Let’s get up to speed with the journey so far: out of Africa (Egypt) and wandering the Sinai only to be blocked out of the land of Promise, turning back and returning this time to go around the eastern side of the Jordan (and Dead Sea) …
And Moses went up from the plains of Moab unto the mountain of Nebo, to the top of Pisgah, that is over against Jericho. And the Lord shewed him all the land of Gilead, unto Dan, 2 And all Naphtali, and the land of Ephraim, and Manasseh, and all the land of Judah, unto the utmost sea, 3 And the south, and the plain of the valley of Jericho, the city of palm trees, unto Zoar. —Deuteronomy 34:1-3
Faculties in tact and still strong of sight, the Promised Land finally is sprawled out ahead of him — the land the Lord had sworn to the seed of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And, at the age of 120, Moses dies and is buried (at an unknown tomb) against Beth-peon in a valley of the land of Moab. For 30 days, in the plain of Moab, the children of Israel weep the death of the man who helped deliver them out of Egypt.
With Moses’ blessing and the Spirit of Wisdom in him, Joshua (son of Nun) hears the Word of the Lord telling him to here cross the Jordan river and lead the Israelites into the promised land — the land from the wilderness to Lebanon, the Euphrates and land of the Hittites to the Mediterranean — and He would ensure that they prevail against the heathen and hostile inhabitants.
To ensure success, the Lord tells Joshua, they must:
6 Be strong and of a good courage: for unto this people shalt thou divide for an inheritance the land, which I sware unto their fathers to give them. 7 Only be thou strong and very courageous, that thou mayest observe to do according to all the law, which Moses my servant commanded thee: turn not from it to the right hand or to the left, that thou mayest prosper withersoever thou goest. 8 This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success. 9 Have not I commanded thee? Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest. —Joshua 1:6-9 (KJV) by Public Domain
Passing on the instruction of YHWH, Joshua gives the Israelites orders to prepare. Suddenly, after 40 years in the wilderness living off manna, a 72-hour countdown is in place before Israel will be crossing the Jordan to take possession of the land promised. The Reubenites, Gadites, and half of Manasseh are reminded of their rest and their land — the very land which they now stand and already possess on the east bank of the Jordan river, just as Moses had promised. However, communal obligation requires of them also to cross the Jordan and assist with taking posession of the land to the River’s west. The Israelites are one for all and all for one behind Joshua.
But before any battle, Joshua sends two men out from their camp in Shittim ahead to survey the land including Jericho. The two Israelites come to the house of Rahab, a harlot, with news of the Israelite exploits in Egypt having preceded them. Fearing the Lord, Rahab hides the pair in the roof of her house to avoid the king’s men that were despatched upon word of the strangers in town. She urges the pursuers to make chase beyond the city gates. Once safe, Rahab agrees with the pair to secrecy in return for her family’s immunity. She drops a cord made of scarlet linen out her window and over the city wall, affording the Israelites escape and beckoning them to the hills where they are to remian for three days prior to retuning to their camp — to avoid their pursuers. Three days later, Joshua, briefed by the returned pair, prepares the Israelites. A procession lines behind the Levites with the Ark of the Covenant, leaving space between them and the Ark. As the Levites take the Ark across the Jordan, upstream the river water heaps-up and is miraculously diverted such that, and not for the first time, the Israelites cross a transiently dried river-bed.
As the last of the Israelites crosses the Jordan, the Lord again speaks to Joshua:
2 Take you twelve men out of the people, out of every tribe a man, 3 And command ye them, saying, Take you hence out of the midst of Jordan, out of the place where the priests’ feet stood firm, twelve stones, and ye shall carry them over with you, and leave them in the lodging place, where ye shall lodge this night.
Joshua commands the twelve to do so:
6 That this may be a sign among you, that when your children ask their fathers in time to come, saying, What mean ye by these stones? 7 Then ye shall answer them, That the waters of Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord; when it passed over Jordan, the waters of Jordan were cut off: and these stones shall be for a memorial unto the children of Israel for ever.
Joshua sets up 12 stones in the midst of the Jordan in the place where the feet of the priests who held the ark stood. And finally the priests baring the ark too crossed over just as the river waters again rush forth. Now the children of Reuben and the children of Gad and half the tribe of Manasseh, some 40,000 warriors, prepare to do battle in Jericho, so that on the 10th day of the first month of Nisan all of Israel had crossed over the Jordan and where encamped in Gilgad, by the eastern flank of the Jordan River.