"The Lord Makes a Way across Jordan" Joshua 3
Early in the Morning (v. 1)
Each spring, the melting snows of Lebanon flow from the mountains and pass into the Jordan River, down through the Sea of Galilee, and eventually into the Mediterranean. A river that can normally be forded can then be crossed only with great difficulty, for it flows swiftly; it cannot be crossed at all by a multitude. To the banks of the flooded Jordan Joshua brought Israel. They could see for themselves the situation – but this time, not a word of complaint. At the Lord’s command, Joshua rose early and led the people to Jordan. He rose early to obey the Lord and prepare himself for the work ahead. In this, he is a much needed example. Much good work and deep praying are done early in the morning. Procrastination remains the great enemy of earthly success and spiritual progress. Most saints learn in time that “my voice you will hear in the morning” (Ps. 5:3) and “not slothful in business, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord” (Rom. 12:11). Many more saints have regretted lost early mornings and daytime distractions that unnecessarily kept them from being about their Father’s business. Do what the Lord commands, do it early, and do it promptly.
The Ark of the Covenant Goes First (vv. 2-4)
For three days, Joshua waited – perhaps for the spies to return. He was also waiting for the Lord to show him a way forward. The Lord revealed the way – he would go before his people. Joshua commanded the officers to pass through the camp and tell the people that when you see the Ark of the Covenant carried by the priests, follow it. Leave plenty of space between you and the ark – over half a mile – so you can see it. The Ark was the visible symbol of God’s presence with his people. It was not a magic box but a type of the incarnate God, our Lord Jesus Christ, the great Shepherd of the sheep and God with us. The people are to follow the Ark, but not go near to it. God was with them, but they must maintain a respectful distance. They learned by this that the Lord God was the true leader of his people, not man. He would lead them in the fight and keep his promises. He did not need their protection, but he pledges to be their guide and guard. They need only to follow and obey him. Unless they followed him, they would not know the way to go, which is the same with us (John 10:1-18). Israel had not passed that way before. They did not need maps as much as the presence and guidance of their sovereign Lord.
Spiritual Preparation Required to Follow the Lord (v. 5)
This is emphasized by Joshua’s directive to “sanctify yourselves.” That no outward actions are joined to this command likely stresses simply “being set aside in holiness.” Prepare yourselves to follow the Lord, to see the Lord’s mighty deeds, and to be devoted to him. Joshua did not tell them to sharpen their swords – that would be necessary for the battles ahead – but the first lesson in fighting the Lord’s wars is that we must know he is in our midst, set apart ourselves to his service, and have a spiritual frame of heart. This implies everything from watchfulness in prayer and obedience to his word to faith and hope that the Lord will do as he has promised. There is no fear in Joshua’s words – not “prepare yourselves to die,” but prepare yourselves to see what the Lord will do for you. We must be spiritually prepared to expect the Lord to do great things for us also, for he is with us by his Spirit and promises to do in us and for us many mighty deeds (John 16:17; Eph. 1:20-22; 6:10-18).
The Lord Divides Jordan (vv. 7-17)
7 And the LORD said to Joshua, "This day I will begin to exalt you in the sight of all Israel, that they may know that, as I was with Moses, so I will be with you.8 "You shall command the priests who bear the ark of the covenant, saying, 'When you have come to the edge of the water of the Jordan, you shall stand in the Jordan.' " 9 So Joshua said to the children of Israel, "Come here, and hear the words of the LORD your God." 10 And Joshua said, "By this you shall know that the living God is among you, and that He will without fail drive out from before you the Canaanites and the Hittites and the Hivites and the Perizzites and the Girgashites and the Amorites and the Jebusites: 11 "Behold, the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth is crossing over before you into the Jordan. 12 "Now therefore, take for yourselves twelve men from the tribes of Israel, one man from every tribe. 13 "And it shall come to pass, as soon as the soles of the feet of the priests who bear the ark of the LORD, the Lord of all the earth, shall rest in the waters of the Jordan, that the waters of the Jordan shall be cut off, the waters that come down from upstream, and they shall stand as a heap." 14 So it was, when the people set out from their camp to cross over the Jordan, with the priests bearing the ark of the covenant before the people, 15 and as those who bore the ark came to the Jordan, and the feet of the priests who bore the ark dipped in the edge of the water (for the Jordan overflows all its banks during the whole time of harvest), 16 that the waters which came down from upstream stood still, and rose in a heap very far away at Adam, the city that is beside Zaretan. So the waters that went down into the Sea of the Arabah, the Salt Sea, failed, and were cut off; and the people crossed over opposite Jericho. 17 Then the priests who bore the ark of the covenant of the LORD stood firm on dry ground in the midst of the Jordan; and all Israel crossed over on dry ground, until all the people had crossed completely over the Jordan.
