Sanctify Yourselves

waterfall-335985_640I’ve been listening to the Bible on CD on my way to and from work. Yesterday evening I was listening to Joshua, when a verse stuck out to me. I’m more of a visual learner than an auditory one, so sometimes I have trouble focusing on what’s being read. But I noticed this verse – for some reason it struck me as holding significant meaning, and I wasn’t even sure why. But I started looking up cross-references that evening and gathering my thoughts for a possible blog post.

And then this morning I received an email from the Revive Our Hearts ministry, highlighting the same exact verse.

A God thing?

If nothing else, it shows the verse was sticking out as significant to more than just me.

Here’s the verse:

And Joshua said to the people, “Sanctify yourselves, for tomorrow the LORD will do wonders among you.”

Joshua 3:5, NKJV

The command was given the day before God parted the Jordan River so that Israel could cross over on dry ground.

The part that grabbed me was the command, “Sanctify yourselves.” Why? Because God was going to work wonders.

But where is the connection between the two? Would God have chosen not to work had the people not been sanctified? Why was it so important for them to be purified first?

A few chapters later, the command is repeated. After the victory at Jericho and subsequent defeat at Ai, Joshua cries out to the LORD for answers. And He does answer. He tells Joshua, “Get up, sanctify the people, and say, ‘Sanctify yourselves for tomorrow, because thus says the LORD God of Israel, “There is an accursed thing in your midst, O Israel; you cannot stand before your enemies until you take away the accursed thing from among you”‘” (Josh. 7:13).

And the next day, Achan was confronted as the guilty one and was put to death.

Again, what was the significance of the Israelites sanctifying themselves first?

I decided to look into other passages that called for people to sanctify or purify themselves. Here are some of the observations that I found:

  • The Israelites were to purify themselves if they became ceremonially unclean (Numbers 19:12; 31:19,20), and if they disobeyed that command they were to be cut off from the people (Num. 19:20).
  • A person could “purify” himself for the wrong purpose (e.g. to go after idols), and face judgment as a result (Isa. 66:17).
  • The Jews would purify themselves before the Passover (John 11:55).
  • The Levites purified themselves before beginning their work in the tabernacle (Num. 8:21).
  • The priests and Levites purified themselves so they could slaughter the Passover sacrifices (Ezra 6:20).
  • Before God appeared on Mt. Sinai, He told Moses to consecrate the people, and the priests had to consecrate themselves, too, or else He would punish them (Exo. 19:10, 22-23).
  • Before God sent the abundance of quail in answer to Israel’s demands for meat, He told the people to consecrate themselves (Num. 11:18).
  • Before Samuel anointed David king, he told the elders in Bethlehem to sanctify themselves and come with him to a sacrifice with Jesse and his sons (1 Sam. 16:5)
  • King David told the heads of the Levites to sanctify themselves before they brought the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem (1 Chron. 15:12).
  • King Hezekiah, when he started a revival in Judah, told the Levites to sanctify themselves and to clean the rubbish out of the temple (2 Chron. 29:5)
  • King Josiah, when he started the last great revival in Judah, told the Levites to consecrate themselves so they could handle the Passover sacrifices (2 Chron. 35:6)

Now for some observations. What do I see from these verses?

  1. That we are to serve the Lord in holiness
  2. That if we want to see God demonstrate Himself through glorious works, we should first glorify Him in our own lives

Sanctifying oneself required a purposeful action, a choice and motion to (1) acknowledge you were unclean and in need of cleansing, and (2) step forward and do something about it. It demonstrated that you took God and His holiness seriously, and it set you apart as someone who was going to fulfill God’s purposes.

The Israelites had to consecrate themselves before God came down on Mt. Sinai in the sight of all. Reminds me of Matthew 5:8, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”

Before the Israelites could purge the accursed thing from their midst, they first had to purify themselves. Was it so that they could be righteous in judgment? Or so that God’s judgment and wrath would not fall on all of them?

Before the flocks of quail arrived, the Israelites first had to sanctify themselves. Was it to give them a chance to repent their greed and purify their hearts? Was it so that they would be prepared in their hearts to receive His blessing?

Perhaps that’s the key…. Maybe God wants His blessing to fall on those who glorify Him. Those who are prepared to receive Him.

I think it’s important not to look at this from the wrong perspective, though. If I’m understanding the verse in Joshua correctly, we shouldn’t mistake the cause for the effect. God didn’t say, “Sanctify yourselves so that I will work wonders,” but rather, “Sanctify yourselves because I will work wonders.”

So I don’t think the mindset should be, “Let’s examine ourselves and purify our hearts so that God will move and do what we want Him to do.” I think we should be doing those things on the basis of God’s holiness – not so He can meet with us, but so we can meet with Him; not so He can do our will, but so we can do His will. So that when He does move, we’re moving with Him, not against Him. So that when judgment falls, it doesn’t fall on us.

We may not know exactly how or when or why God is going to move in the future. But we know He is moving, and will continue to move. We know someday He is coming. Someday we will meet Him. Someday He will judge the world. And we know that “when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure” (1 John 3:3).

…’God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’

Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Lament and mourn and weep! Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up.

James 4:7-10