Chapter 3

1 Joshua cometh to Jordan. 2 The officers instruct the people for the passage. 7 The Lord encourageth Joshua. 9 Joshua encourageth the people. 14 The waters of Jordan are divided.

1. Joshua rose early. Joshua could not rest when important work for the Lord awaited his attention. He did not consider his own ease. As leader, he must set a right example before the officers under him. The Lord’s business ever requires the best we have to offer. Those who would accomplish great things for God must rise “early.”

In the morning. That is, “in the morning” of the day following the return of the spies (see ch. 2:23, 24).

They removed. They had camped more than 2 months in Shittim, having arrived here by the 1st day of the 11th month in the 40th year after they had left Egypt (Deut. 1:3). This, their first march under Joshua, was only about 7 mi. in length, but may have required most of the day, on account of the flocks and the little ones.

Lodged. Literally, “spent the night,” that is, set up a temporary camp. They probably remained there for three days (vs. 2, 5), making final preparations for crossing the Jordan.

2. After three days. At the close of the three days Joshua sent officers through the camp with a second proclamation. According to ch. 4:19, the people crossed the Jordan on the 10th day of Abib, the 1st month. This was in the 41st year of the Exodus. The proclamation was therefore issued on the day preceding (ch. 3:5), the 9th. The 9th was, in turn, the 3d day after their march from Shittim to the Jordan (v. 2). According to Oriental reckoning (see p. 136), that would place the arrival at Jordan on the 7th of the month, that is, the day after the spies returned to Shittim, the 6th of Abib (chs. 2:22, 23; 3:1). Inasmuch as the spies returned 3 days after entering Jericho (ch. 2:2, 16, 22, 23), they had probably been sent out by Joshua on the 4th of the month, Oriental reckoning. But according to PP 483, the instructions of ch. 1:10, 11, were issued upon the return of the spies, probably on the morning of the 7th (ch. 3:1). Chronologically, the account of the 2 spies in ch. 2 thus precedes the command of ch. 1:10, 11. The command of ch. 1:10, 11, was therefore given on either the 7th or the 8th, and that of ch. 3:2–5 on the 9th.

3. The ark. Hitherto the pillar of cloud and fire had guided Israel on their way. Now it was to be seen no more. In their crossing of the Jordan the ark, which had formerly been carried in the midst of the camp (Num. 2:17), was to lead the way. It was the center of their religion and a symbol of God’s presence. Thus the Lord was with them still, though no longer in the pillar of cloud. The ark was the repository of His holy and immutable law. Above the ark was the mercy seat, reminding them of God’s mercy, patience, forgiveness, and grace. Thus early in their national experience God said to them, in effect, Let My character, My justice, and My mercy be your guide. Let the Ten Commandments, My standard of right, show you how to live, and My grace help you to obey it. As long as they would follow these principles they would be safe.

The priests the Levites. Or, “the Levitical priests” (RSV). Ordinarily the sons of Kohath bore the ark (Num. 4:15). The Jewish rabbis say that it was thus carried upon only three other occasions—when they marched around Jericho, when Zadok and Abiathar returned it to Jerusalem as David fled from Absalom (2 Sam. 15:29), and when it was brought into the Temple of Solomon. Here, at Jordan, the priests, representing Christ as our mediator and high priest, must go first and lead the way.

Go after it. Contrary to the usual custom (Num. 2:17), the ark was now to lead the way. Once before, upon their first removal from Mt. Sinai, it had gone before them for three days (Num. 10:33). Now another special occasion had arrived. To impress upon them the fact that it was God who gave them entrance to Canaan, and who would lead them in its conquest, His presence was to go before them. In a similar way He has promised to lead us. As Israel followed the ark, representative of divine justice and mercy, it is our privilege to follow on. At the end of the journey we will find “honour and immortality, eternal life” (Rom. 2:7, 8), and a ready welcome into the heavenly Canaan (Matt. 25:21, 34).

4. A space. The ark needed no guards, other than the priests who carried it. The distance between the ark and the people made it possible for many more to observe the rolling back of the Jordan than if it had been followed closely by a throng of people. Also, reverence and respect for the ark and the law would thus be emphasized. Had Israel been unwilling to follow the sacred precepts of the Decalogue, they would never have entered Canaan. Nor will we enter the heavenly Canaan unless we are obedient—obedient through the enabling grace of God.

Two thousand cubits. About 1/2 mi. (.8 km.).

Not passed this way. The ark must be clearly visible to all, inasmuch as the pillar of cloud led them no more. Had many been permitted to crowd closely around it, it would soon have been lost to the sight of the great majority. To be guided without the pillar of cloud was a new experience. Providence leads us, from time to time, by strange paths and into new experiences; and we too must keep the ark of the covenant ever in sight, that we may follow on wherever God leads us.

5. Sanctify yourselves. Joshua probably refers here to the same type of experience God required of the people at Sinai (see on Ex. 19:10). They were to wash themselves and their garments, and to abstain from everything that might prevent them from fixing their attention on the great miracle soon to be wrought in their behalf. To their work of preparation God would, of course, add His blessing. Man must ever cooperate with God in the working out of his own salvation (Phil. 2:12). If we would expect the blessing and leadership of God in our preparations for entering the heavenly Canaan, it is essential that we “sanctify” ourselves by consecrating our lives to God that He may purify and make us holy. If this was necessary for entrance into the earthly Canaan, how much more necessary it is for admission to the heavenly Canaan.

Wonders. The word thus translated is from a verb meaning “to separate,” “to distinguish.” The “wonders” God performed from time to time distinguish Him as the true God. In that these “wonders” were done for Israel, they would set Israel apart from other peoples as the special object of God’s favor. But there could be no “wonders”—God could not work on their behalf—unless they first heeded the command to “sanctify yourselves.”

6. Took up the ark. A parenthetical statement included here to indicate obedience to the command to “take up the ark.” The instructions of vs. 7–13 preceded the march to Jordan.

7. Magnify thee. Crossing the Jordan was to do for Joshua what the giving of the law at Sinai did for Moses—“that the people may hear when I speak with thee, and believe thee for ever” (Ex. 19:9). Both men were established before the people because they were first established with God. Worldly honors often have no relation to character, whereas the outward honor that comes from God testifies to the presence of God’s character within.

8. The brink. Literally, “the extremity”—not merely to the bank of Jordan, but to the water itself. The river overflowed its banks at this time of the year (v. 15). The priests were to enter the shallow water at the edge. When the water had ceased flowing, they were to proceed to the middle of the river and remain there until all Israel had passed over. The waters flowed on and left the whole river bed dry, from a point above the ark down to the Dead Sea. This was a distance of several miles, and provided ample room for the multitude of people, with their cattle, to pass over quickly (see on v. 16).

9. Come hither. The people must have been in a state of great expectancy. They knew that something unusual was to happen (v. 5). The officers had already instructed the people about following the ark (v. 3), but nothing had been said as to where it would lead them. Joshua had sent the word around the camp that they should sanctify themselves (v. 5), and now he called them to hear additional instructions the Lord had given him. He informed the people as to precisely what would happen. Sharing this information with the people bound them more closely to him. This marked him as a wise and able leader, for an informed people can follow their leader more intelligently.

10. The living God. The signal manifestation of divine power they were about to witness would distinguish their God as the true and “living God.”

The Amorites. The Amorites were among the early inhabitants of the land of Palestine. In the days of Joshua they occupied the mountainous country west of the Dead Sea and also that portion of Transjordan Israel had taken from Sihon and Og. Their kinsmen, the Canaanites, lived chiefly in what is called Phoenicia and in the mountainous areas to the north and south of Jerusalem. According to 1 Chron. 1:13–15, the Jebusites, Amorites, Girgashites, and Hivites were all descendants of Canaan (see Vol. I, p. 270). The Hittite empire, centered in Asia Minor, controlled certain city-states as far south as the land of Palestine. A great racial migration had taken place in the first half of the second millennium the eastern Mediterranean area, during the course of which the Hyksos had spilled over into Palestine, and even as far south as Egypt. It is thought that this movement was responsible for bringing south into Palestine a large number of Hittites, Hurrians (Horites, sometimes classed with the Hivites), and possibly the Jebusites of Jerusalem, the Perizzites, and other non-Semitic tribes. These were scattered in various areas of Palestine, which are not always clearly defined. These six or seven nations are frequently referred to in the early books of the OT, often in connection with a promise to drive them out.

