The Book of Joshua Series
Conquering the Land
“Crossing the Jordan”
Currently we are going through the book of Joshua as the children of Israel conquer the land. As we go through the historical narrative of the book of Joshua we are seeking for the Lord to show us biblical principles that will enable us to progress out of our own wilderness experiences and press on to the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Phil.3.14)
So far we have seen Joshua overcome his fear by renewing his faith in God’s promises and issuing marching orders to the people to make provisions to cross the Jordan River. Last week we saw Joshua sending two spies to search out the land, especially the city of Jericho, and gather intel that would assist them in their initial invasion. When the spies returned they told Joshua, “The Lord has surely given the whole land into our hands; all the people are melting in fear because of us.” (2.24) With this positive report the next morning Joshua and all the sons of Israel rose early leaving their encampment at Shittim and marched about twelve miles to the eastern bank of the Jordan River. There on the eastern bank of the Jordan the children of Israel set up camp and lodged there before they cross.
On the Banks of the Raging River
Joshua, the master storyteller, tells us that the banks of the Jordan were overflowing. (3.15) The usual mild and calm southern flow of the Jordan River had become a raging turbulent. The riverbank at flood stage had swelled up to a mile in width and the water had risen far above ten feet deep. The sharp fall in elevation caused the floodwaters to rage uncontrollability. As the people camped on the eastern bank they saw a raging river, swollen with spring rains lying in front of them. They must have asked, “How can we ever cross this river?” All the wonderful talk about entering Promised Land seemed to be beyond any human possibility. The children of Israel were faced with their own helplessness to accomplish the mission to conquer the land. There was an untamed obstacle blocking their way – the raging Jordan River. As I mentioned in the first sermon of this series it would have been easy for them to cross the river when the weather was dry and river was low. But God had led them to the rivers edge at the time when the high waters were raging. Why? Well, Joshua tells us in verse five. Then Joshua said to the people, “Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do miracles among you.” (3.5) The Lord had led them to the banks of the raging river to show them that He would work wonders for them. Joshua continues in verse ten, “By this you will know that the living God is among you, and that He will assuredly drive out from you the Canaanite, the Hittite, the Hivite, the Perizzite, the Girgashite, the Amorite, and the Jebusite.” (3.10)
All seven of the nations that currently inhabited the land are listed to assure the people of Israel that what was about to happen on the river’s edge was to demonstrate that God Himself would enable them to conquer all of their enemies and possess the land as He had promised. Brothers and sisters, when the rivers in this life are raging it is time for us to be still, and know that the Lord is God and that He will be exalted among the nations. (Ps.46.10) We honor God in our willingness to trust Him during times of torrent and have faith in Him as we face untamed and uncontrollable situations in our lives.
Joshua continues, “Behold, the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth is crossing over ahead of you into the Jordan.” “And it will come about when the soles of the feet of the priests who carry the ark of the Lord, the Lord of all the earth, rest in the waters of the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan will be cut off, that is, the waters which are flowing down from above; and they will stand in one heap.” (3.11, 13)
The Ark of the Covenant
The Ark of the Covenant was a rectangular wooden box, plated with gold, covered with God’s mercy seat. (Ex.25.10-22) Inside the Ark included the tables of the Mosaic Law, a pot of manna, and the rod of Aaron. The priests carried the Ark through the camp to the river’s edge and the people followed behind it at the distance of one thousand yards. (3.3-4) The Ark of the Covenant would lead the way for the people of God. But the Ark itself was not as impressive as to what it represented. The Ark of the Covenant was the symbol of God’s abiding presence among His people. The Lord wanted to impress upon the people that they would accomplish this impossible task of crossing the Jordan as they set their eyes upon His abiding presence and follow after Him. The Lord will control the raging river! The Lord will tame the tempest! The Lord will lead the way to victory!
The Ark is mentioned sixteen times in the episode (chapters 3 and 4), which emphasizes the symbolic connection between this piece of furniture and the Covenant God whom it represents. Know for certain that “the miracle of the parting of the Jordan River is not from some ‘secret power’ in the Ark but in the presence of the God whom the Ark symbolized.” (David Schrock) The Lord wanted to people to know that the living God is among them and His presence overcomes any obstacle standing in the way of His people accomplishing His purposes. (3.10)
And He wants us to know that same thing! The presence of God overcomes any obstacle standing in the way of us accomplishing His purposes in our lives. But brothers and sisters, the presence of God for us is not represented with a wooden box. The presence of God is represented in the Word becoming flesh and dwelling among us. (Jn.14) The presence of God for us is seen in the fulfillment of God’s redemptive plan by sending His own Son, the person of Jesus Christ, to be our Immanuel, which translated means “God with us.” (Mt.1.23) Because Christ dwells with His people we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us. (Phil.4.13)
When those who were carrying the ark came up to the Jordan and the feet of the priests carrying the ark stepped down into the edge of the water . . . then the waters which were flowing down from above stood and rose up in one heap, a great distance away at Adam, the city that is beside Zarethan; and those which were flowing down toward the sea of the Arabah, the Salt Sea, were completely cut off. So the people crossed opposite Jericho. And the priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the
Lord stood firm on dry ground in the middle of the Jordan while all Israel crossed on dry ground, until all the nation had finished crossing the Jordan. (3.15-17)
Crossing the Jordan
The priests led the procession carrying the Ark of the Covenant up to the river’s edge. As soon as their toes sticking out from the sandals of leading priest touched the water the river stood up in one heap and the Lord pushed back this wall of raging water to the city of Adam, which was eighteen miles north. This wall of water caused the flow of the Jordan River to be completely cut off as far north as the city of Adam to as far south as the Dead Sea. This would have been a total distance of approximately thirty miles of dry riverbed. This would have given the nation of Israel, which consisted of millions of people, ample room to cross the Jordan together with their possessions and livestock.
