The Israelites stood on the bank of the Jordan River. God had liberated the nation 40 years ago, but the people had lacked the faith to cross over into the Promised Land. God had longed to give them this bountiful land with its lush plains and majestic trees. It was an amazingly fertile land flowing with milk and honey. But because they lacked faith, God had sentenced them to wander and die in the wilderness: It would be their children’s generation that would cross over. Now this new generation of Israelites was looking at the Promised Land, across the surface of the water.
Now they just needed to cross over the frigid river. It was springtime, and the river was raging with snowmelt from the nearby mountains and overflowing its banks. It looked like an impossible obstacle for approximately 2 million men, women and children to cross.
These 2 million or so Israelites were traveling with vast herds. On their approach to the Promised Land, they were consistently refused passage because their herds were so large they would damage the grazing land. Numbers 31 shows that their most recent battle with the Midianites had gained them an additional 675,000 sheep, 72,000 cattle and 61,000 donkeys!
They were also traveling with all their belongings. At minimum, this would have included family shelters, furniture, food and cooking utensils, tools, clothing and items taken from Egypt and in their battles along the way. The Levites were also transporting the tabernacle. Just the gold, silver and brass used in its construction weighed an estimated 15 tons!
Enemy spies were watching the Israelites’ every move. They were ready to report any attempt to build a bridge or other efforts to cross the Jordan, and to alert an army to come against them. Crossing the Jordan River was simply not humanly possible under these conditions.
God instructed the Israelites to believe and obey Him, unlike the example their fathers’ generation had set. His commands were specific and they are meaningful for Christians today. God directed Joshua to place the ark of the covenant, carried by the priests, out in front of the nation. The rest of the Israelites were told to stay about a mile away from the ark.
The priests carrying the ark stepped into the raging river, and a miracle happened. The waters of the river began to flow in reverse, piling up quite some distance to the north. The waters to the south trickled away, leaving a dry riverbed all the way to the Dead Sea.
The priests then stood on dry ground in the middle of the Jordan, holding the ark until all the Israelites and their possessions had passed over.
Psalm 114:3-5 declare that the Jordan was driven back. Joshua 3:16 shows that the waters actually retreated to a location north of a city called Adam “beside Zaretan.” Here the waters “stood and rose up upon an heap.”
Commentaries differ, but Bible scholars place Adam around 17 to 30 miles north of the crossing. And God gathered the accumulating waters at a location that was even further north than Adam. What a sight this would have been for the Israelites, but also for the many inhabitants of Canaan who were being educated by God as well (Joshua 4:24). The waters would have remained piled up and growing in volume for several hours!
Imagine that you were at the crossing, witnessing this from about a mile away. From this vantage point, you would see the river flowing backward completely out of sight, leaving a dry riverbed as far as you could see. About 30 miles away, others would be witnessing the swollen river miraculously being held back by an invisible dam. The waters grew wider and wider, taller and taller. In front of the Israelites, this great river was no longer an obstacle. As you stood watching, the bleating of sheep would resonate in your ears.
Imagine those around you. Some would be so excited that they would begin to weep; others would laugh with excitement. Some would just gape in amazement. Others might be heard saying, “I remember Dad and Mom telling us about when the Red Sea opened up! It must have been just like this!”
One of the lessons this miracle teaches us is that God wants us to rely on Him. He wants us to look to Him to win battles and overcome sins that would otherwise be impossible to conquer.
The Israelites crossed the Jordan River on the 10th day of the first month, Abib. They entered the Promised Land just four days before Passover.
God says in Joshua 4:7 that He wants us to talk about this event forever! This shows how important it is for us today. You can read the full account in Joshua chapters 1 through 5.
If you were to make a list of what God wants done forever, such as keeping the Sabbath, holy days, etc, it would actually be a comparatively short list. Each of the items on such a list would, among other things, reveal important lessons, provide insight into God’s master plan, and teach us about developing His character. The same is true about this miracle.
The fact that God wants us to meditate on and talk about this Jordan River crossing for eternity shows how important it is that we read all the scriptures about it and what God inspired Pastor General Gerald Flurry to write about it in this end time with the mindset of teaching it.
The Israelites built two 12-stone monuments to commemorate this event. These monuments point to additional elements of this miracle that God wants us to be able to teach (see Chapter 2 of The Former Prophets). Joshua 4:6-7 and 21-24 also admonish us to teach our children about these two monuments and educate them about all that they represent. We will be talking about this miracle forever as we educate our children and our spiritual children about this event.
