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The text does not tell us why Joshua broke camp at Shittim, not more than 6 miles from Jordan, to move closer to the river. Some suggest it was to impress upon the people the fact that they could not cross the river without God's help ( Jos_3:1 ).
The people were instructed to follow the priests of Levi as they carried the ark of the covenant. Ordinarily, the Kohathites would carry the vessels of the sanctuary after Aaron and his sons had finished covering the sanctuary and its vessels ( Num_4:15 ; Num_4:17-20 ). They had strict orders not to touch any of the holy things or they would die. On this and several other special occasions, the priests themselves bore the ark. This may signify the importance of the role of the priests and underscore God's presence with the people ( Jos_3:2-3 ).
The people were to stay some two thousand cubits, or about 3,000 feet, away from the ark. They were to follow the ark because they had never been where they were going. Rules of sanctification had already been issued by God and involved washing garments and abstaining from acts that would make one unclean ( Exo_29:1-46 ). Thus, we could say the people only crossed the river by God's power but they were still required to do something to prepare themselves in accord with his desire ( Jos_3:4-6 ).
God told Joshua to tell the people exactly what would happen so they would know he was their approved leader. The water did not stand in a heap until the soles of the feet of the priests touched the water. That such a great rushing river ceased to flow at precisely the right moment and did not flow again until all the people had crossed is absolute proof there is a God in heaven and he was fighting for Israel ( Jos_3:7-17 ).
Before the priests bearing the ark of the covenant had fully passed through the river's bed, Joshua, in accord with God's instructions, had one man from each of the twelve tribes go and pick up a stone to be used in building a memorial. Joshua also erected a twelve stone memorial in the midst of the river in the very place the priests had stood.
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Hampton, Gary. "Commentary on Joshua 3". "Hampton's Commentary on Selected Books". https://studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent