The Division of the Waters
Joshua 3:14-17
And it came to pass, when the people removed from their tents, to pass over Jordan…

The passage of Jordan, like that of the Red Sea, marks a momentous crisis in the career of the chosen people. The events are similar in their general character as Divine interpositions, but there are notable points of difference. In the first case there was haste, confusion, and alarm; the people fled precipitately, the noise of the Egyptian host behind them, the mountains shutting them in, the sea an object of terror before them; they cried unto the Lord, in their distress. Even Moses seems to have had his misgivings. "Wherefore criest thou unto me?" etc. (Exodus 14:15). But here, apparently, all is tranquillity and order. The territory on which they stand has been subdued and is their possession, and they move deliberately, under the direction of Joshua, down to the brink of the river, waiting in calm expectancy for the salvation of the Lord. In the former case, the region beyond the sea was a dread mystery to them. It was a waste, howling wilderness, towards which they could not look without sad forebodings. But here the hills, and forests, and fertile plains of the land of promise axe actually in sight, and though they know that they are not destined to enter at once into peaceable possession of it, the vision gives such stimulus to their faith that it is as if the inheritance were already theirs. Let us look at this event -

(1) as a revelation of God;

(2) as a chapter in the moral education of the people.

I. AS A REVELATION OF GOD. The miraculous, supernatural character of the event we take to be beyond all reasonable doubt. It is impossible to explain it on mere natural grounds. The spies, like David's "mighty men" at a later period (1 Chronicles 12:15), probably swam the flood. But, considering the condition of the river at the time (ver. 15), it is incredible that so vast a host, with women and children, should have passed over except by a miraculous division of the waters. In the passage of the Red Sea an intermediate agent was employed to bring about the result. "The Lord caused the sea to go back by a strong east wind" (Exodus 14:21). But there is no indication of anything of this kind here. It is a direct exercise of the wonder working hand of God. In the one case a natural agent is used supernaturally; in the other nothing intervenes between the supernatural cause and the visible effect. Note -

1. God's control over nature. All miracles in the physical realm are an assertion of the absolute sovereignty of God over the things He has made and the laws He has ordained. The possibility of miracles springs naturally from the fact of the existence of a "living God," who is "Lord of all the earth." Whether any particular miracle is credible must depend on the force of evidence, and in this evidence the moral end to be answered plays an important part. But to deny its possibility is to deny the Divine sovereignty. It is absurd to suppose that the order of nature which God Himself has established limits His own freedom. The power that created it must ever be Lord over it. Consider how this truth of the supremacy of the living God is the basis of our faith in a controlling Providence and in the efficacy of prayer. How the Divine will may work freely within the bounds of natural order we know not. But once grasp the principle that the forces and laws of nature are not fetters imposed on the freedom of Divine power, but instruments by which that power may accomplish the purposes of love as it pleases, and you have no longer any difficulty in believing in a fatherly Providence in which you can trust and to which you can appeal in time of need.

2. God's control over the nations. This miracle is to the people a prophecy and pledge of victory in their conflict with the Canaanites. "Hereby ye shall know," etc. (ver. 10). The power that rolled back the waters of the rushing river could roll back the force of the barbarous tribes beyond it. The opening for the chosen people of a pathway across the stream would be a doubtful benefit unless they could take it as the pledge of the presence of that power with them afterwards. Moreover, shall not He who planted the nations be able to uproot them? Shall not He who "determined for them the times before appointed and the bounds of their habitation," etc., be able to change their boundaries as He pleases, and to destroy them when they fail to fulfil the ends for which He gave them their local habitation? This is a very different thing from saying that the strong have license to oppress and exterminate the weak. It may be perfectly true that there is a process ever going on among the peoples of the earth, by virtue of which those that have risen higher in the scale of humanity thrust out the lower, a "survival of the fittest." But this in no way overrides the law that the oppressor and the spoiler must, sooner or later, suffer a righteous retribution. "Woe to thee that spoilest," etc. (Isaiah 33:1). God may use one nation as the scourge of another, and the avenger of His own abused authority. But let none think to move in this path without a very distinct and definite Divine call. "Vengeance is mine," etc. (Romans 12:19). This violent seizure of the land of Canaan by the Israelites can be justified only on the ground of a direct Divine commission, and of that commission the miraculous passage of Jordan was the seal and proof.

II. A CHAPTER IN THE MORAL EDUCATION OF THE PEOPLE. AN EDUCATION IN FAITH, AND IN THE COURAGE THAT SPRINGS FROM FAITH. Their whole career in the wilderness had been marked by signal Divine interpositions. "The Lord alone did lead them, and there was no strange God with them" (Deuteronomy 32:12). They specially needed to have this impressed on them now, entering as they were on a new stage in their national history, new situations, new responsibilities; coming as an organised commonwealth into contact with the corruptions of Phoenician idolatry. This miracle was intended also to give them confidence in their leader: "This day will I begin to magnify thee," etc. (ver. 7). And the calm strength of Joshua's faith was fitted to inspire them with the same spirit. Lessons suggested:

(1) Life to most of us is a succession of trials of faith and fortitude. "Ye have not passed this way before." We are continually entering on new ground, new phases of experience, unknown difficulties and dangers. Our only security is the consciousness of the Divine presence, the faith that lays hold on the strength of God.

(2) The inspiring effect of a noble example. "It does a wrestling man good to be surrounded by tried wrestlers." He is most honoured of God who has most power to awaken in his fellows faith in God.

(3) The conditions of victory in the last emergency of life. Though there may be nothing in Scripture teaching to warrant it, it is not without reason that, in hymns and allegories, the Jordan is regarded as a symbol of death. The dark river rolls between us and the land of promise; how shall we cross it in safety? "Yea, though I walk through the valley," etc. (Psalm 23:4). Let us hear the voice of the Captain of our salvation, and we shall not be afraid. The ark of the covenant will open for us a sure pathway through the deep. - W.

Parallel Verses
KJV: And it came to pass, when the people removed from their tents, to pass over Jordan, and the priests bearing the ark of the covenant before the people;

WEB: It happened, when the people moved from their tents to pass over the Jordan, the priests who bore the ark of the covenant being before the people,

The Crossing of the Jordan
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