For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.
Romans 15:4



 A Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough

Copyright 2000 James Melough

3:1.  "And Joshua rose early in the morning; and they removed from Shittim, and came to Jordan, he and all the children of Israel, and lodged there before they passed over."

In this chapter Joshua continues to portray the Father rather than the Lord Jesus Christ, and appropriate to the Father's activity which pertains symbolically to those who are the children of light, see Jn 12:36 and Eph 5:8, it was "early in the morning."

Shittim, as already noted, represents sin or a sinful place: in the present context, the world as portrayed by the wilderness they were about to leave. The spiritual lesson is easily read.  He who would enjoy spiritual blessings here on earth must live as one who has become dead to the world, that death being depicted in their crossing Jordan, the river which speaks of death.

3:2.  "And it came to pass after three days, that the officers went through the host:"  

3:3.  "And they commanded the people, saying, When ye see the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God, and the priests the Levites bearing it, then ye shall remove from your place, and go after it."

Since three is the Biblical number of resurrection, the three days remind us that spiritual blessings can be enjoyed only by those who have been resurrected out of spiritual death through the new birth.  Connected with resurrection, however, is the fact that the Rapture of the Church (which is what is portrayed in their crossing the divided Jordan into Canaan), is the truth that synchronous with the Rapture will be the second stage of the resurrection of life, Jesus Christ being the "first fruits" (1 Co 15:20-23), the Church-age saints the second stage, and the OT and Tribulation-age believers, the third and final stage occurring at the end of the Tribulation when Christ returns in power and glory to judge the nations, and set up His millennial kingdom.  The officers represent those whom God has gifted as elders to lead His people.  The ark is a type of Christ, so that the command to follow it relates not only to the fact that at the Rapture the Church-age saints will follow the Lord into heaven, but that during their lives on earth they are to follow Him by obeying His Word, as Paul has written, "Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ" (1 Co 11:1).

The Levites, the priests, bearing the ark on their shoulders, remind us that we who are a royal kingdom of priests (Re 1:6), are also responsible to hold Him up for others to follow, doing so by the obedience which reflects Him in our daily lives.

3:4.  "Yet there shall be a space between you and it, about two thousand cubits by measure: come not near unto it, that ye may know the way by which ye must go: for ye have not passed this way heretofore."

That the primary picture here is of the Rapture, is confirmed by the mention of the two thousand cubits between the people and the ark, for while the exact moment of the Rapture isn't known, Scripture is very clear that it will be approximately two thousand years after the Lord's death.  Those two thousand years are represented by the two thousand cubits.

Its being said that they had "not passed this way heretofore" points to something more than the obvious fact that they hadn't been there before: it indicates the uniqueness of the way.  They would leave the desert by crossing on dry ground through a divided Jordan, but since the Jordan's waters represent death, the truth being declared symbolically is that the type will be fulfilled when the Church goes from the wilderness of this world into heaven it too will be by a unique way: the sleeping saints will be raised, and the living changed, all of us entering heaven without dying. It is to be remembered that dead believers are never described as having died, but as having fallen asleep.

3:5.  "And Joshua said unto the people, Sanctify yourselves: for tomorrow the Lord will do wonders among you."

Sanctify here refers to cleansing, and relates to the need of their fulfilling all the requirements of the ceremonial law relative to defilement.  The greater truth being symbolically declared, of course, is that men must be cleansed from sin through the new birth, in order to enter heaven bodily at the resurrection of life.  The souls of believers enter heaven immediately upon the decease of the body, and it is axiomatic that if the soul doesn't enter heaven, then certainly the body in which that same soul dwelt on earth will never enter heaven: it will be raised at the resurrection of damnation and united again with the soul brought up from hell, to be cast into the lake of fire following the judgment of the great white throne.

"... the Lord will do wonders among you" refers to His miraculous dividing of the flooding Jordan so that the people could cross over the river on dry ground.

3:6.  "And Joshua spake unto the priests, saying, Take up the ark of the covenant, and pass over before the people.  And they took up the ark of the covenant, and went before the people."

