The ancient Jews had in their possession the Ark of the Covenant. It was a box of acacia wood, three cubits by two cubits (a cubit was the distance from a man’s elbow to the tip of his middle finger, or about 18 inches). In the Ark were the stone tablets of the Ten Commandments, the staff of Aaron, and a jar of the Manna. More important, it carried the presence of God! In some ways it resembles our tabernacles. The wings of the angels carved on its lid were said to form the mercy seat of God. Because the Ark sometimes had to be carried by the priests for long distances in the desert, there were two poles attached to its sides.
There came a moment with the Ark that seems to speak directly to our times—really to any moment of crisis or decision.
Early the next morning Joshua got up and left Shittim with all the Israelites. They went as far as the Jordan, where they camped before crossing over. After three days the officers went through the camp and commanded the people: “When you see the ark of the covenant of the LORD your God being carried by the Levitical priests, you are to set out from your positions and follow it…so that you can see the way to go, since we have never been this way before” (Joshua 3:1-4).
The instructions were addressed to a people who faced dangers and threats in this crossing. The Jordan River was in flood stage; the current was swift and the waters wide. Second, once in the Promised Land, they faced formidable enemies who were sure to resist their entrance. So terrifying was this threat that forty years earlier most had balked at the idea of going to the Promised Land. Although God had said that they would endure, they did not trust Him. For this lack of faith, God had them remain in the desert for forty years while He purified and strengthened them; during that time that sinful generation largely died out (Numbers 13:25-33, Numbers 14:1-25).
Forty years later, the instruction to follow the Ark was both instructive and reassuring. Most simply, it meant: Follow the Lord and trust His power; trust His promise to vanquish foes and to deliver you to the Promised Land.
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