Verse-by-Verse Bible Commentary

Joshua 3:4

However, there shall be between you and it a distance of about 2,000 cubits by measure. Do not come near it, that you may know the way by which you shall go, for you have not passed this way before."
New American Standard Version

Bible Study Resources

Concordances:
Nave's Topical Bible - Tabernacle;   Scofield Reference Index - Miracles;   Torrey's Topical Textbook - Jordan, the River;  
Dictionaries:
American Tract Society Bible Dictionary - Ark of the Covenant;   Easton Bible Dictionary - Sabbath Day's Journey;   Fausset Bible Dictionary - Sabbath;   Holman Bible Dictionary - Joshua, the Book of;   Presence of God;   Sabbath Day's Journey;   Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible - Jericho;   Joshua;   Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament - Sabbath ;   Travel (2);   Morrish Bible Dictionary - Ark of God;   People's Dictionary of the Bible - Ark;   Journeyings of israel from egypt to canaan;   Lachish;   Smith Bible Dictionary - Sabbath-Day's Journey;  
Encyclopedias:
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia - Here;   Sabbath Day's Journey;   The Jewish Encyclopedia - Sabbath;  

Adam Clarke Commentary

About two thousand cubits - This distance they were to keep,

  1. For the greater respect, because the presence of the ark was the symbol and pledge of the Divine presence.
2. That the ark, which was to be their pilot over these waters, might be the more conspicuous which it could not have been had the people crowded upon it.

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Clarke, Adam. "Commentary on Joshua 3:4". "The Adam Clarke Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/acc/joshua-3.html. 1832.

Albert Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible

The ark, which was since the making of the covenant the special shrine and seat of God‘s presence, went before to show the people that God, through its medium, was their leader. They were to follow at a distance that they might the better observe and mark how the miracle was accomplished. This they would do to the greatest advantage while coming down the heights, the ark going on before them into the ravine.

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Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Joshua 3:4". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bnb/joshua-3.html. 1870.

John Gill's Exposition of the Whole Bible

Yet there shall be a space between you and it,.... The ark; the Keri or marginal reading is, "between you and them"; the priests that bear it: hence sprung a fiction among the Jews, that there were two arks, the ark of the Shechinah or divine Majesty, and the ark of Joseph, in which his bones were put, which went togetherF17T. Bab. Sotah, fol. 13. 1. ; which Jarchi, Kimchi, and Abarbinel take notice of, but has no foundation in the text:

about two thousand cubits by measure; by a certain well known measure, that of a common cubit; for the "caph" we render "about" is a note of truth, reality, and certainty, and designs the exact precise measure here given: this difference was to be observed, partly in reverence to the ark, the symbol of the divine Presence; Christ is to be reverenced by his people, and so his word and ordinances; and there is a reverence and respect due to his ministers and priests that bear the ark; as also that they might the better see the ark and go after it, as Ben Gersom; or the way in which they should go, as is suggested in the following clause; and likewise have the better view of the greatness of the miracle, as Abarbinel; the dividing of the waters of Jordan as soon as the ark came to it, and while it was in it: the Jews conclude from hence that this was the measure of ground they may go on a sabbath day, and no further, called a sabbath day's journey, Acts 1:12,

come not near unto it, that ye may know the way by which ye must go; over Jordan into Canaan's land; for being at some distance from them they could better discern that and the way he directed them to walk in: Christ the antitype of the ark is the way to the heavenly Canaan, and his ministers point out the right way of salvation by him, in the ministration of the word, by attending to which the way is seen and known in which men must go:

for ye have not passed this way heretofore; a path indeed untrodden by any; neither they nor any other ever went into Canaan the way they were now going, through the river Jordan as on dry land: the way to heaven by Christ is only revealed in the Gospel, and only trodden by believers in him, and especially the way to glory through Jordan's river; or death is an untrodden path, which, though the way of all flesh, is a trackless path, and gone through, but once, and those who pass it have never before gone that way.

