Joshua 3:3
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.
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3:1-6 The Israelites came to Jordan in faith, having been told that they should pass it. In the way of duty, let us proceed as far as we can, and depend on the Lord. Joshua led them. Particular notice is taken of his early rising, as afterwards upon other occasions, which shows how little he sought his own ease. Those who would bring great things to pass, must rise early. Love not sleep, lest thou come to poverty. All in public stations should always attend to the duty of their place. The people were to follow the ark. Thus must we walk after the rule of the word, and the direction of the Spirit, in everything; so shall peace be upon us as upon the Israel of God; but we must follow our ministers only as they follow Christ. All their way through the wilderness was an untrodden path, but most so this through Jordan. While we are here, we must expect and prepare to pass ways that we have not passed before; but in the path of duty we may proceed with boldness and cheerfulness. Whether we are called to suffer poverty, pain, labour, persecution, reproach, or death, we are following the Author and Finisher of our faith; nor can we set our feet in any dangerous or difficult spot, through our whole journey, but faith will there see the prints of the Redeemer's feet, who trod that very path to glory above, and bids us follow him, that where he is, we may be also. They were to sanctify themselves. Would we experience the effects of God's love and power, we must put away sin, and be careful not to grieve the Holy Spirit of God.These days (Joshua 1:11 note) were no doubt occupied in preparations of various kinds. The host consisted not of armed men only, but of women and children also; and many arrangements would be necessary before they actually advanced into a hostile country. 3, 4. When ye see the ark …, and the priests the Levites bearing it—The usual position of the ark, when at rest, was in the center of the camp; and, during a march, in the middle of the procession. On this occasion it was to occupy the van, and be borne, not by the Kohathite Levites, but the priests, as on all solemn and extraordinary occasions (compare Nu 4:15; Jos 6:6; 1Ki 8:3-6).

then ye shall … go after it. Yet there shall be a space between you and it—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.

They commanded the people, in Joshua’s name, and by his authority.

The priests the Levites, who were not only Levites, but priests also. For although the Levites were to carry the ark, Num 4, yet the priests might perform that office, and did so upon some solemn occasions, as here, and Joshua 6:6. Go after it towards Jordan, to go over it in such manner as I am about to describe. Till this time the ark went in the middle of the cloudy pillar, probably being now vanished, now it goes in the front.

And they commanded the people,.... In the name of Joshua, by whom they were sent:

saying, when ye see the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God, and the priests the Levites bearing it: the Targum reads, the priests and Levites; so the Septuagint: it was the business of the Levites, particularly the Kohathites, to bear the ark in journeying, but here the priests, who also were Levites, were to carry it: it is remarked in the Talmud (p), that there are three places in which the priests are said to bear the ark; here, and when they surrounded Jericho, Joshua 6:6; and when it was returned to its place in the times of David, 2 Samuel 15:29; and Kimchi and Abarbinel observe a fourth, when it was brought into Solomon's temple, 1 Kings 8:6,

then ye shall remove from your place, and go after it; their usual signal for marching was the cloud, when that was taken up, Numbers 9:17, &c. but now the ark, the clouds of glory having removed at the death of Moses, and were seen no more, as Abarbinel and other Jewish writers observe; and therefore it was proper the Israelites should be made acquainted with this signal; for, as Jarchi says, this journey was different from all the journeys (though that of the three days journey from Sinai must be excepted, Numbers 10:33), for all the time Moses was in being, the pillar of cloud marched first and showed them the way, and the ark moved after two of the standards (Judah and Reuben), and now the ark went first: the cloud was a figure of the dark and cloudy dispensation of the law, particularly the ceremonial law, the shadow of good things to come, and which continued only during the former state, and discontinued to be of any use when the Mosaic dispensation ceased, and when Joshua or Jesus was come: the ark was a type of Christ, the forerunner for us entered, and whom we are to follow whithersoever he goes or directs to, in the exercise of grace and performance of duty; and the ark being carried now by different persons, may denote that Christ was held forth in a weaker manner under the legal dispensation, and by his apostles and ministers under the Gospel dispensation in a clearer and stronger manner, and who are to be followed no further or longer than as they bear the ark or direct to Christ.

(p) T. Bab. Sotah, fol. 33. 2.

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.

