The supernatural crossing of the River Jordan by Joshua and the Israelites is one of the many water-related miracles described in the Bible. It was a sign of God’s power and a confirmation of Joshua’s authority. It also explains why the Jordan is considered such a special river.
After Joshua became the new leader of the Israelites, God said to him: “Moses my servant is dead. Rise, therefore, and cross over this Jordan, you and all of this people, to the land that I am giving to them, the people of Israel.” (Joshua 1:2). So Joshua and the Israelites camped on the banks of the River Jordan, and prepared to cross to the other side.
God promised Joshua a miracle as a sign that he had chosen him as Moses’ successor and that God truly was with his people. The entry into the Promised Land took place just before the festival of the Passover, when the people would be recalling how God had saved them from Egypt through the Crossing of the Red Sea (Joshua 4:19; 5:10).
With this in mind, Joshua told the priests to carry the Ark of the Covenant into the river. As soon as they stepped into the Jordan, the waters parted, leaving dry ground for the people to walk across. The priests remained in the middle of the riverbed until everyone had crossed. When they then stepped ashore with the Ark, the Jordan began to flow normally again.
After the Ark of the Covenant had passed through it, the Jordan was considered a holy river. As King Solomon later said, “the places that the Ark of the Lord has entered are sacred.” (2 Chronicles 8:11) This was why St John the Baptist later baptised people in the river, including Christ (Matthew 3:13-17).
At God’s command, Joshua ordered twelve memorial stones to be set up on the riverbank, to remind the Israelites of the great miracle that had just occurred. Twelve men, one from each of the tribes of Israel, each took a rock from the riverbed, from the place where the priests had stood with the Ark. These stones were then placed on the other side of the Jordan.
As their military leader, Joshua went on to lead the Israelites in the conquest of the Promised Land, starting with the capture of the city of Jericho. He is therefore celebrated in the Bible for his role as a warrior (Sirach 46:2-3).
This bronze relief of the Ark of the Covenant being carried through the Jordan is found on the font of Buckfast Abbey, in Devon. The entire font is a reproduction of the famous medieval example from Hildesheim Cathedral, in Germany. The Buckfast version was cast for the baptistery of the newly rebuilt abbey between 1931-1932. It was made in Aachen, Germany, by Bernhard Witte, a German goldsmith who produced a variety of metalwork for the Abbey.
The Crossing of the Jordan is pictured on the side of the font, alongside other scenes from the Bible. The scheme explains the mystery of baptism through various stories from the Old and New Testaments. The Latin caption surrounding this particular scene means: “Joshua leads the Hebrews across the river to their homeland. May God lead you to life from the font.”
Notice how the Israelites are each carrying the memorial stones they have taken from the riverbed. Joshua is seen in the middle, bearing a striking resemblance to Christ. Since Jesus is the Greek form of the name Joshua, what we see here is ‘Jesus’ standing in the middle of the Jordan. This made it an appropriate symbol of the Baptism of Christ.
See the full image:
And the font as a whole within the baptistery:
Where to find this work of art
Buckfast Abbey, Buckfastleigh
Read the relevant passage
On a similiar theme
- From the Old Testament: The Book of Joshua links the story with the miraculous Crossing of the Red Sea by Moses and the Israelites.
- From the New Testament: The story is presented on the font as a symbol of the Baptism of Christ in the River Jordan.