“You have never passed this way before” Joshua  3:4

In 1519 the Spanish explorer, Hernando Cortez led an expedition of 600 men to conquer southern Mexico.  One by one he had  11 ships sunk, until there was only one left.  When his men found out they loudly upbraided Cortez. He asked his men what kind of men would need the ships, except cowards.  He said if any man was cowardly, he could board the last ship and leave.  Cheers drowned the complaints, and he then suggested that they sink the last ship.   By that single action, Cortez committed himself and his force to either succeed or die trying, for they had nothing to go back to.   For all practical purposes last year is behind you….there is nothing to go back to.  You cannot undo a single action. You cannot take back a single word.  Before you is a new year, full of hope and promise if you so desire.

Can you think back and remember a day you waited for a long time with great anticipation and excitement? Most of us can. As a child, Christmas and birthdays were such days. Later it may have been graduation day, your wedding day, or maybe earning the right to compete in some great competition like the Olympics.

Depending on the nature of the day and what it might hold, such a time might also bring about a certain amount of anxiety because of the challenge you might face. For months, weeks, and days you waited, and then finally, the day arrived. Can you imagine the anticipation and excitement the children of Israel faced as they stood before the River Jordan the evening before they were to cross over into the land?

The earlier generation had failed to enter because of unbelief and the new generation had waited a long time, for some it was close to forty years. Joshua and Caleb, who were now about eighty years old, had waited even longer. According to the promise to the Patriarchs, Jewish anticipation went back some five hundred years. But now, Joshua tells the people, “You have never passed this way before….consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do wonders among you” (3:4-5).

After the days of mourning for Moses, the people of God prepared to cross over the Jordan river.  They were told to keep the Ark in view.  Inside the Ark were Aaron’s rod, that budded and represented God’s miraculous power.  Also inside were the tables of stone that represented God’s Word, and finally there was the pot of Manna that represented  God’s Providence.  Altogether they showed God’s presence with the people; and so as Joshua would lead the Israelites across the river of Jordan, into Canaan, he instructed them to follow the Ark of the Covenant from a distance so all of them would be able to see God’s hand at work, parting this river. The Ark would be hand carried by priests, and they were told , ‘You have never passed this way before.’


Joshua led the Israelites across the Jordan river on a path chosen by God, a path never walked by anyone before; a direction no one else had taken into the land of Canaan; through a river and yet as on dry land.


They had to have been discussing among themselves the historical aspects of this path, how that Moses, challenged the Israelites just before his death about this path, and their entrance into Canaan. How he might have talked with them about the giants of the land, and yet encouraging the people to be, “Strong and of good courage, do not fear nor be afraid of them, for the Lord, your God, He is the One who goes with you, He will not leave you nor forsake you.”  Deuteronomy 31:6


Aside from the miraculous way the river was crossed, the most important feature of this chapter is the Ark of the Covenant. Its prominence is stressed in the number of times it is mentioned in chapters 3 and 4 (nine times in chapter 3 and seven times in chapter 4) and by the nature of the commands and statements given in its regard.

What made the Ark so important for them was what it represented.   The Ark first off represented the Person and Promises of God. All along their God chosen path the Ark was pointing to the fact that,  as the people of Israel set out to cross the river Jordan, to invade, and possess the land, they must do so not in their own strength, but in God’s for it was God Himself who was going before them as their source of victory.


This Ark, the same one since the making of the covenant, was representing the special shrine and the Seat of God’s Presence.   He would go first; before the people, to show them that He, Himself would be their leader.   And they were to follow at a distance, that they might observe and see for themselves how the Miracle that was coming was accomplished. This, they would do while coming down the heights of the mountains, and through the ravine that would be cut by God. Oh, there were many before who had crossed over the Jordan river in ordinary times, but never through the river when the banks were overflowing.


Only the swollen rivers of the Jordan River separated the children of Israel from the Promised Land. After forty years of wandering in the desert, they were ready to cross over into Canaan, only to have their plans frustrated by a flooded river. So near, yet so far.


After they sat on the banks of the Jordan for three days, their new leader Joshua gave them very specific instructions. They were to follow the ark of the covenant. The Ark represented the very presence of God. It would be Jehovah who would lead and guide them into the Promised Land.


Whenever God is visibly with us, supernatural occurrences are seen and experienced—there are only a few occasions in the scriptures where God visibly exposes Himself to the naked eye……  Remember that He did so as He led the Hebrews out of Egypt; He showed Himself as a pillar of fire by night and a pillar of cloud by day…..they could visibly see and feel God’s presence with them.

Israel had wandered around in the wilderness for forty years because of their disobedience unto God—He promised them a rich land flowing with milk and honey, and they were in the vicinity of the land, and the only thing that stood between them and that land was the Jordan River.

This was a time for happiness and praise of the Lord—

happy praise

But some of them were discouraged….


