Rivers have always both attracted and rebuffed humans. Rivers can be majestic and awe inspiring. At the same time, they can be foreboding and dangerous. Consider the mighty Mississippi River. It is 2,340 miles long from its headwaters in northern Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico. It takes 90 days for a drop of water to travel the entire length of the Mississippi River. From its headwaters to its delta the river drops 1,475 feet. It represents the third largest watershed in the world. It is over 200 feet deep at its deepest point. But the Mississippi is a weak sister compared to the Amazon. It stretches some 4,000 miles. During the wet season, the Amazon River can reach over 120 miles in width. That would take you 2 hours to cross in a car going at 60 miles per hour. There are over 3000 known species of fish that live in the Amazon River, with more constantly being discovered.
Down through history, rivers have offered both opportunity and created barriers. The opportunity was in the form of transportation and industry. Navigating a river was far easier than cutting one’s way through the wilderness in order to build a road. And there is a reason why great towns/cities developed on the banks of rivers. However, they presented barriers as well because one would have to cross the river to get to whatever was on the other side which could prove difficult. They also presented danger as most rivers flood at some point.
So why would God intentionally put a river, even one as relatively “modest” as the Jordan River between his people and the Promised Land to where he was taking them. When one examines a map of Palestine in the days of Joshua, it become readily apparent that the easiest route to the Promised Land would have been to circle around the south of the Dead Sea and approach the Promised Land from south to north on the west side of the Jordan. They had already come from that direction as their wandering had them west of Jordan at times. The Dead Sea is the end depository of the Jordan River and it has no waters flowing from it; thus, it is a dead sea. Israel might have easily come that route and avoided the necessity of making their armies and people cross over the Jordan. We might also wonder why God initiated the conquest of the land during the time of year the Jordan overflowed its banks. Altogether, it would seem God was a poor planning general that chose what could be considered as the hardest time and route to conquest.
But God does not always bypass dangerous rivers. Sometimes, he shows himself mighty in power in conquering them.
Joshua had just recently taken over for Moses in Joshua 3. That was no small task. Moses had led the people for 40 years and was the most revered person in Israel’s history and still is today. It was Moses who, when they came out of Egypt, led them to the brink of the Red Sea with no route of escape when eventually Pharaoh and his armies awoke to the prospect of having to make their own bricks and went to get the Hebrew slaves back. In this instance too, God seemed to be a poor general. But we know what happened then.
Well, Joshua and the generation that had survived the wilderness wanderings needed their own “Red Sea” episode. They needed to see that Joshua was going to have the same “chops” as Moses did. They needed to pass through a miraculous water event like their grandparents, fathers, and mothers had done. No, this was no accident or poor planning on the part of God to have them on the east side of the Jordan creating a barrier that had to be overcome if they were to enter the Promised Land. This was an intentional river.
Many people do not understand why, when we become Christians, God doesn’t just take all the barriers, floods, difficulties, and hardships out of our lives. It would seem our ability to serve God would be greatly enhanced if we just didn’t have these things with which to deal.
Instead, God places “intentional rivers” in our lives. Through these varied “rivers” that he places before us, God wants to grow us, mature us, develop faith, and spiritual backbone. He wants us to struggle with fording that river to get to the other side. Think of it; ostensibly, God could have given the Promise Land in totality to Israel without a fight. He might have driven out the inhabitants of the land willy-nilly at his discretion through his unlimited power. Nobody would have to go to war. Nobody would have to die. No hardship would have to be endured. But in so doing, no national faith, obedience, and strength would have been developed. Rivers don’t just appear…they are placed.
We all have “rivers” to cross in our lives. What we need to understand is that they are intentional to the ends that God desires in us. I do not know what rivers loom in front of you today. I don’t know how wide it is or if it is at low ebb or flood stage. But I do believe God has placed you in front of that river to refine you, shape you, and sanctify you.
Someday, there will be one last river we will all have to cross. When Robert E. Lee’s remarkable General, Stonewall Jackson, lay dying of a wound he had suffered at the hands of friendly fire at the battle of Chancellorsville, his wife gently told him, “General, you will be with the Lord today.” Jackson, a devout Christian and Presbyterian Elder, protested by saying, “Oh no, it is not all that serious.” But as the day wore on, General Jackson realized what his wife and doctor had told him was true. He asked his wife, “What day is it?” She replied, “Why General, it is Sunday.” He said, “Oh good, I always wanted to die on a Sunday.” Later that night the General uttered his last words. They were, “Let us cross over the river and rest under the shade of the trees.”
Rivers will always play a big part in our lives in the metaphorical sense. We will always have rivers that need crossing. Then one day, we will follow General Jackson, cross over Jordan, and “rest under the shade of the trees”. This too, will be an intentional river the other side of which will yield the eternal delights of Heaven. Hallelujah, there is rest on the other side of the river.