Crossing the Jordan

Posted: January 15, 2009 in Joshua

Joshua 3-4, “Crossing the Jordan”

Moses has died & been buried by the Lord, but the Lord affirmed Joshua’s calling when He spoke to Joshua in Ch 1 & gave Him a charge: be strong & courageous… Joshua demonstrates this, acting out in faith by sending spies into Jericho. There they are received by the harlot Rahab, who demonstrates her own faith in God by hiding them from the authorities. She tells how all of Jericho is terrified of the Lord and the coming of Israel & the spies leave her with a promise of protection, as long as her house remains marked by a scarlet cord… The spies return to Joshua with the good news & Joshua’s now ready to lead the people into the land.

Only one obstacle remains: the mighty Jordan River. To be sure, the river itself isn’t all that wide (between 50-75 wide in most places) – but it has a strong current & over 2 million people needed to cross it. Combine that with the fact that River was in its flood stage (Josh 3:15) & it becomes a major issue that Israel had to deal with before beginning the conquest. What can they do? Nothing – it’s what GOD can do & does…

Joshua 3 (NKJV)
1 Then Joshua rose early in the morning; and they set out from Acacia Grove and came to the Jordan, he and all the children of Israel, and lodged there before they crossed over.

A. [MAP – blowup of Jordan]

B. It doesn’t say what exactly set Joshua off to moving that direction, but he had just received the news of the Canaanite’s “faintheartedness” (2:24) – so it seems that Joshua didn’t waste any time. God had already told Joshua that He had already given them the land; so now Joshua is again acting in faith & heading in the direction he needed to go, knowing that the Lord would give him direction when he needed it.
__a. Our problem is that we generally don’t start moving at all. We turn into ‘spiritual couch potatoes’ waiting for a hand-delivered letter from heaven to drop into our laps to tell us where & when to go… But sometimes we’re just to get moving & let God guide us & direct us along the way. (Paul & the man from Macedonia – Acts 16:9)

2 So it was, after three days, that the officers went through the camp; 3 and they commanded the people, saying, “When you see the ark of the covenant of the LORD your God, and the priests, the Levites, bearing it, then you shall set out from your place and go after it. 4 Yet there shall be a space between you and it, about two thousand cubits by measure. Do not come near it, that you may know the way by which you must go, for you have not passed this way before.”

A. The Ark had gone before Israel before & led them through the wilderness (Num 10:33)…at this point, there’s no indication that Joshua & the officers knew exactly what God would be doing, but they did know He would be leading them, and His presence was symbolized by the Ark of the Covenant.

B. When the ark nears, make some space. 2000 cubits x 18 inches = 1000 yards (10 football fields or over ½ mile). Why so much space? (1) So everyone could see how the Lord was leading them. (2) Because God is holy! Supremely holy… Yes, the people were the people of God, His children whom He had brought out of Egypt, but their relationship with God was never to be flippant. He isn’t “The Man Upstairs” or any such nonsense…He is the LORD GOD. Just as the people were to make room around the base of Mt Sinai as God gave the 10 Commandments, they were to make room at the Jordan River for the Ark to pass through the camp.
__a. Also underscores the fact that this was a special event…God Himself was in their midst. It’s sad how much we end up taking this for granted today. Wherever 2 or 3 are gathered, Jesus is in our midst – we’ve been invited to worship the Holy God of the Universe – we’re indwelt by the Spirit of God, present at Creation…and yet we often treat worship or prayer as boring, or rote, or flippant. We’re worshipping/praying to GOD! What an honor – what a privilege! It doesn’t get any more special than that…

5 And Joshua said to the people, “Sanctify yourselves, for tomorrow the LORD will do wonders among you.” 6 Then Joshua spoke to the priests, saying, “Take up the ark of the covenant and cross over before the people.” So they took up the ark of the covenant and went before the people.

A. To the people: be sanctified. “Sanctification” has the idea of being “set apart”…we are set apart by God, and we also set ourselves apart from sin through repentance. This is what Israel was to do – set themselves apart for a period of repentance, worship, and cleansing from sin, and wait to see what the Lord God would do. Again, remember Joshua doesn’t know at this point – he just has faith that God was going to do something miraculous at this stage.

B. To the priests: be ready. Joshua may not have known exactly where the priests were going to go, but he knew that God was going to work…at this point, all eyes were going to be focused on the Lord.

C. Keep in mind we’re not just the people of God; we’re His priests (1 Pet 2:5). If we want to walk in the power of the Spirit (which we’ll see in a minute), we need to be sanctified & we need to be ready. IOW, we are set apart by Christ & made holy by Him, but we also set ourselves apart from sinful practices – and then we need to be ready to follow the Lord where-ever He would have us go.

