And Joshua rose early in the morning; and they removed from Shittim, and came to Jordan, he and all the children of Israel, and lodged there before they passed over. And it came to pass after three days, that the officers went through the host; and they commanded the people, saying, When ye see the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God, and the priests the Levites bearing it, then ye shall remove from your place, and go after it. Yet there shall be a space between you and it, about two thousand cubits by measure; come not near unto it, that ye may know the way by which ye must go: for ye have not passed this way heretofore. And Joshua said unto the people, Sanctify yourselves: for tomorrow the Lord will do wonders among you. And Joshua spake unto the priests, saying, Take up the ark of the covenant, and pass over before the people. And they took up the ark of the covenant, and went before the people.
The time had come for which Israel had waited so long: they were about to enter the land of promise, the inheritance which God had vouchsafed to them. Had there been the energy of faith they might have gone up into that land from Kadesh-Barnea, the place of opportunity, thirty-eight years before. But because of their unbelief God had turned them back and made them wander in the wilderness until all that unbelieving generation had died. Now their children were encamped in the plains of Moab, looking toward the land, but with the river Jordan rolling between them and their promised possessions.
Jordan speaks of death, with judgment following. It is the dark river flowing down to the Dead Sea. To plunge into it would have meant the drowning of all the host of Israel. But God was about to make a dry way through that mystic river as He had done forty years before through the Red Sea. We read that Israel went down into the sea and came up out of Jordan. The two coalesce, for both speak of death. The Dead Sea says Christ’s death is our death. We have died with Him. The Jordan says they who die with Him live in Him, henceforth to walk in newness of life. Thank God, our Lord Jesus Christ has died for us, and those who have put their trust in Him will never come into judgment, but are passed out of death into life. God sees us linked up with the Lord Jesus Christ in His death and Resurrection.
We read in the sixth chapter of Romans, “Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into His death? Therefore we are buried with Him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life” (6:3, 4).
These verses we have before us are typical of this precious truth. Israel looked over to the other side of Jordan to the land God had promised them, which typifies our present inheritance in Christ, the privileges which are enjoyed by all believers who actually enter into the truth of their union with Christ in His death and Resurrection.
Canaan typifies not merely heaven after we die (as in 1 Peter 1) but the heavenly experiences which are ours to enjoy while still in our mortal bodies here on earth. It is this the apostle had in view when he exclaimed, “I am crucified with Christ; nevertheless, I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me; and the life that I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Gal. 2:20).
The priests bearing the ark of the covenant were to go forward first. That ark typified our Lord Jesus Christ, the meeting-place between God and man. The wood of the ark spoke of His perfect humanity; the gold, of the glory of His deity. He must go down into death first to make a dry way for His people. By dying and rising again He has “abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel.”
In the fourth verse of Joshua 3 we read that there was to be a space maintained between the ark and the people of about two thousand cubits, which would be approximately half a mile according to our method of computation. This was to teach due reverence for the ark of God. It had to lead the way. Alone the priests were to go down into the river and then the waters would be rolled back. Christ entered into death alone. No one could participate in the work of propitiation.
Alone He bare the cross;
Alone its grief sustained.
We can imagine with what interest and suppressed excitement the people watched that ark, as, borne on the shoulders of the priests, it was carried down to the river. It passed on before the people, who were to share in the safety and blessing it was to ensure, but who could do nothing themselves to stem the Jordan’s flow.
God’s command to the priests was, “When ye are come to the brink of the water of Jordan ye shall stand still in Jordan.” What a test of faith this must have been! But it was God’s Word and must be acted upon. Only thus could the way be opened for Israel to go dry-shod into Canaan, and only through the death of Christ could a way be opened for us to enter into the rest that remains for the people of God.
Notice verses 11 to 13:
Behold the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth passeth over before you into Jordan. Now therefore take you twelve men out of the tribes of Israel, out of every tribe a man. And it shall come to pass, as soon as the soles of the feet of the priests that bear the ark of the Lord, the Lord of all the earth, shall rest in the waters of Jordan, that the waters of Jordan shall be cut off from the waters that come down from above; and they shall stand upon an heap.
To the natural way of thinking, this might have seemed impossible, but God had given His Word and that Word never fails. The twelve men referred to were selected for a specific purpose, of which we shall read later on.
Now notice carefully verses 14 to 17:
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; And as they that bare the ark were come unto Jordan, and the feet of the priests that bare the ark were dipped in the brim of the water, (for Jordan overfloweth all his banks all the time of harvest,) That the waters which came down from above stood and rose up upon an heap very far from the city Adam, that is beside Zaretan: and those that came down toward the sea of the plain, even the salt sea, failed, and were cut off; and the people passed over right against Jericho. And the priests that bare the ark of the covenant of the Lord stood firm on dry ground in the midst of Jordan, and all the Israelites passed over on dry ground, until all the people were passed clean over Jordan.
The people of Israel were standing there in absolute silence, reverently looking on as the ark of the covenant went down to the river Jordan. It pictures Christ going down into the dark water of death. The moment the priests’ feet rested in Jordan, the waters were dried up—the waters that had already reached the point of overflowing went down to the salt sea, and the water which came down from above rolled very far back from the city Adam.
Now, I do not know where the city Adam was. It says, “The city Adam, that is beside Zaretan.” You will see that those who make the maps have indicated a city called Adam near the source of the Jordan, but they put a question mark after the name because they are not sure where the city of Adam was located. That is not important, however; but I will tell you what is important: that when our Lord Jesus Christ died on the Cross the waters of judgment were rolled very far back—back to the first man, Adam. Adam’s sins were taken into account when Jesus died on the Cross, as well as the sins of all his race. We are told in Romans 3:23-26: “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; Being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in His blood, to declare His righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God: To declare, I say, at this time His righteousness: that He might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.”
That expression, “sins that are past,” refers not to our past offences, but to the sins of those who lived before the Cross. All down through the ages God had been, if I may so say, saving men on credit. The actual work of propitiation or atonement had not yet been accomplished. But in view of it, God remitted the sins of all who turned to Him in repentance and faith, and when Jesus died on the Cross all these sins were settled for, as well as those of all who at any time since would receive the Lord Jesus by faith. So now God can be just and the justifier of all who believe.
The ark remained in the bed of the Jordan “until all the people had clean passed over.” So Christ in His death made complete propitiation for all men everywhere, that all may be saved, if they will. God saw all who would ever believe passing through to blessing when His blessed Son died in our stead.
As we realize our identification with Him in that death, we enter into the life of joy and high privilege which is the happy portion of all who believe.
Israel did nothing to merit this deliverance. It was God who wrought in grace on their behalf. So in the work of the Cross, all has been done that needed to be done in order that sinners might be saved. Christ is Himself the Ark and He went down into death that a way might be opened for us to enter into the blessing of redemption. It is ours to believe God and so to receive the effect of Christ’s work.