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Inductive Bible Study on Joshua 3 – Questions and Verse by Verse Commentary

Discussion Questions

  • Why might they have risen early in the morning?
  • What did they do when they arrived at the Jordan?
  • What did the officers tell the people?
  • What was the people’s job?
  • Would they set off before or after the Jordan had started to part?
  • Why is this significant?
  • How far is 2000 cubits? (1000 yards, 910 meters)
  • How were the people to prepare themselves for this (verse 5)?
  • What was the priests’ job?
  • What do we learn about God from this passage?
  • What do we learn about people?
  • What do we learn that we can apply to our lives today?
  • Some people say, that this was a natural phenomenon. What do you think?
  • Why did the Lord tell the people ahead of time what would happen?
  • What do you think the people learned from this miracle?
  • What kind of obstacles may we face in our lives?
  • How does God help us to face and overcome those obstacles?


Numbers 4:15, 7:9 – “After Aaron and his sons have finished covering the holy furnishings and all the holy articles, and when the camp is ready to move, only then are the Kohathites to come and do the carrying. But they must not touch the holy things or they will die. The Kohathites are to carry those things that are in the tent of meeting.

But Moses did not give any to the Kohathites, because they were to carry on their shoulders the holy things, for which they were responsible.

Exodus 14 – The Red Sea was parted.

2 Corinthians 4:8-9 – We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.

1 Samuel 17:45 – David said to the Philistine, “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied.

Deuteronomy 28 – A very good chapter dealing with the importance of obeying the Lord in the new land.

Hebrews 13:17 – Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you.

1 John 2:3-4 – We know that we have come to know him if we keep his commands. Whoever says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person.

John 14:12 – Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.

Matthew 17:20 – He replied, “Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”

Psalm 77:14 – You are the God who performs miracles; you display your power among the peoples.

Matthew 7:24-29 – “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”
When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.

Verse by Verse Commentary

1. Joshua rose early in the morning – Here is a small point. But it shows us a glimpse into Joshua’s character. He is a doer. He takes initiative. He doesn’t procrastinate. He is diligent. We also saw this in chapter 1 when Joshua immediately obeys God by telling the people they had three days to prepare to cross the Jordan. And in chapter 2, Joshua again took initiative when he sent out spies to get more detailed information. If you have a job to do, do you wait until the last minute or finish it as soon as possible?

2. The people set out before they knew how they would get where they were going. – In Joshua 1:11 the people were told to cross the Jordan. In Joshua 3:1 the people set off to go to the Jordan and then end up camping right next to it.

Where would they cross?
How would they cross?

It seems they didn’t know the answer to these questions yet. They obeyed step by step. Although they didn’t know how they would finish doing what God had told them to do, they did know how they could start. They didn’t know the end of the journey, but they knew the beginning.

Are there other examples in the Bible of people who started a journey or a mission, but didn’t know where it would lead? A long time before God told Abraham to “Go to the land I will show you.” Abraham set off from his home, but didn’t know where he was going. The first step was to leave. God would show him the rest when he needed to know it.

Application: Obedience for us is the same. We don’t know what our lives will be like years from now. We don’t know where are decisions today will lead us. Our job is to obey what God has shown us we should do today and not worry about the future. Sometimes God may lead us to quit our job if that job is distracting us from following Him. He may not show us right away what He has for us next. Sometimes God may lead you to say “no” to a relationship. He may not show you right away what He has for you next. We need to have faith that God has a good plan for us and will not let us get stuck just as He did not lead the Israelites to get stuck in front of the Jordan.

3. Officers went through the midst of the camp – Joshua was the leader, but he didn’t do everything himself. He delegated authority to others. Likely he learned this from Moses who learned this from Jethro. A leader will burn out if he attempts to do everything on his own. A good leader trains, equips, and empowers others to help him.

4. The Levitical priests carried the ark – This was unusual. Normally the Kohathites carried the ark. The Levites only did so for some very special occasions.

5. Verse 3 – What was the key role for the Israelites? It was to follow. They didn’t have a very complicated task to accomplish. God didn’t ask them to build a bridge or make boats. He didn’t ask them to dam up the river. He didn’t ask them to find a shallow spot. He simply wanted them to follow the priests and the ark. While that seems quite simple, sometimes following is quite difficult.

Following requires submission. It also requires faith and humility. The people had to give up their own ideas. At the same time, they could not rely on their strength or ingenuity. I am the kind of person that likes to solve problems. I would likely have been thinking of this problem from a logistics standpoint.

What can we do to get two million people across this river safely?

It would have been difficult for me to trustingly follow. Do you think it is more difficult to lead or to follow? Why? In what areas do you need to simply follow? What do you think God was trying to teach them by asking them to follow Him instead of trying their own ways to cross?

6. Verse 4 – A couple important points were made here. The people were to follow at two thousand cubits (around nine-hundred-ten meters.) By following at a long distance all the people (who were likely spread out) could have seen the ark in front and known where to go. If there was no space gap between the ark and the crowds then most people would have been unable to see the ark and hence would not know where to go.

Also, we learn one of the reasons God wanted the people to follow behind. The reason was they didn’t know where they were going. They had never been there before. Actually this is true of wherever God leads us. A new job? You haven’t had that job before. Just married? It’s a new experience for you. God will lead and show you the way step by step.

7. Consecrate yourselves – Before entering the land, the people were to prepare themselves spiritually. Victory didn’t depend so much on the obstacles they faced, but on themselves and their own relationship to God. Being the right kind of person and having the right relationship to God is the best preparation possible for the unknown future. (See Luke 12:11-12.) How should we prepare for persecution or trials? It is not by memorizing a speech. It is by drawing close to God.

If you are close to Him, then you will be sensitive the the Spirit’s leading at that time. Sometimes people ask, “How can I prepare for marriage?” or “How can I prepare for having a child?” Of course there are certain things you can do to get ready. But the very best preparation is to develop a close, personal relationship with God. If by God’s grace you become the right kind of person, then when you face the struggles and temptations and decisions that come along with those new steps in life, you will be properly equipped to deal with them. For that there is no substitute.

8. Today I will begin to exalt you in the sight of all Israel. – Here we see another reason why God chose to use this miracle to bring them in to the Promised Land. He did a visible miracle in order to show all of the people that He was with them. In turn, this would make them respect and follow Joshua’s leadership. (See Joshua 1:17.)

Bonus question: If God wants us to be humble, then why then did He exalt Joshua before the people?

9. Stand still in the Jordan – The command here is much like the command in Exodus 14:14:

The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.

Sometimes God doesn’t ask us to fight the battles. Sometimes we only need to be still and let Him do it. But it is not always easy for us to be still. When should we be still and when should we be active? How can we learn how to do this better?

10. Come here, and hear the words of the Lord your God. – God’s words played a key role in this whole story. He told them what to do. They listened. They trusted. They obeyed. He told them what He would do. And then He did it, thus demonstrating His power for all to see.

Application: God speaks to us today as well. Whenever we are making an important decision, whenever we are at a crossroads, we must turn to His Word for guidance. How can we listen to Him better? How can we trust Him more? How can we obey better?

11. Verse 10 – Here we see another reason why God did this miracle. He wanted to show the people that he would fulfill his promises by giving them victory over the people of Canaan. He gave them confidence and built up their faith at a time when they would have greatly needed it. The previous generation saw God’s miracle of parting the Red Sea at the beginning of the Exodus into the wilderness. Now this generation saw a similar miracle of parting the Jordan river at the end of the Exodus and their departure from the wilderness and entry into the Promised Land.

12. The Jordan River – Some skeptics question why God even needed to do a miracle. They claim that the Jordan river is not difficult to cross and there is no need to part the waters. It is true that there were some fords such (Joshua 2:7 and Genesis 32:22.) However, they are missing some key points. Here are a few facts about the Jordan River:

A. From verse 15 we learn that it was at flood stage during this time, which puts the time of year at April or May.

B. Generally the Jordan is only around fifty-five meters wide in this area, but during the flood time it is about one-hundred-ten meters wide. Therefore it would be much deeper than normal. Is it safe to take 2 million people (many of which would not be able to swim since they were in the wilderness for an entire generation) across a place like this?

C. The current is generally 4 mph (7 kph), but during the flooding stage was 10 mph (16 kph).

Some also try to explain this miracle away as being naturally occurring. Whether or not God used a natural phenomenon like an earthquake or a mudslide or something else doesn’t really change the amazing nature of this miracle. Imagine I was to tell you to step in to the side of a river and that the river would part right at your location when you put your foot in, and then it did.

What would you think? Would you think it was a miracle? Now imagine that an earthquake struck upriver just at that time causing all of the water to be temporarily diverted. Would that somehow lessen the miracle? In reality, the miracle is just as amazing either way. It is amazing because God predicted the exact time and place of the miracle and it happened just when the people needed it to. A similar miracle occurs in 2 Kings 2:8.

13. God does the miracle just He promised – God is supremely powerful. There is nothing good which He cannot do. God can overcome any obstacles you may face! Crossing the Jordan River was daunting. But for God it was nothing.

Are you facing any obstacles? If so, you can share the obstacles you are facing so we can pray together about it. Close by singing “Trust and Obey.”

Joshua Bible Study E-book: If this Joshua Bible study guide is helpful for you, get the whole updated Joshua study in one convenient e-book.

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