7 And the LORD said to Joshua, “This day 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. 8 You shall command the priests who bear the ark of the covenant, saying, ‘When you have come to the edge of the water of the Jordan, you shall stand in the Jordan.’ ”

A. Note God was exalting Joshua (not Joshua exalting Joshua). For Joshua to raise himself up in the eyes of the people would not only be extraordinarily difficult, but it’d be fleeting. Any pedestals we set ourselves on generally crumble, simply because we’re human. But when God lifts us up, it makes all the difference. At that point, it’s not a matter of ego, but elevation.

B. Why? So that they would see God through him. God doesn’t elevate people in order that we might be glorified; He elevates those He chooses in order that HE might be glorified. The 1st shall be last & the last 1st – which flies in the face of our human nature, and ends up giving glory to God. After all, how else would it happen? How does a runt of a shepherd end up becoming King of Israel? To the glory of God. How does a persecuting Pharisee end up writing ½ the NT? By the glory of God. How are we who were once the enemies of God end up as His sons & daughters, and co-heirs with Christ? By & to the glory of God.
__a. Interesting parallel with the Greater-than-Joshua – it was at Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan when God testified of His Son & exalted Him before the people…

C. One short command: just tell the priests to stand in the water. This is all that’s recorded for us, but surely God told Joshua more because Joshua gives much more detailed instructions…

9 So Joshua said to the children of Israel, “Come here, and hear the words of the LORD your God.” 10 And Joshua said, “By this you shall know that the living God is among you, and that He will without fail drive out from before you the Canaanites and the Hittites and the Hivites and the Perizzites and the Girgashites and the Amorites and the Jebusites: 11 Behold, the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth is crossing over before you into the Jordan. 12 Now therefore, take for yourselves twelve men from the tribes of Israel, one man from every tribe. 13 And it shall come to pass, as soon as the soles of the feet of the priests who bear the ark of the LORD, the Lord of all the earth, shall rest in the waters of the Jordan, that the waters of the Jordan shall be cut off, the waters that come down from upstream, and they shall stand as a heap.”

A. Question: had the Israelites already been given examples of why they should know their God was the living God? Yes – many! The Egyptian plagues – the Passover – the Red Sea – the Manna – the water – the 10 Commandments & the list goes on. Why another one? Because we’re human… We see God work & provide & we’re still nagged with doubt each time a trial comes along. God understands…

B. Keep in mind they’re about to enter into a conquest of the land. They are a ragtag nation of a few million without a home just wandering through the desert for a generation. They’ve had little to no formal training in warcraft or strategy & they’re about to take on the entrenched, battle-hardened nations of the land. The ONLY way they’re going to conquer is if the Lord is fighting for them – this is a grand reassurance that God is going to be the one to drive out the existing nations. And not a nation is left out of God’s listing – all of them had filled up the measure of their sins, and their iniquity was now complete (Gen 15:16).
__1. Is it moral for God to destroy whole nations of people? Yes! (1) He’s God & we’re not. (2) He gave them well over 400 years to repent. (3) He’s being merciful on future generations by not allowing children to be brought up in sin & eventual damnation.
__2. Ultimately, these nations represent our struggle against sin & the flesh. We aren’t to compromise with temptation; simply to defeat it in the power of the Lord God.

C. What’s the main difference between the Jordan & Red Sea? (Aside from the Egyptians 🙂 ) The Red Sea is completely tied with Passover – where the Angel bringing death passed over the houses covered by the blood of a lamb. Passover purchased the Hebrews’ freedom from Egypt; the Red Sea sealed it when Israel passed through the waters & the Egyptian pursuers were utterly destroyed. Bring it to the NT: when we are covered by the blood of our Passover Lamb (Christ Jesus), our sins are forgiven & our salvation is purchased & assured. When we are baptized into Christ (spiritual work; demonstrated through physical baptism), we are now dead to sin & alive in Christ…identified with His death, burial, & resurrection.

D. But now what? For Israel, it had been 40 years since the Red Sea, wandering around in the wilderness experiencing failure after failure in their walk with God. Sure, they had the word of God, worship through the Tabernacle, and freedom – but their 40 year journey was marked far more by failure than victory. Now that they’re ready to enter Jordan, God prepares a “2nd baptism” for them in anticipation of the enormous victory He’s going to bring them. Keep in mind the typology here: the conquest is a picture of living the Spirit-filled victorious life. Sin is vanquished in the power of Christ. What does crossing the Jordan have to do with it? The filling/baptism of the Holy Spirit!
__1. Jesus used the same word-picture – John 7:37-39 (37) On the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. (38) He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” (39) But this He spoke concerning the Spirit, whom those believing in Him would receive; for the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified. []

E. Note the priests have to get their feet wet. This is different from the Red Sea where Moses simply raised his rod over the Sea (Ex 14:16). But this time, the priests need to step into the river as an act of faith.
__1. This is the way the filling of the Spirit works. As born-again Christians, we are all indwelt & sealed by the Holy Spirit for salvation (2 Cor 1:22), but we also have a promise to be empowered by the Holy Spirit to be a witness for Christ (Acts 1:8) & we have a command to be filled with the Holy Spirit for walking with Christ (Eph 5:18). So how do we appropriate the filling/baptism of the Spirit? By faith! Luke 11:13 If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!” []

14 So it was, when the people set out from their camp to cross over the Jordan, with the priests bearing the ark of the covenant before the people, 15 and as those who bore the ark came to the Jordan, and the feet of the priests who bore the ark dipped in the edge of the water (for the Jordan overflows all its banks during the whole time of harvest), 16 that the waters which came down from upstream stood still, and rose in a heap very far away at Adam, the city that is beside Zaretan. So the waters that went down into the Sea of the Arabah, the Salt Sea, failed, and were cut off; and the people crossed over opposite Jericho. 17 Then the priests who bore the ark of the covenant of the LORD stood firm on dry ground in the midst of the Jordan; and all Israel crossed over on dry ground, until all the people had crossed completely over the Jordan.

A. Why only a heap on one side? It was a river; not an ocean/sea…drainage. Apparently, the river was cut off from some distance upriver (which has been duplicated by modern earthquakes in the area). Was it still a miracle? Absolutely.
__a. There was no record of an earthquake that day.
__b. The timing was miraculous in beginning & ending
__c. The people walked across “dry ground”; not muddy ground.
__d. Be careful about ‘needing’ a naturalistic explanation for miracles of God. The very fact God does it makes it supernatural, by definition. And our God is a supernatural God…our salvation depends upon it!

B. Was it the Ark that stopped the waters? Of course not – it was God, Whom the Ark symbolized. Ultimately, it was God bringing Israel through as a testimony to His own grace & goodness.

Joshua 4 (NKJV)
1 And it came to pass, when all the people had completely crossed over the Jordan, that the LORD spoke to Joshua, saying: 2 “Take for yourselves twelve men from the people, one man from every tribe, 3 and command them, saying, ‘Take for yourselves twelve stones from here, out of the midst of the Jordan, from the place where the priests’ feet stood firm. You shall carry them over with you and leave them in the lodging place where you lodge tonight.’ ”

A. Each tribe was to take 12 stones from the bottom of the dry riverbed. Why? Apparently the Lord told Joshua, who revealed it to the people…

4 Then Joshua called the twelve men whom he had appointed from the children of Israel, one man from every tribe; 5 and Joshua said to them: “Cross over before the ark of the LORD your God into the midst of the Jordan, and each one of you take up a stone on his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the children of Israel, 6 that this may be a sign among you when your children ask in time to come, saying, ‘What do these stones mean to you?’ 7 Then you shall answer them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the LORD; when it crossed over the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. And these stones shall be for a memorial to the children of Israel forever.”

A. The stones had significance: as a teaching opportunity. Sooner or later, their descendents would ask, “Dad, what are all those rocks doing stacked up over there?” And the Israelites were to respond with the testimony of God’s greatness and provision.
__a. Apparently, these memorial stones stayed in the area for quite a while – Gilgal is mentioned several times in the OT as a place where people went to pray & worship God. There may even be a reference in the NT with John the Baptist as he was known to baptize in the Jordan in Bethabara (John 1:28), which is very close to Gilgal. Matthew 3:8-9 (8) Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, (9) and do not think to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones. [] Which stones? Possibly the memorial stones! It could be Jesus was baptized in the same place that Joshua crossed…

B. We all have “memorial stone” moments in our walk with God. It’s never a good thing to “live our lives in the past” – but it IS very important to remember key times of God’s past provision; it’s how we trust Him for present & future trials… [personal testimony] What are your memorial stones?

8 And the children of Israel did so, just as Joshua commanded, and took up twelve stones from the midst of the Jordan, as the LORD had spoken to Joshua, according to the number of the tribes of the children of Israel, and carried them over with them to the place where they lodged, and laid them down there. 9 Then Joshua set up twelve stones in the midst of the Jordan, in the place where the feet of the priests who bore the ark of the covenant stood; and they are there to this day. 10 So the priests who bore the ark stood in the midst of the Jordan until everything was finished that the LORD had commanded Joshua to speak to the people, according to all that Moses had commanded Joshua; and the people hurried and crossed over.

