Israel was at an interesting place as they stood at the banks of the Jordan River preparing to cross over into the Promised Land. After defeating the kings Sihon and Og and confiscating their territories Israel now had a place to call their own; the first time this has been true in many generations. Although they were not yet in the Promised Land, they were already inheriting cities they did not build and eating from crops they did not plant. Even though their journey had not gone as expected with the forty-year wandering, they still could take comfort in the knowledge that they were no longer slaves in Egypt and they were obtaining a place of their own. This was no small task.
As they stood at the banks of the River the Promised Land was laid out before them, but obtaining it was no small feat. First they had to cross the Jordan during flood stage, a time when the banks of the river could stretch a mile wide. Once safely across they still had to conquer the land. A land filled with people who “seemed like giants,” and who lived in cities with strong, impenetrable walls. Israel was not a military power and they did not have the ability to lay siege to cities hoping to conquer them. The journey ahead was full of danger and peril with no assurance of ultimate success.
Because of these truths, it would make sense for Israel to become complacent and simply settle for what they had already accomplished. They had their freedom and they had land to live on. If they pressed on across the river they might be defeated and lose everything. Even though it wasn’t exactly what was promised, maybe the safe choice and the best choice was to stay where they were.
Joshua, however, wasn’t about to let them make the same mistake twice. Joshua had been there forty years before when Israel, because of lack of faith, turned an eleven day journey into a forty-year wandering. Joshua had seen how a fear of the unknown and a failure to trust in God could destroy an entire generation. Joshua refused to let Israel settle again. So he marched throughout the camp and command the people to get ready to leave for the next stage of the journey. It would be difficult but they had nothing to fear because the Lord God was going to go in front of them. Because you have never been this way before, Joshua says, God will lead you. When you see the priests carrying the Ark of God then follow them. God will stop the waters and do great things. God will plant you in the land. Do not fear. The inheritance that is promised is worth the struggle to obtain it. Besides, God is the one who will give you the land and God can be trusted.
We have all stood on the banks of the river. We have stood and waited wondering what the future would hold. We have stood and dreamed of the inheritance that could be ours, the life that we could be living, the freedom that we could be experiencing. The difficult part of standing at the river is not dreaming of what the future could be, but stepping out to try to make the future a reality. From where we stand at the river, we are safe. We are safe because there is no unknown to fear. But to step out into the river is to step out into the unknown. To step out into the river is to take a chance at failure. Stepping out means we may have battles to face or the road might be difficult. Because of that, we may be tempted to stay where we are. There is safety in what is known.
But God has more in store for us. Having faith to follow God into the unknown is the very action that could lead to our greatest blessings. Yes, the road may be difficult, but it is not a journey we will travel alone. God is going before us. God is stepping into the waters to part the rapids and allow us to walk through on dry ground. God is going before us to march around the difficulties and knock the walls down. God is the one who will do great things, and allow us to simply reap the benefits. Trust God.
It can be difficult to step out into the unknown and cross the river. It’s a dangerous situation. But we are not going alone. Trust God, and follow.