The Lord Our Guide – Follow Confidently (vv. 7-8)
Joshua commanded the priest to move forward carrying the Ark. What a strange way to begin a war – unless the Lord was showing them that faith overcomes the world (1 John 5:4-6) – dependence upon his promise and fighting in his strength. This is exactly what the Ark called Israel to do – trust the Lord. Follow him confidently into battle. As the priests approached the flooded Jordan, they paused. Israel must see the obstacles, hear the Lord’s word, and see his great salvation. They left Egypt by crossing the Red Sea on dry ground, and they will enter Canaan by crossing the flooded Jordan on dry ground. God’s people obtain the victory by his power and faithfulness. The Lord told Joshua – “I will now magnify you in the sight of all Israel – as I was with Moses, so I will be with you.” The Lord knew that Joshua’s heart was right with him. He could be “magnified” without danger of pride and presumption. If we would see the Lord’s mighty works (John 16:17), we must follow the Lord. We must walk humbly with him (Mic. 6:8) and seek to please him in all things (Col. 1:10; 1 Cor. 10:31). Guided by his Word, we must confidently follow him without wavering. He will never fail us. His word is sure, for he is faithful.
I, the Lord of All the Earth, Am among You (vv. 9-11)
The Lord preached them a sermon as they prepared to cross the Jordan and conquer the land of promise. We once provided preaching chaplains for our solders, but many of our leaders are now atheist statists. It is no wonder that they hate the Bible, for only Christians can stand against the tyranny of our times. The Lord wants his people to know what he is about to do – he will without fail drive out all the nations that stand between them and their inheritance. How will he do this and why? Behold, see, look at – “the Ark of the Covenant of the Lord of all the earth passes over before you into Jordan.” First, covenant – I have made promises to Abraham and his seed, who is Christ (Gal. 3:16). The covenant God made with Abraham was confirmed in Christ (Gal. 3:17), and the law did not change the gracious nature of God’s covenant but drove them more to Christ. Canaan belonged to the Lord of the covenant, God and his promised Son. Second, the Lord is no provincial deity, a mountain or desert God. All the earth belongs to him. He is about to drive out seven wicked Canaanite nations – he gave them four hundred years to repent, but their sins had reached their limit and their culture its nadir (Gen. 15:16).
And by this Ark, I testify to my presence with you. I am passing over before you. This is my land, and I gave it to Abraham by promise (Gal. 3:18). There is an obstacle before you – I am about to go through it. Sometimes, the Lord removes the obstacles to the fulfillment of his promises. At other times, he keeps the obstacles present but shows us how to endure them, as with sickness or poverty. Israel is to remember forever “that they did not get the land in possession by their own sword, neither did their own arm save them; but your right hand, and your arm, and the light of your countenance, because you had a favor to them. You are my King, O God; command deliverances for Jacob” (Ps. 44:3-4). We are to remember nothing less. The whole earth is now the purchased possession of Jesus Christ, for it was promised him by his Father for his obedience, sufferings, and death (Ps. 2:8; Rom. 4:13; Phil. 2:9-11). He will conquer it by his gospel, his mighty gospel sickle. We have our part to play in his conquest and occupation, and we fight in his strength – families trained and serving Christ, congregations of believers planted and shining gospel light, communities impacted by the gospel – all because Christ Jesus is with us. He is the Lord of all the earth, King of kings, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The battle is won. Follow him into battle, be holy, speak God’s truth, and obey unto death.
The Waters Divided and Heaped (vv. 12-17)
One man from each tribe was to come to the river’s edge – as immediate witnesses to what the Lord was about to do. It would be hard for 2-4 million people to see clearly. The priests bearing the Ark approached Jordan. As soon as their feet touched the water, the Lord caused the waters to stand back and rise in a very great heap, 15 miles away in the cities of Adam and Zaretan. The Lord cut off the waters, and the priests passed forward on dry land. They stood in the middle of the Jordan while the people passed completely over. Critics laugh at these stories, but Jericho was not laughing. The city was barely five miles off and might have a made stout resistance, but some likely saw what happened and fled back to the city. The Lord was giving his people the land of promise. He wanted him to know this directly and completely. It was not their strength, wisdom, or worth. It was his favor to them, his faithfulness to his promises, and his power. Our Lord Jesus will do no less for us, if we follow him into battle without doubting, in obedience to his word, looking to him as our only guide and guard.
