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Bible Commentaries
Joshua 4

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


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

Twelve stones taken up out of the midst of Jordan, and twelve set up there for a memorial, Joshua 4:1-9 . The march of the people through Jordan, Joshua 4:10-13 . God magnifies Joshua, who commands the priests to come out of Jordan, Joshua 4:14-17 . The waters close again, Joshua 4:18 , Joshua 4:19 . Joshua erects twelve stones in Gilgal, for a memorial, Joshua 4:20-24 .

Verse 1

Joshua 4:1. The Lord spake unto Joshua This was commanded before, (Joshua 3:12,) and is here repeated with enlargement, as being now to be put in execution. It is the pious conjecture of the learned Bishop Patrick, that Joshua was gone into some place of retirement, to return thanks immediately for this wonderful mercy; and then God met him and spake thus to him. Or, perhaps, it was by Eleazar the priest that God gave these and other instructions to Joshua; for though he is not mentioned here, yet, when Joshua was ordained by the imposition of hands to this great trust, God appointed that Eleazar should ask counsel for him, after the judgment of Urim; and at his word Joshua and all the children of Israel were to go out and come in, Numbers 27:21.

Verses 2-5

Joshua 4:2-5. Take you out of every tribe a man For the greater evidence, and the more effectual spreading the report of this marvellous work among the tribes. Where ye shall lodge this night That is, in Gilgal, as is expressed, Joshua 4:19-20. Whom he had prepared That is, appointed for that work, and commanded to be ready for it. Pass over before the ark Or, Pass back again directly unto the ark. These twelve men, it seems, re- entered the channel of Jordan, and, being dispensed from the prohibition to approach the ark, came near the place where the priests stood, and each loaded himself with a stone as large as he could carry, and such as might afterward attest to each several tribe that he had seen the bed of the river dry, and the miracle prolonged till the entire execution of the commands of God.

Verse 6

Joshua 4:6. That this may be a sign among you A monument or memorial of this day’s work. Had Joshua given orders to prepare for erecting this memorial of himself, it might have looked like a design to perpetuate his own name and honour; but as it was done by the divine direction, it could be viewed in no other light than as a monument raised to the honour and glory of God, who hath “so done his marvellous works, that they ought to be had in everlasting remembrance,” and means devised to preserve among men the memory of them.

Verse 9

Joshua 4:9. Joshua set up twelve stones in the midst of Jordan These stones are not the same with those mentioned Joshua 4:5, which a man might carry upon his shoulder. They were undoubtedly very much larger, and probably appeared above the surface of the water, when it was low; or, if not, might be seen in it, either from the shore, the river not being broad, or in crossing it by boats, the waters of Jordan being generally very clear. At least they were so placed as to show that they were some monument of art, and erected there when the channel of the river was dry. They are there unto this day That is, unto the time when this history was written, which might not be till many years after the facts were done, recorded in it. Or, it might be added by Joshua himself in his old age, or by some other holy and divinely-inspired man, who inserted this and some such passages, both in this book and in the writings of Moses.

Verses 10-11

Joshua 4:10-11. The priests stood in the midst of Jordan till every thing was finished The constancy of the priests, on this occasion, bears very honourable testimony to their faith and patience; for it must have taken up a considerable time, a whole day, at least, for the passage of six hundred thousand fighting men, besides the numerous people that accompanied them, with their baggage and provisions, and for the performing the other things here mentioned. The people hasted and passed over Some understand this of the twelve men that carried the stones; but it seems rather to be meant of the body of the people; for though mention was made of their passing over, (Joshua 4:1,) it is here repeated for the sake of this circumstance to be added, that they passed in haste. This, it is probable, they did, either because Joshua, by the officers, ordered them to make haste, that they might complete their passage before the night came on, or because the sight of the waters suspended on their right, struck them with terror, through the weakness of their faith. For, in so great a multitude of men, women, and children, it is not credible that all hearts were animated with the same confidence. Perhaps, also, some made haste that they might not either tempt God, by desiring a continuance of the miracle longer than was necessary, or try the patience of the priests too much by any unnecessary delay. It is most likely, however, that fear had the principal influence in causing them to hasten their march. The priests, on the contrary, who bore the ark, continued dauntless at their post, till at last, there remaining no one on the eastern shore, nor in the bed of the river, there was no further reason for their continuing in the midst of it, and therefore they were commanded by Joshua, who himself received an order from God to that purpose, (Joshua 4:16-17,) to come up out of Jordan. Then, and not before, they crossed quite over; in the presence of the people That is, in the sight of all Israel, who, no doubt, beheld with admiration, from the western bank of the river, both them and the ark which they carried over, and which had been the means of their safe passage. The place where the Israelites crossed has since been called Bethabara, which signifies the house of passage. It is mentioned John 1:28.

