Joshua 3
Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
And Joshua rose early in the morning; and they removed from Shittim, and came to Jordan, he and all the children of Israel, and lodged there before they passed over.
Ch. Joshua 3:1-13. The Preparation for the Passage of Jordan

1. they removed from Shittim] They descended from the upper terraces of the valley of Jordan, from “the Grove of Acacias,” to the level of the river.

to Jordan] Speaking strictly, Jordan has a threefold bank:—

(a)  The lowest, at the edge of the river, which in spring is frequently inundated, owing to the melting of the snow on Hermon;

(b)  The middle bank, which is covered with a rich vegetation;

(c)  An upper bank, which overhangs the river.

And it came to pass after three days, that the officers went through the host;
2. after three days] See above, Joshua 1:11.

the officers went through the host] Or, overseers: Vulg. præcones. The word denotes (i) the head man of the people (Exodus 5:6-19; Numbers 11:16); (ii) the magistrates in the towns (Deuteronomy 16:18; 1 Chronicles 23:4).

And they commanded the people, saying, When ye see the ark of the covenant of the LORD your God, and the priests the Levites bearing it, then ye shall remove from your place, and go after it.
3. the ark of the covenant] called sometimes (i) “the Ark of God,” 1 Samuel 3:3; sometimes (ii) “the Ark of the Testimony,” Exodus 25:22. Here it means “the Ark of the Covenant of Jehovah,” the Sacred Ark, an oblong chest of acacia wood, overlaid with the purest gold within and without, 2½ cubits in length, 1½ in breadth, 1½ in height. It contained the two stone tables, on both sides of which the Decalogue had been inscribed. Round the top ran a crown or wreath of pure gold, and upon it was the Mercy Seat, at either end of which were two golden Cherubim, with outspread wings and faces turned towards each other, and eyes bent downwards, as though desirous to look into its mysteries (1 Peter 1:12).

and go after it] In the wilderness the Pillar of Cloud had led the way, now the Ark of the Covenant takes its place.

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.
4. there shall be a space] Partly for the sake of reverence, partly that it might be observed and marked as it led the way.

two thousand cubits] a Sabbath day’s journey (Acts 1:12) = 3000 feet.

And Joshua said unto the people, Sanctify yourselves: for to morrow the LORD will do wonders among you.
5. Sanctify yourselves] Compare the instructions of Moses before the giving of the Law (Exodus 19:10-15). This would consist partly in ceremonial purification, partly in turning to the Lord in a spirit of expectant faith in “the wonders” which “the Lord would do” amongst them. Wyclif renders the verse: “Be ye hallowid; forsothe to morrowe the Lord shall do among yow marveyls.”

to morrow] the tenth of Nisan (Joshua 4:19), the anniversary of the day on which forty years before the Israelites had “taken to them” (Exodus 12:3) “every man a lamb” as a Paschal victim.

And Joshua spake unto the priests, saying, Take up the ark of the covenant, and pass over before the people. And they took up the ark of the covenant, and went before the people.
6. And they took up] i.e. on the day following.

And the LORD 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.
And thou shalt command the priests that bear the ark of the covenant, saying, When ye are come to the brink of the water of Jordan, ye shall stand still in Jordan.
And Joshua said unto the children of Israel, Come hither, and hear the words of the LORD your God.
9. And Joshua said] Joshua 3:9-13 contain the substance of an address to a solemn assembly of the people, in which a fuller explanation is given of what has been stated generally in Joshua 3:7-8.

And Joshua said, Hereby ye shall know that the living God is among you, and that he will without fail drive out from before you the Canaanites, and the Hittites, and the Hivites, and the Perizzites, and the Girgashites, and the Amorites, and the Jebusites.
10. the living God] Comp. Deuteronomy 5:26, “For who is there of all flesh, that hath heard the voice of the living God?” This title is applied to God to indicate that He is not dead, like the “lying vanities” of heathenism (Leviticus 19:4; Deuteronomy 32:21; Jonah 2:8), but the source of all life.

the Canaanites] Seven nations are here enumerated, as also, though in varying order, in Deuteronomy 7:1; Joshua 9:1; Joshua 11:3; Joshua 24:11.

