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Deeper Commentary


Jos 3:1 Joshua rose up early in the morning-
In the days before alarm clocks, special note is taken of this feature of Joshua (Josh. 6:12; 7:16; 8:10). There is a much repeated characteristic of God's servants: that they 'rose up early in the morning' and did God's work. In each of the following passages, this phrase is clearly not an idiom; rather does it have an evidently literal meaning: Abraham (Gen. 19:27; 21:14; 22:3); Jacob (Gen. 28:18); Job (1:5); Moses (Ex. 8:20; 9:13; 24:4; 34:4); Joshua (Josh. 3:1; 6:12; 7:16; 8:10); Gideon (Jud. 6:38; 7:1);  ). This is quite an impressive list, numerically. This can be a figure for being zealous (Ps. 127:2; Pr. 27:14; Song 7:12; Is. 5:11; Zeph. 3:7). God Himself rises up early in His zeal to save and bring back His wayward people ( ; Jer. 7:13,25; 11:7; 25:3,4; 26:5; 29:19; 32:33; 35:14,15; 44:4). Yet the above examples all show that men literally rose up early in their service to God; this was an expression of their zeal for God, in response to His zeal for us. I'm not suggesting that zeal for God is reflected by rising early rather than staying up late; but it wouldn't be too much to suggest that if we are men of mission, we won't waste our hours in bed. Get up when you wake up.

And they moved from Shittim, and came to the Jordan, he and all the children of Israel. They lodged there before they passed over-
Lodging in full view of Jericho would have been a tactical mistake, humanly speaking. Far better, surely, a quick attack by an advanced guard of soldiers, rather than taking the whole nation over Jordan in full view of their enemies waiting for them. 

Jos 3:2 It happened after three days that the officers went through the midst of the camp-
The three days spent looking at Jordan was perhaps to encourage them to meditate upon the Red Sea deliverance and to help them make the move in faith. Humanly speaking, sitting there in full view of the men of Jericho was unwise. These three days may be those of Josh. 1:11. The order to prepare food was given on 7th Nisan, as they crossed Jordan on the 10th. The spies would have been on their mission between the 5th and 8th Nisan.       

Jericho was protected from the oncoming Israelites by the Jordan river. Rahab mentioned to the spies that the men of Jericho were terrified at the way Israel's God had dried up the Red Sea (Josh. 2:10), implying that they believed Yahweh could likewise dry up the Jordan and take away their line of natural defence. Perhaps Joshua and Caleb envisaged the drying up of the Jordan as already in essence accomplished when they reasoned that their defence [the Jordan] was departed / held up / turned off from them (Num. 14:9). The whole situation was a purposeful repetition in essence of the Red Sea crossing. Circumstances repeat in life so that we learn faith from the previous incident, at least potentially. 1:11 had foretold they would pass over the river, but they had to go forward in faith not knowing how exactly that would work out in practice. Once they had gone over Jordan, they were entering a hostile country from which there would now be no retreat. This is hinted at in the descriptions of Israel not only passing over but totally passing over (3:17; 4:1). This is the way God works- if we go forward in faith, then the way back to the world is harder. Joshua therefore encouraged them that when God drove back the river it would be as if He had stretched out His hand to strike all the inhabitants of the land (Dt. 7:1). The wonder of our baptism implies that all future conflicts and obstacles to entry to the Kingdom will likewise be overcome.

Jos 3:3 and they commanded the people saying, When you see the ark of the covenant of Yahweh your God and the priests the Levites bearing it, then you shall move from your place, and follow it-
Instead of following the pillar of cloud and fire they had to follow only the ark. The miraculous presence of the fire and cloud was now removed- that had trained them to follow God's leading even when now there was no miraculous sign. Ex. 15:15-17 had reasoned that a division of the waters immediately prior to Israel's entry into Canaan would make the Canaanites fear Israel. There was therefore the hint that a drying up of the Jordan would happen- Joshua seems to have imagined it would, but only the spiritually minded amongst Israel would've grasped the hint from Ex. 15:15-17. This is typical of how God works- those who love His word find hints and encouragements for their faith when facing specific obstacles. Those who are not sensitive to God's word or who are ignorant of it don't find this same encouragement. Hence when Is. 64:3 comments that God did great things for Israel which they "looked not for"- this is an expression of His grace towards the less spiritually perceptive. They should have 'looked for' this miracle- but even although they did not, God still did it. This is comfort, although not without limit, to those who still wonder how and whether they shall pass over to be in God's Kingdom.

