One good way of teaching children the Scriptures is by role-playing. My kids love it when I pretend to be someone else as I tell them a story. I usually try to pick someone obscure or previously unknown to them to introduce them to new characters from the Bible. This is a simple way to help the children empathize and understand the various people of Biblical history. So often, these Bible stories are told in such a way as to make the heroes of the story seem unreal, making it difficult for the children to relate to them. Children could grow up feeling that the people of Biblical history were like the people of fairy stories or mythology, too perfect or too different to be human. We should make it our goal to help children understand that the characters in the Bible were human beings just like them.
Here is an example of the kind of role-playing story I am talking about. It is the story of the children of Israel crossing the Jordan River after Moses has died and Joshua has taken over leadership. However, I chose not to tell the story from Joshua’s perspective, but from the perspective of a nameless Levitical priest carrying the ark of the covenant. Most children already know this story from Joshua’s point of view. It will become a new story altogether when told from another character’s viewpoint.
I am a priest of the Lord Most High. I am a priest because I was born in the tribe of Levi and in the family of Aaron, the first High Priest. It’s a big job and I take it very seriously. One of my jobs is to help carry the furniture of the tabernacle around whenever we change locations.
I want to tell you about how we Israelites finally entered the Promised Land. We had been wandering around in the desert for 40 years because our parents decided it would be too hard to go into the Promised Land. They didn’t trust God to give it to them, so they weren’t allowed to go in. The only two people from our parents’ generation who survived the whole 40 years were Joshua, Moses’ personal aide, and Caleb, a faithful friend of Joshua’s. They were the only men who, forty years earlier, were ready and willing to enter the Promised Land and take their inheritance. Now even Moses had died and it was time to go into Canaan. Moses had appointed Joshua to take his place as God had instructed him, commissioning him before the High Priest and all the people of Israel.
When we first arrived on the banks of the Jordan River, we didn’t know what we were supposed to do next! The River was flooded and swift-running. It was dangerous to even go wading on the edge of it because the strong current could knock you off your feet and sweep you away downstream all the way to the Dead Sea! But God was with Joshua as He had been with Moses. God told Joshua what to do, and he passed the instructions on to all of us. And really, we should not have been surprised by his instructions. We priests were to go first, carrying the Ark of the Covenant, and lead the way.
This made sense, because God had been leading us through the desert for 40 years by moving in a cloud over the Ark of the Covenant. The Ark is the symbol of God’s very presence among His people. Now He would lead us through the Ark right into the Promised Land.
The problem was, how we were to cross the river Jordan. It is deep even when it isn’t flooded. God told us to take the Ark right to the edge of the water. Then He would hold the River back so that it could not flow anymore and we could cross on dry land. We knew that something like this had happened to our parents when the crossed the Red Sea when they left the land of Egypt. We knew God could perform such miracles. But it was still really scary to walk right up to that dangerous, swirling water.
It takes four men to carry the Ark, two in front and two in back, holding it up on two poles. The Ark remains covered so that no one can look upon it. It’s just too holy for sinful man’s eyes to see. I was one of the two priests in the front, so I knew I would have to be one of the priests who stepped into the River! As I approached the turbulent water, I hoped God would stop it from flowing just before I reached it! But He didn’t. I had to put my foot right into the River. As soon as I did, the water stopped flowing! The water that had already passed us by swept on downstream to the Sea and was gone. Far away upstream, so far we couldn’t see it from where we stood, I’ve been told that the river stopped and heaped up as if it were behind an invisible dam. The people of the city of Adam, right beside where the river stopped, were amazed and gazed in wonder at the heap of water that swirled and foamed but could not flow downstream. The cities south of us grew puzzled when the River that passed by them suddenly dried up! The riverbed before us was completely empty of all water. Not even a puddle was left, and the ground, instead of the deep mud you would expect on the bottom of a river, the ground was dry and hard. It was fairly easy to walk on it, and we priests carried the Ark out into the middle of the riverbed and stood there while the people passed by us, crossing the river.
It took nearly all day for all those people to cross the river! Our arms got so tired, holding the Ark up for so long. Finally the last few stragglers crossed and the whole nation of Israel was now in the Promised Land! We were excited about that, but we were also excited about the idea of finishing the crossing ourselves and putting the heavy Ark down! But Joshua did not give us the signal to move. Instead, he picked out twelve leaders, one from each tribe, and sent them back into the riverbed! We were puzzled until we saw that each of the twelve men were picking up one huge stone from the riverbed, placing it on his shoulder, and carrying it to the riverbank. That made sense to us. We realized that God must have commanded Joshua to take stones from the middle of the river to set up as a monument, so that all the people would remember the miracle that happened in this place. At last Joshua motioned us to come ashore, and we gladly walked across the rest of the riverbed and climbed up the bank. We were in the Promised Land! And as soon as our feet left the riverbed, the water gushed back into the dry riverbed and overflowed the banks again! What an amazing day!