Joshua Part Three: Deep Dive

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nathan ross

When reading the book of Joshua there are many outstanding stories, but one story that remains with the reader long after the reading is that of the crossing of the river Jordan. It’s a captivating recount, found in chapters 3 and 4, of how the Israelites crossed the raging Jordan river over into the land of Canaan – The Promised Land! The Israelites had been wondering the wilderness 40 years and this is the big moment it’s all been leading up to. It’s such a powerful story, but it is also quite peculiar, and when one begins to delve into the details of the account we find that there is much more than meets the eye.

Preparation and Obedience

As seen in the book of Exodus the Israelites have been led out of slavery in Egypt in an attempt to conquer the land that was promised to them – Canaan. This, however, resulted in the nation wandering in the wilderness for 40 years! But now is the time. Now the Israelites, led by their new leader Joshua, have now traveled to the edge of the river of Jordan and the border of the land of Canaan.

They are ready, they are eager, and they are weary of waiting. Interestingly enough, chapter 3, verse 2 starts with the words “After 3 days.” This is where our first query comes up - why are they waiting? From this point onward there are some specific, strict guidelines outlined by Joshua for the Israelites to follow prior to and during the river crossing. Though throughout chapter 3 and 4 we do pick up on a reoccurring pattern. Before the Israelites take any action, Joshua first hears from the Lord, then conveys to the people the Lord’s commands. The people then follow these commands to the exact detail.  This pattern becomes obvious when we see the term “the Lord said to Joshua” and see it is repeated in 3:7, 4:1 and 4:15, which is every time prior to an action being taken. The author is subtly setting up the theme of preparation and obedience. The river crossing occurred without flaw largely due to the fact that they were willing to wait, listen, and then obey. The believer’s role as followers of God has not changed over the millennia. We are still called to be willing to wait, listen and obey when the time arises. This way we can be assured that God is leading the way, not the other way around.


Faith and Patience

The next peculiarity of this passage is in Chapter 3:16. Once the priests have walked to the water’s edge carrying the Ark of the Covenant; it states that as soon as their feet touched the water “the water upstream stopped flowing. It piled up in a heap a great distance away, at a town called Adam.” Again the questions are raised– why? Some scholars think the water might have been cut off up at Adam due to the line of tectonic plates in the area. An earthquake would cause the river Jordan to temporarily stop at this location, as has now been seen in recent history. But the story doesn’t state that an earthquake occurred, nor are there any other outside sources to suggest this. Something interesting to look into though is the fact that Adam is located about 18 miles (29km) north of the Israelites location. With some further research, we know that rivers travel approximately between 3.5 – 7 miles an hour (5.6-11 km/hr). With a bit of maths, we can assume it took somewhere between 2.5 and 5 hours for the river Jordan to become viable to cross, possibly longer because the river is noted to be in “flood stage.” So an event that happened “as soon as” the priests touched the water doesn’t seem “as soon as” for the Israelites does it? Yet did they fade in their faith? Did Joshua call a retreat to try again another day? No, the author doesn’t even acknowledge the time passing but rather jumps straight to “So the people crossed over opposite Jericho.” The Israelites had been made a promise 40 years ago. Their time in the wilderness if anything, strengthened their faith and patience so much that I believe if it took another 40 years for the water to recede they would have waited. In the grand scheme of things when we step out in faith something will happen instantly, but this instantly occurs from God’s perspective. Sometimes after we have stepped out in faith we just have to stand strong and wait patiently in faith. Waiting for the repercussions of our faith to flow downstream just like the Israelites.  


Amazing and Practical

A final thought to consider is the location of the river crossing of the Israelites. Logistically it is the perfect location for them to cross because on the other side is located the “plains of Canaan” which act as a perfect area to organise and structure themselves to begin a siege on the land. Furthermore, the Israelites were not met with resistance during the crossing; scholars suggest this could be due to one of two reasons. Firstly, the Canaanites just weren’t waiting for them to cross, or secondly, if they were waiting they would have located themselves further North because the Canaanites would never have expected the Israelites to cross where they did, as they would not have thought it to be physically possible. So as well stated by author Richard S. Hess, “the mention of the crossing of the people at this point confirms that the spectacle was not designed only to impress. God’s ‘wonders’ served a practical purpose.” This is the final point to take away. The miracles of God are not just spectacular and awe-inspiring but they are also practical. God doesn’t want to merely impress you, but He is also faithful to His promise of an abundant life.



extra resources

joshua part three

next book: amos

Following the TYB Schedule?  Next up is the book of Amos!