Visualize a large, flooded river, swollen by spring rains. There appears to be no way across. Yet as many as two million people are standing there waiting to cross! Are they expecting to move on to their next destination with the water level so high? Can you picture something like this in your locality?
This historical event is recorded in the Bible in the book of Joshua. Men, women and children were standing at the edge of the Jordan River, along with their cattle and possessions. It appeared utterly foolish and inadequate in a natural sense for the group to step into the flooded waters! What would happen? Chapter three of Joshua tells of one of the greatest supernatural events of all time.
The Children of Israel, a group of possibly two million people (Exodus 12:37-38), had been freed from slavery in Egypt 40 years earlier because of God’s covenant promise to give them their own land. During their time in Egypt, He had miraculously preserved the young child Moses and prepared him to lead their exodus from Egypt. After 40 years in the wilderness, Moses rehearsed the Ten Commandments (Deuteronomy 5:6-21) and other laws (Deuteronomy 5-26). He reminded them of God’s promise of a land of blessing (Deuteronomy 11:18-25).
Through their deliverance from Egypt, the people had seen the providence of God, but neglected to take hold of the promises of God. Because of this, they had wandered for many years in the wilderness, lacking courage to take possession of the land God had given them.
After the death of Moses, God established Joshua to lead the Children of Israel onward in their journey to occupy the land (Joshua 1-2). Though they had sinned against Him and had been unwilling to believe, God in His mercy had not gone back on His covenant promise (Genesis 12:6-7; 15:16-21).
Through Joshua’s leadership God once more asked the Children of Israel to step out and claim all that He had promised them. Courage had arisen to enable the people to forsake their life of unbelief. They boldly promised Joshua, “All that thou commandest us we will do, and whithersoever thou sendest us, we will go. According as we hearkened unto Moses in all things, so will we hearken unto thee: only the LORD thy God be with thee, as he was with Moses. Whosoever he be that doth rebel against thy commandment, and will not hearken unto thy words in all that thou commandest him, he shall be put to death: only be strong and of a good courage.” (Joshua 1:16-18) Crossing the flooded Jordan River to enter Canaan and claim their possession was the next step in their journey.
There are principles in this historical event that will help us maintain a life of victory in our Christian walk today.
a) Our only hope of victory is believing and trusting in God. We can wallow in unbelief, or live a life that reflects God’s holiness.
b) Through the power of the Holy Spirit, we can persevere through spiritual opposition. If we choose to rely on self-effort, we will utterly fail.
c) To claim spiritual blessings we must stay resurrection-focused. By keeping our focus on the things of this earth we miss out on the blessings God has in store for us.
1. Seeking God’s Honor
The people realized that within three days they would need to cross the Jordan River and face the enemies they dreaded and feared just a short while before (Joshua 1:11). The Canaanite population outnumbered the Israelites and possessed chariots and fortified cities of great strength!
God said to Joshua, “Moses my servant is dead; now therefore arise, go over this Jordan, thou, and all this people, unto the land which I do give to them, even to the children of Israel. There shall not any man be able to stand before thee all the days of thy life: as I was with Moses, so I will be with thee: I will not fail thee, nor forsake thee. Be strong and of a good courage: for unto this people shalt thou divide for an inheritance the land, which I sware unto their fathers to give them.” (Joshua 1:2,5-6)
Joshua invited the Children of Israel to draw near and hear the words of the Lord. He said they would know the living God was among them by observing that the Ark of the Covenant would lead the way right down into the river. In this way they would surely know that God would without fail drive out their enemies from before them. “Behold, the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth passeth over before you into Jordan.” (Joshua 3:11) This would be the sign that God Himself was present. What magnificence and grandeur is displayed in the phrase, “Lord of all the earth!” Their enemies could not stand against the Creator and Ruler of all the earth.
Before the first step was taken, all the people had to purify and sanctify themselves (Joshua 3:5). Christian believers must be separated unto God in order to experience victory (see Joshua 23:12-13). Lack of purity had caused failure and lack of possession in earlier years (Numbers 14:26-45). God established outward signs of purification as symbols to remind the people of their need for inward cleansing and faithfulness.
Fathers, leaders, and others today need to exhibit character such as this if people are to see the reflection of God’s grandeur. God has repeatedly stated the need for holiness in the life of Christian believers (for example, see 2 Corinthians 7:1, 1 Thessalonians 4:7, and Hebrews 12:14).