Jos 3:4 Yet there shall be a space between you and it, about two thousand cubits by measure. Don’t come near to it, that you may know the path to follow; for you have not passed this way before-
Two thousand cubits is nearly one kilometer. The ark was as it were able to protect itself, without the need of being guarded by soldiers- in fact it was the unguarded ark which was itself a guard to them. In this lies a caveat about 'apologetics' and the idea of defending God and His Truth. He doesn't need it, and so much damage has been done by those who think that somehow, His Truth and glory depends upon them to preserve it. The distance from the ark was to also focus their attention upon it as the means of their crossing over the river- just as our crossing into the Kingdom will be made with total focus on the person of Jesus as our Saviour. We need the appropriate distance from Him so that we may observe His path.

"Space" translates a word which is often used about time, s.w. "a great while to come". The physical distance between them and the ark looked ahead to how the ark, representing the Lord Jesus, was to enter into the rest before they did, but as the guarantee that they / we would follow. If we follow that "path". "The way" "passed" is a phrase often used about the wilderness wanderings (Josh. 24:17 and often in Deuteronomy). Some of the wilderness march was going over similar territory where they had been before; but the entrance to the Kingdom was to be of a totally different nature. On one hand, we are to live the eternal life now, acting now as we will in the Kingdom. But on another hand, the Kingdom life will not at all be what we have experienced in this life.

Jos 3:5 Joshua said to the people, Sanctify yourselves; for tomorrow Yahweh will do wonders among you-
This was calmly spoken in absolute faith. For there was no visible evidence that the Jordan would dry up. They were to sanctify themselves not so as to be worthy of God's gracious action, but rather because they were in the presence of it. These "wonders" are a hint that they are to enter covenant with God as at Sinai (s.w. Ex. 34:10). The command to sanctify themselves recalled the command as they entered covenant at Sinai (Ex. 19:10-15). "Tomorrow" would have been the 10th Nisan (Josh. 4:19), the day when they had taken to themselves a lamb for salvation (Ex. 12:3).

Jos 3:6 Joshua spoke to the priests, saying, Take up the ark of the covenant, and walk in front of the people. They took up the ark of the covenant, and walked ahead of the people-
This is now happening on the day following :5, the "tomorrow" there spoken of. It was the Angel and pillar of fire which had "walked ahead of the people" (s.w. Num. 14:14; Ex. 32:34). But now all focus was to be upon the ark, representing the Lord Jesus. The time of following Angels and seeing God's actions as solely through them needs to give way to perceiving His direct presence with us through the Lord Jesus, represented by the ark.

It was God's intention that Moses would go before the people and lead them into the land (Dt. 10:11), but Moses failed, and so it fell to Joshua. But it seems he was nervous, and so God used the ark rather than Joshua personally to 'go before the people' (s.w. Josh. 3:6). All the time we see God setting up potential programs which have to be amended because of human weakness.

Jos 3:7 Yahweh said to Joshua, Today I will begin to magnify you in the sight of all Israel, that they may know that as I was with Moses, so I will be with you-
Just as Moses was given credibility before the people by the miraculous opening of the Red Sea (Ex. 14:31), so Joshua was given similar credibility. Moses achieved the miracle by his rod; Joshua did so by the ark of the covenant. Both times they passed over "on dry ground" (3:17). Clearly Joshua was not of the personality type which would naturally be found compelling as a charismatic leader. And so God gave this to him (Josh. 4:14 s.w.).

