To kick off our series, we look at the nation of Israel instead of a specific person. For this, we turn to Joshua 5. Leading up to this is a pretty familiar series of events - the Israelites spy out the Promised Land but lose faith at the prospect of fighting for the land. They turn against God and, in response, they are barred from their inheritance. God promises that these people will be passed over and the next generation will receive the inheritance. We fast forward 40 years and find ourselves in the book of Joshua with that generation poised to advance into their promise.
The people are reminded in Joshua 3:4 to follow the Ark because they are going somewhere they have never been before. They follow the Ark across the Jordan River and into the promised land. Before they advance into the promised land, the Ark comes to a stop and during the wait God tells Joshua that this nation needs to be circumcised. This is, to say the least, a surprising turn of events for the men of Israel. Because it is so surprising is why it is so essential. The generation that was banned from the promised land had not communicated to their children the basics of the covenant. Before moving forward, God is going to reaffirm the covenant that he made to Abraham. From a theological standpoint, this is really a sensible move. From a practical standpoint, this borders on crazy. God leads his people across the river, into the land of their enemies. Now that they are completely exposed to their enemy, God calls for the men to be circumcised. This will, in effect, incapacitate the fighting men. They are now completely vulnerable to attack. The practical thing to do is take care of this business on the other side of the river while they are protected from their enemies. God is reminding his people of his faithfulness, but He is also reminding them of their need to trust and obey.
Once this is complete and the nation is healed, God meets Joshua and gives him the battle plan to take the city of Jericho. Don't miss the significance of the sequence of events: first the people are consecrated, then they wait and then God meets with them to give the specifics of their call. Too often we want to charge ahead in response to a call when God is waiting for us to prepare ourselves. The call to circumcision is a reminder that before we can respond to the call, we must remove the things that separate us from being His people. This is sometimes a painful or uncomfortable process, but it is essential.
The other thing to recognize about answering the call is that their victory would only come from responding in obedience. Jericho and Ai establish this process. God gave them instructions to take Jericho. Those istructions were not meant for every situation. What worked at Jericho wasn't intended for all the cities in Canaan. That plan would have met with disaster. Equally disastrous was their forgetfulness following the success of Jericho. God met with Joshua after consecration and waiting. Ai showed a people in the wake of success forgetting God and going ahead on their own. We are prone to this too. We look around for what God did somewhere else or for someone else and try to make it work for us. Sometimes we go the way of Ai. We obey and meet with success and then try to follow up that success with our own strength and wisdom. The process of consecration slows us and forces us to wait in God's presence and under his protection.
The question is about our willingness. Will we wait to hear what God is speaking? To meet with God is to change. Are we willing to make the changes God calls us to? The truth is that too often I am willing to sacrifice God's best for my good enough because I'm unwilling to pay the price. The land is before us but the next move is ours.