Theme: God’s Providence
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.
The thing that is the most prominent, especially in chapters 3 and 4, is the presence of the ark of the covenant. Now we haven’t seen the ark of the covenant up to this point, but suddenly here it is as the focal point of the narrative. And it is mentioned again and again. It’s mentioned nine times in chapter 3, seven times in chapter 4, and four more times by the use of a pronoun. What was important about the ark? It was the focal point of the nation of Israel. It was where God symbolically resided among his people.
We are told what it looked like Exodus 25. It was a relatively small wooden box of about three feet, nine inches long; and it was a little over two feet high and deep. It was covered with gold inside and out, and had a lid made of solid gold. On either end of the lid there were figures of cherubim, which were facing each other. And each of these cherubim had wings that went back behind them, and then came upward over the ark, and nearly touched above the lid, which was called the mercy seat. And it was in that space between the wings of the cherubim above the mercy seat which God was understood to symbolically dwell. The ark was transported by the priests using poles. There were rings attached to each side of it, and poles were inserted through the rings. The poles were very important because nobody was supposed to touch the ark of God.
The ark of the covenant figures in this story because when the people were given instructions by God through Joshua to enter the land, the ark, which symbolized God’s presence, was to go before them. And as the ark went forward, the people were to follow, but at a respectful distance. The priests carrying the ark stepped down into the Jordan River, and as they stepped into the river, the water stopped flowing. Now at that time there was a great deal of water running because it was at flood stage. We’re told that the water piled up at a town upstream, and in a very short time the river had run dry. Then we’re told that all the people of Israel crossed over on dry ground. Then after they had crossed over, the priests who were still standing there holding the ark went across the Jordan themselves. When they went across and stepped up out of the river bed, the waters returned, and the Jordan flowed on as usual.
When God gave instructions for that to be done, it was symbolic and instructive. The first thing God was teaching was that if we’re going to get anywhere in spiritual things, God has to go before us. If He is not leading us, we must not go in that direction because if we do, God is not going to bless it. We might reach a point in our lives where we know we ought to do something, but we are not sure what it is, and it’s very hard to wait until we are sure where God is leading. But it is always better to wait until God moves. And at that point it becomes clearer why God had you wait, and that He was moving you along all the time.
From the lesson, what did the ark symbolize?
Why do you think it was important for Israel to have the ark for this symbolic function?
“The first thing God was teaching was that if we’re going to get anywhere in spiritual things, God has to go before us. If He is not leading us, we must not go in that direction because if we do, God is not going to bless it.”