When we meet up with Joshua and the Israelites in our lesson today, they are camped out on the eastern side of the Jordan River. Joshua receives instructions from God to prepare for crossing the river that is swollen and overflowing its banks in order to enter the Promised Land.
Joshua sent out his officers with two main commands to the people before crossing: 1) Watch the Ark of the Covenant and follow it and 2) Sanctify yourselves.
Watching the Ark represented watching the presence of the Lord and following His lead. Our equivalent today would be to keep our eye on Jesus and to follow Him, which we are told to do in several different passages of the New Testament: #1) Colossians 2:6-7, #2) Hebrews 12:1-2, and #3) I Peter 2:21-24. It is also implied in #4) Colossians 3:1-3. It is now in Christ that we have a living example of how to live our lives for God: how He was totally devoted to the will of the Father; how He emptied Himself of all personal desires; how He always showed the Father to others in both words and actions; and how He gave the ultimate sacrifice so that EVERYONE may enter that eternal Promised Land.
The second command given by Joshua through his officers to the people was to "sanctify" themselves. Some translations use the word "consecrate." This command was given before entering the Promised Land because of the Holy God they were following. This command carried with it a deep meaning.
According to Holman Bible Dictionary this word refers to persons or things being separated to or belonging to God. They are holy or sacred. They are set apart for the service of God. The Hebrew and Greek words are translated into various English words: holy, consecrate, hallow, sanctify, dedicate.
Much of the following is taken from Holman Bible Dictionary. In the Old Testament, the word originally meant to be separate. The Holy One of Israel is separate because He is God. The holiness of God came to mean all that God is. With the prophets, Gods holiness was understood to include justice, righteousness, and many ethical concerns. When persons or things were consecrated, they were separated to or belonged to God. Ye shall be holy: for I the Lord your God am holy (Leviticus 19:2). Ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation (Exodus 19:6). When persons were consecrated, they were set apart to live according to Gods demands and in His service.
In the New Testment this ethical understanding of Gods holiness is found throughout. The cause to which persons give themselves determines the nature of sacrifice. When the cause is Gods, the gift is consecrated. Jesus mission was to sanctify persons. Paul said that Christians are called to be saints, and their sanctification comes through Christ.
Holy is another English word that carries the meaning of the term found here in Joshua 3:5. This word is a characteristic unique to Gods nature which becomes the goal for human moral character. The idea of holy is important for an understanding of God, of worship, and of the people of God.
Holy has four distinct meanings. First is to be set apart. This applies to places where God is present, like the Temple and the tabernacle, and to things and persons related to those holy places or to God Himself. Next, it means to be perfect, transcendent, or spiritually pure, evoking adoration and reverence. This applies primarily to God, but secondarily to saints or godly people. Next, it means something or someone who evokes veneration or awe, being frightening beyond belief. This is clearly the application to God and is the primary meaning of holy. It is continued in the last definition, filled with superhuman and potential(ly) fatal power. This speaks of God, but also of places or things or persons which have been set apart by Gods presence. A saint is a holy person. To be sanctified is to be made holy.
Thus holy defines the goodness of God. It also defines places where God is present. For the holy God to be present among His people, special holy places were set apart where God and people could safely come together. The Tabernacle and Temple, along with the Ark of the Covenant, filled this purpose. Special restrictions on access were established for the safety of the worshipers. Rules of sacrifice and cleanliness helped them prepare for this contact. A special place, the holy of holies, was completely cut off from common access. Only the high priest could enter there, and then only once a year after special preparation.
Holy also applied to persons who were to meet God. The priests had to undergo special rites that sanctified and purified them for service. God wanted all His people to share His presence. They had to be instructed in the character and actions that would accomplish that. Leviticus 17-25 commands the people to obey Gods laws in all parts of life in order to be holy: for I the Lord your God am holy. Here holiness is seen to include a moral character as well as cultic purity. Sin and disobedience work the opposite and have to be cleansed or atoned by sacrifice (Leviticus 1-7; 16).
An understanding of holiness is needed for New Testament study to appreciate the cross and the results of Gods work through the cross. The Gospels make clear that Jesus came to save His people from their sins. The Crucifixion is portrayed as Christ shedding His blood and giving His body for the remission of sins. Faith in Christ is portrayed as acceptance of His full atonement for sin, and baptism is the point at which those on this side of the cross re-enact and therefore partake of that atoning death, burial and resurrection.
Christians are called to holy living (I Corinthians 1:2; 3:17). They are saints who lead godly, righteous lives. Christians are holy because of their calling in Christ, because of His atonement for their sins, and ... are holy inasmuch as they receive and submit to these saving and sanctifying agents.
Sanctification is the process of being made holy resulting in a changed lifestyle for the believer. In Old Testament thought, the focus of holiness is upon God. He is holy. Since God exists in the realm of the holy rather than the profane, all that pertains to Him must come into that same realm of holiness. This involves time, space, objects, and people.
In the New Testament the same range of meanings reflected by the Old Testament is preserved but with extension of meaning in certain cases. Objects may be made holy or treated as holy, but, mostly, the word group stresses the personal dimension of holiness. Sanctification is vitally linked to salvation and is concerned with the moral/spiritual obligations assumed in that process. We were set apart to God in conversion; and we are living out that dedication to God in holiness.
Christs crucifixion makes possible the moving of the sinner from the profane to the holy so that the believer can become a part of the temple where God dwells and is worshiped (Hebrews 2:9-11; 13:11-16; 10:10, 14, 29).
Sanctification/holiness is to be pursued as an essential aspect of the believers life (Hebrews 12:14); the blood of sanctification must not be defiled by sinful conduct (Hebrews 10:26-31). Paul stressed both the individuals commitment to holy living (Romans 6:19-22; I Thessalonians 4:3-8; II Corinthians 7:1) and the enabling power of God for it (I Thessalonians 3:13; 4:8). The summation of the ethical imperative is seen in Peters use (I Peter 1:15-16) of Leviticus 11:44; 19:2; 20:7: Be ye holy; for I am holy.
My challenge to each of us is to consider each of these directives given by Joshua to the people of God and take them upon ourselves: 1) Keep our eyes on Jesus, Who has gone before us into the eternal Promised Land and 2) Be holy every day, through the blood of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit, in order to spend eternity in the Promised Land in the presence of our most Holy God.
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