Greetings in the name of Christ. May the Lord be with you. And may the Lord bless you. (Ruth 2:4) Grace to everyone that loves the Lord Jesus Christ with an incorruptible love – that He Himself as given us. (Eph.6:24) Tonight we are going to conclude this Lord’s Day the same way we began it, in worship of the Triune Lord of heaven and earth.
Our passage tonight is Joshua chapter three. Tonight, we will take the entire chapter. It has to do with the people of God crossing the Jordan River in order to enter the Promised Land. Hear the holy and perfect word of our holy and perfect God. Read.
Joshua 3:1. Then Joshua rose early in the morning; and he and all the sons of Israel set out from Shittim and came to the Jordan, and they lodged there before they crossed. 2 At the end of three days the officers went through the midst of the camp; 3 and they commanded the people, saying, “When you see the ark of the covenant of the LORD your God with the Levitical priests carrying it, then you shall set out from your place and go after it. 4 “However, there shall be between you and it a distance of about 2,000 cubits by measure. Do not come near it, that you may know the way by which you shall go, for you have not passed this way before.” 5 Then Joshua said to the people, “Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the LORD will do wonders among you.” 6 And Joshua spoke to the priests, saying, “Take up the ark of the covenant and cross over ahead of the people.” So they took up the ark of the covenant and went ahead of the people. 7 Now the LORD said to Joshua, “This day I will begin to exalt you in the sight of all Israel, that they may know that just as I have been with Moses, I will be with you. 8 “You shall, moreover, command the priests who are carrying the ark of the covenant, saying, ‘When you come to the edge of the waters of the Jordan, you shall stand still in the Jordan.'” 9 Then Joshua said to the sons of Israel, “Come here, and hear the words of the LORD your God.” 10 Joshua said, “By this you shall know that the living God is among you, and that He will assuredly dispossess from before you the Canaanite, the Hittite, the Hivite, the Perizzite, the Girgashite, the Amorite, and the Jebusite. 11 “Behold, the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth is crossing over ahead of you into the Jordan. 12 “Now then, take for yourselves twelve men from the tribes of Israel, one man for each tribe. 13 “It shall come about when the soles of the feet of the priests who carry the ark of the LORD, the Lord of all the earth, rest in the waters of the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan will be cut off, and the waters which are flowing down from above will stand in one heap.” 14 So when the people set out from their tents to cross the Jordan with the priests carrying the ark of the covenant before the people, 15 and when those who carried the ark came into the Jordan, and the feet of the priests carrying the ark were dipped in the edge of the water (for the Jordan overflows all its banks all the days of harvest), 16 the waters which were flowing down from above stood and rose up in one heap, a great distance away at Adam, the city that is beside Zarethan; and those which were flowing down toward the sea of the Arabah, the Salt Sea, were completely cut off. So the people crossed opposite Jericho. 17 And the priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the LORD stood firm on dry ground in the middle of the Jordan while all Israel crossed on dry ground, until all the nation had finished crossing the Jordan.
Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit James tells Christians that sometimes we do not have what we desire because we do not ask God for it. And then at other times, we do ask God, but He does not give it to us because we ask with wrong motives. We either ask for something unlawful or we ask for a lawful thing but to use it unlawfully. (Jas.4:1-4) Well, let’s ask in faith for the help of the Holy Spirit concerning this section of His word tonight. Pray.
The Bible is the very word of God. The unbelieving do not think so. But their unbelief does nothing to the truthfulness of Scripture, it only prevents their own salvation. The unbelieving think the Bible is full or myths and fables, old wives’ stories. This would be one such account that they would mock – rivers standing upright! (2 Pt.3:3)
Well Beloved, the Believing love this book because we love the Author of this book. This is no old wives’ tale. This is the very truth of God. Just like Genesis 1:1 – in the beginning God. God made all things out of nothing by the word of His power, in the space of six days and all very good. God made Eve out of Adam’s rib. God divided the Red Sea to save His people out of bondage. God divided the Jordan River to bring His people into the Promised Land. Nothing is too hard for our God. (Lk.1:37, Mk.10:27, Mt.19:26)
In fact, believing Rahab referred back to the Red Sea miracle. (WCF 14.2)
Joshua 2:10. For we have heard how the LORD dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt,
May we all likewise come to this passage in faith.
