The Book of Joshua is one of my favorite sections of the Old Testament. After wandering in the desert for forty years, God directed the sons of Israel to enter the promised land of Canaan. He commanded them to conquer the inhabitants of the region and make it their own. After consecrating themselves, the people followed the Levitical priests who were carrying the Ark of the Covenant:
3:15 and when those who carried the ark came into the Jordan, and the feet of the priests carrying the ark were dipped in the edge of the water (for the Jordan overflows all its banks all the days of harvest), 3:16 the waters which were flowing down from above stood and rose up in one heap, a great distance away at Adam, the city that is beside Zarethan; and those which were flowing down toward the sea of the Arabah, the Salt Sea, were completely cut off. So the people crossed opposite Jericho. 3:17 And the priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the LORD stood firm on dry ground in the middle of the Jordan while all Israel crossed on dry ground, until all the nation had finished crossing the Jordan.
Israel's crossing of the Jordan occurred while the river was at flood stage (cf. 4:18). This area is known for its seismological activity, and some scholars have suggested that an earthquake is what caused the river to be blocked: "Adam is modern Damiya on the east side of the Jordan just south of where the Jabbok River flows, eighteen miles north of the fords at Jericho. The steep banks of the Jordan are particularly susceptible to mudslides because of the large amount of water flowing together here from the two rivers."
The NIV Archaeological Study Bible notes that earthquakes have affected the Jordan’s flow many times in the past: "The most recent occurrence was the quake of 1927, at which time a 150-foot-high (46m) embankment on the western side of the river collapsed, completely blocking the waters for more than 21 hours. Similar cutoffs have been recorded (moving backward in time) in A.D. 1906, 1834, 1546, 1267 and 1160."
Psalm 114:3-4 supports the view that an earthquake affected the river when the sons of Israel crossed it: The sea looked and fled; The Jordan turned back. The mountains skipped like rams, The hills, like lambs.
Does this mean that there is no miracle in Joshua 3:15-17? Absolutely not! Alfred J. Hoerth wisely wrote, "Some scholars think a . . . landslide was the mechanism God used for Joshua, but others prefer to understand the event as entirely supernatural. If God did choose to use a landslide, its timing still requires a miracle."
In the Bible, God performed some miracles that were outside the realm of scientific possibility (Genesis 7:19-20; 1 Kings 17:22), but He also performed other miracles that were natural events that He timed perfectly (cf. Genesis 24:10-14). Both types of events are acts that only God can accomplish!
There are several applications that we can derive from God’s
1) God is in complete control of every aspect of His universe
2) God never fails
3) God’s timing is perfect
4) God’s plan for our lives can be trusted
5) God’s plan is the best plan for our lives
Thank God for His “natural” miracles!