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Bible Commentaries

Kingcomments on the Whole Bible

Joshua 3

The ark occupies the central place here. The ark descends first into the water of the Jordan. Thereby the water stays at a distance and the way is free for the people. At a respectful distance, they pass by the ark, which remains in the middle until all the people have safely crossed over.

Here we see a beautiful picture of the work of the Lord Jesus. He has cleared the way to the blessings of the heavenly land by undergoing the judgment – of which the water is a picture (Psa 42:7) – for the church. All who belong to the church look at Him with gratitude at a respectful distance for He has turned away the judgment for them by undergoing the judgment for them.

Going through the Jordan is an inadvertent reminder of passing through the Red Sea. If we compare the two crossings, we see that there are some differences. Both crossings are in their spiritual sense a picture of the death of the Lord Jesus, but both waters represent two different perspectives of His death. What has happened to Israel at two different times in their history, is different for us in the spiritual sense. At our conversion we went, in picture, through both the Red Sea and the Jordan.

The Red Sea represents the death of the Lord Jesus by which we are freed from the power of sin. The people of Israel come into the wilderness after the Red Sea and that is what the world has become for us after our conversion. The Jordan represents the death of the Lord Jesus by which we entered the heavenly land. The land is a picture of the heavenly places, where we are blessed “with very spiritual blessing” (Eph 1:3).

We are not, like Israel, leaving the wilderness behind us. They are pictures. As long as we live on earth, we remain in the wilderness and also in the heavenly places, but we are not at the same time in both territories. For example, when we work hard and get tired, we experience life in the wilderness. As well as when our (small) children give us a lot of work. However, when we are busy with God’s Word and enjoy the Lord Jesus, we experience what it is like to be in the heavenly places.

There are even more differences between the passage through the Red Sea and the passage through the Jordan. The passage through the Red Sea happens at night – the passage through the Jordan happens during the day. The passage through the Red Sea is a run, with the enemy on the heels – the passage through the Jordan happens in peace, in majesty, where the people go to the enemy. The people go through the Red Sea between two walls of water – when going through the Jordan, the water is kept at a great distance, while in the middle only the ark is seen.

By the Red Sea, Moses says to the people: “The LORD will fight for you while you keep silent” (Exo 14:14). God does everything. He defeats the enemy from whom the people are fleeing. On the other bank they see that God has freed them from the power of the enemy (Exo 14:30). Moses comes first. With his staff he divides the water, so that the people can pass freely.

The truth of this is shown in the letter to the Romans. In that letter we see our life as sinners in the world. There we are added to a dead Christ in baptism (Rom 6:3), just as the people are added to Moses in the Red Sea (1Cor 10:1-2). After our baptism we see the world as a wilderness, the land of death.

In the letter to the Romans we do not read anywhere that we are raised with Christ. For this we have to go to the letter to the Colossians and the letter to the Ephesians. In those letters we read about the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus and His place in heaven now. That is what is represented to us in the Jordan. In our spiritual development the awareness of this comes later. First we only have an eye for the needs of our sins. We have the solution in Christ Who died for us.

Later we discover that we went with Him through the Jordan, that is to say that we get an eye for all that God has given us through the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus because of our connection with Him. This requires a quiet consultation of three days. The death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus are enclosed in the number three (Jos 3:2). It takes food (Jos 1:11), exercises in our souls and hearts, to understand what the Jordan means, and then enter the land.

The Red Sea is an exit (Exodus); the Jordan shows that the death of the Lord Jesus is not only an exit, but also an entrance. The exit from the power of death is great and gives joy. But God wants us to enter the land through the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus. As said, this truth is presented to us in the letter to the Colossians and in the letter to the Ephesians. We not only died with Christ (letter to the Romans), but also raised up with Him (letter to the Colossians) and put in Him in the heavenly places (letter to the Ephesians).

The Red Sea says that we died with Christ. The Jordan says that we are also raised with Him, but with the whole land still before us. Therefore we have to find and think of “the things above” (Col 3:1-2). The letter to the Ephesians goes one step further and already sees us in possession of the land. The struggle there is a defensive struggle which we see in the picture at the end of the book Joshua.

