Joshua 4
Pulpit Commentary
And it came to pass, when all the people were clean passed over Jordan, that the LORD spake unto Joshua, saying,
Take you twelve men out of the people, out of every tribe a man,
Verse 2. - Twelve stones. The commemoration of events by the setting up of huge stones was by no means peculiar to the Jews, though it was often used by them, as, for instance, Genesis 28:18, 35:14, 1 Samuel 7:12. Almost every nation has adopted it. The Egyptian obelisks, the stones at Hamath, supposed to be of Hittite origin, the dolmens and other megalithic monuments of the Celts, the Logan or rocking stones, are cases in point. The Scandinavians filled their country with them. Our own Stonehenge and the Avebury stones are supposed by some to be, not temples nor burial places, but memorials of some battle. The command here given to Joshua was regarding what was to be done by the twelve men, who (Joshua 5:4; cf. ch. Joshua 3:12) were already chosen. The form of the command is merely another instance of the common Hebrew practice of repetition.
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.
Verse 3. - Stood firm. Much discussion has taken place about the proper rendering of the word הָכִין which the LXX. translates ἐτοίμους, and the Vulgate durissimos. It seems best to take it, as our version does, as the infinitive absolute, and to translate as in ch. 'Hi. 17. But the punctuation of the Masorites separates it from מִםמּצַּב. They would apparently render "to set up."
Then Joshua called the twelve men, whom he had prepared of the children of Israel, out of every tribe a man:
Verse 4. - Prepared. Literally, appointed.
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?
Verse 6. - That this may be a sign unto you. There was for many years a visible memorial of the miracle. When your children ask their fathers in time to come (cf. Exodus 12:26; Exodus 13:14; Deuteronomy 6:20). The passover, the law itself, as well as certain outward and visible memorials, were to be the guarantees to future ages of the truth of the history related in the Books of Hoses and Joshua. The monument has disappeared, but the observance of the passover and the whole law by the Jews now, more than 3,000 years after the events related in these books, is a perpetual standing witness of the truth of the record. In like manner the Christian passover, the sacrament of the Lord's Supper, is appealed to by Christians of every denomination as a proof of the substantial truth of the narrative of the Gospels.
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.
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.
Verse 9. - And Joshua set up twelve stones in the midst of Jordan. A great deal of ingenuity has been wasted over this passage. Kennicott would read "from the midst," instead of "in the midst;" but this purely conjectural emendation is contrary to the fact that these stones were to be set up where the priests bearing the ark stood, while the others were to be set up where the Israelites rested for the night. Again: it has been asked why stones should be placed as a memorial in the Jordan itself, where no man could see them. The answer is a simple one. They were not placed in the Jordan, but at some distance from its banks. They were placed where the priests stood, i.e., at the brink of the Jordan ("juxta ripam," Jarchi), which at that time had overflowed its banks (Joshua 3:15). It is no reply to this to observe with the translator of Keil that the stones would by this interpretation be left high and dry for the greater part of the year, for this would be the very reason why that precise spot was fixed upon for a memorial. Nor does the word בְּתּוך in the midst, constitute any valid objection to this interpretation, for the same word is used in Joshua 3:17, although two verses previously we are told that the priests stood at the brink of the swollen river with the soles of their feet just dipped in the water (see note there). Thus while the Vulgate translates "in medio Jordanis alveo," the LXX. renders more accurately by ἐν αὐτῷ τῷ Ιορδάνῃ. Thus Rosenmuller's objection to the two monuments, namely, that such monuments would never be placed in a rapidly flowing stream like the Jordan, vanishes; while, as Poole suggests, these stones might be heavier, and form even a more enduring memorial than that of the first resting place of the Israelites, constructed as it were of stones which were not beyond the power of one man to carry after all, it may be asked whether it is more probable that this passage is an insertion from another, and an irreconcilable account (Meyer, Knobel), or that it is a later gloss (Rosenmuller, Maurer, etc.), or that two monuments of so mighty and memorable a miracle should have been set up, one at the place where the priests stood, and the other where the Israelites rested after this wonderful interposition of God on their behalf. So Hengstenberg 'Geschichte des Reiches Gottes,' p. 203. The Syriac version only supports Rosenmuller's view. The LXX. and Vulgate render "twelve other stones." The supposition that the sacred historian gives all the commands of God to Joshua, and that therefore such parts of the narrative as are not contained in these commands are to be rejected, is refuted by a comparison, for instance, of Joshua 3:7, 8, with vers. 13, 17.
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.
Verse 10. - For. Rather, and. This verse does not give a reason for the last. The priests which bare the ark stood. This must have been a majestic sight. While the people "hasted" to cross, either that they might effect the passage during the day, or, more probably, Because they crossed in fear and trembling, partly in spite of, and partly because of, the miraculous interposition on their behalf, the priests bearing the ark of God, the visible symbol of His presence, stood solemnly still at the brink of the river, nor did they stir until every one of that mighty host had passed over. Then, when all had safely crossed, the ark of God was borne across the bed of the river, and as soon as the soles of the priests touched the highest point that the waters had reached on the other side, they returned to their place, and all was as it had been before. Well might the Israelites erect a double memorial of a scene so wonderful as this! All that Moses commanded Joshua (Deuteronomy 31:23). And the people hasted and passed over. "Unde et ego arbitror, quia nobis quoque venientibus ad baptismum salutarem, et suscipientibus sacramenta Verbi Dei, non otiose, nec segnitur res gerenda est, sed festinandum est, et perurgendum" (Orig., Hom. 5.).
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.
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:
Verse 12. - Armed (see Joshua 1:14). Before the children of Israel. Not necessarily "in front of," but "in the sight of," as in Numbers 8:22. The Israelites were witnesses of the fulfilment of the pledge given them by their brethren. But the usual place of these tribes was not with the vanguard. See last verse, whine the same words are translated "in the presence of."
About forty thousand prepared for war passed over before the LORD unto battle, to the plains of Jericho.
Verse 13. - Prepared for war. εὔζωνοι, LXX. Literally, disencumbered, like the Latin expeditus. Unlike Numbers 31:5, the Hebrew has the article here. The meaning therefore may be "equipped men of the host," i.e., the light armed and active among them. If we translate thus, it is clear that all their armed men did not go over Jordan. The impedimenta were left behind, under a strong guard (see notes on Joshua 1:14). The plains of Jericho. Here the LXX. and Theodotion have τὴν Ιερίχὼ πόλιν, Symmachus renders by ἀοίκητον, the Vulgate by cumpestria. The original is עַרְבות literally, the deserts or uncultivated lands (see note on Joshua 3:16). They formed a "low-lying plain about four hours' journey in breadth," at that time largely covered with palm trees and thorny acacias, but apparently not cultivated. Since that time, the palms having disappeared, the plain has become "a very picture of fertility," "covered with luxuriant vegetation" (Bartlett, 'From Egypt to Palestine,' p. 453. See also note on Joshua 3:16). The valley narrows to a gorge at Jericho, through which the Kelt, according to Robinson the ancient Cherith, flows, the source of all the verdure which once bloomed around the city. The gorge of the Kelt Canon Tristram describes as "tremendous," but he believes the Cherith to have been eastward of Jordan, following Mr. Grove, who is here disposed to accept the. tradition of Eusebius and Jerome.
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.
Verse 14. - On that day the Lord magnified Joshua. This was not, as Calvin remarks, the chief aim of the miracle. But it was, nevertheless, one important result of it. Joshua was the appointed leader of the Israelites, and he was under God's special protection and guidance. But however much God may overrule our human nature to His own purposes, He never abrogates the laws of its working. Confidence in a leader, from a human point of view, is one of the most essential requisites for success in war. Therefore in the crossing of the Jordan we find Joshua directing all the operations, though the direction of affairs might have been put into other hands, that of Eleazar the high priest, for instance. But this was the public attestation of the secret intimation God had given Joshua (Joshua 1:5): "As I was with Moses, so will I be with thee: I will not fail thee nor forsake thee." From this point onward we see no signs of hesitation on the part of the Israelites; nothing but the most unwavering confidence in the Divine mission, as well as in the extraordinary natural gifts, of their leader.
And the LORD spake unto Joshua, saying,
Verse 15. - And the Lord spake unto Joshua, saying. Meyer and others, according to the method of a certain school, regard this as an extract from another document, which is equivalent to saying that the Book of Joshua is a compilation of the most unintelligent kind, a conclusion which is refuted by every line of the Book. A vivid and picturesque narrative, such as we have before us, could hardly have Been brought together by the liberal use of scissors and paste, with utter disregard of the coherence of the extracts. It is not denied that the writer Of the Book of Joshua may have compiled his history from contemporary documents (see Introduction). All that is affirmed is that in so doing he used his materials with ordinary common sense. As has been before remarked, a marked feature of early Hebrew composition was repetition; repetition with additional details to add to the completeness of the narrative, but designed principally to emphasise the principal facts. Thus we are now told that it was at the command of Joshua, on God's express intimation, that the priests left their post. And to mark more clearly the historian's sense of the importance of the miracle, it is added that, as soon as the priests' feet had left the channel in which the waters had flowed up to the moment that they entered the waters of Jordan on the other side, the waters which had been cut off returned, and flowed exactly where they had done before. This additional fact, supplementing as it does the briefer detail in Joshua 3:17 and Joshua 4:11, must be therefore regarded as a record of the solemn conviction of the historian that in the events he is narrating he recognised a special interposition of the hand of God (see vers. 23, 24), in which in like manner we find a repetition in fuller detail of the command concerning the stones, designed to mark more clearly the sense the historian wishes his readers to have of the direct interference of God in what he has recorded.
