Author: John Whitmarsh
This chapter is difficult to follow mainly because the narrator repeats some of the information. The same information is presented from different angles or to a different group of people. This is done to make sure that the reader understands that it was God who was in control in the whole situation. Joshua may have been shown to be the leader (verse 14) but he was only the leader that he was because he did what God told him to do. This truth is emphasised again and again in the next chapters. Words are given to Joshua to pass on to the people. Chapter 5 culminates with a personal reminder to Joshua that the victory would be won because the Lord was in control.
1-3 The Lord gave Joshua instructions for the twelve men
4-7 Joshua relayed the Lord's words to the twelve men (as often in the book of Joshua there are extra instructions that are relayed and that the narrator omits from the initial instruction set in which there is a different emphasis - verse 10 lets us know that Joshua's words were the words of the Lord )
8-14 The people obeyed the instructions
15-16 The Lord spoke with Joshua again - this time in relation to the priests
17 Joshua passed on these words to the priests
18 The priests came up out of Jordan
19 The people came up out of Jordan on the 10th day of the first month
20-24 The twelve stones pitched in Gilgal
If chapter 3 was going into the Jordan and the waters parting then chapter 4 is the people coming up out of Jordan. The passage over Jordan is undoubtedly a picture of a number of things connected with death one of which is baptism for, in effect, the people went into the water and then came up out of the water to start 'in newness of life.'
But there are plenty of other truths in this chapter. God wanted the children of Israel to remember this experience. Moreover God was not going to allow the children of Israel to forget their experience as they crossed over the Jordan and he made them make an aide memoire. The people were to take out from among them twelve people (one per tribe) who each were to take a stone to make the memorial pile. There appears to be two piles of stones that stood for the same thing - one that was raised in the middle of the river which may not have be seen once the waters returned and one that was definitely seen and was set at Gilgal. Stones are very important throughout the book of Joshua. They were present for remembrance; they were witnesses to the nation's history. It did not matter whether the people were in the land or no - the stones would cry out.
4.20-24 The Lord's mighty hand (see verse 9 also)
7.26 The Lord demanded obedience
8.29 The Lord acknowledged the nation's repentance
8.32 The Lord's law was published
10.26-27 The Lord defeated His enemies
22.27 The Lord had been honoured
24.25-27 The Lord had been chosen
Christians also have remembrances. They remember events that have taken place. Christianity is not based on philosophical ideals thought out in some person's mind, humanism or mysticism but upon a Man who was born, who lived, who died and who rose again from the dead (though there may be some who dispute the latter as an historical event). The event that is described in Joshua 3-4 answers to the fact that it is the death of the Lord Jesus that has secured a place for us in the promised land. He is the One who has rolled away everything that barred our way to taking up the possessions in the new land. We are never to forget the fact that it is the death of the Lord Jesus that has brought us into His blessings.
We dare not, at this stage, deal with all the stones that were raised in the book of Joshua.
Note that we are given details as to the number of the men of war as verse 13 indicates. There were about 40,000 of them.
1. The Lord gives instructions to Joshua to be relayed to the twelve men
J. N. Darby translates this as, 'And it came to pass when the whole nation had completely gone over the Jordan, that Jehovah spoke to Joshua, saying, Take you twelve men out of the people, one man for every tribe.' It is interesting to note that the AV translates the word, gowy, as people ('when all the people were clean passed over Jordan') but Mr Darby records 'nation' as in the last verse of the last chapter. The people are viewed as a nation. They have seldom been viewed as such since God made His initial promise to Abraham. Often the phrase that is used is that God would make of such and such a great nation - the words are spoken in the future tense. There are a couple of verses that need to be considered in any discussion on the birth of the nation. They are Exodus 33.13 and Deuteronomy 4.6, 7, 8, 34 and 32.28. Was the nation born at the exodus as is the view of many? Was the nation born as it entered the land of Canaan or was it then that the nation had its own land?
