Consecrate Yourselves (aka Don’t Do It for Johnny)

Have you ever used the phrase “Do it for Johnny”?  When I was about 10, I yelled this slogan in a soccer game, after one of our best players (named Johnny) left the game with an injury, not even knowing where the line came from.  Only recently I found out the line is from the movie version of The Outsiders, based on the book by S.E. Hinton.  As the character Dallas, Matt Dillon’s delivery of the line (9 second clip below) is classic and everyone should give it a try at least once.  I’ll wait if you want to do it now.

Now let’s return to the scene of yesterday’s post, where Joshua was about to lead Israel over the Jordan.  Imagine someone in the crowd yelling “let’s do it for Moses!”  In The Outsiders, Dallas was rallying his troops to action against a rival gang, who had killed Johnny, so maybe remembering that Moses didn’t make it would inspire Israel?  Sadly, that would be completely missing the point.

Knowing why has to do with knowing why Moses wasn’t there.  While leading Israel, he decided out of frustration to add his own input to God’s easy instructions.  The story is from Numbers 20, where Israel was in the wilderness, but there was no water (that they knew of).  Moses and Aaron, responding to the ongoing grumbling of the people, went to God asking for a solution.  God responded not with anger or judgement, but with a provision for His people.  Moses was told: “Take the staff, and assemble the congregation, you and Aaron your brother, and tell the rock before their eyes to yield its water. So you shall bring water out of the rock for them and give drink to the congregation and their cattle.[1]  What Moses actually did was to say “Hear now, you rebels: shall we bring water for you out of this rock?”  Then “Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock with his staff twice, and water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their livestock.[2]  Therefore, God told Moses he would die before Israel made it to the promised land “because you rebelled against my word in the wilderness of Zin when the congregation quarreled, failing to uphold me as holy at the waters before their eyes.”[3]

Why exactly Moses actions deserved such a harsh rebuke is debated, but it’s clear that Moses mixed what he wanted with what God told him to do, and therefore tried to take glory that belonged to God for himself.  Moses led God’s people for a time, but their success was from God.  Moses learned, and we learn through him, that honoring God first, above all others, is necessary to receive God’s promises.  No honor for God; no promised land.

In Joshua 3:5, Joshua tells the people before miraculously crossing the Jordan to “Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the LORD will do wonders among you.”  He was not telling them to consecrate themselves to Joshua as Moses’ replacement leader.  The point wasn’t to transfer loyalty from Moses to Joshua, but the point was to eliminate all loyalty other than to God.  Israel wasn’t supposed to consecrate itself to Moses, then when he was gone, consecrate itself to Joshua.  Israel needed to focus on glorifying God alone and eliminate any other motives from their hearts.  The first time Israel tried to enter the promised land, mixed motives resulted in 40 years wandering the wilderness.

So, whatever your preferred slogan, whether it’s: “Do it for Johnny”, “Do it for [insert any leader]” or “Let’s go [fill in the blank],”[4] it will be replaced with only one in eternity, where God will welcome His people from all tribes and nations:

Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty,
            who was and is and is to come!” – Revelation 4:8

Therefore, “Consecrate yourselves” because although none of us will achieve perfection this side of paradise, Jesus declared in Matthew 10:33 that “whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.

Crossing the Jordan was hard, and sometimes life is hard on purpose.
Sometimes if we want to cross a river, God wants to teach us first how to trust Him and Him alone.

Soli Deo Gloria

[1] Numbers 20:8-9
[2] Numbers 20:11-12
[3] Numbers 27:14
[4] Yes, dear Americans, I’m including that sarcastic slogan in this too.

Sometimes Life is Hard on Purpose

Photo by ål nik on Unsplash

Joshua was very aware of the consequences of failing to trust God.  After being delivered from Egypt, Israel was led to Canaan – their promised land – and God had Moses “Send men to spy out the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the people of Israel.[1]  The purpose of the spy mission was not to decide whether or not to move into the land.  God promised to give it to them.  However, when the 12 spies returned, 10 of them said “We are not able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we are.[2]  Only Joshua and Caleb said they should take the land anyway, because God’s promise and strength was enough for them.  Because the people rebelled, trusting 10 disloyal spies rather than Him, God said Israel must wander the wilderness for years and only Joshua and Caleb would live long enough to enter the land.

After taking 40 years to make what could have been an 11-day journey[3] to the Jordan River where Israel would enter the land, God knew, and Joshua knew, that divided loyalties could doom everyone to another 40-year wilderness adventure.

Then in Joshua 3:15 we find this note: “(now the Jordan overflows all its banks throughout the time of harvest)”.  Why is this phrase important?  Israel arrived at the Jordan at the most difficult time to cross.  The river would be as deep and as wide as ever, and likely the current would be stronger as well.  A sensible person would avoid crossing at this time, but God chose the most “difficult” time to perform this miracle to show that nothing is difficult for Him.  This phrase is there because entering the promised land should glorify God and God alone.

Arriving at the flooded Jordan River, some people may have doubted whether Joshua get them across.  Joshua had just become their leader, and perhaps the failure of Moses, who recently died, meant the failure of their dreams of the promised land.  After all, they saw the Red Sea part for Moses.  Could Joshua get them over this river?

By coming to the Jordan specifically when it “overflows all its banks” God wanted to remind His people that only He can and will deliver them.  The Red Sea wasn’t parted because of Moses; it was parted because of God.  God could deliver Israel without Moses, but Moses couldn’t deliver Israel without God.  It was never about Moses.  Likewise, Joshua wasn’t going to get them to their land; God was.  The flood gave the people no reason to credit Joshua for their success.

As instructed, this is how they crossed the flooded river: “as soon as those bearing the ark had come as far as the Jordan, and the feet of the priests bearing the ark were dipped in the brink of the water (now the Jordan overflows all its banks throughout the time of harvest), the waters coming down from above stood and rose up in a heap very far away, at Adam, the city that is beside Zarethan, and those flowing down toward the Sea of the Arabah, the Salt Sea, were completely cut off. And the people passed over opposite Jericho.  Now the priests bearing the ark of the covenant of the LORD stood firmly on dry ground in the midst of the Jordan, and all Israel was passing over on dry ground until all the nation finished passing over the Jordan.” – Joshua 3:15-17

Joshua was very clear about giving God credit (more in tomorrow’s post), and it’s a lesson for Christians in all times and places.  When God raises up leaders, He also reminds us that they are but men and tools in His hand.  They are also profoundly fallible.  10 out of 12 human leaders being wrong left Israel wandering for 40 years.  Only God leads anyone to salvation and only when they trust Him alone for it.  He often works through fallen human leaders, raising them up to lead His people, not because He prefers sinful leaders over virtuous ones, but because there is no other kind of person and because He is jealous for His own glory.

Is there a flooded river God wants you to cross?  When we attempt things that only make sense because God told us to do them, we may be more likely to do or witness something that glorifies God and God alone, because only He could do it.

Are there rivers you have crossed in the past?  Like God told Joshua after this crossing to lay memorial stones so they would never forget (see Joshua 4), make sure to keep a record of God’s power and faithfulness in your life.

Sometimes life is hard on purpose.
Sometimes the river is flooded because God wants to show you something awesome.

Therefore, “Be strong and courageous.  Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.” – Joshua 1:9b

Tomorrow, more from the same story in Joshua…

[1] Numbers 13:1
[2] Numbers 13:31
[3] Deuteronomy 1:2