Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
And it came to pass, when all the people were clean passed over Jordan, that the LORD spake unto Joshua, saying,
Jos 4:1-8. Twelve Stones Taken for a Memorial Out of Jordan.
1-3. the Lord spake unto Joshua, Take you twelve men—each representing a tribe. They had been previously chosen for this service (Jos 3:12), and the repetition of the command is made here solely to introduce the account of its execution. Though Joshua had been divinely instructed to erect a commemorative pile, the representatives were not apprised of the work they were to do till the time of the passage.
Take you twelve men out of the people, out of every tribe a man,
And command ye them, saying, Take you hence out of the midst of Jordan, out of the place where the priests' feet stood firm, twelve stones, and ye shall carry them over with you, and leave them in the lodging place, where ye shall lodge this night.
Then Joshua called the twelve men, whom he had prepared of the children of Israel, out of every tribe a man:
4, 5. Joshua called the twelve men—They had probably, from a feeling of reverence, kept back, and were standing on the eastern bank. They were now ordered to advance. Picking up each a stone, probably as large as he could carry, from around the spot "where the priests stood," they pass over before the ark and deposit the stones in the place of next encampment (Jos 4:19, 20), namely, Gilgal.
And Joshua said unto them, Pass over before the ark of the LORD your God into the midst of Jordan, and take ye up every man of you a stone upon his shoulder, according unto the number of the tribes of the children of Israel:
That this may be a sign among you, that when your children ask their fathers in time to come, saying, What mean ye by these stones?
6, 7. That this may be a sign among you—The erection of cairns, or huge piles of stones, as monuments of remarkable incidents has been common among all people, especially in the early and rude periods of their history. They are the established means of perpetuating the memory of important transactions, especially among the nomadic people of the East. Although there be no inscription engraved on them, the history and object of such simple monuments are traditionally preserved from age to age. Similar was the purpose contemplated by the conveyance of the twelve stones to Gilgal: it was that they might be a standing record to posterity of the miraculous passage of the Jordan.
Then ye shall answer them, That the waters of Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the LORD; when it passed over Jordan, the waters of Jordan were cut off: and these stones shall be for a memorial unto the children of Israel for ever.
And the children of Israel did so as Joshua commanded, and took up twelve stones out of the midst of Jordan, as the LORD spake unto Joshua, according to the number of the tribes of the children of Israel, and carried them over with them unto the place where they lodged, and laid them down there.
8. the children of Israel did so as Joshua commanded—that is, it was done by their twelve representatives.
And Joshua set up twelve stones in the midst of Jordan, in the place where the feet of the priests which bare the ark of the covenant stood: and they are there unto this day.
Jos 4:9. Twelve Stones Set Up in the Midst of Jordan.
9. Joshua set up twelve stones … in the place where the feet of the priests … stood—In addition to the memorial just described, there was another memento of the miraculous event, a duplicate of the former, set up in the river itself, on the very spot where the ark had rested. This heap of stones might have been a large and compactly built one and visible in the ordinary state of the river. As nothing is said where these stones were obtained, some have imagined that they might have been gathered in the adjoining fields and deposited by the people as they passed the appointed spot.
they are there unto this day—at least twenty years after the event, if we reckon by the date of this history (Jos 24:26), and much later, if the words in the latter clause were inserted by Samuel or Ezra.
For the priests which bare the ark stood in the midst of Jordan, until every thing was finished that the LORD commanded Joshua to speak unto the people, according to all that Moses commanded Joshua: and the people hasted and passed over.
Jos 4:10-13. The People Pass Over.
10. the priests which bare the ark stood in the midst of Jordan—This position was well calculated to animate the people, who probably crossed below the ark, as well as to facilitate Joshua's execution of the minutest instructions respecting the passage (Nu 27:21-23). The unfaltering confidence of the priests contrasts strikingly with the conduct of the people, who "hasted and passed over." Their faith, like that of many of God's people, was, through the weakness of nature, blended with fears. But perhaps their "haste" may be viewed in a more favorable light, as indicating the alacrity of their obedience, or it might have been enjoined in order that the the whole multitude might pass in one day.