Our Ark, Our Captain, and Our Confidence
Our Ark, Guide, and Standard – Jesus Christ our Lord
Our battles are different than Joshua’s but no less intense. We must conquer ourselves by the power of the Holy Spirit. We are to “shine as lights in the world” and “bring forth much fruit so that our Father is glorified” (Matt. 5:16; Phil. 2:15). The world must be discipled (Matt. 28:18-20). The statists and globalists must be resisted unto blood and fought with our mighty weapons (2 Cor. 10:5). The battle is too big for us. It is not simply the Jordan valley that is flood but the whole world is flooded with iniquity and blinded by the evil one (2 Cor. 4:4; 1 John 5:19). But we have an Ark of the Covenant. He is Jesus Christ. He is the blood-stained One who has purchased our redemption from sin. We are forgiven because of his once-for-all sacrifice. We are righteous because of his obedience.
We march into war following our Shepherd, our Savior, our Lord. When he goes before us and we follow him, we are secure. It is most important, however, that we understand who he is and who we are in him. He is the Lord of all the earth. He is the great Prophet whose word guides us and the Priest who has marched through the valley of the winepress of the fierce wrath of Almighty God (Rev. 19:15). He has born our judgment and now rules over all to bring judgment to the nations. Look to Jesus. Keep the eyes of faith fixed upon him. Feed your faith by communion with him, by which I mean clear views of the gospel, of his mediation, of his majesty, of your security, strength, and salvation in him.
Just as Joshua and the children of Israel followed the Lord across Jordan, so we must follow our Lord Jesus Christ. Are we? This is the way the Bible describes Christians – “they follow the Lamb wherever he leads” (Rev. 14:4). Follow him, and he gives you his Spirit. If you walk in the Spirit’s fellowship through prayer and God’s word, you will not fulfill the lusts of the flesh (Gal. 5:17-18). You have strength, divine strength in your life to resist the world, the flesh, and the devil. Please note – strength to fight – not early retirement and compromise, but identifying sin for what it is, confessing your sins and trusting Christ’s intercession and worthiness for forgiveness, and obtaining from him strength to put sin to death in your life and resist the devil. He must flee (James 4:7).
Wait upon the Lord to Guide You – Maintain Appropriate Moral Space
The space between the Ark of the Covenant and the people is interesting. When we set out to follow the Lord, we must leave sufficient moral space between him and us. Today, it seems that all the emphasis is upon nearness. It is wonderful beyond words that he dwells with us – but he is not so near to us as to be identified with our desires and will. Too many do this. I want this; I have prayed for this – therefore, it must be God’s will. Who are you to tell me differently? There is not enough space here. While the Lord is near to us, he remains the consuming fire (Heb. 12:29). He does not cease being the Holy, the Other, the Glorious, and the Omnipotent God that he is. Therefore, we must always be seeking his will, not ours – not confusing our will with his, not assuming that his will agrees with ours, and not angry when he flatly rejects our will and does not bless our willfulness – even as Christians.
How do we maintain this space? Much of “space” is waiting upon the Lord to guide us. There are very few needs and issues that require an immediate decision. Impatience tells us that they do, but if we step back, there is almost always time to pray, to consider, to open the Scriptures, and to ask the Lord to be our faithful Shepherd. This is how we observe the space between our Holy God and ourselves – when we submit our desires to him and ask him for strength only to be a doer of his word (Col. 1:11; James 1:23). We give our Father his rightful space when we are obeying him in the known duties and leaving to him the unknown or secret things (Deut. 29:29). Perhaps we give him the most space of all when we are ready for him to completely reject our wishes, even our sincerest and most passionate prayers, and yield to him the right to rule over us, direct us as he sees fit. Desiring only his guidance and government over our lives, then we undertake nothing unless we are persuaded that we are obeying his will, submitting to his providence, and seeking a tame heart before his majesty so that we dread offending him far more than dread not getting our own way.
