Joshua 3: Amazing things among you

Application

Compared to the chapters before and after, Joshua 3 is short. And in the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t really cover a lot of ground. Indeed, time-wise it really only covers the three days that it took to prepare for the crossing and then the cross. Distance-wise, it only covers a couple of miles; just enough to get from Shittim to the west side of the river. And event-wise, it’s really just this one event, the crossing of the Jordan, that consumes it. And in fact, this crossing of the Jordan is almost anti-climactic compared to all that has come leading up to it. There was no army giving chase. There was no pillar of fire or cloud leading the way. The surrounding landscape was not ignited with holy fire. And apparently, there was no one waiting to attack them on the other side, presumably because no one dared think they would actually make it across. But there is still a lot here to digest, and I would note three things in this chapter that I believe are critical if we’re going to realize God’s vision for our churches.

The first is found in verse 5. Having already dispatched the logistical instructions as to how the crossing would progress – the Israelites were to get up and follow the ark as it passed – Joshua had only one further statement for the people en masse: “Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do amazing things among you.” Now, to be honest, the first thing that jumped out at me was Joshua’s sense of certainty: the Lord will do amazing things. That’s faith. But as I’ve read this a few times over the last week, I’ve come to the conclusion that this was actually a simple observation. Indeed, God had done amazing things in their midst already. He had been doing them on a daily basis (think manna and quail) since they went into the desert 40 years earlier. God will do amazing things. For Joshua and the Israelites, it was a foregone conclusion because God was, simply put, an amazing God. So this observation isn’t particularly earth-shattering.

What stands out as extraordinary here, then, is the command. Joshua commanded the Israelites to consecrate themselves. It meant to separate themselves from sin and everything that was unclean, and to set themselves apart for the service of the Most High. The word “consecrate” appears in the Bible some 36 times before Joshua 3, but this action of consecrating the people was still very rare. In fact, only once before have the Israelites been told to consecrate themselves in general to the Lord. Each of the other times, it has been a particular sub-group of Israel that was consecrated, or it was their leader Moses taking executive action to consecrate them. No, in this case, the command was given: Consecrate yourselves, and I think that is significant because it put the ball in their court. The Israelites now had to choose whether or not they would do this.

Their decision about consecration, though, would have much greater ramifications than simply making them holy, though. It would determine whether or not they would be able to participate in the amazing things God was about to do. You see, I wholly believe that there was a very definite relationship between this command and the promise of God’s movement which we see attached. Firstly, the promise was a reason why they should obey. In other words, they should consecrate themselves because God was going to do amazing things. But secondly, their obedience was a requisite of the promise being fulfilled. In other words, they needed to consecrate themselves for God to actually move.

Simply put, if we are to expect God to do amazing things in our midst, we must consecrate ourselves, separating ourselves completely from all that is not quite right in our lives. And this revelation is easily translated to practical application today: if we want to make inroads into the world around us, be effective in ministry, and see outstanding movements of the Lord, we must consecrate ourselves.

A second thing that I want to take a moment to look at comes in the order of events on the day when Israel finally crossed the Jordan. In verse 8, Joshua told the priests carrying the ark that, when they came to the flooded Jordan River, they were to go and stand in it. Now, a flooded river is no laughing matter. Floods have a tendency of transforming sedate streams into roaring torrents that wash away everything in their path. So you have to be extremely careful when stepping into one, even more so when carrying something like the ark! But before a way across the river would be provided, these priests had to step into the water and go, stand in the middle. In other words, the priests had to take the first “steps of faith,” so to speak.

Again, application of this observation is relatively easy. Leaders must get out in front of their people and lead. And if we’re going to see God do great things, that will generally mean that we’re going to have to step out in faith into some rather unpleasant – and even downright dangerous – situations. Generally speaking, God won’t move until we do.

And the third thing that I want us to notice today is the scope of the miracle which happened when the Israelites consecrated themselves and took the first step into the river. Namely, notice how much of the water was diverted: all of it. In verse 16, we learn that the water simply stopped flowing. Instead, it piled up near a place called Adam, several miles upstream. Notice also how long it lasted: long enough for everyone to cross. In verse 17, we discover that “all Israel passed by until the whole nation had completed the crossing.” And notice, lastly, how complete this was: they all crossed “on dry ground.”

