Joshua 3-4 "Crossing the Jordan"
It is interesting to watch the timing of the crossing of the Jordan.
The spies spend one night with Rahab,
where she tells them that the hearts of the people of Jericho have melted with fear.
Then they spend three days in the hills,
before reporting to Joshua on the fourth day.
Then the next day Joshua arose and brought Israel to the banks of the Jordan River.
But they wait there for three days (fifth, sixth and seventh) before crossing.
On the eighth day.
It really is quite interesting how often this eighth day business pops up!
Israel enters the land on the eighth day.
Israel passes through the Jordan on the eighth day!
The crossing of the Jordan is an event that we rarely think about.
But in the life of Israel it was a momentous event.
Israel has spent 40 years in the wilderness preparing for this moment.
The adults who came out of Egypt are now all dead-except Joshua and Caleb.
There are two old men, and a host of young warriors
Many of them had been children when the crossed the Red Sea.--
when the pillar of cloud and fire had led them to a watery barrier
that they could not cross.
Pursued by the hosts of Egypt their fathers had cried out in fear and dismay to Moses,
"Is it because there are no graves in Egypt
that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness?"
And yet God had divided the waters and brought Israel through on dry ground.
This is a very different moment.
No longer do you see a rag-tag band, led by the pillar of cloud and fire.
The glory of the LORD has taken up residence in the tabernacle.
The pillar of cloud and of fire is never mentioned in Joshua.
Now that the Spirit of God dwells with his people,
the cloud is not needed.
Now the ark of the covenant goes before Israel, as a symbol of the presence of Yahweh.
And so in precisely the same way that the cloud led Israel through the wilderness,
now the ark of the covenant leads the people.
They are to follow the ark about 2,000 cubits behind (that would probably be about 1,000 yards)
And Joshua said to the people:
"Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow Yahweh will do wonders among you."
In Exodus 19, such consecration included washing their clothes
and avoiding sexual intercourse.
Consecration means to sanctify, or set apart something.
They are to cleanse themselves,
because they are about to behold the salvation of their God!
The Yahweh speaks to Joshua:
"Today I will begin to exalt you in the sight of all Israel,
that they may know that, as I was with Moses, so I will be with you." (3:7)
And as Yahweh commands, so Joshua does.
He is a faithful servant who leads the people in the ways of the LORD.
So he spoke to Israel, saying,
What better demonstration that Yahweh will be with Joshua just like he was than Moses?
God will part the waters for Joshua just like he did for Moses.
Of course, here there is very little practical value.
The Jordan River is not a difficult river to ford (even at flood stage cf. v15).
The value is entirely symbolic.
The baptism in the Red Sea will be echoed by a baptism in the Jordan River.
As the wilderness wandering began, so also will it end.
And so the priests carried the ark to the brink of the Jordan River,
and as their feet touched the waters of the Jordan,
the waters parted.
Then, it had been Moses staff.
Now, it is the priests.
There is a division of leadership.
The movement is from the solitary individual-Moses-who leads his people,
to the division between the military leader-the anointed conqueror (Joshua)
and the liturgical leadership of the priests.
In time this will become formalized in the three offices of prophet, priest and king,
before those three offices are reunited in the person of our Lord, Jesus Christ.
Once again, Israel walks on dry ground through the waters.
All the host of Israel passes through water in order to enter the Promised Land.
But again, while there are lots of similarities, there are also differences:
there, the host of Israel was escaping the armies of Egypt.
Now, the host of Israel is simply the army (4:13).
This is not "all Israel."
Only the fighting men cross the Jordan.
2. The Meaning of the Crossing (Joshua 4)
Chapter 4 explains the meaning of the crossing of the Jordan.
Each tribe is to send one man back into the river bed.
Each of these twelve men is to take a stone from the river bed
and they are to build a pile of 12 stones-
a memorial of the great work of the LORD.
The importance of this memorial is found in the detail of chapter 4.
The author could have communicated the point in one sentence:
"And Joshua commanded a memorial to be built
of 12 stones from the river bed,
to commemorate the crossing of the Jordan River"
But instead we have 24 verses devoted to this.
In 4:1-3, God tells Joshua what to do.
In 4:4-7 Joshua tells the 12 men what to do.
In 4:8-10 the people do what Joshua told them to do.
In 4:11-18 we hear how the people and the priests passed over the Jordan,
and then in 4:19-24 we hear the final reminder of what these 12 stones are for.
But it is only here, after Israel crosses the Jordan,
that you discover what time it is.
This "eighth" day happens to be the tenth day of the first month.
Now, if you are not an expert in the Jewish calendar,
the tenth day of the first month may not mean much to you.
But the tenth day of the first month was the day that you selected the Passover lamb.
You would keep it with you for four days,
until the Passover on the fourteenth day of the first month.
Israel has come into the land just in time to celebrate Passover.
In Exodus 12, Israel celebrates the Passover, and then go out and cross the Red Sea.
Now, Israel's entry into the land under Joshua
will parallel their exodus from Egypt under Moses.
But in reverse order.
Rather than Passover-Crossing,
here we see Crossing-Passover.
There is a sort of chiastic structure to the Exodus/Conquest narrative,
Crossing the Red Sea (pursued by troops)
Lawgiving at Mt Sinai
Lawgiving at the Plains of Moab
Crossing the Jordan (they are the troops)
It is a chiasm that moves from suffering to glory.
From humiliation to exaltation.
The meaning of this monument is that God has brought to completion
the promise of the Red Sea.
God delivered them from Egypt-not to slay them in the wilderness,
as the Israelites complained
(and ironically, what happened to those who complained!),
but to bring them into a land flowing with milk and honey.
And the goal of this is not only for Israel's personal benefit,
but that (v24).
And sure enough, (5:1).
The kings of the Canaanites by the sea had heard about the Red Sea (as Rahab tells us),
but they probably hoped that since that was 40 years ago,
maybe Yahweh's power had waned since then;
maybe all of the disasters in the wilderness signaled
that God was no longer favorable toward Israel.
The God who had brought his people out of Egypt still worked mighty deeds.
And so their hearts melted.
3. A Second Tale of Two Crossings
More than a thousand years later, another Joshua came to the Jordan River.
Matthew tells us that all the people of Judea were coming to John
to be baptized by him in the Jordan River.
No Jew could stand at the Jordan River without remembering Joshua.
Perhaps the 12 stones no longer stood there,
but they still remembered.
This was where it all began.
Here, at the Jordan River, God signaled that he would be with Joshua.
He exalted Joshua before all Israel, and caused the hearts of the nations to melt.
Through the waters of the Jordan River
God began the deliverance of his people.
And so when John starts baptizing people in the Jordan River,
he is calling them to repentance-
he is calling them to believe that the kingdom of God is at hand.
Joshua is coming.
Indeed, that is why they ask John, "why do you baptize?" (John 1:25)
If you are not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet,
if you are not the one like Joshua,
then why are you baptizing?
It would not surprise the Jews if the Messiah baptizes people in the Jordan-
because that would plainly signal the restoration of the Kingdom.
But they do not understand that the Messiah must first be baptized in the Jordan.
In order to understand the full significance of the crossing of the Jordan,
we must understand why Jesus was baptized.
It is a tale of two crossings as well.
The Jews thought that the Messiah would lead us across,
just like Joshua.
They did not understand that the Messiah must first cross the Jordan alone.
Before Jesus can give the Spirit to his people,
he must first receive the Spirit himself.
The baptism of Jesus is a unique act.
John baptized many thousands.
But only one received the Holy Spirit.
John even tells us that this was the reason why he baptized:
"For this purpose I came bapzting with water,
that he might be revealed to Israel." (John 1:31)
Just as God recapitulated the Red Sea in the Jordan River,
with a "how much more" thrown in
(because the crossing of the Jordan brought much more than the Red Sea),
so also God recapitulated the Red Sea AND Jordan River in the baptism of Jesus,
with another "how much more" thrown in
(because this is the fulfillment of both Exodus and Conquest
that has come in Jesus)
Often the Jordan River is used in Christian hymnody
as a symbol of crossing over from death to eternal life.
And that is a valid point of view.
From Moses perspective-from the perspective of the wilderness-
the Jordan River is a picture of the end-the goal of history-the Promised Land.
But from Joshua's perspective,
the Jordan River is only the beginning.
And indeed, from Jesus perspective,
the Jordan River is only the beginning.
The baptism of Jesus signals the beginning of his Messianic ministry.
He is now endowed with the Holy Spirit in order to defeat all his and our enemies.
Through his righteousness God will bring us our inheritance.
There are seven hymns in the Trinity Hymnal that refer to the Jordan River.
One (St Patrick's "We Lift Up as Our Shield") simply refers to it
as the location of Jesus' baptism.
The other six all use it symbolically to refer to death as "crossing the Jordan."
One, 550 ("There Is a Land of Pure Delight") even puts us in Moses' shoes.
That is why I wanted us to sing Martin Luther's "To Jordan Came Our Lord."
Luther rightly sees the Jordan as a symbol of baptism-
the beginning of the Christian life.
Yes, the Jordan River is a symbol of passing from death to life.
But that is precisely what baptism is.
In our baptism we are removed from the land of dust and death (the wilderness of sin)
and are brought into the land of life and blessing.
Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ
were baptized into his death? (Rom 6)
The death that he died, he died to sin.
Therefore you, because you have been baptized into Christ,
are to count yourselves dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.
This is not especially a triumphalist view of the church.
After all, crossing the Jordan, for Israel, does not mean that the battle is over.
Far from it!
The battle has just begun!
Rather, this is a triumphalist view of Jesus Christ.
Our crossing the Jordan is both alike and different from Israel's crossing.
Yes, we have been baptized into the church militant.
We wage war, not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers.
It is not so much that we are so much different from Israel.
We still sin-as they did.
We have our Achans and our Gibeonites.
It is rather that our Joshua is so much greater than their Joshua!
Our Joshua has already won the battle!
Joshua 3-4 calls you to remember what God has done in Jesus Christ.
Teach your children these things.
And, as we point out every time we have a baptism,
all of the children in this church are your godchildren,
so this applies to all of you!
And remember why God has done this:
"So that all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the LORD is mighty,
that you may fear the LORD your God forever."