Time To Cross Into The Land of Promise
“While all Israel were crossing over on dry ground, the priests who bore the ark of the covenant of the Lord stood on dry ground in the middle of the Jordan, until the entire nation finished crossing over the Jordan” (Joshua 3:17).
When the day came for Israel to finally cross the Jordan into the Promised Land, Joshua told the people to gather at the river. Following God’s instructions, Joshua had the Ark of the Covenant pass in front of them, so that the people would know that God was going with them into the new land. They might not know the way, but if they followed the lead of the priests carrying the Ark of the Covenant, they would cross the river.
Crossing the river involved taking a risk, but would taking that risk be worth it? The first risk taken, was putting one’s foot into the water. The river was still flowing. Why should they think that it would part so they could cross? Once the river parted, why should they take the risk of being washed away if the river returned to its natural flow. How did they know that it would stay dry until they made it across?
Yes, the spies had given a positive report (Joshua 2:22-24), but why believe that report? We are right to be cautious when asked to take risks. Even if the promises seem wondrous. Perhaps they will be ephemeral. On the other hand, sometimes taking risks is necessary. I know that my decision to pack up my beat-up 1970 Ford Maverick that was known to stall on occasion, and head to a strange city, may have seemed fool-hardy. Nonetheless, I survived and looking back, it has proven to be the right decision (or so I believe).
In reading a spiritual biography of Jackie Robinson, the man who crossed the color line to be the first African American in the modern era of baseball to play in the major leagues, I discovered the story of a man who not only helped integrate baseball, but who also had a profound effect on the success of the emerging civil rights movement in the United States. What I learned was that Robinson took this risk, because he believed God was with him. It was his faith, his prayers, that sustained him, as he crossed his own river.
In this story from the book of Joshua, not only did the priests help lead the people across the river, carrying the Ark of the Covenant in front of the people, but when they reached the middle of the river, they stopped and stood in the gap, until all Israel had passed through to the other side. If we think of the Ark as a material or sacramental sign of God’s continuing presence with the people of God, then it is reassuring to know that God doesn’t just lead, but God will stand in the middle of the river until we cross to the other side. Yes, standing there in the middle of the river, with the waters of the Jordan piling up on either side of them, the priests carrying the Ark, gave the people confidence that they would make it to the other side. It was a physical sign that God stands with us as we take that step of faith.
Yes, it is one thing to draw near the river and look across to the other side. It’s another to actually take that step of faith and put your foot into the water. Stepping out into the water can be risky. Maybe the waters won’t part. When we encounter boundaries in life, even if we know that the blessings may lie on the other side, we may find it difficult to cross over. We may delay our crossing, hoping for a better moment. Or we may turn back and decide that the blessings are not worth the risks.