A. Not only did the people take memorial stones, Joshua set up a group of stones in the middle of the Jordan River. Interesting – because who would have seen them? No one. Was it still a testimony? Yes! God knew they were there & so did Israel.

11 Then it came to pass, when all the people had completely crossed over, that the ark of the LORD and the priests crossed over in the presence of the people. 12 And the men of Reuben, the men of Gad, and half the tribe of Manasseh crossed over armed before the children of Israel, as Moses had spoken to them. 13 About forty thousand prepared for war crossed over before the LORD for battle, to the plains of Jericho.

A. Apparently, the ark had been on one riverbank, and now the priests crossed over to the other side.

B. Not everyone crossed; only the soldiers from Reuben, Gad, & ½ Manasseh…the others stayed behind.
__a. God doesn’t force us to come to Him to be filled with the Spirit. He certainly makes it available to every born-again believer in Christ through faith; but if we don’t want to humble ourselves and rely on His grace, He’ll let us rely on our flesh…

14 On that day the LORD exalted Joshua in the sight of all Israel; and they feared him, as they had feared Moses, all the days of his life.

A. Exactly what God said would happen – this was the defining moment that the Hebrews understood that God had picked Joshua.

15 Then the LORD spoke to Joshua, saying, 16 “Command the priests who bear the ark of the Testimony to come up from the Jordan.” 17 Joshua therefore commanded the priests, saying, “Come up from the Jordan.” 18 And it came to pass, when the priests who bore the ark of the covenant of the LORD had come from the midst of the Jordan, and the soles of the priests’ feet touched the dry land, that the waters of the Jordan returned to their place and overflowed all its banks as before.
__A. The river stayed miraculously stopped up until the priests left the riverbed… Interesting that even the end of a miracle is a testimony to the Lord! 🙂

19 Now the people came up from the Jordan on the tenth day of the first month, and they camped in Gilgal on the east border of Jericho. 20 And those twelve stones which they took out of the Jordan, Joshua set up in Gilgal. 21 Then he spoke to the children of Israel, saying: “When your children ask their fathers in time to come, saying, ‘What are these stones?’ 22 then you shall let your children know, saying, ‘Israel crossed over this Jordan on dry land’; 23 for the LORD your God dried up the waters of the Jordan before you until you had crossed over, as the LORD your God did to the Red Sea, which He dried up before us until we had crossed over, 24 that all the peoples of the earth may know the hand of the LORD, that it is mighty, that you may fear the LORD your God forever.”

A. Reiteration of the memorial stones…what were they to teach?
__a. God previously dried up the Red Sea: This is never very far from the mind of the Hebrew – and rightfully so. They viewed this event much like we do the Cross of Christ. It was the moment their freedom was purchased and the day they passed from death into life.
__b. God dried up the Jordan: Showing that God had brought them into the land – fulfilling the promise He made to Abraham, and prepared them for a victorious conquest over the Canaanite countries that remained there.
__c. As a witness to the nations of God: God’s work in the life of the Hebrews wasn’t merely to benefit the Hebrews, but to continue to provide a witness to the world that they may repent and fall on their knees before the Lord God.
__d. As a witness to the people of God: God’s work in the life of the Hebrews didn’t end at the Red Sea, but continued into the Promised Land, where God affirmed that He would give them the victory.

We all can learn/remember the same things from our walk with Christ.
1. God dried up our Red Sea: We were dead in our sin, enslaved to our own fleshly desires, awaiting physical & eternal death, when the Lord Jesus Christ saved us! Through His death on the cross & His resurrection on the 3rd day, He purchased our salvation, and we passed from death to life.
2. God dried up our Jordan: Many of us have been at the place where we’ve been wandering from place to place in our own power, always giving into temptation, and failing in our sin. We know we’re forgiven (and rejoice in it), but we just don’t know how we can walk with Christ. At that point, we go to Him to be filled with the Spirit……
3. God works in our lives as a witness to the nations around us: Each of us has a testimony of God’s goodness & grace….
4. God works in our lives as a witness to us: He saved us – He sealed us – He empowers us – He equips us… God will give us the victory……

Are you walking in the power of the Spirit? Do you have rivers of living water flowing out of your life? So often, we find ourselves falling into the trap of “There’s no other choice…this is just the way it’s going to be,” & we don’t HAVE to do that. We can life in victory – in the power of the Holy Spirit.


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