The River Jordan

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nick cobb

Jan 3, 2003, 6:52:25 PM1/3/03
The River Jordan

The river Jordan plays a very important role in the Bible. Before it
becomes the river in which Jesus the Messiah is baptized, it is revealed
as the river which bounds the “promised land.” To cross the Jordan, for
the people of Israel, was to enter into the fulfillment of the Lord’s
promises. It was to enter into the “land flowing with milk and honey,”
the place where God would dwell with His people providing them with the
endless blessings of His presence.
In the New Testament, with its spiritual and mystical fulfillment of the
Old, to cross the Jordan was to enter into the Kingdom of God, to
experience the fulness of the life of the age to come. The fact that
Moses was not blessed to cross the Jordan thus became a symbol of the
fact that the Law by itself could not save Israel or the world. It had to be
3 oshua, winch literally means Savior, and is the Hebrew form of the
Greek word Jesus, who leads the people across the Jordan and into the
promised land, thus symbolizing the saving action of the new Joshua,
Jesus the messianic Savior, in the covenant of grace.

After the death of Moses the servant of the Lord, the Lord said to
Joshua the son of Nun, Moses’ minister, “Moses my servant is dead; now
therefore arise, go over this Jordan, you and all this people, into the
land which I am giving to them, to the people of Israel.” (Josh 1:1-2)

‘When Joshua came to the Jordan the streams parted at the presence of
God’s People, with the priests bearing in their
hands the Ark of the Covenant. As the waters of the sea parted to allow
God’s people to pass through as if on dry land at their exodus from
Egypt, so also at the entry into the land of promise the river Jordan
made way for God’s people to pass through into the place of their final

Behold the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth is to pass
over before you into the Jordan. Now therefore take twelve men from the
tribes of Isarel, from each tribe a man. And when the soles of the feet
of the priests who bear the ark of the Lord, the Lord of all the earth,
shall rest in the waters of the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan shall
be stopped from flowing, and the waters coming down from above shall
stand in one heap.” (Josh 3:11-13)

The Lord also commanded Joshua to take twelve stones out of the river
Jordan and to place them together in one place in a pile where the
people had passed through, to remain “to the people of Isarel a memorial
forever” of the what the Lord had done for them.

And the men of israel did as Joshua commanded, and took up twelve stones
out of the midst of the Jordan, according to the number of the tribes of
the people of Israel, as the Lord told Joshua, and they carried them
over with them to the place where they lodged, and laid them down there.
And Joshua set up twelve stones in the midst of the Jordan, in the place
where the feet of the priests bearing the ark of the covenant had stood;
and they are there to this day. For the priests who bore the ark stood
in the midst of the Jordan, until everything was finished that the Lord
commanded Joshua to tell the people, according to all that Moses had
commanded Joshua. (Josh 4:8-10)

After the people passed through the Jordan river, “the waters of the
Jordan returned to their place and overflowed all its banks, as before.”
(Josh 4:18) This miraculous wonder
became part of the living memory of Israel, and the event was celebrated
in the worship of God’s people ever since. The psalms which recall this
divine action are sung at the Church’s festival of the Epiphany as
prefigurations of God’s final act of the salvation of all people in the
death and resurrection of His Anointed, the Beloved Son who was baptized
in the same Jordan streams.

When Israel went forth from Egypt,
the house of Jacob from a people of strange language.
Judah became his sanctuary,
Israel his dominion.
The sea looked and fled,
Jordan turned back.
The mountains skipped like rams,
the hills like lambs.
What ails you, 0 sea, that you flee?
O Jordan, that you turn back?
0 mountains, that you skip like rams?
O hills, like lambs?
Tremble, 0 earth, at the presence of the Lord, at the presence of the
God of Jacob,
who turns the rock into a pool of water,
the flint into a spring of water. (Ps 114)

The river Jordan was also parted by the passage of Elijah and Elisha, an
event also recalled at the liturgy of Epiphany. (2 Kings 2) And it was
from the Jordan that Elijah was taken up into heaven in order to return
again, as the tradition developed, to prepare the way for the coming of
the Messiah. (See Mt 17:9-13) It was also in the Jordan that Naaman the
Syrian was cleansed from his leprosy, a sign referred to by Jesus as a
prefiguration of the salvation of all people, not only those of Israel.
(Lk 4:27) In the account of Naaman’s cure the special significance of
the Jordan is stressed once again.

And Elisha sent a messenger to him saying, “Go and wash in the Jordan
seven times, and your flesh shall
be restored, and you shall be clean.” But Naaman was angry and went
away, saying, “Behold, I thought that he would surely come out to me,
and stand, and call on the name of the Lord his God, and wave his hand
over the place, and cure the leper. Are not Abana and Pharpar, the
rivers of Damascus better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not
wash in them and be clean? So he turned and went away in rage. But his
servants came near and said to him, “My father, if the prophet commanded
you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much rather,
then, when he says to you, ‘Wash, and be clean’ ?“ So he went down and
dipped himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the
man of God; and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child,
and he was clean. (2 Kings 5:10-14)

Can we not be washed in just any river and be clean? God’s answer is,
No. Only in the Jordan, in the baptism of Christ, are we cleansed from
all of our sins. Only through the Jordan do we enter into the land of
the living, the promised land of God’s kingdom. Only by the sanctified
waters of the Jordan does God sanctify us forever.

The River Jordan turned back of old,
Before Elisha’s mantle when Elijah ascended.
The waters were made to part in two,
So the wet surface became a dry path.
This was in truth a symbol of baptism
By which we pass through mortal life,
Christ has come to the Jordan to sanctify the waters.1

Seeing you, the Creator, naked in the waters, Asking to be baptized, The
whole order of creation was struck with confusion and fear.
The Forerunner was paralyzed and dared not approach You.
The sea fled and the Jordan was driven back.
The mountains skipped like lambs beholding You.
The hosts of angels surrounding You cried out:
0 Wonder! The Savior is stripped naked,
In His desire to clothe, to save and to refashion Man.2

Joshua the son of Nun
Led the people and the ark into the river Jordan
Foreshadowing the goodness which was to come.
Their passage was an image of our regeneratiofl~
A sure type of the new creation accomplished by the Spirit,
To sanctify the waters.3

The hand of the Baptist trembled,
When he touched Your most pure head.
The river Jordan turned back,
Not daring to minister to You.
For how could that river which stood in awe of Joshua, the son of Nun,
Not be afraid before Joshua’s Creator?
But You, 0 Savior, have fulfilled all that was appointed,
That You might save the world by Your Epiphany~
0 0nly Lover of Man !~

2Vespers of the postfeast of the Epiphany.
SMatinS of the postfeast of the Epiphany.
4VesperS of the feast of the Epiphany.

[Taken from, "The Winter Pascha" by Protopresbyter Thomas Hopko, SVS
Press, 1984]

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