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The Typical Meaning of the Jordan River
by Roel Velema of the Netherlands



In the Old Testament, beginning with Genesis chapter one, God has set forth numerous word pictures to teach about the person and work of Christ — past, present, and future.

A foundational type is laid down in the Exodus of the children of Israel from Egypt and their subsequent journey to the promised land of their inheritance. This type is nearly inexhaustible in its teaching concerning both Israel and Christians. This type covers the whole journey from Egypt to Canaan, as it also describes the future redemption of the nation of Israel. But the type is also applicable to the Christian. The events in Egypt describe the aspects surrounding our eternal salvation, through the death and shed blood of an innocent other. The Red Sea points to baptism all in view of a promised heavenly land.

However, there is one significant event in this important type — namely, the typical meaning of the Jordan — which is rarely accorded proper emphasis, though it is of great importance. Christians would greatly profit if they were as familiar with the typical meaning of the Jordan as they are with the typical meaning of the Red Sea.


The Jordan as a type shows that the promised land could not be entered without crossing the Jordan:

For you are about to cross the Jordan to go in to possess the land that the LORD your God is giving you, and you shall possess it and live in it,” (cf. Deuteronomy 11:31).

When you cross the Jordan and live in the land that the LORD your God is giving you to inherit, and He gives you rest from all your enemies around you so that you live in security,” (cf. Deuteronomy 12:10).

So it shall be on the day when you cross the Jordan to the land that the LORD your God gives you, that you shall set up for yourself large stones and coat them with lime” (cf. Deuteronomy 27:2).

The means of entering the Promised Land was by crossing the Jordan. Just as the Israelites couldn’t leave Egypt, except by passing through the Red Sea, Scripture does not provide a way to enter the Promised Land apart from crossing the Jordan. And what is true in the “type,” must also be true in the “antitype.” The Christian cannot enter the kingdom of the heavens without crossing the “Jordan” in its true, correct typical meaning. And it is this typical meaning that we shall deal with in this study.


First-mention of the “Jordan”


Lot lifted up his eyes and saw all the valley of the Jordan, that it was well watered everywhere — this was before the LORD destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah — like the garden of the LORD, like the land of Egypt as you go to Zoar. So Lot chose for himself all the valley of the Jordan, and Lot journeyed eastward. Thus they separated from each other” (cf. Genesis 13:10, 11).

Genesis 13:10, 11 provides a first-mention of the “Jordan” from the east. The text associates the Jordan and its valley with fruitfulness. A distinction is also made between the east side, the west side, and their separation. This distinction had to do with Lot – the man of flesh – and Abraham – the spiritual man. For one to enter the Promised Land he was to cross the Jordan to the west side. But the Ruebenites, who lost their rights of the firstborn, had to stay, along with the Gadites on the east side of the river.

The first-mention of the “Jordan” immediately shows its typical meaning. It has to do with matters of flesh and spirit. For the Christian, the matters of the flesh and spirit have to do with what the New Testament calls the “salvation of the soul” (cf. Matthew 16:25; John 12:25; James 1:21).


All of God’s dealings with Christians (allowing us to realize the salvation of our souls) will, typically, begin to occur only after passing through the Red Sea, on the east side of Jordan. And only a continuing, on-going process having to do with the saving of the
soul in one’s life, will allow us to cross the Jordan from the east to the west side of the river.


The Geography of the Jordan


The Jordan depression has unique geographical features. It runs its course from its multiple river sources from Mount Hermon to Lake Huleh. From Lake Huleh to the Sea of Galilee is about 10 miles (16 kilometres), and the Sea of Galilee to the Dead Sea is about 65 miles (105 kilometres). From its beginning in the north to its terminus at the Dead Sea, the river drops tremendously – a drop of about 2,380 feet (393 meters). Due to its winding course, the river itself, actually measures nearly 200 miles (325 kilometres), over twice its direct distance.