The priests were to go first and carry the Ark of the Covenant to the water’s edge. Then they were to step into the water and stay standing in the river bed for as long as it took the hundreds of thousands of people to cross to the other side. They dared not faint or falter. The priests’ stability would be a reflection of hope to each one who passed through the waters.
The leaders guided this large congregation through the crossing, looking out for their welfare, and not indulging themselves. Joshua focused on the complete trustworthiness of the Lord. He depended on the faithfulness of God.
The Children of Israel found opposition across the river before they obtained all that was promised them. So it is in the life of believers today. We need to overcome opposition to be successful witnesses of God’s greatness and obtain all the blessings given to us in Christ Jesus.
“But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people (a people for His own possession); that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.” (1 Peter 2:9)
2. Seeking God’s Presence and Power
The people waited by the Jordan River until they saw the Ark of the Covenant going before them. They were to keep a distance between themselves and the priests who carried the Ark. This distance was designed so that all could see and focus their attention upon the Ark.
The Ark of the Covenant contained the sacred tablets of the Ten Commandments and Law of God. It also contained Aaron’s rod that had budded, and a bowl of manna which portrayed their sustenance throughout years of wandering. Over it was the mercy seat, a foreshadowing of Jesus Christ! These things all represented the promises, the provision, and the presence of God. For many years the Ark of the Covenant had been a visible symbol to them and was held in high esteem. Now the Ark was to go before them!
Something magnificent was about to happen. We are sure Joshua spoke convincingly when he said, “Come here, and hear the words of your God.” It is important to wait on the Lord until we know what we need to do. “They that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.” (Isaiah 40:31) But when God’s Word speaks, it is the Spirit of God speaking to our hearts, and we must not hesitate. We need to follow Scripture and stay in tune with God’s Holy Spirit in order to discern when to wait and when it is time to act. “Have not I commanded thee? Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the LORD thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest.” (Joshua 1:9)
“And it came to pass, when the people removed from their tents, to pass over Jordan…and the feet of the priests that bare the ark were dipped in the brim of the water…that the waters which came down from above stood and rose up upon an heap…and the people passed over right against Jericho.” (Joshua 3:13-16) This miracle must have been an awesome sight to witness! It was not by the power of human strength, but by the Spirit and presence of God.
As a way of remembering the greatness and holiness they experienced, twelve men were each instructed to pick out a stone and build two memorials. One was erected in the midst of the river and the other where they lodged the first night after the crossing. When their children would ask, “What mean these stones?” the fathers could tell them how the Lord dried up the waters of the Jordan (see Joshua 4:21-24). “That all the people of the earth might know the hand of the LORD, that it is mighty: that ye might fear the LORD your God for ever.” (Joshua 4:24) God has told us clearly to hide His Word in our hearts, and to hold up His ordinances and convey them to the world around us. The psalmist and prophets were faithful in doing this.
It is healthy to have reminders to encourage future generations. What shall we say when our children ask us questions? It is essential to have more than a customary way of living or religiously-accepted practices by which to schedule our lives. That would be viewed as only a pile of stones. We must believe what our practices represent in order to successfully share God’s Word with our children. Each believer is asked to share past experiences of God’s faithfulness with others in order to give them hope. Have we ever thought about where we would be if others had not shared the holiness, the supreme power, and the faithfulness of God with us? As we are faithful in obeying God’s light as it shines through His Spirit from His Word, we can expect further direction.
3. Seeking Victory Through Self-Denial
After crossing the Jordan, God asked the Children of Israel to observe the rite of circumcision and to celebrate the Passover. They had not practiced circumcision or kept the Passover during their years of wandering in the wilderness. Rolling off the reproach of Egypt (conformity to the world) was a necessary step to bring them back into covenant relationship with God. “And the LORD said unto Joshua, This day have I rolled away the reproach of Egypt from off you.” (Joshua 5:9)
Facing and then crossing the Jordan River was a type of death to self and resurrection of their first love. With their covenant renewed, God helped them conquer Jericho and the surrounding area. God said that Joshua would “cause Israel to inherit it” (Deuteronomy 1:38). The people needed to occupy the land in order to receive the land.