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The New John Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible Modernised and adapted for the computer by Larry Pierce of Online Bible. All Rights Reserved, Larry Pierce, Winterbourne, Ontario.
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Bibliographical Information
Gill, John. "Commentary on Joshua 3:4". "The New John Gill Exposition of the Entire Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/joshua-3.html. 1999.

Hawker's Poor Man's Commentary

The distance pointed out is striking. I do not think as some have supposed, that the distance ordered between the ark and the people, was that the multitude which followed might not crowd upon one another, so as to prevent the whole from seeing. But I rather think that there was somewhat typical and figurative in it. Under the old dispensation, the people were prohibited from coming nigh. And this was meant to shadow forth the difference between the law and the gospel. See Hebrews 12:18-19. But in the gospel-state, we that were afar off are brought nigh by the blood of Jesus. Hebrews 10:21-22. There is somewhat very striking in this command. Two thousand cubits was almost half a mile. The priests therefore in the face of an enemy ' s country were to pass over unarmed, and at a distance from the main body of the army. But then they had the ark of God's presence with them. Yes, dearest Jesus! where thou art an host of foes cannot make us fear. I would have the Reader remark with me, how much the passing of Jordan represented the river of death. Of this it may be also said to every believer, "Ye have not passed this way heretofore." Oh! for the ark of the covenant of God, or which is the same thing, Jesus whom that ark represented, to be with me when I pass the dark valley; for then shall I fear no ill while thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Psalms 23:4; Isaiah 43:2.

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Hawker, Robert, D.D. "Commentary on Joshua 3:4". "Hawker's Poor Man's Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pmc/joshua-3.html. 1828.

Wesley's Explanatory Notes

Yet 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.

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.

Near unto it — Partly from the respect they should bear to the ark; but chiefly, that the ark marching so far before you into the river, and standing still there 'till you pass over, may give you the greater assurance of your safe passage.

Ye have not passed this way heretofore — While we are here, we must expect unusual events, to pathways that we have not passed before: and much more when we go hence, when we pass thro' the valley of the shadow of death. But if we have the assurance of God's presence, what have we to fear?

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Wesley, John. "Commentary on Joshua 3:4". "John Wesley's Explanatory Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/wen/joshua-3.html. 1765.

John Trapp Complete Commentary

Joshua 3:4 Yet 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.

Ver. 4. Yet there shall be a space.] That you may know the distance, and show your reverence. See Exodus 19:12. As also,

That you may know the way by which you must go,] i.e., Ut ignari vice tuto vado transire possitis, that ye may have a sure and safe passage through the river discovered unto you.

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Trapp, John. "Commentary on Joshua 3:4". John Trapp Complete Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jtc/joshua-3.html. 1865-1868.

Sermon Bible Commentary

Joshua 3:4

I. "Ye have not passed this way heretofore." We are all continually entering upon new paths, which afterwards turn out to be old ones in a new form. Religious experience moves by crises. Israel had not many years before gone across this same desert, and been abruptly turned back to Sinai again, because of rebelliousness in their will. Now they were to go to Canaan, but by another route altogether. We are always beginning new experiences. But we should remember that in the year to come we shall find ourselves travelling over much the same road as last year. There will not be anything extraordinarily surprising. Differences will be in the details.

II. "Ye have not passed this way heretofore." Then, in the fresh chance God is giving, He offers Himself to be our Helper and Friend. We failed last year. The chances of life are still open. Our parts may be played over again.

III. "Ye have not passed this way heretofore." Then surely the gifts of God's love have not been appropriated by others nor exhausted by ourselves.

IV. "Ye have not passed this way heretofore;" but it is well to remember that the ark has not passed this way heretofore either. The Israelites were to accept God's guidance implicitly. They were to bear the ark to the front and follow it without any question. It makes life a new thing to put the ark on before it.

V. "Ye have not passed this way heretofore." Now, with the ark in front, "the joy of the Lord is your strength."

C. S. Robinson, Sermons on Neglected Texts, p. 224.


I. "Ye have not passed this way heretofore." Therefore do not go until you be assured of the Divine presence and protection.

