And Joshua said, “Here is how you shall know that the living God is among you and that he will without fail drive out from before you all the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Hivites, the Perizzites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, and the Jebusites. Behold, the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth is passing over before you into the Jordan.” ~Joshua 3:10-11 (ESV)
With the spies returned from Jericho, Joshua was ready to lead the people across the Jordan River and into the Promised Land. God had been with them in the past as he led them out of Egypt with many signs and wonders, and through the wilderness wanderings via the pillars of cloud and fire. Now God again promised his presence with them as they began their conquest of the Land.
And how would they know? How would Joshua’s leadership be verified? How could they trust that the victory was sure?
God gave them a sign. They already had the ark of the covenant as a visible reminder. In it were the stones containing the words of the covenant that came through Moses, as well as Aaron’s budded staff and a jar of manna. All of these reminders of God’s promises and provision. Even more, the ark was decorated with gold and figures of cherubim (winged, heavenly creatures) that surrounded what was called the mercy seat, where God manifested his presence as he gave Moses commands for the people (Exodus 25:22).
As the priests carried the ark into the waters of the Jordan, joined by a man representing each tribe, the waters stopped and stood in a wall and allowed the people to cross on dry land, just as had happened with the Red Sea as they fled Egypt.
God demonstrated his presence.
We no longer have the ark of the covenant like those Israelites did as they crossed the Jordan. Indeed, no one knows what even became of the ark after the Babylonians destroyed the temple. But we have something better, we have Jesus.
Hebrews 8-10 explain that Jesus brings to us a New Covenant that is superior to the Old one written on those tablets of stone and sealed in the ark. This New covenant truly provides the forgiveness of sins. The ark, everything within it, and everything that surrounded it in the tabernacle and later the temple were mere shadows of a greater reality. They all pointed to Jesus and his sacrifice for our sins.
Jesus is God’s promises fulfilled and his provisions given. And through Jesus we have more than an external reminder of God’s presence with us—we have the Holy Spirit within us (Romans 8).
So, let us not be like the Israelites as they crossed the Jordan, looking to an artifact and a wall of standing water to remind us of God’s presence. Instead, let us look to Jesus and all that he has fulfilled. And by faith, let us live daily with the Holy Spirit internally reminding us that because of Jesus we are God’s children and he is our Father—a Father who will never leave nor forsake his children.
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