The Jordan River was between people of Israel and the Promised Land.
I’ve told the story a dozen times or more.
The priests picked up the ark. They use long poles of acacia wood threaded through rings attached to the ark. They walk toward the river. It’s rainy season. The river is overflowing the banks. The priests take a step of faith. The first two feet descend toward the surface of the water. And as the feet make contact, the water stops flowing.
Which is good, I have always said, because there was a huge crowd right on their heels. If they had stopped, I’ve always said, imagine the pileup.
A friend just asked me, “Did they really go up to their necks in the water?” It was a good question. I’m guessing it was prompted by something he saw. So I went back and read the story. No evidence of priests getting wet. Clear statement about the water stopping.
Until I read the story in Joshua 3-4 more carefully.
I discovered that the crowd wasn’t right on their heels.
What actually happened is that everyone was told to stay back half a mile or more. They were to stay back so they could see which way to go. They were to stay back to give the ark respect. And because they stayed back, waiting until the priests got to the water’s edge, everyone in the front row got a clear view of the river stopping, of the path opening through the Jordan. The gap gave a glimpse of God.
My wonderful story was embellished with a detail to increase the drama of the moment. I missed the respectful distance.
The lesson isn’t about the holiness of the ark, however. It’s this: When you tell sacred stories, keep the story straight.