Command the priests that bear the ark of the testimony, that they come up out of Jordan.
Verse 16. - The testimony. The word עֵדוּת though derived from the same root as עֵד witness, would seem rather to have the sense of precept, from the idea of repetition contained in the root. Compare the well known Hebrew particle עוד again. It must refer to the two tables of the law which (Hebrews 10:4) were placed in the ark (see Deuteronomy 10:5, and comp. Exodus 25:16, 21, 40, Numbers 17:10, where this is said to be the testimony). Other things were placed in the ark, such as the manna, Aaron's rod, and these, no doubt, were for a witness to the facts of the Mosaic record. The LXX., however, consistently render this word by μαρτύρια μαρτύριον. The Vulgate here has arcam foederis.
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.
Verse 18. - When the priests ... were come up. There is a difference of reading here. The Masorites read as our version. The Hebrew text implies that the waters began to flow from the very moment that the priests' feet left the channel of the Jordan. Were lifted up. The original is more vivid, and marks the authentic sources from which this history is derived. Were plucked up, i.e., out of the soft adhesive mud in the channel of the river. The construction of the original is a constructio praegnans. They dragged their feet out of the mud, and planted them on dry ground.
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.
Verse 19. - On the tenth day of the first month. This statement, compared with Joshua 5:10, will bear close analysis, and refutes the clumsy compiler theory. There was just time between the tenth and fourteenth day of the month for the events described in the meantime. And the scrupulous obedience to the law, the provisions of which, we are expressly told, had been of necessity neglected hitherto, is a fact closely in keeping with the character of Joshua, and the whole spirit of the narrative. Gilgal. The Gilgal, according to the Masorites, no doubt from its being a circular encampment. Not as yet, however, called by this name (see Joshua 5:9). It was "about five miles" (50 stadia, according to Josephus), "from the river banks" (Stanley, 'Sinai and Palestine,' p. 307). We gather from Joshua 5:3 that it was a rising ground, but it is impossible to identify the spot, since there never existed any town or village there. A spot is shown by the inhabitants about two miles from Jericho, which is held by them in great reverence, but this is further from Jericho than Josephus imagines it to be, for he places it about a mile and a quarter from Jericho. Tristram ('Land of Israel,' p. 216) identifies Riha (see note on Joshua 2:1) with Gilgal, but Bartlett (p. 452) places it "a mile east of Riha," "some three miles or more from the fords." It is hardly probable, however, that the Israelites, in their then unprepared condition (see next chapter, and cf. Genesis 34:25), encamped so near the city, even though they were conscious of Divine protection, as Josephus would have us suppose. It has been denied by some that the Gilgal mentioned in Joshua 9:6; Joshua 10:6 is the same as this one (see notes there, as well as the Masoretic translation above). The reverence for sacred places, such as Gilgal, degenerated in the course of time, according to a well known law of humanity, into superstition - a superstition severely rebuked by the prophets (Hosea 4:15; Hosea 9:15; Amos 4:4; Amos 5:5). We may compare the idolatrous worship of the brazen serpent (2 Kings 18:4). It is sometimes contended by Roman Catholic commentators that no approval of the conduct of Hezekiah is here expressed; but a comparison of this passage with those above cited will show in which direction the minds of inspired men tended. Other places seem to have been similarly regarded with superstitious reverence. Not only do we find Bethel mentioned among such places as we might well expect from Jeroboam's idolatrous worship there, but Beersheba also seems to have become a seat of this misdirected devotion (see Amos 5:5; Amos 8:14)
And those twelve stones, which they took out of Jordan, did Joshua pitch in Gilgal.
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?
Verse 21. - When. Hebrews אֲֶשר. The relative pronoun here is sometimes equivalent to "when," as in Deuteronomy 11:6; 1 Kings 8:9. Gesenius would translate "if that," and Keil would render by quod.
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:
Verse 23. - For. The original here again is אֲשֶׁר, with the meaning because.
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.
