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Bible Commentaries
Joshua 3

Benson's Commentary of the Old and New TestamentsBenson's Commentary


A.M. 2553. B.C. 1451.

The people decamp from Shittim, and are directed to follow the ark and sanctify themselves, Joshua 3:1-5 . The priests are ordered to go first, Joshua 3:6 . Joshua being encouraged and directed to God, tells the people what God is about to do, Joshua 3:7-13 . Jordan is divided, and Israel marches through, Joshua 3:14-17 .

Verse 1

Joshua 3:1. Joshua rose early in the morning Not after the return of the spies, as may seem at first view, but after the three days mentioned Joshua 1:11, when orders were given to the army to make all necessary provision for invading the enemies’ country. They came to Jordan and lodged there That night, that they might go over in the day-time, that the miracle might be more evident and unquestionable, and might strike the greater terror into their enemies.

Verses 2-3

Joshua 3:2-3. After three days The three days mentioned Joshua 1:11, either at the end of them, or upon the last of them. The officers went through the host To give them more particular directions, as they had given a general notice before. They commanded the people In Joshua’s name, and by his authority. When ye see the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God The sign and symbol of his presence, and of his being in covenant with you, and engaged to protect and conduct you, as your God. What greater encouragement could they have than this, that Jehovah was in covenant with them, as their God, and that here was the ark, the token of it, going before them? Usually, and in their common marches, the ark was carried in the middle of the camps, according to the direction given Numbers 2:17; but now it was to be carried in the front, or at the head of the whole army, as it had been on their first march, when they left mount Sinai. And the priests and Levites bearing it The Levites of the family of Kohath had the office of carrying the ark assigned them, Numbers 4:15; but the priests, all of whom were also Levites, might perform that office, and were appointed to do so on extraordinary occasions. Then ye shall go after it Toward Jordan, in such a manner as is here described.

Verse 4

Joshua 3:4. There shall be a space between you and it Thus it was made to appear that the ark needed not to be guarded by the men of war, but was itself a guard to them. With what a noble defiance of the enemy did it leave all its friends far behind, save the unarmed priests that carried it, as perfectly sufficient for its own safety and theirs that followed it. Two thousand cubits A thousand yards, at which distance from it the Israelites seem to have been encamped in the wilderness. And because they generally went from their tents to the ark to worship God, especially on the sabbath days, hence it hath been conceived that a sabbath day’s journey reached only to two thousand cubits. But that may be doubted; for those who encamped nearest the ark were at that distance from it, and came so far; but the rest were farther from it, and their sabbath day’s journey was considerably longer. Come not near unto it Partly from the respect they should bear to the ark; but chiefly, that the ark, marching so far before them into the river, and standing still there till they passed over, might give them the greater assurance of a safe passage. Thus also the faith of the priests would be tried, and their confidence and courage displayed for an example to the people. That ye may know the way by which you must go May see it, as it were, chalked out, or traced by the ark. For had they been allowed to come near, and surround it, none could have had a sight of it but those that were close to it; but as it was at such a distance before them, they would all have the satisfaction of seeing it when it entered the river, and would be animated by the sight, especially if the pillar of cloud and fire still hovered over it, which some think it did; although others judge it to be more probable that it was now removed. For ye have not passed this way heretofore Therefore there was the more reason that this provision should be made for their encouragement. This, however, had been the character of it all their way through the wilderness: it was a way they had not passed before; but this through Jordan was especially such. While we are in this world we must expect and prepare for unusual events, to pass ways we have not passed before. And much more when we go hence, when we pass through the valley of the shadow of death. But if we have the assurance of God’s presence with us we need not fear; that will furnish us with protection and strength such as we never had, when we come to pass a way we never passed, and to do a work we never did.

Verse 5

Joshua 3:5. And Joshua said He himself also, as well as the officers, by his direction, spake to the people the day before their passage; and as the matter was very important, he probably went himself from tribe to tribe, to give the orders here mentioned. Sanctify yourselves Not only wash your clothes, and shun all kinds of bodily impurities, (see Genesis 35:2; Exodus 19:10; Numbers 9:10,) but purify your minds and hearts, by repentance, and faith, and new obedience, without which the external purifications of your bodies and garments will be of little avail. In other words, prepare yourselves by seriousness, recollection, and prayer, that you may behold with proper regard, reverence, and gratitude, and may fix in your hearts, the wonderful display which is about to be made of the divine power in your behalf, and that you may be meet to receive so great a favour as is now about to be conferred upon you.

Verse 6

Joshua 3:6. Take up the ark Namely, upon your shoulders; for so they were to carry it, Numbers 7:9. Before the people Not in the middle of them, as you used to do. And they took up the ark They did as they were commanded. And now we may suppose that prayer of Moses to be used, which he addressed to God when the ark set forward, Numbers 10:3. Rise up, Lord, and let thine enemies be scattered.

Verse 7

Joshua 3:7. This day will I begin to magnify thee That is, to honour thee in a peculiar manner, and gain thee authority; in the sight of all Israel As the person I have set in Moses’s stead, and by whom I will conduct them into the promised land. It has been observed by some, as a remarkable circumstance, that, from the time of Moses to that of Saul, God always signified to the people, by some miracle, whom he had appointed to govern them.