And it came to pass, when all the people were clean passed over, that the ark of the LORD passed over, and the priests, in the presence of the people.
11. the ark of the Lord passed over, and the priests, in the presence of the people—The ark is mentioned as the efficient cause; it had been the first to move—it was the last to leave—and its movements arrested the deep attention of the people, who probably stood on the opposite bank, wrapt in admiration and awe of this closing scene. It was a great miracle, greater even than the passage of the Red Sea in this respect: that, admitting the fact, there is no possibility of rationalistic insinuations as to the influence of natural causes in producing it, as have been made in the former case.
And the children of Reuben, and the children of Gad, and half the tribe of Manasseh, passed over armed before the children of Israel, as Moses spake unto them:
12, 13. the children of Reuben … passed over armed before the children of Israel—There is no precedency to the other tribes indicated here; for there is no reason to suppose that the usual order of march was departed from; but these are honorably mentioned to show that, in pursuance of their promise (Jos 1:16-18), they had sent a complement of fighting men to accompany their brethren in the war of invasion.
About forty thousand prepared for war passed over before the LORD unto battle, to the plains of Jericho.
13. to the plains of Jericho—That part of the Arabah or Ghor, on the west, is about seven miles broad from the Jordan to the mountain entrance at Wady-Kelt. Though now desert, this valley was in ancient times richly covered with wood. An immense palm forest, seven miles long, surrounded Jericho.
On that day the LORD magnified Joshua in the sight of all Israel; and they feared him, as they feared Moses, all the days of his life.
Jos 4:14-24. God Magnifies Joshua.
14-17. On that day the Lord magnified Joshua in the sight of all Israel—It appeared clear from the chief part he acted, that he was the divinely appointed leader; for even the priests did not enter the river or quit their position, except at his command; and thenceforward his authority was as firmly established as that of his predecessor.
And the LORD spake unto Joshua, saying,
Command the priests that bear the ark of the testimony, that they come up out of Jordan.
Joshua therefore commanded the priests, saying, Come ye up out of Jordan.
And it came to pass, when the priests that bare the ark of the covenant of the LORD were come up out of the midst of Jordan, and the soles of the priests' feet were lifted up unto the dry land, that the waters of Jordan returned unto their place, and flowed over all his banks, as they did before.
18. it came to pass, when the priests that bare the ark … were come out of the midst of Jordan … that the waters of Jordan returned unto their place—Their crossing, which was the final act, completed the evidence of the miracle; for then, and not till then, the suspended laws of nature were restored, the waters returned to their place, and the river flowed with as full a current as before.
And the people came up out of Jordan on the tenth day of the first month, and encamped in Gilgal, in the east border of Jericho.
19. the people came up out of Jordan on the tenth day of the first month—that is, the month Nisan, four days before the passover, and the very day when the paschal lamb required to be set apart, the providence of God having arranged that the entrance into the promised land should be at the feast.
and encamped in Gilgal—The name is here given by anticipation (see on Jos 5:9). It was a tract of land, according to Josephus, fifty stadia (six and one-half miles) from Jordan, and ten stadia (one and one-fourth miles) from Jericho, at the eastern outskirts of the palm forest, now supposed to be the spot occupied by the village Riha.
And those twelve stones, which they took out of Jordan, did Joshua pitch in Gilgal.
20-24. those twelve stones, which they took out of Jordan, did Joshua pitch in Gilgal—Probably to render them more conspicuous, they might be raised on a foundation of earth or turf. The pile was designed to serve a double purpose—that of impressing the heathen with a sense of the omnipotence of God, while at the same time it would teach an important lesson in religion to the young and rising Israelites in after ages.
And he spake unto the children of Israel, saying, When your children shall ask their fathers in time to come, saying, What mean these stones?
Then ye shall let your children know, saying, Israel came over this Jordan on dry land.
For the LORD your God dried up the waters of Jordan from before you, until ye were passed over, as the LORD your God did to the Red sea, which he dried up from before us, until we were gone over:
That all the people of the earth might know the hand of the LORD, that it is mighty: that ye might fear the LORD your God for ever.