In Christian teaching, the crossing into Canaan is a symbol of entering the victorious Christian life.
This is a generation that has grown up in the wilderness and seen the miracles God has done there; few still live who remember witnessing the Red Sea crossing. After 40 years of wandering, the nation is finally ready to cross over into Canaan, and they are about to see God move as they have never seen before.
Take note that the Ark (Yahweh’s mobile throne) is what leads the way into the Promised Land. The same is true of the victorious Christian life – we cannot claim it on our own, God must be the one leading the way. The distance Joshua commands Israel to keep is both a measure of how wide the opening in the river will be for the crossing Israelites and a symbol of respect for God’s holy presence.
Yahweh reiterates that Joshua’s relationship with God will be pivotal for the nation; as Moses was His go-between with Israel in the wilderness, so will Joshua be in the conquest of the Promised Land.
So it is that Joshua serves not only as military commander, but intermediary leader for Israel; God will always be Israel’s true ruler, even through the time of the kings, but Joshua will be a leadership model for the people of the nation.
Final instructions are given, and a sign is foretold; God (symbolized by the Ark) will continue to lead the people, and the selected twelve men will have a special task in building an “ebenezer” mound in the next chapter. Like the traditional feasts, this will remain an important reminder for Israel in the future of God’s work in the past.
For those raised in the wilderness, this event is symbolically reminiscent of the Red Sea crossing; like its counterpart 40 years earlier, it reveals to the people God’s power over nature and His victory over any obstacle that stands in the way over those who follow Him.