by Mike Durbin
“…for you haven’t traveled this way before” Joshua 3:4.
PLYMOUTH, MI – These words were spoken to the people of God as they prepared to cross the Jordan River. Nearly 40 years earlier, God powerfully delivered them from Egyptian bondage under the leadership of Moses. They started toward the Promised Land, but the people rebelled against God and ended up spending four decades wandering in the wilderness. The entire generation who left Egypt, everyone who was over the age of 20 at the time of the rebellion, passed away in the wilderness except for Joshua and Caleb.
A new generation of the people of God are on the bank of the Jordan River in this passage. They can see the Promised Land, the land that flows with Milk and Honey, but they’re on the wrong side. The Jordan River is between them and the Promised Land.
The people of God are about to go a way they have never gone before, following a leader who had not been tested into a land they did not know. They are about to experience a life unlike any they have ever lived. They are entering uncharted territory. They are on the edge of a new reality looking into the unknown.
That’s a pretty good description of what we are facing. We’ve come through challenging times. Life is different and we’re not sure what it will look like in the days to come. Like the people of God in Joshua’s day, we “haven’t traveled this way before.” They had to move forward when everything was changing, but the reality of the Promised Land - the land that flowed with milk and honey was before them. As I read the story of the Conquest, I wanted to see how God leads His children when we face the unknown.
When facing the unknown - follow.
The people are commanded, “When you see the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God carried by the Levitical priests, you are to break camp and follow it.”
The people are told to keep a distance of about 1,000 yards between them and the ark so everyone can see as Levitical Priests carry it into the Jordan River. They follow the Ark, because it represents the presence of God. It’s really an incredible picture - an estimated two million people all looking together and moving together as they follow the Ark of the Covenant.
As God’s children today, we move forward, not following an ark, but with our eyes fixed on Jesus - the author and perfecter of our faith. “Follow me” is the invitation of Jesus as we face the unknown before us. We follow His teaching, His example, and the words He has given us in Scripture. The way forward is not a path, but a person.
When facing the unknown - discover.
Crossing the Jordan River was going to change all their lives, especially Joshua’s. Moses died before they crossed, and Joshua is the new leader of the people. We know Joshua felt insufficient for the task because several times in chapter 1 God tells him to “be strong and courageous.”
Sometimes the most difficult land to conquer is not what lies before us, but what lies within us.
Joshua knows great truths about God, but as he leads the people into the unknown, he is going to discover God in ways he never imagined. Head truth becomes heart truth as he personally discovers: “No one will be able to stand against you as long as you live. I will be with you, just as I was with Moses. I will not leave you or abandon you” (Joshua 1:5).
By stepping into the unknown, into that which he was most afraid of, Joshua discovers God is greater than his fears, his insecurities, and his insufficiencies.
When facing the unknown - remember.
Joshua tells 12 men to each pick up a stone from the Jordan’s dry riverbed and carry it to where the people of God will camp for their first night in the promised land. They set the stones up as a reminder of God’s deliverance.
“…In the future, when your children ask you, ‘What do these stones mean to you?’ you should tell them, ‘The water of the Jordan was cut off in front of the ark of the Lord’s covenant. When it crossed the Jordan, the Jordan’s water was cut off.’ Therefore these stones will always be a memorial for the Israelites” (Joshua 4:6-7).
The stones were set up to remind the people of God’s great deliverance. They were reminders that God brought them through the very unknown they feared. What they feared turned out to be a great deliverance from God and the beginning of life in the Promised Land. There would be more difficulties, battles to be fought, and other unknowns, but the stone memorial set up at Gilgal reminded them of God’s power, presence, and peace as they faced the unknown.
“Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God” (Corrie Ten Boom).
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mike Durbin is the State Evangelism Director for the Baptist State Convention of Michigan. Before joining the state convention staff, Mike served as Church Planting Catalyst and Director of Missions in Metro Detroit since 2007. He also has served as a pastor and bi-vocational pastor in Michigan, as well as International Missionary to Brazil.