The Command to Cross

“Then Joshua commanded the officers of the people, saying, ‘Pass through the host, and command the people, saying Prepare you victuals; for within three days ye shall pass over this Jordan, to go in to possess the land, which the Lord your God giveth you to possess it.’” (Joshua 1:10,11)

What a feeling must have come over the Israelites when they first heard the command that they would be crossing over Jordan in just three days. The possession of the land had been the hope of their lives. It was mingled in with their childhood memories. It had been the constant expectation of their growing years. The thought of this land had lightened their weariness and cheered their toils as they wandered thru the wilderness.



The very words of the promise were a part of their lives. They had heard of it as “the good land,” “the land flowing with milk and honey,” and “the land that the Lord had promised to our fathers.” They had drunk it all in—every word spoken by their fathers and mothers who stood at these very banks forty years earlier.

Those whose feet would walk upon the sacred soil of this new land were the children of those who had made the Exodus. They had spent the strength of their childhood in the desert. Throughout their teen years they knew only of wandering in the wilderness. And now the end had come. The promised rest lay ahead, just three days hence.

Joy in the Camp

How strange indeed it would have been if they had shrunk from the task and complained because their inheritance was now at hand. Yet, no less strange and unnatural is the gloom and sadness; the fear and horror with which some Christians contemplate their own passage into the heavenly Canaan. While the Book of Joshua is a historic redemptive book in which God is ever moving toward the fulfillment of His covenant promise to bring the people into the land, there are some great themes in the book that simply cannot be ignored. The symbolism found in the Book of Joshua points to God’s continued covenant promise to His people. He has brought His New Testament people out of our bondage to sin. He is leading us through the wilderness to the eternal land of promise, the New Jerusalem.

Those born within the covenant and brought up in the church have from our earliest infancy heard about and have been taught about the glorious land that awaits us. Paul tells us in I Corinthians 2:9 “…eye has not seen and ear has not heard, neither has it entered into the hearts of men, all that God has prepared for those who love Him.” Heaven—no more tears; no more dying; no more sorrow.

The joys of this sinless world, prepared for us through Christ have been mingled in with our very first thoughts. Our very first prayer, taught to us at our mother’s knee, included that precious phrase “Thy kingdom come.” The joy of the new Jerusalem, indescribable and immeasurable, has filled our childhood fantasies. It has fired the imagination of our early years, occupied our wandering thoughts as we grew older, and filled us with reverent conjectures in our riper age. Any true thinking of this glory that awaits us ends with the same words that John spoke at the end of Revelation: “Even so, Lord Jesus, come quickly.”

The Canaan of the ancient Israelites was but a change of scenery. They would face further conflict and eventual exile. Our inheritance is described by Peter as “imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away.” And yet, the Israelites delighted in the thought of it. They did so for the very same reason that makes heaven so sweet to us: the prospect of its rest.

It was not only the contrast between the fountains and fruit of the promised land over against the arid desolation of the great wilderness through which they had wandered for forty years. God had provided in times of hunger and thirst. God had provided during times of tumult and battle. It was, however, the never-ending motion, the moving on, often for no apparent reason other than the disbelief they had expressed the last time they were on those very same banks of the Jordan River. They were looking forward to being able to settle down. “To enter into their rest”, as Hebrews puts it.

The basic idea of rest is that of ceasing from our normal work. It is not that all work stops, but there is a freedom from the worries of the daily tasks set before us. Freedom from what we call “the rat race.” That is the promise that lies ahead for the Israelites. They will still have to work, but they will no more have to wander.

Before the Israelites is that promise: a land flowing with milk and honey, but more, a land they could call home. They would no longer be on the pilgrimage toward that land, but home. Canaan would be home, God had promised them that. And God promised to us this same rest.

The rest that God intends for us is not the Sabbath that God established within the creation order. That was but a sign pointing us to the eternal Sabbath God has prepared for us. Nor is the rest God means for us the repossession of the Land of Canaan where Jerusalem will once more be established as the capital of the world and Christ will reign for 1,000 years. Those were but a type, a foreshadowing, of that eternal rest promised us.

Let us be certain that the rest of God is realized not in the Joshua of the Old Testament, but in the New Testament Joshua, Jesus Christ. Jesus was the hope of the Israelite Church even in the time of the first Joshua, whether they realized it or not. He is the one who brings to us rest from our guilt, self-righteousness, and from our burdens and labors. In His obedience unto death, He labored and was heavy laden that in Him we might find rest for our weary souls.

