Images of the Savior (3 - The Crossing of the Jordan)
If, as we have seen, Joshua was a notable type of the Savior primarily because he rose up after Moses, and accomplished what even that great leader of the people had been unable to do; and if the one great act which Moses had been insufficient for was to bring the people of Israel across the Jordan and into the land which God had promised to their fathers to give to them; then we may expect to see very many wonderful and instructive signs and types of the Messiah surrounding the time when the typical savior Joshua actually brought the people of Israel into the promised land of Canaan; and in this expectation, we will not at all be disappointed, when we examine the account before us today with the eyes of faith, comparing spiritual things with spiritual, and hoping by the Spirit to see the great redemption of our Lord and Savior most poignantly displayed before our eyes.
In order to accomplish this edifying goal, let us consider first, in brief, how this act secured for Joshua an abiding place as one of the great Old Testament types of the Christ; and then, even more importantly, let us take note of the several ways in which the passing over of the Ark of the Covenant, which symbolized the promised Messiah, here foreshadows the gospel in an even more brilliant and astonishing way, every detail of that wondrous event signifying something of great import in God's eternal plan of the ages, which he intended from the beginning to sum up in the person and work of his Christ (Eph. 1:9-10).
We may note of Joshua, first of all, that it was precisely when he passed through the waters of the Jordan that the Lord began to exalt him in the eyes of all the people, so that they became convinced that, just as he had been with Moses, so he was with Joshua, all the days of his life (Joshua 3:7; 4:14). We mentioned in an earlier chapter that the history of Joshua's life, broadly considered, tends to a comparison of this event with the baptism of Jesus; for both of them began their public ministry by entering the waters of the Jordan River; and yet, when we see this event described in detail, we are rather drawn to compare this crossing of the Jordan more particularly to Jesus' death on the cross, for several reasons.
First, Jesus himself speaks of his work on the cross as a baptism (Luke 12:50), which would be very readily signified by Joshua's baptism here, when he passed through the waters which separated his people from the paradise of their promised land, so that they might enter in. Just as Jesus passed through his baptism of wrath in order to open up heaven to the penitent thief and all the great multitudes after, so Joshua passed through the Jordan to open up Canaan to the multitudes of his people.
Second, inasmuch as it was due to this passing over the Jordan that Joshua was exalted in the eyes of the people, it is strongly to be preferred that we consider the event most especially to be a type of the Savior's passing through the floods of God's wrath on the cross; because, after he was baptized he was misunderstood and despised by the people, but he spoke often of how he would later be glorified and exalted, when he had been lifted up on the cross (e.g. John 8:28; 12:32), which indeed happened; for as soon as he had gone through that greater baptism of wrath, then his Spirit opened up the eyes of the apostles, and he was glorified in their sight, and came to be glorified among all the nations, as they proclaimed the good news to many people. So then, because it was this event by which Joshua was glorified before the people, we may esteem it much like the baptism on the cross, because of which Christ came to be greatly glorified among all his people.
And finally, this event has, with good reason, long been considered especially instructive of the death of the saints, passing through which they enter the promised land where their Lord dwells; and in that character, it ought to remind us especially of the death of the Lord himself, by which he brought all his people into their heavenly rest forevermore. Furthermore, we will be confirmed in this analysis when we consider just what it was that the Lord was signifying by the crossing over of the Ark of the Covenant, shortly hereafter.
But let us first say a couple more things about this Joshua: for before this great event, when he brought the people through the Jordan and into the Promised Land, as a type of the greater redemption that the Christ would effect, the Holy Spirit says of him that he taught them the words of the Lord their God (Joshua 3:9); and this is just what the Christ did before the cross, teaching the crowds the words of God during the years of his public ministry (e.g. John 17:8). Then, immediately after this crossing of the Jordan, he called out twelve men, and instructed them in how to provide a memorial of that event, so that they might pass on its remembrance to their children and children's children after them (Joshua 4:4-7); and this is just what Jesus did after the cross, when he sent out his twelve apostles, having given them the sign of the Lord's Supper, by which they remembered his death and proclaimed it to their children's children throughout their generations. Finally, just after this, he went out at the head of some 40,000 armed men (Joshua 4:13), and conquered the world for his people; which is just like what Jesus did, in a spiritual manner, immediately raising up a host of thousands of martyrs and witnesses, who went out behind him to bring the whole world into subjection to the beautiful news of his redemption. So for all these reasons, we prefer to think of this event in the life of Joshua as a very clear type of the death and resurrection of Christ, who passed through the waters of God's wrath, and came to the other side alive, having brought a whole host through those waters with him unscathed.
Now then, as we have already intimated, we will reflect more particularly on that central feature of this account, the passage of the Ark of the Covenant through the Jordan. We must remember, first of all, as we have argued elsewhere, that the Ark of the Covenant was a very important type of the Christ, signifying as it did the very presence of God among his people; for in this ark, which bore the glory of God, just as Jesus brought down all the divine glory and suffused it all through a human body, were found the second, unbroken set of tablets, showing that, after his people had shattered God's Law in their hard-hearted rebellion, the Christ would keep it perfectly in their stead; and also, the manna which came down from heaven, as Jesus came down to be the Bread of Life (John 6:48-51); and the rod of Aaron which blossomed, showing that, by the cross upon which he offered himself up as our true High Priest he would bring life and fruitfulness â€“ so in these things, we are led to think most especially of Christ in his redemptive office of bringing us the presence of God and reconciling us to him by his perfect righteousness and sacrificial sufferings; and it is this Ark which passed before the people into the Jordan, and opened up a way for them.
This also confirms us in our opinion that the event here foreshadowed was primarily the crucifixion: for it immediately reminds us of another time in which another ark entered the waters for the salvation of the people of God; and the ark which saved Noah, as we showed elsewhere, foreshadowed Christ, in whom we are made to pass safely through the waters of God's wrath, when we are united to him in baptism (1 Peter 3:20-21). And so also, this event is here explicitly compared to that second great, typological baptism of the people, in their passing through the Red Sea (Joshua 4:23-24), which is the outstanding display of redemption in all the Old Testament (see Jer. 23:7-8). Now, given these two comparisons, the case must be very firmly established, that this event had a significance most especially related to the death of Christ on the cross.
So, let us note some details of the event that foreshadow in specific ways exactly what would take place so many years later, when Jesus, the true Ark of God, passed through death into life for his people: and the first thing we will notice is this, that the Ark was said to have preceded the people precisely by 2,000 cubits (Joshua 3:4), which the Jews took from this same passage as the limit of length that anyone could journey on a Sabbath day, a measure that is referred to elsewhere in the scriptures, when in Acts 1:12 the apostles go a â€œSabbath's day journeyâ€ back to Jerusalem [see John Gill's commentary on Joshua 3:4]. Now, that this is not mere co-incidence, that the precise distance of a Sabbath's day journey is enjoined upon the people, as they stay behind the Ark which signified the Christ to them, should be at once apparent; for when Jesus preceded the people through God's wrath on the cross, he went exactly one Sabbath day's journey through the grave for them, and early Sunday morning came up from the dead, and brought them all into the promised land behind him. So then, the Sabbath's day journey that separated the people from their entrance into the land was a type of the journey that Christ made on that Sabbath day so many years after, going that far in advance of his people as he led them into heaven.
But if that detail serves to remind us of just how Christ passed through the floods of wrath in order to bring us behind him into Paradise, much more poignantly will the next detail signify to us the same thing: for it is said in particular, that as soon as the Ark came into the Jordan, the waters were cut off from Adam, even those waters which flow into the Salt Sea, at the place where Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed by God's wrath hundreds of years before this event (Joshua 3:16; cf. also, Gen. 19:23-29). Now, this is exactly what happened on the cross, when Christ went into the floods of God's wrath in our place; for the waters of his wrath were flowing down against us from our very first father and federal head Adam, who sinned and brought condemnation upon all his race (see Romans 5:12-21); and where were those bitter waters, rising from the very source of the human race, rushing toward, what terrible end were they cascading toward in certainty, unless someone should step in to cut them off? Only utter destruction, the earnest of which was given when God rained fire and brimstone from heaven against Sodom, and turned that whole fruitful plain into a dead and barren sea of salt. All of us, springing from Adam's loins, were caught up in the rushing flow of God's wrath, and our destination was sure to be the same destruction that he had rained down from heaven upon those wicked places â€“ but praise be to God, that he sent his Son to step into that raging river, which had overflowed all its banks in the terror of his fury (cf. Josh. 3:15; 4:18), to cut it off, and let his people pass through to Paradise, and not be swept away to the Salt Sea that his punishment had made of Sodom!
The next detail we will note is that, as soon as all of Israel had passed through on dry ground, the Ark of the Covenant holding back the waters from overwhelming them, then they immediately set up a memorial in those very waters, and built up a living testimony to God's grace out of twelve stones, rising up from the midst of the Jordan (Joshua 4:8-10). Now this, as well, has a very fitting application to the time of its fulfillment, when Christ cut off the waters of God's wrath in truth: for we, too, have a memorial of the redemption of that Christ wrought in those very waters as well; for we are united to him in his death and resurrection when we pass through the waters of baptism (Rom. 6:3-5), and as we are united to him, we are built up as living stones, to be a memorial and dwelling place of God by his Spirit (Eph. 2:19-22). Just as all twelve tribes of Israel were signified by the twelve stones set up in the waters, so the whole people of God by faith, in the waters of baptism, are joined together as a memorial to his grace.
Finally, we will just note that all of this took place on the tenth day of the first month, which was the day on which the Passover Lamb was to be led out and prepared for the Passover on the fourteenth day (Exodus 12:1-6); in this, God was signifying that the dawn of a New Year of his eternal favor, when he would dwell among his people forevermore, began when Jesus Christ, the Lamb who takes away the sins of the world, was led out to pass through the waters of wrath for all who belonged to him, to give to them an eternal salvation, and save them by his blood. Sinner, have you been joined to this Christ, in whom alone is forgiveness of sins and entrance into eternal life in God's presence?