Theme: God’s Promise Fulfilled
This week’s lessons teach us about the character of God, as seen in the ark of the covenant which went before the Israelites through the Jordan.
Joshua 3:1-17

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. At the end of three days the officers went through the camp 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. 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.” Then Joshua said to the people, “Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do wonders among you.” 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.
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. 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.’” And Joshua said to the people of Israel, “Come here and listen to the words of the Lord your God.” And Joshua said, “Here is how you shall know that the living God is among you and that he will without fail drive out from before you the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Hivites, the Perizzites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, and the Jebusites. Behold, the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth is passing over before you into the Jordan. Now therefore take twelve men from the tribes of Israel, from each tribe a man. And when the soles of the feet of the priests bearing the ark of the Lord, the Lord of all the earth, shall rest in the waters of the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan shall be cut off from flowing, and the waters coming down from above shall stand in one heap.”
So when the people set out from their tents to pass over the Jordan with the priests bearing the ark of the covenant before the people, and as soon as those bearing the ark had come as far as the Jordan, and the feet of the priests bearing the ark were dipped in the brink of the water (now the Jordan overflows all its banks throughout the time of harvest), the waters coming down from above stood and rose up in a heap very far away, at Adam, the city that is beside Zarethan, and those flowing down toward the Sea of the Arabah, the Salt Sea, were completely cut off. And the people passed over opposite Jericho. Now the priests bearing the ark of the covenant of the Lord stood firmly on dry ground in the midst of the Jordan, and all Israel was passing over on dry ground until all the nation finished passing over the Jordan.

I’m sure you can think of some day in your life for which you waited a long, long time. And then, eventually it came. It may have been Christmas, a birthday, perhaps a birth of a child, or something else. Your anticipation grew as the event got closer. Imagine the intensity of the Israelites’ anticipation as they stood on the banks of the Jordan River and prepared to cross over and go into the Promised Land. Most were part of the new generation that had come from the one who had refused to believe God could give them the land. God had judged them by allowing them to wander in the desert for the 38 years until all of the old generation that were over 20 years old at the time had died. So it was a new generation that was going in, and they had been waiting for this moment for a long time. Joshua and Caleb had waited even longer than that. They were about 80 years old at this time. Of the twelve spies who had gone into the land to bring a report to Moses, they were the two who had believed that Israel could triumph. They were the only ones of that generation who had not died.
God’s promise of the land goes back to His initial promise to Abraham. God led Abraham out of Ur of the Chaldees and showed him the land that He would give to Abraham’s ancestors. That was more than 500 years before Joshua’s time, and then finally, after all that time, the day arrived. Joshua told the people in 3:5: “Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord is going to do amazing things among you.”
Now, this narration of the crossing of the Jordan really occupies three chapters. It begins in chapter 3. Chapter 4 is closely attached to it; and after they cross the Jordan, there are certain events that take place that are reported in chapter 5. And all of that belongs together as one narrative. As a matter of fact, there are verbal links between these chapters. You notice in 3:7 God says to Joshua: “Today I will begin to exalt the eyes of all Israel so they may know that I am with you as I was with Moses.” Then you skip over to 4:14, and you find a verse that picks up on that: “That day the Lord exalted Joshua in the sight of all Israel. And they revered him all the days of his life just as they had revered Moses.” So those chapters are linked together in that way.
We see another connecting idea again in 3:12, as Joshua is giving instructions as to what the people are to do: “Now then, choose twelve men from the tribes of Israel, one from each tribe.” But we’re not told there why they were to choose them. But if you go to 4:2, the same phrase occurs: “Choose twelve men from among the people, one from each tribe.” But here it tells why: they’re to take up twelve stones from the middle of the Jordan as a memorial. Then in addition to all of this, there’s the matter of God’s covenant, which really does tie all three chapters together. 


Why was it important that the people of Israel knew that the Lord was with Joshua as He had been with Moses?
Why did it take so long for God’s covenant with Abraham to be fulfilled?  What does this teach us about the character of God?  


Every Christian at some point needs to wait on the Lord for his will to be revealed.
What do these times teach us about God?  What do they teach us about ourselves?
What are some temptations that can come during these experiences?  Where can you turn in God’s Word for help and strength?


To learn more about the biblical idea of covenant, see Jonty Rhodes’ book, Covenants Made Simple: Understanding God’s Unfolding Promise to His People (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R, 2013); and also O. Palmer Robertson’s Christ of the Covenants (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R, 1981).

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