Verse 3. - And they commanded the people, saying. These words are interesting as showing that all was orderly in the Israel-irish camp. Everything was carried on according to the strictest rules of military discipline. The removal of the ark was to be the signal for the advance of the whole host. The ark of the covenant. We may with advantage compare the religious use of the ark here and in ch. 6, with its superstitious use in 1 Samuel 4:3, 4. We do not read that when the Israelites were defeated at Ai, Joshua took the ark with him in a march to repair the disaster. Such a misuse of the symbol of God's Presence was only possible in days when faith had grown cold. When the Israelites had need of supernatural guidance, when they were placed in circumstances where no use of their own unaided powers could guide them, then they must repair to the ark of God. There they must seek counsel, this they must set before them to guide their ways. But to regard it as a charm which could possibly atone for their want of faith and their lack of obedience, was to profane it. Such temptations as these Jesus Christ resisted in the wilderness; such temptations Christians must resist now. We have no right to seek for supernatural aids where natural ones will suffice us - no right to invoke the special intervention of God till we have exhausted all the means He has placed at our disposal. Above all, we have no right to expect Him to save us from the consequences of our own sin and disobedience except on His own condition, that we shall truly repent. We may further remark that the Pillar of the Cloud and the fire, like the manna, had ceased, and even the ark of the covenant only preceded the Israelites on special occasions. The priests the Levites. This phrase has given rise to some discussion. Some editions of the LXX., as well as some Hebrew MSS., read, "the priests and the Levites." The Chaldee and Syriac versions have the same reading. The Vulgate - more correctly, as it would seem - renders "sacerdotes stirpis Levitiae," i.e., "the priests who are of the tribe of Levi" (see Joshua 8:33, Numbers 4:18, and Deuteronomy 31:9). Keil's explanation that this expression must be taken in opposition to non-Levitical and, therefore, unlawful priests, seems hardly satisfactory. It is not till much later - in fact, till the time of Jeroboam - that we hear of unlawful priests. It is more probable that it is intended to emphasise the position of Levi as the sacerdotal tribe, the one tribe which had no share in the operations of the war. So Rabbi Solomon Jarchi explains it, citing the B'reshith Babbah, which states that the phrase is found in forty-five places in the Bible, with the meaning that the priests are of the tribe of Levi. Joshua 3:3"Arrangements for the Passage through the Jordan. - When they reached the Jordan, the Israelites rested till they passed over. לוּן, to pass the night; then in a wider sense to tarry, Proverbs 15:31; here it means to rest. According to Joshua 3:2, they stayed there three days. "At the end (after the expiration) of three days" cannot refer to the three days mentioned in Joshua 1:11, if only because of the omission of the article, apart from the reasons given in the note upon Joshua 1:11, which preclude the supposition that the two are identical. The reasons why the Israelites stayed three days by the side of the Jordan, after leaving Shittim, are not given, but they are not difficult to guess; for, in the first place, before it could be possible to pass into an enemy's country, not only with an army, but with all the people, including wives, children, and all their possessions, and especially when the river had first of all to be crossed, it must have been necessary to make many preparations, which would easily occupy two or three days. Besides this, the Jordan at that time was so high as to overflow its banks, so that it was impossible to cross the fords, and they were obliged to wait till this obstruction was removed. But as soon as Joshua was assured that the Lord would make a way for His people, he issued the following instructions through the proper officers to all the people in the camp: "When ye see the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God, and (see) the Levitical priests bear it, then ye shall remove from your place, and go after it: 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 yesterday and the day before." On the expression "the Levitical priests," see at Deuteronomy 31:25, as compared with Joshua 3:9 and Joshua 17:9. בּינו, both here and in Joshua 8:11, should probably be pointed בּינו (vid., Ewald, 266, a.). This command referred simply to the march from the last resting-place by the Jordan into the river itself, and not to the passage through the river, during which the priests remained standing with the ark in the bed of the river until the people had all passed through (Joshua 3:8 and Joshua 3:17).

(Note: Knobel maintains that this statement, according to which the Israelites were more than 2000 cubits from the place of crossing, is not in harmony with Joshua 3:1, where they are said to have been by the Jordan already; but he can only show this supposed discrepancy in the text by so pressing the expression, they "came to Jordan," as to make it mean that the whole nation was encamped so close to the edge of the river, that at the very first step the people took their feet would touch the water.)

The people were to keep about 2000 cubits away from the ark. This was not done, however, to prevent their going wrong in the unknown way, and so missing the ford, for that was impossible under the circumstances; but the ark was carried in front of the people, not so much to show the road as to make a road by dividing the waters of the Jordan, and the people were to keep at a distance from it, that they might not lose sight of the ark, but keep their eyes fixed upon it, and know the road by looking at the ark of the covenant by which the road had been made, i.e., might know and observe how the Lord, through the medium of the ark, was leading them to Canaan by a way which they had never traversed before, i.e., by a miraculous way.

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