Traveling Unknown Territory

Bible Book: Joshua  3
Subject: New Year; Progress; Lorship; Following God; Christian Living

The people of Israel had finally ended their wilderness wanderings. Moses was dead, and God had appointed Joshua to be the new leader. Joshua and his people were looking forward to entering Canaan, the promised land, and taking possession of it--and now the time had come. Let's look at Joshua 3:1-4:

"And Joshua rose early in the morning; and they removed from Shittim, and came to Jordan, he and all the children of Israel, and lodged there before they passed over. And it came to pass, after three days, that the officers went through the host; And they commanded the people, saying, When ye see the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God, and the priests the Levites bearing it, then ye shall remove from your place, and go after it. Yet there shall be a space between you and it, about two thousand cubits by measure: come not near unto it, that ye may know the way by which ye must go: for ye have not passed this way heretofore."

I want us to zero in on that last phrase in verse 4: "for ye have not passed this way heretofore." Joshua's officers were saying to the Israelites, "You're about to take a journey to where you've been before. You're about to go down a road that is new to you. You're about to travel through unknown territory."

That, in principle, is exactly where you and I stand right now, as we embark upon a brand new year. We have no way of knowing what awaits us in the New Year. We don't know what gains or losses, or what joys or sorrows, are out there. But I'm thankful that in his instructions to Joshua and the Israelites, God has given to all of us three sure, dependable guidelines for traveling unknown territory, and doing so victoriously. Let's look at them.


The first guideline is this: GO AFTER THE ARK.

Preacher, what do you mean by that? It will become clear as we continue. As we read in verse 3, the officers told the Israelites, "When ye see the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God, and the priests the Levites bearing it, then ye shall remove from your place, and go after it."

To the Israelites, the ark symbolized the presence of God. In that ark were the following items:

(1) The two tablets of stone on which the ten commandments had been written by the hand of God himself. The ten commandments show us our need for a Savior, and then they serve as a blueprint for the Christian life.

(2) A supernaturally preserved pot of manna, reminding them that God is one who can satisfy. Jesus said later, in John 6:35, "I am the bread of life."

(3) Aaron's budding rod, which reminded the people that God is a miracle-working God. Nothing is impossible with him.

The high priest would come into the tabernacle once a year and sprinkle the blood of a sacrificial animal on top of the ark--that top being called "the mercy seat." That was to symbolize the fact that, as the writer of Hebrews 9:22 said, "without shedding of blood is no remission." 1 Peter 1:18-19 says, "Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot." So, ultimately the ark was a representation of Christ.

As we read in verse 4, the officers told the people to keep a space of about two thousand cubits, that would be a thousand yards or more, between themselves and the ark. Why? Probably so that everyone could see it clearly. This was a great multitude of people; thus, in order for everyone to keep the ark in view at all times, it needed to be well out in front.

That's what you and I must do if we're to make it victoriously through the unknown territory that lies before us in the New Year: to resolve to keep our spiritual eyes on Jesus, just as those Israelites kept their physical eyes on the ark. That's the very best New Year's resolution that you and I could possibly make. First, be sure that you've repented of your sins and by faith have received him as your personal Lord and Savior. But then, having been saved, make certain that every day you reaffirm and reassert your allegiance to him. In other words, as a believer resolve to keep your focus on Jesus.

Not on your job, your hobby, your recreation, not even your family, as important as they are, but Jesus. Stan Coffey said it like this: "Jesus didn't die and rise again to be prominent in your life, or to have a place in your life. He demands preeminence in your life." If Jesus has first place in your life, he will give you victory in the midst of whatever you go through, even in the midst of hardship and suffering.

Several decades ago a Methodist minister, Harold Bosley, told a story from his student days at the University of Chicago in the 1930s. He and some fellow students went to a conference that was being held at a large black church on the north side of Chicago. The conference featured a panel of four speakers who were discussing how to deal with the problems of life. One of the speakers was the attorney, Clarence Darrow, who had gained prominence as the defense lawyer in the famous Scopes trial in Dayton, Tennessee.

