Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The Israelites Crossing the Jordan

This Sunday just past we continued our summer journey in The Journey series our pastor is preaching and we are studying in Life Group. This lesson was about the Israelites as they were about to cross the Jordan River and take possession of the Promised Land. Moses doesn't feature in this story, as he was dead.

Ah, but Moses did make a cameo appearance. For the story of crossing the Jordan actually began about 38 years before, when Israel was about to go up into the land. They were at Kadesh Barnea, a desert oasis a little south of Israel proper, or I guess I should say Canaan proper at that time. They were two years (or so) removed from being slaves in Egypt. They sent 12 spies into the land to make an assessment of conditions and fortifications. You know the story. Ten of the spies said the land was very nice but too strong for the Israelites to take it. Two gave the minority report, was that they should go up and take the land, because God would help them.

The Israelites cried out about this, and decided they would not go and take the land. God was so angry he told Moses he was going to kill all the Israelites and begin anew, building a great nation from Moses' descendants. Moses pleaded; God relented; but then He said would not allow those that were fearful of entering the land to ever enter it. Israel would wander in the desert until that generation died out. It would be 38 (or so) years before Israel crossed the Jordan.

The route they were on the first time did not require a Jordan crossing. They were coming from the west and the south, an were already on the Canaan side of the Jordan. By the later years they had made a wide sweep to the south and east, and had come north on the other side of the Jordan, setting the stage for another miracle from God.

What new insight did we gain from this very familiar story and the scriptures about it? As I prepared to teach this I was reminded of how we tend to be critical of the people that Moses led. They saw the miracles of God in the plundering of the Egyptians before they left, the parting of the Red Sea, the destruction of Pharaoh's army, the provision of manna, the provision of quail, the pillars of fire an cloud. How could they not do what He said at Kadesh Barnea?

In the past I've thought of how this people, not yet a nation, was just removed from slavery. The familiar, even though unpleasant, is still familiar and still the basis for a frame of reference. However, another different is this: At the Red Sea, the people were running for their lives. The unpleasant parts of slavery still dominated their viewpoint. God was leading them from something. at Kadesh Barnea, they were far enough removed from slavery to have pushed the unpleasant parts out of their minds and remember only the comforting parts: the permanent housing, the dignity of a task to perform, the variety of food to eat.

Also, at Kadesh God was leading them, not from something but to something: to war. We assume that the people of Canaan were not going to abandon their cities and farms. If the Israelites wanted them, they would have to fight for them. Yes, God would be on their side, but it would still be war. Israel balked, and as a result they died in the desert.

We aren't so much different than Israel. When God is rescuing us from something evil, we're all in. But when He leads us into something new, without the appearance of rescue being needed, we hesitate, just as they did. The leading from vs. leading to was the new insight I received from this lesson. I need to ponder this more, for how to correctly recognize this in my life and, with such recognition, do what God wants me to do without having to spend years of desert wandering.

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