Move Forward Confidently, Energetically in the Lord’s Will
Had this been the previous generation, we would have heard nothing but complaining and seen nothing but hesitation and disobedience. Now, the children of Israel move right up to the flooded Jordan, as if they are expecting a way across – I think they were. Their hearts were humbled before the Lord, and thus they moved forward confidently. The priests were obedient to the faith – Joshua says move into the water, so let us take the Ark there. The waters suddenly divide and gather into heaps. The river bed is dried. You see, when we are obedient to the Lord, we can move forward confidently, even energetically. Following Christ, we are not to be lazy but fervent in spirit, serving him (Rom. 12:11). Too many of us are very lazy when it comes to obedience, confronting our children and one another in love, speaking the gospel to our neighbors and friends, and all the rest of our Christian responsibilities and opportunities. Perhaps we need to see them more clearly as the way we fight the wars of the Lord in our day. We do not line up across battle lines, at least not visible ones. We line up against Satan, who is crafty, with God’s gospel armor, gospel shoes, gospel hope, and gospel belt. Use these. Move forward confidently. Never hold back speaking to your children because you fear they will not listen or the truth will make them upset. Be willing to upend the applecart of their unbelief and stubbornness with Christ’s yoke – or you are fighting on the other team.
Passivity and inaction when God has spoken is a grievous sin. What, O husband, should you go home tonight and say to your wife by way of encouragement, repentance, or love? Do your children need to hear your confession of faith in Christ and a plain, personal statement of the gospel of grace? Children, the Lord has called you constantly by your parents and pastors to confess Christ and devote yourself to his word. Are you? Have you submitted your life to Jesus Christ and believe in him as your Lord and Savior? If not, why the delay? Do you hope for a small window when you get a little older to drink at the world’s sewer before you follow Christ? As a young adult, are you diligent in serving the Lord or pining away after a relationship, thinking that your life will really not begin unless you have someone to love? You do – Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 7:34). Love him first and fervently, for only then will you be worthy of another disciple’s love and able to sacrifice with a loving heart. All of us – do not delay – give up every sin that is telling Jesus “No!” Forsake every love that is keeping you from loving him! Devote your best hours each day to serving him. And live before his Book, as he did, for then you “will walk in your way securely and your feet will not stumble” (Prov. 3:23).
Follow God Implicitly in Every Time of Danger; Fear No Evil
It was a simple scene on Jordan’s flooded banks – just move forward. Do not ask questions. We must not turn prudence into skepticism – until the Lord resolves all our fears and we understand all possible scenarios and have enough money for all time, we do not give ourselves completely to him and obey him without fear. Israel at the Jordan teaches us simply to follow the Lord. Trust him explicitly. Does he say meet for worship so you can hear his word? Do his elders make his word available to you? Come and hear; come and buy the living bread without money. Are the times evil and uncertain? They will not become less evil or more certain by our hesitation to enter the Jordan and follow the Lord wherever he leads – not receiving the mark of the beast and worshipping his image in our day. When the Lord is with us, we are to fear no evil. This is his command. Yes, ungodly men will attempt much evil against the righteous, but we need not fear, “for thou art with me” (Ps. 23:4). Do we believe this? The Lord of all the earth is with us. The Savior in whose hand is all power is with us. The Spirit of truth and holiness that raised Jesus from the dead is with us. The church, you and I, simply need to obey God – words, Sabbath, purity, authority, contentment, truth – and all the rest. This is the way we safely cross the Jordan and endure the storms of life and see the world bowing the knee to Jesus Christ. Obey the Lord. Do not question or complain. Follow me, he says.
This brings us back to his word. It was his word guiding Joshua that day. Joshua did not take a step forward except by the Lord’s express command. We have far more of God’s word than Joshua did. Let us study it faithfully and deeply, hiding it in our hearts and praying with delight for faith and strength to believe and obey our Lord. Then, we may depend upon Him to guide our decisions, for our minds will be more transformed by his truth and susceptible to his leading. We would be humbler and less willful, which is one reason we often rush ahead and make harmful decisions rather than waiting upon him so that he will guide us. Some say that the Bible does not help us make personal decisions. I beg to differ. I say this is blasphemy against the Lord. If you place yourself in the known and revealed under his authority, he will certainly guide you when it comes to the secret things. The key thing is that our heart is held captive by his word (Rom. 12:1-2). Then, wherever he leads us by his word, promises, or providences, we shall follow him with cheerful hearts. It matters not as much where we are or how deep the Jordan is so long as he is with us. He is God’s Ark with us, God’s powerful presence, and God’s covenant promise.