For forty years they had wandered in the dessert wilderness, until, with eager expectation they stood on the eastern shores of Jordan looking into the Promised Land. Moses, their leader was gone, leaving Joshua to lead the million-or-so faith-filled Israelites. God’s instructions were clear. Priests carrying the Ark of the Covenant were to lead the procession to the water’s edge.
It happened just as God had predicted. When the priest carrying the Ark dipped their toes in to the rushing river, the waters flowing south toward the Dead Sea, ceased. The water piled up and the riverbed dried up (Joshua 3). The symbol of God’s presence, the Ark of the Covenant, led the way.
Later, just across the River, the Ark of the Covenant led the nation as it encircled the fortified city of Jericho. For seven days the Ark led the military procession, until on the seventh day, after seven trips around, with a trumpet’s blast and shout of victory, the walls crumbled. The conquest began with the nation following the Golden Ark, the symbol of God’s abiding presence (Joshua 6).
Forty years prior to Jericho, God had instructed Moses to build the Ark and place it behind the Veil in the Holy of Holies.
“Make an ark of acacia wood, forty-five inches long, twenty-seven inches wide, and twenty-seven inches high. Overlay it with pure gold; overlay it both inside and out.” For mobility, God said, “Cast four gold rings for it and place them on its four feet, two rings on one side and two rings on the other side. Make poles of acacia wood and overlay them with gold. Insert the poles into the rings on the sides of the ark in order to carry the ark with them” (Exodus 25:10-13, CSB).
He also instructed Moses to “put the tablets of the testimony that I will give you into the ark” (Exodus 25:16, CSB). Once upon a time, an ark carried Noah and his family through the storm. At another time, an ark carried baby-Moses through the bulrushes. The Tabernacle’s Ark carried the written requirements of God’s covenant with His chosen people. The tablets of stone, etched by God’s finger, bore the provisional promise of God’s presence and power.
With the Tabernacle erected and the Ark of the Covenant inside the Holy of Holies, “the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle” (Exodus 40:34, CSB). God’s glorious presence hovered “over the tabernacle by day, and there was a fire inside the cloud by night, visible to the entire house of Israel throughout all the stages of their journey” (Exodus 40:38, CSB).
On that day when the Jews first came to the Jordan River, they didn’t just follow a golden box. Weeks later when they circled Jericho, they were not led by holy men carrying a religious relic. The people of God followed the very real presence of the living God, beautifully symbolized by the Ark of the Covenant!