Joshua 4 carries the account of a very important transition in Israel’s history – the conquest of Jericho. Bundled with this foray into the Promised Land, come several profound changes, which if we are not careful readers, can get by us.
The first we note is the curious mention in Joshua 4:13: “About 40,000 ready for war passed over before the Lord for battle, to the plains of Jericho.” Don’t miss the word “before.” Previously, throughout the 40 years in the wilderness, the Ark of the Covenant always preceded the steps of the Israelites. The Cloud over it led them. Even here, the Priests carrying the Ark enter the Jordan first. But the Priests and the Ark stand still in the midst of the river – and the men ready for war passed over “before” the Lord for battle. Then, in the days following, the Priests proceed in front of the Ark blowing trumpets, while the Ark follows. From this point on, the Ark never takes the lead again. In fact, the last mention of the Ark until Judges 20 is in Joshua 8, where the Covenant with God is reaffirmed. But it ceased to lead them anymore.
Concurrent with that change, is the cessation of the daily manna in 5:12. Another major transition. Having left the wilderness and come into Canaan, they were no longer to be sustained by the obvious supernatural gift of manna, but were to eat the produce of the land they were going to have to plant, harvest and process for themselves.
In both of these instances we see an interesting principle emerge: As God’s people come increasingly nearer to their promised destiny, they less they are led and sustained by God’s remarkable means, and instead by His more usual means. It doesn’t mean they were not to look to Him in constant dependence. But it does mean, they were to depend on Him more in the ordinary, than in the extraordinary.
And so it is with Christians today.
Before I apply that, let me note one other parallel. As you read the Old Testament, you will note that the times when the prophets were most active and vocal in Israel’s history, were not when Israel was on track and serving God well, but the times when they had forgotten God and strayed. When they abandoned living by His Word, God sent prophets to call them back to the revelation and the Word they already had.
Now it is true, when we go anywhere, even in the natural, we want clear directions. Haven’t we become virtually dependent upon our GPSes? No question. And it is true in our Christian lives that we want solid direction too. But how often do we want some supernatural “sign”, rather than walking by the Biblical principles already at our fingertips in our Bibles? And that we imagine getting manna from the sky is somehow more spiritual than sowing, reaping and processing in the Promised land.
For the rest of the Canaanite conquest, the Ark no longer leads them. Why? Because they know what it is they are to be about. They know where to go – to seize the land. And why no more manna? Because God had brought them to a better place than the wilderness. To live daily lives carried out by ordinary means. Still in complete dependence upon Him (for rain, good crops, etc.), but minus the overt (and let’s face it, more exciting) supernatural.
Yet how many in the Church today are longing for, seeking after, frantically pursuing – the leading of the Ark, the supernatural manna and the voice of the prophets rather than taking up the Word; and being about the business of living out the wisdom and call of the revelation already given to us in it?
We don’t need prophets to tell us to repent of sin and follow Christ. If we do, we acknowledge our dreadful spiritual decline. We don’t need the Ark to go before us to know we are to challenge sin and bring every thought captive to Christ. We don’t need a supernatural Word from God, when we can open that Word right now, whenever we want, and hear His voice clearly – and in a way that we can study it, learn it, memorize it and go back to it – unambiguously.
The closer we come to our full inheritance, the less we need the overtly extraordinary, and learn to live in constant dependence upon the God who supernaturally superintends – the ordinary. The supernatural ordinary of God’s people.
Serve Him in what you can access in His Word. And trust Him, with what He hasn’t revealed, rather than trying to divine the hidden things He has kept to Himself. He is the God of everyday. The God of the ordinary. The God of all of life. Trust Him. Don’t make Him jump through hoops to satisfy your curiosity, or supplant what He has already revealed in his Word.