Crossing the Jordan River (Joshua 3:1-17; 4:1-7) Sunday School Lesson for Kids

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Life is full of unknown developments that force us to lean on the Lord and trust Him for guidance. We are often called to obey God without knowing the eventual outcome of circumstances, having faith that He is with us and will help us. This message reminds children of those principles while telling the story of Joshua and the Israelites crossing the Jordan. Begin with a blindfolded faith activity to highlight the importance of trust and explain God’s constant steadfastness.

Law/Gospel Theme: God is with us always! We often fail to understand His will and ways, but we can be assured that He has good plans for us. The Ark of the Covenant reminded Israelites of God’s presence and faithfulness, and He provided for them. Today, we know that Jesus allows us to be in the presence of the Father and that He goes with us no matter what. We can trust and obey, knowing He will supply our needs and bless our lives.   

Optional Materials: Blindfold; small prize; Bowl of water; Bible

Bible Passage: Joshua 3:1-17, 4:1-7

Message: Note: As with most messages, the details of how you choose to communicate this are adaptable and should cater to timing as well as to your audience and student needs. Use your judgment and ideas to best serve students. You can also find this Crossing the Jordan River lesson on the Sunday School Store.

Greet the children and select a volunteer helper…

Hello, children of God!

To start off today, I need a volunteer. Can someone help me? Okay, great. Now, I’m just going to put this blindfold on you… place a blindfold carefully on the helper, making sure he/she cannot see. Provide several directions involving movement.  I want you to follow some instructions. First, hop up and down on one leg. Pretty good! Now I want you to jump three times. Okay, now let me spin you in circles a few times. Now please take four steps to the right. Okay, now take four steps to the left. Great. Now, I have a bowl in front of you. Bring out the water bowl with a small toy prize in the bottom. I want you to place your hand in this bowl and see what you find inside. Have the child reach into the water to retrieve the toy. Assist with guidance if necessary. Great! You can take off your blindfold and check out your prize now. Thank you for helping!

What was challenging about this? You couldn’t see, so that made things pretty difficult. You had to trust me to lead you safely, and not just run you into a wall or something. And you had to dip your hand into something without knowing what you would find there. In the end, this led to something good, but it took a little courage and faith for you to listen and obey my words without knowing what the final outcome would be.

This reminds me of our faith lives sometimes. God promises to care and provide for us, but there are a lot of times when we need to obey Him and we don’t know where His instructions will lead. This makes me think of a lot of Biblical figures, too. One of these was Joshua. Joshua was the commander of Israel after Moses, and he was a man of great faith. God called him to lead the people into the promised land and conquer. When the Israelites were getting ready to go in, they encountered some obstacles. One of these was the Jordan River. The Jordan River was too far to wade or swim across, and there were no bridges. It was the flood season, so the river was extra full. But God had a plan!

God told Joshua to get the people ready and to bring the Ark of the Covenant, which represented His presence. The priests were to carry the Ark and walk into the River. They had to trust God that those instructions would work. They gathered together, not certain what would happen, but knowing that God was with them. They headed for the riverbank and walked in…and before they knew it, they were walking on dry land! Just like the Israelites crossing the Red Sea with Moses a few years before, the priests were standing in the middle of a river, with the water swept away. Everyone passed through and walked on dry land to reach the other side. Then God told Joshua to have the people take stones, one for each tribe, and pile them up near the river as an altar to always remember what God had done. They did, stacking twelve stones in celebration and memory of God’s leading.

Through faith, Joshua obeyed God and led the people safely. Sometimes in our lives we have to trust that God is with us, even when it means “getting our feet wet” or not understanding what the outcome might be. We should listen for God as we read His word, spend time with His people, and pray. Sometimes we step out in faith and don’t know what is coming. But we do know that the Lord is always with us. He promises never to leave us and always to love us, provide for us, and take care of us. We can have faith that He is faithful!

Let’s say a prayer and thank God for leading us and loving us.