“Then ye shall let your children know, saying, Israel came over this Jordan on dry land. For the Lord your God dried up the waters of Jordan from before you, until ye were passed over, as the Lord your God did to the Red sea, which he dried up from before us, until we were gone over: That all the people of the earth might know the hand of the Lord, that it is mighty: that ye might fear the Lord your God for ever” (verses 22-24).
God wants the whole world to eventually learn the deep meaning of this miracle. It teaches us about God’s might and power, to fear Him, to be in awe of Him, to know that we can look to Him for deliverance in any trial.
Look to God
Joshua 5:1 tells what happened after enemy spies witnessed this event and reported back to the kings of the land: “[T]heir heart melted, neither was there spirit in them any more, because of the children of Israel.”
Perhaps when this massive invisible dam was released, the city of Adam was lost and that is why it had to be identified with a secondary reference for its location (Joshua 3:16). At minimum, if the inhabitants of Adam survived, they would have been witness to this great miracle and shared it with all they came in contact. “That all the people of the earth might know the hand of the Lord, that it is mighty: that ye might fear the Lord your God for ever” (Joshua 4:24).
God didn’t want the Israelites to try to figure out how they could conquer their problems. He wanted them to look to Him and to know that they could rely on Him. God yearned to take care of their battles. The same is true today.
The ark, which was a symbol of God in their midst, led the way into the Jordan River. God was saying then, as He does today, Focus on me.
Remember, this was right before the spring holy days. God’s commands here show that His people need to look to the Word as the one who is married to Israel and is leading the nation.
God does not want us to be distracted by our enemies. He says, Look to me and my government. I will fight your battles. Just as God led Israel, He leads the Philadelphia Church of God today.
Another important event happened on this day. Every 10th of Abib, God had the Israelites select a lamb without blemish (Exodus 12:3)—this would have been the same day they crossed the Jordan. They were to keep this lamb with them, separate from the flock. God wanted it to be emotionally hard to kill this precious lamb on the Passover, so He commanded them to spend time with it for four days.
So while they were focusing on the Word delivering them—to provide a way to cross the Jordan and to conquer peoples that were greater than they—they were drawing close to this little lamb, which represented the Lamb of God, which they would kill after four days.
Mr. Flurry wrote in How to Be an Overcomer, “When we take the Passover, all of our attention should be on the Lamb of God who was sacrificed for us. We must focus on the Lamb who paid the penalty for our sins.”
Most of the Israelites didn’t realize this deep symbolism, but we must. God wants to deliver us from every trial, yet we have our part in killing Jesus Christ because of our sins.
In the wilderness prior to crossing the Jordan, God wanted the Israelites to look to the one later called Christ by using the pillar of the cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night to lead them. The same is true for us. We cannot conquer our sins on our own. We need Christ to help us overcome.
In Deuteronomy 9, Moses told the people that the Promised Land had nations and peoples who were greater and mightier than they with cities that were “great and fenced up to heaven.” God told them not to worry about it because He would destroy the inhabitants and supernaturally empower the Israelites (verses 1-3).
God wanted the Israelites, and He wants us, to see that He will fight our battles. There is nothing He cannot do if we look to Him, yield to Him, and obey Him.
The astounding miracle of driving the Jordan River back helped to put the emphasis on Christ right before the Passover. Four days later, they killed the lamb representing Christ, the great, powerful God who would give His life to pay for all of our sins.
God deliberately led the Israelites to a place where they had no alternative but to rely on Him. They could not cross the Jordan River on their own. The icy current was too strong for all of them to swim across. If they tried to somehow build a bridge, their enemies would have had time to assemble and fight against them. At this location the river was physically impossible to cross, and there were no viable alternatives nearby. This was a planned miracle!
As God molds and shapes us, we often find ourselves in circumstances where we have no choice but to rely on God. God plans and handcrafts these trials to draw us close to Him.
The spiritual fulfillment of the sacrifice of the lamb opens so much more for us. Our personal Jordan River miracles are developing God’s own character in us so we can enter His Family! When we are baptized with God’s Holy Spirit, Christ can live in us, thereby unlocking the power to overcome. This is the only way we can win our battles. Christ wanted to help the Israelites in all their battles, and He wants the same for us today but in a far more profound way.
The Jordan River crossing was the first miracle God performed in the Israelites’ taking of the Promised Land. And it happened just before the spring holy days! Just days later, Jericho would miraculously fall before them on the last day of Unleavened Bread.
The miracle at the Jordan River is an epic event we will be talking about forever—teaching our physical and spiritual children that we can always rely on God.
When we meditate on the miracle that God worked in stopping the Jordan River, remember that He wants to fight our battles too.