At Calvary Christ was not only the Sacrifice, but also the Priest Who presented that Sacrifice, for in Heb 9:11-14 we read, "But Christ ... an high priest of good things to come ... by His own blood ... obtained eternal redemption for us ... (having) through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God...."  As the four Gospels combine to present Him as King, Servant, Son of man, and Son of God respectively, so do those four priests carrying the ark into Jordan represent Him entering into death, offering Himself to God.  It is the symbolic presentation of Him Who was both Offerer and Offering, Sacrifice and Priest. 

The fact that the ark was to go into the Jordan before the waters would open to let the people cross on dry ground, is the symbolic announcement of the truth that the Lord had to enter into death first, so that we would be able to enter heaven "on dry ground," that is, without death having any power over us, for as noted above, the body of the believer merely sleeps until the resurrection of life, when it will awaken to enter heaven in glorious immortality, becoming once again joined to the redeemed soul.

The obedient response of the priests to Joshua's command, points to the perfect obedience of Christ in doing the Father's will, and dying to redeem our souls.

3:7.  "And the Lord said unto Joshua, This day will I begin to magnify thee in the sight of all Israel, that they may know that, as I was with Moses, so I will be with thee."

As noted already it is only in these first few chapters that Joshua portrays God the Father.  Throughout the remainder of the book he is a type of Christ as the Captain of our salvation, leading us into the enjoyment of the blessings secured for us by His death.  Here God's promise to magnify Joshua is a foreshadowing of His promise to elevate the Lord Jesus Christ to heights of unexcelled glory. 

3:8.  "And thou shalt command the priests that bear the ark of the covenant, saying, When ye are come to the brink of the water of Jordan, ye shall stand still in Jordan."

We have already seen that the four priests bearing the ark are themselves a type of Christ offering Himself without spot to God, so that this repeated command to them to enter Jordan bearing the ark simply emphasizes that it was the Father's will that Christ should die to make atonement for sin, not because He loved the Son less than He did sinners, but that He loved sinners so much that since there was no other way for them to be redeemed, He was willing to give His Son to die in their place.  The Son also loved men so much that He was willing to die that death.

3:9.  "And Joshua said unto the children of Israel, Come hither, and hear the words of the Lord your God."

3:10.  "And Joshua said, Hereby ye shall know that the living God is among you, and that he will without fail drive out from before you the Canaanites, and the Hittites, and the Hivites, and the Perizzites, and the Girgashites, and the Amorites, and the Jebusites."

One reason for the widespread neglect of the OT is the general belief that there is nothing beyond its literal language, so that verses such as this one are considered to contain no instruction beyond the mere historical fact that God promised to drive out seven Canaanite tribes and give their land to the Israelites.  What a myopic view!  What a wealth of instruction is presented, however, when it is recognized that the literal language is but the vehicle to convey spiritual truth to spiritual minds! 

As noted already, Canaan represents the spiritual sphere made available to every believer at the moment of his conversion, the spiritual riches abounding there being portrayed by the literal riches of Canaan.  As Eph 6:12 makes clear, however, there are evil spiritual foes in that realm also, just as determined to keep us out, as were the Canaanites to prevent the Israelites from entering the land and enjoying its riches, and we are missing the major part of God's instruction to us if we fail to recognize that fact.  Those Canaanite tribes represent different aspects of the spiritual foes against whom we fight: the world, the flesh, and the devil, and as Israel's weapon in that warfare was the sword, so in our conflict with these spiritual foes is our weapon to be the sword: "the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God" (Eph 6:17), "For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places" (Eph 6:12), "For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: for the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds" (2 Co 10:3-4).

Since the key to understanding the spiritual lesson lies mainly in the meanings of the names, we will look briefly at those meanings here, leaving for more detailed study the accounts of Israel's conflict with them as recorded in later chapters.

