Joshua 3 Bible Commentary

John Darby’s Synopsis

(Read all of Joshua 3)
The passage of the Jordan and the Red Sea

And now the people are to enter the promised land; but how enter it? For Jordan, with its flood at the highest, lay as a barrier before the people of God, guarding the territory of those that oppose their hopes. Now Jordan represents death, but death looked at rather as the end of human life, and the token of the enemy's power, than as the fruit and testimony of the just judgment of God. The passage of the Red Sea was also death; but the people were there as having part (in type) in the death and resurrection of Jesus accomplishing their redemption, and setting them free for ever from Egypt, their house of bondage—that is, from their place in flesh and thus from all the power of Satan [1]—as the blood on the door posts had from the judgment of God. It was complete redemption, the death and resurrection of Christ in its proper and intrinsic value. But in this aspect it is a complete and finished work, and brings us to God—not a history of what we may go through in actually arriving at this result (see Ex. 15: 13, 17; 19: 4). Hence, judgment even was executed. In Sinai, but not till then, law took the place of worship, historically. It was then that the people entered upon their pilgrimage in the wilderness [2].

Redemption, complete salvation, purchased by the precious blood of Jesus, introduces the Christian into this pilgrimage With God he only passes through the world as a dry and thirsty land, where no water is; still, this pilgrimage is but the life down here, although it is the life of the redeemed [3].

Warfare in heavenly places and the wilderness journey

But, as we have seen, there is the heavenly life, the warfare in the heavenly places, which goes on at the same time with the wilderness journey. When I say at the same time, I do not mean at the same instant, but during the same period of our natural life on the earth. It is one thing to pass through this world faithfully, or unfaithfully, in our daily circumstances, under the influence of a better hope; it is another thing to be waging a spiritual warfare for the enjoyment of the promises and of heavenly privileges, and to conquer the power of Satan on God's behalf, as men already dead and risen, as being absolutely not of the world. Both these things are true of the christian life. Now, it is as dead and risen again in Christ that we are in spiritual conflict: to make war in Canaan we must have crossed the Jordan [4].

Death and resurrection with Christ represented in Jordan

The Jordan, then, is death and resurrection with Christ, looked at in their spiritual power, not as to their efficacy for the justification of a sinner, but as to the change of position and state in those who have part in them, in order to the realisation of life in connection with the heavenly places, into which Christ has entered [5]. A comparison between Philippians 3 and Colossians 2, 3, shews how death and resurrection are bound up with the true character of the circumcision of Christ. In Philippians 3 the return of Christ is introduced as completing the work by the resurrection of the body. We are not looked at as now risen with Him; but as practically running the race, with Christ and resurrection in view—a place which indeed characterises the epistle. It is not what faith assumes as to position, but the actual present race towards its possession. Hence it is objective, not being in Christ, or even with Him; but that I might win Christ and the resurrection from among the dead. Paul has given up everything for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ, and is looking for the power of His resurrection, and even justification is looked at as at the end of his course.

In both Philippians and Colossians the heavenly life is spoken of as a present thing; but there is entire separation, even down here, between the pilgrimage and this heavenly life itself, although the latter has a powerful influence on the character of our pilgrim life.

Ephesian and Colossian doctrine: the connection between life manifested and the objects it pursues

And this introduces a very important subject, which I cannot treat at large here, the connection between life as manifested here, and the objects it pursues. They that are after the Spirit have their minds on the things of the Spirit. The new life flows from what is divine and heavenly, from Christ, and this is specially John's part in teaching; hence it belongs to the risen state in glory, has its full development and place there. Our citizenship is there, and this makes us pilgrims; the heavenly life belongs to heaven; the second Man is "out of heaven." But in its full development there is no pilgrimage; we are at home in our Father's house, like Christ. But here it is developed in pilgrimage; has this character from its being heavenly. It has a growing development in a growing apprehension of what is heavenly (see 2 Cor. 3: 3, 17, 18; 4: 17, 18; Eph. 4: 15; 1 John 3: 2, 3, and many other passages). This necessarily, our object being on high, makes us strangers and pilgrims here, declaring, in the measure of our fidelity, that we seek a country, the country to which our life belongs; but it forms itself thereby for the display of Christ here, it is adapted to the scene through which we pass, has duties, obedience, service there. The starting-point is sure, that we have died and are risen with Christ, in one aspect; and in another, we are sitting in Him in heavenly places. But this last is not our subject here, it is Ephesian doctrine; this is more Colossian. Christ Himself, though Himself that life and its manifestation down here in pilgrimage, yet, as a Man down here, had objects—for the joy that was set before Him, endured the cross and despised the shame, and is set down. And this is deeply interesting; His life—God Himself (the last is more John's doctrine)—was what was to be expressed, expressed suited to the scene He passed through; but, being a true Man, He walked with objects before Him, which acted on the tenor of His path. The fact that He was this life, and that for His living it had not to die in His death, as we have, to an evil nature, makes it more difficult to realise in His case; but obedience, and He learned what it was, suffering, patience, all referred to His place here; compassion, grace as to His disciples, and all the traits of His life, though divine and such that He could say, "the Son of man who is in heaven," all were the development of the heavenly and divine life here.

Its influence was perfect and entire in His case; but His life in connection with men, although the ever-perfect expression of the effect of His life of heavenly communion and of His divine nature, was evidently distinct from it. The joy of the heavenly life entirely set aside all the motives of the lower life; and, leading to the sufferings of His earthly life in connection with man, produced a life of perfect patience before God. In Him all was sinless; but His joys were elsewhere, save in acting in grace in the midst of sorrow and sin—a divine joy. Thus also with the Christian; there is nothing in common between these two spheres of life. And, besides, nature has no part whatever in that above; in that below, there are things which belong to nature and to the world (not in the bad sense of the word "world," but considered as creation). Nothing of this enters into the life of Canaan.

The unique power of Christ in death and resurrection

Christ alone could pass through death, and exhaust its strength, when in it, as shedding the blood of the everlasting covenant; and He alone could rise again from death, in the reality of the power of the life that was in Him, "for in him was life." But it was proper divine power by which this was done. God raised Christ from the dead, testimony of His full acceptance of His work. Christ, being God, could say: "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up": nor was it possible that He could be holden of death. But it is not by any force of spiritual life, as Man, that He raised Himself; though we know, as He laid it down of Himself, so He took it again, and this by commandment received of the Father—so that in this we cannot separate the deity and humanity—I speak of the act, not of His Person. He had power to take it again, but it was still obedience; we feel at every step, no one knows the Son but the Father. He has opened this way; He has converted death into a power that destroys the flesh which shackles us, and a deliverance from that in us which gives advantage to the enemy with whom we are to fight, being thenceforward brought into Canaan. Therefore the apostle says, "All things are yours, whether life, or death." Now, every true Christian is dead and risen in Christ; the knowing and realising it is another thing. But the word of God sets christian privilege before us according to its real power in Christ.

The unknown way opened by the ark

The ark of Jehovah passed over before the people, who were to leave the space of two thousand cubits between it and them, that they might know the way by which they must go; for they had not passed this way before. Who indeed had passed through death, to rise beyond its power, until Christ, the true Ark of the Covenant, had opened this way? Man, whether innocent or sinful, could do nothing here. This way was alike unknown to both, as was also the heavenly life that follows. This life, in its own sphere, and in the exercises here spoken of, is altogether beyond Jordan:. the scenes of spiritual conflict do not belong to man in his life below; though, as we have seen, the realisation of the heavenly things we are brought into act on the character of our faith down here; and our sorrows and trials down here, under God's grace, tend to clear our vision as regards the glory hoped for. See 2 Corinthians 5: 2-5, and how the hope of verse 2 is returned to in verse 5. No wilderness experience, be it ever so faithful, has anything directly to do with this heavenly life although the grapes of Canaan may cheer the pilgrims by the way. But Christ has destroyed all the power of death for His people, so far as it is the power of the enemy, and the token of his dominion. It is now but the witness of the power of Jesus. It is indeed death; but, as we have said, it is the death of that which fetters us.

