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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

Joshua 3

Verse 1

1. Rose early in the morning According to a necessary custom in hot countries to work by night or early dawn and rest at noonday. Compare Genesis 19:2; Genesis 19:27; Genesis 20:3; Genesis 28:18.

Came to Jordan Not close up to the brink of the river, but within some two thousand cubits of it. Joshua 3:4.

Lodged there Not merely spent one night there, as some understand, but abode there (for לון often has this sense) three days, as the next verse most naturally explains.

Verses 1-17

THE PASSAGE OF THE JORDAN. Joshua 3:1-6.3.17.

Immediately after the return of the spies, or possibly before this event, the Israelites leave their long occupied camp at Shittim, and move to the banks of the Jordan. A nation moving toward a swollen and angry river with perfect confidence that they should cross it, and yet in perfect ignorance of the manner of such an achievement, is a spectacle of thrilling moral sublimity. Thus marched Moses with the Hebrew people to the Red Sea.

Verse 2

2. [

After three days Obviously three days after they came to the Jordan, near whose banks they lodged for this length of time, probably to make preparations for crossing. Their camp consisted not merely of armed men, but of the entire population, including women and children, with all their possessions, and a delay of three days before crossing into the enemy’s country might have been useful for many reasons now unknown to us. To identify these three days with those mentioned Joshua 1:11, is altogether unnecessary, and never would have been attempted but for the supposition, wholly untenable, that Joshua completed the passage of the Jordan within three days from his giving the order to prepare to cross. See notes on Joshua 1:11; Joshua 2:22. Strangely have some rationalistic critics argued that because the historian records in one place an order for the people to prepare to cross the Jordan in three days, and afterwards states that they stopped at the river three days, therefore his narrative was compiled from two different and contradictory documents, and these two periods of three days each were confounded by him!]

Officers See note Joshua 1:10.

Verse 3

3. When ye see the ark of the covenant This was a chest made of shittim or acacia wood, four feet in length, and two and one third feet in breadth and depth. It was overlaid with gold within and without. The cover, which was edged with gold, was called the mercy-seat. Standing on this lid were the cherubim with outstretched wings. The ark was borne upon the shoulders by means of rods passing through two rings on each of the two sides. When transported, it was enveloped in the veil of the dismantled tabernacle, the curtain of badger skins, and the blue cloth, (Numbers 4:5-4.4.6,) and was therefore not seen. Its name is derived from its chief contents, the “covenant of Sinai” the two tables of stone, on which was the Decalogue, written by the finger of God. From Hebrews 9:4, we learn that it contained also “the pot of manna,” and “Aaron’s rod that budded.” It was never seen save by the high priest, thus symbolizing the invisible Jehovah. See on Exodus 25:10-2.25.22.

And the priests the Levites The Levite-priests, as distinguished from all irregular priests who are not Levitical. Such occasionally arose in times of apostasy from the law. On ordinary occasions the Levites of the house of Kohath, by special command, bore the ark. But when removed from within the veil, or when borne on festive occasions of extraordinary interest, the priests, the offspring of Aaron, were the bearers. Joshua 6:6 and 1 Kings 8:3; 1 Kings 8:6.

Go after it Let the ark of God be your leader, and move ye as the ark moves. Heretofore it stood at the centre when Israel was encamped, and in mid army when they marched. The ark now led them, as heretofore the pillar of fire.

Verse 4

4. Space… two thousand cubits The design of this space of a thousand yards more than half a mile was that the people might see the way to the opened passage through the Jordan. Some have supposed that this space was required on account of the sacredness of the ark. But it is not stated in the text, nor was such a space ever required during all their journeyings in the wilderness, nor ever afterwards. In this case the miraculous division of waters would be more impressive because the required space would render it visible to all.

For ye have not passed this way heretofore The Hebrews yesterday and the day before is equivalent to previously. The Greeks have a similar expression: χθιζα τε και πρωιξα . Homer’s Iliad, 2:303.

Verse 5

5. Sanctify yourselves By sacred ablutions and observances, and by a change of raiment where the washing of the raiment was impracticable. Compare the marginal references.

