This is the day…this is the day that it will happen…this is the day that no one expects but everyone has been looking for. THIS is the day.
One of the first things I do when I visit the beach – after wrestling with the chairs, putting up the umbrella, and sitting down in complete exhaustion just to arrive – after all that – I go to the water. The first time is just to feel the water. I want to know how cold it is. I am not one to just jump right in. I like to know what I am dealing with. So I dip my toe in the water. It helps me know if I am going to put my whole foot in and eventually swim. But first, it is just a toe. It is my test. And I know I am not alone. I see other people do it too. We want to know. If the water is too cold, I turn around and head back to the chair until I am overheated and the cold water is refreshing. But I don’t want to step any further if it doesn’t feel good. I don’t trust others with the temperature, either. Children have a very different temperature gauge. They can jump into freezing water and claim it feels wonderful – shivering and all. I don’t let them guide me in the water. I want to test it for myself.
Today’s scripture pushes me to dip my toe in – but then jump in with everything else – regardless of the temperature. The storms may come up, the winds may be fierce, and it may be high tide, but I am challenged to dip my toe in anyway…and then submerge my whole body. It seems like a challenging, fearful proposal. And I can’t even imagine how the children of Israel felt. But this is the day – God tells Joshua – this is the day. It is time. The hardheaded folks I love so much need to know. And today is the day, Joshua. And it will take dipping your toe in and emerging a changed people on the other side.
3:7 The LORD said to Joshua, “This day I will begin to exalt you in the sight of all Israel, so that they may know that I will be with you as I was with Moses.
3:8 You are the one who shall command the priests who bear the ark of the covenant, ‘When you come to the edge of the waters of the Jordan, you shall stand still in the Jordan.'”
3:9 Joshua then said to the Israelites, “Draw near and hear the words of the LORD your God.”
3:10 Joshua said, “By this you shall know that among you is the living God who without fail will drive out from before you the Canaanites, Hittites, Hivites, Perizzites, Girgashites, Amorites, and Jebusites:
3:11 the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth is going to pass before you into the Jordan.
3:12 So now select twelve men from the tribes of Israel, one from each tribe.
3:13 When the soles of the feet of the priests who bear the ark of the LORD, the Lord of all the earth, rest in the waters of the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan flowing from above shall be cut off; they shall stand in a single heap.”
3:14 When the people set out from their tents to cross over the Jordan, the priests bearing the ark of the covenant were in front of the people.
3:15 Now the Jordan overflows all its banks throughout the time of harvest. So when those who bore the ark had come to the Jordan, and the feet of the priests bearing the ark were dipped in the edge of the water,
3:16 the waters flowing from above stood still, rising up in a single heap far off at Adam, the city that is beside Zarethan, while those flowing toward the sea of the Arabah, the Dead Sea, were wholly cut off. Then the people crossed over opposite Jericho.
3:17 While all Israel were crossing over on dry ground, the priests who bore the ark of the covenant of the LORD stood on dry ground in the middle of the Jordan, until the entire nation finished crossing over the Jordan.
TODAY is the day to dip your toe in. Today they will know. Today is the day, Joshua. It was a challenge. It would take courage. But God was with them. God tells Joshua that it is time for the children of Israel to understand that he is with Joshua like he was with Moses. First – that’s huge. Moses was called from the burning bush. He had led the people out of slavery. He had held up his rod at the Red Sea watching the people cross. They had been given the Ten Commandments because Moses went to God and got them – not once but twice. Moses spent time with God and absolutely glowed. He struck rocks and produced water. God had been with Moses in miraculous ways. And here was Joshua – who had been with Moses through it all. But now he was the leader. And God would be with him too.
It was time to cross the Jordan – by God’s timing, not by the people’s. This was NOT the time to cross if you are looking at the Jordan. It is harvest time. It is the time when the Jordan floods. The higher the water, the more torrential. This is a serious and dangerous time. There are times to cross – but this is not one of them. This is the time when you find another way. There has to be a better way. There is fear in the air as they stand before the waters – people can smell it. I can only imagine some of that is the fear of Joshua. If this all goes wrong, this is going to be really bad. There will be no recovering from this. People will not survive this. Their fate is staring them in the face as they see the flood waters. And Joshua tells them to move forward.
But he doesn’t do it without God. God has instructed him. God is with him. The people have a visual reminder that God is there. There is the Ark of the Covenant going before them. This is a powerful presence of God at all times. The Israelites didn’t play with this – it was serious. People died from handling this improperly. So this is no joke. Only the priests carry it. And they go out front. They lead the people at Joshua’s command. And they are the first to dip their toe in the water. They are the first to risk their lives. They are the first to see what could happen. And yet, they dip their toe in the water. When they do this – and only when they do this – does the water part. It stops. It is halted. The ground beneath is dry and open and ready as the priests march forward. They are standing on holy ground, dry ground, the ground of a flooded Jordan River. They are standing in the middle of trouble, protected by the presence of God.
And then the people have to cross. Every single one of them make the trip on that holy ground. Each one had to consider if they would make it. Just because the person in front of them did didn’t guarantee they would be successful. Can you imagine the waters on both sides, flooded, interrupted, and waiting to be forced back into place? And yet, they stepped in – until they all crossed. They made it. They would emerge for the other side changed.
It wasn’t Joshua who made the difference. Joshua was a man led by God. But Joshua wasn’t perfect – any more than Moses or Miriam or any other person. Joshua was simply being led by God. It wasn’t the priests who changed everything. Yes, they had to go first. Sure, they had to dip their toe in first. They had to be the most frightened. But they weren’t always the most holy. They didn’t always get it. They messed up too. Just think about the first – Aaron. He helped the people build the golden calf. And then we get to Eli’s sons – now they were a hot mess to say the least. The priests were not the difference. They were human just like everyone else. They just had this particular calling. The people weren’t especially great either. They spent much of their time questioning God and demanding stuff of him – as if he wasn’t the Creator of the entire world. They were unruly, whiny, and needy – much like us today. So they were not the difference.
What made the difference was not the toes of those who dared enter – but God who had created those toes. God was with them. God had commanded this. God had created this. He had created the Jordan and he had created them. He knew them and still loved them. And they were called to trust in HIM – not them. So when they dipped their toes in the water, it wasn’t in allegiance to anyone but God. And they moved forward on that frightening dry ground because of their powerful God.
It seems to me that too many times, we want to dip our toe into the water, but turn around because we are scared. Maybe it is because we have mistakenly given our allegiance to anyone other than God. Maybe it is because we don’t see how the waters could possibly part because no human can do it. So we rest in our chairs and find ourselves comfortable not being challenged to move forward in faithful trust of God. It is easier to trust in people than it is in God – because God will lead you through the waters. People will give us a chair.
Do you want to dip your toe in the water? I sure do! As we go through the next days, weeks, months – whatever is ahead – be careful. Don’t listen to those who tell you the water is too dangerous. It may just be time to dip your toe in – God’s there. And that’s all that really matters anyway. We will emerged changed.