Those were the dark, difficult days of the Great Depression in America. People were in desperate need, but couldn't find jobs, and there was despair throughout the land--but, of all people, the blacks of Chicago seemed to be suffering even more than others. When Clarence Darrow rose to speak, he began to talk about those issues, and the hard times that the blacks were experiencing. In the course of his remarks he said, "But, I don't understand it. You sing such great music. I have heard you singing here today. Amid all the woes of life, how can you sing? What in the world do you have to sing about in the face of all you're going through?" He intended that as a rhetorical question, not expecting anyone to answer, but quick as a flash a woman stood up right in front of him and said, "Why do we sing? What do we have to sing about? We have Jesus to sing about!" - and all over the congregation people shouted, "Amen! Amen!"

Turn your eyes upon Jesus, Look full in his wonderful face,

And the things of earth will grow strangely dim, In the light of his glory and grace.

Are you willing, right now, this very moment, to resolve to make Jesus the focal point of your life? If you're not already saved, yield to Christ now in repentance and faith. If you're already a Christian, resolve right now to make him number one in the New Year.


The second guideline for making it victoriously through unknown territory is this: SANCTIFY YOURSELVES. Look again at very 5: "And Joshua said unto the people, Sanctify yourselves: for tomorrow the Lord will do wonders among you."

The Hebrew word for "sanctify" means "to set apart for God's use." Joshua was saying to his people, "If you expect God to show forth his mighty power in your behalf, you must shape up spiritually. You must give yourself a tune-up. You must get the moral and spiritual sludge out of your life." Lost people need to get saved but many of us who are Christians need a revival.

We need to sanctify ourselves. James 4:8 says, "Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double-minded."

In today's world we are so surrounded by corruption, lying, sexual immorality, selfishness, murder, and double-dealing, that we all too often become de-sensitized; we get "used to the dark." Sadly, sometimes believers fall into some of those ungodly practices, and there's no way that God is going to bless a person who is living in sinful disobedience.

There is both a divine and a human side to sanctification. The divine side is emphasized in such verses as 1 John 1:7: "But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin." But the Bible also emphasizes the human side. The command given in Joshua 3:5 was, "Sanctify yourselves." 2 Corinthians 7:1 says, "Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God." The upshot of all those statements is simply this: God expects you and me to confess our sins, to exercise self- discipline, and at the same time to trust him for the ultimate victory.

So, don't kid yourself. Don't let yourself off the hook. Sanctify yourself. If you desire for God to give you good health during the New Year, or at least to maintain whatever level of health you have, then don't overstuff your body; don't reach for that extra desert--and make yourself exercise, whether you want to or not and whether you feel like it or not. If you desire for God to help you maintain a pure life in the New Year, then don't watch filthy TV shows, don't go to see trashy movies, don't read novels that are laced with profanity and sex, don't look at vulgar things on the internet, don't look lustfully at other women, and don't go to places where a Christian has no business being. If you desire for God to bless your family, then see to it that you take your family to church regularly, see to it that you read the Bible and pray with your family, see to it that your children have some fair, clear rules, and enforce them consistently and, of paramount importance, set a right example before them. If you desire to be spiritually stronger this year, then discipline yourself to have a daily quiet time, where just you and God commune through prayer and through reading his Word devotionally.


Now here's the third guideline for getting through unfamiliar territory victoriously: GET YOUR FEET WET.

Stay with me, and you'll understand what I mean. The events described in this 3rd chapter of Joshua took place during the flood season, when the Jordan River was much deeper than usual, and extremely wide - probably a mile wide at some points. During the flood season the current was swift.

Also, bear in mind that this was a huge multitude of people gathered on that riverbank. Numbers 26:51 says, "These were the numbered of the children of Israel, six hundred thousand and a thousand seven hundred and thirty." If that referred only to the men, as some think, then add to that number the women and children and you're talking about possibly as many as two million people.

There appeared to be no way for them to cross over the river, with their babies, their livestock, and their supplies. There were no bridges, and no boats, just rushing water. Yet God told them that he was going to get them across that raging river. But he would require faith on their part and he would require that they demonstrate their faith. God said, in effect, "Show me that you believe me. You priests lead the way. March right down into that swift current and as soon as your feet touch the water, I'm going to do something wonderful."

Look at verses 14-17, "And it came to pass, when the people removed from their tents, to pass over Jordan, and the priests bearing the ark of the covenant before the people; And as they that bare the ark were dipped in the brim of the water, (for Jordan over-floweth all his banks all the time of harvest,) That the waters which came down from above stood and rose up upon an heap very far from the city Adam, that is beside Zaretan: and those that came down toward the sea of the plain, even the salt sea, failed, and were cut off: and the people passed over right against Jericho. And the priests that bare the ark of the covenant of the Lord stood firm on dry ground in the midst of Jordan, and all the Israelites passed over on dry ground, until all the people were passed clean over Jordan."

