The Lord said to Joshua, ‘This day I will begin to exalt you in the sight of all Israel, so that they may know that I will be with you as I was with Moses. 8You are the one who shall command the priests who bear the ark of the covenant, “When you come to the edge of the waters of the Jordan, you shall stand still in the Jordan.” ’ 9Joshua then said to the Israelites, ‘Draw near and hear the words of the Lord your God.’ 10Joshua said, ‘By this you shall know that among you is the living God who without fail will drive out from before you the Canaanites, Hittites, Hivites, Perizzites, Girgashites, Amorites, and Jebusites: 11the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth is going to pass before you into the Jordan. 12So now select twelve men from the tribes of Israel, one from each tribe. 13When the soles of the feet of the priests who bear the ark of the Lord, the Lord of all the earth, rest in the waters of the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan flowing from above shall be cut off; they shall stand in a single heap.’
14 When the people set out from their tents to cross over the Jordan, the priests bearing the ark of the covenant were in front of the people. 15Now the Jordan overflows all its banks throughout the time of harvest. So when those who bore the ark had come to the Jordan, and the feet of the priests bearing the ark were dipped in the edge of the water, 16the waters flowing from above stood still, rising up in a single heap far off at Adam, the city that is beside Zarethan, while those flowing towards the sea of the Arabah, the Dead Sea,* were wholly cut off. Then the people crossed over opposite Jericho. 17While all Israel were crossing over on dry ground, the priests who bore the ark of the covenant of the Lord stood on dry ground in the middle of the Jordan, until the entire nation finished crossing over the Jordan.
Church friends, this week we depart briefly from our study of Paul’s letter to the Roman Church and go all the way back to the Book of Joshua; a book hardly read and rarely preached. however, this text is the text which I have been given to preach for the Board of Ordained Ministry, whom I will meet with in November.
The Book of Joshua is a difficult book for us to read in the 21st century. We champion tolerance, compassion, and set parameters between combatants and non-combatants in war. But the narrative of Joshua is about the 21st century. It is about Israel and Israel’s God. The book of Joshua does not extol many of these virtues and there are places where God orders the wholesale slaughter of everyone in the path of the Israelites including those whom we might consider innocent. This hard fact led some to question the nature of a God we know as loving and compassionate. This fact led others to question the validity of Joshua as a book in the Old Testament, or even the Bible as a whole. Without providing a complete defense of the book of Joshua, it needs to be known that the book of Joshua is about boundaries; God’s boundaries. Thus, the narrative of Joshua is vital in the story of Israel and those claiming to be God’s covenant people. Crossing the Jordan into the promised land was the culmination of 40 years of wandering in the desert.
First, though, a little background:
major Characters in the scripture for this week-
Joshua, depicted as a spy in the Israelite Army (Numbers 13,14) and as Moses assistant later. At the end of the Book of Deuteronomy, Moses is appointed by God to be the new leader of Israel for his exceeding wisdom (Deut 34).
Ark of the Covenant, the box built exactly according to God’s instructions to Moses on Mt. Sinai (Exodus 25) which contained the two stone tablets on which were written the 10 commandments.
Priests, in this account those who were selected from each of the 12 tribes of Israel to carry the sacred Ark leading Israel across the Jordan. It is not clear whether these were Levites, since the texts says they were from all tribes.
Israel, the people who were rescued from Egypt and led by Moses for 40 years as they journeyed to the promised land. They struggled mightily with their faith through these 40 years but ultimately continued to follow Moses’ leadership. At this point, they are very near crossing into the land which they had been promised.
Water Miracles, As you can probably recall from your days in Sunday School, there is another story of God’s people being rescued because of a water miracle. When the Israelites were fleeing Egypt they passed through the parted Red Sea just before the Egyptian Army closed in on them. But the story of the Jordan crossing is different. How? Because in this story the Ark of the Covenant leads the way and stands in the River holding back the water so that the people could pass through. This was a defining moment for the people of Israel and was manifested by the Ark, the defining element of who they were as God’s people.
Worship, crossing the Jordan for the Israelites was an act of worship. We can tell this because of the central importance of the Ark of the Covenant leading the way and stopping the water. The story is very detailed about how the Ark was to be carried and by whom it was to be carried. It reads very much like a liturgy to a worship service. The AoC was the defining element of who the Israelites were as God’s people. This act of worship marked a clear transition from “here” to “there” for the Israelites who had been wandering without a home for 40 years but now had one.
The phrase “Crossing the Jordan” is well known in religious themes as well as popular culture. The phrase has been used in metaphor to talk about several things which we will talk more about Sunday. In my mind there is a two-part application for us who read this in 21st century America: individual and communal. Individual because we can all relate to a time in our lives (maybe now) when we have “stood on the edge of the Jordan” – where we have been one place but felt called to be in another place. But larger than our individual context is the communal context which is more closely linked to the Israelites crossing the Jordan. They were a group of people who were called by God and lead by the defining elements of who they were as God’s people.
Questions worth pondering till Sunday:
What are the “Jordan Rivers” in your life? What do you need to do to cross it? What is the meaning for us as a Church? What does this say about where we are? What elements of our covenant with God lead us? What role should worship play?
See you all Sunday,
Blessings for the journey