But the water of the Jordan standing up in one heap was the biggest miracle that happened on that day. Some have sought to explain the Jordan ceasing to flow on some natural cause, like an earthquake, that caused a rockslide that block the river. But how do you explain that riverbed became dry instantaneously with no mud or marsh? The water of the Jordan ceasing to flow was the first miracle but the Lord instantaneously drying up riverbed causing it to become dried land was the biggest miracle of the day. Brothers and sisters, God is not going to stop the raging river to have His people get bogged down in mud and muck. No, my God lifts me out of the miry clay and sets my feet on a rock making my footsteps firm. (Ps.40.2)
Joshua explained the reason why the Lord performed this miracles when he told the people, “For the Lord your God dried up the waters of the Jordan before you until you had crossed, just as the Lord your God had done to the Red Sea, which He dried up before us until we had crossed; so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the Lord is mighty, so that you may fear the Lord your God forever.”
The Lord wanted the people to see the connection of the miracle of the Exodus when God made it possible for the previous generation to cross the Red Sea on dry ground with this generation crossing the Jordan on dry ground. The Presbyterian minister and author, Matthew Henry wrote that the miracle of the Red Sea crossing under Moses was repeated in the Jordan River crossing under Joshua “to show that God has the same power to finish the salvation of His people that He had to begin it.” Yes, I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work among you will complete it by the day of Christ Jesus. (Phil.1.6) Having begun in the Spirit, are we now being perfected by the flesh? (Gal.3.3) By no means! What God began in the Spirit He will perfect by the power of the Spirit. Brothers and sister, the same God who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it.
When you read Joshua chapters three and four you will find in the middle of the story the Lord telling Joshua to instruct the people to choose one man from each of the twelve tribes of Israel to erect of two memorials of twelve stones. So after everyone had finished crossing the Jordan the Lord spoke to Joshua saying, “Take
for yourselves twelve men from the people, one man from each tribe, and command them, saying, ‘Take up for yourselves twelve stones from here out of the middle of the Jordan, from the place where the priests’ feet are standing firmly, and carry them over with you and lay them down in the encampment where you will spend the night.’” (4.2-3) Then Joshua set up twelve stones in the middle of the Jordan at the place where the feet of the priests who carried the ark of the covenant were standing, and they are there to this day. (4.9) Here are some things for us to consider about these two memorials of twelve stones. First, the twelve stones for each of the memorials were to be collected by one man from each of the twelve tribes of Israel, representing the unity and cohesion of the whole nation. Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to live together in unity! (Ps.133.1) The previous generation had been divisive and their divisiveness resulted in wandering in the wilderness for forty years. Now that the old generation was gone and the new generation had progressed out of the wilderness and entered the Promise Land the Lord wanted a lasting memorial of what He will do if His people live and work in unity. Let us as God’s people today erect a memorial of unity to God today and be done with divisiveness.
Secondly, these two memorials of twelve stones were for future generations. The Lord is not just concerned about bringing this new generation into the land; He is also deeply concerned about teaching future generations to trust Him as they face the raging rivers of life. Joshua tells them twice that these memorials will serve as a sign to future generation. “When your children ask you, ‘What do these stones mean?’ tell them that the flow of the Jordan was cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever.” (4.6-7, 21-22) Let us today erect a memorial to God in the example we leave for future generations. The greatest legacy you can leave your children is a legacy of faith in Christ.
I suggest that these two memorials of twelve stones are not just the people of Israel forever but also for us upon whom the end of the ages have come. (ICor.10.11) For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope. (Rom.15.4) Brothers and sisters, when we trust God during times of torrent and worship the Lord together in unity we build a memorial for future generations to join us with one voice to glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Rom.15.6)
Lastly, the instructions concerning the building of these two memorials of twelve stones are exactly the same except for one thing, the location. One memorial was to be erected in plain site at Gilgal, which will become the main camp for the conquest of the land. And the other memorial was to be erected in the middle of the Jordan where the priest had stood with the Ark of the Covenant only to be seen occasionally when the river ran low. I believe the reason for these two separate locations is to teach us that the presence of God is real and alive when we can see it clearly as it was in Gilgal. But the second memorial in the middle of the Jordan was to teach us that the presence of God is real and alive even when it is hidden from our eyes. Brothers and sisters, there are times in our lives that we see presence and leading of God clearly but there are times when we can’t see God’s presence because it is hidden beneath the murky waters of this world. It is during those times we are tempted to think that God is not with us. But that is a lie! Remember the words found written on a cellar wall in Germany during the Holocaust, “I believe in the sun even when it is not shining, And I believe in love even when there’s no one there, And I believe in God even when He is silent. I believe through any trial there is always a way.” The fact is God is always present regardless if we see Him clearly or not. How can I say that? Because He is the One who promised that He would never leave us or forsake us. (Heb.13.5b) There were two memorials of twelve stones because we may not know how, we may not know when, but we know that God will do it again.
My hope as we go through the book of Joshua is that the Lord will teach us biblical principles that will enable us to progress out of our own wilderness experiences and press on to the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. My challenge this morning is that we would fix our eyes on Jesus, our Joshua, as we face impossible challenges in our lives. The greater Joshua, the Lord Jesus Christ, is the fulfillment of the Ark of the Covenant. He is our Immanuel. He is “God with us.” Jesus has cleared the way for us to cross over to enjoy the promises of God. Through Christ, the greater Joshua, the promises of God are yes and Amen to the glory of God. (2Cor.20-21) Therefore, let us, as the people of God, erect a memorial to the Lord this morning telling the generations to come that we will trust Him whether we see Him clearly or not.