Crossing the Jordan
Joshua 3 and 4
Life is full of transitions.
One day you are single. The next day you are married.
One day you are a high school senior. The next day you are a high school graduate.
One day you are in your mother’s womb. The next day you are in diapers.
One day you are alive. The next day you are in heaven or hell.
Some transitions are beyond our control. An auto accident can change a life in a single moment. Sickness and disease can change a life.
We prepare and plan for some transitions. We study for years to get our high school diplomas, our bachelor’s degree or our master’s degree.
Once the transition is made, there is no going back. The change is permanent. We can long for the past, but it is gone. We can resent the past, but it cannot be undone. We can wish we were never born, but here we are.
God is Lord of all our transitions.
The crossing of the Jordan River by the Israelites is often used as a picture of our transition into heaven. Certainly, death is our final transition here on earth. However, there are many transitions before we meet that final transition. The example of God leading the Israelites across the Jordan can help us deal with all our transitions.
Joshua 3 and 4 tell the story of Israel’s great transition. From this story, we can find encouragement and instruction to help in our own transitions.
Look at Joshua 3:1.
Early the next morning Joshua and all the Israelites left Acacia Grove and arrived at the banks of the Jordan River, where they camped before crossing.[i]
We understand that “early the next morning” is referring to the morning after the spies returned from Jericho. In Joshua chapter 2, we learn that Joshua sent two spies into Jericho. These men stayed in the house of Rahab, and brought back a report saying, “The LORD has given us the whole land,” they said, “for all the people in the land are terrified of us.” (Joshua 2:24)
There is a significant detail in chapter 3 verse 1 that can easily be overlooked. It says, “the Israelites left Acacia Grove.” Other translations call this place “Shittim.” The word “Shittim” means Acacia. The Israelites were camped in an area covered with Acacia trees. They had been camped here for some time.
God led the people up from the wilderness through the land of Sihon king of the Amorites, and Og king of Bashan. These and other kings east of the Jordan were utterly destroyed by the Israelites.
When the Israelites reached Acacia Grove, they were in the territory of the Moabites. Balaak, king of Moab, saw the massive Israelite camp and knew he could not take them in a fight so he hired a seer named Balaam to curse them. God would not let Balaam curse Israel. Therefore, Balaam told Balaak how he could get Israel to curse themselves. Balaak sent beautiful women to invite the Israelites to join in celebrating festivals to their gods. These festivals were particularly attractive because they involved these beautiful women giving their bodies to the men.
Numbers 21 through 25 tells the story of the battles with Og, Sihon and Balaak. Numbers 25 verse 9 tells us that 24,000 people of Israel died there in the camp at Acacia Grove.
After the incident with the Moabite women, Moses gave final instructions and took care of final details. Then, he died. God took him to a mountaintop, showed him the land on the other side of the Jordan and took him home.
God is Lord of our transitions.
The first lesson we learn from the Israelites transition is God is merciful.
The past cannot be undone. The 24,000 that died in Acacia Grove could not be brought back. The horrible sin that the Israelites committed was now part of their past. Moses was gone. He was not coming back. We must first understand that God does not hold the past against us. Lamentations 3:22-23 says, “The faithful love of the LORD never ends! His mercies never cease. Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning.” It is incredible, but God’s mercies are fresh every morning. He does not hold the past against us. 1 John 1:9 says, “But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.”
God does not hold the past against us, and He is willing to remove our sins from us. However, sometimes we are unwilling to let go of the past. I am not saying we should forget the loved one we lost. I am not saying we will not miss the use of the body part we lost. I am saying we will have to accept a new normal. I am saying that we will have to embrace God’s purpose for us. Moses is gone. Joshua is the leader now. Things will never be the same. We must move on from Acacia Grove to the Jordan.
When we put our faith in the Lord of all our transitions, we can trust His mercy. We can also trust His purpose. This is the second lesson we learn from the Israelites’ transition.
God is good.
