Now it was the harvest season, and the Jordan was overflowing its banks. But as soon as the feet of the priests who were carrying the Ark touched the water at the river’s edge, the water began piling up at a town upstream called Adam, which is near Zarethan. And the water below that point flowed on to the Dead Sea until the riverbed was dry. Then all the people crossed over near the city of Jericho. - Joshua 3:15-16
In Western courts of law, the adversarial system is supposed to establish the innocence or guilt of the accused. The prosecution presents its case, the defense challenges it and presents its own version of events, and then the judge or jury evaluates the evidence and arrives at a verdict. There have been too many examples of the innocent being condemned and the guilty being released for one to place total confidence in the system as it stands, but it is much to be preferred to the methods used in the ancient Near East. The courts in those days determined the guilt or innocence of the accused by simply throwing him into a river. If the accused drowned, he was guilty; if he didn’t, he was innocent! It was called trial by water.
Joshua told the children of Israel as they were approaching the Jordan River at flood tide, “Today you will know that the living God is among you”(Josh. 3:10). Joshua was referring to a trial by water that the Lord himself would pass through. The priests were ordered to make ready “the Ark of the Covenant, which belongs to the Lord of the whole earth” (3:11) and carry it into the middle of the Jordan. The symbolism was powerful—the Lord himself was taking his stand in the water. It was his trial by water. “As soon as the feet of the priests who were carrying the Ark touched the water at the river’s edge, the water began piling up at a town upstream called Adam. . . . And the water below that point flowed on to the Dead Sea until the riverbed was dry” (3:15-16). The people passed over and the ark was delivered to dry land. Most significantly, the Lord was shown to be “the living God,” not only to Israel but also to the terrified inhabitants of the neighborhood whose last hope of stopping the encroaching Israelite army—the Jordan River—had not only failed to stop them but had provided evidence of the uniqueness of the Lord and his people.
The people of Israel had heard from their forefathers about the crossing of the Red Sea, but that was their parents’ story. The new generation needed their own demonstration of the Lord’s power and sovereignty—and the Lord gave it to them.
Each generation needs to learn the lessons of history—the story of God’s dealing with his people through the ages—but it also needs to see in its own time, in its own way, the evidence that the Lord is still “the living God” who stands against all opposition and proves he is Lord. And God provides it!
For Further Study: Joshua 3:1-17
Excerpted from The One Year Devotions for Men, Copyright ©2000 by Stuart Briscoe. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers. All rights reserved.
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