The first generation of Israelites, who crossed the Red
Sea and left Egypt behind, did not enter into the land of
Canaan, with the exception of two men - Caleb and Joshua.
The rest of that generation died, and it was the second
generation with Joshua as their leader who crossed the Jordan
and entered the Promised land.
The crossing of the Red Sea is said by the Apostle Paul to have been a type of baptism. There is reason to believe that the crossing of the Jordan is likewise a type of baptism, and that its relationship to the crossing of the Red Sea is the same as the relationship of baptism after Christ's death to baptism before his death. In other words, crossing the Red Sea typifies the baptism of John (and that of Jesus' disciples - John 4:1-2) while crossing the Jordan typifies baptism after the death of Christ. This is not to say that there was a difference in quality between baptism performed before and after the death of Christ. There was no such difference. However, there was a difference in the status of those who were baptized before the death of Christ and those who were baptized afterward. A few facts should suffice to convince the reader of the truth of this assertion:
1. Those who crossed the Red Sea followed the cloud;
those who crossed the Jordan followed the ark. So,
those whom John baptized were led by promises and
prospects rather than realities. They were even pointed
to a symbol:
"Behold the Lamb of God!"
But those who were baptized after the death of Christ were baptized into the reality of his death.
2. Those who crossed the Red Sea were baptized unto Moses (I Cor. 10:2), while those who crossed the Jordan were, by the same analogy, baptized unto Joshua (Hebrew form of Greek name Jesus). So, those whom John baptized were baptized unto him (Acts 19:3), while those who were baptized after the death of Jesus were baptized unto Jesus.
3. The primary consideration in crossing the Red Sea was to escape destruction. This was precisely the purpose of John's baptism. Note his question in Matt. 3:7: "... who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?" But the primary consideration in crossing the Jordan was to enter upon and claim an inheritance. This is substantially the purpose of baptism as practiced after the death of Christ.
4. When the Israelites had crossed the Red Sea, they were still a people under law, wandering in the wilderness, and unable to summon up the faith necessary to enter upon their inheritance. So a Jew, though baptized by John the Baptist, was still under the law; unable to muster more than a nominal faith in the one of whom John had spoken, and suffering violence at the hands of both men and Satan. See Matthew 11:12-13.
5. After the Israelites had crossed the Red Sea, they still had not beheld the lifted-up serpent which marked the end of their wanderings. So, the Jews who were baptized by John had not yet seen the lifted-up one who would give direction and purpose to their steps. Scofield says that "The death of Aaron marks the end of the wanderings. Henceforth Israel marches or halts, but does not wander." Page 194, Scofield Reference Bible. However, after Aaron's death is recorded in Numbers 20:23-29, we read in Numbers 21:4:
"And they journeyed from Mount Hor by way of the Red Sea, to compass the land of Edom."
Reference to a map will convince the reader that at this point the people were going away from Canaan, not toward it. Immediately after this verse, in verses 5-9 we are told about the lifted-up serpent which Jesus expressly declared to be a type of himself. It is only after this event that Israel's steps are directed toward the land of Canaan.
6. The two aspects of baptism are clearly seen in the crossing of the Jordan. In crossing the Red Sea, they became dead to Egypt; in crossing the Jordan they entered upon a newness of life. Where they had lived as slaves in Egypt, they now began to live as conquerors in Canaan. Even so, in baptism we become symbolically dead to the old life, the law, the bondage of sin; but being raised from the water we symbolically become alive unto God and to the new creation. The actual judicial death of the believer to sin, and his resurrection to walk in newness of life, is a spiritual transaction which cannot be seen by the eyes of flesh; but in order that we might grasp the reality of it, God has given us an ordinance which dramatizes our judicial death to sin, and our resurrection to a newness of life. That ordinance, of course, is baptism.
"Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore, we are buried with Him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection: knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin."
Viewing the crossing of the Jordan as a type of baptism helps remind us of some worthwhile truths concerning Christian baptism.
1. Baptism should be an indication that the believer has
pulled up stakes in this world and is beginning a journey.
Joshua 3:3 says:
"And they commanded the people, saying, when ye see the ark of the covenant of the LORD your God, and the priests, the Levites, bearing it, then ye shall remove from your place, and go after it.
The Hebrew word translated remove is nasa, which literally means to pull up, especially tent-pins.
Strong's Hebrew Lexicon.
2. This third verse further reminds us that baptism should be a matter of seeing and following the ark. As has been pointed out previously, the ark was intended to represent a coffin - the coffin of God - symbolizing the coming death of God, the Son, as the sacrifice for sins. We should go through the waters of baptism only because we have seen the ark and are following where it leads.
3. In verse 5, Joshua said to the people:
"Sanctify yourselves, for tomorrow the LORD will do wonders among you."
The expression, do wonders is the Hebrew verb pala, meaning to separate, to distinguish. Baptism is a work of wonder in that it marks a distinction between those who profess Christ and those who do not.
4. The work of baptism can be done only as the ark is lifted up. In verse six Joshua commands the priests to:
"... take up the ark of the covenant, and pass over before the people."
Take up is the translation of the Hebrew nasah which literally means to lift up. Only as Christ is lifted up in his death can true baptism be possible, for baptism is an ordinance which dramatizes the believer's identification with Christ in his death. If there has been no such identification, baptism becomes a meaningless ritual.
5. In verse seven, we read:
"And the LORD said unto Joshua, This day will I begin to magnify thee in the sight of all Israel."
Joshua is the name of which Jesus is the Greek form, and as Joshua was magnified in the eyes of the Israelites because of the miraculous crossing of the Jordan, so Jesus is magnified in the waters of baptism for it dramatizes how the believer (in his identification with Christ) has been put to death by the demands of the law and yet has been raised to walk in newness of life.
As we see the people following the ark across the Jordan, we are further reminded of some truths connected with the gospel of Christ of which the ark was an anticipative type. In verses 10 and 11, Joshua said to the people:
"Hereby shall ye know that the Living God is among you - Behold the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth passeth over before you into Jordan."
It appears that the ark was intended to be the proof that the
living God was among them. Yet, as we have already seen, the
ark was actually the coffin of God. A paradox? Perhaps, but
no more so than the gospel which tells of Him who died, yet
Verse seventeen says that:
"The priests that bare the ark of the covenant of the LORD stood firm on dry ground in the midst of Jordan, and all the Israelites passed over on dry ground, until all the people were passed clean over Jordan."
The expression dry ground is the word charabah, which is
derived from the verb careb, to parch, to desolate, to destroy, to
kill. Thus, the idea of dry ground in Hebrew suggests also the
idea of place of death. The expression dry land in Joshua 4:22
is the Hebrew yabeshah derived from the verb, yabesh, which
primarily means to be shamed. Thus the idea of dry land or
ground in Hebrew suggested place of death and place of shame.
What a wonderful picture we are given of our complete
identification with Christ in his death. We are considered to
have walked where he walked, through the place of shame and
the place of death. No wonder the law is powerless to
condemn us who have suffered all the fury of its penalties in
the person of our substitute. For this substitution was not
merely a matter of another taking our place under judgment
that we might escape, but of actually taking us with him
(judicially) under that judgment, so that in the eyes of the law
we ourselves have been executed for our sins. Of course, his
execution was actual; ours was judicial. The important thing is
that our death with him is not merely a matter of words, but a
As the ark of the covenant provided complete protection to the people as they marched across the Jordan on dry land, so the death of Christ as our substitute provides us with complete safety from the waters of judgment. We who have walked with Joshua (Jesus) through the place of shame and death already have been judged for our sins and have paid the penalty thereof. That we only had to pay it judicially (and not actually) is due to the marvelous grace of God which moved him to pay the penalty actually in our behalf.
"But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound."