Joshua 3: Holy Shittim!



  • Why should the Israelites stay a kilometer behind the ark?
  • How does God exalt Joshua? To what end?
  • Where should priests keep the presence of God?
  • What is the connection between “relationship” and “results”?
  • What’s the secret to leading a large group on inconceivable adventures?

Read more to pursue answers in [Joshua 3]

[Joshua 3:1 NASB] – Then 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.

The Jordan may not be a very large river, but during the season of flooding it must have been dangerous to cross. Still, I’m sure they could have found a way to get everyone across safely; albeit with considerable delay and chaos.

But God had something much nicer in store…

[Joshua 3:2-3 NASB] – At 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.

Interesting how Joshua is taking charge. My impression was that most communication was done through the tribal leaders, but here it sounds more like his lieutenants are giving direct orders. They are on a war footing now!

[Joshua 3:4 NASB] – “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.”

Fascinating. I had thought the distance was to keep the people safe. Instead, it was to keep the people oriented.

It makes sense, now that I think about it. If there is a huge mob swarming the ark, you can only follow the person in front of you. By clearing the field, everyone at the front (and many further back) can see exactly where the ark is going.

I suspect there’s an important lesson there about leaving space for God, and giving everyone a chance to see what He is doing; rather than crowding Him in our eagerness to get ahead.

[Joshua 3:5 NASB] – Then Joshua said to the people, “Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the LORD will do wonders among you.”

Joshua clearly knows God is up to something. At least he knows enough to give orders:

[Joshua 3:6 NASB] – 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.

On the other hand, it appears God is only now revealing the details:

[Joshua 3:7 NASB] – 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.

Two things stand out to me. First, God’s purpose is to exalt or magnify Joshua. to make his name great. This resembles how God speaks of His own name!

Second, the purpose of that exaltation is not for the Israelites to trust Joshua (as I had expected). Rather, the point is for people to know that “I will be with you.”

Ouch! Is missing this point the root of so much pride and confusion among church leaders? When I am exalted, do I assume it is because of my attributes, rather than my relationship with God? And even that is primarily honored for the sake of the people of serve?

[Joshua 3:8 NASB] – “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.'”

God’s instructions end here. I assume He kept talking to Joshua, and it just wasn’t recorded, as Joshua seems to know what will happen next:

[Joshua 3:9 NASB] – Then Joshua said to the sons of Israel, “Come here, and hear the words of the LORD your God.”

Side note: there are few things more comforting to a follower that to know your leaders hear, share, and act on the voice of God.

[Joshua 3:10 NASB] – 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.

God promised to be with Joshua, and he passes that promise on to the Israelites. Being among them is primary; the tangible result (dispossessing their enemies) follows naturally.

[Joshua 3:11 NASB] – “Behold, the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth is crossing over ahead of you into the Jordan.

There is no safer place than walking behind the presence of God, no matter where He leads.

Joshua adds one twist, reminiscent of his own foray into Canaan 40 years ago:

[Joshua 3:12 NASB] – “Now then, take for yourselves twelve men from the tribes of Israel, one man for each tribe.

We’ll find out why next chapter. For now, we get to hear the exact nature of the wonder God has been planning:

[Joshua 3:13 NASB] – “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.”

Impressive! Sure enough, it happens just as Joshua says:

[Joshua 3:14-16 NASB] – 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, 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), 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.

Wow! I’d always thought this an impressive miracle, a reminder to the Israelites that God was with them. But I’d never noticed that the primary lesson for the Israelites was that God was with Joshua.

If we are to lead believers where they have never gone before, they need to be able to trust that we are on intimate terms with Truth.

And when working with the guardians of Truth…

[Joshua 3:17 NASB] – 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.

Joshua needed them to:

  • Obey his commands
  • Take the big risks first
  • Stand firm while others follow their example

There’s an interesting progression here.

  • Joshua needed faith in (and a relationship with) God.
  • The priests needed to obey Joshua (i.e., trust his ability to hear God)
  • The people only needed to trust (and properly interpret) what their eyes saw

I wonder if that’s the secret to leading a large group on an inconceivable adventure:

  1. Have a relationship with God
  2. Listen carefully to what He plans to do
  3. Find people who stand with Truth
  4. Set them in a place of high visibility
  5. Instruct them to do what God is telling them do
  6. Tell others how to interpret and respond to what God is about to do
  7. Choose diverse witnesses to record the event [as we’ll see later]
  8. Stand back and watch

I’m a big fan of disciplined execution. But the implication here is that the most important aspect of being a leader is having the kind of relationship with God where I:

  • Hear what He wants me to do next
  • Reveal to other leaders how to fulfill their role in God’s plan
  • Show the rest of the people what God is doing, and where they fit in

I don’t need to be clever, or charismatic, or controlling.

I just need to be strong and courageous, because God is with me.

Father God,
Make me a man who leads men (and their families) out of slavery into the future You have promised them. Help me to hear clearly where and how you seek to exalt me. Let me never forgot that it all comes down to my relationship with you — and what others
see of my relationship with you. Grant me the grace to be strong and courageous. And may the enemy tremble at the wonders you perform!
I ask this in Jesus name, Amen.

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