There seems to be a clear demarcation between the time when the people were viewed as a group of tribes and the time when they were considered a nation in their own right. That line of demarcation was the river Jordan. They now had their own land though there were peoples to dispossess of that land. Jordan was behind them. It was at that time that the Lord spoke to Joshua. All the people were in the new land on the other side of Jordan and then the instruction set was given and it related to twelve people first of all.
If all the people were safely on the Canaan side of Jordan then this included the twelve men as well. The word 'people' here, am, is the word that is translated people on 1836 of the 1862 occasions that it is used in the scriptures. When twelve are chosen they stand to represent the nation - Numbers 1.44, 31.5; Deuteronomy 1.23; Joshua 3.12.
Joshua had previously arranged for these men to be hand picked as chapter 3 indicates but now was the time for them to be separated from among the people and to perform the task for which they had been chosen.
4:3 And command ye them, saying, Take you hence out of the midst of Jordan, out of the place where the priests' feet stood firm, twelve * stones, and ye shall carry them over with you, and leave them in the lodging place, where ye shall lodge this night.
They were to remove stones from the middle of Jordan and, as verse 5 indicates, each man was to carry a stone upon his shoulder. The conclusion that can be drawn from this (we trust that this is not considered as reading between the lines) is that the stone was of some considerable size and weight. The distance that it had to be carried was, no doubt, not far for it was taken to the place where they lodged that night.
The next thing to be noted is that the instruction was given before they set up camp for the night after the crossing of Jordan - where ye shall lodge this night - and after the priests had come out of the dried river bed - where the priests' feet stood firm. The indication is that the instruction was given to Joshua when everyone was passed over the Jordan and that it was for the twelve men to go back to the river bed and take from there these twelve stones and bring them to the point of lodging. They were not going to stay at that point as the latter part of the chapter reveals.
2. Joshua relays the message to the twelve men
In chapter 3 (verse 12) it was Joshua who passed on the word of the Lord to the people on this matter of taking twelve men. It was not for Joshua to choose them as far as we read (the word in this verse is 'prepared'). In the previous verses in this chapter we have seen that the Lord spoke with Joshua and gave him instructions (these were not mentioned in chapter 3) as to what the men should do. Joshua passed on these instructions.
4:5 And Joshua said unto them, Pass over before the ark of the LORD your God into the midst of Jordan, and take ye up every man of you a stone upon his shoulder, according unto the number of the tribes of the children of Israel:
It is conceded that the notes on the previous verses appear to be at variance with the scripture before us. It could well be that the phrase in verse 1, 'all the people', excluded the twelve men who remained on the eastern side of the river. These men would then have been able to pass over before the ark. Remember that the instructions were given when the people were passed over and that this verse says, 'Pass over'. Perhaps this is just semantics and there is no need to be pedantic. This is the sort of detail that the sceptic highlights and we are unmindful that there are people who read the Bible in order to find 'inconsistencies'. Whether the twelve men went ahead of all the people (this would contradict the truth of 3.6), or waited until the priests were in the centre of the Jordan, or waited until all the people were gone over, or went back to the middle of the Jordan after all the people had passed over is considered immaterial. The important thing is that they took stones as instructed from the centre of the Jordan and transported them upon their shoulders to the lodging place. It is the transportation of these stones that is significant as the next verse explains.
By the way the ark of the covenant is mentioned seven times in this chapter such is its importance and this is the first of them. It is not always called the ark of the covenant as it is also called the ark of the Lord (as here) and the ark of the testimony but it refers to the same wooden box that was covered by gold. As mentioned in chapter three the ark was mentioned 10 times there. The ark is at the centre of all that takes place in the passage over the Jordan.
Stones were transported from the middle of Jordan as a sign, a remembrance, in the midst of the people. They were significant as significant means standing as a sign or a token. It was expected that questions would be asked. Younger ones were to ask their elders what was meant by the stones. We remember that this was the case as far as the passover was concerned. Children were expected to ask, 'What mean ye by this service?' The passover service was the way of remembering the exodus from the land of Egypt. This sign was the way by which the transit from the wilderness to the new land was remembered.