(i)  The Canaanites (Deuteronomy 1:7), or “Lowlanders” properly so called, occupied (a) the sea-coast as far north as Dan; (b) a considerable portion of the plain of Esdraelon; and (c) of the Valley of the Jordan (Numbers 13:29).

(ii)  The Hittites, descended from Heth, the second son of Canaan, and settled in the time of Abraham in and round Hebron (Genesis 23:19; Genesis 25:9), then called Kirjath-Arba. At that time the tribe was as yet but small and not important enough to be noticed beside the “Canaanite” and the “Perizzite.” Afterwards they acquired greater strength, and took their place as equal allies with the other nations.

(iii)  The Hivites are omitted (a) in the first enumeration of the nations, who, at the time of the call of Abraham, occupied the Promised Land (Genesis 15:19-21); (b) in the report of the spies (Numbers 13:29). We first hear of them when Jacob returned to Canaan (Genesis 34:2). A peaceful and commercial people (Genesis 34:10; Genesis 34:23; Genesis 34:28-29), they were mainly located “under Hermon, in the land of Mizpeh” (Joshua 11:3), in “mount Lebanon, from mount Baal-hermon unto the entering in of Hamath” (Jdg 3:3; 2 Samuel 24:7).

(iv)  The Perizzites, which word is thought to denote “rustics,” “dwellers in the open, unwalled towns,” were located partly in the south (Jdg 1:4-5), partly in the forest country “on the western flanks of mount Carmel.”

(v)  The Girgashites are conjectured to have been a large family of the Hivites, as they are omitted in nine out of the ten places in which the nations or families of Canaan are mentioned, while in the tenth they are mentioned and the Hivites omitted. They are supposed to have been settled in that part of the country which lay to the east of the Lake of Gennesareth.

(vi)  The Amorites, or “Mountaineers,” occupied (Genesis 14:7) the barren heights west of the Dead Sea, and stretched west to Hebron (Genesis 13:18; Genesis 14:13); thence, tempted probably by the high tablelands on the east, they crossed the Jordan, and occupied the country from the Arnon to the Jabbok (Numbers 21:13; Numbers 21:26). In the genealogical table of Genesis 10 “the Amorite” is given as the fourth son of Canaan.

(vii)  The Jebusites are uniformly placed last in the formula, by which the Promised Land is often designated. They were a mountain tribe, and occupied the strong fortress of Jebus (Jerusalem).

Behold, the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth passeth over before you into Jordan.
11. the Lord of all the earth] A significant title of the Most High, at a time when the conquest of the Land was contemplated.

Now therefore take you twelve men out of the tribes of Israel, out of every tribe a man.
And it shall come to pass, as soon as the soles of the feet of the priests that bear the ark of the LORD, the Lord of all the earth, shall rest in the waters of Jordan, that the waters of Jordan shall be cut off from the waters that come down from above; and they shall stand upon an heap.
13. shall be cut off] See below, Joshua 3:16.

And it came to pass, when the people removed from their tents, to pass over Jordan, and the priests bearing the ark of the covenant before the people;
14–17. Jordan turned backwards

14. when the people removed] i.e. on the 10th day of Abib or Nisan, the same month they before witnessed the departure from Egypt, corresponding to our April or May.

And as they that bare the ark were come unto Jordan, and the feet of the priests that bare the ark were dipped in the brim of the water, (for Jordan overfloweth all his banks all the time of harvest,)
15. for Jordan overfloweth all his banks all the time of harvest] In the deeply sunken, tropical valley of the Jordan, the harvest had already commenced, and the snow on Hermon having begun to melt, the “yellow” water of the river stood high and had overflowed its lower bank. “We were on the banks of the Jordan.… Muddy, swollen, and turbid, the stream was far too formidable and rapid for the most adventurous to attempt their intended bathe.… Had we arrived a few days sooner, we could not have approached the river at all; for it had been overflowing its banks and filling the lower level, to which we had descended from the plain, and which was still a deep slimy ooze. Under our tree, however, the drift had formed a sandbank, on which we could sit. By measurement we found that the river had lately been fourteen feet higher than its present margin, and yet it was still many feet above its ordinary level.” Tristram’s Land of Israel, p. 223.