The book of Joshua can be considered as the bridge between the letter to the Colossians and the letter to the Ephesians. We are made alive and seated in Christ in the heavenly places (Eph 1:3; Eph 2:4-6). We are already in heaven. That is our position. The book of Joshua shows us how we can experience that position, how we can realize what we are. But then we first have to realize the Jordan. Even after the Israelites have gone through the Jordan, they do not conquer the land lightning fast. First they stay three weeks before Jericho. Everything proceeds peacefully.

All these pictures want us to reflect on the question: What does the death of the Lord Jesus mean? Not only has He taken away my sins, but He has also acquired heaven for Himself and also for me. I will show my answer in the practice of my life of faith. It makes clear what I have seen of this and what significance I attach to it.

Verses 1-3

Instructions for the Crossing


Joshua rises early on that important day with that important event. As the leader of the people, he must take the lead in everything. To rise early is a characteristic of him (Jos 6:12; Jos 7:16; Jos 8:10), as well as of other leaders of God’s people: Moses (Exo 24:4; Exo 34:4), David (Psa 57:8; Psa 119:147), Hezekiah (2Chr 29:20). Above all, it is a characteristic of the superior Leader (Mk 1:35; Isa 50:4).

When the moment for the crossing has actually arrived, the attention is first turned to the ark: “When you see the ark of the covenant of the LORD your God.” Everything is about the ark, who does everything; the people must only follow. In Joshua 3-4 the eyes of the people are on this – the ark is mentioned sixteen times in these two chapters. The people see the blue of the garment lying over the ark, the color of heaven.

Thus we can only learn what the blessings of the land mean when our eyes are constantly on the Lord Jesus, the Son of God. ‘The ark of the LORD’ is a picture the Lord Jesus as God, what is represented in the gold of the ark, and as Man, what is represented in the wood of the ark. His Person stands before us. God wants to glorify Him. That it is the ark of the “covenant” reminds us of God’s promises.

It is also the ark of “the Lord of all the earth” (Jos 3:11). That shows us that the land belongs to Him. Therefore He can give it to whom He wills. To this end He says after His resurrection: “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth” (Mt 28:18). The ark is also called “the ark of the testimony” (Jos 4:16). This points to God’s testimony to us through His Word – the law, the tablets in the ark. In this way, too, the ark is a picture of the Lord Jesus: He speaks to us.

The ark is carried by the Levitical priests. Priests are used to approaching God and being in His direct presence. They represent spiritual believers who can show us this Person through their service. They carry the ark on their shoulders and thus keep the ark high, so that we can see the ark better.

Verses 4-6

Distance Between the Ark and the People


The ark goes first into the Jordan. This shows in picture that the Lord Jesus first died. He died first and only then did we learn that we died with Him. Because His death is unique, there is always a great distance between Him and us. This is reflected in Joshua’s command that there must be a great distance between the people and the ark.

We will always have to respect this distance, but we will also be willing to respect it. He is and remains the “the firstborn among many brethren” (Rom 8:29). The distance between Him and us cannot be bridged. It is presumptuous to try that. We must not lower Him to our level or think we are in ourselves as He is.

The way the people must go is a way they have not gone before. The people can only follow the ark on that path. If their eyes are on the ark, they don’t have to fear. Thus there is for us a new and also a living way that has been opened for us through the death of the Lord Jesus (Heb 10:20). We may go this way with joy (Psa 66:6), without suffering the sorrows of death, for He carried them for us. In His love He lets the waters of death pass over Him in all their horror (Song 8:7; Psa 42:7). As a result, He takes us by the hand and leads us on paths where we will see new blessings all the time. We will see miracles.

To see these miracles, consecration is necessary. Otherwise, our gaze is not pure, and we cannot see anything of the mighty work done by the Lord Jesus, and the glorious consequences thereof we will not be able to enjoy. Consecration is necessary to keep our eye on future events (1Thes 5:23). Conversely, looking forward to all that the Lord Jesus has worked for us will have a consecrating influence on our lives: “And everyone who has this hope [fixed] on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure” (1Jn 3:3).

