This is the second in a series of posts featuring some of the locations where the Ark of the Covenant resided. The first post of the series featured the Plains of Moab. Now, we'll move on to the Jordan River. Granted, the Ark really didn't reside in the Jordan River, but merely paused there as a demonstration of God's power. As the Israelites approached the Promised Land, there was one remaining geographical stumbling-block in their way, the Jordan River. The Jordan River is a 250 kilometer (about 150 miles) river that flows from north to south along a fault line in eastern Asia. Today, a majority of it serves as the boundary between Israel & the West Bank to the west and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan to the east.
A visit to the Jordan River today in the area where the Israelites crossed could leave the visitor with some confusion about why a miracle was needed to get the people across. As you can tell from the picture at the top of this post, the Jordan River is not much to look at and would not have been a major impediment to the Israelites as they crossed into Canaan. (I have discussed the low level of the water in other posts.) However, this is not what the river looked like at that time. Of course, we don't have photographs from that time, but we can make some estimates. Even as little as 100 years ago, the width of the Jordan River was much wider than it is today. Consider the other two pictures associated with this post. The first picture shows the Jordan River as it flows under the old Allenby Bridge. This picture was taken around 1920 and as you can tell, the river is much wider. The second picture is much more striking. This picture, taken in 1935, shows how the river could easily flood the region during the rainy periods. (NOTE: Both of these pictures are from Volume 3 of The American Colony and Eric Matson Collection.)
Now, let us look back at our story. In Joshua, we read:
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 3:14-17
As the Israelites approached the Jordan River, it had overflowed its banks. The priests carried the Ark of the Covenant and as they put their feet into the waters of the Jordan River, it dried up. The waters piled up at Adam, and the Israelites were able to cross on dry land. After all of the Israelites had crossed, the priests walked out of the riverbed and the Ark of the Covenant entered the Promised Land for the first time. We will pick up the story here in our next post.