“He did this so that all the peoples of the earth might know that the hand of the LORD is powerful and so that you might always fear the LORD your God.” (4:24)
The lesser known parting-of-the-Jordan-river is terrifying. As Rahab told the spies, everyone in the land was already quaking in their boots. The God of Israel had a pretty intense reputation. Canaan was the major trade route of the world, connecting Africa to Asia and Europe. It had been 40 years since the Exodus and everyone had heard the stories.
They probably eased their fears by supposing the Exodus saga was sensationalized. “No way all those plagues happened to everyone but them.” Or “I’m sure their God doesn’t really lead them as a pillar of fire.” And “Maybe their God made the Red Sea shallow and they were able to wade through it?”
But now, as their hearts begin to give way, something terrifying confirms all their deepest fears: the flood-stage Jordan stops, piling into a heap, and Israel indeed crosses on dry ground. They even bring rocks from the middle as menacing souvenirs! The God who is with them, is most certainly the most power God anyone has ever known: Creator God.
Now notice the end of that last verse: so that you might always fear the LORD your God.
God’s people have the unfortunate tendency to get cocky and entitled. Yes they are chosen, yes He is with them, yes He has promised them blessing, but blessing in obedience. Obedience must be married to humility.
As you will see, the LORD does not spare the Israelites who act wickedly or disobediently. This is a specific moment in time they’ve been trained for, like I said at the beginning of Deuteronomy. The people occupying the land are deeply evil, descendants of Ham, recreating the pre-flood society in the most influential part of the world. The LORD, who promised not to flood the place again, seeks to replace these influencers of evil, with His representives, intended to bring blessing to all nations. It’s a sensitive situation, and it will require undivided attention to His leading.
Not everyone is intended for complete annihilation. God directs who to take out and who to spare. Just as He spared Noah’s family, Lot’s family and now Rahab’s family, He’s all about making exceptions for anyone remotely interested in surrender.
The chapters ahead can be hard to swallow. Please, don’t hesitate to engage, ask questions and press the Lord for insight. We know God to be good and the things He commands in this book feel impossible to reconcile with His goodness, from our point of view (which, we must humbly admit, is small and confined to our culture and place in history). My prayer for us is to face these questions head on and come out the other side with a deeper love and understanding of God’s goodness, along with a healthy dose of humility and fear. If I watched God stop a raging river for someone, I probably wouldn’t be waiting on the other side, hands on hips, taping my foot and announcing “I’ve got a bone to pick with you!” However, I am confident we will all find in this saga, glimpses of Christ and the “New Testament God” we feel much more comfortable with. So hang on! Our purpose is still to declare His power to the nations.