Several hymns use the idea of “crossing Jordan” to represent believers dying and entering heaven. I’m reading Joshua and the description of this action, and for the Israelites, going into Canaan could hardly be anything similar to entering eternal bliss.
Instead, this action was the beginning of a new phase of obedience. They would be involved in battle as they fought to claim all that God promised them. It was the end of a life lived by their human effort and in rebellion, and the beginning of a life of faith and obedience. It was not a picture of entering eternal glory, not yet.
Most commentaries focus on how the crossing happened. The Bible says the Jordan was flooding at the time, but upstream about 15 miles the flow stopped—just when the priests put their feet in the water—and then the Israelites crossed over on dry land. The commentaries explain that a landslide may have stopped the water, since this happened on other occasions. Odd that here and in other Old Testament instances, the water stopped and the riverbed was dry—exactly when God’s people needed to cross.
At that point, the Jordan River was almost 1300 below sea level and close to flowing into the Dead Sea. It was wider than this photo, fairly shallow, but muddy and filled with silt and minerals. I can imagine a landslide, but I cannot imagine, even in the heat of that area, that this riverbed could dry up that quickly.
Aside from that, the verse that catches my attention says, “Then the priests who bore the ark of the covenant of the Lord stood firm on dry ground in the midst of the Jordan; and all Israel crossed over on dry ground, until all the people had crossed completely over the Jordan.”
Other passages in the Bible about dry ground describe barren, difficult places, even calls them places that God creates for those who disobey. One passage also describes Jesus as being like a “root growing out of dry ground.” That gives me an image of incredible life happening in a place that it normally would not happen, a tough and uncomfortable place.
The Bible also shows how priests represented God to the people and the people to God. Since Jesus came, He is God’s High priest, our access to the Father and the One who intercedes for us before the Father’s throne.
If this event in the Old Testament is depicting what happens to God’s people in the New Testament, and if it is about God calling us into a new phase of obedience, then the priests going first and standing on the dry ground makes perfect sense.
Jesus goes before me into every phase of the life that He calls me to live. He has ‘been there, done that’ in the truest and most encouraging sense. The battles that God calls me into are trials that will help me become the person He wants me to be, the person He promises that I will become. But to enter into my “promised land” I must go through some barren places. I must fight what seems like impossible battles.
Jesus stands there in the barren places, my Priest. He will not move until I am safely on the other side.
My devotional book takes this thought one step farther and reminds me that I too am a priest of God. I intercede for others and bear witness to them of God’s grace and faithfulness. In my journey and battles for all that He promises me, He may call me to stand in barren places too, watching and caring for others until they are also safe on the other side.