Joshua 3 – Crossing the Jordan
A. Instructions for crossing the Jordan River.
1. (1-2) Camping by the Jordan: Israel faces up to their own utter helplessness to accomplish what was set before them.
Then Joshua rose early in the morning; and they set out from Acacia Grove and came to the Jordan, he and all the children of Israel, and lodged there before they crossed over. So it was, after three days, that the officers went through the camp;
a. Came to the Jordan…and lodged there before they crossed over: God told the people of Israel to wait three days at the shore of the Jordan River (Joshua 1:11). All that time, the people of Israel saw a rushing river, swollen with spring rains lie in front of them. They must have asked, “How can we ever cross this river?”
i. It was one thing for a few spies to make their way across (as happened in Joshua 2), but here we are talking about a nation of millions, with all their possessions – how will they make it?
b. After three days, that the officers went through the camp: At a moment like this, all the wonderful talk about living in the Promised Land can sound hollow. There is a seemingly impossible obstacle blocking the way – how will God do this one?
2. (3-5) The ark of God will lead the way.
And they commanded the people, saying, “When you see the ark of the covenant of the LORD your God, and the priests, the Levites, bearing it, then you shall set out from your place and go after it. Yet there shall be a space between you and it, about two thousand cubits by measure. Do not come near it, that you may know the way by which you must go, for you have not passed this way before.” And Joshua said to the people, “Sanctify yourselves, for tomorrow the LORD will do wonders among you.”
a. When you see the ark of the covenant of the LORD your God, and the priests, the Levites, bearing it, then you shall set out from your place and go after it: Joshua didn’t send his Army Corps of Engineers first. Instead, he sent the priests who carried the ark of the covenant, which was the visible representation of God’s presence with the people. Joshua knew this was a spiritual problem, not a feat of human engineering.
b. Yet there shall be a space between you and it, about two thousand cubits by measure: God required that they keep some 1,000 yards behind the ark. This was for two reasons. First, to respect the holy nature of the ark of the covenant. But also, it was to make sure that everyone had a clear view of the ark. That you may know the way by which you must go shows that the ark of the covenant led the way. Israel would accomplish this impossible task as they set their eyes upon God’s presence and followed only after His presence.
c. Sanctify yourselves: Because this would be a spiritual battle, Joshua requires that the people have a spiritual preparation. Sanctify yourselves means they were to separate themselves from common things to focus in on the LORD, and to see that the LORD will do wonders among you.
3. (6) Joshua’s step of faith: he sends the priests to walk across a swollen river Jordan.
Then Joshua spoke to the priests, saying, “Take up the ark of the covenant and cross over before the people.” So they took up the ark of the covenant and went before the people.
a. Take up the ark of the covenant and cross over before the people: We should assume that God told Joshua to do this, and that he wasn’t working based upon foolish presumption. We can also assume that God spoke to Joshua about this as Joshua was in God’s word, reading and remembering the crossing of the Red Sea.
i. We see Joshua’s success depending on and growing out of the promise of Joshua 1:8: This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. Joshua obviously had the word of God on his lips, on his mind, and in his actions.
b. So they took up the ark of the covenant and went before the people: Even with God’s specific guidance, and with specific guidance from His word, this is still an impressive step of faith for Joshua. Living and walking in the Promised Land comes from this kind of faith, not a slavish reliance on a “law” relationship with God.
i. Faith leads us into greater victories than the law ever could.
4. (7-8) God’s encouragement to Joshua.
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. 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.’”
a. This day I will begin to exalt you in the sight of all Israel: As Joshua takes a step of faith, God encourages him all the way. God always wants to encourage and help along our faith, but we may have our ears closed to His encouragement.
b. That they may know that as I was with Moses, so I will be with you: God will make Joshua a leader like Moses in the eyes of the people, and He will do it by using Joshua to miraculously lead the people across an impassable body of water.
c. When you have come to the edge of the water…you shall stand in the Jordan: After Joshua had obeyed the previous guidance, based on faith and his understanding of God’s word, then God gave him more specific instructions.
5. (9-13) Joshua encourages and instructs Israel.
So Joshua said to the children of Israel, “Come here, and hear the words of the LORD your God.” 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: Behold, the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth is crossing over before you into the Jordan. Now therefore, take for yourselves twelve men from the tribes of Israel, one man from every tribe. 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.”
a. By this you shall know that the living God is among you: Joshua understands the way God connects events in our lives. The fact that He will move on behalf of Israel here is taken as a promise of His future blessing and movement for them.
b. Behold, the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth is crossing over before you into the Jordan: Joshua knows that the ark will lead the way – again, this is a spiritual battle to be won.
c. The waters of the Jordan shall be cut off, the waters that come down from upstream, and they shall stand as a heap: Joshua’s general outlook, as communicated to the people, is refreshing. The impossible problems in their way are not seen as an oppressive trial, but as a glorious opportunity to see God work.
B. Crossing the Jordan River.
1. (14-15) The faith of the priests and of Joshua.
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, 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),
a. The feet of the priests who bore the ark dipped in the edge of the water: The priests begin the procession, with the ark of the covenant some 1,000 yards in front of the people, and the priests came and walked right into a river that looked like it wasn’t going to stop anytime soon.
i. Who knows how long the priests stood there in the river? It might have been a moment; but it may have been a long time – in a situation like that, a moment seems like a long time!
b. Dipped in the edge of the water: We usually want the river to be dry before we even make a step, but God was truly calling Israel to step out in faith.
c. For the Jordan overflows all its banks during the whole time of harvest: Joshua reminds us that this was not a time when the Jordan was reduced to a trickle. Because of the spring rains, at this time of early harvest, the river was swollen and overflowing its banks.
2. (16-17) The Jordan is stopped, and the people cross over on dry ground.
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. 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.
a. The waters which came down from upstream stood still: In some miraculous manner, God stopped the flow of the Jordan River. He may have used a natural occurrence (an earthquake has often been suggested), but the timing of it was a work of God.
b. On dry ground in the midst of the Jordan: As well, even with the flow of the river stopped, it was miraculous that the people could cross over on dry ground in the midst of the Jordan. God miraculously dried the riverbed so that they didn’t slog through marshy mud.
i. This miracle obviously connects with the miracle the nation experienced some 40 years earlier: the passing through the Red Sea. God brought them out of Egypt’s bondage with a miracle, and He brought them in to the Promised Land with a miracle.
c. The priests who bore the ark of the covenant of the Lord stood firm on dry ground in the midst of the Jordan: How did it happen? What was the key to this amazing miracle? Notice the centrality of the ark of the covenant of the LORD. The ark is referred to 14 times in these 17 verses. This was all about the trust Joshua, the priests, and Israel had in the God they knew was present with them.
i. The ark of the covenant cleared the way for Israel. This was spiritual work, not work for Israel’s “Army Corps of Engineers.”
3. To face such impossible challenges in our lives, we must look to Jesus, our Joshua. He always leads us.
a. Jesus is the fulfillment of the ark; He is Immanuel, which is translated, “God with us” (Matthew 1:23).
b. Jesus has cleared the way to victory over all things: Having disarmed principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it [the cross] (Colossians 2:15).
c. As we keep our eyes on and follow behind our victorious Jesus, the river of impossibility will dry up.
d. To the cynic, who wonders if they haven’t tried that and been disappointed, we must ask them: “Have you really tried this? Have you truly walked according to God’s word, trusted in Jesus and been disappointed?” Perhaps your disappointment is actually in your flesh.