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Sanctify Yourselves?

What does that mean?

Joshua 3:1–6

Then Joshua rose early in the morning; and they set out from Acacia Grove and came to the Jordan, he and all the children of Israel, and lodged there before they crossed over. So it was, after three days, that the officers went through the camp; and they commanded the people, saying, “When you see the ark of the covenant of the LORD your God, and the priests, the Levites, bearing it, then you shall set out from your place and go after it. Yet there shall be a space between you and it, about two thousand cubits by measure. Do not come near it, that you may know the way by which you must go, for you have not passed that way before.”

And Joshua said to the people, “Sanctify yourselves, for tomorrow the LORD will do wonders among you.” Then Joshua spoke to the priests, saying, “Take up the ark of the covenant and cross over before the people.”

So they took up the ark of the covenant and went before the people.

Why do the Israelites need to trail the ark by two thousand cubits? What’s so special about that distance? And what does Joshua mean by sanctify yourselves?

Two thousand cubits is about a thousand yards, a bit more than a half a mile. There’s no specific reason for that distance, and the text won’t mention this separation again. It’s just a respectable distance. They’ll get closer later anyway; they’ll all walk past the ark in the middle of the river.

The standard for sanctification was set by Moses, just before delivering the Ten Commandments.

the LORD said to Moses, “Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their garments and be ready for the third day. For on the third day the LORD will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people. … So Moses went down from the mountain to the people and consecrated the people; and they washed their garments. And he said to the people, “Be ready for the third day; do not go near a woman.” — Exodus 19:10–11, 14–15 (ESV)

But these preparations seem completely unrelated to the tasks of crossing a river and going to war. That’s the point. If regular military leaders heard this, they would wonder if Joshua has lost his mind. Washing your garments just before wading (or even swimming) across the Jordan river is nuts.

But Joshua hasn’t lost it. There’s nothing “traditional” about this. It’s all supernatural.

When God’s glory is the prime objective, everything’s different.

So, how can we make God’s glory the prime objective in our lives? Our situation is nothing like Joshua’s.

Prioritizing God’s glory generally doesn’t involve doing something nutty like washing up just before getting dirty. Rather, we are called to do practical things that are righteous or charitable. Do nothing to bring shame to the Lord. For example, pay your taxes perfectly honorably. That must be above reproach.

These Monday—Friday DEEPs are written by Mike Slay. The Weekend DEEPs are written by Matt Richardson. To subscribe to all the DEEPs click here:

The weekly study guides, which include the Monday–Friday devotionals plus related questions for discussion or meditation, are available for download here:

Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. ESV stands for the English Standard Version. © Copyright 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved. NIV stands for The Holy Bible, New International Version®. © Copyright 1973 by International Bible Society. Used by permission. All rights reserved. KJV stands for the King James Version.

Mike Slay

As a mathematician, inventor, and ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church in America, Mike Slay brings an analytical, conversational, and even whimsical approach to the daily study of God's Word.

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