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The Stones Taken from the Midst of the River Bed
v. 1. And it came to pass, when all the people were clean passed over Jordan, that the Lord spake unto Joshua, saying,
v. 2. Take you twelve men out of the people, out of every tribe a man, as had been provided for before the crossing began, Joshua 3:12,
v. 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, from the very center of the stream's bed, twelve stones, and ye shall carry them over with you, and leave them in the lodging-place, where ye shall lodge this night. It is plain that this entire paragraph, up to and including v. 7, belongs, in point of time, to the morning hours, and is here inserted, together with the actual execution of the order and in explanation of it.
v. 4. Then Joshua called the twelve men, whom he had prepared of the children of Israel, selected for this particular work, out of every tribe a man;
v. 5. and Joshua said unto them, Pass over before the ark of the Lord, your God, into the midst of Jordan, or, Go over to the place where the ark is now stationed, and take you up, every man of you, a stone upon his shoulder, according unto the number of the tribes of the children of Israel,
v. 6. that this may be a sign among you, serve for a memorial, a monument, in their midst, that when your children ask their fathers in time to come, saying, "What mean ye by these stones?
v. 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, as related in the preceding chapter; and these stones shall be for a memorial unto the children of Israel forever, to remind every succeeding generation of the great miracle which the Lord performed in keeping His promise and in leading His people safely into the Land of Promise.
v. 8. And the children of Israel did so as Joshua commanded, and took up twelve stones out of the midst of Jordan, the twelve men acting as the representatives of the entire host or congregation, 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, where camp was pitched that evening, and laid them down there, in the form of a rough monument.
v. 9. And Joshua set up twelve stones in the midst of Jordan, where they might become visible when the water was at low stage, in the place where the feet of the priests which bare the Ark of the Covenant stood; and they are there unto this day, to the time when this report was put down or this book written. This second monument was erected by Joshua without special divine direction, but nevertheless with a good purpose, for it served to bring home to the people the fact of God's protection and assistance in the conquest of Canaan.
The Stones Pitched in Gilgal
v. 10. For the priests which bare the ark stood in the midst of Jordan until everything 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, made as quick a passage as possible. Moses had, according to the command of God, commissioned Joshua to lead the people into the Promised Land, at the same time giving him the assurance that the Lord would be with him. Therefore the execution of the divine command was at the same time an act of obedience to the charge of Moses. During all this time, while the entire host of Israel passed over and while the stones were taken from the bed of the river for the monument, the priests stood in the bed of the stream, their presence with the ark serving as a guarantee for the safe passage of all the people.
v. 11. And it came to pass, when all the people were clean passed over, when every last one of them had reached the high ground beyond the flood-stage, that the ark of the Lord passed over, for it was the emblem of Jehovah, the almighty God, who held back the waves in their mad rush, and the priests, who were only the bearers of the sacred chest, in the presence of the people, all of them being witnesses of the miraculous happening.
v. 12. And the children of Reuben and the children of Gad and half the tribe of Manasseh passed over armed before the children of Israel, as Moses spake unto them, that is, their best soldiers, as the representatives of their armies, Joshua 1:14;
v. 13. about forty thousand prepared for war, fully armed and equipped, passed over before the Lord, in whose presence their promise had been given, unto battle, for a war of conquest and extermination was before them, to the plains of Jericho, the plain or valley extending to that city. These forty thousand warriors represented the flower of the two and one half tribes east of Jordan, the remaining sixty to seventy thousand being left for the protection of the cities and their meadows.
v. 14. On that day the Lord magnified Joshua in the sight of all Israel, they were filled with the proper reverence for him as the chosen leader of the host; and they feared him as they feared Moses all the days of his life, Joshua 3:7.
v. 15. And the Lord spake unto Joshua, saying,
v. 16. Command the priests that bear the Ark of the Testimony that they come up out of Jordan, from the midst of the stream where they had been stationed during the passage of the people.
v. 17. Joshua, therefore, commanded the priests, saying, Come ye up out of Jordan.
v. 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, literally, "tore themselves loose toward the dry land," said of leaving the bed of the stream and stepping upon the dry bank, that the waters of Jordan returned unto their place, flowed down stream in their natural course, and flowed over all his banks, as they did before. Thus it must have been plain to all the people that it had been the ark which had served as a dam to hold back the waters of the flooded river.
v. 19. And the people came up out of Jordan on the tenth day of the first month, on the very day on which, forty years before, their fathers had selected a lamb or a kid for the first celebration of the Passover, Exodus 12:3, and encamped in Gilgal, in the east border of Jericho, of the territory of Jericho.
v. 20. And those twelve stones which they took out of Jordan did Joshua pitch, set up for a memorial, in Gilgal.
v. 21. And he spake unto the children of Israel, saying, When your children shall ask their fathers in time to come, saying, What mean these stones?
v. 22. then ye shall let your children know, give them the information as the Lord had commanded in vv. 6 and 7, saying, Israel came over this Jordan on dry land.
v. 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 Bed Sea, which He dried up from before us, until we were gone over, the statement being given in poetical form, with epic brevity and force;
v. 24. that all the people of the earth might know the hand of the Lord, acknowledge His almighty power in affording to His people this miraculous passage, that it is mighty; that ye might fear the Lord, your God, forever, Exodus 14:31; Deuteronomy 6:2. The remembrance of God's wonderful deed at this time was intended to keep the right fear of the Lord in the hearts of the children of Israel, lest they, in forgetting His blessings, lose the faith and trust of their hearts. We Christians also should be ever mindful of the great and wonderful deeds of God which He performed for the salvation of our soul, in redeeming us from the terrors of the wilderness of His wrath and in leading us into the glorious light of the Gospel, as a surety of our eternal salvation.
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Kretzmann, Paul E. Ph. D., D. D. "Commentary on Joshua 4". "Kretzmann's Popular Commentary". https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 15 / Ordinary 20