Summary: Whether crossing a river or conquering the land, it would all be done by God's might and direction. And by remembering these glory days, they would revere God all their days.
>6 major events: Consecration, Crossing, Memorial, Circumcision, Passover, Warrior
There are significant days we will always remember--days when we took a bold new step, eager to see what God would do. Israel was about to take a giant step across the Jordan River to the Land of Promise. Before the crossing, some preparations were in order to aid in Israel's spiritual fitness for battle.
Before advancing one step, they're told to “consecrate” themselves (3:5), to perform a ritual purification ceremony. Consecration involves confessing our sins. We then bow before God and ask Him to bless what we're about to do. There may be ritual, or there may simply be a moment of prayerfully seeking God. We don't want to embark on any new venture alone. We want to go with God. When soldiers deploy, they get innoculations, battle gear, and briefings (and maybe a quick prayer by the Chaplain). But in this unique conflict, purification was a necessary prerequisite. The outward cleansing pointed to the need of going into battle with pure hearts...and with the assurance that God was with them. Over the centuries nations have waged war assuming God was on their side...but that's not always the case. When asked if God was on the side of the Union, Abraham Lincoln said he was more concerned about being on God's side.
Joshua is given a test of his trust. God is asking him to take a bold step of faith. He will do the same with us. We will be given tasks that are beyond us. In those critical moments we realize that our strength does not come from within but from Above. The will of God will never lead you where the grace of God cannot keep you. “The One who calls you is faithful, and He will do it,” I Thessalonians 5:24. Joshua assures the people that God is about to do some “amazing things” (3:5), which is the closest word in the Hebrew Scriptures for what we call “miracles.”
They take the Ark of the Covenant with them. It was a symbol of God's presence and power, His holiness and mercy. It was Israel's most sacred treasure. The Ark was kept in the Holy of Holies within the Tabernacle, and contained the Ten Commandments, a pot of manna, and Aaron's rod. Perhaps the reason we don't have it today is because it might well become an object of worship, an idol. And we don't need it. We have God's presence in and around us. We have His word, a resource more precious and powerful than the Ark.
It was no coincidence that the Jordan was at flood level. I've baptized soldiers in the Jordan River and it would not be easy to cross without a bridge. There are some sections of the river where, under normal conditions, an army might be able to cross, but not at flood stage. It's almost like the river is defiantly daring Israel to attempt a crossing (Hubbard)! Joshua does not call for the Israeli Corps of Engineers to build a bridge. There is no Israeli Navy. Nonetheless, with holy courage, Joshua calls for the priests to line up in formation, and for representatives of the Twelve Tribes to lead the army and the nation. Then Joshua confidently gives the order: “Forward, march!”
Israel follows the Ark at a respectful distance. And they cross on dry ground, in similar fashion to when their parents crossed the Red Sea. The two miraculous crossings are connected. The Ark serves as a divine crossing guard. The obedience of this group of people is greater than that of the generation buried in the wilderness. It was reassuring to see the hand of God bring about a miracle. But today we must rely on God's promise in the absence of overt signs. Yet we know the One who led Joshua is leading us. And God raises Joshua's esteem in the eyes of his people. Joshua enjoys the same relationship with God that Moses did. He speaks for God to the people and they heed his words.
Once over the Jordan, Israel is directed to construct a memorial to mark the event (chapter 4). Twelve men are chosen for this task. One from each tribe selects a large stone taken from the river bed. This was not an altar but a monument to help Israel recall what God did for them. The 12 stones represent a united nation led by an Almighty God. We've all seen war memorials. We recently dedicated some new ones in town on Veterans Day. We need reminders; monuments help us remember. These markers help keep the past alive, lest we forget. Those who crossed over into Canaan did not have Bibles to read of this event. They had twelve stones. Once over the Jordan, the waters return...there is no going back. Conflict with Canaan is inevitable. They march in formation, equipped for battle.