II. "Ye have not passed this way heretofore." It is quite right, consequently, to take new ways and untried paths in life.

III. "Ye have not passed this way heretofore." There are some particulars in which this must be true even of the least eventful life.

IV. "Ye have not passed this way heretofore," The suggestion is not human, but Divine. It is God Himself that proposes to guide and defend the lives of men.

Parker, The Ark of God, p. 26.


"Ye have not passed this way heretofore." The vista of the bygone years was never so long as it is to-day. Time never carried such a burden of events on his shoulders. Changes have taken place in society and in ourselves, and these changes are sure to go on during the coming year. Take these watchwords for the year, notes of the life we must aim to live as the days go by.

I. Vigilance. Have the senses well exercised and ready for quick and true discernment of men and things. Without something of this sleepless vigilance, without the "inevitable eye," we shall lose much of what is in the year, and in the year for us.

II. Promptitude. We should watch for occasions, that we may seize them; for opportunities, that we may improve them; for God in His manifold revealings and comings to us, that we may receive Him as our God.

III. Courage will often be needed to do what the hand finds to do. The possession and cultivation of moral courage therefore is another very necessary preparation for this way that we have not passed heretofore.

IV. Gentleness is a good word to put under the shelter of courage, and a good thing to put among the preparations for the unknown year.

V. We should be poorly furnished for the way without filial confidence, which will easily, when occasion comes, pass into resignation.

VI. Finally, whatever comes, there will always be, not only need and occasion, but ground and reason, for serene, invincible hopefulness. "Greater is He that is in us than he that is in the world."

A. Raleigh, The Way to the City, p. 350 (see also Congregationalist, vol. i., p. 7).


References: Joshua 3:4.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xviii., No. 1057; Preacher's Monthly, vol. vii., p. 5; M. Nicholson, Redeeming the Time, p. 217; Outline Sermons for Children, p. 23; Old Testament Outlines, pp. 56, 59. Joshua 3:5.—E. B. Pusey, Sermons from Advent to Whitsuntide, 1848, p. 35. 3:7-4:15.—Clergyman's Magazine, vol. iv., p. 277. Joshua 3:9.—Parker, vol. v., p. 274. Joshua 3:11.—S. Baring-Gould, One Hundred Sermon Sketches, p. 144. Joshua 3:17.—Bishop Woodford, Sermons on Subjects from the Old Testament, p. 40. 3—Parker, vol. v., pp. 88, 97. Joshua 4:6, Joshua 4:7.—Newman Hall, Sunday Magazine, 1865, p. 389. Joshua 4:9.—Expositor, 1st series, vol. viii., pp. 159, 315; H. Macmillan, The Olive Leaf, p. 301. Joshua 4:15, Joshua 4:24.—Parker, vol. v., p. 116. Joshua 4:23.—Ibid., p. 275. 4—Ibid., p. 107. Joshua 5:11.—W. Harris, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xiv., p. 384. Joshua 5:12.—H. Macmillan, Two Worlds are Ours, p. 177 (see also Sunday Magazine, 1879, p. 125); Spurgeon, Morning by Morning, p. 1; Preacher's Monthly, vol. vi., p. 183; Homiletic Magazine, vol. xii., p. 257; J. M. Neale, Sermons for the Church Year, vol. i., p. 58.



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Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Joshua 3:4". "Sermon Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/sbc/joshua-3.html.

Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible

Ver. 4. There shall be a space, &c.— The ark here supplying, in some measure, the place of the miraculous cloud which had guided the Israelites in their several encampments, and which, for that purpose, had always marched before them; it was necessary that it should be carried at the head of the people. But, on the other hand, whereas in the common marches there was little space between the ark and the body of the army, God, on this occasion, required the Israelites to leave betwixt it and the head of their camp a distance of about 2000 cubits, i.e. 3500 feet, more or less; for, in a great army, the marshalling can hardly be perfect. But wherefore this disposition? Why this distance between the ark and the camp of the Israelites? The reason is evident from the words immediately following: it was in order that the Israelites might know the way, &c. in order that it might serve as a signal to the whole army, instead of the miraculous pillar, which then probably ceased to conduct the Israelites in their marches. We may also add two other reasons: First, That God was desirous it should appear in a sensible manner to all Israel, that the sacred symbol of his presence had no need of a guard; that it could run no risk from enemies, at what distance soever from the army; and, consequently, that the Israelites themselves had nothing to apprehend under so high a protection. Secondly, That, by this arrangement, God chose to remove from the Israelites every pretence for looking closely into this sacred ark, which, most probably, was uncovered in the passage over Jordan; whereas in common marches it was covered with several veils. Calmet observes, that the words, come not near unto it, are not in the Hebrew; and he confines the sense of the words addressed by Joshua to the Israelites to this: "Be cautious of approaching the ark; follow it afar off, without deviating from the way which it will shew you: for it goes before to open you a new and extraordinary road," &c.

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Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Joshua 3:4". Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tcc/joshua-3.html. 1801-1803.

Matthew Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible

Two thousand cubits make a thousand yards, and 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 most were farther from it, and their sabbath day’s journey was considerably longer.

Come not near unto it; partly from the reverent respect they should bear to the ark; and partly for the following reason.

That ye may know the way by which ye must go; that the ark marching so far before you into the river, and standing still there till you pass over, may give you the greater assurance of your safe passage.

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Poole, Matthew, "Commentary on Joshua 3:4". Matthew Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/mpc/joshua-3.html. 1685.

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible

Yet there shall be a space between you and it, about two thousand cubits by measure, come not near it, that you may know the way by which you must go, for you have not crossed over this way up to now.”

This suggests that the Ark was uncovered, which was why it was being borne by the priests (see Numbers 4). Compare the similar sized gap around Levitical cities (Numbers 35:5). Note that the gap was between the Ark and the people. It would not have been empty for it would contain all the priests going ahead, followed by the Levites, marching ahead of the people. This was similar to the Tabernacle where the priests could enter the Holy Place, and the Levites the outer court, forbidden to the people.

The gap would have been maintained while crossing the Jordan with the people crossing on both sides, either one or two thousand cubits away from the Ark depending on whether we interpret the two thousand cubits as the total gap (one thousand on each side), or as two thousand in both sides. In the case of the Levitical cities the former appears to be the case.

The priests, and even possibly the Levites, formed a protective wall around the Ark. The standard cubit was about Joshua 17:5 inches (just over half a metre). The purpose of the Ark going ahead was to show them the route to take over the Jordan. ‘Passed this way’ or ‘crossed over this way’ is a verb largely used in this narrative of crossing the Jordan (Joshua 2:23; Joshua 3:1; Joshua 3:6; Joshua 3:11; Joshua 3:14; Joshua 3:16-17). The point here is that they had never experienced YHWH’s unique power in the way that it would be revealed here as they crossed over into a land they had never seen.

In view of the fact that this gap is not mentioned in the Law, and is not mentioned elsewhere, we are justified in seeing it as a unique requirement only for this occasion. The reason for it would seem to be because of the unique revelation of His power to be given here. He wanted them to be aware that He was there, invisibly but certainly, thus rendering the area around the Ark ‘holy’. This was also one reason why they had to sanctify themselves before the event. He was about to reveal Himself as Lord of all the earth by His power expressed in the stopping of the Jordan. During this manifestation of power, this ‘doing of wonders’, this personal revelation of His presence, none must be near, except for the priests and the Levites. God wanted His people to remember this occasion vividly and to be aware that He had been there in numinous power.

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Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Joshua 3:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/joshua-3.html. 2013.

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

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.

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Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Joshua 3:4". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/whe/joshua-3.html. 1874-1909.

Joseph Benson's Commentary of the Old and New Testaments

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.

