Chapters three and four recount the Israelites crossing west over the Jordan River to finally enter into Canaan and begin their conquest. After receiving the report from the spies about Jericho, Joshua immediately prepared the nation to enter the land (Joshua 3:1-4). They camped on the banks of the river for three days, during which time Joshua received his orders from God. One of the important things to note throughout this book is the constant communication between Joshua and Jehovah. These were not just dreams and visions, but regular conversations in which Joshua heard God’s voice, and sometimes saw the pre-incarnate Son, and responded appropriately.
On the morning they crossed the Jordan the people were to go through a ceremonial cleansing ritual in order to be prepared to receive what God was going to give them (Joshua 3:5-13). God’s plan was simple. The priests would carry the Ark of the Covenant about a half-mile in front of the people. When they stepped into the river, it would stop flowing and back up, so they people would cross on dry ground. This is significant because most of the people were not yet born when their parents’ generation crossed the Red Sea on dry ground (Exodus 14). If the Canaanites were still afraid of that event 40 years earlier (Joshua 2:10), this similar repeat would solidify Israel’s God as the most powerful in their minds.
When the people obeyed, it happened just as God said (Joshua 3:14-17). The priests and ark made their way to the center of the river bed and stood there while the water stopped and the people walked by. A fun detail is that the river was at flood stage. This may be God’s inspired advance response to anyone who might claim that the people stepped through during the low, dry season. Without the miracle, anyone trying to cross the river near Jericho would have been washed away and drowned.