Fear in the Camp

And yet, we look again at these Israelites waiting to cross over the Jordan. While the predominant thought in the mind of each Israelite must have been great joy, there must have been blended in with it a great trial of fear. The chosen land was indeed close at hand. It seemed as if they could almost touch the shore. But just beyond the river, gleaming in the sunshine, were the towers of Jericho. And what about the Jordan River? The command from Joshua emphasized that they were to cross the Jordan in three days. The Jordan was at flood stage. It would be hard enough to move a military operation across the Jordan at this time under the watchful eye of the enemy, but here a whole nation of men, women, and children were to cross with all their livestock, tents, and baggage.

Yet, so long as the command was given, the promise remained. When Israel first came upon these banks years earlier, they were not permitted to enter because of their unbelief. But God will not forsake those who trust in Him. Likewise, the Christian has no need for fear as we travel thru this pilgrim land. Our eyes are to be ever focused upon the things that are eternal and not that which is temporal. Jesus tells us in Luke 12:32 “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has chosen gladly to give you this land.”

Would not faith argue that the God of the covenant, who had provided for them in the wilderness, would also provide for them even here? Would not faith argue that the God who gave this command to cross the Jordan was the same God who had parted the Red Sea so that Israel could cross over on dry ground? He is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Certainly Israel must trust Him now, even as they had throughout their wanderings where He had proven Himself faithful.

Gloriously we know how God fulfilled His word. Through the depths of Jordan, touched by the sacred feet of them that bore the ark of the covenant, God made a way for His ransomed people to pass over, crossing the Jordan River on dry ground. How great the consternation must have been in Jericho as they watched from their towers the crossing of this great multitude and as they caught the distant echo of their singing.

What then of that other Jordan, the one that each of us must cross? Death. It is death that brings us out of the wilderness into our promised land — that land not built by human hands, but by God Himself. Shall we be more fearful than these Israelites when we have the very same God to lead us safely through?

Faith in the Camp

The first requirement for salvation is faith. Hearing the Gospel is certainly essential, but it is not enough. The Book of Hebrews tells us about the ancient Israelites who stood on the same banks of the Jordan River forty years earlier. They had heard God’s good news of rest but it did them no good since they rebelled against God and were sent away. They did not trust God.

It does no good to hear if we do not believe. The author of Hebrews writes “For indeed we have had the good news preached to us, just as they also; but the word they heard did not profit them, because it was not united by faith in those who heard” (Hebrews 4:2). Hebrews reminds us that there were two great multitudes that stood at the banks of the Jordan River. One group was turned away and did not taste their rest because they did not believe. The other group entered in because they believed in the power of God.

It is tragic that hell is going to be populated with all kinds of people who will cry out: “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?” to whom Jesus will reply, “I never knew you; depart from Me” (Matthew 7:22, 23). Certainly those who make that plea had a knowledge of God. They knew all about Jesus Christ and were counted as those within the covenant, but their knowledge and their work were not united with faith.

The early Jews in Jesus day prided themselves with the fact that they had God’s Law. They were especially proud to be the descendants of Abraham. Jesus warned them that the true children of Abraham are those who believe as Abraham did and act upon that faith that God has given to them.

If you run a red light and a policeman pulls you over, it will do you no good to show him your copy of the state driving laws as your defense. You do not establish your innocence by telling him that you have read the booklet many times and know most of it by heart. In fact, this would make you all the more responsible and all the more guilty for breaking the law you said you knew. Knowing the law is only to our advantage if we abide in it. We must not only be hearers of the Word, we must be doers of that Word.

Preparing to Leave Camp

In three days Israel would cross over the Jordan into the Promised Land. That is what the Israelites had to do. Certainly they would have to make preparations. After all, they had been wandering through the wilderness for forty years. Their equipment must have been worn and their weapons rusted with exposure. But nothing could be further from the truth. Recall the words of Moses in Deuteronomy 29:5 “I have led you forty years in the wilderness; your clothes have not worn out on you, and your sandal has not worn out on your foot.” For forty years the Lord had provided. The only preparation Israel must make is to pack up camp and get ready to cross.

Of special preparations you need none. If you are in Christ, that is enough; you are safe. If you are a believer in the precious blood shed for you by God’s own Son at Calvary, then you have enough. Paul writes that we must be: “found in Him, not having your own righteousness, but that which is of Christ by faith” (Philippians 3:9).

The only thing that the Israelites had to do was cross over through the power of the covenant God. So it is with us. It is all the covenant God. It is all in Christ. No preparation or courage of our own is needed; it is all given to us in Christ. He has taken the sting out of death and given to us the victory. When you are in Christ, you are at all times and in every place prepared to die and to pass over into your inheritance.

Rev. Wybren Oord is the pastor of the Covenant United Reformed Church in Kalamazoo, Michigan. He is also the editor of The Outlook.