So Joshua ordered the officers of the people: “Go through the camp and tell the people, ‘Get your provisions ready. Three days from now you will cross the Jordan here to go in and take possession of the land the Lord your God is giving you for your own.’” – Joshua 1:10-11
Today’s passage gives us a wonderful illustration of the relationship between faith and life. But before we look at that, it would be helpful for us to pay attention to the expression “three days from now” because “three days” shows up frequently in the Bible as an idiomatic expression which means “a short and limited period of time.” We don’t use that expression in modern English. So, when we read “three days” we tend to think in terms of three literal days. Understanding the Hebrew idiom will keep us from confusion. Of course, “three days” can be used to describe three literal days but, in that case, there are usually other markers in the passage which make this clear such as “three days and three nights.” Adolph Harstad comments:
“Yet within three days” may be used here as a nonliteral expression that means “in the near future.” The number “three” in the OT is sometimes used in expressions where literalness should not be pressed. An example is Joshua 20:5, where the literal “yesterday, three days” means simple “before” or “previously.” See also the “three days of 2:16, where it seems strange that Rahab would know exactly how long the spies should hide. A indefinite but limited period of time is thus in view in some contexts. Consider Jesus’ expression in Luke 13:32, which is perhaps drawn from Semitic idiom: “Behold, I cast out demons and accomplish cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I am brought to completion.”
If we understand this idiom, we will have no difficulty seeing how Joshua could send out the spies and wait until they return before the people actually cross the Jordan. If we insist on reading three days in a wooden fashion, we will have to imagine that Joshua had already sent out the spies before he gives this command. While that is possible, it is less probable than simply understanding the idiom as meaning “soon.”
More importantly, today’s passage is a beautiful illustration of the relationship between faith and life. The LORD had commissioned and encouraged Joshua in verses 1-9 to confidently take on the great work of leading the people of God into the Promised Land. Joshua steps up and commands the people through their leaders to prepare to enter the Promised Land even though Joshua has no idea how the LORD is going to bring this to pass. The Jordan is at flood stage. There is no visible way to cross the river. Yet, by faith, Joshua steps out in action – knowing that nothing is too hard for the LORD. Faith always leads to works. Consider these famous words from Luther’s “Preface to Romans”:
Oh, it is a living, busy, active, mighty thing, this faith. It is impossible for it not to be doing good works incessantly. It does not ask whether good works are to be done, but before the question is asked, it has already done them, and is constantly doing them. …
Faith is a living, daring confidence in God’s grace, so sure and certain that the believer would stake his life on it a thousand times. This knowledge of and confidence in God’s grace makes men glad and bold and happy in dealing with God and with all creatures. And this is the work which the Holy Spirit performs in faith. Because of it, without compulsion, a person is ready and glad to do good to everyone, to serve everyone, to suffer everything, out of love and praise to God who has shown him this grace. Thus, it is impossible to separate heat and light from fire.
MEMORY WORK – Shorter Catechism Q/A 5
Q. Are there more Gods than one?
A. There is but one only, the living and true God.