Good stories, I’ve found, don’t happen by accident: great novels and movies are well designed, and they pull you into the plot. You care about the protagonist: you see the good and the bad in their character, and it makes you care about them – the things that happen to them have an impact on you. If you didn’t care about the character, the story wouldn’t matter to you; you wouldn’t enjoy the book or the movie.
In every good plot-line, there is an inciting incident: a plot point or event that hooks the reader into the story. It’s the thing that forces the protagonist into action, that makes them the main focus of the story: all of the backstory beforehand has been leading up to this moment, and it changes the course of the story.
At this point in the story, at the beginning of Joshua 3, we’ve seen God calling Joshua to do something big for Him, and giving him a pep-talk (be strong and very courageous); we’ve been through Joshua sending spies ahead to meet Rahab, and things are looking good for them. Everything is safe – they know that God is protecting them and that this is something he has told them to do – it’s time to take action. This is the inciting incident in the story of Joshua – it’s the moment where things start to matter for him.
If you’re reading along with us, we’re at Joshua 3 and 4:
Crossing the Jordan
Right at the beginning of this chapter, we see Joshua warming up his men, and preparing them for the massive journey that they were about to go on:
“Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do amazing things among you” (Joshua 3:5)
“And the Lord said to Joshua, “today I will begin to exalt you in the eyes of all Israel, so that they may know that I am with you as I was with Moses” (Joshua 3:7)
This battle was different; it wasn’t a battle that depended on the will of man, but on the strength of God. I can imagine that the moments before the journey were a real test of faith for Joshua: he knew that God was going to go before him; he knew that He had promised that they were going to make it through, but in his perception of the reality around them, it was him that needed to lead his people into this battle. God was making the Israelites a promise – that He was going to do that work and that Joshua would get to lead the people into freedom. When people know that God is with them and when they are being led well, they have access to the power, strength and courage that they need, in God.
We Plug the Gap with Faith
Like Joshua and his men, it is not always easy for us to have faith, when the things that we see around us tell us that the battle that we are facing is greater than the strength that we have.
We all have two different realities in play: one is our perception of reality, which is based on the physical things that we can see, as well as our experiences: the times that we have failed, the things that have come before; the things that have stung us and the times that we have been hurt. Our perception is based on the way that we see ourselves: whether we feel strong enough, good enough, ready enough. The other is the truth of who God is and what He says: the strength that He has, the things that He has promised to do through us; the truth of who He is and who He says we are. The promises that He has given us and the end result that He has said He will give to us.
The difficulty comes when the two don’t match up: when our perception of reality looks very different from the truth of what God says and who He is. When we look around us and all that we can see is failure, when He says that we are strong and courageous. When we can’t see where He is and we feel abandoned, when we know that He has promised that He will never leave nor forsake us.
We plug this gap with faith. Faith is calling into action that which does not yet exist: faith is confidence in what we hope for, and assurance about what we do not see (Hebrews 11:1). Faith calls us to keep our eyes on heavenly things, and not on the earthly things (Colossians 3:2).
Faith, here, was a call for Joshua to step out and be an active participant in God’s plan, even when he couldn’t see the whole picture or the end result.
Joshua and his men needed to get across the Jordan: a huge river that was the barrier between where they were now, and where they needed to go. This is where we see the first of God’s miracles here:
“And as soon as the priests who carried the ark of the Lord – the Lord of all the earth – set foot in the Jordan, its waters flowing downstream will be cut off and stand in a heap” Joshua 3:13
“For the Lord your God dried up the Jordan before you until you had crossed over” Joshua 4:23
Joshua and the people walked towards the Jordan, with the ark of the Lord on their shoulders: this was where the power of God was, and He was going with them. He promised that as soon as they set their foot in this fast-flowing river, the waters would stop and they would be able to cross safely. And this is exactly what happened: they stepped in the river, the water completely stopped, and all of the people could pass over on dry land.
It was a great thing that God did, but it was also the active participation and trust of the people – they had to trust that if they did what he told them to do, He would do what He said He would. He did the work, and they were the feet. It’s not something that could have been done by human effort – the water would have swept them off their feet – but it was something that they got to participate in and do with God.
This is life with God; this is exciting: you split the sea so I could walk right through it, my fears are drowned in perfect love. You rescued me and I will stand and sing: I am a child of God. He has made a way that I might know my strong and mighty God, and that I might get to lead people through and point them towards Him: the things that need active participation on my part, but need Him to be the miracle worker. He exalts me and puts me in the places that I get to be; my job is then to show others His heart.