“Joshua said, ‘By this you shall know that among you is the living God who without fail will drive out from before you the Canaanites, Hittites, Hivites, Perizzites, Girgashites, Amorites, and Jebusites: the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth is going to pass before you into the Jordan.'”
Joshua 3:10-11 NSRV
First, the announcement. Joshua wants the people to know what is going to happen and by what power. The explanation of the event is as important as the event itself. Joshua’s explanation merely highlights the message already contained in the miracle, but this preview is needed, not because of the miracle’s ambiguity, but because of the people’s slowness to comprehend.
Three things Joshua says about God in these verses cry for our consideration.
1. Living God
The lack of the article in the Hebrew phrase, “living God,” emphasizes God’s “livingness.” He it is who acts and performs such a miracle, to divide the waters of the frantic Jordan River. He lives and does, against the dead idols who stare mutely at the worshiper, offering no benefit, moving not even the slightest wind, much less the rushing currents of a swollen stream.
God lives and “breathes,” and where he breathes, life appears, mountains catch fire, deserts bloom, and rivers stop their flow.
As the living God who will drive out the nations before his people, what he does he does “without fail.”
2. Among You
“I will be with you,” is the promise God repeats to his people. With his presence among them, Israel is guaranteed success, they live in joy, sleep in peace, enjoy health and prosperity, multiply with large families.
Having the Lord God among them meant exclusive service and holiness before the jealous God (Deuteronomy 6:14-15). They did not choose their direction — they tried that before and fell in forty years in the desert. They moved when and where the Lord directed. It was not for nothing that the leaders of the people were sent among the camp to say, “Follow the ark, so you’ll know the way to go, you’ve never passed this way before!” (Joshua 3:2-4).
Having the Lord among Israel didn’t mean chummy equality, but face-in-the-dust adoration. It meant his power at work among them, and sometimes against them.
3. The Lord of All the Earth
If to the Lord belongs all the earth, he can give whatever portions he wants to those whom he wishes to bless. Likewise, he can dispossess anyone of land, though he has waited until the inhabitants of Canaan have filled the measure of their wickedness (Genesis 15:16).
The presence of the Lord of all the earth was made known by his ark of the covenant. The ark was a sacred box or chest, covered in gold, which contained the stone tables of the ten commandments and the budding rod of Aaron. So intimately is the ark associated with his presence that “the Lord of all the earth” is likely put in apposition to the ark: “the ark of the covenant, the Lord of all the earth” (see v. 13 in NASB). Apposition is the placing of a word or phrase beside another so that the second explains the first. The ark is the Lord. This beautiful chest with the seraphims’ touching wings is the sign of the Lord’s presence among the people.
So there is no magic in carrying the ark down into the Jordan River. It is the Lord himself who goes before Israel into Canaan and breaks the river’s flow so his people can walk across in safety.
The Same God
The God who plugged the Jordan River is the same living God today who saves, sends, answers prayer and provides every need for his people. He is “God with us” in Jesus (Joshua) Christ, ever present as we are transformed into his likeness and fulfill his mission in taking the gospel to the whole world (Matthew 28:18-20). He is the Lord of all the earth, who desires all people to be saved, who is already present before we arrive, who is sovereign and mighty above all powers and governments.
As we carry, not a chest on our shoulders, but his Spirit in our hearts, let us step forward with faith, knowing that as we move at his command, the troubling waters will separate and he will make us advance to possess the eternal land prepared for us before the foundation of the world.
Sources: M.H. Woudstra, The Book of Joshua, NICOT (1981): 83-84. Donald H. Madvig, “Joshua,” in Expositor’s Bible Commentary 3 (1992): 266-67.
In explaining the miracle of the crossing of the Jordan River before it happens, Joshua has much to say about God.