The two spies have returned and brought in their report. In the light of their experience they felt assured that the Lord had given into the hands of their people all the land. Immediately Joshua sends the officers of the people through the host to charge the people to prepare them victuals, as within three days they were to pass over the Jordan to go in to possess the land.
The next day Joshua and the people rose up early in the morning, loaded up, on the backs of the beasts of burden. Removing from Shittim they came to the Jordan. Here they lodged for three days, some two thousand cubits from the bank of the river. Joshua now made arrangements for the passage of the Jordan. The priests were commanded to take up the ark of the covenant and passover before the people. Having arrived at the brink of the water, they were to stand still.
As to the people, they were commanded to sanctify themselves, to turn their heart to God, in faith and trust in His promise, and in willing obedience to His commands, that they might rightly take to heart the wonder of grace which the Lord would the next day perform among them. They were told to remove from their place and to follow the ark of the covenant when they would see it carried forward by the Levites. But they might not come near the ark—there should be a space between them and it, about two thousand cubits—that they might know the way by which they had to go: for they had not passed this way heretofore. The sacredness of the ark is here not directly the reason but yet may come in as a secondary consideration, according to , the ark might not be touched by anyone, not even by the Levites appointed to bear it. Uzziah died when he did this (). Had the masses of the people crowded around the ark, those that were behind could not have seen it.
People and priests having been told just what to do the march began. When the feet of the priests that bore the ark were dipped in the brim of the water, the waters above the crossing stood still, so that
no more flowed by. The waters below ran away toward the Dead Sea. The waters were “cut off” above where the priests stood, in full view of the people and thus stood as a precipice immediately above the place of crossing. According to another view the waters were “cut off” very far from the place of crossing, by the city of Adam, so that all the multitude saw was a bare riverbed. The former of these two views is certainly the one to be adopted. The text reads: “The waters which came down from above stood and rose up upon a heap at or by the city Adam.” This must be taken to mean that before the crossing was finished, the current ceased as very far off even to Adam.
When the priests that bore the ark were half way across they remained standing until all the people were passed over. So did the priests with the ark form the dam, so to speak, by which the rushing waters were restrained and piled up in a heap.
Joshua set up two sacred memorials, one in the midst of the river and one on the Western shore in Gilgal. Each was formed of twelve stones according to the number of the tribes of the children of Israel. The stones were carried to their resting place by twelve men selected from the twelve tribes.
When the generations to come should ask what the stones meant, the fathers were to reply: “Israel came over this Jordan on dry land, for the Lord your God dried up the waters of the Jordan from before us, until we were gone over: that all the people of the earth might know the hand of the Lord, that it is mighty: that ye might fear the Lord your God for ever.” ().
But the miracle with which we now deal was performed directly for the benefit of the present generation. Thereby they should know that the living God was among them, and that He would without fail, drive out from before them the enemy. (). The living God—the God who is “the conscious, independent, sovereign and free Creator and Ruler of all things, of whom, and in whom and for whom all things are.” The Lord of the whole earth; and this because He is the Living God. Life belongs to His very essence. Living is He in the same that He is the foundation of His own being and the fountain of His own existence. And it is the Jehovah of the Hebrews, thus our Savior, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, also is the Living God. For He prepared for His people a way through the Jordan. The waters did not overflow them. They were not destroyed. This was His work. For the priests with the ark remained standing in the midst of the river, until all the people had passed over. Now the ark was the symbol of the presence of God among His chosen people. On the cover of the ark God sat enthroned; and from this place He spake with Moses. Further, here was the place of true atonement for the people, where the blood of atonement was sprinkled on the cover of the ark, once in the year, on the great day of atonement., by the high priest. To this Paul refers when he calls Christ the true mercy seat, whom God set forth before all the world, as a manifestation of His righteousness, for those who through faith in the efficacy of Christ’s reconciling death, approach the New Testament place of atonement ( ).
Thus, Jehovah’s restraining the waters of the river was a work of mercy that was done on the grounds of an atoning sacrifice by blood.
The miracle had significance for Joshua personally. It indicated that the Lord would be with him as He had been with Moses ().
The passage of the people through Jordan took place on the tenth day of the first month (), thus it is the same month as formerly the departure from Egypt. Both were immediately before the Passover. In the valley of the Jordan the harvest had already begun. At this season the water of the river stood high. The sacred narrator makes mention of this ( ). This was so much more proof of the help of the “living God.”
The event of the crossing of the Jordan has typical significance. The setting of the sun of righteousness in Paradise was the commencement of a terrible night, the night of sin and of the revelation of God’s wrath from heaven in a river of judgments. The way to Canaan looks through this flood—the Jordan of the sufferings and tribulations of this present time. Another way there is not, and the tribulations of God’s people—those which they have in common with all mankind—are greatly augmented by the ill-treatment afforded them by the world.
But let us not fear. The Lord has redeemed us by name. We are the Lord’s. The waters will not overflow us and we be destroyed. We will safely reach. Canaan’s shores (). For Christ was raised unto our justification. He is at God’s right hand. To Him has been given all power in heaven and on earth. He stands in the midst of the Jordan on behalf of His people. He rolls back the rushing waters of God’s wrath from them but only in the sense of course, that the judgments of God, the sufferings of this present time do not destroy their faith and thus not in the sense that they are spared of this suffering.