Gushing rivers. Babbling brooks. Waterfalls.
If this makes you want to take a bathroom break, we apologize. Our real goal is to get you to think about the significant role that water plays for the early Israelites. Starting in Exodus, Moses parts the sea so the Israelites can escape Pharaoh's army on dry land. This passage through water not only symbolizes their freedom, but their rebirth as a free people of God. In Joshua, the waters of the Jordan River are parted in the same vein as the Red Sea, symbolizing the next stage in the Israelites's rebirth. We know Joshua pretty much just stole Moses's whole schtick, but if it ain't broke, don't fix it.
In fact, we could argue that the Israelites's passage across the Jordan is even more significant than passing through the Red Sea. "But why?" you ask? Simple—Joshua commemorates the experience with a memorial, something Moses does not do. Joshua tells the Israelites:
Take up for yourselves twelve stones from here out of the middle of the Jordan, from the place where the priests' feet are standing firm, and carry them over with you and lay them down in the lodging place where you will lodge tonight. (4:2-3)
This simple monument of twelve stones (one for each tribe) is a reminder to the future generations of Israel of what God has done for his people. All Moses and the Israelites did after crossing the Red Sea was sing a song. Lame.
Let's talk about you now. Do you remember the first time you swam in a pool? We do—we almost drowned. Luckily, Superman was there to save us. Okay, not really. We just remembered to stand up. But we at least made it to the other side of the pool. That was an accomplishment. Crossing a body of water is always a special significance. Water represents life, so crossing over or through water signifies a change—a new beginning, a new life. We've seen this played out countless times before. Here's a greatest hits list for you:
- Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon in 49 BCE, thereby starting a civil war in Italy. Today, the phrase "crossing the Rubicon" means passing the point of no return. Once you are reborn, you cannot revert back.
- George Washington crossed the Delaware River on December 25th, 1776, thereby cementing his role as a leader. Like a champ, he made sure to cross the Delaware two more times after this too.
- In the musical, The Phantom of the Opera, Christine is led by the Phantom through the underworld of the Paris Opera House, partially traveling down the labyrinth of tunnels in a boat. This crossing, like that of Caesar and Washington, marked Christine's Rubicon. In Act II of the musical, Christine and the Phantom express this sentiment and paradigm shift in the song "The Point of No Return".
- In the gospels Matthew, Mark, and Luke, Jesus is baptized in the River Jordan by his cousin, John. Baptism is traditionally viewed as a symbol of rebirth, particularly in Christianity. Jesus's baptism in the Jordan is a nice wink and nod to his ancestors who came to make a new kingdom, passing through the Jordan to start. Jesus begins his own mission to bring the Kingdom of God to earth, beginning at the Jordan.