Joshua 3: The Crossing
October 10, 2010 Series: Joshua: Lord's Army
Topic: Old Testament Passage: Joshua 3:1–3:17
Faith that Moves
Turn to Joshua chapter three, we are continuing in our series in the book of Joshua. Last week, Jim preached about having “Faith like a Prostitute”, which I imagine will be a popular hit on i-tunes this month. When reading the story of Rahab, I have always found it interesting that Joshua sent spies into Jericho at all. God had already told him that he would be successful, that none of his enemies would stand, as long as he obeyed with strength and courage. Sending spies feels a bit unnecessary. But knowing Joshua has committed to following God’s Word exactly, my guess is that God commanded Joshua to send spies in, as he had done with Moses the first time 38 years earlier. God’s command can’t be a military strategy; everyone over 21 has died at this point (minus Joshua and Caleb) and no one remaining is experienced with warfare or military reconnaissance. Joshua tells the men to go “view all of the land, especially Jericho.” I wonder if God sends them not to learn about where they are going; to prove that He is already there.
In his sovereignty, somehow God leads these three spies into the most fortified military city in the land, they hide out in a brothel, only to return with a positive report from one prostitute turned Christian. There is a huge difference between the first report from the 12 spies and this one from the 3. The first time, the men identified ALL THE REASONS why they shouldn’t go, ALL THE WAYS it could go wrong, and ALL THE PROBLEMS with following God and his plan. The second time, these three men see the ONE REASON they should follow, the ONE REASON it will work, the ONE REASON to trust God’s Word. It is the difference between a report of the faithful and faithlessness. When God commands me to go, directs me into that which is foreign, difficult, and uncomfortable, do I spend more time finding excuses to avoid or a reason to obey?
Joshua hears the report and though most military leaders would probably flog their spies for a ridiculous story, he doesn’t even ask a single question. Instead, the report of one faithful prostitute strengthens his faith—“What? We have one prostitute? Yes, that’s proof that God has given us everything!” Joshua’s faith doesn’t stop at a confession, a declaration of belief,—like Rahab he acts with courage following God into a situation that has no possibility of success without Him. READ JOSHUA 3.1-17
V.1 The Transition
Then Joshua rose early in the morning and they set out from Shittim. And they came to the Jordan, he and all the people ofIsrael, and lodged there before they passed over.
Having heard the report the night before, Joshua wakes up at the crack of down, bags packed, fired up to get out of Shittim. They have been living in and around this area since defeating the two kings Sihon and Og years ago. This was the city from which Moses initially sent in spies to the land—the place where they have spent the last 40 years wandering around. Crossing into the land, however, has been an anticipated event for centuries, ever since God first promised Abraham the land recorded in Genesis 12 & 15. It is a day full of excitement, fear, and exhilaration, but like the wedding day, it will prove to be the easiest part of the marriage.
God hasn’t yet revealed the details of HOW all of this is going to go down quite yet, but the vision is clear for what is going to happen. The leaders, and the people, know where they are headed next, across the Jordan River; they know what is on the other side, the enemy; and they know what they are supposed to do there, possess the land God has given them. HOW they get thousands of men, women, children, cattle, and stuff across the Jordan is not clear. HOW they will defeat a fortress like Jericho is not clear. HOW they wipe out seven other nations is not clear. The one thing they know for certain is that their responsibility is to follow God. Everyone should have a vision for your life, a vision for your family, a vision for your marriage, a vision for your relationships with others, a vision for your role as a member of the body, a vision for your role in the local community. This vision should be rooted in God’s Promises, Commands, and Warnings from Word. Do you know where you are headed and where you are supposed to end up? I’m not talking about career or school or material things…but of godliness. Even if you don’t know exactly HOW it will all come about, do know the path that is laid out in God’s Word?
The Red Sea & the Jordan
For Joshua the vision is clear. Living out God’s vision will require an incredible change of attitude toward everything in their life. The boundary of the Jordan represents a significant TRANSITION for this new generation. Already identified as the people of God, the family of God, the nation of Israel, they are now beginning to actually live out what that means. Their identity is not changing as much as coming to maturity. This is the second time Israel has crossed over a body of water, the first being the crossing of their parents through the Red Sea. We all need to have a RED SEA crossing of redemption, the time where Jesus saves us certain death, frees us from slavery to sin, and adopts us into his family. But there is still one more body of water to cross in our journey. We all need to have a JORDAN crossing of mission, where Jesus is not only the savior who gives new life, but becomes the Lord who directs how we live it every moment in all areas of life.
v.2-4 Command to Follow
2 At the end of three days the officers went through the camp 3 and commanded the people, “As soon as you see the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God being carried by the Levitical priests, then you shall set out from your place and follow it. 4 Yet there shall be a distance between you and it, about 2,000 cubits in length. Do not come near it, in order that you may know the way you shall go, for you have not passed this way before.”
