Joshua Chapter 3 and 4: The Ark, the Jordan & Baptism into Christ

Home >  Full Study List >  Joshua Chapter 3 and 4: The Ark, the Jordan & Baptism into Christ

Bible Studies in Book of Joshua

Joshua Chapter 3 and 4: The Ark, the Jordan & Baptism into Christ

by F Gordon


Now we are going to look at Joshua chapters 3 and 4 and some of the highlights we find about Israel actually entering into the land. We will look at the Jordan which they had to cross, which was the second body of water that stood in their way. There was a crossing that hindered them when they came up out of Egypt, and were chased by Pharaoh and all of his men. The bible calls this the Red Sea crossing. God had to open up the Red Sea so that they could walk through on dry ground. Paul tells us in Corinthians that this is a picture of salvation for us too as we enter into deliverance from the world and commence our walk with God. It should really have been only a short walk from there to the Promised Land, but because of unbelief, they spent 40 long arduous years in the wilderness! Though they tried to keep God's commandments they did not at this point, know their own hearts. They said to God at Mount Sinai 'All that You have said to us we will do.' God was trying to show them that they actually couldn't do what He had commanded, but they didn't know the extent of their own wickedness; that they couldn't live up to what God had shown them they were to do.

Now they have another hindrance in front of them. Had they acted in faith from the beginning they wouldn't have had to cross the Jordan to get into the Promised Land at all, but because of 40 years of unbelief and wandering, they find themselves in the back side of the desert again, and Jordan stands between them and Canaan. As there was a hindrance in coming out of Egypt (The Red Sea) there is a hindrance in coming into the promises of God. When I look at Israel's experiences I see that what happened to Israel is a picture of what most Christians go through in their walk with God; we are not established in God's truth, and very often not walking by faith. We always need to rediscover the established truths that God has shown us as often in doing this we are able to understand and apply them to our lives in a deeper way. So with that in mind let us have a look at chapter 3.

The crossing starts with following the Ark of the Covenant

Joshua 3:1-5 Early in the morning Joshua and all the Israelites set out from Shittim and went to the Jordan, where they camped before crossing over. (2) After three days the officers went throughout the camp, (3) giving orders to the people: "When you see the ark of the covenant of the LORD your God, and the priests, who are Levites, carrying it, you are to move out from your positions and follow it. (4) Then you will know which way to go, since you have never been this way before. But keep a distance of about a thousand yards between you and the ark; do not go near it." (5) Joshua told the people, "Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the LORD will do amazing things among you."

The first thing we are confronted with in this chapter is the Ark of the Covenant which stands for the presence of God. The children of Israel were now being instructed to keep their eyes upon it at all times and to follow where it led them. No longer are they being led by the pillar of cloud and fire, but they are to follow the Ark...the presence of God. We see from this that humanly speaking, they did not know where they were going. Then we read that they were not to come near the Ark - 'that there should be a space between you and it, about 2,000 cubits. Do not come near it that you may know the way by which you should go'. Their eyes were to be upon the presence of God. There were a couple of million people there and if the Israelites had crowded in around the Ark the result would have been chaos. There would have been about ten committees, all deliberating which was the way to go! But God said 'I want you to keep well back and keep your eyes upon My presence and follow Me.' So here is something in the Scriptures about not crowding in too close to the way that God is leading. As Christians we shouldn't be anxious because He knows the way He is taking us. We can sometimes find this to be quite a scary process, but we need to give Him room and time and space to lead us to where He wants us to be. Psalm 37:5 tells us 'Commit your way unto the Lord. Trust in Him also and He will bring it to pass.'

God's right in being the leader!

Verse 5 of Joshua chapter 3 tells the people to 'sanctify themselves'. This means to set yourself apart that the Lord may have His way in you, and that He may have the right to lead you wherever He so chooses. It is His business. In other words you have to make a conscious decision that God has the right to choose the path you are to follow. It is His right. It may be regarding your job, your partner, your wealth, or whatever direction that your life takes... God has got the right to lead you. So they were to set Him apart and follow, but to keep right back. There are no bridges over the Jordan... I wish there were. It would be the easy way. But there isn't a bridge over the Jordan and Israel had to rediscover what it meant to go into the place of death and come out the other side again. They had to follow the presence of God there and rediscover something in the Jordan that they had forgotten about at the Red Sea. There are two crossings both concerning the same truth; but one deeper than the other. It is actually a hard thing to commit yourself wholeheartedly to God in this way, but unless there is a wholehearted decision you cannot, as the Bible says, be His disciple. This is especially needed for victory regarding things that are holding us back.

Joshua 3:6-11 Joshua said to the priests, "Take up the ark of the covenant and pass on ahead of the people." So they took it up and went ahead of them. (7) And the LORD said to Joshua, "Today I will begin to exalt you in the eyes of all Israel, so they may know that I am with you as I was with Moses. (8) Tell the priests who carry the ark of the covenant: 'When you reach the edge of the Jordan's waters, go and stand in the river.' " (9) Joshua said to the Israelites, "Come here and listen to the words of the LORD your God. (10) This is how you will know that the living God is among you and that he will certainly drive out before you the Canaanites, Hittites, Hivites, Perizzites, Girgashites, Amorites and Jebusites. (11) See, the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth will go into the Jordan ahead of you.

So here you have this picture of the presence of God going to go into the place of death for Israel which pictures Christ going into the presence of death for us also. Joshua, who is a type of Christ, is going to be magnified before their eyes even as God has magnified Jesus in his death on the cross in the believer's eyes. We praise Him that we are delivered from sin and death and united in Him in resurrection. Next we come to the promise of God that He Himself will be their deliverer from the enemies that oppose them. Like Israel, we can rely on Him to do the work for us. The enemies which we cannot deal with ourselves, He will destroy on our behalf.

Joshua 3:12-13 Now then, choose twelve men from the tribes of Israel, one from each tribe. (13) And as soon as the priests who carry the ark of the LORD--the Lord of all the earth--set foot in the Jordan, its waters flowing downstream will be cut off and stand up in a heap."

All the priests had to do was carry the presence of God into the midst of death and the waters would be cut off. A friend and I were talking this morning about river crossing and how scary they can be. Sometimes one strong person is chosen to go across the river with a rope and find a tree to tie it on so that everybody else could get across safely. Another way was for everyone to link arms to cross over in a chain, making them much stronger against the current. Remember that this Jordan River, as you will see in chapter 4, is actually in flood. It is the season where it is completely in flood and far too dangerous for any human types of crossing as I have just mentioned. But the priests go in. You will never see a crossing like this where someone actually goes into the water and the water starts to disappear backwards!

The waters receded all the way back to Adam!

Joshua 3:14-16 So when the people broke camp to cross the Jordan, the priests carrying the ark of the covenant went ahead of them. (15) 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, (16) 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 (the Salt Sea ) was completely cut off. So the people crossed over opposite Jericho.

Here we are told that 'the waters were pushed back in a heap back from the point where they were crossing; a very long way back for the waters to recede. They went all the way back to the city of Adam! We don't know anything about this city. They haven't found any archaeology concerning it but they believe it to be about 16 miles back. Now of all the cities that are named in the Bible, this one happens to be called Adam. This shows that Christ died to make a complete sacrifice for sin all the way back to Adam. Our Saviour was judged for all the sins of the fallen human race on the cross...past present and future. And not only our sins, but the sin principle in all of us. That Adamic, self-centred nature, which has no time for God, will never improve; will not get any better. The only thing that it is good for is crucifixion and burial. When I looked at that I thought it was such a good picture because the very thing that tripped up the nation of Israel is the thing that trips us up - the Adamic nature! That self- centred nature that loves to do its own thing. It doesn't have any time for God. An example often given is that of a pig. You could take a pig into your home and dress him up so that he was nice and clean and you could keep him in your house - for pigs are really intelligent. You could train this pig so that he doesn't make a mess, you could even train him to sit up at the table and hold back on his food while grace is said. However, if you leave the door open a bit he will bolt outside and head straight for the mud with all his nice little clothes on and roll over and over on his back. As he is rolling he sings 'home sweet home' because that is his real nature! Our Adamic, self-centred nature is exactly like that. Many times, the wilderness Christian life is about trying to do better, trying to put on an outward appearance, but it is carnal Christianity, and there is no victory there. But the good news is that Christ has actually judged that old nature, and it does not have to rule over us anymore, because He stands ready to do it for us, if we rely on Him.