13. As soon. The priests carrying the ark were to manifest their faith in God’s word by stepping into the water. God ever calls upon His people not only to face difficulties but to march boldly forward in faith, at His command, confident that He will open a way. He has promised to turn the waters aside and to overcome all obstacles (Isa. 43:2).

The Lord, the Lord. Literally, “Jehovah, Lord.”

Cut off from. The word “from” is not in the original. Hence, “the waters that come down from above” is in apposition to, and explanatory of, “the waters of Jordan shall be cut off.” In other words, the waters from above were “cut off” and heaped up. The waters below that point flowed on down to the Dead Sea, leaving the river bed dry. The miracle of the Red Sea, the opening of a path through the waters, is here repeated as evidence that God has the same power to complete the salvation of His people that He had to begin it (see Heb. 12:2). Why did the Lord have Israel wait until Jordan was in flood stage before crossing? A month earlier or a month later this would not have been so, and they had been encamped at Shittim for two months. There were probably two reasons: (1) God’s power would be more evident (see on Ex. 9:16; see also 2 Cor. 12:9). (2) The people in Jericho would not be expecting them, and would not have guards at the river. Being fearful and intending to resist, the people of Jericho could be expected to guard the fords of Jordan, where it would have been easy to resist the Israelites. The people of Jericho remembered well the report of Israel crossing the Red Sea 40 years previously, and this even yet struck terror to their hearts (Joshua 2:9, 10); a repetition of that miracle, close at hand, could be counted on to intensify their fear. For God, the volume of water in the Jordan made no difference.

14. Bearing the ark. See on v. 3.

15. All the time of harvest. Not the wheat harvest but the barley harvest, which, according to Ruth 1:22 and 2 Sam. 21:9, came first. According to Joshua 4:19 the crossing occurred on the 10th day of the 1st month, and on the 14th the people kept the Passover (ch. 5:10). On the 15th they were to present the first fruits (Lev. 23:10, 11)—a sheaf of barley, according to Josephus. In the hot Jordan valley the harvest came very early in the spring; at the same time the streams were swollen from recent winter rains and from the melting snow in the mountains. According to Ex. 9:31, 33, the barley and flax ripened together. Rahab had flax bundles drying on her roof, a fact that confirms the previous statements regarding the barley harvest and marks the Bible narrative as a reliable eyewitness account.

16. From the city Adam. The original Hebrew text reads, “at” Adam. This the Masoretes changed to read “from Adam.” Their reason for doing so is not clear. The LXX reads, “There stood one solid heap very far off”—with no mention of “Adam.” The intent of the original Hebrew text seems to be that the damming up of the waters took place near the city of Adam, “very far” from the place of crossing. This city has been identified with the modern Tell edРDaЖmiyeh. Nearby is the ford of Damieh, where the remains of a Roman bridge may still be seen. Here the Jordan valley is compressed within its narrowest limits, the rocks on both sides almost meeting. This is perhaps 20 mi. (32 km.) from where Israel crossed over. There would thus be an ample distance on both sides of the ark for the people to cross on dry ground. As to the miracle aspect of the drying up of the river, see p. 41.

Zaretan. A site in the Jordan Valley. Some locate this place near Beth Shean (1 Kings 4:12), others near Succoth (1 Kings 7:46). Some think it to be identical with Zereda, Jeroboam’s birthplace (1 Kings 11:26). Some identify it with TellРesРSaФйµdйЖyeh, about 11 mi. (18 km.) north of Adam.

The sea of the plain. Literally, “the sea of the Arabah,” that is, the Dead Sea. The Arabah was the great depression of the Jordan valley extending southward to the Gulf of Aqabah.

Against Jericho. It would have been difficult, if not impossible, for the whole camp to pass over at one spot. Indeed, they may have made use of several miles of the bed of the Jordan. The priests with the ark evidently crossed opposite Jericho, and the multitude passed over on both sides of the ark. It is likely that the Canaanites would have attempted to defend the fords of the Jordan if they had expected that such a passage would be attempted. They surely knew that the Israelite camp was on the other side of Jordan, but the crossing took them entirely by surprise.

Ellen G. White comments

1–17PP 483–485

1, 3 PP 483

4     PP 484

5, 6 PP 483

5–7SR 176

7     PP 485; 4T 157

8–17SR 176

10, 11  PP 484

13   AA 357

15–17PP 484; 4T 157