In short, when the Israelites were willing to consecrate themselves and take the first step, God picked up the stick and took it the rest of the way and then some. It would have been enough for the water to simply slow down so the Israelites could build boats to go across, but He completely stopped the flooded river instead. It would have been adequate for Him to hold the waters until the fighting men, maybe a majority, crossed over, but He held them until the whole nation had completed the crossing. And it would have been adequate for Him to simply removed the water, but instead God went so far as to dry up the ground so that their footing would be absolutely sure.

When we consecrate ourselves and step out in faith, God will move. Not only will He move, but He will move all the way and then some. He will pull out all the stops to enable us to make an impact on the people around us, the communities in which we live, and even the world as a whole. Truly, when we consecrate ourselves and step out in faith, God will do amazing things!

Notes

  • They didn’t waste time. They got moving early in the morning. At the risk of over-emphasizing an absolutely trivial bit, could it be that early morning is a critical time for people of God? After all, it was early in the morning when Israel got under way. It was early in the morning. It was early in the morning when Abraham set out with Isaac for Moriah (Gen 22:3). It was early in the morning when Moses was instructed to confront Pharaoh (Ex 9:13). It was early in the morning when Mary and the women went to the tomb to find it empty (Luke 24:1). And on and on. Critical moments in the history of God’s people have happened because someone got up early in the morning.
  • (3) It was essential that the ark go first. It represented that God was leading the people. And in a land which was unfamiliar and hostile, that visible reminder would be very important.
  • (5) There was no doubt in Joshua’s mind. God was going to do great things in their midst. But first, they had to consecrate themselves. I wonder, did the Israelites need to consecrate themselves for God to do the great things, of did they consecrate themselves because they knew God was about to do great things (i.e., the causal relationship is important). I think it probably a little of both. God won’t move unless we’re set apart for His service (i.e., holy). And the fact that God has moved and would move should compel us to ever-increasing levels of consecration.
  • (6) This was a seemingly simple command, but as the priests passed by the rest of Israel with the ark in hand, they must have wondered what they were going to do when, in just a few moments, they came to the swollen Jordan River.
  • (8) On a completely personal note, I cant stand it when my shoes get wet. Even wearing sandals or something clearly designed to get wet, I can’t stand the feeling of wet footwear, and so I will often hesitate before stepping into water with shoes on. I can’t imagine that these priests didn’t have similar thoughts running through their head and worse. I mean, they were just commanded to walk straight into a flooded Jordan River, carrying the irreplaceable ark of the covenant no less!
  • (10) Joshua makes clear what is about to happen so that the rest of the nation will see this initial act of stopping the Jordan as a sign of things to come. God was going to drive out the nations before them. This would be his opening “shock and awe” moment to prove to everyone that it was so.
  • (13) This promise must have sounded ridiculous. Rivers don’t just stop flowing. Especially when they’re flooded (as we learn in v 15). There is simply too much power there!
  • (14) Oh, to have been a fly buzzing over the heads of these people! What sort of mumbling and grumbling do you suppose could be heard? Doubts about whether or not the fantastic promise could be fulfilled? Fears about what they would meet on the other side?
  • (16) Some have suggested that this was done by an earthquake which occurred around this time. Such events have been shown to cause the Jordan to flow backwards for a time, just as the New Madrid quake compelled the Mississippi to run backwards in the 19th century. However it was done, though, the timing – just as the priests’ feet touched the water – could not have been more clear: this was God’s doing.
  • (17) God didn’t just do this miracle halfway. And I suppose that is a great testimony to the supernatural miracle which just took place as well. Even if the water had just stopped, it would have taken hours for the river to run dry. And even then, the riverbed would have been a muddy mess. But here we learn that it ran dry instantly, and the ground was dried with it. This is significant because it meant they would have sure footing, etc. But also, notice that the river stayed that way until the whole nation had completed the crossing. We’re talking about hundreds of thousands – even millions – of people here, on foot. It would have taken hours for them to finish this crossing, maybe even an entire day. But the river remained dry for the duration.
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