The Lord will do wonders among you He will open a passage through the Jordan as he did through the Red Sea, and lead his people through dry-shod. The miracle of the Red Sea was a wonder whose name had been noised abroad for forty years, (Joshua 2:10,) and this at the Jordan was to be like it.

Verse 6

6. Take up the ark This command was among the announcements relating to the order of crossing, and not to the crossing itself, which took place on the next day.

And they took up the ark A statement which is, according to the rules of modern composition, brought in before its proper place, which would naturally be between Joshua 3:13-6.3.14. For the message from God to Joshua, and the address of the latter, must have been given before the priests moved. But this is the manner of the Hebrew historians, who often thus mention the fulfilment of a prophecy or the execution of a command in the immediate connection.

Verse 7

7. This day will I begin to magnify thee This was only the beginning of a glorious succession of miracles attesting the divine commission of Joshua. Jehovah pledges to make Joshua great in the estimation of the people, and thus secure to him their promised loyalty and obedience. Compare Joshua 1:17.

As I was with Moses As I crowned Moses with divine honour when, at the outstretching of his rod, I divided the waters of the Red Sea, so will I honour thee by rolling back the Jordan, when, at thy command, the symbol of my presence shall be borne to the river’s brink. Special honour had been put upon Joshua when he was permitted to accompany Moses up the Mount, but it was eclipsed by the greater honour of his master, who alone was permitted to enter the cloud of the glory of the Lord. Exodus 24:13-2.24.16. Moses on a former occasion (Deuteronomy 31:7) had magnified Joshua in the sight of all Israel, but now a Greater than Moses is about to magnify him in the sight of all mankind.

Verse 8

8. The brink of the water Hebrews end of the water, that is, the eastern margin of the river. It is evident from Joshua’s address to the people, which immediately follows, that all the Lord’s words to Joshua are not reported here. The abbreviation is to prevent repetition. The main point is to show that the whole order of the crossing was arranged by the Lord and not by Joshua.

Stand still in Jordan As a solemn and impressive indication to the passing host that the miracle is wrought by Jehovah, whose chosen ministers are the priests, and the symbol of whose presence is the ark.

Verse 9

9. Unto the children of Israel The objection that Colenso urges against these addresses to the children of Israel by Moses and by Joshua, that it was a physical impossibility for so vast an encampment to hear the words of one speaker, falls to the ground when we reflect that all the people were addressed, not personally en masse, but representatively, as specified Joshua 3:2 and Joshua 1:10; Joshua 1:16, through the heads and officers of their tribes.

Verse 10

10. The living God is among you The adjective living is here and elsewhere applied to God in the sense of true, in opposition to the false pagan gods; and also in the sense of efficient, in opposition to the dead idols of the heathen world. In Psalms 106:28, the heathen are spoken of as eating the sacrifices of the dead that is, dead idol gods. Jeremiah (Jeremiah 10:3-24.10.10) gives a detailed account of the process of manufacturing an idol, and then, in striking contrast, sets forth Jehovah as the living God. We may also with equal truth affirm that the attribute living signifies the providential care of the personal God, instead of the blind, impersonal force, the nondescript agency, which, entombed in matter, is indifferent to the wants and progress of men. The design of Joshua is to inspire faith and courage in the hearts of his people. Hence he represents to them that God will demonstrate by a series of astonishing miracles that he dwells not in serene repose, careless of their good, but that he is alive to their interests, and will overrule the laws of nature to secure their triumph.

Without fail drive out A strong promise, yet not unconditional. When man fails, God refuses. See notes on Joshua 1:4-6.1.6.