The ark of the covenant.
At the beginning of our sermon, I want us to consider what is the most important truth in this chapter, after which we will consider the various parts.
There is a religious structure or a religious object that is very significant to understanding this passage and that is the ark of the covenant. I believe the ark is mentioned ten times in these seventeen verses. (Joshua 3:3,6,8,11,13,14,15,17)
We are told that the ark of the covenant goes before the people of God. The ark of the covenant is leading the way into the Promised Land. The ark of the covenant stops the flow of the Jordan River from sweeping away the people of God.
The presence of God.
Prior to this God used something else to guide His people. The leading and guarding or protecting truths associated with the ark of the covenant are similar to the pillar of smoke by day and the pillar of fire by night wherein God manifested His abiding presence with His people in the wilderness.
Exodus 13:20. Then they set out from Succoth and camped in Etham on the edge of the wilderness. 21 The LORD was going before them in a pillar of cloud by day to lead them on the way, and in a pillar of fire by night to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night. 22 He did not take away the pillar of cloud by day, nor the pillar of fire by night, from before the people. (Joes 2:30, Exod.14:19-20, Num.12:10, 14:14, 16:42, Dt.1:33, 31:15)
I want us to also think of this. The cloud that led the people of God also filled the Tabernacle and then later the Temple. (Ezek.43:5, 10:3-4, I Kg.8:10) The presence of the Holy Lord with His people. (Exod.40:34-38, Rev.15:8)
God is with His people in the wilderness. God is with His people in the Promised Land. God is always with us. There is no place and no time that we are apart from our Lord. (Ps.139:7-12)
The holiness of God.
That this ark or this chest signifies the presence of the Lord is also emphasized by the distance the people are to maintain. This does not negate what we just said. God is with us. We are not separated from God in that way. We do live with God.
But the idea by the mandated distance is that even though God is near us and with us, He always remains spotlessly holy and we ought to fear and reverence Him and treat Him as utterly holy. God says He will be sanctified by all those who draw near to Him. Remember Nadab and Abihu. (Lev.10:1-10) Remember Ananias and Sapphira. (Acts 5:1-11, I Cor.11:27-32)
The Christ of God.
The ark of the covenant, given the things we just have said, is symbolic of Christ Jesus.
Remember, inside of the ark is the scroll of the law. Over the law of God is the mercy seat of God upon which the high priest on the day of atonement would sprinkle blood to atone for the sins and the people. And provide the people access to God.
Remember some of the other typological ways that God revealed Christ to His OT people. The manna typified Christ as the Bread that comes down out of heaven. (Jn.6:31-41) Christ is the water from the Rock. (I Cor.10:4, Exod.17:1-7, Num.20:1-29, Jn.4:10-26, Jn.7:37-38) Christ is the Passover Lamb. (I Cor.5:7, Jn.1:29)
Christ is God with us. Christ is holy God with us. Christ leads us out of slavery. Christ leads us across the Jordan River. Christ prevents the waters of death sweeping us away from Him. Christ brings us into the Promised Land, where He is now waiting for us. (Jn.14:1-6)
Now let’s consider the three parts of this chapter. (3:1-6, 3:7-13, 3:14-17)
The Lord instructs His people.
See how Joshua rises up early in the morning to be busy about the Lord’s business. God’s leaders are called to a life of work and not to a life of ease. This is a faithful shepherd imitating Christ.