The name “Jordan” (Hebrews yarden  יַרְדֵן) aptly means “the descender”. The name is connected with the Hebrew verb yarad (יָרַד), which means “to come or go down”. The verb is very common in Hebrew, such as in Exodus 32:1: “…when Moses came down from mount Sinai”. But in its typical meaning – dealing with matters of flesh and spirit – we see the same word used:

And I have trodden down the peoples in mine anger, and made them drunk in my fury; and their blood have I brought down to the earth” (cf. Isaiah 63:6).

Therefore thus says the Lord God: An adversary! even round about the land! And he shall bring down your strength from you, and your palaces shall be pillaged” (Amos 3:11).

A wise man scales the city of the mighty and brings down the stronghold in which they trust” (Proverbs 21:22).

In all these three verses, we see that “bringing down” is associated with bringing down the strength of man. This is illustrated even more through the names of two perennial streams on the east side of the Jordan: the Jabbok and the Cherith, east of the Jordan.  The Jabbok appears 7 times in the Old Testament (cf. Genesis 32:22; Numbers 21:24; Deuteronomy 2:37; 3:16; Joshua 12:2; Judges 11:13, 22), and the Cherith two times (cf. 1 Kings 17:3, 5).

The word “Jabbok” means “emptying”. The word is derived from the Hebrew verb baqaq (בָּקַק), which means “to empty”. It refers to the fact that the Jabbok empties into the Jordan from the east.

The word “Cherith” means “cutting”. The word is derived from the Hebrew verb karat (כָּרַת), which means “to cut off, to cut down”.

When we link these meanings, the Jordan, the “Descender”, bringing down one’s strength, in connection with “emptying” and “cutting”, we can see very clearly that experiences surrounding the crossing of the Jordan are specifically typical, with a view of one day realizing, the salvation of the soul.


First-mention of the “Jabbok”


The Jabbok is first mentioned in Genesis 32:22:

Now he arose that same night and took his two wives and his two maids and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok.


Genesis 32:22-32 deals with the wrestling of Jacob with the Lord. The natural strength of Jacob was broken, and Jacob was renamed Israel. Again we see that the Jordan of its perennial streams point to the breaking, the emptying and the cutting down of the natural man, which has everything to do with the salvation of the soul.


First-mention of the Brook “Cherith”


The Cherith is first mentioned in 1 Kings 17:3:

Go away from here and turn eastward, and hide yourself by the brook Cherith, which is east of the Jordan

The context of this verses deals with Elijah, also in connection with an “emptying” and a “cutting”.


The Red Sea and the Jordan as Types


It is very important to see that there is a difference in typical meaning between the Red Sea and the Jordan. Both types commonly share the fact that they are two sides of one cross. Both symbolize the spiritual death and resurrection of the believer, but the Jordan carries it into another realm. It is of the utmost importance to understand this distinction.


The Red Sea points to the substitutionary death and the positional identification of the believer in Christ’s death and resurrection. The wilderness is the revelation of the need for the Jordan, the experiential identification with Christ in His death and resurrection.


The Jordan points to the practical application of deliverance from the self-life. When the Israelites crossed the Jordan, they left a monument of twelve stones, typifying the Israelites themselves, buried in the bed of the river, indicating the practical ending of the self-life. And then another memorial of twelve stones was taken from the bed of the river and placed on the shore of Canaan, typifying, not only the newness of life through resurrection, but also to an everlasting and practical separation by burial.


Newness of life is always received in resurrection, which is typified by the Israelites rising from the Red Sea. But there is a sense in which Israel, even when they were out of Egypt, were not out. They constantly longed to go back to Egypt; Egypt was in their hearts. Not until they passed through the Jordan, were they really out of Egypt. The Jordan typifies the cross that dealt with the Israelites in an inward way. The Red Sea represented what God did for the Israelites, while the Jordan was a type of a work consummated in them. When a Christian comes to knowledge of the Word of the Kingdom and starts to apply this knowledge, he in fact has crossed the Jordan. This type of Christian has decided to loose his soul in order to save it, which means nothing less than the decision to apply the cross in a subjective way. This also shows that the Word of the Cross is a part of the Word of the Kingdom.


After we have come to the blessings of the substitutionary work of Christ, sooner or later we will learn how wide the gap is between the old creation and the new creation, between the natural life and the spiritual life. At the Jordan the Lord Jesus was baptized, which signifies that He didn’t start His ministry out of Himself, but out of the Father.