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Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Joshua 3:4". Joseph Benson's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/rbc/joshua-3.html. 1857.

George Haydock's Catholic Bible Commentary

Space of. Hebrew adds, "about...by measure." It was not easy to observe the exact distance in the march. This was prescribed both to keep the people at a respectful distance, and also to enable them to see which way they were to proceed. When the priests stood in the bed of the river, the waters rose up like a firm wall on the north side, while those to the south flowed away into the lake of Sodom, leaving about 16 miles open for the army of Israel to pass on dry land. The soldiers did not approach within 600 paces of the ark. --- Before. This insinuated that they would pass over in a miraculous manner; though perhaps Josue did not know by what means God would enable them to cross (Calmet) the overflowing waters. Josephus only seems to intimate that they abated suddenly, so that they might be forded, &c. He also greatly diminishes or destroys the miracle performed at the passage of the Red Sea. Yet here he acknowledges a sort of "prodigy in the waters being restrained," and resuming their usual course as soon as the priests had left the channel of the river. --- And take, &c. Hebrew places these words at the beginning of the sentence, after cubits. (Haydock)

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Haydock, George Leo. "Commentary on Joshua 3:4". "George Haydock's Catholic Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/hcc/joshua-3.html. 1859.

E.W. Bullinger's Companion Bible Notes

a space. This is very significant. Compare Exodus 19:12, Exodus 13:22. Leviticus 10:3.

cubits. See App-51. About Joshua 1:5 miles.

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Bullinger, Ethelbert William. "Commentary on Joshua 3:4". "E.W. Bullinger's Companion bible Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bul/joshua-3.html. 1909-1922.

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged

Yet 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.

Yet there shall be a space between it and you. These instructions refer exclusively to the advance into the river. The distance which the people were to keep in the rear of the ark was nearly a mile: had they crowded too near the ark, the view would have been intercepted, and this intervening space, therefore, was ordered, that the chest containing the sacred symbols might be distinctly visible to all parts of the camp, and be recognized as their guide in the untrodden way.

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Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Joshua 3:4". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jfu/joshua-3.html. 1871-8.

Treasury of Scripture Knowledge

Yet 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.
a space
Exodus 3:5; 19:12; Psalms 89:7; Hebrews 12:28,29
heretofore
Heb. since yesterday and the third day.
Genesis 31:2; Exodus 4:10; 1 Chronicles 11:2; Isaiah 30:33; *marg:
Reciprocal: Exodus 19:23 - Set bounds;  Numbers 2:2 - far off;  Deuteronomy 19:4 - in time past;  Isaiah 42:16 - lead

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Torrey, R. A. "Commentary on Joshua 3:4". "The Treasury of Scripture Knowledge". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tsk/joshua-3.html.

Calvin's Commentary on the Bible

4.Yet there shall be a space, etc As the younger Levites, whose province it was to carry the ark, (Numbers 4:15) were strictly forbidden to touch it, or even to look at it, when uncovered, it is not wonderful that the common people were not allowed to approach within a considerable distance of it. The dignity of the ark, therefore, is declared, when the people are ordered to attest their veneration by leaving a long interval between themselves and it. And we know what happened to Uzzah, (2 Samuel 6:0) when seeing it shaken by restive oxen, he with inconsiderate zeal put forth his hand to support it. For although God invites us familiarly to himself, yet faithful trust so far from begetting security and boldness, is, on the contrary, always coupled with fear. In this way the ark of the covenant was, indeed, a strong and pleasant pledge of the divine favor, but, at the same time, had an awful majesty, well fitted to subdue carnal pride. This humility and modesty, moreover, had the effect of exercising their faith by preventing them from confining the grace of God within too narrow limits, and reminding them, that though they were far distant from the ark, the divine power was ever near.

In the end of the verse it is shown how necessary it was for them to be divinely guided by an unknown way; that anxiety and fear might keep them under the protection of the ark.

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Calvin, John. "Commentary on Joshua 3:4". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/cal/joshua-3.html. 1840-57.