Scriptures: Joshua 3:2-14


The two spies had returned from Jericho, having followed Joshua's orders to check out the land and the city. They had escaped discovery with Rahab's help, and now they give their report to General Joshua. Their hearts were bursting with joy as they said the words of Joshua 2:24: "The LORD has handed over the entire land to us. Everyone who lives in the land is also panicking because of us."

This was the news Joshua had been waiting for. Immediately he dispatched runners throughout the vast camp of Israel, announcing that first thing the next morning, they would break camp and pitch their tents on the banks of the Jordan River. They would finally come to the entry point of the Promised Land. Verse 1 of Chapter 3 records the event: Joshua started early the next morning and left Acacia Grove with all the Israelites. They went as far as the Jordan and stayed there before crossing.

The journey from Acacia Grove to the river's edge is an easy one--just a few miles over smooth ground. So we can assume that the Israelites probably finished relocating before the sun had risen high in the sky. I'm sure the buzz throughout the tribes was the same: "This is the day! We will stand in the brink of a dream. We will come again to the place where our forefathers blew it; only this time, we will obey!"

But as they approached the famous river that formed a barrier between them and their longed-for real estate, what they saw by the light of day was both confusing and dreadful. The Jordan was defiantly uncrossable! There's a simple sentence in v. 15 that gives us the picture: Now the Jordan overflows its banks throughout the harvest season. The gentle Jordan was now a raging river, swelled to flood stage. Currents can reach up to 40-miles an hour when the Jordan floods. What is more, the plain that surrounds this river was packed with tangled brush and dense growth. Jeremiah the prophet mentions the thickets of Jordan (Jeremiah 12:5). One writer said, "it was not the river so much as the jungle that was difficult to cross." [1]

So here's the scene. The Jordan has swelled its banks, spreading about a mile across, ranging in depth from 3 feet to 12 feet, all covering thick undergrowth that could easily trip someone up and cast them into an overwhelming current. This was the sight that greeted the multiple hundreds of thousands that pitched their tents alongside the river.

The Bible tells us that they spent the next three days right there, the passing torrent eroding all confidence. The waiting pounded reality into every Israelite. You could hear the doubts over night fires: "Maybe the strong among us can brave this flood, but how can we cross with infants, with the sickly, with the aged, not to mention all our possessions strapped to wagons?" An insistent "no" began to form in their hearts as they listened to the roar of the water.

It's easy for us to relate to the emotions and thoughts of Israel. So many of us face "personal Jordans" that feel so permanent and powerful that we don't even try to make it across. Our lives feel stalled, stuck on the wrong side of God's promises. We read about the abundant life, but can't make it out of the wilderness. Churches can feel that way too, stalemated by the promise of something great with God, but blocked by all kinds of barriers.

But with God can turn a "no way" into a highway! The great question that loomed over the camp of Israel and over our lives today is, "Will we walk by sight or by faith? Do we really believe God can handle the impossible?"

Joshua 3 goes on to tell us something that is echoed throughout Scripture: What is impossible with men is possible with God. (Luke 18:27). God was about to reveal the steps that must be taken in every life and in every church if we are to move from grounded to grateful, from marooned in the past to marveling at God's future! The experiences and decisions reported in this chapter were a major breakthrough for Israel. A whole new generation learned that victory depended totally upon Him!

As we stand on the brink of the God-sized future and consider the obstacles that hinder us, it can feel like we're facing an impossible task between here and there. But these things are no match for the God of the Uncrossable! He knows how to get you from stuck to triumphant! Just look.

I. Follow the movements of God (3:2-4)

After three days the officers went through the camp and commanded the people: "When you see the ark of the covenant of the LORD your God carried by the Levitical priests, you must break camp and follow it."

What did this command mean to the Israelites? And why would God care so much about a piece of furniture that He required that it go first? What was the big deal? Well, we get a clue when we look inside the Ark. The stone tablets upon which the finger of God had written the Ten Commandments were inside that box, a sign to all Israel of God's desire for relationship.

