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This is as memorable a Chapter of the Lord's dealings with his people, as perhaps any in the Old Testament. And as there can be no doubt but that it is typical of yet greater mercies to be manifested in the New, it demands the attention of every believer more particularly. We have contained in this Chapter, the miraculous passage of Israel under their commander Joshua , over Jordan: the assurance given to the people of this event before it came to pass: the preparation for it; the sanctifying the people against it: and the event fully accomplished.
We are called upon to pay the more regard to this interesting account, because we find, that the Lord himself in after ages appealed to it, as a token to his people, that he was and ever had been their gracious covenant God. And depend upon it, Reader, you and I cannot take a better method, of proving the righteous dealings of God with our souls, than when remembering all the path our God hath led us from our Shittim to Gilgal: from our first entrance through all the eventful periods of our spiritual and temporal stages to the present moment. Reader! I do not know what your view of those things are. But I do know in my own experience, that faith finds great sweetness when the Holy Ghost, acting as the Remembrancer of Jesus, brings to my memory afresh some of the many blessed tokens of past goodness the Lord hath shown me. When I can look back, and see how many apparently impassable Jordan were before me, and yet through how many of them the Lord hath brought me, setting up the stone of remembrance and saying, Hitherto the Lord hath helped me; I find cause through grace to add, And will he not bring me through all that remain? Reader! I beg you to read the resolution of the Psalmist upon this point. Psalms 77:10-12 .
Joshua had told the people, (Joshua 1:11 .) that they were to pass over Jordan. But it doth not appear that they were informed how. Reader! it is good to have faith exercised. Abraham was not told that a ram would be provided when the Lord led him to the mount of sacrifice. Moses had no consciousness that the Lord would dry the Red sea until the hour of need. The sinner little thinks, when first the Lord begins a work of grace in his heart, that deliverance shall come, and in a way so astonishing as the blood and righteousness of Jesus? Doth not our God say to us upon numberless occasions, as to the poor man in the gospel, Believest thou that I am able to do this? Matthew 9:28 .
Jesus is the ark of his people. In him as in the ark of old, are lodged the tables of the law, and the mercy seat from whence God speaks. My soul! when the Holy Ghost gives me to see him before me, may I follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth. And Reader! do observe, this ark is called the ark of the covenant of the Lord our God; meaning that Christ is God's, and that it is a God in covenant with him for all his people. It is sweet to be looking unto the Lord Jesus Christ for mercy through him, unto eternal life. Jude 1:21 .
The distance pointed out is striking. I do not think as some have supposed, that the distance ordered between the ark and the people, was that the multitude which followed might not crowd upon one another, so as to prevent the whole from seeing. But I rather think that there was somewhat typical and figurative in it. Under the old dispensation, the people were prohibited from coming nigh. And this was meant to shadow forth the difference between the law and the gospel. See Hebrews 12:18-19 . But in the gospel-state, we that were afar off are brought nigh by the blood of Jesus. Hebrews 10:21-22 . There is somewhat very striking in this command. Two thousand cubits was almost half a mile. The priests therefore in the face of an enemy ' s country were to pass over unarmed, and at a distance from the main body of the army. But then they had the ark of God's presence with them. Yes, dearest Jesus! where thou art an host of foes cannot make us fear. I would have the Reader remark with me, how much the passing of Jordan represented the river of death. Of this it may be also said to every believer, "Ye have not passed this way heretofore." Oh! for the ark of the covenant of God, or which is the same thing, Jesus whom that ark represented, to be with me when I pass the dark valley; for then shall I fear no ill while thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Psalms 23:4 ; Isaiah 43:2 .
This sanctifying the people meant to set themselves apart from all worldly concerns. It is suitable and proper to withdraw from communion with men, in order to enjoy communion with God. And when our God is about in a more especial manner to come to bless his people, well may they be found waiting the Lord's approach. James 4:8 .
