Theme: God with Us Always
This week’s lessons teach us about the character of God, as seen in the ark of the covenant which went before the Israelites through the Jordan.
Then Joshua rose early in the morning and they set out from Shittim. And they came to the Jordan, he and all the people of Israel, and lodged there before they passed over. At the end of three days the officers went through the camp and commanded the people, “As soon as you see the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God being carried by the Levitical priests, then you shall set out from your place and follow it. Yet there shall be a distance between you and it, about 2,000 cubits in length. Do not come near it, in order that you may know the way you shall go, for you have not passed this way before.” Then Joshua said to the people, “Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do wonders among you.” And Joshua said to the priests, “Take up the ark of the covenant and pass on before the people.” So they took up the ark of the covenant and went before the people.
The Lord said to Joshua, “Today I will begin to exalt you in the sight of all Israel, that they may know that, as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. And as for you, command the priests who bear the ark of the covenant, ‘When you come to the brink of the waters of the Jordan, you shall stand still in the Jordan.’” And Joshua said to the people of Israel, “Come here and listen to the words of the Lord your God.” 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 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. Now therefore take twelve men from the tribes of Israel, from each tribe a man. And when the soles of the feet of the priests bearing the ark of the Lord, the Lord of all the earth, shall rest in the waters of the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan shall be cut off from flowing, and the waters coming down from above shall stand in one heap.”
So when the people set out from their tents to pass over the Jordan with the priests bearing the ark of the covenant before the people, and as soon as those bearing the ark had come as far as the Jordan, and the feet of the priests bearing the ark were dipped in the brink of the water (now the Jordan overflows all its banks throughout the time of harvest), the waters coming down from above stood and rose up in a heap very far away, at Adam, the city that is beside Zarethan, and those flowing down toward the Sea of the Arabah, the Salt Sea, were completely cut off. And the people passed over opposite Jericho. Now the priests bearing the ark of the covenant of the Lord stood firmly on dry ground in the midst of the Jordan, and all Israel was passing over on dry ground until all the nation finished passing over the Jordan.
I think of something else that concerns this story, though it comes later in Israel’s history and you would think at first reading it had no relevance at all. You recall that in II Kings, right at the beginning, there’s a transition of authority between Elijah to Elisha, the one who was going to succeed him. Elisha was presumably a younger man than Elijah. Elijah, with Elisha following along beside, were led by God out into the desert. And they came to the Jordan River, this very Jordan that the people had crossed in our study. And after Elijah rolled up his cloak, he struck the water with it, and the water parted. Elijah then walked across on dry ground. He kept saying to Elisha, “Stay behind. The Lord’s calling me.” And Elisha wouldn’t do it because he knew what was coming. So Elisha kept following. Well finally they got out in a very remote area, and suddenly there were chariots of fire that swept down from heaven and carried Elijah up into heaven, leaving Elisha behind. Then the cloak of Elijah fell, and Elisha understood that it was thepassing of authority to him and that he was now to be the prophet in Israel. And he picked it up and he made his way back out of the desert. As he came to the Jordan, he rolled up the cloak of Elijah and he struck the water as Elijah had done. And he said, “Where now is the Lord, the God of Elijah?” And the same God, the God of Elijah, who was also his God, parted the water. And he went across on dry ground, as Elijah had.
You can ask, “Where is the God of Moses—the God who operated so powerfully in Moses’ day, the God of miracles, the God of redemption, the God who brought His people out of slavery?” “Where is the God of Joshua, the God of conquest who led His people into the Promised Land?” “Where is the God of Elijah?” “Where is the God of Elisha?” “Where is the God is Isaiah?” “Where is the God of any great character in the Old or New Testaments?” The answer is that the God of all these people is the same God to you. He does not change. That God who worked powerfully in the lives of His people in the past works powerfully in the lives of His people today. And it’s our privilege to follow that God as He goes before us to give us the victory that He has for us in our day.
In the story of Elijah and Elisha, what did Elijah’s mantle symbolize?
What was the purpose of the parting of the Jordan for Elisha as he made his way back?