(Have kids repeat each line)
Dear God,
Thank you for leading us and being with us.
Thank you for your blessings and promises.
Help us to trust in you
Even when we don’t know exactly what’s coming next.
Thank you for your love.
We love you, God!
In Jesus name, Amen!

Target Audience: Kindergarten-6th grade

Materials Needed: Construction paper; decorative supplies; glue; markers or crayons; tape; scissors; box/container; paper plates; stones or rocks; popsicle sticks; Bibles.

Lesson Opening: This passage involves faith, trust, obedience, and a remarkable river crossing! Involve students as they learn about God’s presence and power. To get students thinking and ready to learn, consider an activity opener along these lines:

  • River Rock Relay: Consider the altar-construction process with a fun relay game. Invite students to race across a playing field, pick up one rock at a time, and return to their team to build an “altar” out of rocks or stones. Add to the fun by encouraging kids to name something they are thankful for as they build. 
  • Follow the leader: Take students on a bit of a scavenger hunt, with an unknown destination. Walk them through clues to walk to different places, guiding them without sharing the final outcome of their hunt. Explain how God is present and guiding in our lives, even though we don’t know final outcomes. 
  • Keepsake show and tell: Prior to class, invite students to bring in favorite pictures or memory items, and talk about what makes them special. Join the discussion by bringing in some of your own items, as well. 
  • Science “magic”: prepare to discuss the river crossing with some tricks that seem to defy nature. Place a card over a cup of water and flip to demonstrate how the suction holds the water back, just as God held back the waters. Or try the “pepper trick”: sprinkle pepper over water, and place a drop of dish soap on your finger to separate the pepper as the water was separated. 
  • Blindfolded obedience: have children pair up (or just select one at a time if younger), and place a blindfold on one of the partnership. The “seeing-eye” partner will walk the blindfolded one through instructions or guide them to an activity. Describe the similarity between trusting a partner and trusting God to lead us through life’s challenges. 

Explain to students that the lesson will focus on how God’s people followed His instructions without knowing exactly what would happen. Afterwards, they remembered God’s goodness and faithfulness. In the same way, we are called to faithful obedience, and should always recall God’s mighty works!

Joshua 3 & 4 Bible Lesson:

This passage is a fun one to act out, with the crossing of the river and setting up of the altar. Encourage students to interact with the story as it is read, bringing it to life. You could also describe details for younger students to comprehend. Or have older kids take turns reading through verses, and then act it out on their own.

Then Joshua rose early in the morning and they set out from Shittim. And they came to the Jordan, he and all the people of Israel, and lodged there before they passed over. At the end of three days the officers went through the camp and commanded the people, “As soon as you see the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God being carried by the Levitical priests, then you shall set out from your place and follow it. Yet there shall be a distance between you and it, about 2,000 cubits in length. Do not come near it, in order that you may know the way you shall go, for you have not passed this way before.” Then Joshua said to the people, “Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do wonders among you.” And Joshua said to the priests, “Take up the ark of the covenant and pass on before the people.” So they took up the ark of the covenant and went before the people.
-Joshua 3:1-6

Provide a bit of context to start: explain that these events took place right before the Israelites entered the Promised Land. God had provided for them throughout their desert wanderings, and now the time had come to enter their new home! But first, there were some obstacles, including crossing the Jordan River. The river was wide and very full of water, seemingly impossible to pass. But God had a plan.

God instructed the people to bring the Ark of the Covenant and prepare to see God at work. The Ark represented the presence of the Lord, and only certain people could handle it or even be near it. Joshua gave instructions from God to the people, although they didn’t know exactly what God would do.

Ask: Have you ever received strange instructions from someone? How do you know if you can trust them?