Seven tribes are now enumerated, who shall, by the faithful co-operation of Israel with Jehovah, be driven from the Land of Promise. All of these tribes are of the same stock as the Phenicians. “It is startling to be reminded that the detested and accursed race, as it appears in the books of Joshua and Judges, is the same as that to which from Greece we look back as the parent of letters, of commerce, of civilization.” Stanley. See note on Acts 8:40. Their character, as portrayed by Gentile writers, coincides substantially with that delineated by the Scriptures their dusky complexion, their southern origin, their preservation of monarchical, federal, and aristocratic institutions, their superiority to surrounding nations in social arts, and their human sacrifices, licentious orgies, and multitudes of gods. In Genesis 15:19-1.15.21, ten nations are mentioned, whose land was promised to the seed of Abraham. It is impossible at present to tell the exact location of all these tribes. Some of them seem to have become divided, and, like the tribes of Dan and Manasseh in Israel, become settled in different parts of the land. The Canaanites were, strictly speaking, the lowlanders, who inhabited the lower tracts of Palestine, on the sea-coast and western bank of the Jordan. Numbers 13:29. But this term is often used in a wider sense, including all the tribes west of the Jordan and in Phenicia deriving their descent from Canaan. Genesis 10:15-1.10.18.

Hittites Or, Chittites. Of these Abraham purchased Machpelah, (Genesis 23:10,) and among them Esau married two wives. Genesis 26:34. See note on Joshua 1:4.

Hivites Or, the Chivite. The Hebrew name is always in the singular. This tribe dwelt at the foot of Hermon, (Joshua 11:3,) and “in mount Lebanon, from mount Baal-hermon unto the entering in of Hamath.” (Judges 3:3;) also at Gibeon (Joshua 9:7; Joshua 11:19) and at Shechem. Genesis 34:2. Gesenius and Furst explain the name as villagers. [Ewald explains it as mid-landers, and supposes that “they loved peaceful occupations and trading pursuits in well-ordered communities and fortified cities, and located themselves principally in districts the most suitable for peaceful civil life, and such as have from the earliest times possessed the most flourishing inland cities.”]

Perizzites Hebrews, rustics or countrymen. They inhabited the mountainous regions subsequently allotted to Judah and Ephraim, a part of which was afterwards called Samaria. Joshua 11:13; Joshua 17:15. They were engaged in agricultural pursuits. Hence in a wider sense the term Perizzites sometimes includes all the agricultural Canaanites, in distinction from those engaged in trade and commerce.


Girgashites The residence of this tribe is not distinctly specified in the Old Testament. Eusebius affirms that they dwelt east of the Jordan, and many writers incline to locate them east of lake Gennesaret. For here, according to Matthew 8:28, lay “the country of the Gergesenes,” identical with the name of this tribe, as given in the Septuagint and Vulgate versions.]

Amorites The mountaineers; the largest, most powerful, and wide-spread tribe of all. Therefore their name is sometimes taken in a wide sense, to include all the Canaanitish tribes, as in Joshua 24:18. A part of them dwelt in the mountainous tract afterwards allotted to Judah, and were subject to five kings. Joshua 10:5. Another part had possession of the region east of the Jordan, between the Arnon and the Jabbok. See note on Joshua 2:10. The Jebusites inhabited the city and neighbouring mountains of Jebus ancient Jerusalem. They were not expelled from the city till the time of David. 2Sa 5:6 ; 2 Samuel 5:8.

Verse 11

11. The ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth Here are four words grammatically dependent on one another, though slightly separated by the disjunctive accent. But this Hebrew accent by no means requires so strange a translation as that adopted by some scholars, which makes Lord of all the earth in apposition with ark of the covenant. This would be to make the ark of Jehovah identical with Jehovah. This claim of universal dominion for Jehovah, in contrast with the limited sway of the local gods of the pagans, not only enthrones Jehovah over all nations, but also over the forces of the material world. Perhaps no miracle of Jesus inspired such overwhelming awe in his disciples as his control of the winds and the waves.

Verse 12

12. [

Now therefore take you twelve men Emphasis is put on now. The election of these twelve men is to take place immediately, not after they cross the Jordan. The purpose for which they are selected is shown in Joshua 4:4-6.4.5, where it will be seen that a visible memorial of this miracle is provided for before it takes place. The men were designated at this time because they could not be elected while the people were crossing, and afterwards there would be too little time. Hence the assumption of some that this verse is brought in by mistake, being disconnected from the succeeding chapter, is utterly groundless. The men are mentioned before the moving of the ark because they were chosen then.]

Out of every tribe a man This was done that every tribe might be represented in the memorial, and have its accredited witness of the great event.

Verse 13

13. The Lord Hebrews, Jehovah.

The Lord of all the earth The efficient cause of the miracle.

