Now the Lord said to Joshua, “This day I will begin to exalt you in the sight of all Israel, that they may know that just as I have been with Moses, I will be with you. You shall, moreover, command the priests who are carrying the ark of the covenant, saying, ‘When you come to the edge of the waters of the Jordan, you shall stand still in the Jordan.’” Then Joshua said to the sons of Israel, “Come here, and hear the words of the Lord your God.” Joshua said, “By this you shall know that the living God is among you, and that He will assuredly dispossess from before you the Canaanite, the Hittite, the Hivite, the Perizzite, the Girgashite, the Amorite, and the Jebusite. Behold, the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth is crossing over ahead of you into the Jordan. Now then, take for yourselves twelve men from the tribes of Israel, one man for each tribe. It shall come about when the soles of the feet of the priests who carry the ark of the Lord, the Lord of all the earth, rest in the waters of the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan will be cut off, and the waters which are flowing down from above will stand in one heap.”
So when the people set out from their tents to cross the Jordan with the priests carrying the ark of the covenant before the people, and when those who carried the ark came into the Jordan, and the feet of the priests carrying the ark were dipped in the edge of the water (for the Jordan overflows all its banks all the days of harvest), the waters which were flowing down from above stood and rose up in one heap, a great distance away at Adam, the city that is beside Zarethan; and those which were flowing down toward the sea of the Arabah, the Salt Sea, were completely cut off. So the people crossed opposite Jericho. And the priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord stood firm on dry ground in the middle of the Jordan while all Israel crossed on dry ground, until all the nation had finished crossing the Jordan. Joshua 3:7-17 NASB
Thus, the Israelites began their journey to cross the swollen Jordan River at the time of harvest when the river was at flood stage. The grain harvest took place in April and May. The Jordan was at flood height because of the spring rains and the melting snow of Mount Hermon.
After forty years of wondering in the wilderness, only the children of the generation of Israelites who were delivered from the slavery of Egypt except for Joshua and Caleb, who believed God by bringing back a good report forty years earlier after spying out the land, were allowed to cross over and enter into the Promised Land.
Now God commanded Joshua to move forward to cross the Jordan. The Lord spoke to Joshua: “I will begin to exalt you in the sight of all Israel.” One of God’s objectives at the crossing of the Jordan at this time of year was to validate the leadership of Joshua. A miraculous event like that of the “Red Sea” crossing would establish Joshua’s position as the Lord’s servant-leader comparable to that of Moses. Note: God spoke “I will begin to exalt you” indicating there would be additional events that would further strengthen and establish Joshua’s leadership.
“By this you shall know that the living God is among you…” The method and manner by which God is about to lead the Israelites across the Jordan River, the watery boundary of the Promised Land, would be authoritative evidence to this young generation of the marvelous presence and power of the one true God and that He was with them and would fight the battles, not the Israelites themselves.
By passing through the Jordan as the head of His army with the ark, a symbol of His presence, the Lord is staking His claim on the land. “…the priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord stood firm on dry ground in the middle of the Jordan while all Israel crossed on dry ground.” The ark symbolized the presence of the Holy One of Israel. This also signified that the Lord Himself stood in protection of all the Israelites until everyone had crossed the Jordan.
As the priests stepped into the flowing water by faith in obedience to Joshua’s command and stood still, God caused the flowing waters to rise up in one heap, a great distance away at Adam, the city that is beside Zarethan; and those which were flowing down toward the sea of the Arabah, the Salt Sea and the Israelites crossed on dry land. So the people crossed opposite Jericho. This places the children near the first city they would soon destroy as God’s army to claim the land for Him.
The miracle is more incredible and astounding since God performed it as the Jordan overflowed its banks at flood height. To the Israelites, this miracle was proof that their God was as powerful as He was when their parents crossed the Red Sea. This gave them a personal revelation of God’s ability to perform great acts and increased their faith and confidence in God.
In obedience to God’s command through Joshua, this young generation of God’s chosen people experienced the fulfillment of the promise of God to Abraham (Genesis 17:1-8) and established Joshua as God’s chosen servant-leader.
The crossing of the Jordan is a pattern of water baptism in the life of a true follower and believer in Jesus Christ. There is our crossing from a life of sin, a surrendering and death of our old life, and moving forward into a new life by faith yielded in obedience to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, our ark of His presence and protection.