Follow the Ark
At the end of three days, following the pattern established in chapter 1, we assume that God gives instructions to Joshua, who repeats verbatim the instructions to his commanders, who repeat verbatim the instructions to the people. I pray that our leadership is as committed to communicating God’s Word so that what we preach and teach is communicated directly from God’s Word, to God’s leaders, to God’s people with all purity. In this case, the commanders tell the people to follow the Ark of the Covenant when it starts across the Jordan. For years, Israel had followed a pillar of cloud, now the Ark of the Covenant would lead them. They would not be led by military scouts but priests who bear the ark, not by the great General Joshua astride a horse, but by God himself.
Follow at a Distance
This is the first time that the Ark of the Covenant is mentioned in the book of Joshua—mentioned 17 times in the next two chapters. The Arkwas a small golden box, designed by God and built by men according to instructions given by God. The Arkwas housed in a portable “temple” called the Tabernacle, where the glory of God visibly presided among Israeland sacrifices were made for the sins of the people. The Ark of the Covenant is the most holy possession Israel has. It contained Aaron the High Priest’s rod, a jar of manna, and the 10 commandments. Among many things, it symbolized the promise of God, the Law of God, the presence of God and, as God spoke from above the mercy seat to Moses, it is often equated with God himself. The commanders instruct Israel to follow at a distance of approximately ½ Mile, about 1,000 yards, or 10 football fields. Through this instruction, God reminds Israel “I’m Holy”, keep your distance. I’m not your buddy, I’m not your friend, I’m not your spiritual vending machine, I’m not some idol you can approach flippantly: I’m Almighty, take your shoes off your on holy ground, shield your eyes, lie on your face, don’t touch me or you die, God. TheArk is one of those symbols that presents God as personal and present, but all together Holy and Fearsome.
Know the Way to Go
He tells them to follow so they’ll know which way to go. IF we don’t follow God at a distance, with reverence and intention, we tend to treat God as if he is a counselor we can appeal to when we need him, ,to basically affirm what we want. It is impossible to follow God without this kind of distance, but we try:
- Walking beside God: Walking beside God is a God-is-my-co/pilot kind of mentality. And though that sounds nice and biblical, the truth is, there is a problem with assuming that God is your assistant. People can appear like they love Jesus, as if they are sitting right next to him as they make decisions. This person may even turn to Scripture, prayer, or godly counsel for advice BUT when the advice contradicts where they “feel” they want to go, they ignore their co-pilot who is screaming about the mountain they are about to run into. Walking beside God is a way of fooling everyone into believing God is flying the plane, when in fact, you are. If you walk beside God, you aren’t following him.
- Walking in front of God: The dangers of walking in front of God might seem obvious and not worthy of mentioning but this is probably where most of us live. The truth is, walking in front of God isn’t faith at all. This person makes decisions without God because you think you are smarter than God. We starting walking without ever asking God for a direction. When considering difficult decisions, or even simple ones, they make PROS and CONS list before they ever open the Bible. They don’t pray about decisions, seek counsel from friends, not brothers, and find ways and people to affirm decisions that have already been made in their hearts. They are not teachable, not humble, and they lead with their intellect. They approach the Jordan river not asking God WHERE do you want me to cross, but determining according to our own wisdom, where it is easiest and safest for me to cross.
- Walking behind God: There are good reasons for us to walk at a distance—we need to be far enough back so that we (and everyone with us) can SEE where God is leading. That means positioning God and His Word at a prominent place in your life, in a position to take direction from and not react to when we walk our own direction. Walking beside or in front of God makes it difficult to actually see where God is leading. How do I know how I am walking? Do you ask what God would have you do, read what God has said, before you have to make a decision or after? If someone asks you how to walk, what decision to make, what direction, is your first thought to direct them to God’s Word? How do you make marital decisions? Financial decisions? Relational decisions? Resolve conflict?
V. 5-8 Right before the crossing…Command to Clean
5 Then Joshua said to the people, “Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do wonders among you.” 6 And Joshua said to the priests, “Take up the ark of the covenant and pass on before the people.” So they took up the ark of the covenant and went before the people. 7 The Lord said to Joshua, “Today 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 And as for you, command the priests who bear the ark of the covenant, ‘When you come to the brink of the waters of theJordan, you shall stand still in theJordan.’ ”
So after these instructions, Joshua brings them to the shores of the Jordanand addresses all of the people. As part of the final instruction, right before God’s presence goes before them, right before the river is miraculous divided, right before they cross he tells the people to “consecrate” themselves. They are not preparing themselves for a wonderful EVENT, they are preparing themselves for WORSHIP, to be in the presence of God. From an earthly perspective, we expect Joshua to remind them about strategy, equipment, weapons, etc. Instead, he makes sure they are prepared and equipped spiritually. It is a reminder that, the most important thing in assuring prosperity and “success” in planting a church, in leading a ministry, cultivating a marriage, or building a family, is not strategy and pragmatism…it’s purity, setting yourself apart for God’s Work in all areas of life.
