Joshua 3: Crossing into God’s Promises

Joshua 3: Crossing into God’s Promises

Joshua_3_Stepping_Into_God’s_Promises  (click to view slide for sermon)

Read the sermon below:

Crossing into the promises of God (Joshua 3)


Can you imagine children of Israel wandering in the wilderness—40 years of going in circles and hearing from the present children and then their children: Are we there yet? Not yet. Why the wandering going nowhere? It all certainly started well, with the Lord’s powerful deliverance from bondage in Egypt when He parted the Red Sea, allowing Israel to walk out of slavery to a new life. They were saved FROM something and saved FOR something. They were saved from slavery for freedom. Moses said to Pharoah that the people needed to be freed from slavery for a journey to meet with and worship the Lord God Yahweh at Mount Sinai. There the people would receive instructions for a new and abundant life with God the Great I AM, the amazing God of Grace and Deliverance, the Lord of all the earth who enters into covenant relationship for the life of His people.

But in the wilderness at the foot of Mount Sinai, the children of Israel showed what would develop into a disastrous attitude—they overlooked the grace that got them where they were, they demanded a comfortable religion without the covenant intimacy God offered, and they asked that God speak to Moses instead of them. They grew impatient with even this arrangement when Moses took too long on the mountain, and instead of waiting on God, they decided to comfort themselves with Egyptian style worship of a golden calf. Instead of repenting and growing by God’s grace, they continued to insult the Lord through ingratitude, grumbling, and distrust. Because of this, with two exceptions (Caleb and Joshua), this whole generation doomed themselves to going in circles in the wilderness for forty years, until they and their poisonous influence died out, and a new generation of believers rose up—young people who defied their unbelieving ancestors by “rebelling up” in deeper faith and heartfelt obedience. These are those who approach the river.


At this point in the Bible, Moses has died. Moses’ assistant for years, Joshua has been appointed the new leader. The people are looking forward to entering the promised land, but are instead looking at an impassible river. At many times of the year, the Jordan river is easily crossed at fords of three to four feet deep, but not at flood stage in the early spring. At this time the spring rains and runoff from Mount Herman 90 miles to the north swells the Jordan into a 140 feet wide and 10 to 12 feet deep turbulent river. Adding to the problem is the murky water making it impossible to see where you are putting your feet as well as the strong current. The Jordan was known be bad enough that for instance, the Perean army was backed up against the river opposite Jericho by the Roman General Vespasian. Instead of entering the turbulent waters, the Pereans decided standing and fighting the Romans and losing thousands was the safer choice of action.

No one wants to go round and round to nowhere. It was finally time for Israel to make progress in life, but deliverance from going round-n-round meant being face to face with an impassible-impossible river.

Before going on, have you ever felt like you were in this situation? I have. I recall times of spiritually going-round-n-round and getting nowhere. Stuck around some issue that I could not resolve and then facing the only way ahead seemed impossible. I recall going round–n-round for instance on being stuck in ingratitude and unthankfulness; or being stuck about certain promises of God—like ones in even the sermon on the mount—blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, and they shall be filled, but what if I don’t even hunger? Blessed are the meek, they shall inherit the earth, but how does this happen?; how about the abundant life Jesus promises in John 10? How about the peace the passes all understanding? How about knowing the truth and the truth setting me free? Give and it shall be given to you? There are many promises and pictures of the life in Christ. And yet it is easy to get stuck going round and round seemingly going nowhere.


The children of Israel were looking at the promised land, But they couldn’t get there from here—seemed impossible to go on from going round-n-round and no way to really move on. Joshua 3 is about such as this. It has huge spiritual implications for us. But those entering were no longer looking on in unbelief like their parents’ generation—they were no longer doubting their beliefs and believing their doubts. They were ready to enter into the promises of God.   Lets listen to the reading of Joshua chapter 3.

1 Then Joshua rose early in the morning; and he and all the children 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 Yahweh 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 1000 yards 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.” (not part of your going in circles)


5 Then Joshua said to the people, “Consecrate (set apart, make holy) yourselves, for tomorrow Yahweh 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 Yahweh 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 Yahweh 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 (adonai) 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 Yahweh, the Lord (adonai) 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 (sense humor—Adam 1st man), the city that is beside Zarethan; and those which were flowing down toward the sea of the Arabah, the Salt Sea (Dead Sea—only receives never gives), were completely cut off. So the people crossed opposite Jericho.

17 And the priests who carried the ark of the covenant of Yahweh stood firm on dry ground in the middle of the Jordan while all Israel crossed on dry ground, until all the nation (goy) had finished crossing the Jordan.


Question for us: How was this new Israel able to enter into the promises of God?

By walking in God’s Purposes and Honoring God’s Presence.   Let’s look at the text and see what they and the Lord God did together.

  1. They purged themselves from futile, faithless attitudes of their forefathers and foremothers: This is seen in two ways of 3:1-2. They were finally moving toward the promised land, and then an impossible passage. Further, they had to sit there three days and look at it. How would their faithless parents have acted? They would have complained that the Lord did not know what he was doing. Their parents would have grumbled that they had to wait. Their parents couldn’t wait on Moses, but would the new generation wait on Joshua at the river? Yes, for they had purged themselves of faithless attitudes of ingratitude, grumbling and complaining.


Basic Positive things they did:


  1. They cherished the centrality of the presence of God. One of the key themes of Joshua 3 is the ark of the covenant. This is the gold covered chest with its cherubim topped mercy seat that contained the stones of covenant instruction, an urn of manna, and Aaron’s almond tree rod that budded during a rebellion about leadership.   The ark represents the special covenant presence of God with the children of Israel, and it is like God’s portable throne, saying He is King. The word occurs explicitly 10 times in the chapter from beginning, middle, and end. It ties the chapter together. Now the ark is called a number of revealing things. Several times it is simply the ark, but most often it is called the ark of the covenant. It is important to understand that our God is a Covenant God (been exploring this on Wednesday night). He gives His word on the matter so we can count on the relationship. Does not leave us in the dark, but lets us in on what He is thinking and how life can be lived to the fullest. He makes a covenant, out of sheer grace and love with great cost to Himself.

The ark is also called ark of the covenant of Yahweh your God. Not only does God have a covenant presence, but we know His name—He who Is and will be who He is. His name is a verb not an object of nature like common religion of the day.

There is also an unusual name in v. 11, ark of the covenant of the Lord (adonai—ruler, master) of all the earth!   Not just local God but universal, for all people and all time. Big.


  1. They honored the presence of God (this is a short definition of worship) They were to keep their distance (1000 yards away). Give the ark of God’s presence space to do the work.


  1. They honored the future as the future of the God who will be God—tomorrow is God’s tomorrow, just like today, and yesterday. Let God be God of yesterday, today, AND tomorrow. They were “going to places they had not passed before” (v 4), as they were readied for progress into the grace and rule of God. They were to consecrate themselves (v 5) in view of not simply God’s holy presence among them (that alone is enough), but also for what HE would do tomorrow. The future in God’s hands. This is faith maturing into hope. It honors God. I was not taught to do this. But this is Biblical, this is an important part of living by faith—trusting the Father not simply with my past, not only with my present, but also and essentially, with my future.


  1. There is a prominence for the priesthood who lead this new generation with the ark of the Yahweh as they honor the presence of the Lord (v 6). The priesthood theme is a big purpose of God for His people. I cannot develop it in detail, but we must be aware of its significance. The Scripture here speaks about the ark, and it also makes much of the priests being out front. There is a prominence of the priesthood!   It is God’s will from Exodus to Reveleation which has this recurring verse about God’s purpose: Hear Exodus 19:6: you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine; and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you shall speak to the sons of Israel.”  1 Peter 2:9: But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood; Revelation 1:5 (5:10) Lord has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father.”

Interestingly, this did not simply start in Exodus. It looks like Adam himself performed a kingly and priestly role together. Gen 1 humanty in the image of God, have dominion stewardship, like kings, but also note that Gen 1 looks like a temple dedication and the man as male female are put inside it as God’s images; AND there is Gen 2:15 where Adam’s job was to “cultivate and keep” or serve and guard the garden. It is very interesting to note that these two words, “cultivate” and “keep,” are used together in other Old Testament texts to refer to the work of priests in connection with Israel’s tabernacle and temple (Num. 3:7-8; 8:25-26; 18:5-6; 1 Chron. 23:32; Ezek. 44:14).

We are kingly priests and priestly kings—combining both, which is the hard part. Jesus, the Second and True Adam, did it particularly well, and He is our inspiration and example. So with us today, everyone is a priest–the priesthood of all believers is a profound truth to live out. See for instance—prayer. While it is good for the elders to pray for us, we also benefit from the prayer of the priest right next to us. Interceding or each other is God’s good will, not simply leaders for laity—nonleaders. We are all priests.


  1. The new people of God in Joshua 3 are able to benefit from submitting to God-appointed / God-anointed leaders. The Lord has always been concerned that His people have good shepherd-leaders watching over the flock. He says to Joshua, v. 7 “I will exalt you in the sight of all Israel that they may know that I will be with you.” What is important about leaders to the Lord can be very different than who we think are good leaders:—“so that Israel will know”—not that you are charismatic, smart, clever, can tell a good joke, are a good negotiator, a bulldog warrior, good with PR, or silver tongued orator. What is important for Lord—that He is with the leader.

Joshua gets this. Verse 9: When he addresses Israel, Joshua says NOT to listen to me because I am the naturally the best, a first born, can put you most at ease, am decisive, in the know, funny, can excite you. NO, Joshua says, v. 9, “Come hear the words of Yahweh your God.”   As a leader He is leading them by through and with the Word of God. Instead of getting in the way and eclipsing God, Joshua and God’s leaders are more transparent—can see through them to the Lord Himself. This is hard to do, leading so as to be getting out of the way of God, but this is God’s natural way of leading. God’s people are blessed when they submit to Godly leadership!


