of the water he saw the heavens torn
You see, you can't read the introduction to Mark without thinking of
Joshua, calling that to mind, at least not if you're Jewish and you know
happens, then? Just when you think you know what Mark is going to
do next, he takes an unanticipated turn. Rather than going from
the wilderness across the Jordan into the promised land, Jesus does the
reverse -- he goes from the Jordan to the wilderness and spends 40 days
in the wilderness just as the Hebrews spent 40 years in the
wilderness. So then we would expect, well, OK, like Elisha, Jesus
is now going to cross back across the Jordan and enter into the promised
land again. But that's not what happens. Instead, Jesus
suddenly appears in Galilee without any crossing told, and he proclaims
the time has come, the Kingdom of God is near, repent and believe the
Jesus may be the new Joshua, but I think Mark wants us to be sure and to
understand that this Joshua is different. Instead of taking
the land by force, he takes it by teaching and love. Instead of
declaring holy war on the citizens of Jericho, he tells the story of a
citizen of Samaria on the road to Jericho who binds up the wounds
of ones left dead in a ditch. Instead of taking up the sword
against the pagan rulers, he heals the slave of a Roman soldier and
forgives his Roman crucifiers. Instead of cleansing Israel of all
foreigners, all foreigners are invited to join into this fellowship of
this new Joshua.
other words, Mark is telling us that this new Joshua is the old Joshua
in reverse. Which is why I think Jesus crosses the Jordan not from
East to West as Joshua did, but West to East. And why it's not the
river that parts, but the sky that parts.
cross the Jordan with Jesus, that is to be baptized with him, is to be a
disciple of the one who leads people from oppression to justice, from
slavery to freedom, from the wilderness to the promised land.
there was one person today that I would name as a symbol of this
crossing of the Jordan, that illustrates the meaning, I think it would
have to be Rosa
Parks. Not because she has now entered into that eternal rest and
has crossed the Jordan in that spiritual sense, but because she is one
who led the nation across that river to the promised land as seen by
Martin Luther King. And when she refused to move to the back of
the bus, was arrested for that crime, in so doing she exposed the real
crime, the injustice of racism.
think about this: Rosa Parks, today, this afternoon, will be
placed in state in the rotunda of the Capital (in Washington D.C.), the
very first woman of any race to be given that honor. I think she
should give us the courage to trust God and to dare to enter into those
chilly waters, to cross the river to the promised land, where God's
freedom and justice waits for all.
we have that faith too.