On the Brink of a Miracle
1Then Joshua rose early in the morning and they set out from Shittim. And they came to the Jordan, he and all the people of Israel, and lodged there before they passed over. 2At the end of three days the officers went through the camp 3and commanded the people, “As soon as you see the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God being carried by the Levitical priests, then you shall set out from your place and follow it. 4Yet there shall be a distance between you and it, about 2,000 cubits in length. Do not come near it, in order that you may know the way you shall go, for you have not passed this way before.” 5Then Joshua said to the people, “Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do wonders among you.” 6And Joshua said to the priests, “Take up the ark of the covenant and pass on before the people.” So they took up the ark of the covenant and went before the people.
Now you stand at the bank of the Jordan River – a river that figures prominently in the whole of the Biblical narrative. It is swollen past flood stage and raging by with snow melt and rain water. Jericho stands on the opposite shore; the portal to the land that God has promised. Because of current agricultural practices, the Jordan is a far smaller river than it was during the time of Joshua. When the Jordan flooded during Biblical times, it could grow to be miles wide.
Joshua calls for the people to consecrate themselves; prepare for a miracle. God is about to move in dramatic fashion and it behooves His people to be spiritually prepared. The Levites are mobilized to carry the Ark before the people as they cross the river. The ark is the visible location of the Lord’s (otherwise) invisible presence. In the wilderness God had used the ark to direct Israel’s movement. Now He will direct them into The Promised Land. These events are laden with theological as well as practical significance.
“The ark of the covenant of the Lord your God”, which was housed in the tabernacle, portends the incarnation of Jesus Christ: “the Word became flesh and tabernacled among us” (John 1:14). During his earthly ministry, the incarnate Christ was the visible presence of God among and for the benefit of his people. He was crucified and buried, then rose and ascended, yet he remains with his covenant people. Just as the Lord was pleased to use the ark of the covenant as the physical and visible means of his presence in the OT era, so now in the NT era he is pleased to use his appointed means of grace as the vehicles of his continuing presence “until the end of the age”.
Harstad, A. L. (2004). Joshua (p. 155). Saint Louis, MO: CPH.
The Children of Israel had learned over their 40 years of wandering, that they must always look to the Lord for their protection, provision, and salvation. They followed this Ark, the representation of God, all over the wilderness. That God should tell the priests to go first over the river would not have been shocking or unusual. But the command to keep your eyes on the Ark was important and provisions are made so that everyone is able to obey that command. Following God was the only way this was going to work. We too are commanded to keep our eyes on the Lord. While the Hebrews had a physical object upon which to focus, we are called upon to keep our eyes fixed upon Jesus.
… let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith.