You thought the Israelites had gotten over the big water hurdle with the whole Red Sea episode in Exodus, right? Not so fast. The very first verse of Deuteronomy tips us off to another major body of water to cross: the Jordan river.
These are the words that Moses spoke to all Israel beyond the Jordan—in the wilderness (1.1)
The writers wouldn't tell us where we were if it weren't important, right?
In fact, the writers mention the Jordan by name nineteen times—usually in the context of crossing over it to get to the promised land (see 2:29, 3:25, 4:21, and many more). Yep, the Jordan River is all that separates the Israelites from the desert in which they've lived for forty years from the Promised Land that they hope to take for their own. The river serves as a boundary between Israelite success and failure. Talk about crossing the Rubicon.
P.S. The Jordan River itself probably isn't what you're picturing. No tubing on this guy. It's only about six feet wide in some places, but its waters are legendarily dangerous because of their speed. Be careful getting your feet wet.
Obey the Crossing Guard
Crossing a river is always pretty symbolic—it represents entering into a new state of existence. especially for the Israelites, for whom the Jordan means one last barrier toward that new life in the Promised Land. And remember, these people were on the threshold of claiming God's promises once before, but they remained on the wrong side of the Jordan, both literally and figuratively. This time, the stakes are even higher.
So why doesn't God let Moses cross along with his people? Can't he just step into the Promised Land and then die?
Because crossing the Jordan is such a symbolically huge deal for the Israelites, it also helps define different periods in their history. Moses was a part of Israelite life in the Pre-Promised Land Period, but his role stops there. Crossing the Jordan into the next step of Israelite history just isn't an option.