Bible Focus: Joshua 1-6
After the death of Moses the LORD’s servant, the LORD spoke to Joshua son of Nun, Moses’s assistant: “Moses my servant is dead. Now you and all the people prepare to cross over the Jordan to the land I am giving the Israelites.
“Be strong and courageous, for you will distribute the land I swore to their ancestors to give them as an inheritance. Above all, be strong and very courageous to observe carefully the whole instruction my servant Moses commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right or the left, so that you will have success wherever you go. This book of instruction must not depart from your mouth; you are to meditate on it day and night so that you may carefully observe everything written in it. For then you will prosper and succeed in whatever you do. Haven’t I commanded you: be strong and courageous? Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.”Joshua 1:1-2,6-9 CSB
“Crossing the Jordan” is a saying that has long been associated with significant life events. These types of events officially bring us to a place that we’ve often longed for, but they also forever change everything that follows.
We celebrate many of these moments: graduations, engagements, weddings, births, adoptions, retirements. We observe these with joy, but at the same time, we realize that these events mark a point of no return. Going forward means that we cannot go back to the way things used to be.
This idea of crossing the Jordan has also been associated with the event of one’s death. A popular TV crime drama in the early 2000s, Crossing Jordan, spun off this theme: the main character, Jordan Cavanaugh (played by Jill Hennessy), was a medical examiner trying to solve mysterious deaths.
But it’s important to note that in a Christian sense, the phrase “Crossing Jordan” doesn’t refer to death alone. It refers to the idea that death is not simply a departure. For those who trust in Jesus, death is actually an arrival into a promised land.
After Moses died, the nation of Israel mourned his death and then looked to his assistant Joshua to lead them into Canaan. Joshua followed God’s specific instructions as he directed the people to the Jordan River. As soon as the leading priests entered the water, the river suddenly stopped flowing, allowing all the people to cross to the other side. They collected twelve large stones from the middle of the river bottom, and brought the stones with them to build a memorial of the miraculous crossing.
As soon as all the people reached the other side, the waters of the Jordan River returned to flowing as before. However, the daily manna (a type of seed that God had miraculously fed them with for 40 years) stopped appearing on the ground each morning. So there was no going back for the Israelites; it was the promised land or bust.
Jericho was the first city that Israel would have to conquer. Before crossing the Jordan, Joshua sent two men to scout the city of Jericho. The men encountered a Jericho woman, Rahab, who assisted them by hiding them from the Jericho authorities. Then Rahab approached the men and made a confession and a request.
Before the men fell asleep, she went up on the roof and said to them, “I know that the LORD has given you this land and that the terror of you has fallen on us, and everyone who lives in the land is panicking because of you. For we have heard how the LORD dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to Sihon and Og, the two Amorite kings you completely destroyed across the Jordan. When we heard this, we lost heart, and everyone’s courage failed because of you, for the LORD your God is God in heaven above and on earth below. Now please swear to me by the LORD that you will also show kindness to my father’s family, because I showed kindness to you. Give me a sure sign that you will spare the lives of my father, mother, brothers, sisters, and all who belong to them, and save us from death.”Joshua 2:8-13 CSB
By saying this, Rahab showed that she didn’t simply fear the Israelite invasion. She believed in the God of the Israelites so much that she was willing to surrender and trust God. The men promised Rahab that they would spare them, and gave her specific instructions on how to protect her family. After the Israelites crossed the Jordan and conquered Jericho (again, following God’s specific instructions), Rahab and her family were spared, and they became part of the Israelite people.
I wonder how Rahab came to trust God so completely that she was willing to abandon her former people and cast her lot with the Israelites. Her hiding of the Israelite spies was an all-or-nothing decision. If Jericho had defeated Israel and her betrayal was found out, Rahab and her family could have been executed as traitors. But Rahab believed that the God of the Israelites was the true God and that he would ultimately prevail. Therefore, even though her life would never be the same, she was willing to trust God and go with his people.
In the same way, when we are faced with the question of believing in Jesus and trusting his good news, we have to make an all-or-nothing decision. We can’t leave part of ourselves on the other side of that river. If we truly believe in Jesus as our Savior and Lord, then we’ll keep striving to follow him because we believe that he is with us and we believe his word is true. And one day, we will be able to see the full proof of our trust in Jesus when we fully cross over from this life into the next.
Featured image from the Matson Photograph Collection at the Library of Congress.