Some were disheartened…


 Others were frustrated……


While others were elated and fired up and ready to go…


 And still others were afraid and apprehensive…….


There were mixed emotions running through that crowd about tomorrow, for they were going to cross Jordan River and enter the Promised Land soon!

You could imagine all these emotions  in the Israelites that day….and yet I  see that same emotional upheaval in and around our lives today—we don’t exactly know where we are going in this New Year and for some of us we are somewhat apprehensive,  frustrated,  afraid, disheartened, and thank God there are some of you who are fired up and elated, about it.

These  Israelites, did not exactly know where they were going, and their emotions were all over the place, their feelings  mixed with both joy and fear.

But it mus have seemed like they understood the Lord saying to them, ‘the Ark, which is a symbol of My presence, is going on before you, meaning that I am going before you, and if I go before you I will take care of you……but there are some rules, don’t get ahead of Me, stay two thousand cubits behind Me……..It’s important for you to stay behind Me and let Me lead the way…….for you have not passed this way before……Oh I know you think you know the way, but you don’t know this, you have never been here before, you have never experienced what you are about to experience before……’

And so it is with us today, only two days left in our journey of 2013.  For some their river where they have never passed before could come in the form of obstacles, challenging the very core of your faith, leaving you to reassess where you are and how close or how far you have been from God, as He sets the path in front of you that will lead you through the crisis, past the storms, but eventually; leading you to the land He has promised you.

As we stand at the river, we have had many experiences this pass year, and in other years that have passed and gone, and the tendency is to think that……‘ I made it this far, and I can make it through this year.’   Paul was in this same place as were many others before us, as he cried out when contemplating the challenges and trials of his life…  “And who is adequate for these things…..and such confidence we have through Christ toward God, not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God.” 2 Corinthians 3:4-5

 “You have never passed this way before”

No matter what you faced in 2013, there are some things coming at you this year that you never dreamed of .   Some will frighten you, Some will make your knees weak, Some will cause you to cry, Some will get you angry, and some will leave you to become frustrated…but just as God promised, He will be with you.

When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee……For I am the Lord thy God, the Holy One of Israel, thy Saviour: I gave Egypt for thy ransom, Ethiopia and Seba for thee……Since thou wast precious in my sight, thou hast been honourable, and I have loved thee: therefore will I give men for thee, and people for thy life……Fear not: for I am with thee’ Isaiah 43

While we are here, we must expect unusual events, to pathways that we have not passed before: and much more , but we have the assurance of God’s presence, what have we to fear?  We will not be afraid of the future and will face un-traveled pathways with confidence, trusting the Lord in every situation.

Jesus said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we can boldly say: “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear”. Hebrews 13:5,6. A very comforting truth.

May the coming year be a truly blessed one for you as you experience the comforting presence and guidance of the Lord and His provision for each step of the way.

I have to tell you that when I come to New Years I feel a little apprehensive… why? because  God has been so good to me that He would lead me to my Rivers, to a way I have never passed before.  Sometimes, It appears my wife, Patty and I don’t have sufficient resources, sometimes I become well aware of how frail we can be physically, and all along we know we need to continue to grow spiritually, that when we arrive to the place where God has led us, we can rejoice and be glad to know, ‘this time we know we have trusted God with all we have, because He always shows His faithfulness!’

I have to confess that I am not there yet, I still need the assurance of seeing God with my natural eye, but as true as he has been to me without my seeing him with my natural eye, I still sometimes find myself in the place Paul was at as he faced an uncertain future.

“Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”  Philippians 3:11

 Facing the future can be inspiring, challenging, and exciting. It can also be awesome, fearful, and dreadful. The fact is that in two days we all will have a blank page to be filled by the passing of time and events in our lives. Tomorrow means hope, and opportunity.

In the 15th century, Mariner’s charts would outline the shores of Europe and Africa; each map showed a spot in the Atlantic ocean, beyond which no ship or sane sailor dared to venture. Written in on those maps were the words: “Here be dragons, , here be demons, here be death.” We’ve come a long way in our World concepts since the 15th Century, but there is still an apprehension about venturing into the “Unknown”.

In the days ahead, we too, will encounter many new experiences. For some the coming 12 months may be the best we’ve known. For others, they could be marked with sorrow and disappointment.

The reality for all us all is that not one of us knows what lies ahead, simply because “we have not passed this way before”. That fact can strike fear to our hearts, but need not, if we are trusting the Lord for direction in the following days and months.  For our Lord Jesus, is the same Yesterday, Today, and Forever.  Happy New Year everyone, and let’s start this New Year, following closely behind the Lord…. ‘unto a place we have never passed before.’

 Here’s Today’s Video & Song…

One thought

  1. Such a wonderful article, Marty. Lots of food for thought and so true. I have been reading the book of Ecclesiastes, too, gives us a different view of life and how we perceive it to be. God bless you and Patty in the new year. Love you guys, Mama Jo

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