Crossing Jordan

If you were standing near the Jordan River several miles north of the Dead Sea on the morning after the two spies returned from Jericho, you would have encountered a phenomenon that would have made you fall over in amazement. Picture this scene in your mind. Standing on the eastern brink of the river are several priests holding up a large golden box adorned with two golden statues of angels perched on top; the ark of the covenant. About three thousand feet behind them a gathering of some two million people are watching and waiting. As soon as the priests’ feet are submerged in the water at the riverbank, a miracle occurs. Someway north from where the Israelites were gathered the water of the river stops flowing and overflows the banks. Joshua 3:16 says “the waters which came down from above stood and rose up upon a heap,” and the water south of the Israelites’ position simply drains into the Dead Sea leaving dry ground behind. It’s as if God set his mighty hand right down in the middle of the river and held it back.

We know that God is the creator and sustainer of all things, we have been taught this from childhood. In catechism and Sunday school and from our parents’ instruction we were taught all of the Bible stories that show Jehovah God creating the universe and doing mighty things for his people. In school all of this instruction was reinforced when we learned about science, history, mathematics, music, literature, and God’s hand in all of these things. We are well acquainted with the knowledge that God is the creator and sustainer of the universe. But do we often sit back and meditate on this? Living in the modern era, when men make fun of faithful Christians who confess that God created all things and that he has the power to stop rivers, we need to be careful lest we allow them to influence us. God very well can stop rivers. Now, scripture is sufficient. We do not need God to do such miracles anymore for he has already given us the greatest miracle of all; he sent his Son into flesh to pay for our sins. It is nevertheless good for us to meditate on the fact that God is so powerful as to do so if he wishes! We mustn’t let modern rationalistic feelings influence us, God is in control of rivers and he can use them however he pleases.

Notice though, what God is doing. Does he perform this miracle simply to display his power? No, he does so to open the way for his people into the promised land, the land of rest, of milk and honey and rich blessing. The ark leads them into this land, the symbol of his presence with them. God led them into Canaan and would let no barrier stand in their way. Think about that! Though God does not do such miracles anymore, he still rules the world with his providence. In everything in our lives God opens the way into rest for his people. Nothing will stand in their way, because Jehovah is their God.

Not only in the creation does God direct things toward our good but also in our hearts as well. Prof. Hoeksema remarks on this in the fourth volume of Unfolding Covenant History:

All this is typical of the way in which the God of our salvation opens a passage into the heavenly Canaan. There is a very real Jordan constituting a very real barrier to the promised heavenly rest. It is the Jordan of guilt and sin and death, which must be crossed in order to enter into God’s rest. Yet our guilt we can never pay, our sin we can never remove, and death we can never overcome. Although that Jordan is an impassable barrier, God opens up the passage. He dries up the flood of our sin and guilt, and through the river he paves the way for us, the way of his own righteousness. The river becomes our way. He removes our sin and pollution, and he prepares us to enter into his covenant by sanctifying us. He swallows up the power of death so that we may safely cross in the hour of our death and finish the crossing in the hour of the resurrection. We cross by faith that is not of ourselves but of God, faith that is the power by which we sanctify ourselves to receive that wonder of his grace. (265-266)

Let’s give thanks to God who brings us across the Jordan!



Rahab and the spies

Israel was about to cross the Jordan; they were only days away from embarking on the conquest of Canaan. Just before the crossing, however, we read that Joshua sent two spies to take a look at Jericho. Jericho sat just west of the Jordan River, a few miles north of the Dead Sea; it was the first city that Israel would be encountering, and would therefore be the first city Israel would have to fight. From a military perspective, it is not wise to leave enemy fortresses in your wake, because you may find yourself surrounded the further you move into enemy territory. Therefore, Jericho would have to go.

                The two spies were able to enter the city without any trouble, and they took up residence at the house of Rahab. You know the story; the king of Jericho was told that there were spies from the Israelites in his city, so he sent to Rahab and told her to bring the spies to him. Rahab hid the spies and told the king they had left. The king believed the lie and left in pursuit of the spies while Rahab let them down the wall on a scarlet rope after they promised that her house would be spared when Israel attacked the city provided that she tie the same scarlet rope in her window. The spies went back to Joshua and said “Truly the LORD hath delivered into our hands all the land; for even all the inhabitants of the country do faint because of us” (Joshua 2:24).

                You recall that this is not the first time that spies went into Canaan. Note the contrast between the ten spies that gave an evil report forty years earlier and these two spies. They have confidence in the power of Jehovah to give them the land. Remember Jericho was no insignificant fortress! It had big stone walls and heavy gates which were manned by Canaanite warriors, but the spies said ‘the LORD has given it to us!’ There has been a change among the Israelites over the last forty years, they have learned to trust God. We need to trust God as well. He fights for us. If God be for us, who can be against us? When you struggle with sin, do not forget that the same God who would eventually knock down the walls of Jericho is your God today.

                But what of the lie of Rahab? Does this passage provide biblical support for just lies? It is obvious that Rahab was a child of God. In the very passage we are considering it is evident that she desires to be with the people of Israel and not to be destroyed with her own people. But we also know that Rahab was in the line of Christ (Matthew 1:5 – Rahab was the mother of Boaz who married Ruth!). Furthermore, in Hebrews 11:31 we read “By faith the harlot Rahab perished not with them that believed not, when she had received the spies with peace.” Clearly she was loved by God and is our sister in Christ, but does all this mean that it was okay for her to lie? Is it okay for us to lie if circumstances press us? John Calvin is instructive on this issue:

As to the falsehood, we must admit that though it was done for a good purpose, it was not free from fault. For those who hold what is called a dutiful lie to be altogether excusable, do not sufficiently consider how precious truth is in the sight of God. Therefore, although our purpose be to assist our brethren, to consult for their safety and relieve them, it never can be lawful to lie, because that cannot be right which is contrary to the nature of God. And God is truth. And still the act of Rahab is not devoid of the praise of virtue, although it was not spotlessly pure. For it often happens that while the saints study to hold the right path, they deviate into circuitous courses. (From the Commentary on Joshua)

The end does not justify the means, and even our best works are as filthy rags. But let’s not lose sight of the fact that though Rahab was wrong in lying, in his sovereignty God brought about good. So it is with us! Though we want to be completely free from sin so that we can serve God perfectly, before we get discouraged we would do well to remember that even when we sin God brings about good, and so all things are ultimately working toward that great good of the return of our Lord Jesus Christ.