Adam and His Adversary: Israel’s crossing of the Jordan

Jordan River, where Jesus Christ was baptized

After Adam’s headlining appearance in Genesis, his name is hardly mentioned for the rest of the Hebrew Bible. We find him mostly in genealogies and very occasionally in the books of the prophets (see Hosea 6:7). Still, Adam returns in other ways, many times after Genesis, in stories recounting his (and our) fall from glory.

These stories hold hands using various images, like colour. The Hebrew for red is oudem, derivations of which God uses for people of this earth, Adam and Edom. Red is given to Esau, father of Edom, who, like Adam, relinquishes his birthright and is denied the blessing of his father (Genesis 25:25).

And then there is the matter of Adam’s hiding after he sinned with Eve (Genesis 3:9-10). We meet this cowardice again when Samuel gathers all the tribes of Israel near. And when it becomes clear that Saul the son of the mighty Kish is to be king of Israel, where is Saul? Like Adam, behold, he “is hiding himself by the baggage” (1 Sam. 10:22).

Job later directly cites Adam’s cowardice to assert his own integrity, asking, “Have I covered my transgressions like Adam, by hiding my iniquity in my bosom?” (see also Prov. 28:13).

All the colourful retellings of the story of the fall of humankind draw a typological line across the Bible’s developing redemptive narrative. They teach us that all humans but One partake of the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil. All humans but One instinctively hide from our sin. And all humans are doomed to die, though not for eternity because of the power of the One who was raised to give us new life.

We get a glimpse of this at one of the richest uses of the name Adam in the Hebrew Bible. In Joshua 3, when Israel crosses the Jordan, God tells the people through Joshua to assemble 12 leaders of the 12 tribes, who will follow the priests in leading the people across the Jordan, carrying the Ark of the Covenant ahead of them.

Joshua passing the River Jordan with the Ark of the Covenant – Benjamin West

The text tells us that when the people set out from their tents to cross the Jordan, with the priests carrying the ark before the people,

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), 
16 the waters which were flowing down from above stood and rose up in one heap, as far from Adamah as Zarethan* (Josh. 3:14-17).

A bit of geography is helpful here. The cities of Adam (or Adamah) and Zarethan are located in the north half of the east side of the Jordan. And this is hugely significant! East of the Jordan lies the book of Cherith, the place where the ravens would later feed Elijah. This is a place that Lot had discovered is “well watered everywhere like the garden of the Lord” (Gen 13:10). Lot could not resist it and settled there, as did some of the tribes of Israel, the children of Gad and the children of Reuben (Num. 32).

This land east of the Jordan may seem enticing, then. But it is an unsettling place, a land of incompleteness. After Lot, Moses leads the Israelites to this place but is not allowed to cross over the Jordan (Deut. 3) as punishment for striking the rock. In this same place, then, even though the ravens provide Elijah with bread and meat, this true prophet of God cannot stay there. The waters soon dry up, and the LORD tells him to move on.

A picture is building. Can you see it in your mind’s eye? The location of these two cities, in this story, direct our attention towards wilderness, the kingdom of this world.

And now the names, which give us another layer of meaning. We’ve seen already the origins of the name Adam, not only the man Adam but the meaning of his name, evoking the earth, the colour red, sin.

But what about Zarethan? And here is where things deepen further into mystery and wonder. Scholars have surmised that the name Zarethan likely stems from a verb that has to do with fortifications, laying siege or being an adversary. One of the possible root forms of Zarethan is the verb sara (צרר), which means to show hostility. In fact, the noun forms of this root carry the meaning of ‘vexer’ or even ‘rival wife.’ WHAT.

And now, with these insights, we go back to our text. Back to when the Israelites crossed the Jordan, carrying before them the Ark of the Covenant, the most potent image of God’s presence during the early Old Testament period. Back to when the waters rose up in one heap, covering the region stretching from Adam the antiChrist to his adversary, even his rival wife (Gen. 3:15-16).

“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” (v. 17).

The story of the cities of Adam and his adversary, covered over by the waters of the Jordon, making safe passage for Israel, is a story of liberation. And this rich account, sown for us in Israel’s history, is raised in spiritual deliverance (1 Cor. 15:44-46).

For who else would enter the Jordan River but Jesus Christ, arriving from Galilee, coming to John, to be baptized by him (Matt. 3:13), taking our watery judgement on Himself. Though like Adam we have transgressed the covenant, though we too have dealt treacherously against God (Hosea 6:7), like the people of Israel, we cross through the waters of judgement on dry ground, our Saviour before us. And not one of us will be left behind.

For since by a man came death,
by a man also came the resurrection of the dead. 
22 For as in Adam all die,
so also in Christ all will be made alive.
1 Corinthians 15:22

Travel to Middle East country Kingdom of Jordan – above view of valley of Wadi Mujib river and Al Mujib dam from King’s highway in winter

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