THURSDAY, DECEMBER 20
SCRIPTURE: Joshua 3
BY: Joe Ligon
The two spies had returned and reported. One morning soon after that, perhaps the next morning, Joshua moved the people of Israel to the Jordan River. The nation stayed there three days. There were at least a couple of reasons for this three day stay.
One was for the people of Israel to consecrate themselves. The nation of Israel was poised to cross the Jordan River and engage in war with the people who inhabited Canaan. You might think that preparing for that would mean the people would be sharpening their swords or checking their armor or building other weapons. Instead they were going through ceremonially cleansing and spiritual preparation. Why? What they were about to witness was not a military action but a miracle of God.
The other reason for that three day stay might very well have been for the people of Israel to see the flooded Jordan River. Surely they watched the strong currents move debris down river. Surely they would have wondered how they were going to survive the crossing much less how the elderly or the very young could survive. So, Joshua told them they were about to see a “wonder” or a miracle. They would see God do something that only two of them had ever seen anything similar before.
You might remember that the pillar of cloud by day had led the people of Israel for 40+ years in the wilderness. Now that pillar of cloud was gone and the nation of Israel was to follow the Ark of the Covenant. Remember the Ark of the Covenant was covered with the mercy seat which is where God’s presence would descend to. So, the Ark of the Covenant represented the very presence of God. Notice then that the nation of Israel did not follow Joshua across the river but they followed God.
It is also important to notice that the people were not to get too close to the Ark of the Covenant. The distance, depending on your translation was about 2,000 cubits, about 1,000 yards, or about one-half mile. There are at least a couple of reasons for this distance. One practical reason was with the Ark of the Covenant that far in front of the people, more people would be able to see it and, therefore, follow it. A spiritual reason is this distance speaks to the holiness of God. It created a necessary barrier between sinful man and a righteous God. We must never be casual or careless in our approaching God.
The plan was for the priests to carry the ark to the edge of the flooded Jordan. When their feet touched the water, God would stop the river from flowing. When we read this, many of us probably think about the Red Sea incident where God divided the sea and the people walked through on dry ground. Remember that only two men that were standing with Israel in this chapter had seen that miracle: Joshua and Caleb. All of the other people had only heard about that. No doubt that increased the amount of courage they would need to trust God to hold the water back as they crossed over Jordan.
I want to leave you with two thoughts. In verse 17, the priests carrying the Ark of the Covenant stood “firmly on dry ground” in the middle of that river bed. God stopping the river from flowing was a miracle. God immediately drying the ground so that there was no mud to slow the people was a miracle.
The other thought is. I don’t know how you picture this in your mind. So, let me leave this with you. There were millions of Israelites at this time. Most estimates range between 2-4 million people. Now imagine that many people scurrying across the river bed into the Promised Land.