Joshua 3:9-11 says:
9So Joshua told the Israelites, “Come and listen to what the LORD your God says. 10Today you will know that the living God is among you. He will surely drive out the Canaanites, Hittites, Hivites, Perizzites, Girgashites, Amorites, and Jebusites ahead of you. 11Look, the Ark of the Covenant, which belongs to the Lord of the whole earth, will lead you across the Jordan River!
During their 40 years in the wilderness, the Israelites had a consistent problem. Each time they came to an obstacle, they would complain, “The Lord has brought us out here to kill us.” Joshua tells the people, “Today you will know that the living God is among you. He will surely drive out the Canaanites, Hittites, Hivites, Perizzites, Girgashites, Amorites, and Jebusites ahead of you.” God had a future and a plan for His people. He had sustained them 40 years in the wilderness. He had led them out of Egypt. He parted the waters of the Red Sea. He gave them Manna and kept their clothes from wearing out. For 40 years, God demonstrated His mercy and His goodness. Now as they approach the big moment of transition, once again, God is promising a bright future, His presence and His provision.
God does the same for us. To be sure, circumstances and events are not always positive. The Jordan River was in flood stage. It was a real barrier. Without Divine intervention, the people were not getting to the other side. We are blind to the future. When we get married, we anticipate bliss. Too often, our hopes are dashed. When we hear the diagnosis from the doctor, we are crushed. When the boss says, “We are down-sizing,” we wonder how we are going to make it.
God is good.
I am not saying that everything that happens is good. God give us the power, authority and ability to choose. Therefore, sin and evil exist in this world. Even given this fact, in our darkest days God gives us this assurance:
For I know the plans I have for you,” says the LORD. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. (Jeremiah 29:11)
The Apostle Paul repeats this assurance in another way when he says:
And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. (Romans 8:28)
The Israelites trusted God’s purpose. God provided a new leader. God led with the Ark of the Covenant. Everything changed, no more pillar of fire by night, no more cloud by day. They left behind their parents’ bodies in the wilderness. They left behind the ease and certainty of Manna. They left behind the familiarity of Moses. They moved ahead into the unknown of conquest, battle and making a new home. Their only confidence was God is good.
They also learned that God is unchanging.
Joshua 4:4-7 says:
4So Joshua called together the twelve men he had chosen—one from each of the tribes of Israel. 5He told them, “Go into the middle of the Jordan, in front of the Ark of the LORD your God. Each of you must pick up one stone and carry it out on your shoulder—twelve stones in all, one for each of the twelve tribes of Israel. 6We will use these stones to build a memorial. In the future your children will ask you, ‘What do these stones mean?’ 7Then you can tell them, ‘They remind us that the Jordan River stopped flowing when the Ark of the LORD’s Covenant went across.’ These stones will stand as a memorial among the people of Israel forever.”
Joshua built a memorial.
It was important that the people never forget what God had done. Moses instituted the Passover festival. It was important that the people never forget what God had done. Only once has God parted the Red Sea. Only once has God stopped the flow of the Jordan. However, it was the same God that did both.
God has progressively revealed Himself throughout History. In other words, what God shows us of Himself builds upon what He has shown previous generations about Himself. He does not change. Today, He is the same God who parted the Red Sea. He is the same God that led the Israelites across the Jordan. However, the Israelites did not yet know about Nazareth, Mary and Joseph, a manger or about Jesus. When they crossed the Jordan, they did not yet know how they were going to defeat the walled city of Jericho. We know all these things and more. We know that God raised Jesus from the dead. We know that God gives us His Holy Spirit. We know that God has given us His Word, the Bible.
Since we know that God is unchanging, we have confidence that whatever the Jordan we face we can trust God. Jesus said, “Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me.” (John 14:1)
God is Lord of our transitions.
God is merciful so learn from the past, build on the past, but do not let the past stop you from following God when He calls you to cross the Jordan.
God is good so trust God’s plan, even when you cannot see hope for tomorrow.
God is unchanging so build on what He has shown you. Move forward in your relationship with God. Never forget what He has done. His word is a memorial to His great deeds. Visit it often.
[i] Unless otherwise noted Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation. Copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Steam, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved