And the priests came up out of the river carrying the ark of the covenant of the Lord. No sooner had they set their feet on the dry ground than the waters of the Jordan returned to their place and ran at flood stage as before.
On the tenth day of the first month the people went up from the Jordan and camped at Gilgal on the eastern border of Jericho. And Joshua set up at Gilgal the twelve stones they had taken out of the Jordan. He said to the Israelites, “In the future when your descendants ask their parents, ‘What do these stones mean?’ tell them, ‘Israel crossed the Jordan on dry ground.’ For the Lord your God dried up the Jordan before you until you had crossed over. The Lord your God did to the Jordan what he had done to the Red Sea when he dried it up before us until we had crossed over. He did this so that all the peoples of the earth might know that the hand of the Lord is powerful and so that you might always fear the Lord your God.” – Joshua 4:18-24
While this conclusion to the crossing story contains no surprises, it does contain a number of interesting details. As 21st century readers, “the tenth day of the first month” might not mean very much to us. But we should remember that the ancient Israelites would celebrate this day. The exact date is important in a manner, far more significant, but analogous to our Fourth of July. Forty years earlier, to the day, the Jewish people had celebrated the very first Passover in Egypt. Those crossing the Jordan would celebrate the very first Passover in the Promised Land just four days later.
The Holy Spirit also draws our attention to the timing of the water being cut off and the water returning to the Jordan River until it overflows its banks. The waters were cut off when the soles of the priests’ feet stepped into the river and they returned to overflow the banks as soon as the priest stepped off the dry riverbed onto the shore. By emphasizing this point, the Holy Spirit is making abundantly clear that no naturalistic explanation will do. Crossing the Jordan on dry ground was the miraculous work of God – every bit as much as crossing the Red Sea had been forty years earlier.
Both the crossing of the Red Sea and the crossing of the Jordan serve the LORD’s evangelistic purposes:
- Outwardly, they are so that “so that all the peoples of the earth might know that the hand of the Lordis powerful.” The miracles were for Israel’s good, but they were for the LORD’s glory? Yet, we should see that the LORD showing that He is mighty to save – is also for the good of those outside of the covenant community – that they might come to know that Yahweh alone is the true and living God – and so that they might flee to Him for refuge.
- Inside the Covenant Community, the miraculous works of God and resulting memorials and ceremonies were intended to serve both evangelistic purposes with Israel’s covenant children and also for catechetical purposes in leading covenant children to understand the greatness of God and His kindness towards His people. This purpose continues in our own day – particularly in the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper.
MEMORY WORK – Shorter Catechism Q/A 19
Q. What is the misery of that estate whereinto man fell?
A. All mankind by their fall lost communion with God, are under his wrath and curse, and so made liable to all the miseries in this life, to death itself, and to the pains of hell forever.