By J.R. Miller
Before crossing the river, Joshua sent spies to enter Jericho secretly and learn all they could learn about the city. The Divine promise that Jericho would fall into the hands of Joshua in a supernatural way--did not make it unnecessary that due precautions should be taken by the commander, that he should learn all he could about the city. God always requires human diligence and faithfulness on the part of his people, when he would do great things for them. The result of the visit of the spies, made the Israelites braver and more confident. They learned from Rahab, that the inhabitants of Jericho were afraid of Joshua's coming. They had heard what the Lord had done for the Israelites in other places, and their hearts had melted in fear. This information gave fresh confidence to the Israelites.
Before the people crossed the river, Joshua gave directions concerning their provisioning. For forty years, they had been fed with manna. The reason for this was that bread could not be procured in natural ways in the wilderness. No food supplies grew in that desolate region. Hence it was necessary that special provision should be made. Daily, all the forty years, the manna fell. But now they have come out of the wilderness, and it would be easy to get supplies of food in ordinary ways. God never works an unnecessary miracle. Joshua provides, therefore, for feeding the great multitude, before they cross the Jordan.
The day before they were to move, Joshua called the people to sanctify themselves. Tomorrow they were to cross the Jordan. God would open the way for them--but they must be ready. If we would receive God's blessings, we must prepare ourselves for receiving them. God is willing to work through us and to use us as His servants--but we must be in condition to be used. To sanctify means to cleanse. God will not send His gifts to others, in unclean vessels. It was ceremonial cleansing which Joshua required.
With us the preparation should be in heart and life. Every morning as we set out for the day's duties, we have promises of help and favor--but these promises are dependent upon ourselves. We must be in proper frame of mind and heart, to receive the Divine blessing. We must be right with God.
We must have pure hearts and clean hands--if we would work for God. When we go to God in prayer, we must be sincere. If while we pray, we are cherishing sins which are unconfessed and unrepented of--we cannot hope that God will answer our requests. Jesus said, that if we bring our gifts to the altar and there remember that our brother has anything against us--we must leave our gifts unoffered on the altar, and first go and be reconciled to our brother, and then come and offer our gifts. In one of the Psalms we are told that if we regard iniquity in our hearts--the Lord will not hear us. No doubt the secret of many unanswered prayers might be found in sins cherished, or in bitter, unkindly feelings in the hearts of those who pray.
The ark was to be carried before the people as they crossed the river. The ark was a symbol of God's presence, and the meaning of this act was that God Himself would lead them that day--as they went through the Jordan into the promised land. God is always ready to go before us. Indeed, we never can go anywhere safely, wisely or victoriously, unless He leads us. To go without Him into lifes experiences, struggles, dangers or duties--is to fail.
There is something very suggestive in what Joshua said, when he gave the people their instructions about crossing the river: "You have never been this way before." Joshua 3:4. Therefore they must keep in sight of the ark, which would be carried in advance. The same may be said of every day's experiences. We have not passed this way before. The path is new and strange. We have lived thousands of other days--yet each new day presents an unknown path to us, a way over which we never have gone. We know not what new experiences it may bring to us. We may meet sorrows, sore temptations, sudden trials. It will have its own problems, its own perils, tasks we have never had to do before. It will bring us to face sudden surprises of duty, of struggle, of responsibility, for which we cannot at the moment make any preparation. The only safe thing to do--is always to keep the ark in sight--and to follow it implicitly in faith and obediently. Then whatever it is that comes--we shall be ready for it.
One of the invariable marks of true Christians everywhere, is that they follow Christ. Christ's sheep know His voice and follow Him, and He goes before them. Young people should learn in their earliest years, that Christ desires to be their Leader, and that every morning they may put their hand in His, for guidance for the day.
It is essential that we have God's direction at every point in life. Joshua called the people to come to him and hear the words of the Lord before they crossed the river. He then assured them that they would have God's presence with them. "Hereby you shall know that the living God is among you." The miracle of the crossing would be a pledge of unfailing guidance and full and final victory in taking possession of the new land.
The crossing of the Jordan is a fitting type of the beginning of the Christian life. We hear the Divine call and go forward at God's bidding--and as we go He opens the way for us. We stand then on the edge of our land of promise. It is ours with all its riches and blessings, and yet it is held by enemies and must be won by our own valor and faith.
God promised Joshua and the people that He would not fail to drive out the Canaanites--but it must be before them--that is, through their courage and valor. God promises to give us the victory--but we must do the fighting. He will bruise Satan for us--but it must be under our feet. We sometimes say: "I never can conquer the giants of temptation which are in my path. I never can gain possession of the blessings and privileges which are offered to me." This is very true--if we have only our own strength. But God never intended that we should go against our enemies unhelped. He means to fight the battles for us. God would drive out the inhabitants of the country; so always it is God's power which expels the enemy. The promise is that we shall be more than conquerors through Him who loved us.
But someone reads on in the story and learns that the people of Israel did not drive out all the inhabitants of the land, that many of them were left and for centuries plagued and troubled God's people there. Yes--but the fault was not God's. The people made compromises with the old inhabitants and let them stay. They failed to make the thorough work of extermination they were commanded to make. They made compromises with the enemies of God. In many instances, fragments of the old Canaanite tribes were allowed to remain. These undestroyed Canaanites are types of the evils in our own hearts and in the world, which we are bidden to vanquish and utterly destroy--but which we allow to remain. If we will go forward with strong faith, making no compromise, not one enemy shall be able to stand before us. The trouble is, however, that too often we are willing to let certain pet sins stay, thinking we can live with them. But in the end we shall find that all evils which are tolerated, will become troubles to us and will mar the beauty and comfort of our Christian lives.
The manner of the opening of the river for the people of Israel to cross over is suggestive. The promise was that when the soles of the feet of the priests should rest in the waters, that the waters should be cut off. The river was not to be opened while the people were yet in their camps, or even when they had come down to the banks of the river. They were to walk by faith, not by sight. The priests must take up the ark and bring it down to the river's edge, even stepping into the edge of the flowing stream, before the way would be opened. The people, too, must break camp, pack up their goods, form in line to march, and move down to the very banks, before the river would be opened. This required strong faith. If they had come down near to the edge of the river, and then had stopped for the stream to divide before they would step into it--they would have waited in vain. They must take one step into the water--before the river would be cut off.
We should not lose the lesson that is here taught. We must learn to take God at His Word and go straight on in duty, although we can see no way in which we can go forward. The reason we are balked by difficulties, is that we expect to see them removed before we try to pass through them, while the promise is that they will melt away only as we advance. If we would move straight on in faith, as if there were no hindrances, the path would be opened for us. We fail in overcoming difficulties many times, because of our lack of faith. We stand still, waiting for the obstacle to be removed, when we ought to go forward, knowing that God will remove every barrier in the right way and at the right moment.
For example, death. People often tremble with fear when they think of dying. The truth is, however, that when the Christian moves quietly forward with faith, without fear--there is no river to be crossed. Some people are anxious because they do not have what they call dying grace. They read of certain Christians who have passed through the experiences of dying, triumphantly. They say: "I could not do that. I have not grace enough to meet death in that way. I fear I shall fail in the hour of trial." But why should they have grace for dying--when death yet lies far on in advance? There was no occasion to work the miracle of Jordan for the Israelites, when they were still staying quietly in their camp. We do not need dying grace for today's active life--but rather grace for duty, for battle, for perseverance, for holy living. Then when we come to the door of death--we shall receive the grace we need for the dying hour!