There was also a pot of manna, a reminder of God's gracious provision during the previous forty years (Ex.16:33, 34). And one other item was included: Aaron's rod--a dead stick that miraculously grew leaves and almonds to validate the power of God to use anything He willed to accomplish His will, down to the smallest detail (Numbers 17). Three historical reminders, three witnesses to God's love and will and provision and power. The Ark was a monument of God's faithfulness to Israel!

But it was much more than that! You see, on top of the Ark was a gold plate called the Mercy Seat over which two statues of cherubim knelt (Ex.25:18-19). Psalm 80:1 and 99:1 describe God as "enthroned upon the cherubim." God showed up right here, above the Mercy Seat, giving current meaning to past acts of power.

The Ark was the OT equivalent to Immanuel, "God with us." When this chest led the way, it meant God was out in front. He would, so to speak, take the first steps into Canaan. Their task was to follow His lead, to pursue His presence, to come after Him.

Verse 4 lays out the procedure by which they were to do this: But keep a distance of about 1,000 yards between yourselves and the ark. Don't go near it, so that you can see the way to go, for you haven't traveled this way before." God was very particular about the distance that was to be kept from the Ark, and His reasons are clear: He wanted all of Israel to see which way God wanted them to go. If the group in front crowded in too closely, only a handful would have seen it.

So now picture the scene: All Israel is encamped on a sloping hill beside the Jordan River. The Ark is positioned 1000 yards from them. Everyone in the nation would be able to see it. The priests would bear it by rods upon their shoulders as they stride toward the white water of Jordan. And everybody would understand the point: God intended for Israel to breach the Jordan with Him! But it could only be done if they focused on and followed Him.

Centuries later, the true Ark of God would come among us, the living Immanuel. The Ark contained the Ten Commandments; Jesus fulfilled the Law (Matt.5:17). The Ark preserved the manna by which God fed them in the wilderness; Christ is the bread of life (John 6:31-46). The Ark held a symbol of God's power to bring life out of death; Jesus is alive from the dead and seated at the right hand of the Father. And so Hebrews 12:2 calls us to keep our eyes on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith…

We all are constantly entering the future, moment-by-moment. As we gaze ahead at the challenges, filled with words like cancer, creditors, and crisis, it's easy to conclude that we're stuck in the wilderness, away from the abundance of God. As we consider a change for the better, so many of us throw in the towel: "This is just my lot in life! I can't help it."

We can do this as the Body of Christ as well. We can't see our way clear, don't know what's lurking under the rushing water of our Jordan. We've looked at the bottom line, we've assessed the size of the plans we believe came from God, and concluded that there's no human way across.

What do you do when you're facing the impossible? You do what Peter when he walked on the water: you fix your eyes on Jesus. The minute he took his eyes off Jesus and saw the raging sea around him, he remembered that "people can't walk on water" and started to sink (Matt.14:27-31). We must all focus and follow the movements of our Lord, so that where He leads, we will follow.

II. Consecrate ourselves

Joshua told the people, "Consecrate yourselves, (C) because the LORD will do wonders among you tomorrow.". The Hebrew word for consecrate means "to prepare, to dedicate, to be hallowed, to be holy, to be separate or set apart." God was telling His people that if they were going to cross the uncrossable and follow the will of the Lord, they must be set apart to Him. They must be holy. That involved basically two things:

a. Personal repentance of every known sin

One of the primary reasons Israel found their way blocked, and one of the reasons we find ours often blocked, is sin. Isaiah the prophet wrote, "Indeed, the LORD's hand is not too short to save, and His ear is not too deaf to hear. But your iniquities have built barriers between you and your God, and your sins have made Him hide [His] face from you so that He does not listen. (Isaiah 59:1,2)

What is the effect of sin upon the congregation of God's people? God shows us. It was some time later, when they had already entered Canaan when one man sinned--one, out of all the hundreds of thousands, disobeyed the clear instruction of the Lord. But Achan's sin brought misery and defeat on the entire nation. Many of his kinsman died in what should have been an easy victory (Joshua 7).

