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NHE Israelites mourned for their late great leader thirty
days, with that sincere and deep sorrow which people feel when they have lost a friend on whom they could safely lean in all trials, and whose sure, true love and sustaining arm cannot be replaced by any one on the earth. They all knew what fulness of reliance could always be placed on him who was now gone; how large and thorough had been his knowledge, how profound his wisdom, how sympathetic his heart, how forbearing and how self-sacrificing he had been in all his acts. They had just seen him go up the mountain, and pass off alone from among them; all else was shrouded in mystery. Sometimes they looked, thinking that he might return possibly in some other form; or that he might on Nebo have even obtained, at the last, a reversal of his doom, and might yet be their leader, if only for a little while: sometimes, in the night or in the day, a sudden appearance of some one at a distance, in the uncertainty of recognition, made them start in hope: sometimes a voice far or near seemed to have his tones, and set their hearts palpitating. But he came not again. Day after day and week after week passed in this mourning, and the mystery was never cleared up. They knew, at last, that God had surely taken their old, tried, sincere friend, and left them alone. Yet not alone; for the cloud still rested over the Tabernacle by day; the pillar of fire still shone by night; and God's special presence was still known to be with them for good, if they would be true to him. They felt the necessity now, more than ever, of keeping close to God.
Joshua-probably during this time of mourning-sent out spies to examine the land which they were so soon to invade. These men had a narrow escape from death in their difficult and dangerous mission; for the inhabitants across the Jordan were keenly apprehensive and on the alert. But the spies finally returned in safety, bringing encouraging intelligence. They said,
They said, “Truly the Lord hath delivered into our hands all the land; for even all the inhabitants of the country do faint because of us.” It had been declared to them privately in Jericho, “We have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea for you, when ye came out of Egypt; and what
did unto the two kings of the Amorites that were on the other side of Jordan, Sihon and Oy, whom ye utterly destroyed. soon as we heard these things our hearts did melt, neither did there remain any more courage in any man, because of you: for the Lord your God, he is God in heaven above and in earth beneath."
Preparations were therefore now made for crossing the river.
It was evident to all that without the divine aid, the crossing was impossible ; for the stream at this spot opposite to them is not fordable, and the fords higher up, practicable at other seasons, could not at that particular time of the year be available. For it was the time of barley harvest, in their spring season, when the melting snows at Hermon send down a flood that raises the stream beyond the fullest capacity of its banks.'
The Jordan, after passing through the Lake of Galilee, continues along in a deep hollow, called by the present natives el-Ghor, or “The Depression," a name very significant of the chasm-like, sunk region in which it flows. The Lake of Galilee is six hundred and fifty-two feet below the level of the Mediterranean, and the Dead Sea, as already noticed, one thousand three hundred and twelve feet. Between the two is this depression or ghor, five or six miles wide and sunk from one thousand to one thousand two hundred feet below the neighboring country. Then in elGhor, running lengthwise in it, is a still lower depression of about fifty feet, having a breadth of four hundred yards : and winding about in this latter is the channel of the river. The stream has an average width of fifty-six yards, with commonly a depth of water from three to five feet, the bottom rocky or sandy according to the flow, and sometimes varied by cataracts. The distance between the Lake of Galilee and Dead Sea is but sixty miles, and the descent being six hundred and sixty feet, there would at all times be a great rush of water, if it were not for the extremely tortuous course of the stream, which is so great as to make its entire length equal to two hundred miles. The immediate bank of the river, at the plain of Jericho, is ordinarily a steep descent of six feet down to the water, and is fringed on either side with a thick growth of willows, tamarisks, oleanders and cane. The width of the Jordan is there narrowed considerably, the depth is ordinarily ten or twelve feet, and the current is at all times rapid.
1 Josh. iii. 15.
But at the time for the crossing of the Israelites, the depth was much greater, for the flood was up to the edge of the banks and in places overflowing; and the water was now surging along with correspondent unusual velocity.
Such was the river which the Israelites were at this time contemplating from the vale of Shittim or the heights above, and which they were preparing to cross. Only God could carry them over, and they knew it. He was supreme over all nature; he had led these people already across the Red Sea in safety. Still they might well question their hearts—these multitudes, who had so often murmured against him and showed always such a quickness to rebel. Would he help them now?_They knew, however, that they had no other helper.
Therefore, when Joshua at the proper time sent directions among them for their action, they yielded a ready obedience; wondering, however, watching, deeply earnest, and with many a querying among themselves,-sometimes also with palpitating hearts and with the shrinkings of natural fear. For it was not easy to look down with other sensations on that swift rush of heaving, discolored water bearing on its bosom the wrecks of things torn from its banks in regions far above: it was a formidable stream to any one, and especially so to the younger portion of the Israelites, who had never beheld a river before. It seemed as if it might be a grave already prepared for the rebellious and wicked among them ;
and who of their number had come out from these late scenes of Baal-Peor and the Midianite temptations to idolatry, with hearts pure and clean ?
So they gazed and felt : but they knew soon that the time for crossing over was arrived; for officers of the host passed among them warning all, by Joshua's directions, to prepare three days' extra supply of food ; " for in three days ye shall pass over this Jordan, to go in and possess the land which the Lord your God giveth you to possess it." The manna had continued still to come down at night, in its peculiar quiet mode of giving them sustenance, as it had done for nearly forty years, but their leader probably had prescience that it would cease immediately after their crossing the stream. In addition to it, the rich plains of Moab and Bashan had furnished them with corn; and with this latter they could easily make such preparation of extra provision for three days.
The encampments on the heights and the lower slopes about Shittim were now broken up, and the people were brought down toward the borders of the stream. Directions were then given, “Sanctify yourselves: for to-morrow the Lord will do great wonders among you.”
And so the morrow came, the beginning of the great and eventful day.
Orders were now given for the multitudes to fall back, so as to leave a vacant space of about three-fourths of a mile about the Ark of the Covenant. The ark was ordinarily carried by the Levites who were not of the house of Aaron, but on this occasion it was to be borne by priests.
With this wide space kept open, the people on each little elevation were able to see every movement made with the ark. They gazed with quick-beating hearts and bated breath as they saw the priests take it up, and saw them advancing directly toward the river, the deep, surging stream still rushing impetuously by. They saw them reach the water till the feet of the bearers were dipping into it. Then they saw the current borne back, and they drew a long breath of relief. Quickly a murmur of deep joy and thankfulness spread through those immense hosts. They saw the waters up the stream held and restrained and spreading over the great valley far above; while at its lower part the river retreated also, and the deep bed of the Jordan was laid bare.
The priests bearing the ark descended to the middle of the channel, and stood there; and now the great multitudes were bidden to advance and to cross to the other side. None could doubt God's power there; all had clear assurance now of the fulness and certainty of the heavenly aid, and all advanced cheerfully and confidently to and across the channel. It would take many hours and a long extent of dried-up river for such a large number of people, with their flocks and herds to cross over ; but until all were
1 Both have been estimated—the time at eight hours, and the width of the hosts crossing, with their baggage and cattle, at two miles. See “Palestine Past and Present, by Rev. Henry S. Osborn, A.M.”