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Bible Commentaries

Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible

Joshua 4


Twelve stones are taken for a memorial out of Jordan: twelve other stones are set up in the midst thereof, the people pass through the river, and Joshua erects in Gilgal the twelve stones taken out of Jordan.

Before Christ 1451.

Verse 5

Ver. 5. And Joshua said unto them, Pass over before the ark Or, Pass back again directly unto the ark. These twelve men re-entered the channel of the Jordan, and, being dispensed from the prohibition to approach the ark, came near the place where the priests stood, and each loaded himself with a stone as big as he could carry, and such as might afterwards attest to each several tribe that he had seen the bed of the river dry, and the miracle prolonged till the entire execution of the commands of God.

Verse 7

Ver. 7. Then ye shall answer them, That the waters of Jordan were cut off "You shall seize this opportunity to inform them of the wonderful things which God has done for the opening to you an entrance into the land of Canaan; and you shall endeavour to transmit to them, together with the particular facts, those sentiments wherewith I presume you are animated. So long as the nation shall subsist, these stones shall be a perpetual monument to it of your miraculous passage through Jordan, as on this solemn day." We have elsewhere remarked, that it was the custom of all antiquity to erect stones as a monument of covenants, victories, and other important events, whose memory they wished to perpetuate. And though there was no inscription upon these stones, yet the number of them, and their position, was sufficient to denote some memorable thing; for they were evidently placed in a sandy spot, where there were no others of that magnitude.

Verse 9

Ver. 9. And Joshua set up twelve stones in the midst of Jordan Beside the monument which was erected in the lodging-place or camp, Joshua caused other twelve large stones to be placed in the channel of the river, exactly on the spot where the ark had stopped while the people crossed over; and the design of this was the same as of that in the camp. It may be asked, To what purpose was this invisible monument, for ever concealed under the waters of Jordan? We answer, perhaps these twelve stones were larger than the twelve former. It is no where said of these last, that they were carried upon men's shoulders. Perhaps they were heaped one upon the other, and thus formed a monument, visible when the waters were very low; though it may be a question, whether the rapidity of the flood would allow them to remain long in that position. Perhaps, too, these waters were so transparent, that the stones might be discerned, if not on the shore, at least in crossing the river by boat. And, lastly, it was not absolutely necessary that this monument should be visible. See Houbigant's note on the place.

And they are there unto this day Hobbes, and those who think like him, are not the only persons who have concluded from these words, that Joshua was not the author of this book, but that it was written long after his time;

Masius and Grotius have thought the same. We do not see, however, why Joshua might not have added these words, on revising his book in the latter part of his life; which he probably did (see on Deuteronomy 10:5; Deu 11:4 and the learned Huet's Demonstr. Evang. prop. iv. c. 24.; or, indeed, the words in question might have been added by some author equally inspired by God. With respect to the fact itself, both the monuments set up by Joshua in memory of the passage through Jordan, if we may believe Eusebius and others, existed for many centuries after their erection.

Verse 10

Ver. 10. According to all that Moses commanded Joshua Some interpreters are of opinion from these words, that Moses, before his death, gave some intimation and orders to Joshua respecting the passage of the Jordan, and the erection of the monuments destined to perpetuate the memory of that event. But the whole meaning of the expression seems to be, that Joshua behaved on this occasion with all that prudence, confidence in God, fidelity and courage, wherewith Moses had wished to inspire him. See Deuteronomy 3:28.

And the people hasted and passed over This may be understood of a certain number of Israelites, who stayed behind to attend the motions of the ark; or of those twelve men who had reared the twelve stones in the bottom of the river. But where is the difficulty of supposing with some, that the Israelites hastened, either to complete their passage before night came on, or because the sight of the waters, suspended on their right, struck them with terror? In so numerous a multitude, it is not credible that all hearts were animated with the same confidence. We should apprehend, therefore, that these words insinuate, that fear really did hasten the Israelites' march; while the priests, on the contrary, who bare the ark, continued unshaken in their post, till, there remaining no one upon the eastern shore, nor in the bed of the river, they moved on also to cross it in sight of all Israel, who, from the western bank, beheld them with admiration.

