Now when all the Amorite kings west of the Jordan and all the Canaanite kings along the coast heard how the LORD had dried up the Jordan before the Israelites until they had crossed over, their hearts melted in fear and they no longer had the courage to face the Israelites. – Joshua 5:1
Adolph Harstad writes:
One of the aims of the LORD in performing the Jordan miracle was “so that all the peoples of the earth might know the hand of the LORD – that it is strong.” The purpose is quickly fulfilled in the case of the Amorite kings west of the Jordan and the Canaanite kings along the Mediterranean Sea. The LORD’s strong hand that dried up waters melts the hearts of these kings who hear the report. Those who are now living in dread are kings, not weak peasants without resources. Not only the mighty act of drying up the Jordan melts hearts and knocks the spirit out of these kings, but also the practical benefit of the miracle does the same. Israel has arrived and is camped on west-bank soil within Amorite and Canaanite turf. The whole scene is heart-melting and dispiriting for the kings of the land. They are forced to ask, “If not even the surging river can block the LORD from leading His people to their promised inheritance, what can?”
The enemies of Jesus in the NT likewise must have been terrified when He rose from the dead. If Satan and all the powers of death and hell could not hold back Christ, what can stop Him from reigning over all authorities in heaven and on earth and subjecting all things to Himself? The answer, of course, is that nothing can stop Him. This answer is of great comfort to believers: nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. For now, earthly and demonic hostile powers still rage, but their defeat has been accomplished on the cross and our victory in Christ is secure.
It is evident in Josh 5:1 that the LORD Himself has already begun fighting against the enemies of His people. His enemies have no “spirit” while His people are filled with the Holy Spirit. Sometimes God makes the hearts of His enemies melt in terror. At other times, the enemies’ fear of Israel and hardened hearts against the LORD lead them to wage war, but eventually they will be destroyed by the LORD and His hosts.
Here the LORD melts the enemies in order to grant His OT people a time of peace for the important spiritual activities that are the focus of this chapter. The LORD’s complete control over His enemies, even in determining how they can react, is a courage-building reality for His people. Christians, who constitute the new Israel, are reminded here of the great NT promises that Christ rules over everything for the good of His church. This includes His control of the behavior of enemies.
I also suspect that the LORD drying up the Jordan drove home the reality of His drying up the Red Sea forty years earlier. Rahab told the Jewish spies: “I know that the LORD has given you the land, and that the fear of you has fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land melt away before you. For we have heard how the LORD dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt, … (Joshua 2:9-10).” But that was forty years ago. Undoubtedly, there were some – and perhaps many who tried to calm the nerves of their countrymen by claiming that was just a fanciful story. But when the LORD did the same thing with the Jordan, reality would rush in like a flood: “It’s true. It’s all true. And this great God has now brought His people here. If the Egyptians couldn’t fight against this God, how can we?
MEMORY WORK – Shorter Catechism Q/A 20
Q. 20. Did God leave all mankind to perish in the estate of sin and misery?
A. God having, out of his mere good pleasure, from all eternity, elected some to everlasting life, did enter into a covenant of grace, to deliver them out of the estate of sin and misery, and to bring them into an estate of salvation by a redeemer.