What a sight that must have been. The flow of water was not only stopped, but turned back so that it stood in a gigantic heap, like a watery wall. The water which was already in the channel rapidly drained away into the Dead Sea, leaving the riverbed dry. Normally it would have taken days, even weeks, for a riverbed to dry out--but God dried it out instantly. For approximately two million people, with all their livestock and supplies, to walk over it, that channel would have had to be not just dry, but rock-hard. So, the drying out and hardening of the riverbed were part of the miracle.

It must have taken a long time - many hours, I suspect for that huge multitude to cross over; yet the Bible tells us that the priests stood out in that riverbed the whole time. Picture the scene: there was that immense watery wall hovering in the distance; yet those priests, however nervous they might have felt at times, stood there faithfully, holding on to the ark, because they believed that God would protect them - which he did.

There's a tremendous lesson there for you and me. If we want God to guide us victoriously through the unexplored territory of this New Year, and take us through our Jordans of difficulty, we're going to have to "get our feet wet." That is, we're going to have to put our faith in action. First, be sure that you have placed your faith in Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior. Then, once we're saved, as God reveals his will to us, through the Bible, or prayer, or circumstances, or through some other means, we must obey, whether we understand it or not. I am reminded of what Mary, the mother of Jesus, said, in John 2:5: "Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it." James 2:26 says, "For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also."

"But we never can prove, The delights of His love, Until all on the altar we lay;

For the favor He shows, and the joy He bestows, Are for them who will trust and obey.

Trust and obey, for there's no other way

To be happy in Jesus, But to trust and obey."

There are some obstacles in life about which we can do very little; but God expects us to do that little and then we can depend on him to make up the difference. As someone has said, "Man's extremity is God's opportunity."

What about those Jordans of difficulty that you are facing now, or may face at some time in the New Year? God wants to get you through them--not just "somehow," but triumphantly. He may not choose to give you a spectacular solution, as he did for Joshua and the Israelites in this instance. In fact, it's worth pointing out that in all the centuries of Biblical history, only three times did God miraculously part the waters of the Jordan--once for Elijah, once for Elisha, and then on this occasion for Joshua and his people.

Yet various individuals and groups of people must have passed over the Jordan hundreds and even thousands of times through the years. But God gave the strength and energy to get across, even when he didn't part the waters for them. Sometimes he might have provided a boat, or a raft; or at other times the water might have been so shallow that they could wade across. But those crossings were no less the work of God. The important thing is not the method God uses; the important thing is that we trust him and follow his commands--and if we do, then he will get us across one way or the other.

Does that mean that everything will always come out rosy, and that there will always be a happy ending? No, sometimes that will be the case, but not always. However, it does mean that whatever we have to face - illness, heartache, or even death--if we'll trust him and take whatever steps he leads us to take, he will see us through it triumphantly. In other words, when you stand before a raging current and God says, "Go forward," then step out. Get your feet wet. You can depend on God, then, to see you through. Someone has well said, "If God brings you to it, he will bring you through it."

"Have you any rivers that seem to be uncrossable? Have you any mountains you cannot tunnel through? God specializes in things that seem impossible;

He knows a thousand ways to make a way for you."


In 1939 the people of England were a troubled and fearful people. The Second World War was underway. Hitler had invaded Poland. It was obvious that he had other conquests in mind, as well-- and the people of England were deeply disturbed over what might lie ahead. On Christmas Day that year, 1939, King George addressed the nation, and at the close of his speech quoted the words of an obscure Canadian woman named Minnie Louise Haskins. The little piece she wrote was entitled, "The Gate of the Year." Here is the excerpt that King George quoted to encourage his people: And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year: "Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown." And he replied: "Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the hand of God. That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way."

So, that's my challenge to you - and to myself: Right now, right here, tonight, put your hand in the hand of God. If you haven't done so, repent of your sins and surrender in faith to the crucified, risen, living Christ. If you're already a believer, tell the Lord right now, right here, tonight, that you are confessing your sins of the old year, asking his forgiveness, and resolving to make him number one in your life in the New Year. With that approach, you need have no fear of traveling unknown territory.