Joshua said to the Israelites, “Come here and listen to the words of the Lord your God. This is how you will know that the living God is among you and that he will certainly drive out before you the Canaanites, Hittites, Hivites, Perizzites, Girgashites, Amorites and Jebusites. See, the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth will go into the Jordan ahead of you. Now then, choose twelve men from the tribes of Israel, one from each tribe. And as soon as the priests who carry the ark of the Lord—the Lord of all the earth—set foot in the Jordan, its waters flowing downstream will be cut off and stand up in a heap.” – Joshua 3:9-13
It is instructive to pay attention to how Joshua speaks about God in order to reassure the Israelites. Joshua doesn’t play on ethnic pride by saying, “You can do it! You are children of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” Nor does Joshua try to convince them that he is a military mastermind with a brilliant plan for battle. Rather he points to the people to their God.
LORD your God. This designation uses the covenant name of Yahweh (translated by LORD in all caps), to remind Israel that Yahweh is the covenant keeping God. He has promised. He will deliver on His promise. To the covenant name Joshua adds “your God” to remind the people that this covenant keeping God has entered into a family relationship of covenant loyalty with them. They are His people. He is their God.
Living God. This designation reminds the Israelites that they aren’t worshipping blocks of wood. It is sometimes said that Religion is about man’s search for God, while Theology is about God’s search for man. Joshua is doing theology. He is reminding Israel that Yahweh is the living God who chose them, who promised the land to Abraham and to His offspring, and that this living God will act to bring His promises to pass. In the Bible, “Living God” is commonly used when the author is emphasizing the power of the LORD and the fact that the LORD is a God who acts on behalf of His people and for His own glory.
Lord of All the Earth. This beautiful designation for God stands over against henotheism and reminds us of one of the central functions of Genesis 1 and 2 in the history of redemption. Sometimes people confuse monotheism and henotheism. Henotheism was the belief that each nation could have only one God. For Israel, this God would be Yahweh. Yet, if Israel was henotheistic, the Canaanites could have their own god or gods. But the Bible doesn’t teach henotheism – that there is only one God for the people of Israel. The Bible teaches monotheism – that there is only one God who created the heavens and the earth. If the Jews were tempted to think in henotheistic terms, they would have wondered whether or not their God was going to be able to fully conquer the so-called gods of the Canaanites. But Yahweh is not merely the God of Israel. He is the Lord of all the earth. Christians sometimes still need to hear this reminder. Jesus isn’t just King over His Church. He sits on the throne of the universe and governs all things.
Please note: The word rendered “Lord” in “Lord of all the earth” is not Yahweh but Adonai. One of the downsides to using LORD in all caps to render the covenant name of God is that it is easy to ignore this convention when we are simply reading through the Bible. Adonai is a title for God that emphasizes His absolute sovereignty. This is one of the main things that Israel was supposed to learn from Genesis chapter 1. The God who was delivering them out of Egypt, out of the house of bondage, is the God who spoke the entire universe into existence. They didn’t need to fear anything or anyone in Canaan – so long as the God who is absolutely sovereign over everything that exists was with them – and neither do we! It is not surprising, therefore, that Joshua would repeat this title – Lord of all the earth – twice, as he encourages God’s people to prepare to cross the Jordan.
It is, therefore, not surprising that Joshua doesn’t assembly the most valiant warriors in Israel’s army to be the first to cross the Jordan. Rather, the Ark of the LORD will go first, for the battle belongs to the LORD!
MEMORY WORK – Shorter Catechism Q/A 14
Q. What is sin?
A. Sin is any want of conformity unto, or transgression of, the law of God.