All incoming students to Jerusalem University College are required to take a course entitled, “Physical Settings of the Bible”. This course covers the physical and geographic factors of the Land and how they impacted settlement and communication. It also correlates archeological, historical and biblical material with the geographic features of the Land. The course includes field trips almost every weekend of the semester exploring the region.
Included with my acceptance materials was a packet of preparatory work for this class that had to be completed before my arrival in Israel. This included a set of 6 maps along with a link to a 100-page study guide to be downloaded. The study guide included readings and instructions for marking 24 Biblical events on these maps. This was no small task to complete, but was well worth it.
One of these events was the entry of Israelites into the Promised Land from the eastern side of the Jordan river. As I mentioned in my first post (The Adventure Begins), this event has special meaning for me and is how I came up with the name for this site. Mapping out this event on the maps brought some additional insights that deepened my appreciation for the story and its significance for me.
So, here’s the scene: The Israelites have just finished up 40 years wandering in the wilderness. They are camped on the plains of Moab, east of the Jordan river and just north of the Dead Sea. Moses has died and Joshua is the newly appointed leader.
Joshua’s first task as leader of the people was to get them across the Jordan river and take the oasis city of Jericho. A city with well-fortified walls. There’s another problem. It’s the end of the rainy season (March/April) and the Jordan is flooded out of its banks.
God tells Joshua what he wants the people to do. He tells him to send some of the priests carrying the ark of the covenant and have them step into the river. When they step into the river, God will stop the waters and all the people can cross.
Here is the text from Joshua 3 that records what happened:
“So when the people broke camp to cross the Jordan, the priests carrying the ark of the covenant went ahead of them. Now the Jordan is at flood stage all during harvest. Yet as soon as the priests who carried the ark reached the Jordan and their feet touched the water’s edge, the water from upstream stopped flowing. It piled up in a heap a great distance away, at a town called Adam in the vicinity of Zarethan, while the water flowing down to the Sea of the Arabah (that is, the Dead Sea) was completely cut off. So the people crossed over opposite Jericho. The priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the LORD stopped in the middle of the Jordan and stood on dry ground, while all Israel passed by until the whole nation had completed the crossing on dry ground.” Joshua 3:14-17 (NIV)
So, imagine that you are one of the priests carrying the ark of the covenant. Or perhaps you are one of the people standing at a distance watching this unfold. What happens the minute you step into the Jordan river?
Nothing. Nothing happens.
But wait! Didn’t the Text just say that the water stopped flowing? Yes, it did. But where did it stop flowing?
Here is a map of this section of the Rift valley. The Israelites are on the opposite shore from Jericho. The Text says that the water stopped flowing at Adam and “piled up in a great heap.” Adam is about 16 miles north of the Israelite camp as the crow flies.
Now, I have not had to do any hydraulic calculations since I (barely) passed Fluid Dynamics my Junior year of college. But I can tell you that if the water stopped flowing 16 miles north, it would take some time before the water stopped flowing close to Jericho. It may have taken hours.
As a side note, there have been at least 2 times in recorded history where earthquakes stopped the flow of the Jordan river at Adam. However, neither of these occurred when the Jordan was at flood stage. I am not suggesting how God caused this to happen. I only mention this to show that it has happened since that time.
But, let’s go back to you imagining to be a priest standing in the Jordan. What is going through your mind? You are standing there in the water and nothing is happening. How long do you stand there before your feet go numb from the cold water? You might be standing there, waiting, for a pretty long time. How long before you start to doubt? How long before you start to complain? How long before you lose hope?
But then you notice that the water has receded a little. Perhaps you realize you are no longer standing in water, so you step further into the river. Then it recedes some more. And then more. Eventually, you are standing in what used to be the middle of the Jordan and there is no more water! Just a bunch of rocks on the riverbed.
Maybe I’ve just ruined your vision of how you thought this event took place. Perhaps you had envisioned something like the parting of the Red Sea in Cecil B. DeMille’s “The Ten Commandments”, where God causes these huge walls of water to form on either side of the people crossing on dry land. Let’s be honest, how many times has God caused something to happen in your life with the shock and awe of a Hollywood special effects extravaganza? It hasn’t happened to me.
This view of crossing the Jordan is more real to me because it parallels my walk with God. My experience has been that God’s work tends to happen beyond my line of sight. I take the step, but I don’t see the immediate results of the work He is doing. It takes time for me to see His plan—sometimes it takes a LONG time.
I take comfort in knowing that the Israelites stepped into the river and had to stand there and wait for the water to stop. They stood there in faith, with cold feet, waiting for the water to move past them so they could cross on the rocky riverbed.
So, here I am at the banks of the Jordan river. In about 10 days I step in. How long will I have to wait before I see what God has been doing beyond my line of sight? What’s he doing upstream to prepare the way? I have absolutely no idea. But I go ahead and take the step anyway, because that’s what faith requires.