Lesson 4. Crossing the Jordan
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Crossing the Jordan
Joshua chapters 3–4 belong together, as they both deal with crossing the Jordan River. The emphasis in these two chapters is on Israel's proper observation and recollection of this momentous, defining event, rather than on the crossing itself.
The crossing itself was a miracle on par with the Red Sea crossing. Both included God's miraculous intervention in separating (the Red Sea) or blocking (the Jordan River) barriers to Israel. This form of heavenly intervention on behalf of the nation occurred only twice in the whole Bible.
After decades of waiting, the Israelites were about to enter the land promised to their father Abraham. Final instructions were needed before the crossing, and Joshua 3:1–13 spends a lot of time going over them. The instructions include two sections.
- The focus of this first stage is on the ark of the covenant and the people's relationship with it: they were not to approach it too closely.
- They were required to make suitable preparations in order to see the amazing miracles that God had planned for them.
Joshua and Caleb were prepared to lead the Israelites into the Promised Land, but the Hebrews camped along the Jordan River's banks were more apprehensive. The Jordan River is flooded in spring, swelled by rains and runoff from Mount Hermon. As described in Joshua 2:23, it was simple for two spies to cross the river, but now a whole nation of two million must do it.
They waited three days before God gave Joshua instructions for the Israelites to cross the river. The people obeyed God's directions, and a miracle unfolded, just as God promised. The swollen river ceased to flow, just as the Red Sea split for Moses as he led the Israelites out of Egypt. The Jordan's waters "piled up in a heap" (3:16) at a town called Adam, nineteen miles (30 kilometers) upriver, and the riverbed quickly dried. The Israelites crossed on dry ground while the priests stood in the middle of the riverbed with the Ark of the Covenant.
And Joshua set up twelve stones in the midst of the Jordan, in the place where the feet of the priests bearing the ark of the covenant had stood; and they are there to this day. Joshua 4:9
When the crossing was complete, Joshua instructed one man from each tribe to pick up the large stones from the riverbed's center and transport them to the opposite bank. After that, the priests transported the Ark of the Covenant to the other side.
Joshua had definitely taken up Moses' mantle as God's instrument, as seen by the parallels with Moses' crossing of the Red Sea forty years before. It also demonstrated the Israelites' God's strength to the Amorite and Canaanite monarchs.
The Baptism of the Messiah
The geographical places in the BIble are not incidental to the story—they are a vital part of it. Jesus traveled to the Jordan River from Galilee to be baptized by John, probably at the same place the Hebrews crossed the Jordan (Matthew 3:13–17). John agreed to Jesus' request and baptized him in the name of all righteousness. After the baptism, a voice from heaven revealed that this Jesus was God's beloved Son.
Jesus, like Joshua, spendt his early years in Egypt, chose twelve men to lead his conquest (Joshua 4:4, Matthew 10:1–8), and rescued and incorporated outcasts (Joshua 6:22–23, Luke 5:27–31). More importantly, just as Joshua fought those who worshiped the devil, Jesus defeated the devil himself.
Elijah and Elisha
Hundreds of years after the Hebrews crossed the Jordan River, Elijah and Elisha stood near Jericho, before the same river. Before Elijah ascended to heaven, the water separated, and they both crossed on dry ground. This time, though, the crossing was in reverse. Elijah was not about to enter the Promised Land; rather, he was about to leave it to go to Heaven.
The documentary below explains how we know that the place where Israel crossed the Jordan and the site of Christ's baptism were probably the same place.
The Ark of the Covenant
The Ark of the Covenant represented God's presence, which is the first thing we encounter in this story. The children of Israel were told to keep their eyes on it at all times and follow it wherever it led.
They were no longer to follow the pillar of cloud and fire, but rather the Ark...the presence of God. We can deduce from this that they had no idea where they were headed, on a human level. Then we learned that they were not to approach the Ark, and that there should be a distance of roughly two thousand cubits between them and it. "Do not approach it unless you are certain of the path you should take."
Their gaze was to be drawn to God's presence. There were several million people present, and if the Israelites had gathered around the Ark, mayhem would have ensued. There would have been roughly ten committees debating the best course of action! "I want you to stay well back and keep your eyes on my presence and follow me," God stated. So there's a warning in the Bible about pressing in too close to the path that God is directing.
We shouldn't be concerned as Christians since God knows where he's leading us. We may find this to be a frightening process at times, but we must give him room, time, and space to bring us to where he wants us to be. Commit your way unto the LORD, says Psalm 37:5. Trust in him as well, and he will make it happen.
Taking the First Step in Faith
The priests had to step out into the floodwaters, carrying the Ark of the Covenant, and then stand motionless! God's command to step into the water required them to wet their feet. Faith propels you forward in God's time and manner, and there will come a time when you must put God's words into action.
In several key passages by Paul (Rom 3:22, 26, Gal 2:16, 20, Eph 3:12, Phil 3:9) the construction of the Greek word “faith” can be translated either as a subjective genitive (Christ’s faith) or as an objective genitive (our faith in Christ).
We’ve been taught that our faith saves us, but God takes the first step—through Christ by his Spirit—providing the faith (emudah) or faithfulness (even to death) to develop our relationship with him. The Hebrew word for faith is אמונה (emunah—Strong’s #530) and is an action-oriented word meaning “support”. Our Western concept of faith places the action on the one you have faith in, such as “faith in God,” but the Hebrew word places the action on the one who supports God.
We are saved by Jesus' faithfulness! God desires a connection, and through his Holy Spirit, he offers the faith (emunah) that will lead to sufficient care to further that relationship. What an awesome God!
Emunah means faithfulness, persistent determination, holding steady, holding firm, holding to what is true: the faithfulness of God. Our readiness to fully devote our lives to the service of God and sacrifice our lives for the sake of God is the expression of our emunah in God.
Emunah means to believe in the truthfulness of a person as well as having emotional trust in a person. In the desert, the children of Israel complained that God brought them out there to kill them. God said that they did not have emunah. (Deut 9:23, Ps. 78:37). They did not trust God.
Trust (faith, emunah) is important in every relationship we have. Trust removed can destroy friendships, marriages, businesses, and governments. Trust is grossly underestimated. It impacts us daily, not only in our relationship with God, but with every relationship and every endeavor in which we are occupied. Trust affects our daily lives.
Like the other fruits of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control) faith is a category of relationship. The spiritual fruit in our life is from our relationship with the circle of the Triune God. It flows from the circle through us.
This faith involves decisions and has to be renewed regularly. Faith is a response in a relationship; an ongoing thing; a process. We continually receive faith as a gift, like manna.
We are amazed to hear the stories of Israel losing trust in God again and again, resulting in disobedience and sin. However, we do the same thing each time we lose faith in God.
Joshua 3–4: Jordan Crossing Outline
NIV QuickView Bible. Zondervan.