Verse 8

Joshua 3:8. The brink of Jordan Hebrew, to the extremity, so far as the river then spread itself, which was now more than ordinary, Joshua 3:15. Ye shall stand still in Jordan Within the waters of Jordan, in the first entrance into the river; where they stood for a season, till the river was divided, and then they went into the midst of it, and there abode till all the people were passed over.

Verses 9-10

Joshua 3:9-10. Come hither To the ark or tabernacle, the place of public assemblies. Hear the words of the Lord your God Who is now about to give a proof that he is both the Lord, the omnipotent Governor of heaven and earth, and all creatures, and your God, in covenant with you, having a tender care and affection for you. Ye shall know By experience and sensible evidence. The living God Not a dull, dead, senseless idol, such as the gods of the nations are; but a God of life, and power, and activity, to watch over you and work for you. Among you Is present with you to strengthen and help you.

Verses 12-13

Joshua 3:12-13. Twelve men For the work described, Joshua 4:2-3. The ark of the Lord That so it may appear this is the Lord’s doing, and that in pursuance of his covenant made with Israel. Of all the earth The Lord of all this globe of earth and water, who therefore can dispose of this river and the adjoining lands as he pleaseth. Cut off The waters which now are united shall be divided, and part shall flow down the channel toward the Dead sea, and the other part, that is near the spring of the river, and flows down from it, shall stand still. They shall stand upon a heap Being as it were congealed, as the Red sea was, (Exodus 15:8,) and so kept from overflowing the country. God could by a sudden and miraculous frost have congealed the surface, so that they might all have gone over upon the ice; but that being a thing, it seems, sometimes done even in that country, by the ordinary power of nature, (Job 38:30,) it would not have been such an honour to Israel’s God, nor such a terror to Israel’s enemies. It must therefore be done in such a way as had no precedent, but in the dividing of the Red sea. And that miracle is here repeated to show that God has the same power to finish that he had to begin the salvation of his people, for he is the Omega as well as the Alpha; and that the word of the Lord, (as the Chaldee reads it, Joshua 3:7,) the essential word, was with Joshua as truly as he was with Moses.

Verse 15

Joshua 3:15. The feet of the priests were dipped in the brim of the water The stream stopped immediately, as if a sluice had been let down to dam it up; so that the waters above swelled, stood on a heap, and ran back, and yet, it seems, did not spread themselves over the adjacent lands. When they passed through the Red sea, the waters were a wall on either hand; here only on the right hand. Thus the God of nature, when he pleaseth, can change the course of nature, and alter any of its properties; can “turn waters into rocks, and rocks into waters,” to serve his own purposes. What can he not do? What will he not do for the perfecting of the salvation of his people? Hear the psalmist celebrate this work of wonder, in most beautiful and striking language: “When Israel went out of Egypt Judah was his sanctuary. The sea saw it and fled: Jordan was driven back. What ailed thee, O thou sea, that thou fleddest? thou Jordan, that thou wast driven back?” Well might he add, “Tremble, thou earth, at the presence of Jehovah, who turneth the rock into a standing water, the flint into a fountain of waters.” Jordan overfloweth all the time of harvest This is meant, not of wheat-harvest, but of the barley-harvest, as is manifest from their keeping the passover at their first entrance, (Joshua 5:10,) which was kept on the fourteenth day of the first month, when they were to bring a sheaf of their first-fruits, which were of barley. So that this harvest, in those hot countries, fell very early in the spring, when rivers used to swell most; partly because of the rains which had fallen all the winter, partly because of the snows which melted and came into the rivers. And this time God chose that the miracle might be more glorious, more amazing and terrible to the Canaanites; and that the Israelites might be entertained at their first entrance with plentiful and comfortable provisions.

Verse 16

Joshua 3:16. Adam The city of Adam, being more obscure, is described by its nearness to a more known place, then eminent, but now unknown. The meaning is, that the waters were stopped in their course at that place, and so kept at a distance from the Israelites while they passed over. Against Jericho Here God carried them over, because this part was, 1st, The strongest, as having in its neighbourhood an eminent city, a potent king, and a stout and warlike people. 2d, The most pleasant and fruitful, and therefore more convenient both for the refreshment of the Israelites after their long and tedious marches, and for their encouragement.

Verse 17

Joshua 3:17. Stood firm That is, in one and the same place and posture; their feet were neither moved by any waters flowing in upon them, nor sunk into any mire, which one might think was at the bottom of the river. And this may be opposed to their standing in the brink of the water when they came to it, as commanded, (Joshua 3:8,) which was but for a while, till the waters were divided and gone away; and then they were to go farther, even into the midst of Jordan, where they were to stand constantly and fixedly, as the Hebrew word signifies, until all were passed over. The midst of Jordan In the middle and deepest part of the river. This manifests how firmly the priests believed the word of the Lord, and confided in his power, otherwise they would not have dared to stand so long in the midst of the channel of a river, whose rapid waters stood suspended above them in mountainous heaps, ready every moment to overwhelm them unless miraculously withheld by the power of God.

Bibliographical Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Joshua 3". Benson's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/rbc/joshua-3.html. 1857.
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