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Bible Commentaries

Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible
Joshua 3

 

 

Introduction

Joshua 3:1 to Joshua 5:1. The Crossing of Jordan.—Here we begin to meet with more serious difficulties. The old tradition was that after the Israelites had crossed the Jordan, they commemorated the event by the erection of twelve stones. But this simple narrative existed in two recensions, which differed as to the destination of these memorial stones. According to one account, they were to be placed in the midst of the river; according to the other, they were to be set up on the W. side of the Jordan in the place where the army encamped for the night. Deuteronomic additions have been made to these narratives, i.e. additions of a religious colouring as in Joshua 3:7, "And Yahweh 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 be with thee." In spite of this, ch. 3 on the whole presents an intelligible narrative if the first clause of Joshua 3:4, which speaks of the distance to be maintained between the Ark and the people, is made a parenthesis. It is probably an insertion in the spirit of the priestly writers, emphasizing the sacred character of the Ark in accordance with Numbers 4:15 ff. As the text stands, we must take Joshua 3:5 as spoken the day before Joshua 3:6, and in Joshua 3:6 insert some such phrase as "and on the morrow." We must also delete Joshua 3:12, which has no connexion with what precedes or follows. With these alterations, the narrative is straightforward. In ch. 4, however, we get into hopeless confusion. In Joshua 4:1 the people have completely passed over Jordan. Then twelve men are commanded to go back and fetch twelve stones from the bed of the river. But in Joshua 4:4 f. the twelve men are ordered to pass over before the Ark, and the narrative of the crossing which we have already had at the end of ch. 3 is repeated down to Joshua 4:19.

Moreover, instead of the two accounts of the stones which we expect in the two narratives, there are, practically, three. One tells us quite plainly that twelve stones were taken out of the midst of the river, and the second just as plainly says that twelve stones were set up in the midst of the river; while the account we should naturally expect, that twelve stones were taken across the river from one side to another, only appears if we take the last half of Joshua 3:3 by itself; viz. the words, "And carry them over with you and put them in the lodging place where ye shall lodge to-night." These words, taken alone, certainly seem to speak of the transference of stones from one side of the river to the other. Further, the four words previous to those just quoted can be translated as follows: "Prepare (hâkin) twelve stones (and carry them over," etc.), a command which fits in with the rest of the verse. But by the words in the first part of Joshua 3:3, which speak of taking stones out of the river, the purport of this command is entirely altered. It is here maintained that all the references to stones being taken out of the bed of the river are insertions which arose from a misunderstanding of Joshua 3:5. But it will be asked—Does not Joshua 3:5 speak of taking up stones from the river? At first sight it does; but the command, "Cross over before the ark into Jordan and take every man of you a stone upon his shoulder," is given to the men who are already on the bank of the river where the stones are in readiness, so that the taking up of the stones would be the first thing to be done. But as the words "lift up the stones" came after the words "cross over before the ark," it was thought that the action corresponded with this order; that the stones were lifted up after the men had marched into the bed of the river; hence arose the erroneous idea that stones were taken up out of the bed of the river, after the twelve men had marched into position before the Ark. This led first to the insertion of the words, "out of the midst of Jordan" in Joshua 3:8, and afterwards to another insertion at the beginning of Joshua 3:3.

When the text has been cleared in this way, ch. 4 gives a second account of the crossing, with the usual additions of the Deuteronomist. Joshua 4:9 is out of place unless it is explained, as the Greek translation does, by the insertion of the word "other" before the words "twelve stones."


Verses 1-17

Joshua 3:1 to Joshua 5:1. The Crossing of Jordan.—Here we begin to meet with more serious difficulties. The old tradition was that after the Israelites had crossed the Jordan, they commemorated the event by the erection of twelve stones. But this simple narrative existed in two recensions, which differed as to the destination of these memorial stones. According to one account, they were to be placed in the midst of the river; according to the other, they were to be set up on the W. side of the Jordan in the place where the army encamped for the night. Deuteronomic additions have been made to these narratives, i.e. additions of a religious colouring as in Joshua 3:7, "And Yahweh 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 be with thee." In spite of this, ch. 3 on the whole presents an intelligible narrative if the first clause of Joshua 3:4, which speaks of the distance to be maintained between the Ark and the people, is made a parenthesis. It is probably an insertion in the spirit of the priestly writers, emphasizing the sacred character of the Ark in accordance with Numbers 4:15 ff. As the text stands, we must take Joshua 3:5 as spoken the day before Joshua 3:6, and in Joshua 3:6 insert some such phrase as "and on the morrow." We must also delete Joshua 3:12, which has no connexion with what precedes or follows. With these alterations, the narrative is straightforward. In ch. 4, however, we get into hopeless confusion. In Joshua 4:1 the people have completely passed over Jordan. Then twelve men are commanded to go back and fetch twelve stones from the bed of the river. But in Joshua 4:4 f. the twelve men are ordered to pass over before the Ark, and the narrative of the crossing which we have already had at the end of ch. 3 is repeated down to Joshua 4:19.

Moreover, instead of the two accounts of the stones which we expect in the two narratives, there are, practically, three. One tells us quite plainly that twelve stones were taken out of the midst of the river, and the second just as plainly says that twelve stones were set up in the midst of the river; while the account we should naturally expect, that twelve stones were taken across the river from one side to another, only appears if we take the last half of Joshua 3:3 by itself; viz. the words, "And carry them over with you and put them in the lodging place where ye shall lodge to-night." These words, taken alone, certainly seem to speak of the transference of stones from one side of the river to the other. Further, the four words previous to those just quoted can be translated as follows: "Prepare (hâkin) twelve stones (and carry them over," etc.), a command which fits in with the rest of the verse. But by the words in the first part of Joshua 3:3, which speak of taking stones out of the river, the purport of this command is entirely altered. It is here maintained that all the references to stones being taken out of the bed of the river are insertions which arose from a misunderstanding of Joshua 3:5. But it will be asked—Does not Joshua 3:5 speak of taking up stones from the river? At first sight it does; but the command, "Cross over before the ark into Jordan and take every man of you a stone upon his shoulder," is given to the men who are already on the bank of the river where the stones are in readiness, so that the taking up of the stones would be the first thing to be done. But as the words "lift up the stones" came after the words "cross over before the ark," it was thought that the action corresponded with this order; that the stones were lifted up after the men had marched into the bed of the river; hence arose the erroneous idea that stones were taken up out of the bed of the river, after the twelve men had marched into position before the Ark. This led first to the insertion of the words, "out of the midst of Jordan" in Joshua 3:8, and afterwards to another insertion at the beginning of Joshua 3:3.

When the text has been cleared in this way, ch. 4 gives a second account of the crossing, with the usual additions of the Deuteronomist. Joshua 4:9 is out of place unless it is explained, as the Greek translation does, by the insertion of the word "other" before the words "twelve stones."

Joshua 4:3. The priests the Levites: i.e. the Levitical priests. The term is Deuteronomic. In Dt. the whole tribe of Levi, not the descendants of Aaron merely, exercise priestly functions. Cf. Deuteronomy 18:1.

Joshua 4:4. The sanctity of the Ark was such that the people must keep far from it, lest Yahweh should "break forth upon them." Cf. 1 Samuel 5:3*, 1 Samuel 6:19 f, 2 Samuel 6:6-8.—A. S. P.]

Joshua 4:5. Sanctify yourselves.—War was a sacred act among the Israelites, for which they prepared, as for any other sacred function, by ceremonial purification (p. 99 and see W. R. Smith, RS2, p. 455).

[Joshua 4:16. A remarkable parallel is quoted by Clermont Ganneau (see article by C. M. Watson, Pal. Expl. Fund Quarterly, 1895, pp. 253 ff. See also HDB, ii. p. 265, EBi, cols. 2399f.) from the Arabic chronicler Nowairi. He describes how, in December 1267, the Jordan was dammed for several hours in this neighbourhood by a landslip. Smaller landslips, in fact, still occur in the district.—A. S. P.]

Joshua 4:20. The words "out of Jordan" should be "from Jordan."

 


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Bibliography Information
Peake, Arthur. "Commentary on Joshua 3:4". "Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pfc/joshua-3.html. 1919.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, October 22nd, 2019
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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