Verse 7

Joshua Encouraged by the LORD


Exalting Joshua is also a picture of what happened to the Lord Jesus. What happens to the ark and the people under Joshua’s leadership is of extraordinary significance. After the liberation from Egypt and the forty-year journey through the wilderness Joshua brings the people into the land! And how? Through the Jordan, the water of death!

Has not the Lord Jesus become even greater for us now that He is in glory than that we would know Him alone as the Savior of our sins? Now we do not only see what He has done away: our sins, but also what He has acquired for us: heavenly blessings. The Holy Spirit has come to tell us of this (Jn 16:13-15).

The glorification of the Lord Jesus by God at His right hand is the proof that God is with Him, as He was with Him during His life on earth (Acts 10:38). He has glorified God on earth. Therefore God glorified Him in heaven (Jn 13:31-32).

Verses 8-11

The Ark Must Cross over Ahead


Joshua has to order the priests from the LORD what they have to do. He asks the priests to come closer, that they may hear “the words of the LORD your God”. What Joshua says are the words of God because he passes on what God has told him.

When they go through the Red Sea, it is to escape their enemies. Now they go through the Jordan and that is to meet their enemies and fight against them. God will make Himself known as the living God. He will go out ahead of them and drive out for them the seven nations that claim the land for themselves (Deu 7:1). These seven nations represent a perfection – the number of which seven speaks – in evil.

The living God will visibly in “the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth” cross over ahead of them. His first goal is to go “into the Jordan”. God goes ahead of His people in every way He wants them to go and then goes up with His people (Is 43:2a). He, Who is the Lord of “the world …, and all it contains” (Psa 50:12b) because He is the Creator, died first, and then gave the promised land to all who are His people.

The people are called by a “behold” to look at the ark. Thus we are called upon to look at the Lord Jesus who died for us, to rise again and bring us into our ‘promised land’.

Verse 12

Twelve Men


In an in-between sentence the command is mentioned that twelve men must be separated from the people. That is for a service they will only perform in Joshua 4 (Jos 4:4). These twelve men represent the whole people, because there is someone from each tribe. That this is mentioned in the middle of Joshua’s argument about the ark, connects these men in a special way with the ark. They will have continued to listen and watch with more than the usual interest.

We also get a command. Sometimes we don’t know what that means. But the awareness that we are separated for God will make us look with greatest interest at the Lord Jesus, at His work and what has happened to Him. That makes us spiritually fit for the task that is entrusted to us.

Verses 13-17

Israel Crosses the Jordan


Again, attention is drawn to “the ark of the LORD, the Lord of all the earth” (Jos 3:13). Here, the names previously used separately in connection with the ark are used together (Jos 3:3; 11). “The LORD” is Yahweh, the God of the covenant with his people Israel. “The Lord” is Adonai, the Lord who has authority and before Whom it is fitting for everyone to bow. The faithful God of the covenant, clothed with majesty, enters the Jordan.

The people must have watched breathlessly, in tense expectation of what the water will do with the ark. The miracle takes place before their eyes: the water is completely cut off. The road becomes dry. Access to the land is open. This is the work of the ark; that is what the eyes are focused on. This happens at the city of ‘Adam’. The name ‘Adam’ reminisces how sin and death came into the world. Here death is cut off because the ark blocks the water of death.

At the moment the ark enters the Jordan, the Jordan is fuller than ever. The people enter the land when the harvest is ripe. The proceeds of the land can be eaten by the people. Whoever has seen death in his glory once, also sees the full harvest of the land.

The people can cross the Jordan. When the people have crossed, the water does not flow back directly. Everything happens peacefully. The priests stand immovably with the ark on dry land in the middle of the Jordan. This immovability shows how the situation completely is controlled by the ark. The water is just as immovable. It stands like a dam. Because the ark is rock solid there, there is no movement in what would otherwise irrevocably result in death. No power is able to begin anything against Him Who is the ‘solid rock of our salvation’.

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Kingcomments on the Whole Bible © 2021 Author: G. de Koning. All rights reserved. Used with the permission of the author
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Bibliographical Information
de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Joshua 3". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kng/joshua-3.html. 'Stichting Titus' / 'Stichting Uitgeverij Daniël', Zwolle, Nederland. 2021.