Joshua 3: Lessons on God’s Blessings from His Parting of the Jordan River

Have the faith to obey God’s Word and boldly serve Him1

Introduction: Joshua Chapters 3 and 4 recount God’s parting of the River Jordan. Like His parting of the Red Sea, His blockage of the Jordan River was a sign of His power. He had the power to first deliver His people from the bondage of the Egyptians at the Red Sea. He also had the power to deliver the Promised Land to the Jews. The Jews’ twin crossings show that nothing is beyond His power. From Chapter 3, He reveals several lessons regarding His blessings.

First, from Joshua’s eagerness to invade the Promised Land before receiving word from his spies, God reveals that He does not want you to delay in seizing His blessings. He has given each person talents. He wants you to use them, not bury them. Second, from Joshua’s command for the people to follow the ark, God reveals that He wants you to follow Him at all times. Third, from Joshua’s command to treat the ark as holy by keeping 1,000 yards of space between the people and the ark, He reveals that He wants you to be holy. Because the Holy Spirit dwells within you, He wants you to be holy at all times. Fourth, through His promise to perform wonders while bringing His people into the Promised Land on the seventh day, the Sabbath, He reveals that He will bring you rest from the struggle of salvation. But this rest is only possible through Jesus. Fifth, from His promise to exalt His humble servant Joshua, He reveals that He will also exalt you as His servant when you humbly serve Him. Just as He lifted up the first Joshua, He lifted up the second Joshua named Jesus. Sixth, from the demonstration of His power in stopping the raging waters of the Jordan River, He reveals that He wants you to have faith in His ability to fulfill His many promises to you. This includes His promise to deliver you to the eternal Promised Land. Finally, from the dipping of the priest’s feet in the Jordan River, He reveals that you must be baptized into the living waters of Jesus to be saved. He also wants you to wash yourself of the filth of this world through Jesus’ blood.

1. God’s Blessings Are Available for Those Who Promptly Seize Them. Josh. 3:1.

  • Joshua’s eagerness to claim God’s promises. From beginning to end, the events between Joshua chapters 1 and 4 lasted seven days. On the third day after God directed Joshua to prepare to enter the Promised Land, he rose early in the morning and directed the nation to leave from their camps toward the crossing point at the River Jordan: “1Then Joshua rose early in the morning; and he and all the sons of Israel set out from Shittim and came to the Jordan, and they lodged there before they crossed.” (Josh. 3:1). Every word in the Bible has meaning. Buried within what most would consider an introductory sentence, God reveals two important truths. First, the fact that Joshua rose “early in the morning” is a sign of eagerness. Through God, Joshua gave the order three days earlier that the Jews would break camp and head toward the crossing point for the Jordan River: “‘Prepare provisions for yourselves, for within three days you are to cross this Jordan . . .’” (Josh. 1:11(b)). Second, based upon the events in Chapter 2, we can infer that Joshua broke camp before the two spies returned from Jericho. We can infer this fact because the spies hid for three days in the hill country outside of Jordan before they returned: “22 They departed and came to the hill country, and remained there for three days until the pursuers returned.” (Josh. 2:22). This means that Joshua had faith that the Lord would deliver the Promised Land to them, even if the spies had never returned. He did not depend upon the spies to decide whether to invade. He instead sent the spies out to plot the best route for the invasion in case the Lord did not reveal it to Him through a special revelation. Like Joshua, are you willing to step out with eagerness to serve Him, even if the details have not been laid out before you? Or, is your faith limited to circumstances where every step has been laid out and confirmed in advance to be safe?

Joshua selected commanders to prepare the people to cross the Jordan River2

  • God does not want you to delay in fulfilling your vows to serve Him. Under God’s Law, a person could not be deemed holy in His eyes if the person delayed in fulfilling a promise to Him: “21 When you make a vow to the Lord your God, you shall not delay to pay it, for it would be sin in you, and the Lord your God will surely require it of you. 22 However, if you refrain from vowing, it would not be sin in you. 23 You shall be careful to perform what goes out from your lips, just as you have voluntarily vowed to the Lord your God, what you have promised.” (Dt. 23:21-23). Jesus also warned against casual vows to Him that you might foolishly break (Matt. 5:33-37). He wants you to count the cost of any vow that you make to Him (Lk. 14:28). But when a seeker asked Jesus if he could bury his father before following Him (a metaphor for closing down his father’s business), Jesus responded that the man could not delay in his commitment to follow and serve Him (Lk. 9:60; Matt. 8:22). If your desires for your old life of the flesh are delaying your service, you are not ready to receive what He offers: “No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.” (Lk. 9:62). Your life could end at any moment. Jesus could return at any moment (Lk. 12:40). Thus, you cannot assume that you will have decades or even years to decide whether to follow after Christ (Jam. 4:13-14; Heb. 3:12-13, 15). Jesus gave us the parable of the ten virgins to illustrate that some will foolishly wait until it is too late to accept Him (Matt. 25:1-13). Are you waiting for the right time in your life to follow after Christ?

  • Don’t delay in using the talents that God has given you. In the parable of the talents, Jesus showed how He will rebuke a person who receives a talent (a gift, a blessing, a skill, or money) and fails to use that talent for Him (Matt. 25:14-30; Lk. 19:12-28). Joshua’s talents included faith, obedience, military skill, and leadership. By rising early on the third day before hearing word from his spies, he showed that He was eager to use his talents for God’s kingdom. Are you eager to use God’s gifts in your life to advance His Kingdom here on earth? Or, have you buried any of His talents?

2. God’s Blessings Are Available When You Follow Him. Josh. 3:2-3.

  • Joshua’s command to follow God’s ark. On the sixth day (three days after the Jews arrived at the crossing point), Joshua told the officers to follow after the ark as God led the way across the Jordan River: “ 2At the end of three days the officers went through the midst of the camp; and they commanded the people, saying, ‘When you see the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God with the Levitical priests carrying it, then you shall set out from your place and go after it.” (Josh. 3:2-3). The priests of the Kohath family within the tribe of Levi carried the ark (Nu. 4:1-6; Dt. 31:9). These priests were God’s representatives on Earth. Today, any believer in Christ is part of His royal priesthood (1 Pet. 2:5, 9; Rev. 1:6). This means that you are to be a guiding light to others (Matt. 5:14). Are you a light to others? Or, does your conduct misrepresent the light of God?

  • Follow God through His Word, the Spirit, and prayer. Today, God guides you through His Word (Ps. 119:105). He also guides you through the Holy Spirit, who helps to apply the Word to your life (Jo. 14:26; 16:13). He also guides you through prayer (Jam. 1:5). Are you spending time in the Word and in prayer for the Holy Spirit to guide you? Are you also obedient to the directions that the Holy Spirit gives you?

3. God’s Blessings Are Available Through the Holiness Offered By Christ. Josh. 3:4.

  • Joshua’s command for the Jews to be holy. The ark maintained a stationary position at the base of the dry riverbed. As the Jews passed by the ark, they had to maintain a distance of 2,000 cubits or 1,000 yards around it: ‘“However, there shall be between you and it a distance of about 2,000 cubits 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.’” (Josh. 3:4). God’s directions through Joshua served three purposes. First, by maintaining a distance around the ark, the Jews were reminded to treat the things that represented Him as holy. Second, by maintaining a large distance around the ark, all who passed would be able to see it. Third, while earthquakes have in the past temporarily blocked the Jordan River, the presence of the ark in the middle of the Jordan riverbed would have reminded the Jews that God had performed this miracle. Whenever He has performed a miracle in your life, you should exalt His holy name the way the Jews would have done as they passed by the ark: “Exalt the LORD our God and worship at His footstool; Holy is He.” (Ps. 99:5). “Exalt the LORD our God and worship at His holy hill, for holy is the LORD our God.” (Ps. 99:9). Are you giving Him credit for all the good and things in your life that come from Him? (Jam. 1:17).

  • Be holy for God’s use. Joshua’s command to keep a distance from the ark was a reminder to the Jews of their need to stay holy at all times. Moses also warned them to stay holy as they entered the Promised Land: “When you enter the land which the Lord your God gives you, you shall not learn to imitate the detestable things of those nations.” (Dt. 18:9). “You shall not do what is done in the land of Egypt where you lived, nor are you to do what is done in the land of Canaan where I am bringing you; you shall not walk in their statutes.” (Lev. 18:3). You are to be holy for God is holy: “Speak to all the congregation of the sons of Israel and say to them, ‘You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy.”’ (Lev. 19:2; Ex. 22:31; 1 Pet. 1:16). Through their holy conduct, God expected the Jews to become a light to rest of the world (Is. 49:6; 60:3). Through holy conduct, you can also become a light to others (Dt. 4:5-6; Matt. 5:14). Conversely, you dishonor God and repel others when you openly sin (Ro. 2:23-24). Have the sinful and evil things of the world around you corrupted your walk with God? If so, repent and let Christ wash you clean so that He can use you for service (1 Jo. 1:9).

