Joshua 3:7-17

A Bridge over Troubled Waters

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Joshua 3:7-17

A Bridge over Troubled Waters

Dr. Keith Wagner

An event that impacted me greatly during my college years was the Silver Bridge tragedy in Gallipolis, Ohio. On that fateful day, December 15, 1967, during rush hour, the bridge that connects Ohio and West Virginia collapsed into the Ohio River. Forty six people lost their lives. Route 35 had been known for many accidents, but none like the day the bridge took the lives of so many people. Perhaps for the first time in my life that I realized how vulnerable I am to things I cannot control.

Since then they have constructed a new bridge which is modern and far superior to the old one. Every year we cross the new bridge when we travel to South Carolina. I can’t help but remember the tragedy of the past. And, I must confess, that even with the new bridge I feel uneasy until I have reached the other side. When you look down as you cross over the bridge all you can see is the swirling, muddy waters of the Ohio River.

It was indeed a bridge over troubled waters. At the same time it is a major connecting point for three states, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. Route 35 is a major shipping route, a road that connects the North with the South.

It seems that our nation has experienced many troubled waters lately what with all the hurricane activity in the Gulf and heavy rains in the Northeast. Bridges are “lifelines” to safety, or in the case of Key West, their only link to freedom from the wrath of a hurricane.

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The Israelites found themselves in troubled waters when they approached the River Jordan. The Promised Land was on the other side. This was the last major obstacle that stood in their way of reaching their goal. Under the leadership of Moses they had crossed the Red Sea. But, now Moses was gone and Joshua was their new leader. Would he be up to the test? Could he build a bridge over troubled waters?

It was during the flood season. The waters of the river were abnormally high. God told Joshua to walk to the river’s edge and stand still. Instead of building a bridge, Joshua was instructed to select one man from each of the twelve tribes of Israel. They were to go ahead of the people and stand in the river. Then the priests, bearing the Ark of the Covenant would pass by. When their feet dipped in the water the waters abated and a dry strip of land appeared, which enabled all the people to cross the river basin. The priests remained in the middle of the river until every person had safely crossed over.

The crossing of the Jordan is a story of trust, faith and patience. Joshua trusted that God would hold back the waters and make a bridge for his people. God trusted that Joshua would do as he was told. The people trusted in their leader, Joshua, to lead them to the other side of the river.

Before Hurricane Wilma arrived, those living in Key West were told to evacuate. But only 20 percent left the area. Everyone else stayed behind to weather the storm. Following the storm many folks who were interviewed said, “That was the dumbest thing we ever did, we should have listened and evacuated.” In other words, they didn’t trust the warnings of the leadership in South Florida who said the storm would be extremely powerful. Fortunately, most everyone was spared, but since they failed to listen they put their families in harm’s way.

God wants us to listen and to trust our leaders. Imagine if you were one of the Israelites, crossing the Jordan with water “heaped up” on either side of you. Would you venture forward, trusting that God would keep you dry? Do you trust the leaders in your life; your teachers, your parents, your pastor?

The Lord told Joshua to “stand still in the waters” of the Jordan. Unlike Moses who raised his staff to part the waters of the Red Sea, Joshua was instructed to wait. When we are experiencing troubled waters we often lose patience. Because we live in a society that wants everything now and expects everything to be done yesterday, we have become an impatient people.

Think of the priests, as they stood in the middle of the river. They stood there with the Ark of the Covenant as all the people passed by. They couldn’t leave their position, in spite of the fact that there was a wall of water on either side of them. They had to be patient, they had to wait.

Residents in Naples, Florida experienced a storm surge of high water from Hurricane Wilma. When interviewed by a member of the Weather Channel they said they were surprised that the waters receded so quickly. The waters abated quicker than expected and their lives are returning to normal. Nevertheless, they had to be patient and wait out the storm until it has passed by.

When we experience troubled waters we get anxious. We want a quick fix. We want the pain, the suffering, the confusion to go away as soon as possible. We want to get to the other side immediately. We are more like Evel Knievel, wanting to be blasted across a river canyon rather than climb down the hillside and wade across where it is safe.

Crossing troubled waters requires trust and patience. And it also requires faith. Faith in a God who assures us that He will be with us in our transition. Faith in a God who promises new life in a new land. Faith in a God who can create a bridge over troubled waters in ways that surpass our understanding. In the Ark of the Covenant was the Law of Moses. The Law of Moses was symbolic of the presence of God. Consequently, the Israelites believed that God was with them as they traveled abut two-thirds of a mile between the waters of the river.

The collapse of the Silver Bridge in Gallipolis was a real tragedy and the loss of life was painful. Of the 37 vehicles on the bridge, 6 remained and 9 people survived the collapse. It was the first major loss of a bridge since 1940. Fortunately the event prompted national concern about bridge conditions and led to the establishment of the National Bridge Inspection Standards under the Federal-aid Highway Act of 1968. It also led to the creation of a Special Bridge Replacement Program under the Federal-aid Highway Act of 1970.

So, in the Silver Bridge disaster there was a silver lining. A bridge over troubled waters paved the way for all other bridges to be upgraded or replaced. For the Israelites, crossing the Jordan would not be the end of their challenges. Once across they would face opposition in the form of armed nations. They successfully crossed the bridge over troubled waters but their journey was not complete. What the event did for them was give them hope and remind them that whatever they faced in the future, God would be with them.

Copyright 2005, Keith Wagner. Used by permission.