Observe: (a) The feet of the priests were dipped in the brim of the water. This is explained by the season being that of a periodical inundation of the Jordan, which overflowed its banks all the time of harvest;

(b) The barley harvest is here meant, for the wheat harvest was not fully completed till Pentecost, or fifty days later in the year, and the Israelites crossed the Jordan on the 10th day of Abib or Nisan, i.e. four days before the Passover;

(c) Now in Exodus we learn that at the Plague of Hail, which was but a day or two before the Passover, “the flax and the barley were smitten, for the barley was in the ear and the flax was boiled. But the wheat and the rye were not smitten, for they were not grown up;”

(d) It would seem then that the flax and the barley were crops which ripened about the same time in Egypt, and as the climate of Canaan did not differ materially from that of Egypt, especially in the sunken Ghôr of the Jordan, this was, no doubt, the case in Canaan too; there also these two crops would come in at the same time, and this also must have been the season of the flax harvest;

(e) Now Rahab hid the spies in the stalks of flax (Joshua 2:6) laid on the roof doubtless to steep and season. Here we have a strikingly undesigned coincidence in the passage of the Israelites at the time of harvest, and that the barley harvest, which coincides with the Passover, and the ripening of the flax harvest. Blunt’s Undesigned Coincidences, pp. 105–107.

That the waters which came down from above stood and rose up upon an heap very far from the city Adam, that is beside Zaretan: and those that came down toward the sea of the plain, even the salt sea, failed, and were cut off: and the people passed over right against Jericho.
16. the waters which came down from above] Let us try to realise the scene;—

(a)  At a distance of about 2000 cubits, or a mile, from the river stood the great mass of the army (Joshua 3:4).

(b)  On the broken edge of the river were the priests bearing on their shoulders the sacred Ark;

(c)  As soon as the feet of the priests were “dipped in the brim of the water,” the flow of the stream was arrested;

(d)  Far up, beyond where they stood, at the city of Adam, that is beside Zaretan, about 30 miles from the place where the host was encamped, the waters which rushed down from above “stood and rose upon an heap,” drawn up by the Divine Hand;

(e)  At the same moment the waters that came down toward the Salt Sea “failed and were cut off” (Joshua 3:16), and thus from north to south the waters were “driven backwards” (Psalm 114:3), and the dry river-bed was exposed to view.

from the city Adam] is a correction of the text. The Hebrew has, at the city Adam, which was situated, it is thought, where now we find the ford Damieh with remains of a bridge of the Roman period (Van de Velde, Narrative, 11. 322).

beside Zaretan] Or, more correctly, Zarthan (1 Kings 4:12; 1 Kings 7:46), the situation of which is unknown, but it is thought to have been near Succoth, at the mouth of the Jabbok (1 Kings 7:46). By some it has been identified with the modern Surtabeh, an isolated hill some 17 miles above Jericho, where high rocks compress the Jordan Valley within its narrowest limits, and seem almost to throw a barrier across it.

the sea of the plain] This name, which also occurs in Deuteronomy 3:17; Deuteronomy 4:49, is used for the Dead Sea, the waters of which are clear, but strongly tinctured with salt, and fatal to fish.

failed] “The scene presented is of the descending stream,’ not ‘parted asunder,’ as we generally fancy, but as the Psalm (Psalm 114:3) expresses it, ‘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, imbedded in the soft bottom; or the shingly pebbles drifted along the course of the channel.” Stanley’s Lectures, p. 232.

And the priests that bare the ark of the covenant of the LORD stood firm on dry ground in the midst of Jordan, and all the Israelites passed over on dry ground, until all the people were passed clean over Jordan.
17. all the Israelites passed over] Where the passage exactly took place cannot now be determined, but the typical significance of the narrative is very impressive. Whether we consider (i) the solemn inauguration of Joshua to his office; or (ii) his attestation by the waters of the Jordan; or (iii) the choice of twelve men, one from each tribe, to be the bearers of the twelve stones, and the builders of the monument founded therewith (1 Corinthians 3:10; Revelation 21:14), we see types of the other “Joshua,” Who was solemnly inaugurated and divinely attested by the rushing waters of the same stream, and Who ordained His twelve Apostles to be the Pillars of His Church, and the builders of the Spiritual Temple. See above, Introduction, p. 25.

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