Joshua 3-4 Step into the Jordan


The book of Joshua is all about how WE, the people God has made, are to TAKE HOLD of the promises of God our creator to us. 


Take Hold. 

I could give you this £10 note. I promise on my word that it’s yours. It’s yours now. Freely given. But in order to begin to benefit from the inheritance that is fully yours you need to take some steps, not inorder to deserve it or earn it (it’s already yours) just to take hold of it. Perhaps it begins with feelings of happiness and well being as you first register in your mind that the promised £10 is really yours, you are now £10 better off, you can begin to think what you might do with your £10, then the reality becomes more concrete as you get out of your seat and begin to cross the room to take your money.  

The promise is fully yours but to own and enjoy and take hold of the promise you need to take steps. 


The people of Israel here in the OT are God’s model, blue print, prototype to teach humanity what all this means. The promise they had received and now must take steps to take hold of is the promise of a homeland of fruitfulness rest and security. They must enter and take possession of the land of Canaan. 


The promise for all of US to which this model points is the promise from God of eternal life! Eternal life - A life that begins now and continues through death to a FULNESS of life on the other side. It’s difficult to get your head round what eternal life even means. It means to be truly home, truly at rest, deeply fulfilled in a renewed and creative world. But supremely eternal life is about knowing God, Father, Son and Holy spririt now and increasingly fully and completely. 

That promise and inheritance is offered to all and it’s yours completely as soon as you say Yes please to God (and we’ll talk about that) but then the promise - thoughout our Christian life -  must be taken hold of, progressively received.. We don’t stand still - we step forward through the Jordan into the land of promise..




So let’s learn about this from Israel our prototype. 



  1. God brings us to the end of ourselves so we would depend on Jesus  


At the end of Joshua chapter 2 Israelite spies have returned from Jericho in the land of Canaan with reports that the people are melting with fear.  So you can perhaps imagine the enthusiasm as 3v1 Early in the morning Joshua and all the Israelites set out from Shittim and went to the Jordan, where they camped before crossing over. 


But i think that that initially self confidence very quickly would have ebbed away. It was probably easy to feel quite good about your prospects in Shittim which sounds like an awful place but actually it was a beautiful campsite the name means Oasis of Acacia trees. But now God brings them to camp for 3 days looking at the Jordan. The Jordan was a steep river valley with tangled trees and a mile wide fast moving river which was at its worst around the time of harvest when the river was in flood. Oh look v15 - the river was in flood! Nice one God. 


How on earth are we gonna cross that? 


The God who made us, wants us to know him. He is the fulfilment of all promises. He is who we were made for. Without him we cannot know rest. We cannot know fulness of joy. We will not know life. 

For it to be possible for us to come into relationship with God we need to trust him. Trust him with our lives, trust that his ways are best. That he is God and not us. 

The problem is that we all have a deep independent streak within us. We can handle our lives we say. We hold on stubbornly. Keeping God and life out. 


Friends of mine who work with people with serious addictions and even those of us who are parents are familiar with the idea of tough love. Sometimes the most loving and kind thing is not to give another person what they want but to deny them , get hard on them, be tough with them. It hurts to do it but you’re doing it because you really care about what they’re missing out on in their own self destructiveness. 


With stubborn independent humanity God has to bring us to places in our lives that we just can’t handle. Obstacles to bring us to the end of ourselves that we might start relying on him and come to know him and know life. he brings us to camp on the banks of the Jordan. 


He sometimes does this when he wants to bring us to know him in the first place. I can get to God my own way we say but then he shows us the obstacle of our sin of our deathliness. Like a great Jordan. How are you going to overcome that? How are you?


As we go on in the Christian life such is his love that he will bring us to impossible Jordans to keep on breaking our destructive self reliance that keeps us miserably stuck. He wants us to take hold of our inheritance. For some of us that will mean getting to absolute rock bottom - never a nice place to be - before we will relinquish our grip on our own solutions and start looking for help..


2 After three days the officers went throughout the camp, 3 giving orders to the people: “When you see the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God, and the Levitical priests carrying it, you are to move out from your positions and follow it. 4 Then you will know which way to go, since you have never been this way before. But keep a distance of about two thousand cubits between you and the ark; do not go near it.”


If all of your knowledge of the ark of the covenant comes from Indiana Jones - a radio for talking to God - I might need to put you straight. 

The ark was a Gold plated box with a seat on the top flanked by gold plated angel figures. It would be carried a bit like a sedan chair with long poles. This was God’s chair. God’s throne - symbolising his presence. He is with us. Inside the box were the stone tablets of the 10 commandments and some other items that represented the way that God had provided for Israel - like a jar of the manna bread he had given to them everyday. So the ark was the ark of THE COVENANT - the pledged relationship between God and his people. God’s loving presence. The ark was a picture of what Jesus is to us. Pledged relationship, God present …WITH US. 


The Israelites are being told to fix their eyes on the ark and follow it. The ark will be their Sat Nav v4 and they should keep their distance to about a kilometre - perhaps because the ark is holy but more so so that all of them can SEE the amazing things v5 that God is going to do among them. 

They must consecrate themselves v5 wash their clothes, abstain from sex the reason: to inculcate in yourself a spiritual posture towards God of openness, dependence, obedience. 


God brings us to the end of ourselves that we might put our eyes on Jesus and become open to, dependent on, submitted to him. He promises you life. Take hold of his promise. 



2. God calls us to Step into the water 

6 Joshua said to the priests, “Take up the ark of the covenant and pass on ahead of the people.” So they took it up and went ahead of them.

7 And the Lord said to Joshua, “Today I will begin to exalt you in the eyes of all Israel, so they may know that I am with you as I was with Moses. 8 Tell the priests who carry the ark of the covenant: ‘When you reach the edge of the Jordan’s waters, go and stand in the river.’”


Sorry … scramble down that slope toward that raging torrent and … start wading?


9 Joshua said to the Israelites, “Come here and listen to the words of the Lord your God. 10 This is how you will know that the living God is among you and that he will certainly drive out before you the Canaanites, Hittites, Hivites, Perizzites, Girgashites, Amorites and Jebusites. 11 See, the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth will go into the Jordan ahead of you. 12 Now then, choose twelve men from the tribes of Israel, one from each tribe. 13 And …..AS SOON AS  the priests who carry the ark of the Lord—the Lord of all the earth—set foot in the Jordan, [then] its waters flowing downstream will be cut off and stand up in a heap.”


As soon as …

Im guessing the Priests must have been pretty nervous, maybe even terrified. But they needed to get their feet wet before God was going to work the miracle of faith.  


14 So when the people broke camp to cross the Jordan, the priests carrying the ark of the covenant went ahead of them. 15 Now the Jordan is at flood stage all during harvest. Yet as soon as the priests who carried the ark reached the Jordan and their feet touched the water’s edge, 16 the water from upstream stopped flowing. It piled up in a heap a great distance away, at a town called Adam in the vicinity of Zarethan, while the water flowing down to the Sea of the Arabah (that is, the Dead Sea) was completely cut off. So the people crossed over opposite Jericho. 17 The priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord stopped in the middle of the Jordan and stood on dry ground, while all Israel passed by until the whole nation had completed the crossing on dry ground.



God holds out his promise of life to us. It’s there… but until we actually take a step to receive it we won’t know his life, his goodness, his trustworthiness his power. 


Often in our independent spiritual lives we want everything worked out ourselves before we’ll do anything. 


For those of us seeking God. Of course it’s not wrong to investigate faith. Weigh things up. seek evidence. But there comes a point where God says ‘Now, step into the Jordan’  

Step out beyond the known. Take the risk. Because then you will know me. I can’t show you my trustworthiness until you trust me. I can’t show you my power until you let me. If you want to walk on water you have to get out of the boat. 

Your sin and death How are you going to overcome that? You can’t But I can. I have. I will send my son ahead of you into that watery grave so you can walk across on dry land to life on the other side. 

Step into the jordan. 


It’s like any committed relationship isn’t it? A marriage or a deepening friendship. You can never understand everything there is to understand about another person. there’ll always be another question. Relationships demand a step of faith. To give/entrust yourself to another. So it is with God. 



What about those of us who have gotten stuck? But God is bringing us to the end of ourselves. The oasis of acacia trees is a distant memory we’ve been camped on the miserable jordan for years, wandering in the wilderness. Well there comes a point when God says, Now step into the Jordan. To grow - you have to seek help outside of yourself. You have to tell the truth. It’s a terrifying step. But until you do it you cannot know God’s transforming power and grace. The Lord longs to be gracious to you.  Instead of wandering in the wilderness he wants to take you through the Jordan. He wants you to take hold of your inheritance, to know resurrection LIFE. Step out. 



What about the thing perhaps that God is calling you to do? The work he has for you. It’s there in your heart. Has been for years. But it’s like a massive Jordan. It’s impossible. You don’t have what it takes. It can’t be a real thing. It terrifies you to even contemplate beginning. But you can’t shake it off. You know that life lies there. The time comes when God says “Now, step into the Jordan” 

You’re right in one sense, you don’t have what it takes, not on your own. But God says, i’ve given you this vision because I want to do it through you. I am with you. Now step in the Jordan and see what I can do through you. Take the risk. Get your feet wet! 


Look at the completeness of God’s salvation through the Jordan. 

v16 the water flowing down to the Sea …was completely cut off. 

v17 all Israel passed by

the whole nation completed the crossing

on dry ground. !


do you see - it’s utterly secure and safe - no one is left behind. they don’t even get their feet wet or their sandles muddy! 

so it is with Jesus’ salvation work for us. there are no doubts about whether it will hold. Like a bit more might be needed to be done. No it’s complete. Finished. Once for all time. We will never be disappointed. 


And notice that really and truly it IS ALL GOD’S WORK 

The people do not achieve this rescue do they? They’re obedient. They have to do something to recieve it. But there’s this emphasis in the passage that as long as the ark is in place the waters are held back and 4v18 as soon the ark leaves the river bed the waters return and run in flood again. There are no natural coincidences here. Neither was this a feat of human engineering. This was an amazing thing of God. He dried up the Jordan v23. That v24 all the peoples of the earth might know that the hand of the Lord is powerful and so that you might always fear the Lord your God.”


It’s all God’s work: salvation, sanctification, service. It doesn’t depend on us - our stength our consistency. Just take hold of your inheritance. Step out. He wants to do amazing things among us. 



3. Never forget what God has done. 

Every year in dunbar scotland European stone stacking competition. Different categories such as ‘most stones balanced one on top of the other’. The stacks are beautiful - look it up 


But stone stacking starts here at the beginning of Joshua 4 on the banks of the Jordan. 12 stones, 1 for each tribe taken from the river bed where the ark had been and stacked on the western bank. As a lasting sign v6 for them and for their childen. A memorial of what God did here. 


Notice the repetition 

v1-3 Where God tells Joshua  to find 12 strapping lads, one from each tribe, to heft a stone each from the bed of the Jordan to stack on the bank of the promised land. 

then v4-7 where joshua tells the 12 hunks exactly the same thing 

lug a stone each from the bed of the Jordan and stack them on the bank of the promised land.

And then v8-9 where we’re told that the Israelites did exactly that 

They took twelve stones from the middle of the Jordan, to stack em on the banks of the promised land. 


Why do we need to be told 3 times? 

For precisely the same reason that God gets Israel into stone stacking - because we so easily forget. 


Don’t forget the amazing things God has done among you. 


Why did Jesus give us baptism and the Lord’s Supper? so that we’d  remember and not forget Jesus leading us into the watery death of Jordan (baptism) where he died for us (lord’s supper) so that we might walk through on dry ground to resurrection life where we shall never die. 



  1. God brings us to the end of ourselves so we would depend on Jesus 
  2. God calls us to step into the waters that he might prove his love and all sufficiency to us
  3. God calls us to remember his works as a spur for the future.