Joshua 3:17 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 passed by until the whole nation had completed the crossing on dry ground.

As we said before, this is a picture of the presence of God being in the place of judgement until everything was complete. The priests stood firm, they stood in the place of judgement until everybody had crossed over. This speaks so much of what our Saviour has actually done for us. Christ made an absolutely full payment when He died, and I believe that the nation of Israel had to rediscover this truth. What was the difference for the nation at this second crossing? When they had to cross the Red Sea they had armies behind them; Moses put out his arm and the waters were held back and they walked through into freedom. In this second crossing at the Jordan, the Ark, the presence of God, went before them in the midst of death. I think that this is the key to understanding this second crossing which is different from the first. Our eyes need to be opened to see that Christ has actually made a full payment for us at Calvary. We are with Him in that place of death. There has to be the realisation that not only was Christ there, but we are placed there too. This is a deeper, fuller, understanding of the working of God.

The two sets of memorial stones

Joshua 4:1-9 When the whole nation had finished crossing the Jordan, the LORD said to Joshua, (2) Choose twelve men from among the people, one from each tribe, (3) and tell them to take up twelve stones from the middle of the Jordan from right where the priests stood and to carry them over with you and put them down at the place where you stay tonight." (4) So Joshua called together the twelve men he had appointed from the Israelites, one from each tribe, (5) and said to them, "Go over before the ark of the LORD your God into the middle of the Jordan. Each of you is to take up a stone on his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the Israelites, (6) to serve as a sign among you. In the future, when your children ask you, 'What do these stones mean?' (7) tell them that the flow of the Jordan was cut off before the ark of the covenant of the LORD. When it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever." (8) So the Israelites did as Joshua commanded them. They took twelve stones from the middle of the Jordan, according to the number of the tribes of the Israelites, as the LORD had told Joshua; and they carried them over with them to their camp, where they put them down. (9) Joshua set up the twelve stones that had been in the middle of the Jordan at the spot where the priests who carried the ark of the covenant had stood. And they are there to this day.

There are two sets of stones and two monuments here. The first set of stones is mentioned in verse 9. Joshua has set up 12 stones in the midst of the Jordan, in the place where the feet of the priests who bore the Ark of the Jordan stood. Why did he set up a monument in the middle of the Jordan? He did this to show that there was a burial and that there was significance in what happened where the priest's feet stood firm. But you cannot see that monument because the waters flowed over it again and it is under the water. We are told in the Bible that it is there to this day. When we think about the truth of the cross we know that Christ hung upon it and died for our sin, we know that. But do we see that we have been buried with the Lord Jesus Christ? Probably not in most cases. It can only be apprehended or seen by the eye of faith. You know that it exists; just like the monument under the water, which was unseen; but stood for a truth that had happened. It is interesting that it was Joshua who set it up. As mentioned, Joshua is a type of Christ. (He set up both these monuments; this one in the Jordan and another one in Gilgal which is in the Land.) We need our eyes opened by God to actually see our identification with Him in this burial. It is here in our union with Christ in death that the old man is actually rendered powerless. We come out on the other side, but it is in the midst of the Jordan that the first monument is set up.

The New Testament truth of the Jordan river type

Romans 6:1-7 What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? (2) By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? (3) Or don't you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? (4) We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. (5) If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. (6) For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin-- (7) because anyone who has died has been freed from sin.

Concerning this truth Paul says 'do you not know that we have been baptised into Christ Jesus?' When the Lord Jesus was crucified upon the cross He had us with Him there. When He was buried he had us with Him there. When He rose again He included us with Him then. We were completely identified with the Lord in all of the aspects - the crucifixion, the death, the burial and the resurrection. Just like in Joshua, it is the presence of God that goes into the place of death, but the people also go there too before coming out into resurrection life on the other side. Paul says 'that we are buried with Him through baptism into death that just as Christ was raised from the dead so we should walk in newness of life. Knowing this that our old man was crucified with Him that the body of sin might be done away with that we should no longer be slaves to sin.' The whole purpose of the burial is that the fleshly, Adamic, self-centred nature doesn't have to rule us any longer. We have actually been freed by our union with Christ so that we can live by the Spirit and follow after the things of God.