And what happened then? The heavens opened and the Spirit descended. Everything was by the Spirit. The Lord Jesus stepped into His public ministry after (only subsequent to) the Jordan, where He accepted the cross as the basis of His ministry.


The first issue in His public ministry was the temptation of the devil in the wilderness, just as the first issue of the Israelites after applying the cross was a confrontation with the inhabitants of the Promised Land. A person’s personal spiritual conflict is in exact proportion to his apprehension of the cross.


The secret of our Lord’s walk lies in the fact that in the Jordan He had entered the real meaning of the cross, and was able to say, “Not My will” (Luke 22:42). Everything personal was set aside. This is the way of our Lord, and this is the way for us as His servants.  It is of the utmost importance to see that the Jordan is not a repeated and extended type of the Red Sea. The difference between the Red Sea and the Jordan as types is as vast as the difference between the objective side and the subjective side of the cross.


It is also important to see that the second generation of Jews who enter the promised land were already looked upon as being delivered from Egypt: “for the LORD our God is He who brought us and our fathers up out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage, and who did these great signs in our sight and preserved us through all the way in which we went and among all the peoples through whose midst we passed” (Joshua 24:17).


Joshua 24:17 is interesting, because it shows that not only the Lord looked upon the first generation as delivered from Egypt, but also the second generation. So there is really no need to look upon the Jordan as a renewed Red Sea because this second generation didn’t cross the water of the Red Sea personally. The Red Sea is the Red Sea and the Jordan is the Jordan. So there is really no problem in seeing the second generation as having gone all the way, in type, as the first generation (deliverance from slavery, the Paschal Lamb, the journey through the wilderness up to Kadesh-Barnea). All through the Old Testament Israel — all its generations — is seen as delivered from Egypt (cp. Micah 6:4).


The logical conclusion would be that the first generation could never have entered the land except by crossing the Jordan. Likewise, a Christian cannot enter the Promised Land solely on basis of the objective death of Christ. Even though the first generation had received the Law and had the Tabernacle, this never guarantied the entrance into the Promised Land. There is only one thing that will ever link us to our inheritance and that’s the personal and collective application of the cross. There is no other way.


If the first generation was to ever enter the land, they had to pass the Jordan, in spite of the fact that they had already passed through the Red Sea. The objective never guaranties the subjective. The first generation didn’t enter the land because it refused to apply the cross in a subjective and practical way. The first generation under Moses was not in a position to enter the land at Kadesh-Barnea, because they had not accepted the cross as the Lord had accepted the cross at the Jordan. Hence the Lord didn’t allow the Israelites to cross the Jordan.


The second generation – seen by the Lord as having crossed the Red Sea – are looked upon as being in a position willing to apply the cross. They entered the land, not because they had the tabernacle in an objective way, but because they were willing to apply the typical meaning of the Ark of the Covenant in a personal way. In the wilderness the pattern of the tabernacle was given. In the land the pattern is worked out subjectively. In the wilderness Christ is set before us as the pattern and the basis of life.


Once we have crossed the Jordan and have entered the land, an immense change takes place. The pattern is replaced by the reality and the subjective ads to the objective. Before we cross the Jordan we may emphasize teaching and understanding of Scripture, though it may all be in an objective way. But once we cross the Jordan it will dawn upon us that the reality of all Bible teaching is to become the embodiment of the Scriptures.


That will change our attitude to the Scriptures for ever. It will also be a change from the earthly to the heavenly. The heavenly life with Christ is to know the resurrection life in Christ. The Lord challenges us to know the Scriptures, but we also have to know the power of God, the power of His resurrection (cp. Matthew 22:29).


The Promised Land as Type


As soon as the Israelites had crossed the Jordan, the Israelites were circumcised at Gilgal. The big difference between Israel in the wilderness and Israel in the land is the difference between Israel in a carnal state and Israel in a conquest and victorious state, because the flesh had been cut off in the Jordan and set aside at Gilgal. They were now a people in the Spirit, just as the Lord had received the Spirit at the Jordan.


