Crossing the Jordan Bible Story Study Guide

The miracle of crossing the Jordan was a major turning point for Israel

Crossing the Jordan River
Distant Shores Media / Sweet Publishing

Crossing the Jordan River was a key event in Israel’s history. Just as crossing the Red Sea changed Israel’s standing from slavery to freedom, passing through the Jordan into the Promised Land, transformed Israel from a wandering horde into an established nation. To the people, the river seemed like an insurmountable obstacle. But to God, it represented a decisive turning point.

Question for Reflection

Joshua was a humble man who, like his mentor Moses, understood he could not accomplish the awesome tasks before him without complete dependence on God. Do you try to do everything in your own strength, or have you learned to rely on God when life gets tough?

Scripture Reference

The miraculous account of crossing the Jordan River takes place in Joshua 3-4.

Crossing the Jordan Story Summary

After wandering in the desert 40 years, the Israelites finally approached the boundary of the Promised Land near Shittim. Their great leader Moses had died, and God had transferred power to Moses' successor, Joshua.

Before invading the hostile land of Canaan, Joshua had sent in two spies to scout the enemy. Their story is told in the account of Rahab, the prostitute.

Joshua ordered the people to consecrate themselves by washing themselves, their clothes, and refraining from sex. The next day, he assembled them a half mile behind the ark of the covenant. He told the Levite priests to carry the ark to the Jordan River, which was swollen and treacherous, overflowing its banks with snowmelt from Mount Hermon.

As soon as the priests waded in with the ark, the water stopped flowing and piled in a heap, 20 miles north near the village of Adam. It was also cut off to the south. While the priests waited with the ark in the middle of the river, the entire nation crossed over on dry ground.

The Lord commanded Joshua to have 12 men, one from each of the 12 tribes, pick up a stone from the center of the riverbed. About 40,000 men from the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh had crossed over first, armed and ready for battle.

Once everyone had crossed, the priests with the ark came out of the riverbed. As soon as they were safe on dry land, the waters of the Jordan rushed in.

The people camped that night at Gilgal, about two miles away from Jericho. Joshua took the 12 stones they had brought and stacked them into a memorial. He told the nation it was a sign to all the nations of the earth that the Lord God had parted the waters of the Jordan, just as he had parted the Red Sea in Egypt.

Then the Lord commanded Joshua to circumcise all the men, which he did since they had not been circumcised during the desert wanderings. After that, the Israelites celebrated Passover, and the manna that had fed them for 40 years stopped. They ate the produce of the land of Canaan.

The conquest of the land was about to begin. The angel who commanded God's army appeared to Joshua and told him how to win the battle of Jericho.

Life Lessons and Themes

God wanted Israel to learn important lessons from the miracle of crossing the Jordan River. First, God demonstrated that he was with Joshua as he had been with Moses. The ark of the covenant was God's throne on earth. Literally, the Lord went into the dangerous river first, demonstrating his role as Israel's protector. The same God that went with Joshua and the Israelites into the Jordan is with us today:

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. Isaiah 43:2 (NIV)

Second, the Lord revealed that his wonder-working strength would enable the people to conquer every enemy they faced. Most of the year, the Jordan River was about 100 feet wide and only three to ten feet deep. However, when the Israelites crossed, it was at flood stage, overflowing its banks. Nothing but the mighty hand of God could have parted it and made it safe for his people to cross. And no enemy can overcome God's mighty power.

Almost all of the people of Israel who had witnessed the crossing of the Red Sea in their escape from Egypt had died. Parting the Jordan reinforced God's love for this new generation.

Crossing into the Promised Land also represented a break with Israel's past. When the manna stopped, it forced the people to conquer their enemies and subdue the land God intended for them.

Through baptism in the New Testament, the Jordan River is associated with crossing over into a new life of spiritual freedom (Mark 1:9).