The Israelites’ crossing of the Jordan River on dry land was of tremendous significance to the Israelites. Joshua explained the significance of this event before it took place, stating, “This is how you will know that the living God is among you and that he will certainly drive out before you the Canaanites, Hittites, Hivites, Perizzites, Girgashites, Amorites and Jebusites. See, the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth will go into the Jordan ahead of you. Now then, choose twelve men from the tribes of Israel, one from each tribe. And as soon as the priests who carry the ark of the Lord—the Lord of all the earth—set foot in the Jordan, its waters flowing downstream will be cut off and stand up in a heap” (Joshua 3:10–13). Their miraculous crossing affirmed God’s presence with them and His promise to remove their enemies from the land.
Why did the Israelites build a memorial? Joshua said, “When your children ask you, ‘What do these stones mean?’ tell them that the flow of the Jordan was cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever” (Joshua 4:6–7). The memorial was to serve as a lasting sign of God’s work among the Israelites.
The conclusion of this event offers an additional insight into its significance and the reason for the memorial. Joshua 4:23–24 says, “The Lord your God dried up the Jordan before you until you had crossed over. The Lord your God did to the Jordan what he had done to the Red Sea when he dried it up before us until we had crossed over. He did this so that all the peoples of the earth might know that the hand of the Lord is powerful and so that you might always fear the Lord your God.” First, a comparison is made with the crossing that took place at the Red Sea under the leadership of Moses. This emphasis on God’s miraculous provision was an ongoing sign to the people of Israel.
Second, there was an emphasis on the power of God. The miracle was done “so that all the peoples of the earth might know that the hand of the Lord is powerful.” No other god could compare in power. The gods of Israel’s enemies were created things that had no ability to move water and provide dry passage across a river.
Third, the result of the miracle was that the Israelites would fear the Lord forever. The idea was that this miracle would leave the people in such awe that they and their descendants would talk about it and live in the fear of God and worship Him as a result.
God showed His power and presence in the crossing of the Jordan, and the memorial set up by His people served as a reminder of His might and why the Israelites should fear the Lord. Both the act and its memorial worked to point to God’s glory, presence, and strength, which would empower the Israelites as they took possession of their land in the days ahead. Still today, a look at this powerful miracle reveals the greatness of God, and our only appropriate response—to worship and serve Him.