4:7 Then ye shall answer them, That the waters of Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the LORD; when it passed over Jordan, the waters of Jordan were cut off: and these stones shall be for a memorial unto the children of Israel for ever.
The answer that they were to give was that the waters of Jordan were cut off before (by the way this is the same word as that used in verse 5) the ark of the covenant of the Lord and that the stones were to act as a memorial. By the way it is the ark that is all important. It was not the priests but what they bore. True the priests had to stand in the water for it to roll back but it was not so much their passage into and over the Jordan but the passage of the ark. The ark, we know, stands as a type of the Lord Jesus. It was the presence of the ark that meant that the waters were cut off. It was the Lord Jesus who secured a way into eternal blessing by His death upon the cross. He rolled back everything that stood in our way.
The stones were to be a physical reminder that a great event had taken place. A memorial in our day serves to remind us of an event that has taken place. For example a war memorial causes the observer to be reminded of something that happened in either 1914-1918 or 1939-1945 often with a list of names of those from that particular town who gave their lives to grant us freedom.
Mention was made in connection with this verse of the truths that are found in Deuteronomy 27, 'And Moses with the elders of Israel commanded the people, saying, Keep all the commandments which I command you this day. And it shall be on the day when ye shall pass over Jordan unto the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee, that thou shalt set thee up great stones, and plaister them with plaister. And thou shalt write upon them all the words of this law, when thou art passed over, that thou mayest go into unto the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee, a land that floweth with milk and honey; as the lord of thy fathers hath promised thee. Therefore it shall be when ye be gone over Jordan, that ye shall set up these stones, which I command you this day, in mount Ebal, and thou shalt plaister them with plaister. And there shalt thou build an altar unto the Lord thy God, an altar of stones: thou shalt not lift up any iron tool upon them. Thou shalt build the altar of the Lord thy God of whole (unhewn) stones: and thou shalt offer burnt offerings thereon unto the Lord thy God: and thou shalt offer peace offerings, and shalt eat there, and rejoice before the Lord thy God. And thou shalt write upon the stones all the words of this law very plainly.' It is true that Deuteronomy 27 mentions the day that the children of Israel were to pass over the Jordan but there is also mention made of plaister (plaster) and mount Ebal and the writing of the law. It is believed that this passage was fulfilled in Joshua 8.30-35 for which see.
4:8 And the children of Israel did so as Joshua commanded, and took up twelve * stones out of the midst of Jordan, as the LORD spake unto Joshua, according to the number of the tribes of the children of Israel, and carried them over with them unto the place where they lodged, and laid them down there.
3. The people obeyed the instructions
It is very interesting to note that the narrator says that the children of Israel did as the Lord commanded via Joshua. It was the twelve men who lifted the stones and carried them but they did that as chosen men, chosen to represent each of the tribes of the children of Israel. They were the ones who were obedient on behalf of the people. The people were obedient. They were taken to the lodging place just as God had said they should. This was not their final resting place.
But wait - there was another set of stones. Some say that the verse should read from the midst of Jordan rather than in the midst of Jordan. They say that these stones were the same as the ones transported to the lodging place by the twelve men but if this is the case why give the details that are recorded in the rest of the verse? If the stones are from the midst of Jordan then why say they are there to this day? If these were the stones that were taken from the dried river bed then to what does the last phrase refer? Why not specify the location rather than just say 'there'? If these were the stones that were taken by the men where is the mention of the lodging place? There seems to be no other explanation than that there was a second set of stones that were 'set up' (the scripture is very clear) right in the middle of the Jordan. Whether these 12 stones when arranged were of sufficient height to be seen above the surface of the water we are not told but presumably they were covered by the water when it returned. Did they just act as a memorial until the memorial at the side of the river was set in place? Were the children of Israel to look back at the stones in the middle of the Jordan and remember their passage over the dried river? Was there some significance in the fact that the stones were placed in the very spot where the priests had stood? One thing is sure and that is that these particular stones are not referred to as a memorial. The statement that they are there to this day (i.e. to the day of writing) does not say specifically that they can be witnessed.
