In Summary:For starters, remember where the people of Israel are in the story in Joshua 3. They have come up to the edge of the Promised Land, but have not gone in yet. Joshua sent spies to check out the situation in Jericho (see Joshua 2). The spies have returned, brought Joshua an encouraging report, and now the Israelites must go into the land.
If you have a Bible handy, take a look at the book of Maps in the back. If your Bible doesn’t have a book of Maps, then you need to get one that does! Or, perhaps, a good Bible atlas or handbook. (I like The Baker Illustrated Bible Handbook, available here. Or you can go here for an online map: http://bibleatlas.org/isv/tribes.htm) You will see something important. The people sit on the east side of the Jordan River. Jericho and the other areas that need to be conquered sit on the west side of the Jordan.
These days, we would expect Joshua to call in the bridging engineers and make his own path. 3500 years ago (roughly,) things were not so easy. A river, even a smaller one like the Jordan River, made for a pretty strong barrier. An army would be hard-pressed to make the crossing in perfect conditions, to say nothing of how easily another army could drive them back into the river. The crossing army would be struggling into and out of the water and mud, all the while taking a rain of arrows, stones, and spears.
It’s a recipe for disaster.
In Focus:The Lord God, however, views obstacles differently than we do. For Him, neither the armies of Jericho nor Jordan River were a problem. We already saw that the fear of God has the army of Jericho dealt with (Joshua 2:11). The question before the Israelites comes back to the river. There would have been some of the Israelites who saw God part the Red Sea during the Exodus, but for most of the people, that story was more history than reality. History, after all, is the stuff that we’re told happened but we’re never quite sure of it. (Legend, meanwhile, is the stuff we’re told might have happened and we’d like it to be true. Myth is what we wish had happened…but that’s all another post.)
God has a plan in place, and it would be very easy to jump ahead to “the waters parted and the people crossed.” God used more words, though, to describe what happened. We would be wise to pay attention to some of those words.
Joshua 3:1, first, has a simple point that is valuable. The people of Israel come to the brink of the river and lodge there. As in, they stop to rest. Rest is not just for the lazy, it is a critical need for people. Get your rest.
Next, we see that Joshua gives orders to the people to “consecrate themselves” (3:5). We cannot assume that God will provide for us if we are not dedicated to Him. Following God requires a full-out commitment of the heart.
From there, we see the people of Israel commanded to follow the Ark into the Jordan, and then to pass by and go up into the Promised Land. The waters are piled up, like a heap, far from where they will interfere with the Israelites. Their greatest obstacle is cleared, easily, by the power of God.
In Practice:Certainly, we could take the time to talk about God clearing out the metaphorical rivers in our lives. Yet how God intervenes in our lives is up to Him, and certainly is not something to be commanded by us. If it were, I can assure you that the past few days would have gone very, very differently for a dear friend.
Instead, let us look at our practices in preparation for the work of God. First, of course, is the idea of getting some rest mentioned above. This one is not merely a physical constraint. It’s a commandment. Rest.
Second, let us consider our consecration. Are we set apart like we should be? Do we have the habit of dedicating every action, every thought, to the Lord Jesus Christ? If not, then we have a need to consecrate ourselves.
Third, walk in obedience by following God-honoring examples. Notice how the Israelites crossed the Jordan. First, the priests went ahead of everyone else, carrying the Ark and showing the way. God even instructed the people to keep a good distance so that they could see clearly the pathway. Then, though, the people had to pass by the priests and carry on to the other side.
Examples are good and necessary, but there are points in our life where we must go further than our examples have gone. All only in clear obedience to the Word of God, but never stop where the priests are. Stop where God has directed you to go.
In Nerdiness:Nerd point 1: “Follow at 2000 cubits” in v. 4 translates to about 3000 feet, or almost half a mile.
Nerd point 2: The Red Sea divides in half, with waters piled on both sides (Exodus 14:22), while the Jordan piles up in one place. I don’t know that there is a lot of significance there, but it’s a detail recorded.