Attempting to face spiritual opposition in the strength of our flesh, or pining after the idols of materialism and boastfulness that the natural man desires, will bring defeat as the Children of Israel experienced so many times. To expect a particular lifestyle or any religious symbol to compensate for disobedience, as Israel later did with the Ark of the Covenant, will always cause chastening or loss (see 1 Samuel 4).
Passing over Jordan means dying to self. Can others tell that you have “passed over Jordan” (died to self)? Victory over temptation comes through openly taking our place with Christ in His death and then rising to newness of life (identifying with Him in His resurrection).
“Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection: Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin.” (Romans 6:3-6)
Jesus through His resurrection has put the power of sin to death. He gives strength to conquer sin. But we must die to self and surrender to Christ in order to leave the kingdom of darkness and receive all that God gives. We need to yield to the still small voice of the Holy Spirit residing within. “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death.” (Romans 8:2)
4. Possessing the Inheritance
Joshua was an example of humility and singleness of heart. He was willing to do God’s work in God’s way. Too frequently, the praise of men is valued more than the praise of God. After crossing the Jordan, the Captain of the Lord of Hosts appeared before him. Joshua, rather than giving in to the pride of leadership, fell at his feet, realizing he was only a humble servant.
Consider the humility of the inventor, Samuel F. B. Morse. Mr. Morse often prayed as he worked on projects. Morse said, “When flattering honors came to me from the invention which bears my name, I never felt I deserved them. I had made a valuable application of electricity, not because I was superior to other men, but solely because God, who meant it for mankind, must reveal it to someone and was pleased to reveal it to me.” The first message sent by the inventor of the Morse Code was, “What hath God wrought!”
What are these spiritual possessions that He is able to cause us to inherit? Colossians 3 speaks of many, though they cannot all be expounded upon here. To summarize a few: because of the finished work of Jesus, we possess peace in this life, hope of eternal life, power to relate in love and forgiveness in our families and churches, strength and guidance in our service, and patience and endurance in our suffering. A spiritual possession we glean from our study in Joshua is courage and boldness to persevere. If we truly desire these spiritual possessions, we will pursue God’s way to victory.
Christian believers need to repent and ask forgiveness from God and those we’ve sinned against before claiming the spiritual possessions God promised us. If nothing in our lives defiles us, then when we face opposition from Satan, we can be in a spiritual position to gain victory. If we have prepared ourselves by cutting off our past life of sin, we can trust in the help of the Lord instead of experiencing defeat.
“Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup. For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep. For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged.” (1 Corinthians 11:27-31)
Remember that your prayer will then have power because it is offered in the Name that is above every name! The enemy of our souls will flee; he cannot stand against the strength of the resurrected life.
If we could have eavesdropped in Jericho and the other cities on the west side of the Jordan, we would have heard what happened in the weeks following the river crossing. The Canaanites were in great fear and panic because of what they saw and heard (Joshua 2:9; 5:1). For years they had denied God and scoffed at His mercy, but now their fearful hearts melted!
But one household in Jericho was different. Coming out of heathen darkness, Rahab had in faith put out the scarlet cord that identified her with the Children of Israel, and she received the deliverance that was promised to her and her family. (See Joshua 2; 6:22-23.)
While the crossing of the Jordan River was a climatic event, in another sense it was a commencement. The Israelites still had much work to do, and God needed to continue to teach lessons to His covenant people. In His omnipotent control were all the powers of nature and wisdom. God even used hailstones and extended daylight to give them possession of the land He had promised. This all happened according to Joshua 4:24, “That all the people of the earth might know the hand of the LORD, that it is mighty: that ye might fear the LORD your God for ever.”
Salvation is won by means that appear foolish to the natural man. “For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:18)
To those who are trying to have peace through their own self-righteousness, or are partaking in sinful practices, come to the Savior and confess your unworthiness and need of salvation. The power of the Holy Spirit will help you overcome the downward path you are traveling.
Those who repent and accept His plan of salvation become His covenant people. Then we are told in 1 Corinthians 1:9, “God is faithful, by whom ye were called unto the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord.” Christ makes available spiritual blessings that far exceed the “pleasures of Egypt” that were part of our old life. The experience of possessing them involves conflict and conquest during our earthly lives through obedience and the power of the Holy Spirit. Let us be like Caleb, who at age eighty-five believed God and was willing to engage in the conflict. “Now therefore give me this mountain…” (Joshua 14:12) What a wonderful illustration of faith and trust in God!