4:10 For the priests which bare the ark stood in the midst of Jordan, until every thing was finished that the LORD commanded Joshua to speak unto the people, according to all that Moses commanded Joshua: and the people hasted and passed over.
It is evident by the amount of times that the phrase 'priests which bare the ark stood in the midst of Jordan' (or similar) is used that there is some significance in this particular aspect of the passage over the Jordan. It is clear (see verse 5) that the ark of the covenant is of great importance. It is also clear that the ark was carried and that it was priests who carried it. The men of war are also singled out as an important part of the ark's entourage. But it is the ark that is all important. Clearly it was the priests that stood in the Jordan but it was the ark that was carried that stood there. Perhaps it is that we just gloss over the words that we read and do not realise that the best part of 2,000, 000 people filed past the stationary ark. Think of the priests who were instructed to bear that ark. They had to stand still with the staves in place and the ark supported for all that time. Everything had to be finished that God told Joshua to tell to the people, which in itself was that which Moses had told Joshua. The people may have hasted to get over the Jordan as this verse lets us know but 2,000,000 is a large number. The dried part of the river was, however, huge according to the truth of 3.16 as Adam is many miles away from Shittim/Gilgal. There is no reason to think that the people went over single file.
A word on the priests at this stage (though it is conceded that this may belong elsewhere in the notes). A distinction is to be made between priests and Levites. Whilst all priests were Levites, not all Levites were priests. The word that is used in the narrative section of Joshua (chapters 1-11) is invariably translated priests. On two occasions we read that the priests were also Levites. 3.3 is the first mention of either priest or Levite in the book of Joshua and it is interesting to see that the phrase 'the priests the Levites' is used. The other is in 8.33. The separate rles of both priests and Levites are set out in the book of Numbers. Numbers 1.47-54 reads, 'But the Levites after the tribe of their fathers were not numbered among them (the children of Israel). For the Lord had spoken unto Moses saying, Only thou shalt not number the tribe of Levi, neither take the sum of them among the children of Israel. But thou shalt appoint the Levites over the tabernacle of the testimony, and over all the vessels thereof, and over all things that belong to it: they shall bear the tabernacle, and all the vessels thereof: and they shall minister unto it, and shall encamp around the tabernacle. And when the tabernacle setteth forward, the Levites shall take it down: and when the tabernacle is to be pitched, the Levites shall set it up: and the stranger that cometh nigh shall be put to death. And the children of Israel shall pitch their tents, every man by his own camp, and every man by his known standard, throughout their hosts. But the Levites shall pitch round about the tabernacle of testimony, that there be no wrath upon the congregation of the children of Israel: and the Levites shall keep charge of the tabernacle of testimony. And the children of Israel did according to all that the Lord commanded Moses, so did they.' Further and more detailed instruction is given in Numbers 3-4. Numbers 3.5-10 presents the distinction between the rles of the Levites and the priests (who were from one family within the tribe of Levi) and it reads, 'And the Lord spake unto Moses saying, Bring the tribe of Levi near, and present them before Aaron the priest, that they may minister unto him. And they shall keep his charge, and the charge of the whole congregation before the tabernacle of the congregation, and the charge of the children of Israel, to do the service of the tabernacle. And thou shalt give the Levites unto Aaron and to his sons: they are wholly given unto him out of the children of Israel. And thou shalt appoint Aaron and his sons, and they shall wait on their priest's office: and the stranger that cometh nigh shall be put to death.'
