Today’s reading includes Joshua 5:1-7:15, Luke 15:1-32, Psalm 81:1-16, Proverbs 13:1.
As we continue our study of Joshua, I find myself still back in Joshua 3-4. Early in the morning, Joshua and all the people set out and traveled to the Jordan River. They camped by the river for three days. The significance of the number is subtle revelation of what was to come through these chosen people. Three days for them until they cross into the long-awaited Promise Land. Three days until they experienced the land flowing with milk and honey. Fast forward to their most precious Descendent….three days in the tomb before the Resurrection. Three days of death before the victory over death forever. After three days in the grave, the Savior conquered spiritual slavery and wandering and death forever to those who will receive what has been won on their behalf. The Ultimate Promise Land, ours for the asking. But like the Israelites, we must cross the Jordan River. We cross the Jordan into faith receiving abundant life in the here and now. And, in the end, our final crossing will be more than we can imagine for all eternity.
The Jordan River for the Israelites was a roadblock. It stopped the progression of the promise. After all the years of wandering and wondering, they were so close, they could feel it! They could smell it! They were finally at the borders of the promise, but they weren’t there yet. There was one more river to cross, but it was a doosey! At that time of year the Jordan River was at flood stage. Maybe a few of the strongest could forge the River. The spies made it across and back. But Joshua had the holy assignment of getting all of the people across the flood waters of the Jordan River, 40,000 heads of households, plus women, children, and animals. With the tradition of that day of multiple wives and many children, historians believe that the number could have been close to 2 million people in all.
Joshua 3:5-7 tells us that “Joshua told the people, “Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do amazing things among you.” Joshua said to the priests, “Take up the ark of the covenant and pass on ahead of the people.” So they took it up and went ahead of them. And the Lord said to Joshua, “today I will begin to exalt you in the eyes of all Israel, so they may know that I am with you as I was with Moses.”
You, see Joshua was new to this leadership thing. Moses had just died, and maybe the people did not fully trust Joshua yet. I wonder if it was hard to believe that the Lord would do something extraordinary in his life, despite his past. But God said, “It’s coming!” After 3 days, the time had come. Joshua called for preparation. He told the people “Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do amazing things among you.” (Joshua 3:5) I imagine him saying, “Get ready, people! I know you can’t see it; I know that you don’t remember right now all the other mighty things that He has done for us. I know that to some of you these are just stories told to you by your fathers and grandfathers. I know that none of you were there when the Lord sent the plagues, or when we were delivered from the slavery of Egypt, or when we crossed the Red Sea. But I was there. I remember. Caleb remembers, too. Ask him. I know you have never known life without manna, but I’m here to tell you, that is not the norm! I remember the days when we toiled and labored for what little food we had. I remember the first time I tasted manna. I remember. And that is why I know. I know that He is up to something! And when He says get ready, we must get ready! He is the Great I Am; He is the Covenant God, the Keeper of the Promise. And He has promised that He will lead us into this Promise Land. I believe Him, because I remember.”
The people got ready. They consecrated their outward selves, while at the same time prepared and consecrated their inward selves. They cleansed themselves completely. They prepared heart and soul and body. And then they waited. And nothing happened at first. At first, the priests got wet.
“Tell the priests who carry the Ark of the Covenant: ‘When you reach the edge of the Jordan’s waters, go and stand in the river.’” Joshua 3:8
They had to take that giant step of faith into the flooded waters of the Jordan River. We, too, sometimes have to take that step of faith before we see the results. Hebrew 11:1 says, “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, and the evidence of things not seen.”
What were the priests thinking when they felt the water soaking their sandals? When the clothing that had lasted for 40 years, but had not worn out, began to be heavy with moisture? But then it happened. What are the sounds of a great body of water peeling back? It piled up in a heap a great distance away, at a town 20 miles upstream. And the priests kept walking, carrying the ark of the Lord with them. They kept walking to receive all the great promises that they had waited so long to receive, for He who promises is faithful–always.
The priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the LORD stood firm on dry ground in the middle of the Jordan, while all Israel passed by until the whole nation had completed the crossing on dry ground. Joshua 3:17
The priests went first because they were carrying the ark of the covenant. This was a beautiful gold box. And what was in the ark? Several holy things were in there, all which represented the presence of God. Of course, God is omnipresent, and we can’t keep him in a box, but there was a reigned-in holiness surrounding that box, because it was a concentrated portion of God’s presence. Remember that this was before Jesus completed his work on the cross. Now we don’t need an ark. Now, God dwells in the hearts of men. We, too, can stand firm, no matter the trial or difficulty or even joy, if we remain in the presence of God. And as the priests stood firm in the middle of the Jordan, strengthened with the presence of God, the people followed. Were they afraid that the water would fall back on them? Did they run across in fear or walk quickly across in amazement? Regardless of their emotions at the time, they did just what the priests had done. They took that step of faith and kept going.
When the priests carrying the arc of the covenant of the Lord got to the middle of the Jordan, they stood there until the whole nation had completed the crossing on dry ground. Scripture says, “they stood firm on dry ground in the middle of the Jordan”. They stood firm in what was now their personal experience, not just the experience of their forefathers. My mother used to always say, “God doesn’t have grandchildren, just children.” We can’t rely on our parents’ faith. We learn from them, but eventually we have to make it our own personal experience. The priests could stand firm because the ark of the Lord was holding the presence of the Lord Himself. So it was the Lord who held the waters back while the people crossed on dry land. The middle of the Jordan was surely the most dangerous spot to be. The Lord Himself remained in the place of danger, on their behalf, until all were safely on the other side. This is one of many, many examples that show that He is our refuge. He is our shelter from every storm. He is our safety. He alone can do extraordinary things on the behalf of ordinary people.
Just as the priests held the Presence of God, so we as sons of God carry the Presence of God in our very hearts and souls. Therefore, we, too, can stand firm in every dangerous and difficult place. We, too, can “Be still, and know that He is God”, as the Psalm says.
When the whole nation had finished crossing the Jordan River, the Lord had another significant assignment. He told Joshua to select 12 men, one from each tribe, and instruct them to go back to the middle of the Jordan River. They must go back to take up twelve stones from the middle of the river from right where the priests stood firm. They were to then carry them over to the people. So Joshua obeyed. He called 12 men from the 12 different tribes, symbolizing that God’s promises were for all the people, and that the generational covenant still was intact. The priests took the twelve stones from the Jordan and brought them up out of the middle of the river.
That day the LORD exalted Joshua in the sight of all Israel; and they revered him all the days of his life, just as they had revered Moses. Then the LORD said to Joshua, “Command the priests carrying the ark of the Testimony to come up out of the Jordan.” So Joshua commanded the priests, “Come up out of the Jordan.” And the priests came up out of the river carrying the ark of the covenant of the LORD. No sooner had they set their feet on the dry ground than the waters of the Jordan returned to their place and ran at flood stage as before.
The slave was not only free, but exalted! The ordinary was used in an extraordinary way, despite the hardships and struggles and fear that he had had to work through. What was the purpose of the stones? They were stones of remembrance. At the Lord’s command, Joshua said to the people… “In the future when your descendants ask their fathers, ‘What do these stones mean? Tell them, ‘Israel crossed the Jordan on dry ground.’ For the Lord your God dried up the Jordan before you until you had crossed over. The Lord your God did to the Jordan just what he had done to the Red Sea when he dried it up before us until we had crossed over.” Joshua 4:21-23 Why did the Lord want them to take the stones from the Jordan? Because he knew them so well. They were a forgetful people. They were forgetful about Who He is, what He can do, what He requires. And I am forgetful, too. That is what this book is all about…it is about remembering. And as we remember who He is and what He has done and what He will do, He will begin to do extraordinary things. Why? So that all will know that God is powerful and wonderful and kind and merciful and loving. When they see us, and what God does despite our ordinary-ness, God alone will be glorified.
“He did this so that all the peoples of the earth might know that the hand of the Lord is powerful and so that you might always fear the Lord your God.”