It is important to see that the book of Joshua parallels the letters of Paul to the Ephesians and Colossians. These letters don’t describe a present millennial entrance in to the kingdom of the heavens, but a present spiritual warfare with the powers of darkness.

What is the purpose of these letters? Well, it is the purpose of crossing the Jordan, which is a type of our subjective identification with Christ in death, burial and resurrection.

The Red Sea says: “Christ died for you and you died with Him” (Romans 6). The Jordan says: “Because you died with Him, let sin no longer reign in your mortal bodies”. The great purpose of crossing the Jordan is Ephesians 4:13: “… fulness of Christ


The Promised Land provides a dual type. The land of Canaan presents a type of the present warfare of the Christian and a type of the coming millennial kingdom. So this land represents a type of the kingdom of the heavens from which the powers of darkness presently operate.  It presents a type of the heavenly Promised Land that a Christian can inherit during the millennium. Our warfare is against the inhabitants of the land, which can’t be fought, as seen in Ephesians 6, from the wilderness. Note that the inheritance has to be preceded by the battle. And some will not realize this inheritance, though in the land, with the opposition at hand. A Christian can be overcome rather than to overcome. An example in the type would be the battle of Ai. It is God’s purpose that we stay in the wilderness as short as possible and cross the Jordan as soon as possible. Unfortunately, most Christians today are in no position to enter into the land and battle the giants. They are someplace in the wilderness short of Kadesh-Barnea.

The Jordan River: a Type of the Salvation of the Soul


Joshua 3 and 4 give an account of the nation of Israel crossing the Jordan, as a type of the saving of the soul, a type of the subjective application of the cross of Christ.

In advance of crossing the Jordan, Joshua rose early in the morning (Joshua 3:1), pointing to his readiness and watchfulness to cross the Jordan. In Scripture, men of God were, without exception, early risers in order to meet God before they met men. We should be saturated with the Lord’s presence before the Lord can bless others with what He has worked in us.


At the end of three days the time had come to cross the Jordan, and the process was as follows. The priests, carrying the ark of the covenant, would step into the Jordan. When the soles of the feet of the priests would rest in the waters, the waters of the Jordan would be cut off, and the water flowing down from above would stand in one heap (Joshua 3:13). The priests would walk up to the middle of the river to stand there firm on the dry ground, until the nation finished crossing the river (Joshua 3:17). After the people had crossed the Jordan, twelve stones had to be taken from the middle of the river, where the priests stood, to taken with them as a remembrance of crossing the river (Joshua 4:3). Joshua also put twelve stones on the place where the priests had stood, also as a remembrance. The twelve stones taken with them, were set up in Gilgal (Joshua 4:20).


The events around the Jordan and the Ark of the Covenant in particular are the elements that form a basic type of the salvation of the soul in the Old Testament. The salvation of the soul points to a future saving of the soul in connection with a present denial of the soul life or natural life. It implies a present determination to reject the carnal life. It happened so when Israel passed through the Jordan, and forever parted with the carnal life.


The Jordan in type spoke of death in Christ to the carnal life, which was so predominant in the wilderness. The Jordan drew the line between the Israelites carnally and their life spiritually. And now they typically were on spiritual ground. Achan contradicts that when the carnal life broke out again, but the result was a quick and radical judgement. Things once done in the flesh were not tolerated anymore. The events around the Jordan and the Ark of the Covenant in particular are the elements that form a basic type of the salvation of the soul in the Old Testament.


The Ark of the Covenant


The Ark of the Covenant was central in crossing the river.

Firstly, let us make some general remarks about the Ark of the Covenant. The word ark (of covenant) is related to a Hebrew word which is a common name for a coffin or chest (Genesis 50:26; 2 Kings 12:9-10). However the addition to the word ark is the following: “ark of God” (1 Samuel 3:3), “ark of the covenant” (Joshua 3:6; Hebrews 9:4), “ark of testimony” (Exodus 25:22), and the “ark” in connection with “glory” (1 Samuel 4:21, 22).

The ark was made of acacia or shittim wood and covered with the purest gold. Note that in Joshua 3:1 the nation set out from Shittim, which is also called “Abel-Shittim” (Numbers 33:49). It was the same places from which Joshua sent two spies secretly to view the land (Joshua 2:1). To enter the land, is first to study and spy the land.


