Crossing Over (Joshua 3:1-7)

Before stepping into the Promised Land, Joshua needed military intelligence about Jericho. He sent 2 spies into the city to spy on the land. When the king of Jericho heard about the 2 spies, he sent men to capture them. But a prostitute in the city, Rahab, feared the Lord and decided to hide these spies in her home. Her house was located upon the city wall, and so, it was easier for them to escape with a rope through the window.  (you can read the previous post by clicking here: http://eireneletters.com/devotional/joshua/god-specialises-in-using-the-flawed-people-for-his-purposes-joshua-21/)

These 2 spies escaped successfully, and brought their report back to Joshua. They told him all that had happened and said, “The Lord has surely given the whole land into our hands; all the people are melting in fear because of us.” (Joshua 2:24, NIV). Imagine the joy of the people upon hearing this. The Lord has given the whole land into their hands. This was the news Joshua was waiting for.

Their parents failed to enter the Promised Land due to their unbelief, and this generation was about to enter it. In the wilderness, they did not have permanent homes. They were always on the move. They were not able to plant vegetables or fruit trees, they were always in a state of deprivation. And now they would be moving closer to the Promised Land: a land flowing with milk and honey! There was great excitement and joy in the people!

Joshua gave orders to the people to set out and they came to the east shore of the Jordan River. Before crossing over, they set their camp there. The people must have felt confused and bewildered. Verse 15 tells us, “Now the Jordan is at flood stage all during harvest”. It was a raging river at flood stage!

The Jordan River

The Jordan River was not a shallow river that people can just cross over. It was a mighty river. The name “Jordan” means “descender”. The river bed was very steep. It was 3 to 12 feet deep. There were thick undergrowth on the bed of the river. If someone tripped over them, he would be swept away by the overwhelming current.

The length of the river was about 200 miles. What is most dangerous about the Jordan River is the swiftness of the current. There were dangerous currents and the bed of the river was muddy. The current could easily sweep a man away. In the month of April (and from this passage, it should be during this time when the Israelites had to cross over), the Jordan River would double in size, from 90-100 feet in width to 200 feet in width. It was because there were melting snows from the mountain. This river is literally the river of death.

How would you feel if you were an Israelite, watching the condition of the mighty river?

You had come so far, and now, when you are looking at the river, it seems that your dreams and hopes of reaching the Promised Land is impossible— again. All your excitement and joy must have been swept away by the sounds of the gigantic waves.

Think about your life and the circumstances in your life. Each of us has our own Jordan River—an impossible task that makes us so afraid and helpless. We may feel it will lead to nowhere and that we are stuck where we are. We may be angry at God for playing such a joke on us.

We want to make it into the Promised Land but this promise is too far away and not within our grasp. There are just so many things standing in the way and too many scary hurdles to overcome and strong waves beating against us.

But Joshua decided to walk by faith and not by sight. The waves in the river might be roaring but he was confident that God was with them and would carry them through. Here are some things that we can learn from Joshua and the Israelites:

  1. Follow the guidance of God (Joshua 3:2-4)

“2 After three days the officers went throughout the camp, 3 giving orders to the people: “When you see the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God, and the Levitical priests carrying it, you are to move out from your positions and follow it.”

This was the sign that they were ready to cross over: when the priests carrying the ark of the covenant of the Lord led the way.

Why was this Ark so special? If you remember during the days of Moses, when the Israelites were in the wilderness, God had given instructions to build this ark of the covenant. There were a few items inside the Ark which were holy:

*The stone tablets which God inscribed the Ten Commandments on with His own fingers. The 10 Commandments shows us that God desires a relationship with us.

*A pot of manna to remind the Israelites of God’s gracious provision during the past 40 years in the wilderness (Exodus 16:33, 34).

*Aaron’s rod. It was a stick that grew leaves and almonds to demonstrate God has the power to do anything, even to the smallest details (Numbers 17). This stick was a dead stick, and God could even bring life out of the dead stick. 

All these items in the Ark were symbols that God had been with the Israelites and He was faithful. He is still with them. You see, apart from these items in the Ark, on top of the Ark was the Mercy Seat which was made of pure gold. There were two statues of cherubim, one on each side and they were kneeling down (Exodus 25:18-19). God was enthroned upon the cherubim (Psalm 80:1; 99:1). He was there with His people. He dwells with His people. The Ark was a symbol of His presence.

