CROSSING THE JORDAN RIVER
Psalm 77:11, ESV
I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your wonders of old.
JOSHUA 3:1-7, NIrV
1 Early one morning Joshua and all the Israelites started out from Shittim. They went down to the Jordan River. They camped there before they went across it. 2 After three days the officers went all through the camp. 3 They gave orders to the people. They said, “Watch for the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God. The priests, who are Levites, will be carrying it. When you see it, you must move out from where you are and follow it. 4 Then you will know which way to go. You have never gone this way before. But don’t go near the ark. Stay about 1,000 yards away from it.”
5 Joshua said to the people, “Set yourselves apart to the Lord. Tomorrow he’ll do amazing things among you.”
6 Joshua said to the priests, “Go and get the ark of the covenant. Walk on ahead of the people.” So they went and got it. Then they walked on ahead of them.
7 The Lord said to Joshua, “Today I will begin to honor you in the eyes of all the Israelites. Then they will know that I am with you, just as I was with Moses.
The book of Joshua is all about the battle for the promised land, the land God had promised to give to the first father of the Israelites, Abraham. With Moses dead, Joshua was chosen by God to take his place as leader. As God’s people prepared to cross the Jordan River and take their first steps into the promised land, he wanted to do something to let his people know that he would be the one marching them into battle. To make this clear, he had priests march out in front carrying the Ark of the Covenant, the golden chest where he met with his people in the Tabernacle tent.
+ What were the Israelites to look for and follow? (vs. 3)
+ What was God going to let the people know? (vs. 7)
JOSHUA 3:7-13, NIrV
7 The Lord said to Joshua, “Today I will begin to honor you in the eyes of all the Israelites. Then they will know that I am with you, just as I was with Moses. 8 Speak to the priests who carry the ark of the covenant. Tell them, ‘When you reach the edge of the Jordan River, go into the water and stand there.’ ”
9 Joshua said to the Israelites, “Come here. Listen to what the Lord your God is saying. 10 You will soon know that the living God is among you. He will certainly drive out the people now living in the land. He’ll do it to make room for you. He’ll drive out the Canaanites, Hittites, Hivites, Perizzites, Girgashites, Amorites and Jebusites. 11 The ark will go into the Jordan River ahead of you. It’s the ark of the covenant of the Lord of the whole earth. 12 Choose 12 men from the tribes of Israel. Choose one from each tribe. 13 The priests will carry the ark of the Lord. He’s the Lord of the whole earth. As soon as the priests step into the Jordan, it will stop flowing. The water that’s coming down the river will pile up in one place. That’s how you will know that the living God is among you.”
The promised land of Canaan was a good land, but it wasn’t an empty land. The country was swarming with lots of scary groups that wouldn’t be too happy to see the Israelites marching into their homes. Without God on their side, these mighty men would wipe the Israelites off the face of the earth! To calm the worried hearts of the Israelites, God planned to do something to make it crystal clear to his people that their all-powerful God would go to war with them. His plan? To stop the fast-flowing waters of the Jordan River the exact moment the priests dipped their toes in the Jordan River!
+ What did God want the Israelites to know? (vs. 10)
+ If you were a priest, would you believe God could do what he said he’d do in verse 13? Why or why not?
JOSHUA 3:14-17, NIrV
14 So the people took their tents down. They prepared to go across the Jordan River. The priests carrying the ark of the covenant went ahead of them. 15 The water of the Jordan was going over its banks. It always does that at the time the crops are being gathered. The priests came to the river. Their feet touched the water’s edge. 16 Right away the water coming down the river stopped flowing. It piled up far away at a town called Adam near Zarethan. The water flowing down to the Dead Sea was completely cut off. So the people went across the Jordan River opposite Jericho. 17 The priests carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord. They stopped in the middle of the river and stood on dry ground. They stayed there until the whole nation of Israel had gone across on dry ground.
During that time of year, flood waters made the Jordan River flow fast. To step foot in those rapids, you’d either have to be crazy or have faith that your all-powerful God meant what he said! Because they believed God’s words, the priests took that scary first step into the Jordan River. And the exact second the tips of their toes touched the water, something amazing happened. The waters started piling up a little ways upstream, almost like an invisible hand was holding the river back! Just as he did with the Red Sea, God made a way through the water for his people to walk through!
+ When did God make the waters stop? (vs. 15-16)
+ What other miracle does this remind you of? (see Exodus 14:21-22)
JOSHUA 4:1-10, NIRV
1 After the whole nation had gone across the Jordan River, the Lord spoke to Joshua. He said, 2 “Choose 12 men from among the people. Choose one from each tribe. 3 Tell them to get 12 stones from the middle of the river. They must pick them up from right where the priests stood. They must carry the stones over with all of you. And they must put them down at the place where you will stay tonight.”
4 So Joshua called together the 12 men he had appointed from among the Israelites. There was one man from each tribe. 5 He said to them, “Go back to the middle of the Jordan River. Go to where the ark of the Lord your God is. Each one of you must pick up a stone. You must carry it on your shoulder. There will be as many stones as there are tribes in Israel. 6 The stones will serve as a reminder to you. In days to come, your children will ask you, ‘What do these stones mean?’ 7 Tell them that the Lord cut off the flow of water in the Jordan River. Tell them its water stopped flowing when the ark of the covenant of the Lord went across. The stones will always remind the Israelites of what happened there.”
