Joshua 3:7-17

Updated: Feb 3

The Lord said to Joshua, “This day I will begin to exalt you in the sight of all Israel, so that they may know that I will be with you as I was with Moses. You are the one who shall command the priests who bear the ark of the covenant, ‘When you come to the edge of the waters of the Jordan, you shall stand still in the Jordan.’” Joshua then said to the Israelites, “Draw near and hear the words of the Lord your God.” Joshua said, “By this you shall know that among you is the living God who without fail will drive out from before you the Canaanites, Hittites, Hivites, Perizzites, Girgashites, Amorites, and Jebusites: the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth is going to pass before you into the Jordan. So now select twelve men from the tribes of Israel, one from each tribe. When the soles of the feet of the priests who bear the ark of the Lord, the Lord of all the earth, rest in the waters of the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan flowing from above shall be cut off; they shall stand in a single heap.”


When the people set out from their tents to cross over the Jordan, the priests bearing the ark of the covenant were in front of the people. Now the Jordan overflows all its banks throughout the time of harvest. So when those who bore the ark had come to the Jordan, and the feet of the priests bearing the ark were dipped in the edge of the water, the waters flowing from above stood still, rising up in a single heap far off at Adam, the city that is beside Zarethan, while those flowing toward the sea of the Arabah, the Dead Sea, were wholly cut off. Then the people crossed over opposite Jericho. While all Israel were crossing over on dry ground, the priests who bore the ark of the covenant of the Lord stood on dry ground in the middle of the Jordan, until the entire nation finished crossing over the Jordan.


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This is the Old Testament primary selection from the Episcopal Lectionary for Year A, Proper 26, the twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost. It will next be read aloud in church on Sunday, November 5, 2017. This is important as it tells of the Israelites’ entry into the Promised Land in the same manner that they departed Egypt, with all threats removed and the waters of emotional unbalance made dry.


It is easy to read this selection and think that God has told Joshua, “Not to worry, I’ll still be with you guys, making sure things go well for you.” But, that misses several important points that are stated in that assurance.


To read, “This day I will begin to exalt you in the sight of all Israel, so that they may know that I will be with you as I was with Moses,” the well-trained reading brain comes away thinking God said, “The Israelites will see Joshua as a big man;” but that fails to grasp God telling Joshua, “I will make you greater with the sight (or eyes) of Israel (the next place for the growth vision for a land of God’s priests).”


The Hebrew words “gad·del·ḵā bə·‘ê·nê” say, “to magnify you in the sight.” This is then a promise to “grow” the “sight” of Joshua, in the same way God gave “eyes” to Moses, through his prophetic dream state visions. The promise now says that Joshua will have the same talents of prophecy, as this is how God speaks to His prophets; but it still says that the Israelites will see this comparison to Moses in Joshua.  So, the Israelites will follow the lead of Joshua in the same manner.


Now, beginning in verse 8, the words “ark of the covenant” (“’ă·rō·wn hab·bə·rîṯ”) are found. That combination of words is then repeated (in variations) two more times (verses, 11 and 17), with “ark” stated alone, in verses 13 (“the ark of the Lord of lords”) and 15 (“the ark”). It should be noted that repetition is not to make one’s eyes tired, but to alert one to an important element being stated.  That awareness becomes important in this reading selection.


If one watches the plethora of programming on The History Channel, about “Ancient Aliens,” or if one reads any of the number of books that attempt to solve the mystery of the Holy Grail, one invariably comes across wild conjecture about the ark of the covenant. Some say, if you follow the directions given in Exodus 25 (verses 10 through 22) and repeated in Exodus 37:1-9, then you end up with a highly charged conductor of energy. The addition of a requirement that it should never be touched, thus carried by wooden poles, is another aspect of some device having been created that has super powers.


As ancient alien theorists believe, it connects to a spaceship somewhere, and God is more like the Wizard of Oz … just some guy behind a curtain.


The point I want to make about the carrying of the ark of the covenant into the ankle-deep waters of a swollen Jordan River, causing it’s waters to separate and the ground to be exposed and become instantly dry, a larger body of water was likewise effected by Moses and his staff. With all the mystery about the missing ark and if the Knights Templar found it and stole away with it, where is the mystery over the loss of the staff of Moses? Would Moses have been buried with his staff, when that staff had such amazing powers?


Perhaps it was not the staff as much as it was God. In the same way, perhaps it was not so much the electrical properties of a gold-plated cedar chest, but the presence of God in the holy men carrying those wooden poles (horizontal staffs). What if the ark of the covenant was symbolic of the powers of God, when He is placed inside a human body?


