“When you see the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God, and the priests, who are Levites, carrying it, you are to move out from your positions and follow it. Then you will know which way to go, since you have never been this way before.” (Joshua 3:3-4)
These verses involve two critical components – forgetting and remembering.
As Joshua is speaking these words, the nation of Israel once again stands on the shores of the Jordan River. They had been here before, forty years previously, and it had not gone well for them. The Lord had instructed them then to cross the river – instead, they sent spies, including Joshua, to evaluate the situation and the majority of the spies reported that the obstacles were too big. Because they embraced fear instead of faith, God returned them to the desert for forty years (perhaps the longest “time outs” in history).
So they come to the river again and hear the same instructions again. Joshua is so bold as to say, “since you have never been this way before.” Can you imagine how tempting it must have been for some of the people to say, “That’s not true. We’ve been at this exact spot before. And what has changed, Joshua? Are there still giants in the land? Thought so. It’ll never work. We’re not moving a foot.”
They needed to forget – to set down their clear and distinct memories of old patterns of disobedience and fear. As long as they insisted on looking back on their cycles of failure, that is all they would ever see; and when that is all they focused on, there really would be not hope for the future.
And then they needed to remember – to remember that God was right in the midst of the camp. They had been given a visual reminder of His presence in the ark of the covenant and the appeal to the nation was, “When you see God (the ark) moving, follow Him! Remember, if God is for you, who can stand against you?” Thankfully, they forgot forty years ago and remembered God’s powerful presence in the moment and went on to finally possess the Promised Land.
Sometimes couples in marital distress come to the “shores of the Jordan River” in my office – and often it does not play out well. I suggest they try implementing a biblical principle in their relationship and they both tell me that will never work and then almost compete to recount their patterns of disobedience, fear and failure. I endeavor to remind them that today is not yesterday and tomorrow holds the potential to be aware of and to trust God and be obedient to His leading. Couples in this situation need to forget and remember – and unless they do so they will end up back in the “desert” again.
Folks, no matter how familiar or routine the path you are on today, if you will remember that God is in the midst of the moment and make yourself available to follow Him, then “you will know which way to go, since you have never been this way before.”