After the spies returned to Joshua with their favorable report, he immediately led the people to the edge of the Jordan River. Neither he nor the people had yet been told how they were going to cross the river, and they were totally unequipped to cross it in any ordinary way. But they went forward – in faith – as far as they could, believing that God would bring them to the other side. In the way of our own duties, we also must proceed as far as we can, and then depend upon the Lord to take care of the rest.
The people were directed to follow the Ark of the Covenant, which was a visible representation of the presence of Jehovah Himself. The Ark was usually carried in the middle of the camp when the Israelites were on the move; but in this case, the Ark was going ahead of them – leading them to take possession of the Promised Land. In everything in our lives, we must walk after the rule of God’s Word and the direction of His Spirit. The priests were to carry the Ark ahead of the people, just as ministers are supposed to hold up the Word of Life to the Lord’s people. All the Israelites’ way through the wilderness was an untrodden path, but this path through Jordan was especially so. While we are here on this earth, we must expect and prepare to pass through ways that we have not passed before; but with God leading us, we may proceed with boldness and cheerfulness! Whether we are called to endure poverty, pain, labor, persecution, reproach, or even death – we are following the Author and Finisher of our faith! And we cannot set our feet in any dangerous or difficult spot throughout our whole journey, without seeing there – by faith – the prints of our Redeemer’s feet, Who has traversed the same paths and invites us to follow Him to our heavenly home!
God spoke to Joshua and told him that He was about to magnify him in the sight of all Israel. Just as the dividing of the Red Sea convinced the Israelites that God was with Moses when he brought them out of Egypt, the dividing of the Jordan River would convince the people that He was also with Joshua as he was bringing them into the land of Canaan.
Through Joshua, the Lord gave orders to the priests who were to carry the Ark of the Covenant. And then Joshua spoke to the people and gave honor to God as he told them that the waters of Jordan would be divided so that they could cross over to the other side of the river. This was a miracle that has no parallel in history, except in the dividing of the Red Sea! Surely, the Lord’s workings for His people ought to encourage faith and hope among us! This miracle of the dividing of the river was to be a sure pledge of the conquest of Canaan (verse 10); for if He could dry up a river, who could possibly stand in His way? Jordan’s flood could not keep out Israel, nor could Canaan’s forces turn them out again once they had entered.
The account of the dividing of the Jordan River is told to us (verses 14-17) in a manner that is short and matter-of-fact. The river, at this time, was wider and deeper than it usually was at other times of the year; in other words, it was overflowing all its banks. This magnified the power of God even further, as well as His kindness to Israel. As soon as the priests’ feet were dipped in the edge of the water, the flowing of the gigantic stream stopped immediately. The waters upstream were piled up like a heap, while the waters downstream kept on flowing until they reached the Dead Sea – leaving the riverbed empty from this point down to that sea. Many people try to explain away the miraculous nature of this wondrous event by saying that something like an earthquake caused the river to temporarily flow backwards, or they give some other such explanation. But one detail in verse 17 gives clear evidence that this whole event was indeed a supernatural proceeding worked by the hand of Almighty God; it says that the children of Israel passed over “on dry ground.” So even if the backing up of the river had been done by some natural phenomenon, can we suppose that there would be no gooey, sticky mud at the bottom which would impede the people’s passage over it? The same Lord Who turned back the waters also dried up the mud, leaving “dry ground” for the people to walk upon.
This crossing over Jordan – as the entrance to Canaan, after the people’s long and weary wanderings in the wilderness – is a picture of the believer’s passage through death to heaven, after he has finished his wanderings in this sinful world. Jesus – represented by the Ark of the Covenant – has gone before us to lead the way. Let us treasure up the experiences of His faithful and tender care, so that they may help and encourage our faith and hope in that last great conflict!
Just as Jordan’s stream was stopped in order to make way for the Lord’s people to pass over, and just as the priests’ feet stood firm in the river until all was accomplished; so also, we may rest assured that the Covenant of grace, in the blood and righteousness of the Lord Jesus, stands firm in the midst of all the Jordans that we encounter in this world full of sin, sorrow, and tribulation. And we shall find that when we can look back and see how many apparently impassable Jordans the Lord has brought us through, we shall be able to set up our Ebenezer-stone of remembrance and declare, “Hitherto hath the Lord helped us!” (1 Sam. 7:12) And surely, then, He will bring us through all that remain!
Lord, be with us through all the Jordans of difficulty in this world, as well as in all the Canaans of happiness; for without You, nothing is safe or desirable! Amen.
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illustration by Adolf Hult, 1919