Imagine the diodes of the heart causing highly charged spiritual energy being fed through neural wires leading to the hands, eyes, ears, mouth, and of course … feet.


Anyone see the science fiction movie about a woman who accidentally gains psychokinetic powers, Lucy? I digress.


Not Lucy.


When we read or hear read, “Joshua then said to the Israelites, “Draw near and hear the words of the Lord your God,” this means he told them “the conditions set forth that must be met, coming from the LORD your God.” The Hebrew word “diḇ-rê” (root debar) means “speech” or “words,” but is also translatable as “commandments, conversations,” and ”conditions.” These “words” or “commandments” do not demand the Israelites recognize God had them craft a machine, in which to carry the stone tablets, as a chest that was radio-controlled from outer space and could zap anyone at will.


Joshua announced he was speaking as Moses had, allowing the words of the Lord God of Israel to use his voice to sound Spiritual instructions. We then see the conditions that were set said nothing immediately about an ark doing anything. Initially, we read that “Joshua said, ‘By this you shall know that among you is the living God who without fail will drive out from before you the Canaanites, Hittites, Hivites, Perizzites, Girgashites, Amorites, and Jebusites,’” The part that says “living God” is vital to grasp, as an ark is made of non-living materials.


“Among you is the living God” means “God is alive within you,” so the Israelites were the ones who had the power of God. It means that those human beings who were “without” that power within them (all those specifically named), they would “fail” to defend the land they had lived on. It would not be an ark leading the victories, as victories would be won by those with God’s power within them. Joshua, speaking “the words of the LORD,” then named all those tribes of people who were “without” the Holy Spirit, whose lands would be lost to the Israelites.


In a verse that precedes the selected verses above, in Joshua 3:5 is found: “Then Joshua said to the people, ‘Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do wonders among you.”’ This order said to take steps to sanctify themselves and to take the necessary steps to be holy means the Israelites were prepared to be filled with God’s Holy Spirit.


The words translated as “the LORD will do wonders among you” can be read as “the LORD inwardly to be extraordinary.” As such, when Joshua gave instructions to the priests who carried the ark of the covenant (verse 3:6), where they were told to pass by the Israelites and lead the crossing with the ark of the covenant. The Israelites were filled with the Spirit of God within them, just as the ark contained their agreement with God inside it. That made the ark of the covenant symbolize those who followed it were empowered by the LORD.


When we read then in verse 11, “the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth is going to pass before you into the Jordan,” and in verse 13, “the Lord of all the earth, rest in the waters of the Jordan,” we find repeated “the Lord of all the earth.” The Hebrew word “eretz” means “earth, lands, or world,” such that the LORD is not simply a deity that rules over all humanity; but God created everything material, of which human bodies are formed and of which lands and their rivers are made. Therefore, God is the LORD of all anomalies of physics (metaphysics?), including those that stand still flowing waters and force them back, making wet soil become immediately dry.


In the Old Testament reading of Proper 25, where Moses was told by the LORD, “You will not pass over there,” as reference to both his going across the Jordan River and his passing over from life to death, the same meaning can now be seen here in Joshua 3.  The words translated as “passing before” (“‘ō-ḇêr lip̄·nê·ḵem”) are repeated in some variation, multiple times.  Joshua 3:1, 3:4, 3:6 [not read in this selection], plus Joshua 3:11, 3:14, 3:16, and 3:17, state either “passed” or “before” or both.


The root words are “abar panim,” or “pass over to face.” This, again, is a hidden statement about the First Commandment that says, “Thou shall wear no other face as a god in the presence of the LORD.”


This acts as a confirmation that the priests – one from each of the twelve tribes [or “two and ten men from the tribes of Israel”] – were filled with God’s Holy Spirit. By not being limited as Levites, the priests of the tabernacle in which the ark of the covenant was kept, choosing “ordinary Israelites” demonstrated they all were holy, by having a love of the LORD in the chest [their ark] that was their hearts. Therefore, all of Israel had consecrated themselves, so the face of the LORD passed over theirs, so all had the same face of holiness.


This then leads to the statements, “When the soles of the feet of the priests who bear the ark of the Lord, the Lord of all the earth, rest in the waters of the Jordan” and “when those who bore the ark had come to the Jordan, and the feet of the priests bearing the ark were dipped in the edge of the water,” where “feet” become a focus. This brings back in mind the Psalm quoted by Jesus to the Pharisees (110:1), in the Proper 25 Gospel selection: “Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet,” or “until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.”


The Hebrew word translated as “your enemy” is “’ō·yə·ḇe·ḵā,” where an “enemy” is a “foe” or “adversary.” When Joshua named the tribes of Canaan who would “fail” before the “living God of Israel,” he was naming the “enemies” who would become “the footstools under the feet” of God’s priests. Thus, they would be defeated by God, with the priests being God’s agents, who were given the powers of the LORD.


As the LORD of the world, nothing material could overcome this power, meaning not even a swollen Jordan River could oppose the children of God entering into the lands the LORD had promised them; and, as with the difficulty factor of escaping Egypt in the face of a great sea, no earthly barrier can be a match for those who bear the power of the LORD.  Anything is possible to the LORD.


Because we read, “the waters of the Jordan flowing from above shall be cut off; they shall stand in a single heap” and “the waters flowing from above stood still, rising up in a single heap far off at Adam, the city that is beside Zarethan, while those flowing toward the sea of the Arabah, the Dead Sea, were wholly cut off,” after we read of the “feet” in the Jordan, this feat cannot be attributed to the ark of the covenant.  It was “the feet” of those carrying the ark of the covenant that entered (barely) the waters of the Jordan.  Because of that realization, one needs to see the subsequent actions involving water to be attributed to the human factor as the cause, more than the mechanisms of the ark of the covenant.


Consider how the wayward Israelites (under the priest Eli) had caused the loss of the ark of the covenant to the Philistines (1 Samuel 4). They lost it because they thought using the ark would bring about victory; but the ark had no effect that day in battle, when 30,000 foot soldiers died, the ark was captured and two sons of Eli (tabernacle priests) died. Without the human factor, where the Israelites became like the ark of the covenant, filled with the love of the LORD and the powers He bestows, the ark of the covenant is only a reflection of whose face one wears as a god before the LORD.


Then, the Israelites wore their own faces and depended on Eli, who had two sons committing atrocities that he would not punish.  They had turned away from God, selfishly.  The Palestinians wore the face of Dagon, their idol god, before which they placed the prize ark of Israel.  That act provoked the LORD, we are told (1 Samuel 5), and the Philistines would rue that act of putting the idol of another god before the LORD.


Ancient alien theorists don’t give much thought to this negative power that surrounded the ark of the covenant. If the ark of the covenant were some amazingly powerful energy generator, why would water be stopped, when water is a conductor of electricity? Why were the priest not electrocuted, once their feet touched the water? In the hypotheses of the Templar Knights, if they had found the ark of the covenant AND THEN STOLEN IT, would they not soon realize the same negative powers of an angry God, so the plague-ridden remainders of those knights would have left the ark out in the open land of southern France with a sign on it saying, “Do not touch unless you are a Saint”?


The point here is the power of God was in His priests, who bore the sacred chest that held the sacred tablets that represented the total commitment of the Israelites to the LORD their God. That love consecrated them, so their faith turned back the waters of the Jordan, in the same manner that the faith of lepers, blind men, possessed people, and the lame equally created miracles, as told in the Gospels. Jesus was a totally committed human, who represented the reappearance of the ark of the covenant, which had been lost by the time the Israelites lost the Promised Land [the Covenant broken was no longer stored away]. Therefore, Christians can make water (symbolic for emotions) “stand in a heap,” as the conduits of God’s powers on earth.


When we are then told the extent of the cessation of waters flowing, “rising up in a single heap far off at Adam, the city that is beside Zarethan,” this needs to be grasped both physically (actual locations) and spiritually (why those places bore those names). Here is a map that someone who has written about Joshua has posted online:


This map shows the physicality of what is stated. The Wadi Nimrin represents a dry ravine during the dry season, but since the text states, “Now the Jordan overflows all its banks throughout the time of harvest,” the wadi would have been flowing a lot of water into the Jordan, causing it to overflow its banks. Just north of Adam is the Jabbok River, which flows into the Jordan, and just to the south is where the Wadi Tirzah had its confluence. The sheer size of this area affected (15 miles roughly) must be seen as a necessary space that could accommodate a great number of Israelites.  If that many who were filled with the Holy Spirit of God were ready along the banks of the Jordan, awaiting Joshua’s commands of the LORD, the feet touching far away to the south would have started a backwards flow northward.


On a deeper level of thought, my opinion (which will not be found commonly stated in scholarly interpretations of Joshua) is that one has to ponder what the presence of the two names and what that means. All names presented in the Holy Bible are symbolic statements of meaning. Names were not made up because they sounded funny or cool back then. Names stood for people, places, and things for reason and purpose; and that reason and purpose needs to be examined here.