The upper surface or lid of the ark, the mercy-seat, was surrounded with a rim of gold, and on each of the two sides were two gold rings, in which were placed two gold-covered poles by which the ark could be carried (Numbers 7:9; 10:21; 4:5, 19-20; 1 Kings 8:3,6). At each end, there were two cherubim over the ark, with their faces turned toward each other (Leviticus 16:2; Numbers 7:89). Their outspread wings over the top of the ark formed the throne of God, while the ark itself was his footstool (Exodus 25:10-22; 37:1-9). The ark was deposited in the “holy of holies”, and was placed so that one end of the carrying poles touched the veil that separated the two sections of the tabernacle (1 Kings 8:8).


Stored in the ark were the ten commandments on two tablets of stone, which were the testimony or evidence of God’s covenant with the people (Deuteronomy 31:26), the pot of “manna” (Exodus 16:33), and Aaron’s rod that budded (Numbers 17:10; Hebrews 9:4).


After Israel settled in the land, the ark remained in the tabernacle at Gilgal for a while. It was then moved to Shiloh till the time of Eli, between 300 and 400 years (Jeremiah 7:12), when it was carried into the field of battle in an attempt to guarantee victory. However, it was taken by the Philistines (1 Samuel 4:3-11), who returned it after seven months when they realized it was bringing a curse on them (1 Samuel 5:7-8). The ark then remained at Kirjath-jearim (7:1-2) until the time of David (twenty years), who wished to move it to Jerusalem; but because they did not move it in the proper way, Uzzah was killed for putting “forth his hand to the ark of God.” Therefore, the ark was left in the house of Obed-Edom in Gath-Rimmon for three months (2 Samuel 6:1-11), after which David moved it in a grand procession to Jerusalem, where it was kept till a place was prepared for it (chaps. 12-19).


Solomon later deposited the ark in the great temple he built (1 Kings 8:6-9). When the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem and plundered the temple, the ark disappeared. Some believe it was taken away by Nebuchadnezzar and was destroyed at some point. No definite later trace of it has ever been found.


In crossing the Jordan, the ark went ahead with 2,000 cubits of spaces between the it and the crowd. The number 2,000 in general refers in Scripture to something sufficient, in this case a sufficient and safe distance (cp. Joshua 7:3; 1 Samuel 13:2; 2 Kings 18:23).


The ark represented both the presence, nature, and purpose of the Lord. And because all purposes of God are bound up with/in Christ, the Ark of the Covenant is also a type of Christ Himself. In realizing the salvation of the soul, we receive participation in the presence, nature, and purpose of the Lord. To be a co-heir with Christ is to participate in Christ and His millennial reign. It is to participate in the nature of the Lord, which can be seen in the budded rod of the Aaron. This rod speaks of resurrection life.


Twelve stones were taken to the Promised Land, and twelve stones were laid in the middle of the Jordan. Before the judgment seat the overcomer will hear: “Well done, good and faithful slave”, which will be a powerful motivation in our present spiritual walk and a remembrance to the overcomers during the whole of the millennium. The non-overcomers will also have a remembrance: the “weeping and gnashing of teeth.” To have, during the millennium, a greater part in the presence, the nature, and the purpose of God in connection with the glory of God is the essence of the salvation of the soul.

The aim of this study is to lay a foundation for one to see that the Jordan is a type of the saving of the soul through the subjective application of the cross. This type should become just as familiar to us as the Red Sea is a type of baptism.


A closer look should be taken at the three items in the Ark of the Covenant. Stored in the ark were the ten commandments on two tablets of stone, which were the testimony or evidence of God’s covenant with the people (Deuteronomy 31:26), the pot of “manna” (Exodus 16:33), and Aaron’s rod that budded (Numbers 17:10; Hebrews 9:4).


The Two Tablets of Stone


The two tablets of stone set forth God’s mind and His will for us. Dispensationally the Christian has nothing to do with the Law of Moses. Yet as a type, 2 Corinthians 3:3 shows us that we are letters of Christ, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of our human hearts. The context of the whole chapter has to do with the metamorphosis from a carnal to a Spirit-led state, which takes place in the Christian’s life upon his digestion of the “meat” of God’s Word. 