Joshua 3:1. Then Joshua rose early in the morning; and he and all the sons of Israel set out from Shittim and came to the Jordan, and they lodged there before they crossed. 2 At the end of three days the officers went through the midst of the camp; 3 and they commanded the people, saying, “When you see the ark of the covenant of the LORD your God with the Levitical priests carrying it, then you shall set out from your place and go after it. 4 “However, there shall be between you and it a distance of about 2,000 cubits by measure. Do not come near it, that you may know the way by which you shall go, for you have not passed this way before.” 5 Then Joshua said to the people, “Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the LORD will do wonders among you.” 6 And Joshua spoke to the priests, saying, “Take up the ark of the covenant and cross over ahead of the people.” So they took up the ark of the covenant and went ahead of the people. (2,000 cubits = 900 to 1,000 yards)
Make material preparations.
What’s very interesting is that earlier in chapter one the leaders of the people told the people to gather up provisions for themselves for their food and drink to cross over the Jordan. (Josh.1:10-18)
Make spiritual preparations.
Now here the people are required to make another kind of preparation. This time a religious or moral preparation. Sanctify or consecrate yourself, you are about to follow the ark of God to and through the Jordan River.
This means to prepare you heart. God had told the people to do this on a number of occasions.
Exodus 19:9. The LORD said to Moses, “Behold, I will come to you in a thick cloud, so that the people may hear when I speak with you and may also believe in you forever.” Then Moses told the words of the people to the LORD. 10 The LORD also said to Moses, “Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their garments; 11 and let them be ready for the third day, for on the third day the LORD will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people. 12 “You shall set bounds for the people all around, saying, ‘Beware that you do not go up on the mountain or touch the border of it; whoever touches the mountain shall surely be put to death. (Exod.19:4-22, Num.11:18, Josh.7:13, I Sam.16:5)
God wants His people to be in a spiritual frame of mind. Cease from the world. Purge the leaven of sin from your life. Fix your eyes upon Christ. Fix your eyes on things above. (Col.3:1-3) Examine your hearts. Are you ready to cross the Jordan River? Is Christ your Christ? (2 Cor.13:5, 2 Pt.1:10-11)
This is similar to the exhortations we give to prepare for the Lord’s Supper. Let me give you a summary from our WLC and I will apply these to this situation.
WLC 171 How are they that receive the sacrament of the Lord’s supper to prepare themselves before they come unto it?
A. They that receive the sacrament of the Lord’s supper are, before they come, to prepare themselves thereunto, by examining themselves(1) of their being in Christ,(2) of their sins and wants;(3) of the truth and measure of their knowledge,(4) faith,(5) repentance;(6) love to God and the brethren,(7) charity to all men,(8) forgiving those that have done them wrong;(9) of their desires after Christ,(10) and of their new obedience,(11) and by renewing the exercise of these graces,(12) by serious meditation,(13) and fervent prayer.(14)
1) 1 Cor. 11:28 (2) 2 Cor. 13:5 (3) 1 Cor. 5:7 compared with Exod. 12:15 (4) 1 Cor. 11:29 (5) 1 Cor. 13:5; Matt. 26:28 (6) Zech. 12:10; 1 Cor. 11:31 (7) 1 Cor. 10:16,17; Acts 2:46,47 (8) 1 Cor. 5:8; 1 Cor. 11:18,20 (9) Matt. 5:23,24 (10) Isa. 55:1; John 7:37 (11) 1 Cor. 5:7,8 (12) 1 Cor. 11:25,26,28; Heb. 10:21,22,24; Ps. 26:6 (13) 1 Cor. 11:24,25 (14) 2 Chron. 30:18,19; Matt. 26:26
God’s command to pass over the Jordan might not strike you as strange if you believed that there was a bridge over the river, or there were barges to take you across the river, or you knew there was a shallow spot to walk across.
At this time there were none of those things. I believe the Jordan river in many places is anywhere from twenty to sixty yards across and the depths are anywhere from three to ten feet deep. V.15 However, we are told that at this time it was the flood season. (Josh.3:15, 4:18) So, it was wider, and it was deeper and the currents ran fast.
The two spies must have crossed and re-crossed by swimming. I have seen ancient sketches of warriors using inflated animal bladders to buoy them against water. Perhaps the spies used these.
I read one record of a professional swimmer in the 1800’s that tried to swim across the Jordan River at this spot during the flood season and he couldn’t make it to the other side. He got swept downstream.
One thing is for certain to take the masses of people, men, women, and children across would have been a disaster naturally speaking. They would have looked like Pharaoh’s army had not God provided.
In a similar way this is like when the Lord told the people of God to prepare to cross the Red Sea! (Exod.14:1-31) According to the flesh they would ask, what?! How?!
Beloved, God is requiring His people to live by faith and not by sight. (2 Cor.5:7-9) He has given them a promise. I will give you the Promised Land. The Promised Land is on the other side of the Jordan. Perhaps the people would have thought, oh God will lead us across in the drier months when the water is shallow.
No. God picks the exact opposite time. God chooses to go when it is humanly impossible for all of these people to walk across. And God does not tell His people what He is planning to do.
Believe My Word.
Oh beloved, this is what it means to live by faith in God. We believe in God when He does not tell us exactly how He means to bring about what He has promised.
You remember last week we spoke about God’s ordinary providence or about how most often He governs us by use of secondary causes, food to satiate hunger, armies to defeat enemies. And He provides the efficacy.
But here God will govern His creation and His creatures by extra-ordinary providence. God is going to do a miracle. God is going to govern water against its ordinary properties. God will have rushing water stand up straight like a wall. God will have the water-soaked river bottom dry as dry land. That is a miracle. (WCF 5.3)
The point is though that God did not tell them about this miracle beforehand. Even as God did not tell the people about the miracle of collapsing the walls of Jericho. (Josh.6:1-27)
You see part of living by faith is to stop considering the physical or material or earthly difficulties in front of you and start to think about the person and the nature and the works of the Lord God.
God told Abraham to sacrifice the son of promise through whom the Messiah was promised to come. Abraham could have come up with countless reasons why he should not do this. By faith Abraham reasons that God would raise Isaac from the dead after he sacrificed him. (Heb.11:19)
Obey My Word.
We see here that the forty-year wilderness journey living on the nearness of God has increased the faith of God’s people. (Dt.8:1-7) They rise up and they do what God tells them to do immediately. We find no questioning, no balking, no complaining, just obeying.
Oh, this is the benefit of the forty years of fatherly correction. Forty years earlier they said, no we will not go in it is too dangerous. Now after the wilderness journey they obey right away. (Heb.12:1-11)
The Bible says, Christ learned obedience through suffering. (Heb.5:8) David says it was good for me when I was afflicted because then I learned to obey Your Law. (Ps.119:71) They have learned to obey what they can understand from the word of the Lord and leave the results to God. Beloved, that is what it means to cast our cares upon the Lord because He cares for us. (I Pt.5:7)
Oh Beloved, our God is. Our God is all powerful, all wise, all good. And He loves and cares for His children. He has promised that where He is there, we will be also. (Jn.14:1-6) Calvin says this on this text, (we are called to) embrace by faith that which we cannot comprehend by reason.
Follow My priests.
As regards to what we have just said, we especially see the believing-bravery of the priests that are carrying the ark of God. They would be the first to step out in faith into the deep rushing waters of the Jordan River.
God calls the leaders of His people to lead, to lead in faith, to lead in obedience. They are shepherds, they go before the flock of Christ. They are called to serve and not to be served as Christ Himself did. (Mt.20:28) And to pour themselves out like a drink offering in the service of Christ, if needs be, like the apostle Paul. (Phil.2:17, 2 Tim.4:6)
Think of this, everywhere Christ takes us, He goes first. Jesus has died. Jesus rose from the dead. Jesus ascended into heaven. Jesus is there now preparing a place for us, to receive us to Himself.
Oh Beloved, how this indicts the carnal gluttonous selfish worldly shepherds that do not feed the sheep the word of God, rather that feed themselves on the sheep of God! God says in Ezekiel 34 that He will remove such men and Himself come and shepherd His people. (Isa.5:22)
Oh Beloved, it is one thing to teach the commands and the promises of God verbally, but it is another to believe what we teach. God will have His shepherds own what they teach. That is part of the reason Christ often brings His shepherds into the deep water – so they can truly learn of Him. Beloved, we learn God’s word best when we must walk by faith and not by sight.
And we see also in type and in shadow the ministry of the priests. They carry the ark of God, representing the law and the gospel and the gospel satisfying the law of God. The ministers of God are called by God to lead God’s people by teaching God’s word. And especially to teach Christ and Christ crucified for sinners. (I Cor.2:2, 2 Tim.3:15-17)
Listen to how the apostle Paul puts this in the New Testament.
I Timothy 4:13. Until I come, give attention to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation and teaching. 14 Do not neglect the spiritual gift within you, which was bestowed on you through prophetic utterance with the laying on of hands by the presbytery. 15 Take pains with these things; be absorbed in them, so that your progress will be evident to all. 16 Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things, for as you do this you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you.
2 Timothy 4:1. I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: 2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. 3 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, 4 and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths. 5 But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. 6 For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come.
The word of God is a light and a lamp unto our path. The word of God illuminates our way in the wilderness. The word of God shows us the way to the Promised Land. The word of God shows us our Christ. (Ps.119:105) And ministers are responsible to teach this.
The Lord exalts His leader.
The Lord now speaks to Joshua. God says to Him that He will now exalt Joshua in the sight of the people. In the miracle crossing the Jordan River God will exalt Joshua in the eyes of the people. Joshua will be high and lifted up. Clearly, we see the True Joshua Jesus in view. In Christ’s crossing of the Jordan of Death and rising to new life, Jesus is exalted in the hearts and the minds of God’s people. He is our leader-savior.
Joshua 3:7. Now the LORD said to Joshua, “This day I will begin to exalt you in the sight of all Israel, that they may know that just as I have been with Moses, I will be with you. 8 “You shall, moreover, command the priests who are carrying the ark of the covenant, saying, ‘When you come to the edge of the waters of the Jordan, you shall stand still in the Jordan.'” 9 Then Joshua said to the sons of Israel, “Come here, and hear the words of the LORD your God.” 10 Joshua said, “By this you shall know that the living God is among you, and that He will assuredly dispossess from before you the Canaanite, the Hittite, the Hivite, the Perizzite, the Girgashite, the Amorite, and the Jebusite. 11 “Behold, the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth is crossing over ahead of you into the Jordan. 12 “Now then, take for yourselves twelve men from the tribes of Israel, one man for each tribe. 13 “It shall come about when the soles of the feet of the priests who carry the ark of the LORD, the Lord of all the earth, rest in the waters of the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan will be cut off, and the waters which are flowing down from above will stand in one heap.”
In this miracle Jehovah will confirm the divine authority committed to Joshua to lead the Lord’s people. The miracle testified that Joshua was God’s chosen man to lead God’s chosen people. The miracle testified what God had already said – I will be with you. You will have success.
This is what the miracles of Christ testified of, that Jesus is the Son of God and all authority was committed into His hands.
The miracles of Christ testified to the truth of Christ’s words. And the ultimate miracle was His own resurrection.
Acts 2:22. Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know– 23 this Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death. 24 “But God raised Him up again, putting an end to the agony of death, since it was impossible for Him to be held in its power. (Acts 3:15, 2 Cor.5:17)
Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life. He who believes in Him shall live even if they die. (Jn.11:25-26) Beloved, we can face the Jordan of Death because Christ rose from the dead – for us!
V.13. Let’s look at this miracle with the actual river. The priests carrying the ark of God step into the water. By the presence and the power of God, the One that Created all things now commands the waters to part and to stand at attention, to make way for the Lord and His people.
Beloved, nothing is impossible for the God of the Bible. Our faith is in this God. Oh, why do we worry? Why do we fret? We should spend more time meditating upon the miracles of God. Or I should say rather upon the God of the miracles.
God’s word should be sufficient for our comfort, but God is such a kind Father that He often condescends to reveal His saving love and preservation by coming to our aid in tangible ways. Oh beloved, how many times and in how many ways has God answered our cries for help? Oh, may we write them on our hearts and minds such that we could recall them in times of need and worry.
You see in the immediate context God is teaching His people to increasingly believe in Him. And this is because the things they are about to face are equally if not more frightening. I mean very soon they will be facing the human enemies of the Lord. Very soon they will have battles with them. God can save them from rushing waters. God can save them from unbelieving men.
You see the Lord that stops the waters is the same Lord that defeats the enemies.
Day by day and moment by moment God is training them to believe and thus to obey every word of the Lord. No difficulty or no enemy shall separate the people of God from God. Nothing shall separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. Not the Jordan River. Not the Canaanites. Not all the forces of darkness. We are safe in Christ. (Rom.8:11-39)
Again and again God tells His people – I will be with you. Oh Beloved, in Christ God is with us. Christ is always with us. He has promised He will be with us even to the end of the age. (Mt.28:18-20) The Lord has promised that He will never leave us and never forsake us. No. Never. (Heb.13:5-6)
Isaiah 43:1. But now, thus says the LORD, your Creator, O Jacob, And He who formed you, O Israel, “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine! 2 “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; And through the rivers, they will not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, Nor will the flame burn you. 3 “For I am the LORD your God, The Holy One of Israel, your Savior; I have given Egypt as your ransom, Cush and Seba in your place. 4 “Since you are precious in My sight, Since you are honored and I love you, I will give other men in your place and other peoples in exchange for your life. 5 “Do not fear, for I am with you; I will bring your offspring from the east, And gather you from the west. 6 “I will say to the north, ‘Give them up!’ And to the south, ‘Do not hold them back.’ Bring My sons from afar And My daughters from the ends of the earth, 7 Everyone who is called by My name, And whom I have created for My glory, Whom I have formed, even whom I have made.”
The Lord leads His people across Jordan into the Promised Land.
And now finally the people cross over.
Joshua 3:14. So when the people set out from their tents to cross the Jordan with the priests carrying the ark of the covenant before the people, 15 and when those who carried the ark came into the Jordan, and the feet of the priests carrying the ark were dipped in the edge of the water (for the Jordan overflows all its banks all the days of harvest), 16 the waters which were flowing down from above stood and rose up in one heap, a great distance away at Adam, the city that is beside Zarethan; and those which were flowing down toward the sea of the Arabah, the Salt Sea, were completely cut off. So the people crossed opposite Jericho. 17 And the priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the LORD stood firm on dry ground in the middle of the Jordan while all Israel crossed on dry ground, until all the nation had finished crossing the Jordan.
God is with them. The people of God enter the Jordan River. Christ is with them. They face all their fears with Christ. They face the fear-of-fears, even death, with Christ.
Oh Beloved, every trial that God leads us to He Himself is with us. You can, by faith in Jesus, face every trial. Oh, you may say to me, your faith is weak. So is mine. But our Christ is strong. We are not kept by the strength of our faith. We are kept by the goodness and power of our Jesus.
You see the time has come for the people. They have to enter the Jordan. They have to walk across. Oh beloved, that day is coming for every one of us. Step into the Jordan. Soon you will be on the other side. Soon you will be in the Promised Land.
Psalm 136:1. Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good, For His lovingkindness is everlasting. (His mercy endures forever, I Chron.16:41)