The Lord said to Joshua, “Today I will begin to exalt you in the sight of all Israel, that they may know that, as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. And as for you, command the priests who bear the ark of the covenant, ‘When you come to the brink of the waters of the Jordan, you shall stand still in the Jordan.’” And Joshua said to the people of Israel, “Come here and listen to the words of the Lord your God.” 10 And Joshua said, “Here is how you shall know that the living God is among you and that he will without fail drive out from before you the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Hivites, the Perizzites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, and the Jebusites. 11 Behold, the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth is passing over before you into the Jordan. 12 Now therefore take twelve men from the tribes of Israel, from each tribe a man. 13 And when the soles of the feet of the priests bearing the ark of the Lord, the Lord of all the earth, shall rest in the waters of the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan shall be cut off from flowing, and the waters coming down from above shall stand in one heap.”  -Joshua 3:7-13

Joshua promised that things would be okay…He instructed the people to go out with the Ark, and get their feet wet! They were to enter the river, and the water would be stacked up on itself to allow them through. Joshua reminded the people that God was in charge and that God would be with them and protect them, no matter what. They just had to trust.   

Ask: How do you know that God is amazing and always in control?  

So when the people set out from their tents to pass over the Jordan with the priests bearing the ark of the covenant before the people, 15 and as soon as those bearing the ark had come as far as the Jordan, and the feet of the priests bearing the ark were dipped in the brink of the water (now the Jordan overflows all its banks throughout the time of harvest), 16 the waters coming down from above stood and rose up in a heap very far away, at Adam, the city that is beside Zarethan, and those flowing down toward the Sea of the Arabah, the Salt Sea, were completely cut off. And the people passed over opposite Jericho. 17 Now the priests bearing the ark of the covenant of the Lord stood firmly on dry ground in the midst of the Jordan, and all Israel was passing over on dry ground until all the nation finished passing over the Jordan.
-Joshua 3:14-17

Ask: Can you think of any other times in the Bible when God made nature change?

God did not fail His people. Just as Joshua had said, as soon as the priests got into the water, the river stood up “in a heap” and rose away from them! The people were able to pass over onto dry land. They were in the middle of a river, just walking on dry land! The whole nation was able to get across. After this, Joshua had further instructions for the people, to remind them that it was important to look back on the events that had just taken place, and tell others about them.

 When all the nation had finished passing over the Jordan, the Lord said to Joshua, “Take twelve men from the people, from each tribe a man, and command them, saying, ‘Take twelve stones from here out of the midst of the Jordan, from the very place where the priests’ feet stood firmly, and bring them over with you and lay them down in the place where you lodge tonight.’” Then Joshua called the twelve men from the people of Israel, whom he had appointed, a man from each tribe. And Joshua said to them, “Pass on before the ark of the Lord your God into the midst of the Jordan, and take up each of you a stone upon his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the people of Israel, that this may be a sign among you. When your children ask in time to come, ‘What do those stones mean to you?’ then you shall tell them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it passed over the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. So these stones shall be to the people of Israel a memorial forever.”   -Joshua 4:1-7

Twelve men from the people came forward, one for each of the tribes of Israel. They each chose a stone, and they put them together to build a special memorial. The stones were to remind them of what God had done. They could re-visit the area and tell their children the mighty works of His hands, and how He had parted the water for them. The stones were a special symbol of remembrance for them.

Ask: What kinds of things do you have that remind you of special events or people? Are there any ways that we have memorials, plaques, or recognition of what Jesus has done?  

Remind students of the powerful things God does in this story. The people of Israel trusted that, just as promised, He would always be with them and provide for them. God gave them instructions to follow, and they obeyed them, even without being certain what God was doing. In the same way, we can have faith and honor the Lord’s directions, even if we aren’t sure what will happen in our lives. We can be certain that He is with us. He gave us Jesus to bring us into fellowship with Him, and no matter what happens, He will always love and lead us, and never leave us. We can have faith in Him, and whether we use rocks or journals or our lives, we recall His amazing work in and through us!  

with prayer, thanking God for leading and asking for His help to follow, trust, and obey His word.   

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