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Bible Commentaries
Joshua 4

Lange's Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal and HomileticalLange's Commentary

Verses 1-24

3. The Passage of the Israelites through the Jordan

Joshua 3-4

a. Joshua’s Regulations concerning the Passage through the Jordan

Joshua 3:1-13

1And Joshua rose early in the morning; and they removed [broke up1] from Shittim and came to [the] Jordan, he and all the children [sons] of Israel, and lodged there before they passed over. 2And it came to pass after three days, that the officers 3[overseers] went through the host [camp]; and they commanded the people, saying, When ye see the ark of the covenant of the Lord [Jehovah] your God, and the priests the Levites bearing it, then ye shall remove [break up] from your place, and go after it. 4Yet there shall be a space between you and it, about two thousand cubits by measure: come not near unto it, that ye may know the way by which ye must go; for ye have not passed this way heretofore.

5And Joshua said unto the people, Sanctify yourselves; for to-morrow the Lord 6[Jehovah] will do wonders among you. And Joshua spake2 unto the priests, saying, Take up the ark of the covenant, and pass over before the people. And they took up the ark of the covenant, and went before the people.7And the Lord [Jehovah] said unto Joshua, This day will I begin to magnify thee in the sight of all Israel, that they may know that as I was with Moses, so I will 8be with thee. And thou3 shalt command the priests that bear the ark of the covenant, saying, When ye are come to the brink of the water of [the] Jordan, ye shall stand still in [or, at the] Jordan.

9And Joshua said unto the children [sons] of Israel, Come hither, and hear the words of the Lord [Jehovah] your God. 10And Joshua said, Hereby ye shall know that the [a] living God is among you, and that he will without fail4 drive out from before you the Canaanites [Canaanite], and the Hittites [Hittite], and the Hivites [Hivite], and the Perizzites [Perizzite], and the Girgashites [Girgashite], and 11the Amorites [Amorite], and the Jebusites [Jebusite].1 Behold the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth passeth over before you into [through the] 12Jordan. Now therefore [And now] take you twelve men out of the tribes of Israel,out of every tribe a Man 1:13 And it shall come to pass, as soon as the soles of the feet of the priests that bear the ark of the Lord [Jehovah] the Lord of all the earth, shall rest in the waters6 of [the] Jordan, that the waters of [the] Jordan shall be cut off from [omit; from], the waters that come down from above; [,] and they [omit; they] shall stand upon a heap [in, or, as a heap.]

b. The Passage of the Jordan

Joshua 3:14 to Joshua 4:17

14And it came to pass, when the people removed [broke up] from their tents to pass over [the] Jordan, and the priests bearing the ark of the covenant before the 15people; and as2 they that bare the ark were come unto [the] Jordan, and the feet of the priests that bare the ark were dipped in the brim of the water, (for [the] Jordan overfloweth all his [its] banks all the time of harvest,)3 16that the waters which came down from above stood and rose up upon an heap, very far from [by 4] the city Adam, that is beside Zaretan; and those that came down toward the sea of the plain [the Arabah 5] even [omit: even] the salt sea, failed, and were cut off [were entirely cut off]: and the people passed over right against Jericho. 17And the priests that bare the ark of the covenant of the Lord [Jehovah] stood firm on [the] dry ground in the midst of [the] Jordan, and all the Israelites passed over on [the] dry ground, until all the people [nation, הַבּוֹי] were passed clean over [the] Jordan.

IV. 1And it came to pass, when all the people were clean passed over [the] Jordan, that the Lord [Jehovah] spake unto Joshua, saying, 2Take you twelve men out of the people, out of every tribe a Man 1:3 and command ye them, saying, Take you hence out of the midst of [the] 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.

4Then [And] Joshua called the twelve men, whom he had prepared of the children 5[sons] of Israel, out of every tribe a man; And Joshua said unto them, Pass over before the ark of the Lord [Jehovah] your God into the midst of [the] Jordan, and take you up every man of you a stone upon his shoulder, according unto the number of the tribes of the children of Israel: 6that this may be a sign among you, that [omit: that] when your children ask their fathers [omit: their fathers] in time to come, saying, What mean ye by these stones? 7Then ye shall answer them [say to them], That the waters of [the] Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord [Jehovah]; when it passed over [the] Jordan, the waters of [the] Jordan were cut off: and these stones shall be for a memorial unto the children 8[sons] of Israel forever. And the children [sons] of Israel did so as Joshua commanded, and took up twelve stones out of the midst of [the] Jordan, as the Lord [Jehovah] spake unto Joshua, according to the number of the tribes of the children [sons] of Israel, and carried them over with them unto the place where they lodged, and laid them down there. 9And Joshua set up twelve stones in the midst of [the] Jordan, in the place where the feet of the priests which bare the ark of the covenant 10stood, and they are there unto this day. For [And] the priests which bare the ark stood in the midst of [the] Jordan, until every thing was finished that the Lord [Jehovah] commanded Joshua to speak unto the people, according to all that Moses commanded Joshua: and the people hasted and passed oJoshua Joshua 3:11 And it came to pass, when all the people were clean passed over, that the ark of the Lord [Jehovah] passed over, and the priests in the presence of [before] the people. 12And the children [sons] of Reuben, and the children [sons] of Gad, and half the tribe of Manasseh passed over armed [eager for war, or, in companies Joshua 1:14] before the children [sons] of Israel, as Moses spake unto them. 13About forty thousand prepared for [the] war passed over before the Lord [Jehovah] unto battle, to the plains [desert plains, steppes, עַרְבוֹת5] of Jericho.

14On that day the Lord [Jehovah] magnified Joshua in the sight of all Israel, and they feared him [,] as they [had] feared Moses, all the days of his life.