Verse 24. - The hand of the Lord, that it is mighty. "Thus the river, though dumb, was the best of heralds, proclaiming with a loud voice that heaven and earth are subject to the Lord God of Israel" (Calvin). That ye might fear. The construction here is unusual. Instead of the imperfect or infinitive with לְמַעַן we have the perfect. Therefore Ewald, Maurer, and Knobel (who says that the second member of the sentence ought to correspond with the first) have altered the pointing in order to bring this passage into conformity with the supposed necessities of grammar. In so doing they have robbed it of its picturesqueness and its meaning. For the object is clearly to show the lasting nature of the fear, "that ye might recognise now the hand of the Lord, that ye might have a thorough and lasting fear of his name." We may here remark on the necessarily miraculous character of the whole narrative of the crossing the Jordan. It admits of no explaining away. The account must either be accepted or rejected en bloc. First we have the specific declaration of Rahab in chap. 2:10, that Jehovah dried up the Red Sea, and that this proof of the peculiar protection of Israel by the Most High had struck terror into the hearts of the inhabitants of Canaan. Next we have the fact that Jordan had overflowed its banks. The dangerous nature of the crossing, even at ordinary times, has been mentioned already. Lives are frequently lost in the attempt, as recent travellers with one voice declare. At the time when the waters were out such a crossing was practically impossible to a host like the host of Israel. Nor can there be any mistake about its being the period of the overflowing of Jordan, for the time of the crossing is mentioned. It was the time of harvest - that is, of the barley harvest. This is confirmed by the fact that the recently cut flax was now lying on the roof of Rahab's house, and by the fact that the harley and flax ripened together, a coincidence which we have already mentioned in the note on chap. 2:6. The time is yet further defined. It was the "tenth day of the first month." We learn, moreover, from Leviticus 23:9-15 and Deuteronomy 16:6 that this was the time when the firstfruits were offered, from which seven weeks were reckoned to the beginning of wheat harvest (Exodus 34:2). Moreover, the passover was kept immediately afterwards (Joshua 5:10), on "the fourteenth day of the first month." Thus the date of the crossing, which is accurately fixed by a variety of circumstances, is clearly proved to correspond with the time of Jordan's overflow. We next come to the measures taken to secure the crossing. There is likewise no mistake here. Not one single intimation is given of an endeavour to break in any way the force of the current, or to preserve the Israelites, either men, women, or children, from the imminent risk they ran of death by drowning. Not only are no other expedients resorted to, but no animals seem to have been prepared to transport them over. Nor, again, were any means used to elude the vigilance of the inhabitants of Canaan. Readers of Xenophon's 'Anabasis ' will not fail to notice how often the passage of the rivers was a matter of the utmost difficulty to that expedition, and how fiercely attempts at crossing were disputed by the half savage tribes of Asia Minor. How are we to account for the fact that no opposition was offered to Joshua's passage by the highly civilised nations of Palestine? According to the narrative before us it was effected in the most leisurely and peaceful manner. What other explanation is possible titan that offered in the text, that when the feet of the priests bearing the ark touched the waters, those waters were cut off by supernatural power, and a way was miraculously made for the people of God through the midst of Jordan? The crossing was remarkable enough, we are told, to have been commemorated by a double memorial (vers. 8, 9). If it had taken place through an unusually easy ford there would have been nothing remarkable about it. Therefore it is clear that the whole narrative of the crossing is either absolute fable or strictly and historically accurate. Let us conclude by summing up the several reasons which make the former alternative inadmissible. The first is the precision with which the date is fixed, and the fact that the correctness of this date is confirmed, as we have seen, by a variety of corroborative evidence. The next is the simplicity and artlessness of the narrative, and its appeal to still existing monuments as confirmatory of the facts recorded. The third is that no account of a battle at Jordan is even hinted at by the Hebrew or any other historian, a battle which must infallibly have taken place had the Israelites attempted to enter Palestine in any ordinary manner; for the supposition that the waters of the ford at Jericho were unusually low at this time is quite inadmissible for the reasons given above; nor can it be supposed that the Israelites crossed the river by any other ford without rejecting the whole history of the conquest. The last reason is the touch of detail given in the word XXX which seems to mark the transition from the soft adhesive mud of the river to the firmness of the dry land beyond (for the word translated "dry land" in chap. 3:17 only means that it was land and not water. Gesenius). Our witness, in fact, can be subjected to the severest cross examination without shaking his testimony. And we are thus compelled to choose between accepting the literal correctness of the narrative as it stands, or crediting the author with a skill in constructing a work of fiction which itself scarcely falls short of the miraculous.

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