Shall rest in the waters The Jordan had two, and in some places three, banks. See cut and note Matthew 3:6. At its flood it over-flowed the first and second banks, and covered the whole space between the terraces formed by the second and third banks. The waters on each side would be comparatively shallow. Here the priests were to stand or rest in the shoal water on the eastern bank until the waves receded, and the river’s channel was made bare; then they advanced into the midst of the channel of the Jordan, and there stood until all the people had crossed. Joshua 3:17.

The waters of Jordan shall be cut off from the waters that come down Grammatically, waters that come down is in apposition with waters of Jordan, and the word from, supplied in our English version, is incorrect and misleading. It is better to omit from, and substitute namely, and render, The waters of Jordan shall be cut off, namely, the waters that come down from above.

And they shall stand upon a heap Or, stand up, one mass. The word for heap is best understood by referring to its use in the description of the division of the Red Sea in Exodus 15:8, and in Psalms 78:13. By comparing these passages with Exodus 14:22, where it is said, “The waters were a wall unto them on their right hand and on their left,” we arrive at the conclusion that the phenomenon presented by the word heap was that of an upright mass of water held back by Omnipotence. We take the meaning to be that just above the crossing the waters were “congealed,” or solidified, as if dammed up by an invisible perpendicular wall across the channel, causing the waters above to overflow all the banks. Below the miraculous dam the channel ran dry to the Dead Sea. Compare note on Joshua 3:16. No natural agent was employed in the working of this miracle. In the division of the Red Sea the Lord caused a strong east wind to blow all night, when Moses stretched out his hand over the sea. Exodus 14:21. But in the passage of the Jordan “there was neither wind nor tide, to the agency of which the effect could be attributed; and if the river way actually passed, at a high stage of its waters, without boats or bridges, the evidence of the miracle was irresistible the current must have been suspended by supernatural power.” In the most degenerate periods of Jewish history this great miracle was never once questioned. So far as we know even the skeptical and materialistic Sadducees, who sifted the traditions of the elders with a destructiveness rivaling the German rationalists, never assailed this manifest token of supernatural power in their nation’s induction into the Land of Promise.

Verse 14

14. And the priests bearing the ark The word priests is the grammatical subject of the implied verb, were. [Joshua 3:14-6.3.16 should be rendered thus: And it came to pass while the people were removing from their tents to cross the Jordan, and the priests bearing the ark of the covenant were before the people, and as those bearing the ark came to the Jordan, and the feet of the priests bearing the ark were dipped in the edge of the waters, (and the Jordan was full over all its banks all the days of harvest,) then stood the waters which came down from above; they rose up, one mass, very far away, in Adam, the city which is beside Zarthan, and those [waters] which came down upon the Sea of the Wilderness, the Salt Sea, were entirely cut off, and the people crossed in front of Jericho.] 15. Overfloweth all his banks The Jordan flows in a deep valley about three quarters of a mile wide, and about fifty feet deeper than the wide plain (the Ghor) in which it lies. In this lower valley a narrow fringe of canes, intermingled with trees, runs along the edge of the river. In the ordinary swellings of Jordan the water overflows this strip of vegetation, driving the beasts of prey from their dens to ravage the surrounding country. Jeremiah 12:5. Ordinarily the lower terrace of the river was dry, and the people went unto the Jordan for wood. 2 Kings 6:2; also see note on Matthew 3:6. Dr. Robinson visited the Jordan on the 12th of May, and found the stream so swollen that the water reached to the very top of the banks, and in some places flowed a little over and covered the roots of the bushes. The river was then about forty yards wide, and from ten to twelve feet deep. But when the Israelites crossed the waters must have been higher, as it is distinctly said that they overflowed all the banks. The idea that the river was forded by this multitude is inadmissible. The fact that the spies swam the river, and that the Arabs of modern times pass over in the rainy season in a few places known only to themselves, can by no means disprove this striking and well-attested miracle.

All the time of harvest The Hebrew word for harvest, according to Gesenius, here designates the grain harvest, in distinction from the fruit harvest. We are informed by Robinson that the barley harvest precedes the wheat harvest about two weeks. At Jericho, in the depressed valley of the Jordan, the barley was cut in the last half of April, and the wheat in the first half of May, about three weeks earlier than on the mountains of Hebron and Carmel. The reason for the overflow at this time instead of the winter which, in that latitude, is the rainy season is because the snow on the Lebanon, “which nourishes and pours out the Jordan,” melts at that time with the increasing heat of the summer.

Blunt observes here some undesigned coincidences with the books of Moses, which clearly demonstrate the reality and truth of this narration. In Exodus 9:31-2.9.32, we read that the hail, which fell a few days before the first passover in Egypt, smote the flax and the barley; “for the barley was in the ear, and the flax was bolled. But the wheat and the rye were not smitten, for they were not grown up.” Now the Jordan was passed on the 10th of Abib, four days before the passover, when we find the barley harvesting going on in the Jordan valley. This small circumstance, trifling though it be, confirms the truth of the account.

So minute a coincidence between two histories would not have been designed by those perpetrating literary forgeries. Again, flax is cut or pulled when in the boll, as it was in Egypt when the hail cut it down. Forty years afterwards, in about the same latitude, at the same time of the year, Rahab covers the two spies to Jericho with stalks of flax which she had spread to cure on the roof. “How very minute is this incident! Could the historian have contemplated for one moment the effect which a trifle about a flax stalk might have in corroboration of his account of the passage of the Jordan? Is it possible for the most jealous examiner of human testimony to imagine that these flax stalks were fixed upon above all things in the world for the covering of the spies, because they were known to be ripe with the barley, and the barley was known to be ripe at the passover, and the passover was known to be the season when the Israelites set foot in Canaan?”

Verse 16

16. The city Adam, that is beside Zaretan It is impossible to locate these cities; no traces of them remain. The latter city is elsewhere more correctly spelled Zarthan. There is in the Hebrew a marginal reading which is generally preferred by the critics: “The waters stood and rose up upon one heap very far off by Adam, the city that is by the side of Zarthan.”

In accordance with this reading many commentators suppose that the entire channel of the Jordan was dry for many miles above the place of crossing, and that the waters were rolled back and piled up in a place many miles distant towards, or near, the Sea of Tiberias. The following is Stanley’s graphic description: “On the broken edge of the swollen stream the band of priests stood, with the ark on their shoulders. Suddenly the full bed of the Jordan was dried before them. High up the river, far, far away, in Adam, (that is, at a distance of thirty miles from the encampment,) the waters stood which ‘descended’ from the heights above; stood, and rose up as if gathered into a waterskin, as if in a barrier or heap, as if congealed, (LXX;) and those that descended toward the Sea of the Desert, the Salt Sea, failed, and were cut off. Thus the scene presented is of the ‘descending stream,’ (Jordan, etymologically, means the Descender,) not parted asunder, as we generally fancy, but, as the Psalm expresses it, ( Psalms 114:3,) ‘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.” To this theory of the miracle, which is also that of Dr. A. Clarke, we object. We see no reason for heaping up the waters in a far-distant place where there were no Hebrew witnesses.

Verse 17

17. The priests… stood firm on dry ground The priests stood above, near the wall of waters, and the people passed below. The ark, the symbol of the presence of Jehovah, was the instrument of the miracle, as the rod of Moses had been in the division of the Red Sea. Thus God honours his own ordinances.

Dry ground Not hard and dusty ground, but dry only in the sense of being drained of water. See note on Joshua 4:18.

All the Israelites passed… clean over Jordan The Jordan is now passed, and Canaan is attained! The forty years’ sojourn is closed, and for the first ecstatic moment the feet of the tribes are standing on the Promised Land! Their departure from Egypt and their arrival in Canaan are signalized by parallel miracles of sea and river. Both at their exit and at their entrance Jehovah leads them through a watery gate, by cleaving the waves asunder. Through all ages the Church has seen in the desert sojourn the symbol of our probationary life, and in the crossing the Jordan the symbol of death. Yet is there this memorable difference: the crossing the Jordan was to Israel the commencement of a new warfare; the transit of Christian death is into eternal repose.

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Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Joshua 3". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". 1874-1909.