I would have the Reader remark with me that the priests, and not the Levites, were here appointed to the service of carrying the ark. See Numbers 4:15 . Was not this to show that Jesus in his priestly office, and not the law which the Levites represented, must go in before the people! Under the law they were seeking out a resting place. In the gospel that rest is found. See Numbers 10:33 . Compared with Psalms 132:8 . I beg the Reader yet further to remark with me, that heretofore the ark was carried in the midst of the people, implying that God was in the midst of his people. But now in going before, did it not imply, that Jesus would go before to take possession in their name? It is not an unsuitable observation neither, to remark, that the priests bearing the ark and going before the people may be supposed to intimate, that it is the office of the ministers of the gospel to go before the people in all appointed ordinances, holding up to their view the person of the Lord Jesus in all his endearing offices, and characters, and relations. Oh, for more of Paul's disposition in the servants of the sanctuary! See 1 Corinthians 2:2 .
God had before honoured Joshua when returning from searching out the promised land. But not in so eminent a manner as now. I hope the Reader in keeping his eye all along upon Joshua as a type of the ever blessed Jesus, will not forget that it was from the same river of Jordan, and on the entrance of his ministry, that Jesus began to be so distinguished in honour, when a voice from heaven declared him to be the only beloved son of his Father. See Matthew 3:16-17 .
Reader! while looking at the letter of the precept, on the feet of the priests touching the river, do not overlook that sacred ark, the type of Jesus, as being with them? And though there were to be twelve men to attend the priests, yet these were as witnesses of the miraculous deed to be done that day, and not as party performers. There is somewhat very striking in the expression, the Lord of all the earth; meaning that Israel' s God is God of all things; but with Israel only hath he entered into these covenant engagements. I hope the Reader will not fail to observe how in this instance, as in every other, the Lord makes the performance of one mercy to become the sure pledge of all. By the fording of Jordan, was to be proved God's promises for the total subduing all Canaan. And wherein do gospel promises differ from the same? Doth not the Lord say, in the fulfillment of everyone of them, I will not leave thee until I have done that which I have spoken to thee of? Genesis 28:15 . Did not Moses, by the spirit of prophecy, promise this passage to Israel, at least forty years before it came to pass? See Exodus 15:16-17 .
We shall have a much better apprehension of the greatness of this miracle, if we call to mind some of the circumstances connected with it. Jordan, at this time, overflowed, from the mountains of ice which came down from Mount Lebanon being now melted, and had poured themselves into the bosom of Jordan. Had the Lord, by a sudden frost, congealed these waters, the mercy would have been, the same, and his interposition the same; yet then, the miracle would not have appeared so striking. In what a lofty strain have the sacred writers proclaimed this glorious event? See Psalms 114:0 and Habakkuk 3:8 .
Reader, seek grace from God the Holy Ghost to read the whole of this sweet scripture spiritually, and with an eye to God's mercy in Jesus. As Jordan ' s sacred stream retired, to make way for the ransomed to pass over; and as the priests ' feet stood firm in the river until all was accomplished; so, depend upon it the covenant of grace, in the blood and righteousness of the Lord Jesus, stands firm in the midst of all the Jordans of this world of sin, and sorrow, and tribulation. The word of God saith it, and Jesus ever lives to secure it: the ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion, with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads: they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away: Isaiah 35:10 .
YE happy souls! whom God, even the God of the whole earth, is bringing in, and bringing through all the fords of Jordan, and all the difficulties which lay on this side Jordan, in the way to Canaan; here stand still, and see the salvation of God. How eternally safe, and how eternally secure, must they be, who have the ark of the covenant to go on before them, and the Lord himself their rereward!
Ye priests of Jesus, Levites of a better dispensation than that of Moses, and established upon better promises, with what fearless and undaunted zeal may you pass on, before the camp of God's Israel, surrounded with his ordinances and the ark of the covenant of the God of the whole earth, with you!
But chiefly thou, dear Jesus! who art both the ark and the resting place, the mercy seat and the security, the all in all of thy people. Oh! be thou ever with me in all places, at all times, in all the Jordans of difficulty, and in all the Canaan for happiness; for without thee nothing is safe, nothing desirable. Be thou my ark, my sanctuary, my covert, my resting place, for in thy person and righteousness, are the lives of thy people eternally secured and made happy. Unto thee, blessed Jesus, as my everlasting home, do I desire to come, for thou Lord hast dealt bountifully with me.
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Hawker, Robert, D.D. "Commentary on Joshua 3". "Hawker's Poor Man's Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent