After the spies returned from Canaan and gave a good report to Joshua, he led the nation to the Jordan River and they camped there. After three days, instructions were circulated to the people regarding what they were to do the next day. They were to be prepared to follow the ark of the covenant as it was carried by the appropriate Levites (the priests), but they were to remain about three-fifths of a mile behind it (a respectful distance). God must be in the front (such is still true today; cf. Matt. 6:33)! He must be the One to lead them into a land that was new to them–Canaan!
Joshua then said to the people – “Sanctify yourselves, for tomorrow the LORD will do wonders among you” (Josh. 3:5). They were to prepare themselves by renewing their commitment to fully following God, and if they did, He would do great things for them. On the next day Joshua instructed the priests to cross the Jordan River, leading the people. The LORD also spoke to Joshua and said – “This day 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” (3:7). How would crossing a river exalt Joshua in the minds of the people? We shall soon see!
At this time of year, the Jordan would be flooded and difficult to cross safely with a couple million people and countless animals. The great God of heaven would take care of this difficulty, however, in a miraculous fashion. Consider Joshua 3:14-17:
“So it was, when the people set out from their camp to cross over the Jordan, with the priests bearing the ark of the covenant before the people, and as those who bore the ark came to the Jordan, and the feet of the priests who bore the ark dipped in the edge of the water (for the Jordan overflows all its banks during the whole time of harvest), that the waters which came down from upstream stood still, and rose in a heap very far away at Adam, the city that is beside Zaretan. So the waters that went down into the Sea of the Arabah, the Salt Sea, failed, and were cut off; and the people crossed over opposite Jericho. Then the priests who bore the ark of the covenant of the LORD stood firm on dry ground in the midst of the Jordan; and all Israel crossed over on dry ground, until all the people had crossed completely over the Jordan.”
As the feet of the priests touched the edge of the water, God’s mighty power went to work. Not only did God stop the source of the river so the people could easily cross, He also apparently dried the ground upon which they walked. The priests stood in the middle of the river bed on “dry ground” (when the water stopped they would have been walking through a muddy mess if only the water were diverted elsewhere). The LORD is amazing! Imagine the awe as the nation walked through the riverbed on dry ground; picture the excitement and their confidence in God and Joshua being strengthened (e.g., Exo. 14). This would prepare them mentally for the many battles that were to come with the people of the land (i.e., the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Hivites, the Perizzites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, and the Jebusites). If they were on God’s side, they could not fail since God can do anything He desires! No lives were lost as they entered into the land of Canaan; in fact, other than the priests, there is no evidence that anyone even got wet sandals!
In each aspect of the crossing, God spoke, Joshua issued a corresponding command, and the people obeyed. Friends, may we today be known for our willingness to listen to God and obey promptly the message He communicates through His inspired word!