15And the Lord [Jehovah] spake unto Joshua, saying, Command the priests that bear the ark of the testimony [law, Gesenius] that they come up out of [the] Jordan. 16Joshua therefore [And Joshua] commanded the priests, saying, Come ye up 17out of [the] Jordan. And it came to pass, when the priests that bare the ark of the covenant of the Lord [Jehovah] were come up out of the midst of [the] Jordan, and [omit: and] the soles of the priests’ feet were lifted up [plucked out נִתְּקוּ] unto the dry land, that [and] the waters of [the] Jordan returned unto their place, and flowed over all his [its] banks, as they did before.

c. The Erection of the Memorial at Gilgal

Joshua 4:19-24

19And the people came up out of [the] Jordan on the tenth day of the first month, and encamped in Gilgal, in the east border of Jericho. 20And those twelve stones which they took out of [the] Jordan, did Joshua pitch [set up] in Gilgal. 21And he spake unto the children [sons] of Israel, saying, When your children shall ask their fathers in time to come, saying, What mean these stones? 22Then ye shall let your children [sons] know, saying, Israel came over this Jordan on [the] dry land. 23For the Lord [Jehovah] your God dried up the waters of [the] Jordan from before you, until ye were passed over, as the Lord [Jehovah] your God did to the Red sea, which he dried up from before us, until we were gone over: 24that all the people [peoples] of the earth might know the hand of the Lord [Jehovah], that it is mighty, that ye [Fay: they] might fear the Lord [Jehovah] your God for ever.


a. Joshua’s Arrangements for the Passage of the Jordan.—And Joshua rose early. וישׁכם as in Genesis 19:2; Genesis 19:27; Genesis 20:8; Genesis 22:3; Genesis 28:18; Genesis 32:1, with and without the addition “in the morning.” Properly הִשְׁכִּים is a denom. from שְׁכֶם, “to load up, on the backs of beasts of burden, which among the nomads is done early in the morning,” = צָעַןIsa 33:20.—This breaking up took place immediately after the return of the spies, and this verse accordingly belongs properly to ch. ii.

Joshua 4:2 is in continuation of Joshua 1:10-16. The three days here are the same as in Joshua 1:11. In ch. ii. which is otherwise very appositely inserted, and in a way completely suiting the connection, the differences in the dates were not, we must simply admit, duly taken into account. On the other hand it seems to us unnecessary, to assume a contradiction between Joshua 4:1 on one side and Joshua 4:2-6 on the other, on the grounds that (a.) the people, according to Joshua 4:1, were at the Jordan and not 2,000 cubits off from it; (b.) the Israelites spent only one night (וילינוּ) there, and so could not have been there after three days. Although we grant that the word here translated “lodge” commonly means to “spend the night” (Genesis 19:2; Genesis 24:25; Genesis 28:11; Genesis 32:14; Genesis 32:22), still in view of such passages as Job 19:4; Job 41:14; Psalms 25:13; Psalms 49:13], we may well take it here in the sense of to encamp, to tarry, as the Vulgate, when it translates morati sunt. [The English word “lodge” very appropriately represents לון.] Again: “they came to the Jordan,” ויבאוּ עד־הירדּן is certainly not to be understood with literal preciseness. It means: they came near to the Jordan, not exactly on the brink of the river. Two thousand cubits may very naturally still have intervened, especially when we take into account the great extent of the camp. This view is very evidently supported by Joshua 4:14-15, which, according to Knobel from the same author as Joshua 4:1 a, state that the people removed out of their tents and the priests came to the Jordan. Had they encamped close on the riverbrink, as Joshua 4:1 is interpreted by Knobel, we should have been told immediately of the dipping of their feet in the water, but not certainly of their coming to the Jordan.

Joshua 4:3. Overseers. As in Joshua 1:11 so also here שׁטרים, LXX. γραμματεῖς: Vulg. prœcones; Luther, Hauptleute (head-men); Stier, Amtleute (officials); at first probably altogether general officers, head-men of the people (Exodus 5:6-19; Numbers 11:16), those who knew how to write. Later, the magistrates in the towns (Deuteronomy 16:18; 1Ch 33:4). In Arabic שטר signifies simply to write. In 2 Chronicles 26:11שׁטֵר and סֹפֵר stand side by side. In Proverbs 6:7, the former, English Vers. “overseer,” stands with משֵׁל “guide” and קָצִיו“ruler.”6

Ark of the Covenant. Here “ark of the covenant of Jehovah,” elsewhere also “ark of God,” 1 Samuel 3:3, “ark of the testimony” [law], Exodus 25:22 : the sacred ark with the tables of the law (according to Hebrews 9:4, with other objects also), prepared by Moses (Exodus 25:10 ff.) after a divine pattern. It was two and a half cubits long, one and a half cubits high, and the same in breadth. It was made of acacia wood, overlaid within and without with gold plate. The name ארון is derived from אָרָה, to bore out, hollow out, and signifies properly something hollow, hence also “a coffin,” Genesis 1:26. Figures may be seen in Hoffmann and Redslob, Universal Bibel-Lexicon for the People, i. 244; Kiepert, Bible Atlas, v. Fig. 15. [Smith’s and other Bible Dictionaries, and works of the same design, may be consulted. Also Jahn, Coleman, and other writers, on Hebrew antiquities.—Tr.]

Joshua 4:4. Yet there shall be a space.... two thousand cubits by measure. As a reason it is given that the ark should show the way. Had the masses of the people, who by no means marched as soldiers, crowded around it, those that were behind could not have seen it. The sacredness of the ark is not here directly the reason, as various interpreters have supposed (Mas., C. a Lapide, Seb. Schmidt, v. Lengerke and Knobel), but yet may come in as a secondary consideration. According to Numbers 4:15 the sons of Kohath bore the sanctuary, but might not touch it. Uzziah died when he did this (2 Samuel 6:7). We may notice also what Starke has pointed out, that no longer the pillar of cloud but the ark of the covenant leads the way. The manna likewise ceased at this time. The days of the pilgrimage are past. Two thousand cubits = one Sabbath day’s journey (Acts 1:12) = three thousand feet. The Kethib בינו is to be retained instead of Keri, ביניו. So also Joshua 8:11, “since the plural ביניו is limited almost entirely to the case where the suff. also has the plural sense. Comp. Ewald, § 266 a.” (Keil).

Joshua 4:5. [Sanctify yourselves. “The sanctification of the people consisted not in the washing of their clothes, which is mentioned Exodus 19:10-14 with the קַדֵּשׁ, for there was no time for this; nor in the changing of garments merely, which according to Genesis 35:2, might take the place of washing, and in abstinence from conjugal intercourse, Exodus 19:15. These were only the outward signs of the sanctification which really consisted at the same time in the spiritual purification, the turning of the heart to God, in faith and trust in his promise, and in willing obedience to his commands, that they might rightly take to heart the wonder of grace which the Lord would the next day perform among them.” Keil.—Tr.]

To-morrow. According to Joshua 4:19 the 10th of Nisan.

Joshua 4:6. And they took up the ark of the covenant. This statement is not exact [not in place here], the correct account is given in Joshua 4:15, since Joshua 4:7-13 could not be spoken after the procession was already in motion. Keil: “Whether the command in Joshua 4:6 was given the evening before, as Maurer, or on the morning of the crossing, as Rosenmüller supposes, cannot be determined, since both were equally possible. The former is the more probable; but it is certain that the execution of this command in the last words of the verse is anticipated. For the following revelation of God to Joshua, together with Joshua’s discourse to the people, cannot have taken place after the priests with the ark had already begun the march.” Knobel refers the words to the breaking up of the camp from Shittim.

Joshua 4:7-8. Revelation of God to Joshua, in which the Lord promises to make him great from this day forward as he had made Moses great; agreeing substantially with Joshua 1:2-9. Then follows, Joshua 4:8, God’s command that “Joshua should direct the priests bearing the ark to halt when they came to the edge of the water of the Jordan, i. e., as soon as they reached the water in the bed of the Jordan, and their feet stood in it, and to remain standing. On עָמַד comp. Genesis 43:15. What Jehovah communicated further is not here told, because it appears from the following.” (Knobel).

Joshua 4:9-13. In these verses we have to think of ourselves as addressed in a solemn assembly of the people, a congregation of Jehovah. They contain the purport of the divine revelation, and more fully than it had been stated in Joshua 4:7-8.

Joshua 4:9. “גּשׁוּ with accent drawn back as in Ruth 2:14; 1 Samuel 14:38, comp. Ewald, § 100 a, and 227 b.” (Keil).

Joshua 4:10. Hereby shall ye know that a living God is among you. The design of the miracle, the furtherance of the knowledge of God as a living mighty God, is significantly put first. אֵל חַי; God is here called אֵל from אוּל, prop. the Strong One in opposition to the gods of the heathen, which are אֶלִילִים, Leviticus 19:4; Leviticus 26:1, nothings, הַבָלִים, prop. breaths, Deuteronomy 32:21; Jeremiah 8:19; Jeremiah 14:22; Psalms 31:7, or even הַבלֵי שָׁוְא, Jonah 2:8, “lying vanities.” He is, however, not called אֵל merely, which term in the plural occurs also of the gods of the heathen (Exodus 15:11), but אֵל חַי, to indicate that he is not dead like them, comp. Jeremiah 10:9-10. On the original inhabitants of Palestine see the Introduction, § 7. As here, so previously in Deuteronomy 7:1, and again in this book Joshua 9:1; Joshua 11:3; Joshua 24:11, seven races are enumerated, but in varying order. The Jebusites, however, always, except in Joshua 11:3, stand last.

Joshua 4:11. Lord of the whole earth. A significant appellation of God, where the conquest of a land is in question. From Him Israel has his title to Canaan.

Verse 12 compared with Joshua 4:2 occasions difficulty. Two questions arise: (1.) When was this direction given; before the crossing or during the crossing? The former according to this passage, the latter according to Joshua 4:2. The former seems more probable, because the twelve men could not possibly be chosen during the passage. (2.) Does the choice of the twelve men rest as Knobel teaches, according to our passage, on the regulation of Joshua alone, or on the divine command, as Joshua 4:1 expressly says. Answer: The author has here the same view of the divine authority of the command as in Joshua 4:1, otherwise he would not have incorporated these words in a discourse which contains the solemn announcement of a divine revelation.

Joshua 4:13. Soles of the feet, comp. Joshua 1:3.—The water. ... shall be cut off, יִכָּרֵתוּן, Luther: be broken off; De Wette: part; literally: “shall be cut off,” that is, the water above the place of crossing stood still, so that no more flowed by. The water below ran away toward the Dead Sea.

b. Chaps, Joshua 3:14 to Joshua 4:18. The Passage of the People through the Jordan. This took place according to Joshua 4:19, on the tenth day of the first month (called Nisan or Abib), hence in the same month as formerly the departure out of Egypt. This like that was immediately before the Passover, which according to Joshua 5:0 was celebrated four days later for the first time on the soil of the Holy Land. The harvest here, in the deeply sunken heated valley of the Jordan, was already begun. The “yellow” water of the river stands high at this season, because the snows are melting on the mountains (comp. Furrer, p. 154). So much more wonderful was the event, a proof of the actual help of the “living God.”

Joshua 4:15. And the Jordan overfloweth.. . . harvest. A parenthetical sentence. The Jordan-valley, the Ghor, is two hours across, the proper river-bed, through which the stream flows, only a quarter of an hour, and the stream itself, according to Furrer’s estimate (p. 154), only 90 feet in breadth. This latter valley was overflowed, and is still overflowed, by the “high-water” at the time of harvest, precisely as then. See Seetzen, Burckhardt, Robinson, [Stanley, S. & P.,] Furrer. The last named says: “When, late in the spring, the snow on Hermon begins to melt, the Jordan commonly overflows its lower bank, and puts reeds and bushes under water. So found it, as was related in Israel, the fathers under Joshua; “The Jordan was full on all its banks all the time of harvest.’ ”

Joshua 4:16. Near Adam. Heb. בְּאָדָם. The Kethib is to be preferred, since its meaning is that very far from the place of crossing, by the city Adam which lay at the side of Zaretan, the water stood still. This city Adam was situated, probably, where now we find the ford Damieh with remains of a bridge of the Roman period (Lynch’s Report, p. 150 f., Van de Velde, Narrative, ii. p. 322 f.), “Several hours north of Jericho” (Knobel). Zaretan. “Not improbably Kurn Sartabeh, near the ford Damieh, a long, prominent rocky ridge, from which a lower range of hills reaches almost to the Jordan, and seems to extend itself obliquely through to the eastern mountains. Here the Jordan valley is compressed within its narrowest limits, and the Ghor divides itself into the upper and the lower. On Kurn Sartabeh it is reported that there are still ruins.” So Knobel after Robinson (Lat. Bibl. Res. pp. 283 f., 217 f.). It is worthy of remark that just here the water “is cut off” where from both sides the mountain ridges narrow the river, and the river valley. The name Zaretan, perhaps identical with Zareda, the home of Jeroboam (1 Kings 11:26), as Knobel conjectures, is explained from the Arabic: elatus montium locus. Gesenius likewise holds the two names identical, but derives from צָרַד, according to the Arabic, to be cool = cooling, also a suitable name for a town on a fresh hilltop in the vicinity of a river. The name Adam calls to mind Admah, one of the five cities in the vale of Siddim (Genesis 10:19; Genesis 14:2; Hosea 11:8), as also Adami, a city of the tribe of Naphtali (Joshua 19:33). Edom may also be compared with it.

Failed and were cut off. [The conception of this scene indicated by the Keri (“very far from Adam,)” is different from that of our author and the recent commentators generally. It coincided with (although not necessary to) what we suppose to have been the common (popular) view, well stated and explained by Gill (among others) on the place. He naively remarks, indeed, that “both readings, as is usually, if not always the case, are to be received,” but his own exposition does not require anything so unreasonable. Let the waters have been actually “cut off” above where the priests stood, in full view of the people (as the spirit of the whole account seems to lie in the visibility of the wonder to the people), and still the water would be arrested and “stand,” before the crossing was finished, “very far off.” The current might have ceased “at Adam,” though that were thirty or even more miles above. Not only would this be immeasurably more impressive to the multitude as an exhibition of the divine power than the mere phenomenon of a bare river bed, the reason for which they could not see, but thus the fear with which “they hasted and passed over” (see on Joshua 4:10), is much more naturally accounted for. This view of the miracle ought, at least, not to be wholly ignored. Indeed, Keil seems so to conceive the scene, and he even represents (on Joshua 4:8) the priests with the ark (symbolizing the divine presence) as constituting the dam, so to speak, by which the rushing waters were restrained and piled up in a heap.—Tr.].

Toward the sea of the plain (Arabah), the salt sea. It is evident that the Dead Sea is meant, concerning whose origin we have a report in Genesis 19:24. It is called sea of the plain in Deuteronomy 3:17; Deuteronomy 4:49 also.7 The region round about is desolate, yet birds sing on the shore of the sea in numerous choirs and fly freely over the water (Furrer, p. 258, Robinson, Phys. Geog., p. 219). The water of the sea is clear but very strongly tinctured with salt, and hence fatal to fish. Bathers become covered with an oily envelope, sometimes painful, sometimes not. From the southern point of the Dead Sea clear to Elath stretches the desert valley in which the Israelites wandered for forty years.[8]

Joshua 4:17. הכין: “Properly: firmando, i. e. firmiter, with solid foot.” גּוֹי used here of Israel, as Joshua 4:1; Joshua 5:6; Joshua 5:8; Joshua 10:13; Exodus 19:6; Exodus 33:13; Deuteronomy 32:28. Where the passage took place cannot now be determined.

Chap. 4. After the author has, in Joshua 3:14-17, briefly related the history of the crossing, he completes his report in this chapter. The account is not strictly speaking without order, and confused, as some have said, but yet neither is it without repetitions which indicate a variety of authorities, blended together by a later hand. These, however, we cannot assume that it is possible to determine accurately, according to their original parts, as Knobel has with much acuteness attempted to do.

Joshua 4:1. And it came to pass when all the people were clean passed over the Jordan. These words were omitted by Luther in his translations. Why? Did he possibly consider the immediately following Piska (o) as a sign of their spuriousness? This Piska is, according to Keil (Bib. Com. in loc), “a sign in use before the Masoretes, and by them left remaining to denote a division in the middle of a verse where a Parasche begins: comp. Hupfeld, Ausführl. Heb. Gramm. pt. i. pp. 86 and 89. Gesenius in his Lehrgeb. p. 124, takes a different view.”

Joshua 4:2. See Joshua 3:12.

Joshua 4:3. For הָכִין we should read הָכֵן, as in Joshua 3:17.

Joshua 4:4. Knobel regards this as a continuation of Joshua 4:1, a. What intervenes he refers to the second source of his Jehovist, according to which the choice of the twelve men rested on a divine direction, while the first knew nothing of it. We confidently hold that Joshua 3:12 presupposes a divine direction, which however is first stated here in the way of a supplement.

Joshua 4:6-9. When your children ask. Comp. Joshua 22:27-28; Exodus 13:8-14.—Stones. Here it is a heap of twelve stones, in Genesis 28:18; Genesis 35:14 a single stone, but in Genesis 31:46, again as here, a heap of stones. They were sacred memorials of the simplest kind. According to Joshua 4:9, “Joshua takes twelve other stones, and sets them up in the bed of the Jordan on the spot (תחת as in Exodus 10:23; Exodus 16:29) where the feet of the priests stood, and where the stones have remained till the time of the narrator” (Knobel). It has been asked: To what purpose, since afterwards the water streamed over them again? They might become visible in a low stage of the water.9 This second measure Joshua adopts of himself without express divine direction.

Unto this day. A very common phrase in our book, as Bleek (Introd. to O. T. § 135) observes: Joshua 6:22; Joshua 6:22; Joshua 7:26 (bis); Joshua 8:28-29; Joshua 9:27; Joshua 10:27; Joshua 13:13; Joshua 14:14; Joshua 15:63; Joshua 16:10.

Joshua 4:10. The priests remain standing in the Jordan until all the people have passed through. They had therefore, when the camp broke up, only gone the two thousand cubits in advance to show the way, then remain standing after they have taken their position in the midst of the dried bed of the stream until the passage is completed. Their quiet waiting was well calculated to impart courage to the people who hasted and passed over through fear. The contrast well deserves consideration. Knobel assumes that this very standing still of the priests was the ground of this haste. He says: “The people passed as quickly through as possible, and that on account of the priests, who during this long passage must stand in one place and bear the ark.” This reason may possibly have operated also, yet such a consideration is rather modern than conformable to the sentiment of antiquity. The chief reason for the haste was certainly fear.[10]

Joshua 4:11 After the passage, the ark again takes the lead, as in Joshua 3:3 ff.

After the history of the crossing has thus been given first briefly in Joshua 3:14-17, then more completely Joshua 4:1-11, we have some supplementary notices in Joshua 4:12-17, and finally the conclusion Joshua 4:18 announcing the return of the water.

On Joshua 4:12-13 comp. Joshua 1:12-18.

On Joshua 4:14 comp. Joshua 3:7.

What is related in Joshua 4:15-17 is a more particular statement of the fact mentioned in Joshua 4:11 of this chapter, referred by Knobel, on account of the designation of the ark as “the ark of the testimony,” to the Elohistic original. This he supposes to have been used here first in the book of Joshua.

Joshua 4:18. States the conclusion, pointing back to Joshua 3:16.

c. On Joshua 4:19-24. Erection of the Monument at Gilgal.

Joshua 4:19. The date, on the tenth (day) of the first month, is very exact, and on this account Knobel ascribes the verse to the Elohist. The first month (as Exodus 12:2; Exodus 12:18; Exodus 40:2; Exodus 40:17 and often) is elsewhere called also Abib, i. e. month of green ears (Exodus 13:4; Exodus 23:15; Deuteronomy 16:1), and subsequently Nisan (Nehemiah 2:1; Esther 3:7.) “This name is probably of Persian origin, and to be explained from the Zend navaçan, new day, which was transferred to the first month of the year, from New Year’s day. See Benfey, Names of the Months, p. 131 ff.” Gesenius.[11] Fürst, in his Hist. of Bibl. Lit. p. 400, fixes the year as having been 1454 b. c. There were four days before the Passover which fell on the 14th, Joshua 5:10.

Joshua 4:20. Gilgal, see Joshua 5:9.

Joshua 4:21 like Joshua 4:6, with Epic breadth as in Homer.

Joshua 4:22-23, might, from the repetition of הַיַבָּעָה׳ הוֹבִישׁ׳ הוֹבישׁ, seem to be a citation from a poetical panegyric on the Passage of the River, as Bunsen assumes in Joshua 4:7 when he translates:—

“As through the Jordan passed the Ark,
Flowed away the waters of the Jordan.”

Here we are reminded of the “Book of Jasher,” mentioned Joshua 10:13, which, however, was not a “Law-book” but precisely the opposite, a poetical Hero-book. See Introd. and on Joshua 10:13.

Joshua 4:24. All the peoples of the earth, [Keil: of the land, sc. of Canaan. But not well.] Might know the hand of Jehovah. A beautiful catholicity! The miracle made the passage possible and easy for Israel, but was at the same time to serve also for imparting to the heathen nations of all ages a knowledge of the power of Jehovah, and a fear of the Almighty,” (Knobel). Instead of יְרָאתֶם read יִרְאָתָם (Ewald, Maurer, Knobel), with reference to the coördinate לְמַעַו דַּעַת. [This is quite doubtful; we rather agree with Keil, that the Masoretic pointing should stand.—Tr. ]

[Stanley in the following paragraphs has finely combined the various incidents of this marvelous event, and we have only to regret that he should, as his custom too often is, bring in the Septuagint version, and Josephus, and what not, as if of about equal authority with the inspired text. His work thus wears, with all its charms of learning, arrangement, and style, too much the air of a secular relation of the history of the ancient “Church.”
“The scene of the passage of the Jordan is presented to us in the Sacred Narrative in a form so distinct, and at the same time so different from that in which it is usually set forth in pictures and allegories, that it shall here be given at length, so far as it can be made out from the several notices handed down to us, namely, the two separate accounts in the Book of Joshua, further varied by the differences between the Received Text and the Septuagint, the narrative of Josephus, and the 114th Psalm.
“For the first time they descended from the upper terraces of the valley, they ‘removed’ from the acacia groves and came to the Jordan, and ‘stayed the night’ there before they passed over.
“It was probably at the point near the present southern fords, crossed at the time of the Christian era by a bridge. The river was at its usual state of flood at the spring of the year, so as to fill the whole of the bed, up to the margin of the jungle with which the nearer banks are lined On the broken edge of the swollen stream, the band of priests stood with the Ark on their shoulders. At the distance of nearly a mile in the rear was the mass of the army. Suddenly the full bed of the Jordan was dried before them. High up the river, ‘far, far away,’12 ‘in Adam the city which is beside Zaretan,’ ‘as far as the parts of Kirjath-jearim,’13 that is, at a distance of thirty miles from the place of the Israelite encampment, ‘the waters there stood which “descended” from the heights above,’—stood and rose up, as if gathered into a water skin;14 as if in a barrier or heap, as if congealed;15 and those that ‘descended’ towards the sea of ‘the desert,’ the salt sea, failed and were cut off.’ Thus the scene presented is of the ‘descending stream’ (the words employed seem to have a special reference to that peculiar and most significant name of the Jordan), not parted asunder, as we generally fancy, but, as the Psalm expresses it, ‘turned backwards;’ the whole bed of the river left dry from north to south, through its long windings; the huge stones lying bare here and there, embedded in the soft bottom; or the shingly pebbles drifted along the course of the channel.

“The ark stood above. The army passed below. The women and children, according to the Jewish tradition, were placed in the centre, from the fear lest they should be swept away by the violence of the current. The host, at different points probably, rushed across. The priests remained motionless, their feet sunk in the deep mud of the channel. In front, contrary to the usual order, as if to secure that they should fulfill their vow, went the three Transjordanic tribes. Their own memorial of the passage was the monument already described.16 But the national memorial was on a larger scale. Carried aloft before the priests as they left the riverbed, were the twelve stones, selected by the twelve chiefs of the tribes. These were planted on the upper terrace of the plain of the Jordan, and became the centre of the first sanctuary of the Holy Land,—the first place pronounced “Holy,” the “sacred place” of the Jordan valley, where the tabernacle remained till it was fixed at Shiloh. Gilgal long retained reminiscences of its ancient sanctity. The twelve stones taken up from the bed of the Jordan continued at least till the time of the composition of the Book of Joshua, and seem to have been invested with a reverence which came at last to be regarded as idolatrous.17 The name was joined with that of the acacia groves of the farther side, in the title, as it would seem given in popular tradition or in ancient records, to this passage of the history: from Shittim to Gilgal” [?] Lects. on Jewish Church, i. 255 ff.—Tr.].


The ark which was borne by the priests and Levites in front of the people, takes henceforth, as was noticed above, the place of the pillar of cloud and fire which had led Israel through the wilderness (Exodus 13:21-22). It may take this place because it not only serves for the preservation of the tables of the Law (Exodus 25:16), but is also a symbol of the presence of God among his chosen people. On the cover of the ark, the Kapporeth adorned with the Cherubim, God sits enthroned (Exodus 25:17-22; Numbers 7:89; Psalms 99:1), and from this place speaks with Moses (Exodus 25:22; Numbers 7:89). Hence, as follows indirectly from our passage, and directly from passages like Numbers 4:20; 1 Samuel 6:19; 2 Samuel 6:6 (compared with Leviticus 16:13), the ark is unapproachable. But hence also, on the other hand, here is the true place of atonement for the people, where the blood of atonement was sprinkled on the cover of the ark (Leviticus 16:15), once in the year only, on the great day of atonement, by the high-priest’s hand. To this Paul refers, Romans 3:25, when he calls Christ the true mercy-seat, whom God has set forth before (προέθετο) all the world, as a manifestation of his righteousness, for those who through faith in the efficacy of Christ’s reconciling death, approach this New Testament place of atonement. “The ἱλαστήριον is brought out of the most holy place into the public view of the whole world for those who believe” (Lange on Rom. iii. 2). In Christ God dwells among his New Testament congregation (John 1:14), goes before them (John 14:6), and is reconciled to them (2 Corinthians 5:19.)

2. The conception of the living God, the אֵל חַי (Joshua 3:10), is of great importance for the present day also, since it appears to have vanished utterly from the consciousness of many of our contemporaries, especially that of the Materialists. These, after the example of Epicurus, substitute for this living author of all things, Chance, that is, an ultimate cause which they omit to define because it is utterly incapable of logical definition. Other thinkers, better schooled in philosophy, replace the living God with an Order of Nature determining everything by inevitable law, to which order, as such, they deny self-consciousness and maintain that it comes to self-consciousness only in the consciousness of rational beings—never in and of itself. This they do from fear of transferring human limitations to the Absolute, especially the conception of personality. Of personality it is maintained that it is predicable of the human individual, never of the Godhead; as if Goethe were unquestionably in the right when he says,—

“The professor is a person
But God is none.”18

But still we think humanly of God even then when we identify him with the Order of Nature, nay, it is absolutely impossible for us to think in any other way concerning God than consistently with our faculties, that is humanly. We certainly shall not, therefore, be found in the wrong course if we again turn more and more toward the sound Biblical realism which recognizes a living God who is at the same time “the Lord of the whole earth” (Joshua 3:11); therefore a God who is the conscious, independent and free Creator and Ruler of all things, of whom, in whom, and for whom we are, who also wakens life in us, so that we possess power, develope power, and bring forth new power. For life is fullness of power; where powerlessness enters—there is death.

Such a living God can perform even miracles. He can, since He is independent and free, establish exceptions to rule, which are and remain exceptions, but which, because planned by his wisdom, no more endanger the continuance of order than any exceptions to rule which a wise house-father may make will disturb the order of his house. Compare Rothe, Dogmatik, p. 80 ff.

Rationalistic explanations of miracles, such as have been attempted in reference to the passage of the Jordan by the people of Israel, are to be avoided. On the other hand, investigation of the Scripture, reverent and believing but not fettered by the spirit of prescription, cannot be avoided. Every report of any miraculous transaction is as much to be examined as the report of any other fact (Introd. p. 17). Such investigation will readily concede that reports, especially these reaching back to the most ancient times, may possibly have acquired a mythical coloring; the more readily, when it is demonstrated that poetical elements have been admitted into the text. As such mythical coloring we regard what is said in the passage before us (Joshua 3:16) about the water of the Jordan standing by Zaretan.19


The regulations of Joshua touching the passage of the Jordan (Joshua 3:1-13).—Even without pillar of cloud and without ark of the covenant, the Lord still and forever goes before his people.—Sanctify yourselves! A word of preparation for the Lord’s supper.—Whom the Lord makes great, he is truly great, as once Moses and Joshua.—Joshua’s discourse to the people. It contains: (1) a demand to hear the word of the Lord; (2) a promise of the effectual help of the living God.—By what do we also recognize the presence of a living God among us? (1) By his word which He still causes to be perpetually published among us; (2) by his deeds which He is still perpetually performing.—The Living God! (Joshua 4:10). How should we think of God? (1) Not as a rigid order of nature, but (2) as the living God and ruler over all the earth. The ruler over all the world: (1) The mightiest, (2) the best Ruler.

The wonderful passage of Israel through the Jordan (Joshua 3:13-14; Joshua 18:0) to be treated as a Bible Lesson, for which use all these longer sections are generally speaking, well adapted.—As Israel went dryshod through the Jordan so we go unharmed through many a danger.—The memory of God’s mighty deeds. It is (1) to be faithfully preserved by the parents, (2) carefully to be impressed on the children.—The erection of the memorial at Gilgal.—After the pilgrimage comes the rest.—Increase of the knowledge and fear of God is the holy aim of all his works.

Starke: He that will enter into the promised land on high must also be up early and waste no time, otherwise he will not reach it, Matthew 6:33.—Whoever will be and be called a right spiritual priest must not only have Christ in his heart but also by an edifying example make him known to others and praise him, 1 Timothy 4:12; Ephesians 5:25-27.—God may indeed well allow us to erect memorials by which we may remember his wonderful works and his benefits, Genesis 28:18; Genesis 31:45; 1 Samuel 7:12; Esther 9:27, but we must not worship such things, for that is an abomination to the Lord, Matthew 4:10.—Teachers and preachers must be an example in faith and constancy, and let no danger terrify them.—A Christian on the journey towards the heavenly fatherland must not tarry, must not put off repentance, nor be lazy and slothful in God’s ways, Php 3:14; 1 Corinthians 9:24.—It is not enough to begin to be pious, but one must persevere even to the end, Revelation 2:10.—A Christian should never act without, but always according to, God’s will and word, Matthew 21:6.—It is the duty of the magistracy also to care that the youth should be educated in the fear of the Lord, Luke 7:5.—Parents should relate to their children and hold before them, not their own vile deeds but God’s merciful deeds, Exodus 10:1-2, Deuteronomy 6:20.—That is the right application of God’s marvelous and beneficent acts when we learn from them truly to know, fear, and love him, John 2:11.

Cramer: When we go to church to hear God’s God’s word and to receive the holy sacraments, we should carefully prepare ourselves, and approach God with a chaste, temperate heart, and hold up holy hands, 1 Timothy 2:8.—Whom God will make great, him he first makes small through wearisome cross, and care, and toil, and danger, Psalms 18:36.—If often the faithful God before our eyes graciously helps others out of need and peril, while we, in our own thought, are left far behind, still our hour also shall yet come. Let us only await the right time, (Joshua 4:17.) God has patience even with the weak, Romans 14:4; Matthew 8:25; Matthew 14:30.—So long as Christ, the true mercy-seat, is under us, and his ministers in this unquiet life preach the gospel, we need not fear; the great floods of sins and of the wrath of God must retire, because for them that are in Christ Jesus there is now no condemnation, Romans 8:1. Nor can the enemies of the Church proceed further than has been appointed to them. But if Christ and his word depart from us then must we be eternally overwhelmed and perish and experience the wrath of God.—Christ with many saints has passed over into his father’s house through much water of affliction, which came in even unto his soul, Psalms 69:1. But he has left a memorial behind him, namely, his twelve apostles and their writings. Happy they who understand this, and thank him therefor.

Hedinger: If those who are to be merely spectators of the great works of God should first sanctify themselves, how much more have those need of sanctification whom God will employ as his servants for the performance of his work, 1 Corinthians 9:27.

Bibl. Tub.: Before thee also, O soul! there stand waters of affliction, through which thou must travel, before thou canst enter the heavenly Canaan. But only go in with good heart, and trust thyself to God’s help; He will open a way for thee, so that the streams cannot drown thee, Psalms 66:12; Isaiah 43:2.

Osiander: Dear Christian, remember here the twelve apostles, who have by the preaching of the gospel spread through the world the kindness of Christ in that He would lead us, through the power of his death unto everlasting life; remember them, and heartily thank God for them,—God can cause respect for the magistracy, and also take it from them again and cover them with contempt because of their ungodly life, Psalms 107:4.

[Matt. Henry: Those that would bring great things to pass must rise early, “Love not sleep lest thou come to poverty.” Joshua herein set a good example to the officers under him, and taught them to rise early, and to all that are in public station, especially to attend continually to the duty of their place.—They must follow the priests as far as they carried the ark, but no further; so we must follow our ministers only as they follow Christ.—Though the opposition given to the salvation of God’s people have all imaginable advantages, yet God can and will conquer it.—God’s works of wonder ought to be kept in everlasting remembrance and means devised for preserving the remembrance, of them.—God had said in his wrath, that they should wander forty years in the wilderness, but to make up that forty years we must take in the first year, which was then passed, and had been a year of triumph in their deliverance out of Egypt, and this last, which had been a year of triumph likewise on the other side of Jordan, so that all the forty were not years of sorrow; and at last he brought them into the land of Canaan five days before the forty years were ended, to show how little pleasure God takes in punishing, how swift He is to show mercy, and that, for the elects’ sake, the days of trouble are shortened.—Those that will be wise when they are old must be inquisitive when they are young. Our Lord Jesus, though He had in himself the fullness of knowledge, has, by his example, taught children and young people to hear and ask questions.—In all the instructions and informations parents give their children, they should have chiefly in their eye to teach and engage them to fear God for ever.

Scott (on Joshua 3:3): We cannot in general go wrong in keeping close to the ordinances of God, and thus, as it were, following the ark in all its removals. In so doing we need not fear rivers of trouble, mountains of difficulty, nor hosts of opposing foes; but confiding in the faithful promise, the Almighty power and covenant-love of our God, “the living God, the Lord of the whole earth,” we may proceed with boldness and alacrity.