Jos 3:8 You shall command the priests who bear the ark of the covenant saying, ‘When you come to the brink of the waters of the Jordan, you shall stand still in the Jordan’-
More commands to the priests resume in :13. "Stand still" recalls how at the Red Sea, Israel were to stand still and see the saving action of God in parting the water (Ex. 14:13 cp. 2 Chron. 20:17). Only the older ones would have remembered the Red Sea parting. They were all being shown that what was apparently merely Bible story time events were going to be repeated just as amazingly in their own experience.

Jos 3:9 Joshua said to the children of Israel, Come here, and hear the words of Yahweh your God-
This continues to allude to the covenant at Sinai. Although the date was here just before Passover, and Israel first entered into the covenant after Passover. God is not a literalist, and clearly the essence of the Passover and entry into covenant at Sinai were being repeated.

Jos 3:10 Joshua said, Hereby you shall know that the living God is among you-
Heb. "in the midst of you". The God of the living ones, the cherubim which covered the ark and between which was the shekinah glory, was now revealed. For the ark was no longer hidden from view in the most holy place, but openly in view of all. And all Israel could look at it as they passed over. The Lord Jesus uses this phrase in speaking of His abiding presence in the midst of His people today (Mt. 18:20).

And that He will without fail drive out the Canaanite, and the Hittite, and the Hivite, and the Perizzite, and the Girgashite, and the Amorite, and the Jebusite from before you-
But they did not drive them all out. Here we have an example of a conditional promise, spoken of as a prophecy. They were made "to know" that surely they could inherit the entire promised land up to the Euphrates, and the seven nations are spoken of surely as a summary of all the tribes. But the experience of the miracle at Jordan didn't have an abiding impression upon them. And so again we see that miracles don't in fact inculcate abiding faith. Pentecostalism needs to reconsider the role of miracles. For faith, according to Biblical history, is simply not predicated upon miracles. See on :16.

Jos 3:11 Behold, the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth passes over before you into the Jordan-
It could be rendered  “the ark of the covenant is called the ruler of the whole earth"- as if the ark is personified, encouraging us to see it as representative of a person (the Lord Jesus). Zech. 4:14 likewise associates the ark with "the Lord of all the earth"; and the eretz in view is the land promised to Abraham. The Israelites looked across Jordan to a land apparently not under their control. But they are invited to see Yahweh as enthroned between the cherubim, and therefore His entry into Canaan was as it were His taking control as Lord of His own territory. And they as His people were therefore assured of taking the land.

Israel had been taught throughout their wilderness journey that they were 'passing over', the word is used so often in Deuteronomy about their passing through various places on the journey. It is another allusion to Passover, which feast was about to begin. The fact God has brought us over so much day by day in this current journey means that our final crossing over at judgment day into God's Kingdom will just be another stage in the journey, seamlessly part of the process we are currently experiencing, and we should not therefore see judgment day as some huge unknown factor which lies inexorably ahead. They had been taught to speak to others of how they were to pass over Jordan (e.g. Dt. 2:29 "as the children of Esau who dwell in Seir, and the Moabites who dwell in Ar, did to me, until I shall pass over the Jordan into the land which Yahweh our God gives us"; see too Num. 33:51; 35:10; Dt. 4:22,26 "you shall pass over this Jordan"; 9:1; 11:31; 12:10 "when you pass over Jordan"; 27:2,4,12; 30:18; 31:13; 32:47). That's a total of 14 times that they were specifically told they were to pass over Jordan, corresponding to the endless Biblical encouragement we receive that really, we shall inherit the Kingdom. Even if like Israel the words can appear to just drone on in our ears. We too are to live with the full assumption [not presumption] that by grace we shall enter and inherit the Kingdom. The 'passing over' of the ark was to be seen by them as a guarantee that they too would pass over Jordan, just as we are to see in the resurrection of the Lord and His passing over into Divine nature the guarantee of our personal salvation. The Lord's resurrection thereby becomes utterly central to our assurance of salvation if we are indeed 'in Him'. The 2000 cubits distance may be a hint at the Lord 'passing over' 2000 years ahead of us doing so at judgment day. Note that the Hebrew for 'passed over' is also translated 'to carry over' (e.g. Josh. 4:3,8)- they were carried over by God just as we will be.

