The historical crossing of the Jordan is the place where God intends to show the people not only that He is with them in this long-awaited event, but that He is with Joshua, as He was with Moses (verse 7). This is important because giving them a firm confidence in Joshua as a capable leader matters a great deal now that they no longer have Moses to turn to. The waters of the Jordan at this time of the year are over-flowing the banks, we are told in verse 16, making it both deeper and wider than at other times during the year. So rather than having the people build boats or try to find some safe place and manner to cross, God’s plan is to have them cross as they did the Red Sea in Exodus 14, having the water held back by the Lord while they cross on dry ground.
This symbolic gesture of God will further be aided in boosting their spirits by the sight of the Levitical priests carrying the Ark of the Covenant (verse 3). The Lord is leading His people into the Promised Land. With the significance of this event highlighted by both of these spectacles, it is easy to see how the people would be given confidence, and how they would be filled with both hope and awe.
Easy also for us to miss the significance of the wording of the last verse of the chapter:
“Now the priests bearing the ark of the covenant of the Lord stood firmly on dry ground in the midst of the Jordan, sand all Israel was passing over on dry ground until all the nation finished passing over the Jordan.”
Although God had promised to make a great nation of Abraham, and had said in Exodus 19:6 that they will be “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation”, this is the first time the Bible has actually referred to them as a nation – and it occurs as they cross into the Promised Land.
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some images © V. Gilbert & Arlisle F. Beers
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