Before we get to what God spoke to Joshua we need to note the timing of His speaking: ‘Now it came about after the death of Moses…’ It seems to be that in the order of God there are some things that just are not going to manifest until some other things –some old things – have passed away. The new is not going to open apart from closure of the old.
We tend to think that this applies to negative things, wrong things, or even sinful things. We tend to give our hearty amen and endorse the idea that all those old sinful things must be brought to a place of closure before the new God-thing can manifest. I am going to suggest that the thing we are most in danger of is not some “old sinful thing” but some “old good thing” that has served its purpose. Good is the greatest threat to best.
Moses did not represent some old sinful thing – he represented a season in God, a vitally important season in God, apart from which this second generation would not have had the opportunity that was right in front of them. But – and this was the whole point of this first communication of God to Joshua and his entire generation – that good season, that God-season had come to an end and they would have to accept that reality if they intended to move on into the next season.
The second lesson we learn from the timing of this communication with Joshua is that Moses can die and will die (with respect to the physical, material realm) but God does not die with the death of Moses.A particular season may pass away but the God of that season does not pass away with the season.Seasons will constantly change but God does not change with the changing of the seasons.
I need to know that – and particularly I need to know that when “my Moses” has died, when a season has run its course and when a door has closed. When I hear the click of the closing doors at my heels what I need most at that moment is to hear the speaking voice of the Sovereign God. With this comes the assurance that this Sovereign God is the keeper of the doors, is still entirely in control, is still ordering the seasons and is about to open a door into a new season of opportunity.
Now that we understand some of the significance of the timing of this communication with Joshua, I want us to look at the first thing God actually spoke on this occasion. For years I have found it strange that the first word God spoke to Joshua related to something Joshua already knew: ‘Moses my servant is dead.’ What is that about?
Some of the answer is found in the provision God made to Israel concerning mourning. While there was no single stipulation that applied right across the board, there were particular events to which God assigned a specific time of mourning. When Aaron died the entire nation was to mourn for thirty days; the same was true when Moses was taken away.
The purpose in that was not to intellectually understand the obvious – the obvious being the death of the person. The purpose was reconciliation – the time required to reconcile the soul with what the mind knows. It is one thing to know on an intellectual level; it is another thing to reconcile your emotions to or with your head.
As we approach this we must keep in mind that no one witnessed the death of Moses nor did anyone witness his burial. He just went into the mountains and disappeared. This makes closure much more challenging. And again, I believe God is speaking something through this picture. This whole business of transition from the old to the new is not always as crisp and clear and clean as we feel we need it to be. The lines are not always straight, but rather quite often blurred and fuzzy and squiggly. There is confusion as to where the old ends and the new begins.
Do not underestimate the significance of this struggle. When God took Elijah to heaven in a chariot of fire, what was the first request the sons of the prophets made of the new leader Elisha? They formed a search party and then spent three days looking for Elijah. It wasn’t just that they struggled to let go of the door that had closed – they also struggled with the lack of physical evidence that the door had indeed closed.
As much as we may wish to see ourselves as more mature than they were and consequently less affected by change, the truth is we are impacted and this place between seasons – this hallway between doors – is not a fun place.
One of the most moving scenes in scripture involves a very devoted woman – a Christ follower – who is caught between closure and new beginnings. The Christ she loved had died; that much she knew for she had seen Him hanging of the cross. But now the evidence of that death, that season, that experience was missing: The tomb was empty.
And thus, Mary, very early in the morning wept in a garden all by herself. A man approached, whom she supposed to be the gardener. He spoke her name, and with the speaking there came revelation of His identity. She fell at His feet and took hold of His them.
And then we have this amazing response of Christ. I love the translation that reads: ‘And Christ said unto her, “Do not go on clinging to me.”’ I believe Christ was calling Mary into a whole new relationship with Himself. Where she once knew Him more as a man – knew Him on the basis of physical reality and senses – she would now know Him by the Spirit. She was actually graduating to a much deeper reality of relationship with Christ. But – and this is always the issue – in order to move into this new relational reality she had to stop clinging to the old frame of reference, the old dynamics that defined her relationship with Christ up to the cross and resurrection.
The truth be known, we are experts at clinging to the old, the closed door, the ending season.
On this occasion God allowed Israel thirty days to reconcile their souls to the fact that Moses was dead. Note this reference: Duet.34: 8 & 9 So the sons of Israel wept for Moses in the plains of Moab thirty days; then the days of weeping and mourning for Moses came to an end. Now Joshua the son of Nun was filled with the spirit of wisdom, for Moses had laid his hands on him;….
In these verses we are facing two irrefutable and very much related realities: a season has come to an end, while a new season has just begun; a door has closed, while a new door is about to open. We have a clear example of the theme of this series of messages: Closures & New Beginnings.
In this case these two seasons are identified by two names: Moses and Joshua. Moses represents the season that is passing away and Joshua represents the season that’s dawning.
I love the structure of verse 9: God gave Israel thirty days to mourn the passing away of the former season but the minute that period concluded you read these two words: ‘Now Joshua….’ I cannot tell you how vital that three letter word – “NOW” – is. It distinctly marks a point of demarcation in time between what has closed out and what is opening up. Perhaps it can be expressed like this: ‘Yesterday it was Moses. Today it is Joshua. And I have given you thirty days to reconcile your soul to that change.’
Before leaving this we need to note the last four words of verse 8: … came to an end.’ This, of course, is a reference to that 30 day period of mourning. Its message may be obvious but it is not always easy. There is a time when we have to come out of mourning; a time when we deliberately and consciously make a decision to no longer mourn the past, the season that has ended, the door that has closed, the experience that has concluded.
There is a healthy grief, a healthy mourning, and God has allowed for that. But when we extend that mourning beyond what He has allowed it quickly becomes unhealthy. When our mourning is not allowed to come to healthy closure it sets up in the soul a perverted and unhealthy view of the past, which in turn keeps us tied to the past and unable to move forward. In this place we remember the voice of Moses while remaining oblivious to the voice of Joshua.
I want to bring these considerations to the theme of my last message: Life Between the Doors. In the context of the Book of Joshua I am suggesting that with the death of Moses the door on a particular season of experience closed. With the miraculous opening of the Jordan River in chapter three the new door into their future opened. But the first two chapters of the book deal with life between the doors; Moses is dead but the Jordan has not opened up. So what do we need to know about this strange and often uncomfortable place between the doors?
What we now know is that Joshua and those he led were between the doors for at least thirty days. The second thing we know is that it was God who set in and determined how long that period would be. During this stage we become vulnerable to impatience. We complain that nothing is happening. We wonder out loud why no one is stepping up; that someone needs to show leadership and get things moving. Guard that attitude with much care, as it may turn out that you are complaining against the wisdom of the Sovereign God.