1 Then Joshua rose early in the morning and they set out from Shittim. And they came to the Jordan, he and all the people of Israel, and lodged there before they passed over. 2 At the end of three days the officers went through the camp 3 and commanded the people, “As soon as you see the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God being carried by the Levitical priests, then you shall set out from your place and follow it. 4 Yet there shall be a distance between you and it, about 2,000 cubits in length. Do not come near it, in order that you may know the way 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 said to the priests, “Take up the ark of the covenant and pass on before the people.” So they took up the ark of the covenant and went before the people.
7 The Lord said to Joshua, “Today I will begin to exalt you in the sight of all Israel, that they may know that, as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. 8 And as for you, command the priests who bear the ark of the covenant, ‘When you come to the brink of the waters of the Jordan, you shall stand still in the Jordan.’” – Joshua 3:1-8 ESV
The spies had returned and given their report. And Joshua, based on all that they had told him, had reached the conclusion that the time was right to advance, making their long-awaited entrance into the land of promise.
“Truly the Lord has given all the land into our hands. And also, all the inhabitants of the land melt away because of us.” – Joshua 2:24 ESV
It is not difficult to notice that Joshua borrows from the words of Rahab when describing the emotional state of the inhabitants of the land. She had told the two spies that, upon hearing the reports of Israel’s defeats of the kings of the Amorites, “our hearts melted, and there was no spirit left in any man because of you, for the Lord your God, he is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath” (Joshua 2:11 ESV). Joshua took this as a sign from God that the land and its people were theirs for the taking. The time had come for them to step out in faith and take God at His word. He had promised long ago to give them this land and now God was ready to turn that promise into a reality. But the crossing of the Jordan was going to be a watershed moment. The river acted as a barrier and a border. It was a natural marker, establishing the eastern border of the land of Canaan. Upon entering its waters and exiting out the other side, the people of Israel would be embarking on a new journey of faith. And Joshua, knowing that this day was significant, called the people to prepare themselves spiritually for what God was about to do. “Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do wonders among you” (Joshua 3:5 ESV).
No doubt, Joshua recalled the words of God, spoken to Moses, when He had renewed His covenant with Israel.
And he said, “Behold, I am making a covenant. Before all your people I will do marvels, such as have not been created in all the earth or in any nation. And all the people among whom you are shall see the work of the Lord, for it is an awesome thing that I will do with you.” – Exodus 34:10 ESV
Joshua knew that this was no ordinary day. When the sun set that evening, they would find themselves no longer living as wanderers in the wilderness. They were about to enter the land promised by God to Abraham as his inheritance. And they were going to have the privilege and responsibility of seeing that the land was captured, its inhabitants conquered, and their occupation of it be marked by consecration to God. But Joshua also knew that all that was about to happen had little to do with them. It was going to be the work of God. And God had made it clear why He was providing them with this land.
3 Know therefore today that he who goes over before you as a consuming fire is the Lord your God. He will destroy them and subdue them before you. So you shall drive them out and make them perish quickly, as the Lord has promised you.
4 “Do not say in your heart, after the Lord your God has thrust them out before you, ‘It is because of my righteousness that the Lord has brought me in to possess this land,’ whereas it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the Lord is driving them out before you. 5 Not because of your righteousness or the uprightness of your heart are you going in to possess their land, but because of the wickedness of these nations the Lord your God is driving them out from before you, and that he may confirm the word that the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.
6 “Know, therefore, that the Lord your God is not giving you this good land to possess because of your righteousness, for you are a stubborn people.” – Deuteronomy 9:3-6 NLT
The land was not a reward for their righteous behavior. God was not giving them the land because they were good. He was giving them the land because He was good, and holy, and just, and a God who keeps His promises. And God was going to lead them as He had for decades. He would go before them, His glory hovering over the Ark of the Covenant, just as it had ever since they had left Mount Sinai.
33 They marched for three days after leaving the mountain of the Lord, with the Ark of the Lord’s Covenant moving ahead of them to show them where to stop and rest. 34 As they moved on each day, the cloud of the Lord hovered over them. 35 And whenever the Ark set out, Moses would shout, “Arise, O Lord, and let your enemies be scattered! Let them flee before you!” 36 And when the Ark was set down, he would say, “Return, O Lord, to the countless thousands of Israel!” – Numbers 10:33-36 NLT
Joshua commanded the people to follow the ark of the covenant. It would be their guide, just as it had always been. This was a not-so-subtle reminder to the people that God was the one who was leading them. Joshua was simply his representative. But God provided Joshua with the assurance that He would confirm his role as the new leader of the nation of Israel.
“Today I will begin to exalt you in the sight of all Israel, that they may know that, as I was with Moses, so I will be with you.” – Joshua 3:7 ESV
Joshua’s standing among the people would be solidified because they would see God working through him. His position as their leader would be confirmed by God’s continued presence, power, and provision. The key to Joshua’s leadership success would be his ability to follow God. A godly leader is nothing more than a humble follower after God. And as long as that individual follows God, those who come behind him will find themselves walking in the will of God.
So, Joshua, as a godly leader, passed on the message he had heard to those who would be carrying the ark of the covenant: “When you come to the brink of the waters of the Jordan, you shall stand still in the Jordan” (Joshua 3:8 ESV). That was all he knew. That was the extent of his understanding of God’s will. But he shared it and trusted in it. Joshua had no idea what was going to happen next, but he knew that, whatever happened, it would be the work and the will of God. And it would be a wonder to behold.
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.