God's counsels to be accomplished

I will add some brief remarks. "Lord of all the earth" is the title Joshua repeats, as that which God had here taken: for it is in testimony to this great truth that God had planted Israel in Canaan. Hereafter He will establish in power, according to His counsels, that which had been put into the hands of Israel that they might keep it according to their responsibility. This last principle is the key to the whole history of the Bible, as to man, Israel, the law, and all it has to do with. All is first trusted to man, who ever fails, and then God accomplishes it in blessing and power. [6]

Thus this chapter supplies us with very clear indications of that which God has promised to accomplish in the last days, when He will indeed shew Himself to be "Lord of all the earth," in Israel brought back in grace by His mighty power. And we must attend to this testimony of the purpose of God in establishing Israel in their land. Harvest time will come, and the strength of the enemy will overflow its banks; but we, as Christians, are already on the other side. The strength of the enemy passed all bounds in the death of Jesus; and we do not say now, "Lord of all the earth"; but "All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth."

God's encouragement: victory assured

Let us remark, also, how God encourages His people. They must combat. The sole of the foot must tread on every part of the promised land to possess it; and it must be in conflict that the power of the enemy and entire dependence upon God are realised. But, while fighting boldly for Him, He would have us know that victory is certain. The spies said to Joshua, "Truly Jehovah hath delivered into our hands all the land; for even all the inhabitants of the country do faint because of us." That is what we know and prove by the testimony of the Holy Ghost, so different from that of the flesh as brought by the ten who came back with Caleb and Joshua.

[1] It is important first to see Jesus alone in life and in death: there we have the thing itself in its perfection. It is equally important then to know that God sees us as having been there, that it expresses our place; that God sees us in Him, and that it is our place before God. But then there is also our taking that place, by the Spirit, in faith and in fact. The former was the Red Sea; as to death, it was Christ's death; Jordan, our entering into death with Him. The Red Sea was deliverance from Egypt; Jordan, entrance into Canaan subjectively; that is, a state suited to it in spirit, not possession of it, as Christ when risen—for us, by faith only of course as yet, as risen with Him. sitting in heavenly places is an entirely distinct thing, and on distinct ground; an absolute work of God. The Red Sea was the condemning of sin in the flesh, in Christ in death for sin; and so deliverance, when known by faith. But this is Jordan. Only Jordan goes further, for it brings us, as risen with Him, into the state which makes us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light. The people followed the ark in going through Jordan, the ark remaining there in its power against death till all were passed.

[2] This supposes being really born again (see Rom. 8: 29, 30). The wilderness journey after Sinai supposes this christian position taken, but individual reality tested. To this all the "if s" of the New Testament apply; that is, to the Christian on the road to the promised land, but with a certain promise of being kept to the end, if faith is there (1 Cor 1: 8, 9; John 10: 28). It is dependence, but on the fidelity of God There is no "if" as to redemption, nor as to our present place in Christ, when once we are sealed.

[3] To this the Epistle to the Romans answers.

[4] To this Ephesians answers; only Ephesians has nothing to do with our death to sin. It is, as to this question, simply God's act, taking us when dead in sin and placing us in Christ on high. Colossians is partially both, life here in resurrection, but it does not set us in heavenly places, only in our affections there. By heavenly life I mean living in spirit in heavenly places. Actually Christ was divinely there; we as united to Him by the Holy Ghost.

[5] This is not mere communication of life, as by the Son of God, but passing as a moral being out of one condition into another, out of Egypt into Canaan; for that is it, the wilderness being dropped as another thing The Red Sea and Jordan in this aspect coalesce.

[6] And that in much fuller glory, according to His counsels before the world was, and in the Second Man.