9 And Joshua said to the people of Israel, “Come here and listen to the words of the Lord your God.” 10 And Joshua said, “Here is how you shall know that the living God is among you and that he will without fail drive out from before you the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Hivites, the Perizzites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, and the Jebusites. 11 Behold, the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth is passing over before you into the Jordan. 12 Now therefore take twelve men from the tribes of Israel, from each tribe a man. 13 And when the soles of the feet of the priests bearing the ark of the Lord, the Lord of all the earth, shall rest in the waters of the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan shall be cut off from flowing, and the waters coming down from above shall stand in one heap.”
14 So when the people set out from their tents to pass over the Jordan with the priests bearing the ark of the covenant before the people, 15 and as soon as those bearing the ark had come as far as the Jordan, and the feet of the priests bearing the ark were dipped in the brink of the water (now the Jordan overflows all its banks throughout the time of harvest), 16 the waters coming down from above stood and rose up in a heap very far away, at Adam, the city that is beside Zarethan, and those flowing down toward the Sea of the Arabah, the Salt Sea, were completely cut off. And the people passed over opposite Jericho. 17 Now the priests bearing the ark of the covenant of the Lord stood firmly on dry ground in the midst of the Jordan, and all Israel was passing over on dry ground until all the nation finished passing over the Jordan. – Joshua 3:9-17 ESV
In every generation, one of the saddest realities of life is how often the people of God fail to recognize His presence among them. Those who claim to be followers of God and who express faith in His power end up wondering if He is really there. They read the Scriptures and hear stories about His faithfulness in the past, but they fail to see Him at work in and around their own lives. But, when it comes to our failure to see the handiwork of God, the problem lies with us, not God.
As the people of Israel prepared to cross over the Jordan River and enter the land of Canaan, they must have been filled with excitement and anticipation, but also a bit of fear and trepidation. They had no idea what was going to happen next. They knew that God had promised to give them the land, but this day had been a long time in coming. And they knew that the land God had promised them was not uninhabited. It was filled with nations who would likely take strong exception to Israel’s claim to have a God-given right to the land. These nations would be sure to resist any attempts by the Israelites to walk in and take over their cities, fields, and homes. But Joshua gathered the people together and told them:
“Here is how you shall know that the living God is among you and that he will without fail drive out from before you the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Hivites, the Perizzites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, and the Jebusites.” – Joshua 3:10 ESV
He was letting them know that this entire venture was going to be God-led and God-empowered. God had promised to do wonders, and now they were about to see the first of many wonders He would perform on their behalf. And, as a result, they would know that He was among them. This is an interesting statement, because God had been among them for generations – guiding, leading, protecting and delivering them. He had regularly displayed His glory in the form of a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. His divine presence had been visible, hovering over the tabernacle and leading them as they had made their way through the wilderness and to the shores of the Jordan. But Joshua seems to be telling them that this new phase of their journey was going to be marked by a new manifestation of God’s presence and power. This was not going to be another day of walking in the wilderness. This was to be the fulfillment of the long-awaited promise of God, and it was going to require an extra measure of trust in God.
Joshua refers to God as “the Lord of all the earth” (Joshua 3:11 ESV). This is the very first time we hear this designation used, and it seems to be Joshua’s attempt to stress God’s sovereign control over the planet. The people were going to see just how truly powerful their God was. And it’s no coincidence that what God was about to do at the River Jordan was very similar to what He had done for the Israelites all the way back at the Red Sea when they had first left Egypt. That miraculous event had marked their exodus and escape from slavery and oppression. This event would mark their entrance into God’s promise of freedom, rest and blessing.
Joshua instructed each tribe to select a man as their representative. This 12 men were to accompany the priests who would carry the ark of the covenant. And Joshua tells the people that when the feet of the priests enter the waters of the Jordan, “the waters of the Jordan shall be cut off from flowing, and the waters coming down from above shall stand in one heap” (Joshua 3:13 ESV). Just as the waters of the Red Sea had split apart and allowed the people of Israel to cross over on dry ground, the waters of the Jordan would be held back by the hand of God, providing a path leading from the wilderness to the promised land. Like a door swinging on a hinge, the waters would literally open up, providing a way for the people to enter the land. The Hebrew word used by the author is karath, and it means “to cut off.” But it is the same word used when speaking of cutting or making a covenant. When a covenant was made between two parties, an animal was sacrificed, then cut up or divided in two. The two covenanting parties would then walk the path between the divided sacrifice, signifying their commitment to keep the covenant or face a similar fate. As God “cut off” the waters of the Jordan, He was signifying His commitment to keep the covenant He had made to Abraham. And the people were entering into that covenant, passing over the path that God had provided for them.
It is also a picture of Christ, the one whom God provided to be the doorway or gate into His promise of eternal life and rest. Jesus once said, “I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep” (John 10:7 NLT) and “Yes, I am the gate. Those who come in through me will be saved. ” (John 10:9 NLT). He also boldly claimed, “No one can come to the Father except through me” (John 14:6 NLT). That day, standing on the shores of the Jordan, the people of God were only going to be given a single, solitary path to take. It would be a God-given, divinely orchestrated path that was miraculous in nature and based solely on the grace of God. There was to be no other way. There was to be no workaround or alternative route. And the same is true when it comes to God’s path to salvation. There is no other way but Christ. There is no other door or gateway into God’s presence or a path by which men might find peace with God.
God did a miracle. He performed a wonder and displayed His power, proving to the people that He was not only with them, but for them. He was going ahead of them, leading the way into the land of promise. And just as the waters of the Jordan parted before them, the nations that occupied the land would melt away in front of them. Nothing would be too difficult for God. He would lead, but they would need to follow. He would provide a path, but they would have to walk along it in obedience and faith. And once they had crossed over, those very same waters would close behind them, signifying that there was no going back. They were in the land and the promise had been fulfilled. But now, they would have to occupy the land. They would have to take what God had given them and make it their own. The presence of enemies in no way negated the reality of the promise. The land was theirs. God had given it to them. But fully experiencing the promise of God was going to require their complete dependence upon the power of God. He was among them, but they would have to trust that He would go before them, each and every day they lived in the land.
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.