On the eve of one of the greatest days in their history, Israel was commanded to be certain they were right with God--to examine their lives, confess and forsake sins, and devote themselves wholly to the Lord.

b. Putting oneself on spiritual alert to see God at work

Consecration in the OT also involved things like washing your clothes, abstaining from sexual relations, changing your work schedule, and other things. They deliberately interrupted good and normal functions in life by God's command in order to be on spiritual alert. God was about to do "amazing things" among them; they didn't want to miss it by being involved in things they could do at other times.

Consecration means, "I will set aside the typical and put my spirit on ready to see where God is working around me so that I can join Him." To cross the uncrossable we must 1) Fix our gaze on Jesus--sensing His movements and follow; and 2) Set ourselves apart from sin unto Him, being on constant alert spiritually for the hand of the Lord around us.

If we have done this, there remains one more thing:

III. Step out and stand still (7-13)

Look at v. 7-8: The LORD spoke to Joshua: "Today I will begin to exalt you in the sight of all Israel, so they will know that I will be with you just as I was with Moses. Command the priests carrying the ark of the covenant: 'When you reach the edge of the waters, stand in the Jordan.' "

Go to v. 13 now: When the feet of the priests who carry the ark of the LORD, the Lord of all the earth, come to rest in the Jordan's waters, its waters will be cut off. The water flowing downstream will stand up [in] a mass."

The moment of truth has come! The priests, carrying the Ark of the Covenent, must step out into the flood waters and then stand still right there! The command of God to step into the water called for them to get their feet wet. Faith moves you forward in God's way, in God's timing. And there will come a moment when you must act on what God has said. If you don't, you'll never cross the Jordan.

Understand this: Focusing on the Lord is essential. And consecrating yourself to the Lord is vital. But we will never cross the river unless we take that step of faith. Our eyes and our hearts can be right on, but if we don't move our feet to meet the challenges, we will never progress in God's work. We must commit ourselves - our time, our energy, our money, our lives to what God is doing, or it won't happen.

But let me quickly add something else here. I want you to notice an element in their trust that is present in all true faith. After they stepped out, they stood still (v.8). Why? They were waiting on the power of God. In all their activity, they maintained dependence. Their standing still testified to the fact that everything came from God. They were acknowledging that it wasn't their work that changed anything--it was God and God alone. They stepped out, and they stood still.

Let me help you see with a little sanctified imagination. Standing near the banks of the thundering Jordan were the armed warriors with sword and shield. Next to them, the aged men trembling on their staffs, along with wide-eyed mothers and helpless babies, some of whom were born that day. All about were flocks and possessions were gathered to move when God opened a way.

All the people had their eyes on the Ark, positioned high on the shoulders of the priests, who were wading in the shallows of the river. Everyone was ready--clean in heart and spiritually alert, watching for something that only God could do. Already, the step of faith had been taken. Now they were standing still, and a great hush fell over the people.

Then, someone noticed that the water was receding. It was dropping fast! Somewhere up river beyond their sight (19 miles upriver to be exact), the waters mounted up in a great crystal heap. The riverbed was dry. In fact, it was bare all the way south to the Dead Sea! Now the thunder of the river was replaced by the thunder of God's people moving in a great swarm which extended a mile or more.

So stupendous was this event in the mind of Israel that a song was written about it. Psalm 114:3-7 records it: The sea looked and fled; the Jordan turned back. The mountains skipped like rams, the hills, like lambs. Why was it, sea, that you fled? Jordan, that you turned back? Mountains, that you skipped like rams? Hills, like lambs? (Here's the answer) Tremble, earth, at the presence of the Lord, at the presence of the God of Jacob.


Brothers and sisters, I long to see God do what only God can do! The church in Acts crossed over in impossible situations repeatedly because they took the simple steps that remain for us to this day. A Jordan stretches before us; the challenges are too much for us. We must believe that nothing is too difficult for God. We must focus our souls on Christ and follow Him. We must cast out all sin and set ourselves apart to Him. And we must be ready to move when He does His work, always being mindful that if anything is going to last, it's from the Lord.

[1] H.L. Ellison, Scripture Union Bible Study Books, Vol. 5: Joshua--2 Samuel.

Lloyd Stilley is pastor of First Baptist Church, Gulf Shores, Alabama. He is a graduate of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is married to Leeanne and is the father of Joey and Craig.