The Same (Joshua 4:10): When with careful attention to the commands and providence of God, we have taken the place and engaged in the service assigned us, we ought patiently to abide in it, and not to attempt to remove till He evidently commands us thence.—Tr.]


[1][Joshua 3:10.—The Gentile names here are all in the sing., and although the Hebrew usage in this respect does not always coincide with the English, in the present case at least our version would gain as much in force as in fidelity by an exact imitation of the original.—Tr.]

[2][Joshua 3:15.—Our version is here particular to mark the difference between כּ with Inf. const. (כְּבוֹא) and בּ in the same connection in ver 13 (בִּנְסֹעַ). The distinction is slight, and in many cases probably none was deliberately aimed at in the choice of the particle; yet strictly the latter (בּ) denotes an action as contained in another (in time) the former (כּ) denotes it as bearing a comparison with that other in respect to time (or quality or condition), as simultaneous, following close upon, about the same as, etc.—Tr.]

[3][Joshua 3:15.—Literally, and the Jordan was full on all its banks all the days of harvest.—Tr.]

[4][Joshua 3:16. Very far (“sc. from the place of crossing,” Keil) at or by the city of Adam. Our version followed the Keri here apparently without good reason.—Tr.]

[5][Joshua 3:16.—The Arabah (as in Joshua 18:18; Joshua 18:22) the definite, individual “plain,” which bordered the Jordan River and the Dead Sea. See the Exeget. Note on this verse.—Tr.]

[6][Leyrer, in Herzog’s Encyklop., vol. xiv. p. 1, note, supposing the ground-meaning of שָׁטַר to have been “to put in order,” “set in a row, hence to make a row, of letters,” says: “we may rather conceive that the שֹׁטְרים, from the ground-meaning of the word and from their primary function, are called ordinatores, than from a derived meaning and from a mere accident of their office. See Vater, vol. iii. of his Com.; Von Bohlen, Genesis, p. xlii.; Lengerke, Kenaan, p. 374, Anm.; Hoffman, the Art. “Hebr. Schrift” in Ersch u. Gruber’s Encyklop.”—Tr.]

[7][“The plain” here (הָעְרֲבָה), is the arid bottom land in the gorge of the Jordan—“the Ghor” (see Introd. § 6). To this remarkable feature of the country the name is uniformly applied throughout our book, where it is never applied to anything else. It always has the article in this connection, and nothing seems to hinder its being understood simply as a proper name (in which sense our version twice views it, Joshua 15:6; Joshua 18:18) except the occurrence of the plural form to denote the broader parts of the depressed balley, as about Jericho. Robinson (Phys. Geog. p. 73) nevertheless declares it decidedly “the proper name of this valley.” This plain encompassed the Dead Sea also, more or less distinctly, and then stretched on in the modern Wady el-Arabah to the head of the Elanitic Gulf. But see, for a complete account of this very extraordinary natural phenomenon, Mr. Grove’s article on the Arabah in Smith’s Dict. of the Bible, and Ffoulke’s on the Jordan, in the same work.—Tr.].

[8][A very full and interesting digest of what is known concerning the Dead Sea is given in Smith’s Dictionary, Art. “Sea, the Salt.” In reference to the relation between this sea and the cities of the plain, the criticisms of Dr Wolcott on the views of Mr. Grove in the article just named and in those on Sodom and Zoar, and Siddim, should by all means be carefully considered. See also Conant’s instructive note on his Revised Version of Genesis, p. 79. Nor should Stanley’s vivid and flowing representation in ch. ix. of Sin. & Pal., “The Jordan and the Dead Sea,” be overlooked. The colored views of the sea and its surroundings in Tristram’s Land of Israel assist the imagination greatly in picturing to itself the scene.—Tr.].

[9][Or might it be that the “midst of the Jordan” where the priests stood in this time of the freshet, was at the edge of the dry flat in ordinary seasons? Then the pile of twelve stones would in general be visible and less exposed to the force of the water when high. Here the caution of Maurer, Ne premas, תָּוֵךְ vocabulum, is to be heeded.—Tr.].

[10][This fear would evidently be much more natural on the supposition stated above on Joshua 3:16, that the waters were cut off and stood in a threatening precipice immediately above the place of crossing. But is not the haste of the people sufficiently explained by the fact which Keil emphasizes, that so vast a multitude must cross in one day?—Tr.].

[11][But see this disputed in Smith’s Dict. of the Bibl. s. v. Months, p. 2006.—Tr.]

[12]Μακρὰν σφοδὰ σφοδρῶς


[14]Symmachus, as the LXX. in Psalms 33:7.


[16][This is Professor Stanley’s interpretation of the occurrence mentioned Joshua 22:10-11.—Tr.]

[17][The passages adduced in support of this only show that a superstitious sanctity was afterwards ascribed to the place Gilgal.—Tr.].

[18] [Against the arrogance and unreason of godless science some of the Essays of Rev. James Martineau (2 vols. Bost. 1866, 1868) are very effectively directed, e. g that on Nature and God, i. 121 ff. See also a recent article by the same author: “Is there any Axiom of Causality?” in the Contemporary Review for August, 1870.

The Materialism of the Present Day, a critique of Dr. Büchner’s system; translated from the French of Janet by Gustave Masson, London, 1866 (in Baillière’s Library of Contemporaneous Philosophy), is a very able and convincing refutation, in short compass, of the doctrines which would explain the universe without a God.—Tr.]

[19][This statement, however, seems quite consistent with the rest. If we are to imagine the water cut off perpendicularly above the path of the Israelites, the fluid wall would continually be raised by the down-coming flood, and the distance to which the water would set back (“stand”), must depend on the time during which the interruption lasted So that there is no need of suspecting myth particularly in this.—Tr.]

Bibliographical Information
Lange, Johann Peter. "Commentary on Joshua 4". "Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lcc/joshua-4.html. 1857-84.
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