Be Confident in God’s Power

| Joshua 3:7-17

The Point:  Lead from a position of confidence in God.

God Fulfills His Promise:  Joshua 3:7-17.

[7]  The LORD said to Joshua, "Today I will begin to exalt you in the sight of all Israel, that they may know that, as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. [8]  And as for you, command the priests who bear the ark of the covenant, ‘When you come to the brink of the waters of the Jordan, you shall stand still in the Jordan.’" [9]  And Joshua said to the people of Israel, "Come here and listen to the words of the LORD your God." [10]  And Joshua said, "Here is how you shall know that the living God is among you and that he will without fail drive out from before you the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Hivites, the Perizzites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, and the Jebusites. [11]  Behold, the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth is passing over before you into the Jordan. [12]  Now therefore take twelve men from the tribes of Israel, from each tribe a man. [13]  And when the soles of the feet of the priests bearing the ark of the LORD, the Lord of all the earth, shall rest in the waters of the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan shall be cut off from flowing, and the waters coming down from above shall stand in one heap." [14]  So when the people set out from their tents to pass over the Jordan with the priests bearing the ark of the covenant before the people, [15]  and as soon as those bearing the ark had come as far as the Jordan, and the feet of the priests bearing the ark were dipped in the brink of the water (now the Jordan overflows all its banks throughout the time of harvest), [16]  the waters coming down from above stood and rose up in a heap very far away, at Adam, the city that is beside Zarethan, and those flowing down toward the Sea of the Arabah, the Salt Sea, were completely cut off. And the people passed over opposite Jericho. [17]  Now the priests bearing the ark of the covenant of the LORD stood firmly on dry ground in the midst of the Jordan, and all Israel was passing over on dry ground until all the nation finished passing over the Jordan.