4. God’s Blessing of Eternal Rest is Available Only Through Christ. Josh. 3:5-6.

  • The crossing on the seventh day. After three days of preparation and three days at the river’s edge, God revealed through Joshua that He would take them across the following day, the seventh day or the Sabbath: “Then Joshua said to the people, ‘Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do wonders among you’” (Josh. 3:5). Everything in the Bible has meaning. The fact that God brought them into the Promised Land on the day of rest symbolized His promise to bring believers rest from the struggle for their salvation. But this rest is only available through Christ: “So there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God. For the one who has entered His rest has himself also rested from his works, as God did from His.” (Heb. 4:9-10). This rest is foreshadowed in the ark that sat in the path of the dry river bed leading into the Promised Land: “Arise, O LORD, to Your resting place, You and the ark of Your strength.” (Ps. 132:8). Are you giving thanks that you no longer need to struggle to enter His eternal Promised Land?

Purify yourself to be ready at all times to serve God3

  • Consecrate yourself for His use. After telling the Jews to be holy, Joshua told them to “consecrate” themselves (Josh. 3:5). He later again ordered the Jews to “consecrate” themselves when God came in their presence to defeat their enemies in battle (Josh. 7:13). Moses also gave a similar command when God came near the Jews at Mount Horeb (Ex. 19:10). Being consecrated means that you are both holy in your conduct and ready for God to use. Are you both holy and ready for God to use you for His glory?

  • Lead God’s people to the eternal Promised Land. After revealing the time of their crossing, Joshua again confirmed to the priests that it was their obligation to lead the people: “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.” (Josh. 3:6). In the Bible, two is a number of confirmation. By his second command, Joshua affirmed the priest’s important duty to lead God’s people. As stated previously, you are part of Christ’s royal priesthood (1 Pet. 2:5, 9). You also represent His light to others (Matt. 5:14). Are you leading others to the eternal Promised Land?

5. God Will Exalt You When You Serve Him with Humility. Josh. 3:7-8.

  • God’s promise to exalt Joshua. After Joshua announced the timing and the order of the Jews’ crossing, God promised to exalt Joshua amongst the people so that they would not challenge his directions in either crossing the river or later in battle: “Now the Lord 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.  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.’”  (Josh. 3:7-8). By exalting Joshua, He also ensured that the priests would not flee from their posts in the middle of the soon to be dry Jordan riverbed. God knew that if the priests lacked faith and fled, the people would lack faith as well. It was a lack of faith that kept the Jews from seizing the Promised Land 38 years earlier. After the Jews crossed the River Jordan, God fulfilled His promise by causing Joshua to be exalted within the nation: “On that day the LORD exalted Joshua in the sight of all Israel; so that they revered him, just as they had revered Moses all the days of his life.” (Josh. 4:14).

Walk with Jesus and submit to His guidance for you4

  • God will exalt you when you humbly serve Him. God will also exalt a servant who is humble, obedient, and faithful: “Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you.” (Jam. 4:10). “He has brought down rulers from their thrones, and has exalted those who were humble.” (Lk. 1:52). “Blessed shall you be in the city, and blessed shall you be in the country.” (Dt. 28:3). Joseph’s faith even as a slave caused him to be obedient. As a result, God blessed Joseph and the entire Egyptian household that he managed: “It came about that from the time he made him overseer in his house and over all that he owned, the LORD blessed the Egyptian's house on account of Joseph; thus the LORD'S blessing was upon all that he owned, in the house and in the field.” (Gen. 39:5). Joseph showed that he was faithful and obedient in the face of Potiphar’s wife’s temptations. He was again faithful and obedient to God, even when he was thrown in jail on false charges and then forgotten. Because he showed that he was obedient and faithful in small things, God blessed him by elevating him to have power second only to Pharaoh (Gen. 41:40-41). Are you giving God the opportunity to exalt you through humility, faithfulness, and obedience? Is any part of your life filled with pride?

  • God will also exalt the second Joshua, Jesus. Like Joshua, Jesus led a humble, obedient, and faithful life. Like Joshua, God later exalted Jesus: “For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name,” (Phil. 2:9). “Therefore having been exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He has poured forth this which you both see and hear.” (Acts 2:33). “He is the one whom God exalted to His right hand as a Prince and a Savior, to grant repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins.” (Acts 5:31). Are you exalting Jesus in both your worship and in your conduct?

