'Studies in the Old Testament'

God leads Israel into Canaan - 5

February 2010

(Continued from page 511)

Miracle at the Jordan River

Since the previous generation of Israelites had experienced the physical power of God in His universe by witnessing the parting of the Red Sea it was necessary that this new generation witness the power of God's hand in the physical universe, to give them assurance, as they entered the land of Canaan and to face what seemed impossible odds from a military perspective.  Joshua 3v14-17 records the new miracle which was no less magnificent than the parting of the Red Sea.

At the time of the year that the Israelites came to cross the Jordan the river regularly overflowed its banks because the snows on Mount Hermon which fed the tumult were melting and, at various locations, the Jordan would be as wide as one mile and was possibly this wide opposite Jericho. Therefore, at that season, the inhabitants of Jericho and Canaan would normally feel secure even though an invading army was encamped across the river. The river current was so swift that no man could wade across or ford, even mounted on animals, and there was insufficient timber and materials to make rafts large enough to take across enough fighting men and equipment to lay siege to a city. However, for our God nothing is impossible and He was going to cause the Jordan River to "
stand up in a heap" and the river bed to dry up. So we can see four clear reasons for this: first, to facilitate immediate entrance into the land; and second, in order that the new generation might witness His power as the same God who brought their fathers out of Egypt.  Third, to confirm Joshua's position for he had predicted the event and it came to pass. This made it clear that he was God's divine replacement for Moses.  Fourth, not only did it provide a method for crossing to facilitate military occupation while demonstrating God's power to a new generation and simultaneously validate Joshua's position as leader, but it also caused the inhabitants of Canaan to be devastated psychologically.  For generations the inhabitants of Canaan would have felt utterly secure during the harvest season because the Jordan had, as usual,  overflowed its banks and effectively barred the way of any invaders.  But reports would undoubtedly have reached their ears of this immense army on the move. To suddenly look eastward and see the Jordan River dry up knowing, as Rahab had testified, that forty years before it had happened at the Red Sea, and then to see the great horde of Israelites crossing the Jordan River into your territory would have been absolutely devastating psychologically.  Rahab testified that the hearts of the inhabitants melted when they heard about the Red Sea and they must have melted again when they saw the Jordan River dry up before their very eyes.  The fact that this miracle occurred at the time when the Jordan was at the height of its flood stage clearly heightened the impact of this miraculous work of God - both on the Israelites and on the inhabitants of the cities and lands about to be conquered.

Inevitably, critics have offered many types of explanations for the drying up of the Jordan just as they offer feeble and poorly thought out reasons for the "natural" lowering of the depths of the Red Sea. The most prominent theory among doubters is the "landslide" theory. Some suggest that a providential landslide took place upstream somewhere and that Joshua took advantage of it to cross his army on a dry river bed. However, they forget that Joshua 3:13 is prophetic.  Joshua could not have known in advance if a providential landslide was to take place, for he said, "
The waters of the Jordan shall be cut off. " It had not happened at the time he spoke and it would not occur until the very second that the feet of the priests carrying the Ark stood in the water of the river.  The Israelites had all their religious objects with them including the tabernacle which represented the capitol of God, His Theocratic state. They also had the Ark which was representative of God's throne and carried by His priests who were the ones who made intercession so that a Holy God could dwell among an unholy people. It is no wonder that the power associated with the symbols of God's presence live on even today, commemorated, no matter how shallowly, in "Hollywood" style blockbusters, such as "The Lost Ark of the Covenant." Scripture plainly confirms these facts when it records (vs. 15), "Jordan overfloweth all its banks all the time of harvest" and verse 17 tells us that it was when the priests carried the Ark of the Covenant into the river that the Jordan dried up. Most importantly of all, just as in the Red Sea account, we learn that Israel crossed on dry ground and, of course, just as Joshua told them (3v131), "the waters which are flowing down from above shall stand in one heap."  Even a bizarre hypothesis, such as the Israelites having access to explosives so that a landslide would not be providential but planned, cannot explain the fact that the water piled up in a great heap and that they crossed immediately on dry ground, for the river bed of such a mighty torrent would have taken many days to have completely dried up!  Truly, God's new generation of people and the Canaanite hordes witnessed the power of God over nature.

Having examined how generations which followed great events in history would never believe the stories they heard from their fore-fathers regarding the reality of the event we recognise how  God knew it would happen again and made preparation for a massive permanent reminder of this miracle. He knew that three or four generations later the descendants of the Israelites would hear the account of how God dried the Jordan River and would laugh and say "it's impossible," "it's a myth," or "it never happened." To prevent this, Joshua instructed twelve men (Joshua 4v5-81):

"Cross again to the ark of the LORD your God into the middle of the Jordan, and each of you take up a stone on his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Israel.  6  "Let this be a sign among you, so that when your children ask later, saying, 'What do these stones mean to you?'  7  then you shall say to them, 'Because the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the LORD; when it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off.' So these stones shall become a memorial to the sons of Israel forever."  8  And thus the sons of Israel did, as Joshua commanded, and took up twelve stones from the middle of the Jordan, just as the LORD spoke to Joshua, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Israel; and
they carried them over with them to the lodging place, and put them down there.
We read also that 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" (v91).  When the priests came up out of the dry river-bed, "the waters of the Jordan returned to their place, and went over all its banks as before" (v18).  Perhaps these stones were sometimes visible when the waters of the Jordan were low, for it seems unlikely that twelve single stones (even assuming they weighed hundreds of pounds each) would be observable the whole year round even if it was possible to stand them one directly upon another.  However, we do know that the other heap of twelve stones which had been taken to the lodging place (v8), were later set up at Gilgal, on the eastern edge of Jericho, as visible proof of the miracle (v20) and a witness so that :

21  "When your children ask their fathers in time to come, saying, 'What are these stones?'  22  then you shall inform your children, saying, 'Israel crossed this Jordan on dry ground.'  23  "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;  24  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."

Chapter 5:11 confirms the success of God's plan, for we read that the hearts of the inhabitants of the land melted: 
"And there was no spirit in them any longer, because of the sons of Israel," when they saw how the God of the Israelites had dried up the Jordan.  The children of Israel camped at Gilgal in the Cis-Jordan area, where they kept the Passover.  The manna now ceased as soon as they began to eat the produce of the land as recorded in verse 12.

(Continued on page 513)

'God leads Israel into Canaan!'

The Biblical use of round numbers

Canaan in the time of Joshua

Siege warfare

God shows that it was His war!

Miracle at the Jordan River

The great symbolic victory at Jericho

The Sin of Achan and its' impact on Israel

Spiritual lessons from Achan!

The result of the treaty with the Gibeonites

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