The Canaanite, meaning a trafficker, represents anyone who trafficks in spiritual things from an ulterior motive, e.g., financial gain.  The Hittite, meaning terror, represents the principle of fear: a person or thing that makes a believer afraid to obey God, e.g., fear of being laughed at by those to whom we ought to bring the gospel.  The Hivite, meaning showers of life: livers, represents those who undertake to show others how to live so as to enter heaven, even though they themselves have never been born again, e.g., the religious church-goer who teaches others that moral reformation is the equivalent of the new birth.  The Perizzite means rustic, with squatter as a possible second meaning.  He represents the professed believer who has never been born again, and who is therefore still of the earth, earthy (1 Co 15:47), but like the literal squatter, he occupies a place amongst believers to which he has no legitimate claim.  The "churches" of Christendom are full of such people.  The Girgashite, meaning a stranger drawing near, represents one who in spite of being a stranger to grace, still draws near to claim a place amongst true believers.  The spiritual Girgashites are as numerous in Christendom's "churches" as are the spiritual Perizzites.  The Amorite, meaning a sayer, represents those who talk much about Christian things, but whose lifestyles proclaim them to be lacking in spiritual life.  They too are plentiful in Christendom. 

The Jebusites, the aboriginal inhabitants of Jerusalem, mean he will be trodden down.  Jerusalem, meaning dual peace shall be taught: lay (set) ye double peace, is a picture of the human heart, and as there will be no peace in the city of Jerusalem until the Prince of Peace reigns there, neither is there peace in the human heart until Christ reigns as Lord of the life.  The Jebusites therefore represent the old nature which rules men's lives until the new birth places Christ on the throne of the believer's heart.  The Jebusite in Canaan speaks of the old nature rather than Christ controlling the life.

3:11.  "Behold, the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth passeth over before you into Jordan."

Since the ark is a type of Christ; and the Jordan, a type of death, the ark's going into the Jordan ahead of the people, portrays Christ's going into death for us to deliver us from its power, that annulled power being symbolically portrayed in the dividing of the waters so that the Israelites crossed over on dry ground.  As the water didn't touch them, neither can death touch the believer, for as we have seen already, what is commonly regarded as death can only cause the believer's body to sleep until the resurrection of life, when it will be awakened and changed to a spiritual body of power and glory like Christ's.

3:12.  "Now therefore take you twelve men out of the tribes of Israel, out of every tribe a man."

The lessons of the book of Joshua will be better understood if it is realized that as the tribes of Canaan represent characteristics of the world, the flesh, and the devil, so do the tribes of Israel represent what should be characteristic of spiritual Israelites, i.e., believers.  For example, Reuben meaning see ye, a son, portrays believers as those who have become God's sons through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; and Simeon, meaning hearkening, and speaking therefore of obedience, portrays believers as those who have obeyed God by believing the gospel, and who are to be marked thereafter as those who obey Him in all the details of life.  

Instruction is conveyed also in the Bible's numbers, ten for example, being the number related to God as the Governor of all things, His law being expressed in the ten commandments.  Twelve is likewise a governmental number, but in relation to the governed, e.g., the twelve tribes of Israel; and the Church built upon the foundation of the doctrine taught by the twelve apostles, Eph 2:20.  Inasmuch as there were twelve tribes of Israel, and believers are spiritual Israelites, the lesson being taught by the number twelve is that we too are under the government of God, obedience bringing blessing; and disobedience, chastisement.

3:13.  "And it shall come to pass, as soon as the soles of the feet of the priests that bear the ark of the Lord, the Lord of all the earth, shall rest in the waters of Jordan, that the waters of Jordan shall be cut off from the waters that come down from above; and they shall stand upon an heap."

It is to be remembered that the typological picture presented in this crossing of Jordan, like many others in the Bible, is multifaceted.  One view of that symbolic picture is of Christ dying in our place to atone for our sins and annul the power of death.  Another is of Christ in resurrection, leading us into the enjoyment of the spiritual blessings made available to us through His death.  A third is of the rapture of the Church, Christ's coming to the air for us being portrayed in the ark, not in the river, but on the shoulders of the priests in the air above the river, the catching up of the Church being represented by the passage of every Israelite from the wilderness to Canaan through a divided Jordan over which they passed on dry ground.  A fourth is of what will be at the end of the Tribulation: Christ returned in power and glory, leading the believing remnant of Israel and of the nations into the blessings of the Millennium following the judgment of the nations.