Today, we have the Holy Spirit who teaches us God’s commandments (Ephesians 6:17). God has also provided for our daily needs (Psalm 23:1). And we know God cares for the little details in our lives through His provision (Luke 12:7).

The Ark of the Covenant, carried by the priests, was to move into the Jordan River first, and then followed by the Israelites, it meant that God was leading the way. The Israelites only needed to see where He is going and follow Him.

Verse 4 tells us more details about the movement, “4 Then you will know which way to go, since you have never been this way before. But keep a distance of about two thousand cubits between you and the ark; do not go near it.”

The Israelites were to see where God was moving but they were not to get too close to the Ark. The purpose of God’s instruction was not really mentioned but perhaps so that everyone could see where God was going. Over 2 million Israelites were beside the terrifying Jordan River. All eyes could see the Ark and everyone knew God was with them. 

In your life right now, may be you are able to cross the river but you are afraid and terrified of the waves and the river. May be in your mind, you think there is no way you can cross the river. It is too impossible. It is too difficult. It seems too terrifying.

What are you going to do about it? Will you be like the Israelites? Will you allow God to lead you? All you need to do is to follow Him. Follow His guidance. He is with you.

2.Consecrate ourselves (Joshua 3:5)

Apart from following the Ark, the second thing the Israelites have to do was to consecrate themselves.

“5 Joshua told the people, “Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do amazing things among you.” (verse 5)

Consecrate means “to be holy, to set apart”. We can’t see God at work if we are marred by sins. We can’t experience God’s presence if we choose to follow the lust of our flesh. We can not serve two masters: God and other things. We have to set ourselves apart, holy, blameless and righteous because our God is holy and righteous.

(a) Repentance

Many times in the Bible, we read how God was broken hearted at the rebellion and the sins of His people. And that God had to punish them corporately for their sins.

Before they crossed over, they had to repent and set themselves apart, not prostituting themselves with worshipping other idols or commit sins. They were to ask God for forgiveness and live in holiness.

Likewise, in our daily lives, we think thoughts, or say things that hurt God and others, intentionally or unintentionally. We need to seek God, examine our lives, confess and repent of our sins. Consecrate ourselves wholly to God and desire holy living.  

(b) Welcome God’s intervention

In the Old Testament times, “consecrating oneself” also means, washing clothes, practicing ceremonial rites, refrain from having sexual relation with your spouse and so on. They had to put a hold on their daily routine and to pay attention to God’s presence.

Sometimes God calls us to do something which seemingly interrupts our daily routine. Taking time to pray, taking care of someone in need, all these may seem to interrupt our daily routine but to see God at work, we have to be willing to take extra efforts to allow God to change our time table.

  1. Step Out in Faith

God spoke to Joshua, “8 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.’” and “13 And as soon as the priests who carry the ark of the Lord—the Lord of all the earth—set foot in the Jordan, its waters flowing downstream will be cut off and stand up in a heap.”

The river was at the roughest at this time of the year but God said they had to step out in faith. They first had to get their feet wet.

As James said, faith without action is dead (James 2:26). If Joshua and the leaders did not step out in faith, they would never cross the river.

Each step that you take into the unknown, you are stepping in faith. With each step by faith, you are moving closer and closer to depend not on yourself, but on God. That is where victory comes from, from God, the Maker of Heaven and Earth.

Imagine that the priests were carrying the Ark into the raging river. All of the Israelites were watching them in amazement, wondering what God would do next.  As the priests were in the river, the water in the river gradually started to recede and the river became dry. One by one, the Israelites began to cross over: the old and the young, the grandparents and the babies, the youths and the adults, all crossing over a river that was once a fierce river.  

Can you imagine the excitement? They were experiencing a miracle. They experienced God working miraculously in their midst.

The God who led the Israelites from the bondage in Egypt, to the wilderness, to crossing a gigantic river is still the same God today. I don’t know what your private battle and struggles are but please know that there is nothing too difficult for God.

We must follow Him, forsake our sins, repent and set ourselves apart for Him. Whatever He is calling you to do, step out in faith. Only when we step out in faith, we can move forward in our lives and in our faith journey.

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