Joshua 3:1-17.
Acting On Faith

Consider the following acrostic:

F        Follow God's leadership.

A       Ask for God's guidance.

I         Invite God to control your life.

T        Trust Christ in All things.

H       Have confidence in God's promises.

We all recognize the importance of faith.  We come to know Christ as Savior through faith.  We walk daily, in obedience, as His children in faith.  Look at the acrostic and consider what it may communicate concerning how we can live for God in faith.  This study emphasizes the need for God's children to respond to God by faith through action.  To get us into the context of what is taking place in the biblical passage of this study:


Joshua 3:1-4.  And Joshua rose early in the morning; and they removed from Shittim, and came to Jordan, he and all the children of Israel, and lodged there before they passed over. 2And it came to pass after three days, that the officers went through the host; 3And they commanded the people, saying, When ye see the ark of the covenant of the LORD your God, and the priests the Levites bearing it, then ye shall remove from your place, and go after it. 4Yet there shall be a space between you and it, about two thousand cubits by measure: come not near unto it, that ye may know the way by which ye must go: for ye have not passed this way heretofore.

The Hebrews are now finding themselves at one of the seminal moments in their history, overshadowed only by their miraculous Exodus from Egypt forty years prior.  They are now ready to cross the Jordan and return to the promised land of their ancestor, Abraham, a return that will require the displacement or destruction of its current pagan inhabitants.  Their failure to enter the land forty years ago occurred when the Hebrew leadership, in opposition to Moses, Joshua, and Caleb, refused to enter the land upon believing exaggerated reports of giants in a land that devours its people. 

This time they arrived at the Jordan river, closer to the promised land, but separated from it by a flooding river.  There was a suitable ford where a few people could get across, so Joshua was able to send across a few people, including the two spies who entered Jericho.  These spies returned with the message that, though its cities were fortified, their inhabitants were overwhelmed with a fear of the Hebrews who were unstoppable for the last forty years as they moved through the wilderness and encountered opposition from its pagan communities.

This time, the report was positive, but the apparent situation was impossible:  the ford across the river was far too small to allow the passage of such a large group of people, and stood as a barrier against the movement of their property across its waters.  The first time, the report was negative, but the apparent situation was simple:  walk north, around the Sea of Galilee.  However, they were bound to follow the lead of the Shekinah Glory, the Pillar of Fire that would lead them across the river.

Between walking on dry land, or trying to get an entire nation across a flooding river, it would certainly seem more rational to choose the land route.  However, when they once had dry land between them and the Land, they refused to enter.  The barrier to entry was within their own hearts.  Now, fully willing to cross the flooding river, the situation still seems impossible to the rational observer.  If the nation had to cross the ford, only a few could cross at a time.  A defending nation would have no problem defeating them as they cross.  They selected 40,000 (Note numerology) of their best soldiers to lead.  Though they had a plan, the barrier of the river remained.

Though the barrier remained, Joshua clearly understood the LORD’s command to move now.  He gave orders to the priests to take the Arc of the Covenant, and using the appropriate process for handling it, they were to lead the nation across the river.  The instructions that Joshua gave to the people were consistent with that process.

God’s holiness is illustrated in the command to come no closer to the Arc than about 2000 yards.  This serves as a reminder that God is holy, and He cannot be approached by those who are unholy or impure without His invitation.  Those who had approached the Arc improperly in the past realized an immediate judgment of death.  That same judgment would hold even now as they were entering the Land of Promise.


Joshua 3:5-6.  And Joshua said unto the people, Sanctify yourselves: for to morrow the LORD will do wonders among you. 6And Joshua spake unto the priests, saying, Take up the ark of the covenant, and pass over before the people. And they took up the ark of the covenant, and went before the people.

The nation was about to undertake a task that would be empowered and led by the LORD, and victory would be provided through His direct, miraculous, intervention as He would lead the nation to their new home.  Prior to joining the LORD in His work of grace, it was necessary that the people would pause and consider what was about to take place, consecrating themselves (sanctifying, or preparing themselves spiritually) for the event.  What they were about to do was impossible:  cross a flooding river without losing the lives or possessions, and overtaking a walled city without the military resources to do so. 

Those who were without faith would consider Joshua’s order to “move out” to be ridiculous, as the barriers that stood before them were impossible to cross.  Consequently, before moving forward in faith, it was appropriate and necessary that the people “consecrate” themselves.  This act involves the deliberate dedication of themselves to God’s divine purpose for them.  Consecration always involves submitting one’s self to God’s authority, setting one’s self apart from this pagan and secular world, and sincerely seeking obedience to Him.  This is the primary act of faith.  By consecrating themselves they are declaring their allegiance to the Lordship of God, placing themselves in a position where the LORD will bless them with His promise of guidance and protection.

It is this same act of consecration that defines one’s act of submission to the LORD in faith today.  When we have submitted ourselves to God’s rightful place of Lord over us, we place ourselves in a position to be blessed with His guidance and protection.

Josh 3:7  And the LORD said unto Joshua, This day will I begin to magnify thee in the sight of all Israel, that they may know that, as I was with Moses, so I will be with thee.

Up to this point in history, the only national leader Israel had known was Moses.  It would be a challenge for Joshua to step up and take Moses’ place as the leader of the nation without a clear anointing of the LORD.  We might be reminded that most of these people were without the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and could not respond in faith to the Spirit's prompting.  Before Christ, and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in such a large portion of the fellowship of believers, the Spirit was not as much a part of the lives of as many people.  The gospel of faith had not been preached, and the final sacrifice had not yet been made.  Therefore, it was not as simple for someone to accept faith in God prior to the incarnation of YAHWEH in Jesus, Christ.  Usually, God's message was carried by a small remnant of the people, led by prophets and individual leaders, such as Moses, Aaron, Joshua and Caleb.

God had a plan to anoint the leadership of Joshua.  We find continual references to the LORD providing Joshua with encouragement, repeatedly commanding him to be confident and bold, reminding him that he is not taking the leadership of the nation by himself, but that the LORD would lead him in the identical manner that He led Moses.

Joshua 3:8.  And thou shalt command the priests that bear the ark of the covenant, saying, When ye are come to the brink of the water of Jordan, ye shall stand still in Jordan.

The command that Joshua gave to the priests makes little sense to the rational mind.  The Arc represented God’s power and presence among the people, and so it was revered more than any other object in the nation, other than the temple itself.  Those who are without faith might consider this command to be ridiculous, promising only to result in a bunch of wet priests and a damaged Arc.  The faith of the people and the priests would be demonstrated by their lifting the Arc, and wading into the swollen and flooding river.

This is an illustration of the difference between saving faith and simple belief that leaves people immersed in the consequences of their sin.  Faith always results in action.  Faith without action is belief.  I can believe that a chair will hold my weight, but I have not demonstrated faith until I have put my weight in it.  An act of faith is always characterized by our submitting ourselves in some manner to another.  It is an action that, devoid of faith, would appear to carry risk.  However, there is no perceived risk when one is fully faithful.  If the priests fully believed in God’s plan and purpose, they were expressing faith in that belief by wading into the water.  Nothing could or would take place until they made the step of faith.


Josh 3:9-13  And Joshua said unto the children of Israel, Come hither, and hear the words of the LORD your God. 10And Joshua said, Hereby ye shall know that the living God is among you, and that he will without fail drive out from before you the Canaanites, and the Hittites, and the Hivites, and the Perizzites, and the Girgashites, and the Amorites, and the Jebusites. 11Behold, the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth passeth over before you into Jordan. 12Now therefore take you twelve men out of the tribes of Israel, out of every tribe a man. 13And it shall come to pass, as soon as the soles of the feet of the priests that bear the ark of the LORD, the Lord of all the earth, shall rest in the waters of Jordan, that the waters of Jordan shall be cut off from the waters that come down from above; and they shall stand upon an heap.

After commanding the priests to move into the river, he turned to the people and he addressed the people in a manner quite similar to that often done by Moses.  Joshua clearly understood God’s plan for the nation as they would cross the river, and he knew how that plan would be carried out.  Following the LORD’s command to lead boldly and with confidence, Joshua simply makes a declaration to the people to come close to him so they could hear from him what the LORD is about to do.

It is notable that Joshua, like Moses, makes no reference to himself.  Joshua is quite aware that it is not he who is going to stop the waters of the Jordan.  He might be remembering the one time that Moses failed to make it clear that it was the LORD who was working in their midst when he struck a rock in the wilderness instead of speaking to it as the LORD commanded, and by so doing made it appear to the people that he was performing the miracle.  The LORD chastised Moses for the transgression and used that occasion to communicate to Moses that he would not enter the promised land.[1]

This is not the first time that the leader of the nation took Israel to a shoreline and led them across dry land.  The miracle of Moses’ leading the nation across the Red Sea is known by almost all who are aware of the history of the Jewish and Christian faiths.  However, far fewer are familiar with the similar event that took place at the same point in Joshua’s leadership of the nation.

As with many of the miracles recorded in scripture, faithless people have worked hard to explain away the miraculous by describing how an event could have easily taken place naturally.  The following verses discredit most of the worldly theories concerning the crossing of the Red Sea, and consequently, the Jordan.  The two predominant theories include (1) the Red Sea was so choked with weeds, so the people could walk across, but the army of the Pharoah with its steel chariots and shod horses could not.  Note that the Hebrews also had shod horses and wagons full of the spoils of their exodus including much silver and gold.  (2) A tidal wave was created by an underwater landslide in the Mediterranean.  This would cause a drop in the water level immediately prior to the tidal wave which later inundated the pharaoh’s army.  However, such an event would not have dried up the bed of the sea, nor would it have lasted long enough to get an entire nation across.

An event similar to that described in these verses has happened, in a manner, in 1267, 1906 and 1927 when erosion caused by the flooding river eroded the banks of the cliffs running on both sides of the river.  At a point, the cliff collapsed, filling the canyon, creating a temporary earthen dam, and creating a small lake behind it, and leaving a riverbed of deep mud.

Joshua clearly states that the LORD will stop the river with the water piling up in a heap, it would prove true, and the nation would walk across the riverbed on dry ground.  Swollen by harvest rains, it would have taken many days for the riverbed to dry out enough to walk across.

Consequently, the people were being asked to step into these waters on faith.  No such wall of water was yet either visible, or probably even considered believable by many in their number.

T        Trust Christ in All things.

Joshua 3:14-17.  And it came to pass, when the people removed from their tents, to pass over Jordan, and the priests bearing the ark of the covenant before the people; 15And as they that bare the ark were come unto Jordan, and the feet of the priests that bare the ark were dipped in the brim of the water, (for Jordan overfloweth all his banks all the time of harvest,) 16That the waters which came down from above stood and rose up upon an heap very far from the city Adam, that is beside Zaretan: and those that came down toward the sea of the plain, even the salt sea, failed, and were cut off: and the people passed over right against Jericho. 17And the priests that bare the ark of the covenant of the LORD stood firm on dry ground in the midst of Jordan, and all the Israelites passed over on dry ground, until all the people were passed clean over Jordan.

These scriptures identify a town called Adam, about sixteen miles upstream from the crossing point.  The scripture also states that the flow to the river was simply cut off.  But note, that this did not happen until the priests entered the flood waters, and got their feet wet.  Furthermore, the nation did not cross a riverbed of mud; they crossed on dry land.  The command to the people for faith, their response, and the timing of the action of the river was truly miraculous, and in the hand of God alone.

God may use any means at His disposal to accomplish His will.  Rather than becoming concerned in the means, we should always focus our faith on our response to His Word.


Joshua 4:12-18.  And the children of Reuben, and the children of Gad, and half the tribe of Manasseh, passed over armed before the children of Israel, as Moses spake unto them: 13About forty thousand prepared for war passed over before the LORD unto battle, to the plains of Jericho. 14On that day the LORD magnified Joshua in the sight of all Israel; and they feared him, as they feared Moses, all the days of his life. 15And the LORD spake unto Joshua, saying, 16Command the priests that bear the ark of the testimony, that they come up out of Jordan. 17Joshua therefore commanded the priests, saying, Come ye up out of Jordan. 18And it came to pass, when the priests that bare the ark of the covenant of the LORD were come up out of the midst of Jordan, and the soles of the priests’ feet were lifted up unto the dry land, that the waters of Jordan returned unto their place, and flowed over all his banks, as they did before.

We see that, clearly, the Hebrews crossed the river en masse, with the soldiers in front.  Note also that, though the nation was led by their army of 40,000[2] men who were prepared for a fight, there was no battle.  Just as the LORD had promised, He had driven the opponents of Israel from them.  In this event the people of Jericho were already afraid of the coming horde of people.  It is apparent that upon witness of the crossing of the Jordan, the people and the armies of Jericho retreated to the protection of their fortified city.

When we observe the demonstration of faith in scripture, it is always done using some form of action.  Recall some of the miraculous events witnessed during Christ's ministry.  Most of the events are described in enough detail to illustrate this property of faith.  For example, the blind man was commanded to wash his eyes in Siloam’s fountain prior to his healing.[3]  What did the paralytic who was dropped through the roof to be brought to Jesus was commanded to take up his pallet and walk.[4]  What would have happened if these did not have the faith to follow Jesus' command? 

How many of the blessings that God has for us have been missed because of a lack of our own lack of faith?  Many things of this world take our eyes off of Christ, and when that happens our faith is weakened, doubts and fears enter our hearts and we fail to have the confidence to step into the waters of the Jordans that we face.

What is the solution?   God has promised us that He will reward us when we act in faith.  We must always be diligent to keep our faith in Him rather than in the things of this world, in other people, or even the church.  Often we fail when we place our faith in our own limited abilities.  People will fail us.  Even the church will fail us.  If we place our trust in them we will be placing it in that which can stumble and bring only disappointment.  Our faith must be personal, between us and God alone, for it is only He who has His power to fulfill His own promises.  Then, together we can better live in obedience to Him, receive the blessings He has for us, and not act as a stumbling block to the faith of others, but instead as a beacon of the light of God's love.

[1] Numbers 20:8, ff.

[2] Note the numerology used here.  The number 40 is used almost 150 times in the biblical text to represent a sufficient amount to accomplish a task: 40 days and nights of rain in the great flood, 40 years in the wilderness, etc.  A thousand is the largest number in their number system.  From a numerological standpoint, the message is that the army that was assembled was vastly larger than that required to accomplish the task. 

[3] John, Chapter 9.

[4] Mark, Chapter 2.