 Romans 6:8-13 Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. (9) For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. (10) The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. (11) In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. (12) Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. (13) Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness. 

Here Paul presents all these truths. He says 'do you not know that when Christ died you were with Him?' 'When He was buried you were with Him and when He rose again you were with Him.''Do you not know that your old man, that old Adamic nature has been crucified with the Lord?' 'You do not have to obey its lusts; you do not have to do what it commands.' Your only response, in light of all these truths, is to reckon yourself dead. Verse 11 says 'Likewise you also reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord.' In other words agree that, yes Lord God, you have done this, You have taken me into the place of death but You have also taken me out into new life. I don't need to be a slave any longer. Then, as you yield yourself to Him, God makes real those truths that are already true of you. You have been buried, you are risen again. Ephesians tells us we are actually seated in heavenly places in Christ Jesus. These are positional truths which God has done for us by His grace. It is now a matter of us receiving these things by faith in all simplicity and just saying thank you!

The second monument of stones...

Joshua 4:14-20 That day the LORD exalted Joshua in the sight of all Israel; and they revered him all the days of his life, just as they had revered Moses. (15) Then the LORD said to Joshua, (16) Command the priests carrying the ark of the Testimony to come up out of the Jordan. (17) So Joshua commanded the priests, "Come up out of the Jordan." (18) And the priests came up out of the river carrying the ark of the covenant of the LORD. No sooner had they set their feet on the dry ground than the waters of the Jordan returned to their place and ran at flood stage as before. (19) On the tenth day of the first month the people went up from the Jordan and camped at Gilgal on the eastern border of Jericho. (20) And Joshua set up at Gilgal the twelve stones they had taken out of the Jordan.

Here you have the second monument of stones. The first ones stood for burial and the second ones that Joshua takes from the midst of the Jordan are set up in a place called Gilgal. These stones speak of resurrection life. They speak about coming out of the place of death into newness of life. Here you have the two aspects of God's work in salvation. Gilgal means 'a rolling', or 'a rolling away of reproach'. It becomes a base camp for the children of Israel in the Promised Land. It is a really significant place for them for it is from here that they go out to battle. The nation still has hindrances but they are different from those they experienced in the wilderness. Those seemed to be from within them, the flesh, but now the enemy is in front of them. There are nations that they have to conquer in order to possess their land. Yes, they still fail as they did in Ai, and have to rush back to this place called Gilgal, but the enemy, as a whole, is not within them as it was in the wilderness wanderings. Now they are confronted with open warfare and have to enter into the promises of God for their inheritance. Let's have a look at two New Testament scriptures that talk about this, because this is resurrection.

 Ephesians 2:1-10 As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, (2) in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. (3) All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. (4) But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, (5) made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions--it is by grace you have been saved. (6) And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, (7) in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. (8) For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God-- (9) not by works, so that no one can boast. (10) For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. 

Straight away we are shown that God has done a work. We were dead in our sins but God has done something for us by His own grace and His own love. We were dead in our sins but He has made us alive together with Christ! We have been raised up together and He has put us in a position where we are sitting with the Lord Jesus Christ in heavenly places.

 Ephesians 2:7 in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. 

I love this scripture because I don't believe that there will ever be a day, even in eternity, when we are not marvelling at the full work of salvation. In the ages to come we will always be glorying in His Son who laid down His life that we may have life. He has made us alive in the risen Lord Jesus Christ . That is positional truth. Whether you experience it or not, that is where you stand as far as God sees you in the Lord Jesus Christ. God did something for you that only He could do. But there is a purpose in it... He has planned to make us alive in His Son. The two monuments that Joshua set up were so that the children of Israel could tell their children what God had done for them. We also have two outward observances...baptism and communion and these too are for a reminder of what our Saviour has done for us!