The Impassable River

“Let’s go! Let’s go! Abishai, we’re waiting for you!”
“All right, all right, I’m coming!” The young man hurriedly fastened his ceremonial cloak. He hurried to the front where three other people were waiting.
The recent weather change had caused Abishai’s stomach to become queasier than normal. He could feel the wind changing and the gusts had turned to the west. The westerly winds had lowered the temperatures. Worse, it was now autumn.
From the hills overlooking the river, Abishai and his friends could see the river was at the highest flood levels. The waters were also moving faster than ever. The 30 year old was wondering why they had chosen the cross the river at this time and in this place.
The old man looked kindly at Abishai. The old man was legendary; he had been with Moses from almost the beginning. As a young man, he had sneaked into enemy territory and then sneaked out with the intel. The man had led his people into battle as multiple fierce enemies and had been victorious. As an old man, he was stern but kind.
Are you okay?”
I’m fine, sir.
Good, then please take your position.We’ll be right behind you.”

The river in question: the Jordan River
The place: east bank.
The time: sometime in the 1550s BC.

This was probably the scene as Joshua at the River Jordan. The entire nation of Israel was about to cross a very impassable river. The Jordan was the border between Canaan – the Promised Land – and the wilderness. Once across, this was the land God had promised their forefathers.

Now, if you were to cross a river at the head of an army in ancient times, there were several options.

  1. Build a pontoon bridge. Anchor a dozen or so boats the river. Then put wooden planks across them. If you have even more time, build a permanent bridge.

2. Find a shallower point and cross. The Roman Legion would cross a river in three formations. One formation, usually cavalry, was upstream to slow the current down. The main formation crossed in the center. The third formation was downstream to catch any missing equipment lost.

3. And if you were Batavians who could actually swim, you could swim across the river.

So how did the Israelites do it? They obviously don’t have these equipment – US Army Improve Ribbon Bridge:

First, God tell the Israelites to send the Ark of the Covenant to the front. The priests and the ark? What? Not the combat swimmers? Not the army? Not the siege engineers like Vitruvius who wrote the book on ancient military engineering? Nope. In the little drama above, Abishai is a Levite who has been tasked to carrying the Ark of the Covenant and the old man is Joshua.

Second, God told the Israelites to cross when the Jordan River was at flood levels. You can’t build a bridge; the strength of the current could probably wash away most efforts. You’re definitely not swimming.

Third, God told the Israelites to say back 2000 cubits. They were not to crowd the priests. The minute the priests’ feet touched the water, the river stopped. It was dry land. No naturalistic explanation. No human agency. Just God. And once in the river, the priests carrying the ark stayed there until everyone had passed. Then and only then did the priests leave the river.

What can I say? God goes before me; i mentioned that in my last post. God is with me in the midst of my trials. And God is behind me.

I have to ask: What impassable river is front of you? Or does that river merely look impassable? As I write this, I’m at a crossroad at my own career. Should I take a lateral transfer or stay in my current department? Once I make the decision, there is no going back. That’s the river.

I am writing this post in part to help me process what I learned while reading the book of Joshua. And perhaps a reader who is also looking at an impassable river. Know that God is before you, around you, and with you.

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