Israel has been waiting for this promise to be kept.
Ever since the twelve spies scouted the Promised Land out; and ten of them doubted it was possible to take this land for themselves – so God gave them 40 more years to think about it (Numbers 13-14).
Ever since they made a golden calf to worship, and God got mad, and threatened to not go along with them at all (Exodus 32-33).
Ever since they wondered how they’d have enough to eat or enough to drink to even survive the journey – and God provided (Exodus 16-17).
Ever since they were backed up at the Red Sea trying to get out of Egypt – and God parted the waters so they could pass (Exodus 14).
Ever since Moses and Aaron confronted Pharaoh with twelve plagues (Exodus 7-12).
Ever since they were slaves in Egypt and they cried out to God for help, and God heard their cry and called Moses (Exodus 2-3).
Ever since all that, Israel has been waiting to make it to the Promised Land.
And here they are: crossing the Jordan River.
There are few things as delicious as a long-awaited moment now arrived. Like Christmas morning come for children, or retirement day come for adults. After 40 years (and then some) of anticipation, the Israelites are finally here.
Now that they’re walking across the Jordan and into what will become their permanent home, now that they’re celebrating and we’re celebrating with them, it’s easy to forget just how long they waited to get here.
Forty years… and then some.
Because before the Israelites were slaves in Egypt, they were refugees brought there by Joseph; Joseph whose father told him about a promise from God (Genesis 48).
And before Joseph, God made that promise to Jacob as he dreamt of a ladder (Genesis 28).
And before Jacob, God made that promise to Isaac (Genesis 26).
And before Isaac, God made the original promise to Abraham, a promise that his many descendants would become a great nation that would bless the whole world… a nation with land of their own (Genesis 12).
All the way from Genesis 12 to Joshua 3… Or, as some Bible scholars estimate it, all the way from 2,000 BC to 1,220 BC. That’s around 780 years from God’s first promise of descendants with their own land… to the actual, permanent arrival on that land.
That’s a long time to wait.
Longer that you or I have ever had to wait for anything, I’m willing to bet.
And in the now-immortal words of Tom Petty: The waiting is the hardest part.
I mean, seriously. The waiting is terrible.
When you’re waiting for something important, it doesn’t matter if you have to wait 5 minutes or 5 weeks or 5000 years… it’s excruciating. Our God who is eternal knows how all this will turn out, but we who live by the clock do not. When we haven’t made it to the Promised Land yet – can’t even see it in the distance – we want to pray the prayer of Psalm 13:
“How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?”
God does not forget us forever. Every time, one way or another, this side of the grave or another – God remembers. I believe it because our God is the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob. God made a promise and God did not forget, not even after 780 years.
I believe in God’s promise… and yet, in the middle of the waiting, it can be very hard to believe.
The secret is in looking back.
There’s a repetitiveness in this story – did you notice it? All Israel needs to cross a river, so the waters are backed up – parted – and they have safe passage. The waters only come back together after every one of them (40,000 soldiers just as a start!) had crossed over safely.
Remind you of anything that has happened to Israel before?
“As I was with Moses, so I will be with you,” God tells Joshua at the beginning of all this. This repetition of a parting-waters miracle is likely no mere geographic coincidence. The Jordan is not an impossibly deep river to fjord. Surely there could have been some other way across (even if inconvenient). This is more than just a miracle, it’s a reminder of what God has done before.
When we are in a long waiting, trying to hold on to our faith, we can remind ourselves as God reminded Joshua: As God was with me then, God will be with me now.
Try it now. Think back – as far back as you need to go. When has God been faithful to you? Did God give you the wisdom you needed for that tough decision, or the forgiveness you needed after that big debacle? When have you said that desperate prayer after a close call, “Thank you, God!”
God was with you then.
And God is with you now.
Maybe you’re waiting: for the arrival of a job or a vacation; for the healing of a body or a mind or a relationship… If you’re waiting, remember that the God who was with you then will be with you now.
As long as it takes.
Because the God who made a promise to Abraham didn’t forget it after 780 years.
And that same God didn’t forget after another 1,050 years. All those years later, in this same Jordan River, the heavens would part instead of the waters. A dove would show up and God would speak, identifying an only Son sent to bless all the world through Abraham’s people.
God keeps God’s promises. No matter how long it takes.
If you are waiting – too long, waiting – then know that the God who loves you is with you. Always.
New Interpreter’s Bible Dictionary entry on the Jordan River
New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary on Joshua 3
Disciple Bible Study timeline of Biblical events