There is much to be said on this subject which may not belong here but one section of scripture that is important is that found in I Chronicles 15, 'And David called for the Zadok and Abiathar the priests, and for the Levites, for Uriel, for Asaiah, and Joel, Shemaiah, and Eliel, and Amminadab, and said unto them, Ye are the chief of the fathers of the Levites: sanctify yourselves, both ye and your brethren, that ye may bring up the ark of the Lord God of Israel unto the place that I have prepared for it. For because ye did it not at the first, the Lord God made a breach upon us, for that we sought him not after the due order. So the priests and the Levites sanctified themselves to bring up the ark of the Lord God of Israel. And the children of the Levites bare the ark of God upon their shoulders with the staves thereon, as Moses commanded, according to the word of the Lord.' Both priests and Levites were involved that day but it was the Levites who carried the ark according to the words given to Moses in the book of Numbers.
In Joshua 3, 4 and 6 it is the priests who carry the ark of the covenant of the Lord. Is there any significance in the clear distinction that is made for time and time again we read in these chapters that it was the priests who carried the ark? The carrying of the ark across the divide between the promised land and the wilderness seems to have been a unique experience and one that, in measure and wrongly, was copied later on. Normally the ark would have been carried with the rest of the tabernacle and its furniture but in these chapters the ark appears to have been carried alone and separate from the other furniture.
The word for 'presence' is this word 'before' (see verses 5 and 7 and 3.6, 11 and 14). The people passed over first of all and then the ark (as the most important thing) and then the priests (though they came bearing the ark), who had been standing in the middle of the dried up Jordan, came after them. And yet the scripture says 'in the presence (or before) the people'. Perhaps this is the answer to the matter raised in verse 5 so that before could be in the sense of in the presence of so that it could read, 'Pass over in the presence of the ark of the Lord your God into the midst of the Jordan.
The word for 'people' is not the word found in verse 1 ('nation') but is that found in verse 2, 10 (twice), here (twice) and in verses 19 and 24.
The reason that these tribes are singled out from the rest is that they had fulfilled the command that was given to them by Moses and that was mentioned in the section from verses 12-15 in chapter 1. Note, too, that the verse says that these men were armed just as Joshua 1.14 says, 'but ye shall pass over before (there is that same word again) your brethren armed, all the mighty men of valour, and help them.' It appears that these were armed representatives of the two and a half tribes.
Note the word 'before' is used again (it is this same word). Note, too, that we are told that there were about 40,000 prepared (different word from that used in verse 2 and more akin to being armed) for war with a view to enter a battle. When we came to chapter 6 there was discussion as to whether the people who went around the city were just these men who were prepared, armed for war and for a particular battle. Prepared for a battle they may have been but their swords and staves were of no use whatsoever for the first battle apart from displaying these items to the Jerichoites who, perchance, looked over their walls. They were certainly not needed for anything apart from display.
This was a very significant point in both Joshua's life and the history of the children of Israel. Joshua may well have been the appointed leader but now he became the acknowledged leader. From now on until the end of this book which coincides with the end of Joshua's life, Joshua was to feared as the leader of the people in the same way as they had feared his predecessor, Moses. We have mentioned elsewhere in the notes but it is worth repeating; Moses, though dead, is oft mentioned throughout the book. His influence was very much evident despite the fact that he had passed away. When we come across to the book of Kings we see the same principle as far as David was concerned. In many ways the kings lived in the shadow of David and so we read that king X of Judah walked in the ways of his father David or, conversely, king Y did not do so. Saul was not the standard nor Solomon but David. It is a principle that stands to this day. The influence of great and godly men remain long after they have passed away.
4. The Lord speaks with Joshua again - this time in relation to the priests
Joshua is addressed again. It is always important to see to whom God speaks in this book as well as all the others.
The passage over Jordan now complete, the priests were instructed to come up out of the Jordan. This had taken place already according to the narrative in chapter 4. Why this information is given after the event as already been reported is not quite clear but one thing is evident is that Joshua obeyed the word of the Lord as given to him (see next verse).
It is interesting to note that the ark is referred to as the ark of testimony here for the first and only time in Joshua.