6. God’s Blessings Are Available When You Have Faith in His Power. Josh. 3:9-13.

  • The manifestation of God’s power in the blockage of the River Jordan. To give the Jews faith in His power to deliver the Promised Land and to defeat their enemies, God promised to perform a miracle at the Jordan River that the Jews would not forget: “Then Joshua said to the sons of Israel, ‘Come here, and hear the words of the Lord 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 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 the Lord, the Lord 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.” (Josh. 3:9-13). This repeated a promise that He previously made to Moses: “I will send an angel before you and I will drive out the Canaanite, the Amorite, the Hittite, the Perizzite, the Hivite and the Jebusite.” (Ex. 33:2; 34:11; Dt. 7:1; 9:3). God later fulfilled His promise: “You crossed the Jordan and came to Jericho; and the citizens of Jericho fought against you, and the Amorite and the Perizzite and the Canaanite and the Hittite and the Girgashite, the Hivite and the Jebusite. Thus I gave them into your hand.” (Josh. 24:11). Are you trusting in Him to deliver you from your enemies?

Have faith in God’s Word5

  • Faith allowed the Jews to pass through the Jordan River. It was only through faith in God that He parted the waters of the Red Sea and the Jordan River. The priests stepped into the raging waters before the water dried and without knowing what God would do: “You broke open springs and torrents; You dried up ever-flowing streams.” (Ps. 74:15). “The sea looked and fled; the Jordan turned back.” (Ps. 114:3). “What ails you, o sea, that you flee? O Jordan, that you turn back?” (Ps. 114:5). “By faith they passed through the Red Sea as though they were passing through dry land; and the Egyptians, when they attempted it, were drowned.” (Heb. 11:29). Without faith, it is impossible to please God. (Heb. 11:6). If you are asking for His help without believing He will act, He is highly unlikely to respond: “But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind.” (Jam. 1:6). When you face a crisis, are you praying with faith that He can and will act in your life?

7. God’s Blessings Are Available When You Are Baptized in Faith. Josh. 3:14-17.

  • The baptism of the Jews in the Jordan river. Just as the first generation of Jews had to pass through His living waters, so would the second. The Jews’ baptism in the holy waters of the Jordan began with the priests dipping their feet in the water: “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, the city that is beside Zarethan; and those which were flowing down toward the sea of the Arabah, the Salt Sea, were completely cut off. So the people crossed opposite Jericho.  17 And the priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord stood firm on dry ground in the middle of the Jordan while all Israel crossed on dry ground, until all the nation had finished crossing the Jordan.” (Josh. 3:14-17). God picked a moment in time when the Jordan River was ragging at its peak. The raging waters overflowed from its banks. This showed that the blocking of the Jordan River was His supernatural act.

Joshua first prepared the Levites and the people to trust God6

God’s Hand then miraculously stopped the River Jordan7

The ark preceded the people to show that God was guiding them8

Benjamin West (1738-1820) “Joshua passing the River Jordan with the Ark of the Covenant” (painting 1800)9

  • The Jews’ passage symbolized their baptism. The Jews’ passage through the river was also their baptism into God’s living waters: “For I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea; and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea;” (1 Cor. 10:1-2). Like the Jews, you also have been baptized into the living waters of Christ: “Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death?” (Ro. 6:3). “For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.” (Gal. 3:27). Each generation of the Jews had to be baptized. Likewise, each generation of believers must be baptized into Christ. From the priests’ washing of their feet, we also learn that even saved believers must wash their feet from the sins of the world. This is why Jesus said that Peter had to allow Him to wash his feet during the Last Supper (Jo. 13:8). Finally, just as you were baptized into the living waters of Christ, you are encouraged to teach others to do so as well: “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit,” (Matt. 28:19). Are you encouraging others to be baptized into Christ?

  • The passage through the River also symbolized the Jews’ redemption. God also makes clear that the passage through the sea and the river to the Promised Land symbolized the Jews’ redemption:  “Was it not You who dried up the sea, the waters of the great deep; who made the depths of the sea a pathway for the redeemed to cross over?” (Is. 51:10). The Jews understood that the Messiah would bring the people across the water: “And they will pass through the sea of distress and He will strike the waves in the sea, so that all the depths of the Nile will dry up; and the pride of Assyria will be brought down and the scepter of Egypt will depart.” (Zech. 10:11; Is. 11:15). The opening of the river symbolizes that the path to pass into the eternal Promised Land is open through Christ. How are you thanking Him for the path He has opened for you? (Ro. 12:1-2).