Instructions for Crossing.  The instructions before the people crossed the Jordan continued, this time with God speaking to Joshua [7-8] and then Joshua speaking again to the people [9-13]. The long build-up to the miraculous stopping of the waters continues. God speaks in verses 7-8 to Joshua for the first time since his charge in 1:1-9. The words here are in fulfillment of those in chapter 1, especially about God’s being with Joshua just as He had been with Moses, confirming his place as Israel’s new leader. God’s presence with him was important in encouraging him and validating him as Israel’s leader. The initial confirmation of Joshua’s leadership would be the great miracle that God would do on Israel’s behalf. Interestingly, Joshua was not directly involved in the miracle at all (except in giving the people and the leaders their instructions), but he would nonetheless be made great in Israel’s eyes because of this. But this was all God’s initiative and God’s work. Joshua’s claim to power does not rest on anything he has accomplished. It rests on what God has accomplished at the Jordan and on the obedience of Joshua to the words and example of Moses. The purpose of God’s exalting Joshua was not for Joshua’s own sake. Rather, it was for the larger purpose that Israel would know that God was with him. This is the thrust of the word translated here as that, and it also is reinforced by the special verb form of the verb know. Here the author is emphasizing that the people would indeed know something they would not otherwise know: that God was with Joshua in a special way. How would they know this? Through the great miracle that God would perform, which is looked at from so many different angles throughout chapters 3 and 4. The second part of God’s instructions to Joshua is more prosaic than the first: the priests carrying the ark were actually to enter the water and stand there. This anticipates what would happen when they did this: the waters would actually stop flowing. With verse 9, the text begins an inexorable movement toward the chapter’s climax in verses 14-17. Joshua assembled the people to hear God’s words, and he stated that there would be a specific way that they would know that God was in their midst and that He would drive out the nations. This way is not stated until verse 13, when the wonders in verse 5 are revealed to be the stopping of the Jordan’s flow. Verse 10 is introduced by a short prepositional phrase: Here is how you shall know. This refers to the miraculous sign of the water stoppage in verse 13, which is emphasized by the repeated verbs and the vivid imagery there. God’s actions here were for a larger purpose than just Israel’s crossing the Jordan. It was to demonstrate to Israel that the living God was among them. The reference here to the living God is most likely intended to contrast Israel’s living, powerful God with the dead, false gods of the seven peoples who are named in the verse. Here, then, the term the living God is used as a polemic against God’s enemies, who were also Israel’s enemies. It was a forceful reminder to Israel that their God was not like the gods of the nations around them, nations whom they were going to displace, but rather He was a powerful and living God, able to effect the type of miracle in view here. And this living God is among you, affirming the promise of God’s presence that He had made to Joshua [1:5,9]. The events that were soon to follow were not just for the purpose of getting the Israelites across the Jordan River. They were to attest to the fact that the living God is among you. These wonderful acts were testimonies to God’s glorious presence among His people, working on their behalf. Seven peoples are listed in verse 10. Twenty-three times in the Old Testament we find such lists, including five times in Joshua [3:10; 9:1; 11:3; 12:8; 24:11]. The number and order of the names vary in each list, but seven is used often, probably as a number symbolic of completeness. Twelve peoples occur in all, but a core of seven comprises the standard list. The primary way in which the lists are used in the Old Testament is in connection with Israel’s possession of the land of Canaan. These were the peoples whom they were to displace. The lists of peoples functioned to help the Israelites define themselves: they were not these wicked, divided nations, but rather one people, God’s people. The term Canaanites sometimes is an all-inclusive term denoting any people living in Canaan, regardless of their ethnic identity. Often, however, the Canaanites are distinguished from others who lived in Canaan, as they are here. In this case, they probably are the peoples living near the sea and near the Jordan River [5:1; Num. 13:29]. The Hittites appear in the Bible primarily in the hill country of Judah. The next three peoples in the list are relatively obscure. The Hivites were located in the mountainous region to the north, in what is today Lebanon. The Perizzites appear to have lived in the forested areas of central Palestine, in the highlands of Samaria. The Girgashites appear in the Bible only in the lists of peoples. Based on where the other peoples lived, the only area left for the Girgashites was toward the north of Palestine. All three of these peoples are unknown outside the Bible. Like the term Canaanite, the term Amorite is sometimes used as an all-inclusive term, referring to anyone living in Canaan. Elsewhere it is a more limited term, referring to areas in the central hill country of Canaan or to kingdoms east of the Jordan River. Here, it probably refers to the people east of the Jordan. The Jebusites were the pre-Israelite inhabitants of Jerusalem. This list is selective, since additional peoples are mentioned in some texts. In verses 11-13 Joshua now focused the Israelites’ attention on the ark by using an attention-getting word Behold. The ark was to be their guide, and its position at the water’s edge would signal the beginning of the miracle. Joshua’s words in verse 12 about choosing twelve men look ahead, anticipating the actions Israel was to take after the crossing. God spoke these words to Joshua almost verbatim in 4:2, adding that these men were to take up twelve stones for a memorial [4:3-7]. This demonstrates again the slow building up of the story we have already noted: it shows a skilled author at work, who will repeat himself at different points or suspend his story and then resume it, in the interests of weaving an ordered, intricate story. We see this in the portrayal of the priests in this chapter: they are introduced in 3:3, but their role is made clearer in 3:8, and then clearer still in 3:13. We also see it in the repetition of the crossing motif at several points: 3:1,14,16,17; 4:1,10,11. Finally, in verse 13, the substance of the amazing things spoken of in verse 5 is revealed: when the priests carrying the ark stepped into the Jordan, the waters would stop flowing! The entire chapter thus far has been building to this revelation. In reality, probably most Israelites – and most readers – would have guessed long before this what was going to happen. However, the author’s presentation of the information draws out the suspense on a literary level and highlights the magnificence of the miracle. Here the Lord is identified as sovereign over all the earth, although the word for earth can also mean land. The stoppage of the waters is viewed in two ways here, anticipating the further elaboration in verses 16-17 and in several places in chapter 4: they would be cut off, and they would stand in one heap. Verses 14-17 are the climax of the chapter – indeed, of all of chapters 3 and 4. Here, the narrative slows to a crawl, so that the reader can savor the wonder of the miracle and view it from as many different perspectives as possible. The author, by writing in this way, affirms God’s greatness and power and intervention on His people’s behalf. The point is not so much that the people were able to cross over the Jordan, but the manner in which they were able to cross: by a glorious and mighty miracle of God. The immediate purpose of the miracle was obviously to get Israel across the Jordan. However, the larger purpose was – as it is with all miracles – to testify to God’s greatness and faithfulness, both to Israel [10] and to all the peoples of the earth [4:24], and to stimulate proper worship of Him [4:24]. Here in these verses we finally read the account of the miracle that has been anticipated from the beginning of the chapter. It is truly a remarkable one: the Jordan River, at flood stage, was completely stopped up when the priests carrying the ark stepped into it, and the people were able to cross over on dry land. In Hebrew, these verses constitute one long, drawn-out statement about the stopping up of the waters, followed by a short, terse statement about the people’s crossing over. The drawn-out nature of verses 14-15 especially highlights the suspense and wonder until the powerful statements in verse 16 about the miracle itself. The statements in verses 14-15 are all in subordinate clauses of some type, which means that the author, having begun his main thought with So when, leaves us suspended as to what actually happened until verse 16. The same is true for the statement at the end of verse 16, telling of the actual crossing: it is in a subordinate clause, and it is included as a statement of what happened, but clearly the focus is on the miracle, not the crossing. When verse 16 is finally reached, the language changes, and in quick succession two verbs appear describing the water’s stoppage: stood and rose up. A few words later, two more verbs occur, describing this from a different perspective: were completely cut off. Thus the passage’s climax tells us, in a very impressive way, that the waters of the Jordan River, which was at flood stage, were stopped up so that God’s people could cross over and begin their mission in the promised land. In verse 17 we have a wrap-up, highlighting things already stated and adding a bit more that makes the miracle even more impressive. Just as the waters had stood [16], now the priests stood firmly in the midst of the Jordan. After the reference to the people at the end of verse 16, they are referred to again twice in verse 17, in different ways: all Israel and all the nation. Just as the waters were completely cut off [16], so now the entire nation finished or completed its crossing. Something new is introduced as well: the twofold reference to dry ground. This gives us a still different perspective on the miracle: the waters were so completely stopped up that the priests stood and the people crossed on dry ground. No shallow fords were to be found, since the waters were at flood stage at this time of the year, so a true miracle was needed. The end of verse 15 refers to the early summer harvest, when the river was still swollen from spring melting and spring rains. The crossing was actually done on the tenth day of the first month [4:19], which corresponds to March-April. Thus, the fact that Israel not only crossed the Jordan during the flood stage but did so on dry ground (and not muddy, mucky ground) makes the miracle even more impressive. These events naturally call to mind the Red Sea crossing in Exodus 14-15. There too God miraculously separated the waters that allowed the Israelites to cross on dry ground. There too the waters stood in a heap [Ex. 15:8]. There too the miracle was for the immediate purpose of crossing a great watery barrier, but it was for the larger purpose of glorifying God and confirming His chosen leader (Moses) in the eyes of the people [Ex. 14:31], just as the later miracle glorified God [3:10; 4:24] and confirmed His chosen leader, Joshua [3:7; 4:14].”  [Howard, pp. 123-131]. 

Questions for Discussion:

1.         The ark of the covenant is the centerpiece of the crossing of the Jordan River. Why? What does the ark represent to the Israelites? What was God telling the people by having the ark go ahead of them into the river?

2.         Describe the relationship between God and Joshua in these verses. What does God do for Joshua? Why does He do these things? What does Joshua do for God? What is the impact of this relationship upon the people? What can we learn from this passage concerning the leaders of our church?

3.         What do we learn from this passage about acting and trusting God? What do we learn about God’s faithfulness to His promises?



Joshua: An Expositional Commentary, James Boice, Baker (Kindle eBook).

Joshua, Kenneth Gangel, Holman Reference.

The Book of Joshua, Marten Woudstra, Eerdmans.

Joshua, David Howard, Jr., NAC, B & H Publishing.