By Wendy Wippel
One of the less contemplated (and less appreciated) attributes of God is His position as the ‘real’ Time Lord. He invented time. (As the fourth dimension of physical space, it didn’t exist until He created the universe.) And more often than you might think, His miracles are more a supernatural command of time than of the physical world. Exhibit A: The crossing of the Jordan River.
The crossing of the children of Israel into the land across the Jordan, long promised to them as their inheritance, by God, should be a familiar passage:
And the Lord said to Joshua, “This day 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. You shall command the priests who bear the ark of the covenant, saying, ‘When you have come to the edge of the water of the Jordan, you shall stand in the Jordan.’”
So Joshua said to the children of Israel, “Come here, and hear the words of the Lord your God.” And Joshua said, “By this you shall know that the living God is among you, and that He will without fail drive out from before you the Canaanites and the Hittites and the Hivites and the Perizzites and the Girgashites and the Amorites and the Jebusites: Behold, the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth is crossing over before you into the Jordan. Now therefore, take for yourselves twelve men from the tribes of Israel, one man from every tribe. And it shall come to pass, as soon as the soles of the feet of the priests who bear the ark of the Lord, the Lord of all the earth, shall rest in the waters of the Jordan, that the waters of the Jordan shall be cut off, the waters that come down from upstream, and they shall stand as a heap.”
So it was, when the people set out from their camp to cross over the Jordan, with the priests bearing the ark of the covenant before the people, and as those who bore the ark came to the Jordan, and the feet of the priests who bore the ark dipped in the edge of the water (for the Jordan overflows all its banks during the whole time of harvest),that the waters which came down from upstream stood still, and rose in a heap very far away at Adam, the city that is beside Zaretan. So the waters that went down into the Sea of the Arabah, the Salt Sea, failed, and were cut off; and the people crossed over opposite Jericho. Then the priests who bore the ark of the covenant of the Lord stood firm on dry ground in the midst of the Jordan; and all Israel crossed over on dry ground, until all the people had crossed completely over the Jordan. Joshua 3:7-17
What exactly happened here to make the river bed of the River Jordan dry up? Just as the children of Israel needed to cross? Let’s take a gander at the explanation in Joshua one more time:
And it shall come to pass, as soon as the soles of the feet of the priests who bear the ark of the Lord, the Lord of all the earth, shall rest in the waters of the Jordan, that the waters of the Jordan shall be cut off, the waters that come down from upstream, and they shall stand as a heap.” Joshua 3:13
The waters would stand as a heap. What does that mean? Hard to tell from this, at least for me. But if you look at the Hebrew lexicon it gets a little clearer. The word translated stand means “to rise up”. “To stand.”
So the waters rose up.
And if we look at the Hebrew word translated “as a heap”, it’s a word that might be familiar to you from a well- known Jewish prayer based on Deuteronomy 6:4, called the Shema:
“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one!;
In Hebrew: “Shema Israel, Adonai Eloheinu Adonai Echad”
The word is “echad” means “one”.
The waters stood up as one heap (leaving the riverbed dry) and the people of Israel, led by the priests carrying the ark, went through, just as God had promised.
A miracle, dang skippy. No question. Bona-Fide.
But how did God produce that miracle at just that exact time? He created all we see and set it in motion. And apparently, for this miracle, like many others (The Bible specifies that God used a strong wind to dry the bed of the Red Sea up so that the children of Israel could cross there), He used the natural world He created to do it.
So what natural event produced this miracle? ? We can make a pretty good guess, because that crossing was not the only time the waters stood up, as one, in a heap, in the same place. This has happened at least three times in recorded history. (And that’s not counting Joshua’s account.)
An Arab observer, Nosairi, described an event in the year 1267 in—at the command of the Mamluke Sultan of Egypt and Syria, Babars I, a bridge was built across the Jordan River at a place called Damaieh.
It didn’t last long. Heavy winter rains and runoff sent a wall of water plunging down the Jordan and on December 7, 1267. The banks of the Jericho collapsed at Damaieh, creating a dam that blocked the water there until the piers could be repaired and the dam could be undone.
Three sources record a blockage of the Jordan in 1546, this time from an earthquake, which sent landslides of mud into the Jordan and again, blocked its waters from continuing downstream. This event is documented by an Italian letter and a Spanish document, as well as a published article by a Jewish scholar named Isaac Levy, who wrote that the “River Jordan is dry and desolate because two big hills fell into the river.” He also recorded that people could cross the river on dry land for three days.
And in 1927, an earthquake again sent massive amounts of soil and debris into the river, again creating an earthen dam that blocked water from continuing downstream to where the place of crossing, stopping the river’s flow and allowing the inhabitants of the area to cross on the river bed.
The water didn’t stand in a single heap at the place of crossing, but upstream.The Bible actually told us that, kind of, but it is easy to miss it.
“the waters which came down from upstream stood still, and rose in a heap very far away at Adam.” Joshua 3:16
The waters didn’t rise up where the priest’s feet stood. They rose up in a heap at a place called Adam, 16 miles north of Jericho .
The more recent incidents of unexpected blockages of the Jordan occurred at a place called Damieh, according to the reports of eyewitnesses.
The Hebrew name for Damieh, 16 miles north of Jericho, was Adam.
Are we surprised?
One more thing… The narrative continues in Joshua 4 with what happened after they crossed:
And it came to pass, when all the people had completely crossed over the Jordan, that the Lord spoke to Joshua, saying: “Take for yourselves twelve men from the people, one man from every tribe, and command them, saying, ‘Take for yourselves twelve stones from here, out of the midst of the Jordan, from the place where the priests’ feet stood firm. You shall carry them over with you and leave them in the lodging place where you lodge tonight.’”
Then Joshua called the twelve men whom he had appointed from the children of Israel, one man from every tribe; and Joshua said to them: “Cross over before the ark of the Lord your God into the midst of the Jordan, and each one of you take up a stone on his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the children of Israel, that this may be a sign among you when your children ask in time to come, saying, ‘What do these stones mean to you?’ Then you shall answer them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord; when it crossed over the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. And these stones shall be for a memorial to the children of Israel forever.”
And the children of Israel did so, just as Joshua commanded, and took up twelve stones from the midst of the Jordan, as the Lord had spoken to Joshua, according to the number of the tribes of the children of Israel, and carried them over with them to the place where they lodged, and laid them down there. Then Joshua set up twelve stones in the midst of the Jordan, in the place where the feet of the priests who bore the ark of the covenant stood; and they are there to this day. Joshua 4:1-9
They were still there when the book of Joshua was written.
And they were still there, apparently, when Jesus was baptized. How do we know? John baptized in the Jordan River (Matthew 3:13). And what John said to the crowds that gathered at the Jordan is kind of interesting:
Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, and do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones.
Which begs the question, “What stones?”
John is baptizing in the Jordan and he references stones—plural–, that his audience , plainly, at that time could plainly see. And he compares those stones to the stony hearts of the nation of Israel.
Me thinks those stones were still around. Wouldn’t that have been something to see?!!