  1. Unlike their parents, they did not fear and shrink back from intimacy with God! Joshua tells them in verse 10, “By this you shall KNOW the Living God is among you.”   Did you know one of the most frustrating things in marriages is when one person wants intimacy and a relationship, and the other does not. One relates and pours out, while the other is shut down and in their own world. When the other draws near, eventually the one fearing (and or not wanting intimacy) might even lash out at the other. This is what old Israel in the wilderness did—they wanted what they wanted, God on their own terms, comfortable reiligion—not too much, not too little, and they provoked the Lord to wrath. They died in their fear and lack of intimacy with God. [Terrance Malik movie “To The Wonder” an example, with Ben Affleck as obtuse, mud bound, and unrelating Adam to all the love around him.] But not this group, this new generation of Israel. Joshua tells them, v. 11, Behold the ark of the cov. of the Lord of ALL THE Earth” Joshua tells them to go in with their eyes open—Look and learn of God and who it is who saves you. The Living God for a living relationship. Their eyes are opened to seeing God at work.


Part of the intimacy with God, is that they were sensitized to counterfeit gods, artificial religion and Canaanite half truths. They were immunized to idolatry. This comes out from verses 10-13. You shall know the Living God—and the Yahweh is called v. 13 “The Lord (Master, Ruler, adonai) of ALL the Earth.”  We are not much aware of it, but there is a contest of Gods at the Jordan River, much like the plagues of Egypt showed how Yahweh was stronger than any of the Egyptian gods. The main god of Canaan was Baal (their word meaning Master, Ruler, Lord). Baal was considered at the height of his power by bringing rain and floods during this time of year. Baal was lauded in his stories as “the mightiest Baal lives” — the living god, and was called by this title: “Mightiest Baal, Prince Lord of the earth.” Joshua announces that it is Yahweh who is the living God and who is sovereign Lord over all the earth. In the people’s eyes, Yahweh defeats Baal at the height of his power in the flooded Jordan. An idol is no match for the Living God.   It is time to be sensitive to idols out of honoring the Lord God Himself. Don’t offend with mixed worship and counterfeit gods. How are we doing with our idols and images today? Honor the Lord by not being drawn away by counterfeit gods!


Another aspect of intimacy is that they cherished the moment through memorial stones. The new generation anticipated the need for remembering God by proactively gathering stones from the middle of the river bed and setting up a stack of stones as witness. Verse 12 Joshua tells them “Now take for yourselves twelve men from the tribes of Israel …” these would be carrying stones of remembrance so that God’s covenant faithfulness at the Jordan could be told to other generations.  Remembrance is a function of intimacy. See how many membrances people have of their loved ones in special places and boxes. Honor the Lord in remembering.


  1. There was great concern with standing firm. [new slide] Joshua tells the priests carrying the ark of the cov., stand still in the Jordan (v. 8), and when the very heels of their feet touched the water, the waters rose up in a heap (dammed up) miles upstream, like waters of Red Sea. Verse 17 says, the priests stood firm. In making great progress in the spiritual life, there is stepping out, and there is also standing firm. Here they go together. Must step into the promises of God, but also stand firm on Who God is, His covenant, His covenant instructions, His Name, which includes Who He Has promised to be in the future.

There is standing firm so you can really go places.


  1. The new Israel was at the end of camping, but it was not comfortable for the new Israel. They were entering into conflict. We are in a new era—some think a great era for the church. No longer do we have comfortable Christianity in America. We are not called to comfort, but to the fulfilling work of the Lord working out His kingdom glory with us and among us. Interestingly, the new phase in the promises to Israel is hinted by verse 17: “all the nation (goy) had finished crossing the Jordan.” Up to this point Israel had been called a people, but now they are being called a nation—reminding of the promise being fulfilled to Abraham in Genesis 12:2- “I will make you a great nation (goy).” They were stepping into times of fulfillment but not absence of conflict. The times were exciting but not comfortable.


  1. Take heart—When everything seems closed, no options, no way out, the Lord can open. The Lord can open a door where there is none, and where the last place you would think there could be one. The Lord is full of surprises. In honoring the Lord for who He is, we must add this to list. He Is Full of Surprises. He can deliver from bondage and open the door unto full salvation.




We cross into the promises of God together, and that togetherness is together with Jesus. Jesus is the Greek form of Joshua. Same name, meaning Yahweh Saves. He saves indeed. We can do a lot better than going round-n-round in circles going nowhere. The Lord has much more for you. Step out. You won’t be alone. Stand firm. All the promises of God are Yes in Jesus. God is faithful.   Cross over into the promises of the only true and living God and Father of Jesus who is Lord of all the earth and every moment. O Lord bless us to cross over into your promises.



Lance H


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