One day last week we took a look at this first reading from Chapter Three of the Book of Joshua. Since it is a most important Old Testament passage, please let me repeat the lesson we have from it.
After the death of Moses, the Lord ordered his replacement, Joshua, to lead the people though the Jordan River into the Promised Land. By that order, God was testing the faith of Joshua, because the Jordan was in flood stage with melted snow flowing down from Lebanon.
But God did tell Joshua how to go about making that crossing. At the edge of the swollen river, he had him line up eight priests carrying the Ark of the Covenant; and behind the ark he had him lining up the thousands of Israelites who had survived the forty years in the desert.
With al the priests and people facing into the river, God told them to march right in. And, no sooner had the feet of the priest waded in, than the river backed up, leaving a passage way through. The priests with the ark then led the throng down into the bottom of the riverbed. There, the priests halted, taking their stand there, while the people walked past, mounting up into the Promised Land.
You might wonder what it was about the Ark of the Covenant that could make a river back up. I think the answer to that is in Exodus, 25. That chapter described the construction of the ark out of acacia wood. It was forty-five inches long, and twenty-seven high and wide. It was topped by a full gold place called the Propitiatory, that, in turn, was topped by facing golden cherubim.
The wings of the angels reached out toward each other, leaving a sheltered space on the Propitiatory beneath them. Exodus 25:22 speaks of that space, saying: “There, I will meet you, and there from above the Propitiatory, between the two cherubim on the ark of the commandments I will tell you all.”
It was the great spiritual power of the ark that turned back the flooded Jordan. But more specifically, it was God’s presence over the ark that turned the river back.
Each of our deaths is its own passage through the Jordan; with the way opened, not with the ark stationed midway, but with Jesus on the cross opening the way for us.