1. Joshua 5:1 (ESV)
  2. Exposition

Why does the drying up of the Jordan River cause such alarming fear among the people of Canaan?

Joshua 5:1 (ESV)

1 As soon as all the kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan to the west, and all the kings of the Canaanites who were by the sea, heard that the LORD had dried up the waters of the Jordan for the people of Israel until they had crossed over, their hearts melted and there was no longer any spirit in them because of the people of Israel.

According to the Baal Epic (written around 1500–1200 BC), the Canaanite storm god Baal was responsible for the fertility of the land and the seasons of rain. At one point in the story, Baal battles the god Yamm (sea) who is also called Nahar (river). Baal defeats Yamm (who represents both sea and river) and is hailed as king. He is given the title Lord of all the earth.1

As the Lord’s people approach the Jordan River at flood stage, they face the might of Canaan’s god. The flooded river was a sign of Baal’s power to the people of Canaan (and perhaps also Israel). However, the Lord creates dry land for his people to cross through. In doing this, the Lord defeats Baal and shows himself to be the living God, the Lord of all earth. When the people of Canaan thus hear about what the LORD has done, they are very frightened because their god is no match for the Lord. 2