The Budded Rod of Aaron


The budded rod points to resurrection, to the power of His resurrection. In Philippians 3:10,11 we read:

that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.


A fellowship of the sufferings of Christ, a crucified life, which makes room for the life of Christ and the power of His resurrection, through which we come to know Him, is the whole process of our spiritual growth, which will ultimately lead to the out-resurrection from the dead. And that’s exactly what the type in Joshua 3 and 4 teaches.


The Pot of Manna


The manna points to the heavenly provision in our Christian life. The manna deals with the matter of food for the Christian. In John 6:53-56 the Lord taught that we abide in Christ by eating His flesh and drinking His blood:


“So Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him’.”


What does it mean to eat His flesh and to drink His blood? That’s also what the Jews argued about: “How can this man give us His flesh to eat?” (vs. 52). Of course we cannot literally eat His flesh and drink His blood. The answer is to be found in 1 Corinthians 1:30 where Christ became everything to us, not pieces and without permanent satisfaction as with the feeding of the 5,000. Christ is everything to us; He is the great “I am”:


·         I am the bread of life (John 6:35, 48).

·         I am the light of the world (John 8:12).

·         I am the door of the sheep (John 10:7).

·         I am the good Shepherd (John 10:10).

·         I am the resurrection and the life (John 11:25).

·         I am the way, de truth and the life (John 14:6).

·         I am the true vine (John 15:1, 5).


Taking all these three items together: 1) spiritual food, 2) the metamorphosis, and 3) the power of Christ’s resurrection; we see that the “salvation of the soul” (its realization) deals with these three issues. The power of Christ’s resurrection emanates from the application of the cross from day to day. The natural life will then be set aside and Christ, our spiritual food, will become our life.


This will effect the metamorphosis in our lives. We cannot say that the mere study of Scripture will effect the metamorphosis. This will only occur in connection with the application of the cross in our lives, simply because the Spirit of God always works on basis of the cross. The cross leads to the Spirit and the Spirit leads to the cross. That is the typical meaning of the Jordan.


What is the salvation of the soul? It is nothing less than reaching the end or outcome of our faith (1 Peter 1:9), which means to receive an inheritance reserved for us in heaven (1 Peter 1:5). It means to be part of the bride of Christ. This bride will be in an intimate relationship with the Bridegroom and will have part in His work through eternity. This is really a gospel to the believer. Nothing can be compared to this, and there is nothing in this world that can be viewed as worthy of competing with this. We should never separate the salvation of the soul from a deep passion to our Lord.


Teachings surrounding the salvation of the soul can, if one is not watchful, easily become another doctrine in itself – i.e., just another doctrine among many within one’s own thinking. But advance in the Christian life is far more than just advance in doctrine. The most attractive Christian is one who is strong in the knowledge of the Scriptures and who is rich in resurrection life with our Lord. The fullness that springs up from our inheritance has to do with the very purpose of our existence: the exaltation of the Son of God to the throne. This is our vocation and it involves our deep, personal relationship with our Lord, borne out of His deep dealings and involvement with us.


Therefore, the Christian life is above all a personal relationship with the Lord. But this personal relationship will ever show the insurmountable difference between the Lord and us. He is so different, so spiritual, that we always can be in despair to know Him fully. In fact, we will need eternity to come into a complete and full practical knowledge of Him.


The salvation of the soul requires the living of a crucified life (our present salvation) in order to share in Christ’s coming glory during the coming Messianic kingdom of a thousand years (our future salvation). To be in a position to rule and reign with our Lord then, there has to be a present training in which we move from the natural to the spiritual through the subjective work of the cross of Christ. The whole matter of the salvation of the soul, which emanates from living a crucified life, involves our present salvation in view of our future salvation. The Jordan River is a type of it. Our heavenly food (the written Word and Living Word), the power of Christ’s resurrection, and the metamorphosis, can be summarized as the antitype of the Jordan River.


©2007 Roel Velema