Why did the Lord specify that the priests were to carry the ark when crossing the Jordan (Jos 3:6)?
God specified that Levites of the sons of Kohath were to bear the furniture of the sanctuary, including the ark (Num 4:15). That responsibility still rested with the Kohathites in the days of David (1Ch 15:2, 13), long after the crossing of the Jordan. Something important is behind the change God made in Joshua 3.
Is it significant that God spoke through Moses that the Kohathites were to carry the ark, yet Joshua commanded the priests to carry the ark as Israel prepared to cross the Jordan (Jos 3:6)? This was not a discrepancy between Joshua and Moses. Since the Lord repeats what Joshua commanded (v 8), it is clear that what God spoke through Joshua was as authoritative as what He spoke through Moses. God confirms this immediately after Joshua had spoken: “This day will I begin to magnify thee in the sight of all Israel, that they may know that, as I was with Moses, so I will be with thee” (v 7). Joshua’s words gave evidence that God was with him as He had been with Moses. As well, Joshua’s works likewise demonstrated the same. Under Moses’ leadership the Red Sea parted to provide a passage for Israel out of Egypt. Under Joshua’s leadership the Jordan parted to provide a passage into Canaan.
In addition, Joshua said that, in their crossing over Jordan, God would give special evidence that He was among them (v 10). This would be an assurance to them of power for coming battles. In their wilderness journey, the cloud was the evidence of God’s presence. It pointed to the ark. Now the Lord was giving a clearer assurance of His presence. They were to keep their eye on the ark itself with its covering of blue. The priests carrying it also convey the same message. The people were nearer to the ark, for the priests carrying it were of the family that represented them before the Lord.
Typically, this illustrates a wonderful truth. The first time the Israelites sanctified themselves was by washing their clothes (Exo 19:10, 14). It was an external, physical act. Now, when Joshua tells them to sanctify themselves (Jos 3:5), it appears to be more internal and spiritual in character. We begin to sense the spiritual significance of this event. Death had particular significance when the death of the lamb had sheltered them from Egypt’s condemnation and secured them as God’s redeemed people. What brought death to the Egyptians when the Red Sea had engulfed the Egyptian army delivered the people of God from their enemy, Egypt, and its power. Now the Jordan, overflowing its banks as it flowed from Adam (the only time this word is used as a place name) would have meant death to them had they attempted to cross it. Instead, it became the boundary between where they were in Canaan and where they had been in the wilderness. There they had wandered because of their disobedience to the Lord. So the death of Christ shelters us from condemnation and secures us as God’s redeemed people. It separates us from the world and its power over us (Gal 6:14; 1:4). But the typical truth in Joshua is that it brings us into a new kind of life in union with Christ (Rom 6:4-6). This sense of our being united with Christ is reflected in the priests, as the people’s representatives, carrying the ark first on the wilderness side of Jordan where the flesh had demonstrated its total failure, then in the Jordan itself, typifying the Lord’s death, and finally in Canaan, the place of their promised victory. You can trace this picture in Romans 7, 6, and 8 respectively.
Are we right in preaching that salvation is a decision?
Evangelical preaching uses “a decision for Christ” as an equivalent for receiving salvation. An often-repeated statement bears repeating with emphasis: “No one is saved who has not decided to seek it, but that decision is not salvation.” The Lord said, “Strive to enter in” (Luke 13:24). Sinners, therefore, are responsible to exercise their will – to decide – in seeking salvation. The sinner must receive Christ in order to be born of God (John 1:12). Yet, the following verse makes it clear that man’s will does not save him: “Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” Salvation is a work of God, an act of divine grace, not merited by the sinners decision, nor caused (for then it would not be by God’s grace) by the sinner’s faith.
A sinner needs to be aware of his responsibility, but our preaching or personal soul-winning should not pressure an unbeliever to believe, as though deciding to assent to divine truth will save him. The emphasis is on “Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1Cor 2:2). The repentant sinner finally faces his total inability to save himself (Rom 5:6) and thus finds the sufficiency of Christ to save him because He suffered for sins (1Peter 3:18).
Is salvation a revelation from God?
A revelation in Scripture is God’s act of divulging truth that could not be otherwise known (eg., Eph 3:3; 1Cor 2:10). Illumination is grasping truth already revealed. In light of Paul’s teaching in 2 Corinthians 4, salvation comes to an individual when the truth of the gospel dawns on him (v 4, see RV). Paul draws the parallel between light commanded in creation and light shining in our hearts in salvation (v 6).
God is ready and desirous to command this light to shine into the heart of every sinner (1Tim 2:4) and does not delay to do so when a sinner finally submits his will to what God says. The dawning of gospel light is not a matter of election, but of a sinner’s submission to God’s Word.
Preaching repentance as though it is a step to salvation is not Biblical nor helpful to a sinner. A sinner needs to accept God’s message of his condemnation and helplessness; that is the message he needs. Neither should we preach to the sinner that he needs a revelation, or more properly an illumination. He needs Christ. As we present Christ and His glorious triumph at Calvary, the repentant sinner will receive the truth of salvation, illuminated by the Word of God.