8 So the Israelites did as Joshua commanded them. They took 12 stones from the middle of the Jordan River. There was one stone for each of the tribes of Israel. It was just as the Lord had told Joshua. The people carried the stones with them to their camp. There they put them down. 9 Joshua also piled up 12 stones in the middle of the river. He piled them up right where the priests who carried the ark of the covenant had stood. And they are still there to this very day.
10 The priests who carried the ark remained standing in the middle of the Jordan River. They stayed there until the people had done everything the Lord had commanded Joshua. It was just as Moses had directed Joshua. All the people went across quickly.
The day the Israelites crossed the raging Jordan River on dry ground was a day those people would never forget. But God wanted to make it a day their children and grandchildren would never forget, either! To make sure of this, he told Joshua to choose twelve men, one from every tribe (or huge family group) of the nation of Israel. These dozen dudes went back into the dry river, grabbed twelve large stones from the spot where priests were standing, and brought them back to camp. As they did this, Joshua took twelve other stones and piled them up in the middle of the dry riverbed.
+ What did God want these stones to be a reminder of? (vs. 6-7)
Fun Fact: Verse 10 says that Joshua’s pile of stones in the Jordan River “are still there to this very day.” But that doesn’t mean our day. It means that, at the time the book of Joshua was written, when the battles for the promised land were over, you could still go down to the Jordan River and see Joshua’s pile of stones in the middle of the river.
JOSHUA 4:15-18, NIRV
15 Then the Lord spoke to Joshua. He said, 16 “Command the priests to come up out of the Jordan River. They are carrying the ark where the tablets of the covenant law are kept.”
17 So Joshua gave a command to the priests. He said, “Come up out of the Jordan River.”
18 Then the priests came up out of the river. They were carrying the ark of the covenant of the Lord. As soon as they stepped out on dry ground, the water of the Jordan began to flow again. It went over its banks, just as it had done before.
The priests carrying the ark had stood still in the middle of the Jordan while thousands of their Israelite brothers and sisters had marched through on dry ground. With everyone safe and sound on the other side, Joshua gave them the order to move. Earlier, God stopped the raging Jordan the moment they stepped into the water. And now, God started the river back up the moment their sandals touched the river bank. It was like the invisible hand holding back the rapids suddenly let go. Within moments, the pathway God made for his people was nowhere to be seen, completely washed away!
+ When did the waters of the Jordan River start flowing again? (vs. 18)
+ How could God hold back a raging river for so long?
JOSHUA 4:19-24, NIRV
19 On the tenth day of the first month the people went up out of the Jordan River. They camped at Gilgal on the eastern border of Jericho. 20 Joshua set up the 12 stones at Gilgal. They were the ones the people had taken out of the Jordan. 21 Then he spoke to the Israelites. He said, “In days to come, your children after you will ask their parents, ‘What do these stones mean?’ 22 Their parents must tell them, ‘Israel went across the Jordan River on dry ground.’ 23 The Lord your God dried up the Jordan for you until you had gone across it. He did to the Jordan River the same thing he had done to the Red Sea. He dried up the Red Sea ahead of us until we had gone across it. 24 He did it so that all the nations on earth would know that he is powerful. He did it so that you would always have respect for the Lord your God.”
There are lots of days we never want to forget: our first day of school, a family trip to a theme park, a wedding, or the birth of a child. To make sure we remember these unforgettable days, we can take pictures or record video. Then, years later, we can see what happened with our eyes and listen with our own ears.
Remembering unforgettable days is a lot easier for us than it was for the people who lived in the time of the Bible. There were no cameras, computers, or digital gadgets to capture the important things that happened. To make these memories stick, our ancestors had to get creative.
After the people had crossed the Jordan River, the people found a place to set up camp. At an area called Gilgal, they spent their first night in the land God promised to give them. There, Joshua piled up the twelve large stones his men had carried from the middle of the Jordan River.
Joshua’s standing stones were a memory monument. They were designed to stand out and make curious kids ask, “Hmm... I wonder why there’s a pile of stones standing up here in the middle of nowhere!” When that happened, Joshua told his people exactly what to say. He said, “Tell your kids about what God did for us here. Tell them where we got these stones. Tell them what it was like to see the raging Jordan River stop in an instant. Tell them how powerful your God is!”
It’s been about 3,500 years since Joshua set up that pile of twelve stones. If we traveled around the world and searched up and down the banks of the Jordan River, we wouldn’t be able to find them. But as sad as that fact might be, we have something way better to remember that amazing day.
The true tales we read about in the Bible are sort of like standing stones for you and me. When we read them, we remember the unforgettable things our God has done to save his people in the past. Through the pages of God’s Word, we can watch in wonder as he parts seas, stops the sun, knocks down giants, and raises the dead. And we can learn the same lessons our ancestors learned so long ago – that our God, the Lord God of Israel is a powerful God able to rescue his people.
The unforgettable day that the Israelites crossed the Jordan River points us forward to the even more unforgettable story of God’s Son, Jesus. By stopping the Jordan River, God made a way for his people to enter the land he promised to give them. By dying on the cross to pay for our sins and rising from the dead, Jesus made a way for us to enter something way better than the land of Canaan – God’s forever kingdom!
+ What two lessons did God want the people to learn from the miracle at the Jordan River? (vs. 24)