And we see that God means for the Jordan Rivercrossing to be more than just an event. God tells Joshua that the coming miracle is going to affirm his leadership, exalt him in some sense, just as he did with Moses. At the same time, he tells him that his leadership, the coming events, and their future success are not the primarily motivated by how it will impact Israel; they are to attest that the Living God was among them.
V. 9-13 How will you know
9 And Joshua said to the people of Israel, “Come here and listen to the words of the Lord your God.” 10 And Joshua said, “Here is how you shall know that the living God is among you and that he will without fail drive out from before you the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Hivites, the Perizzites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, and the Jebusites. 11 Behold, the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth is passing over before you into the Jordan. 12 Now therefore take twelve men from the tribes of Israel, from each tribe a man. 13 And when the soles of the feet of the priests bearing the ark of the Lord, the Lord of all the earth, shall rest in the waters of theJordan, the waters of theJordan shall be cut off from flowing, and the waters coming down from above shall stand in one heap.”
Joshua gathers the people around, “Come and listen”. These are his final Words, God’s final words, the last thing the coach says before the big game. Joshua answers the question that everyone one of the Israelites, and us, want to ask. How will I REALLY know that God is REALLY leading, REALLY fighting for me, is REALLY there directing? And Joshua says, “Here is how you know…he will fulfill his promise to destroy IDOLS as you walk after Him, he will do what he says. Then he says, BEHOLD…”LOOK” THERE GOES GOD…GOD ALWAYS MOVES FIRST, God always moves first…Jesus came, Jesus lived, Jesus died, Jesus rose, Jesus empowers, Jesus leads….
Take a Step
God always moves first, and then it is OUR MOVE. If you don’t cross the river, you’ll never experience the exhilaration of the fight. If you don’t follow the General Jesus onto the battlefield, you’ll never feel victorious. Joshua says you KNOW he is there because you SEE him driving them out. But it begins with a first step….a toe in the water. Imagine what the priests are hearing. Similar to Moses experience at the Red Sea, seeing God move required a step of faith, BEFORE THE WATERS PART. We don’t wait for God to PROVE he is among us as we sit, Jesus is the proof that God is among us. Your faith is fruitless, joyless, hopeless and just plain blah because you’re doing little more than sitting on the shore of theJordan waiting for God to split the river before you step in. No matter where God is commanding us to go, we can confidentially believer that Jesus has already gone there first…he is already there, not just waiting for us, but leading us to where he is at.
V. 14-17 The Crossing/CONCLUSION
14 So when the people set out from their tents to pass over the Jordan with the priests bearing the ark of the covenant before the people, 15 and as soon as those bearing the ark had come as far as the Jordan, and the feet of the priests bearing the ark were dipped in the brink of the water (now the Jordan overflows all its banks throughout the time of harvest), 16 the waters coming down from above stood and rose up in a heap very far away, at Adam, the city that is beside Zarethan, and those flowing down toward the Sea of the Arabah, the Salt Sea, were completely cut off.
The crossing concludes our story and my sermon today. Carried by the Levitical priests, the Ark of the Covenant leads the way into the Jordan. At this time, the Jordan Riveris as large as it ever is with banks overflowing. At this time, the seasonal river is most likely at least a mile wide and a raging seasonal torrent. The writer makes a point in verse 15 to explain how insane a crossing at this time of year is, the river is full and above its banks. The point is, left to their own wisdom, the leaders would not have chosen to cross at this point, at this place, at this time of the year. I have learned that faithfully following God is never IDEAL from my perspective, never convenient, never the right time, never pain free, never fully understandable—but it is EXACTLY when and where God wanted them to cross. WHY, because this is God’s story. And God’s timing is never “ideal” in the eyes of men, but always perfectly suited to maximize His glory.
The People Cross
And the people passed over opposite Jericho. 17 Now the priests bearing the ark of the covenant of the Lord stood firmly on dry ground in the midst of the Jordan, and all Israel was passing over on dry ground until all the nation finished passing over the Jordan. The people follow the presence of God into the Jordan River, and then pass before the presence of God who stands in the midst of what should be a raging river that kills them, until everyone has finished crossing the river. The crossing of the Red Sea is a bit different than the crossing of the Jordan, but they share one common characteristic—a transformational moment. Unlike the Red Sea, the Jordan is not a picture of new birth, but of the shift from confused spiritual boy scout to a full-grown soldier.
We all need to have a RED SEA crossing of redemption, the time where Jesus saves us from death, frees us from slavery to sin, and adopts us into his family. But there is still one more body of water to cross in our journey. We all need to have a JORDAN crossing, where Jesus is not only the savior who gives new life, but becomes the Lord who directs how we live it every moment in all areas of life. TheJordan is a boundary line for all who say they believe—it’s time to cross it NOW. Don’t be resigned sitting on the bank of the Jordan, Jesus isn’t there and eventually you’ll just walk back into the wilderness. Just as your self-centered flesh died in the Red Sea, let your self-glorifying vision die in theJordan, and walk where Jesus is leading you.
Luke 9.23 23 And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.