Be strong and of good courage, fear not, nor be afraid of
them: for the Lord thy God, he it is that doth go with thee;
he will not fail thee nor forsake thee. (Deuteronomy 31:6)
These were the words of Moses as he took leave of his beloved people. The time had come when, like scholars going forth at graduation, the children of Israel must test the depth and firmness of their knowledge of their leader's God. These desert-trained young Israelites could not remember a day when they had not had Moses' patient loyalty and wisdom to lean on, and they turned hopefully to Joshua, the son of Nun, of whom Moses had said, "He shall go over Jordan before thee."
As Moses had done years before, Joshua sent men -- only two this time -- to explore the Promised Land. In the walled city of Jericho they narrowly escaped capture and were forced to hide for three days among the mountains, but when they returned to camp, they bore glad tidings. The might of Israel's God was already known throughout the land of Canaan, how he had dried the waters of the Reed Sea and had utterly destroyed Sihon and Og. The inhabitants of the land were faint with fear. The autumn-sewn grain was almost ready for harvest, and the arid days of summer would soon be upon them. It was time for Israel to claim the land.
Early one morning the disciplined congregation broke camp and with animals, tents and household goods, set out down the steep, winding road to the wide a Jordan valley. Swollen by spring rains, the tumbling, muddy river swirled above the roots of willows and small aspens along its banks, but no voice of protest or of fear was raised by the joyful people. For three days the children of Israel purified themselves according to their desert rituals, and when at last they saw the ark of the covenant of the Lord carried by the priests toward the river they arose unhesitatingly and followed.
Some twenty kilometers to the north where the swift river curves sharply a landslide crashed across the riverbed, imprisoning the Jordan as it has done even in modern times. Down at the Jericho ford a few hours later when the priests bearing the ark stepped out into the water, the river, caught behind the landslide, ceased to flow. The arduous crossing, which the Israelites had faced so courageously, was but a walk on the stony riverbed. The descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob crossed over 'on dry land' to the Promised Land.
On that day the Lord magnified Joshua in the sight of all Israel;
and they feared (revered) him, as they had feared Moses, all the
days of his life. (Joshua 4:14)
A strong man from each tribe carried a stone from the riverbed and at their encampment on the Western shore, at an oasis which they called Gilgal, the twelve stones were set up. An Egyptian or a Babylonian might have inscribed them with the glory of the moment but Joshua followed the local custom of simply arranging the natural stones so that the purposeful hand of man might be evident.
And he spake unto the children of Israel, saying, When your
children shall ask their fathers in time to come, saying, What
mean these stones? Then shall ye let your children know, saying ,...
the Lord your God dried up the waters of Jordan from before
you, until yon were passed over, as the Lord your God did to the
Red (Reed) Sea, which he dried up from before us, until we were
gone over: That all the people of the earth might know the hand
of the Lord, that it is mighty: that ye might fear the Lord your
God forever. (Joshua 4:21,24)