It is instructive also to note that the moment the feet of the priests touched the water, the waters were cut off.  Surely this miracle must have confirmed their faith relative to their taking possession of the land, as they remembered God's promise, "Every place that the sole of your foot shall tread upon, that have I given unto you, as I said unto Moses" (1:3).  It is also the assurance to us that nothing is impossible to God, and since He is for us, who can be against us?

3:14.  "And it came to pass, when the people removed from their tents, to pass over Jordan, and the priests bearing the ark of the covenant before the people;"  

3:15.  "And as they that bare the ark were come unto Jordan, and the feet of the priests that bare the ark were dipped in the brim of the water, (for Jordan overfloweth all his banks all the time of harvest,)"  

3:16.  "That the waters which came down from above stood and rose up upon an heap very far from the city Adam, that is beside Zaretan: and those that came down toward the sea of the plain, even the salt sea, failed, and were cut off: and the people passed over right against Jericho."  

3:17.  "And the priests that bare the ark of the covenant of the Lord stood firm on dry ground in the midst of Jordan, and all the Israelites passed over on dry ground, until all the people were passed clean over Jordan."

The fact that it was harvest time (one of the Biblical symbols of judgment, see Mt 13:39, "The harvest is the end of the age)," with a raging Jordan overflowing its banks, reminds us that when the Lord Jesus Christ went to Calvary it was "harvest time" - He bore the judgment due to us; and what He endured there when He became our Substitute is revealed in the raging flood waters, for the Psalmist has described those sufferings under the figure of overwhelming waters, e.g., "Deep calleth unto deep at the noise of thy waterspouts: all thy waves and thy billows are gone over me" (Ps 42:7).  See also Ps 69 and 88

Adam means man: red earth, and here, as the name of a city, it represents this world as the place where man dwells.  Zaretan means their distress, and its being close to the city Adam reminds us that distress is man's constant companion here on earth.  The proximity of both places to Jordan is the graphic portrayal of the truth that man lives perilously close to death.

With the water north of the crossing place piled up, there was of course none left to flow south to the Dead Sea; but since the south is the Biblical direction that speaks of faith, and since the Dead Sea, the terminus of the Jordan the river of death, represents hell, those cut off waters are the symbolic announcement that for those dwelling in the realm of faith, death has been "cut off."  It can do no more to the believer than cause his body to sleep until the resurrection of life, when it will awake to the full enjoyment of eternal life.

In closing our study of this chapter, we should consider that there was only one place where the river could be crossed: that was where the ark was, but that place represents Calvary; and the ark, Christ.  He who would "cross Jordan" must come to Calvary, seeing in a crucified Christ the Substitute Who has died in his guilty place.  As there was only one way to cross into Canaan, so is there only one way to cross from earth to heaven: that way is Christ, He Himself declaring, "I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by Me" (Jn 14:6).

Not only was there only one crossing place, there was only one time to cross, and in regard to that time God warns, "Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation" (2 Co 6:2).

As there was only one place, and only one time to cross, so was there only one way, and that was God's way.  Those who obeyed Him were provided safe passage through the divinely divided Jordan.  Only those who obey His command, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved" (Ac 16:31), will be granted safe passage to heaven at the time when they must "cross Jordan," and we must all come to the river of death.

The man who hopes to enter heaven on the basis of his morality, church membership, philanthropy, etc., will discover, too late, the truth of Gods warning, "There is a way that seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death" (Pr 14:12).  He who seeks to enter heaven by any means other than confession of himself as a sinner, and trust in Christ as his Savior, will discover that the way that seemed so right was the way of death.  Having come by a wrong way, he will discover himself compelled to enter "Jordan's" undivided flood waters at a wrong time, and a wrong place. And the result of his error will be that instead of entering heaven, he will be swept down to hell.  Compounding the tragedy will be the eternal remorse of knowing that he has lost his soul in spite of the fact that God, at incalculable cost, paid the redemption price by sending His own Son into the waters of death as the sinner's Substitute.

If you forget every other lesson connected with Israel's crossing of Jordan, remember this one: you, in common with all men, must come one to day to "Jordan."  Unless you know Christ as your Savior there will be no crossing place.

[Joshua 4]



     Scripture portions taken from the Holy Bible, King James Version
2000-2005 James Melough