In our first readings from the Old Testament on Wednesday we had the last of our readings from the Book of Deuteronomy, and today we move on to the next book, which is the Book of Joshua. But, to my disappointment, we have skipped down to Chapter Twenty-Four. In doing that, we have passed by Chapter Three, which is a key to much of the Bible. So, let me tell you about the wonderful occurrences in Chapter Three of the Book of Joshua.
The forty years of the Israelites wandering in the desert symbolically stood for each of our life spans. Joshua, who had taken over after the burial of Moses, led the hoard of tens of thousands to make their crossing of the Jordan at Jericho. One difficulty bothering the people was that their leader wanted them to ford across in spring when the Jordan was wide and deep with melted snow from Mt. Hermon.
Undaunted, Joshua ordered the tribesmen to form a mile-long line, ten men abreast, pointed right into the swollen river. With them lined up, he ordered eight priests, who were carrying the Ark of the Covenant on a stretcher, to get out in front of the line. At his command the eight priests with the Ark waded into the flooded stream. With that, the waters backed up, leaving an open way down to the center of the riverbed, and going up to the far shore.
The priests with the Ark went down only as far as the center of the riverbed, where they took their stand, while the long stream of Israelites passed by them up to the shore.
You remember that Moses, who led them all those years, had not been allowed to lead them into the Promised Land. That too had its symbolic importance. The river blocking the way to the Promised Land stood for death. No earthly leader, no matter how noble, can be with you through death.
Chapter 25 of Exodus, which gives minute instructions for the construction of the Ark of the Covenant, tells us that it was not what the Ark contained that made it holy; no, it was God dwelling above the Ark, waiting there to meet with men. The Ark taking its stand at the center of death was Gods presence. Only God can be with you at the last when you cross to the Promised Land. For us Christians, it will not be the Ark of the Covenant guaranteeing our entry to the Promised Land. We will see Jesus on the cross, making a way through death for us.