It does not take a biblical rocket scientist to see the name Adam and think of the Son of God, the one who used to live in the “eretz” (“land”) called “the garden of Eden.” Of course, little-a “adam” is Hebrew for “man,” but some say the word implies “red man,” or even “mud” (I assume “reddish clay”). In that case, the name of a place known as “Adam,” could be because of the muddy land surrounding it, where two rivers join – like a red delta. Still, after Adam and Eve were found to have sinned, they were cast out of Eden, with God placing cherubim to the east of Eden. Such a place where Adam could have begun to toil, working the land, could very well have been where this place named Adam was. The purpose of the name was that settlement identity.  While outcast, Adam might have still wanted to stay close to his old home, so he only went as far as just beyond where he was no longer allowed.


Now, the name “Zaretan” [a.k.a. “Zarethan”] means “the Fortress” or “Narrowness of Dwelling Place,” according to Abarim Publications. The map above shows where a place named Zaredah was located, and this is presumed (by some) to be the same place as Zaretan. As this location is about as far away from Adam (north), as Adam was from the crossing point opposite Jericho (south), it is not near and certainly not “beside” it.


In that regard, the word written (“miṣ·ṣaḏ”) means “beside, to the side,” or “an arm of.” This means the reference to “from the city” (“hā·‘îr“) means Adam was a place of “excitement,” as “towns” are (from “iyr”).


In the picture above, the southern tip of the land between the Jordan River and the Jabbok River is to the eastern side of Adam.  That land appears like an arm reaching down, with its hand almost touching the “town” of “Adam.” This can then be seen as defining that land as a “Narrowness of Dwelling Place,” with purpose and reason behind that name. As such, Zaretan can be read as descriptive of a delta formation of land that is next to the city (or town) that was Adam; and that could infer that Adam, the son of God, toiled that earth, from that place of “excitement.”


Beyond Joshua making a statement about how far north the Jordan River backed up, the symbolism states a claim that this crossing is into holy land, which is then backing up the flow of time, to the time when Adam lived in Eden, prior to his expulsion. It says the ark of the covenant and the Israelites filled with God’s Holy Spirit are returning to their ancestral home, as Adam’s heirs, through Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.


From seeing this statement of two names that do little more than create surface confusion, as to “Why?” the continuation that is translated as: “while those flowing toward the sea of the Arabah, the Dead Sea, were wholly cut off,” then speaks of those who had migrated into that holy land (which Joshua, as a spy, had said was “flowing with milk and honey”).  To read “toward the sea of the Arabah, the Dead Sea,” where people were “wholly cut off,” the inference is cut off from that holy lineage.  The ones named held no rights of ownership.


As such, “the sea of the plain” (“yam ha-arabah”) and “the sea of salt” (“yam ham-melah”) are references to the sea of mankind that was “Arab” (“Arabah” is the Hebrew feminine form of “Arabia”). This means a statement of waters not being replenished to the south is something Captain Obvious would say, as it adds nothing of value to the miracle of waters backed up 15 miles.  The people there were “of the plain,” thus not “elevated” through consecration.  They were the “salt” of the earth, but the Salt Sea is known also as the Dead Sea, meaning the “salt” was mortal, not everlasting.  As the descendants of Ishmael and Esau, they were “wholly cut off” from knowing the LORD Yahweh.


When the reading then makes its conclusion by stating, “While all Israel were crossing over on dry ground” and “the priests who bore the ark of the covenant of the Lord stood on dry ground in the middle of the Jordan,” this element of dry ground is repeated. The Hebrew word “be·ḥā·rā·ḇāh” has that meaning, but implies a “desert.” This means more than the powers of God stopping the flow of rivers and wadis that were swollen with fall rains, backing those up 15 miles, and instantly making hard earth be under the feet of men holding the ark of the covenant. It means, despite the amount of annual rainfall, the land was void of spiritual recognition of Holy Land.  That earth was dried of all emotion for the true God, because the people had become lost.


This understanding then allows one to see the flow of living waters – spiritual waters that never need replenishing – coming back into the land that was once the garden of Eden. Without that presence of God being the source of the bounty of the land, since Adam had been cast out, and since Melchizedek, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had last dug wells and given life to that land, it had become a desert, as far as Spirituality was concerned. Therefore, when “the entire nation finished crossing over the Jordan,” so the garden was again in bloom. The Spirit of the LORD was being reinstated into the heart of the land, with the sacred ark becoming the central pump of the Holy Spirit to the far reaches of the Twelve Tribes of Israel.

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