Verses 12-13

Ver. 12, 13. And the children of Reuben, &c.— In conformity to their engagement, (Numbers 32:20; Num 21:27 and chap. Joshua 1:13.) these two tribes and a half supplied a body which passed over the Jordan, marching into the enemy's country at the head of all the people. This was evidently a chosen troop; for in the numbering, which had been made a year before, of the soldiers which each tribe could furnish, 43,730 were found in the single tribe of Reuben, 40,500 in that of Gad, and 26,350 in the half tribe of Manasseh; in all 110,580 fighting men. See Numbers 18:32. Most of them, therefore, remained on this side the Jordan, to guard the country which those tribes had conquered, and which had been given to them.

Armed Or, Ready-girt.

Passed over—to the plains of Jericho These 40,000 men formed the vanguard of the army, and took their march across the plains which lay betwixt Jordan and Jericho, in the place where the enemy's army should naturally have posted itself, either to dispute the passage of the Israelites through the river, or to defend the country. Thus they went on in order of battle before the ark, and, as it seems, at 2000 cubits from it.

Verse 14

Ver. 14. On that day the Lord magnified Joshua, &c.— By the miracle which had just given happy success to that general's first enterprize, and which acquired to him the same confidence and respect from the Israelites, that Moses had before acquired from the miraculous passage of the Red Sea. Thus the Lord gloriously fulfilled his word, and accomplished his promise made to Joshua in the foregoing chapter, ver. 7.

Verses 15-18

Ver. 15-18. And the Lord spake unto Joshua, &c.— Before the people advanced into the country, Joshua had commanded the priests, who bare the ark, to quit the channel of the river, and come to the western bank; and as soon as they had gained this side, and their feet were beyond the place to which the waters had formerly reached, we see that the waters gradually resumed their wonted course, and flowed, as before, over the two shores. Thus every thing in this memorable event was miraculous.

Verse 19

Ver. 19. And the people came up out of Jordan on the tenth day, &c.— On the fifteenth of this same month the people had departed from Egypt; so that forty years, wanting five days, had elapsed from the first of these events to the second. Gilgal was situate between Jordan and Jericho, ten furlongs from the city, and fifty from the river, according to Josephus's calculation. We shall see in the subsequent chapter, ver. 9 what occasioned the giving the name of Gilgal to this first encampment of the Israelites in the land of Canaan, and consequently to the city afterwards built there. Joshua had there his camp, or, as we now express it, his quarters, during all the time that the war lasted, and till the division of the country among the tribes. There the Israelites were circumcised; there they celebrated, for the first time, in the land of Canaan, the passover; and there the tabernacle was fixed and erected, till, Palestine being subdued by the victorious arms of the Hebrews, they placed it at Shilo. Gilgal, however, always continued to be a town of importance, as we may see from divers passages of Scripture, particularly Judges 2:1. 1 Samuel 11:14-15; 1Sa 13:12; 1 Samuel 13:23.

Verse 20

Ver. 20. And those twelve stones—did Joshua pitch in Gilgal Josephus relates the matter as if the Israelites had reared these stones in the form of an altar. It is more probable, that, in order to represent the number of the tribes, they were pitched each upon its basis, as so many small pillars, perhaps in three lines, and probably on an elevation.

Verse 23

Ver. 23. For the Lord your God dried up the waters of Jordan Joshua, considering the people of God here morally, as one person, speaks to them as if they had been of the number of those who had crossed the Red Sea on dry land. He wishes, by the miracle that God had just wrought for them, to recal to their minds that which had been wrought for their fathers, that by entertaining just sentiments of gratitude, as well for the favour they had so lately received, as that of which they still reaped the blessings, though granted to their fathers, they might entirely devote themselves to their nations' perpetual benefactor. So, that hence we learn, that nothing is more reasonable and just than to see among a people children celebrating with gratitude the deliverances and blessings of heaven towards their forefathers; inasmuch as they themselves gather the fruits derived from them, either by their continuance as a body of people, or by the peculiar privileges they enjoy, and which they could not enjoy without that continuance.

Verse 24

Ver. 24. That all the people of the earth might know, &c.— "That all the nations in this country and its adjacencies, to which the fame of this prodigy shall spread itself, may learn the infinite power of the Lord, the only true God, to whom you peculiarly belong; and that you, O Israelites, especially, for whom that God hath performed so many miracles, may inviolably persevere to render him that worship and obedience which he requires at your hands." To fear God, it is well known, has all the energy that we apply to it in this paraphrase; and therefore the LXX have rendered the latter clause of the verse, that ye may worship the Lord your God in every thing you do, i.e. in your whole conduct.

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Bibliographical Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Joshua 4". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. 1801-1803.