Verses 12-13

Joshua 4:12-13. The children of Reuben passed over armed As they had engaged to do, Numbers 32:20-27, and Joshua 1:13. About forty thousand prepared for war It is likely that Joshua drew out this number only of chosen men; and left all the rest to take care of their families and flocks. Passed over before the Lord Having passed over the river, they stood in battle array before the ark, at the distance, probably, of two thousand cubits; or, in the presence of the Lord, as the expression, before the Lord, may mean, who observed whether they would keep their covenant with their brethren or not.

Verse 14

Joshua 4:14. On that day the Lord magnified Joshua Both by the fellowship he admitted him to with himself, speaking to him on all occasions, and being ready to be consulted by him, and by the miracle which had just given happy success to that general’s first enterprise, and which had acquired to him the same confidence and respect from the Israelites which Moses had before acquired from the miraculous passage of the Red sea: thus did the Lord, in a glorious manner, accomplish the promises made to Joshua in the foregoing chapter, Joshua 4:7.

Verse 18

Joshua 4:18. The waters of Jordan returned They had stood on a heap while the ark was in the river, but came tumbling down when it was removed, which showed to a demonstration that it was to God’s presence with them, and to this only, that they owed this miraculous mercy. “Some have observed here, by way of allusion,” says Henry, “that when the ark, and the priests that bear it,” (the word and ordinance of God and his ministers,) “are removed from any place, the flood-gates are drawn up, the defence is departed, and an inundation of judgments is to be expected. Those that are unchurched will soon be undone: the glory is departed if the ark be taken.”

Verse 19

Joshua 4:19. On the tenth day of the first month Namely, of Nisan, which wanted but five days of forty years from the time of their coming out of Egypt, which was on the fifteenth day of this month. So punctual is God in the performing of his word, whether promised or threatened. And this day was very seasonable for the taking up of the lambs which were to be used four days after, according to the law, Exodus 12:3; Exodus 12:6. Gilgal A place afterward so called, Joshua 5:9.

Verse 20

Joshua 4:20. In Gilgal Probably in order, like so many little pillars, to keep up the remembrance of this miraculous benefit. Gilgal was situate between Jordan and Jericho, and, according to Josephus, was ten furlongs from the city, and fifty from the river. Joshua had his camp there during all the time that the war lasted, and till the division of the country among the tribes. There the Israelites were circumcised; there they celebrated the passover for the first time in the land of Canaan; and there the tabernacle was erected and fixed, till, Canaan being subdued, they placed it in Shiloh. Gilgal, however, always continued to be a place of importance, as we learn from divers passages of Scripture. See Judges 2:1; 1 Samuel 11:14; 1 Samuel 13:12.

Verse 22

Joshua 4:22. Ye shall let your children know We may learn from the injunction given here, and on many other occasions, that it is our indispensable duty to make our children well acquainted with the historical as well as doctrinal truths of religion, from the earliest accounts we have of them in the Holy Scriptures; that by this means a foundation may be laid for their faith, and they may be trained up in the knowledge of God, and of what he has declared to men, and done for them; that from hence they may be led both to love and fear him, and to live to his glory.

Verse 23

Joshua 4:23. Which he dried up from before us That is, not only before Joshua himself and Caleb, then alive and present, but before the whole nation of the Israelites. For this benefit done to their fathers is justly said to be done to themselves, both because they were then in their parents’ loins, and because it was intended to redound to their advantage, and that of their posterity, to the latest generations. It greatly magnifies later mercies to compare them with former mercies; so, hereby it appears that God is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever.

Verse 24

Joshua 4:24. That all the people of the earth might know, &c. Although this may primarily mean the neighbouring nations, yet there is great reason to think that both this and Exodus 9:16, That my name may be declared throughout all the earth, had a prophetic aspect, and looked to distant ages, even to the end of time, and to all the nations on the face of the earth; to whom these wonderful facts should bear witness of the true God, as well as to the surrounding nations. And when we consider how the Holy Scriptures, the record of these facts, have been already carried into almost every nation, what a forcible evidence they bear with them, how entire they still remain after so many thousands of years, and what probability there is, when the Jews are converted, that they will be made more known in every nation and language, we may see great reason to conclude that these miracles were intended to make known the power of the true God to all nations, as well as to the Israelites; and in fact they do equally declare him to us, as they did to them.

Bibliographical Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Joshua 4". Benson's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/rbc/joshua-4.html. 1857.
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