5. Joshua passes these words onto the priests
4:18 And it came to pass, when the priests that bare the ark of the covenant of the LORD were come up out of the midst of Jordan, and the soles of the priests' feet were lifted up unto the dry land, that the waters of Jordan returned unto their place, and flowed over all his banks, as they did before.
6. The priests come out of Jordan
Surely by dry land is meant the land that would always have remained dry even when the flooding took place.
It does not mean that the rolling back of the waters gave a partial solution to the dilemma of crossing the Jordan i.e. that the priests had to stand in water up to their ankles as the river was not completely dry. The word of God says that they stood firm in the Jordan (3.17 and 4.3) and even states that they stood on dry ground (3.17). There was no thought of them having to stand in mud.
Notice as in verse 13 of chapter 3 that it was the soles of the priests' feet.
7. The people come up out of the Jordan
This verse gives the date of the transition from old to new. The tenth day of the first month was the time appointed for the lamb to be set apart in preparation for the passover. Exodus 12.3, 'Speak ye unto all the congregation of the Israel saying, In the tenth day of this month they shall take to them every man a lamb, according to the house of their fathers, a lamb for a house.'
We are told that they encamped in Gilgal. Just as they had set up camp in Shittim on the other side of the Jordan and lodged near to the edge of the overflowed river before passing over the water so they lodged in a position that was near to the edge of the overflowed river (that was dried out for the passage over Jordan) and then they encamped in Gilgal. Gilgal was in the plain of Jericho and near to the city on its east side. This is the first mention of Gilgal in the book of Joshua. No meaning of the name is given at this stage. The significance of Gilgal and its meaning become apparent in the next chapter.
8. The twelve stones pitched in Gilgal and their significance
The twelve stones that were taken from the Jordan by the twelve men were taken from the lodging place and pitched in Gilgal by Joshua. The word for 'pitch' is the same as that used for 'set up' in verse 9.
This may be considered repetition but the words are spoken to a wider audience than in verse 6. It is not merely twelve chosen who hear these words but 'the children of Israel'. The question is also slightly altered to become - what mean these stones?
The answer that was to be given was also different in that the emphasis is not on what happened to the waters but what happened to the land. It is not that the waters were cut off (though this is true as verse 7 declares) but the Jordan was dry as they traversed it.
4:23 For the LORD your God dried up the waters of Jordan from before you, until ye were passed over, as the LORD your God did to the Red sea, which he dried up from before us, until we were gone over:
The water supply is not viewed as being cut off in this verse but, as the previous verse indicates, dried up. The same was true of the Red Sea as the children of Israel came out of Egypt. Joshua 2.10 says, 'For we have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea for you, when ye came out of Egypt; and what ye did unto the two kings of the Amorites, that were on the other side Jordan, Sihon and Og, whom ye utterly destroyed.'
The drying up of the river was to cause all the people of the earth to know the hand of the Lord that it is mighty. What Jericho witnessed was no doubt relayed to others and the message was soon known that God had done it again. That which they had feared would happen had happened. The Red Sea was no object to Him and neither was a flooded Jordan. It was not just the nation of Israel that was to stand back in awe and amazement at the mighty hand of God (see Deuteronomy 34.12) but the nations were to do so and fear. The last clause in the verse is translated 'that they might fear the Lord your God for ever' in some translations.
Remembrance is a very big part of the Christian faith and practice. We do not go on men's ideals and ideologies. The passage of Jordan was not a figment of the people's imagination. It actually happened. Calvary actually happened. It is not that we follow the teachings of a person who had high ideals and taught high ideals. That is true of the Lord Jesus but this One who taught such great things was also the One who died for the sake of the sinner on the cross that all that stood against that sinner might be removed out of the way and that he/she might enjoy all the eternal blessings that God had in mind for those who love Him both here and now and throughout eternal years. No wonder we remember Him. The ark was all important in Joshua 4 in connection with the entrance into the promised land and the Lord Jesus is the secret to every spiritual blessing that we as Christians enjoy today. We may not make a memorial by way of physical stones as they did but we have a memorial feast to enjoy on a weekly basis.