Jos 3:12 Now therefore take twelve men out of the tribes of Israel, for every tribe a man-
These men had to be appointed first, and were then used in the ritual of Josh. 4:2-4. They were to take stones with them, which all looked forward to the future reality of Rev. 21:14.

Jos 3:13 It shall come to pass, when the soles of the feet of the priests who bear the ark of Yahweh, the Lord of all the earth, rest in the waters of the Jordan-
Israel had been encouraged in Josh. 1:3 that "I have given you every place that the sole of your foot will tread on". Wherever their foot stepped could be theirs. And this was now dramatically and visually taught to them. The waters represented the nations, and perhaps specifically their armies, as in later scripture. As soon as the soles of their foot stood in Jordan, then Jordan was theirs, and the flow of the water of the nations against them would be stopped. For Yahweh was Lord of all the eretz promised to Abraham, and they were His people.

The waters of the Jordan will be cut off. The waters that come down from above shall stand in a heap-
"Cut off" is a direct allusion to the crossing of the Red Sea (Ex. 15:8). But I suggested above that the waters represented the flow of nations against them. And those nations were to be "cut off" before Israel (Dt. 12:29; 19:1 and often).

Jos 3:14 It happened, when the people moved from their tents to pass over the Jordan, that the priests who bore the ark of the covenant walked in front of the people-
But at a distance of 2000 cubits, about 1 kilometer. There was a natural fear at who was to go first. God went first. It is a natural human fear and desire that someone leads, goes over first. And the Lord Jesus, represented by the ark, has done that. We are "like sheep", and God realizes that. We have the huge comfort that One has indeed gone ahead first, and we are to follow.

Jos 3:15 When those who bore the ark had come to the Jordan, and the feet of the priests who bore the ark had dipped in the edge of the water (for the Jordan overflows all its banks all the time of harvest)-
Ps. 114:5 and Is. 43:2 reason that what God did at the Jordan He does in essence in our lives. God made the people cross Jordan at the time when it was widest- an example of how (at some times, in some ways) He purposefully tests faith. To cross the Jordan in flood was a heroic and very difficult act, according to 1 Chron. 12:15. Likewise God chose their crossing place as facing Jericho ("right against Jericho", :16)- the strongest opponent, whose spies no doubt were nervously watching the Israelites. Ps. 93:3,4 refer to how the floods lifted up their voice, but God's people walked through them- this is more relevant to the Jordan crossing than to the Red Sea exodus. Jordan is widest after the Spring snow melt in the Lebanon mountains ("the swelling of Jordan", Jer. 12:5; 49:19)- incidental proof that they crossed Jordan around Passover time, which is when they had crossed the Red Sea. "The harvest" was the barley harvest, which was traditionally reaped on 10 Nisan; not the wheat harvest, which was at Pentecost seven weeks later (Ex. 34:22). We note that the barley and flax harvests were at this time, and the two crops were harvested at the same time (Ex. 9:31,33). This would explain why Rahab had flax stalks on her roof (Josh. 2:6). This is the kind of internal corroboration within the record which is to me the greatest proof of Biblical inspiration.

God arranged circumstances so that they could see the similarities with the Red Sea crossing, and learn from that incident now that the circumstances were repeating. God does the same with us, daily; repeating circumstances, and trying to get us to see how in essence our experiences are repeating Biblical experiences. All the promises that Israel would enter Canaan actually implied this miracle- but it was for the thoughtful Israelite to perceive that.

Jos 3:16 that the waters which came down from above stood and rose up in one heap-
Presumably they froze and congealed, as perhaps happened at the Red Sea.  The language of waters divided and gathered together recalls the language of creation (Gen. 1:6,9). Allusions to creation language are frequent in the Bible, to encourage us that what God did then and continues to do in creation, He does in our lives. The new creation in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17) involves the same expenditure of energy to create ex nihilo the spiritual person within us.

A great way off-
We see here God's sensitivity to human weakness . They were not asked to cross with a wall of water on one side of them, which they would feared could come crashing down upon them. The water of Jordan fled backwards (Ps. 114:3), referring to this creation of a dry riverbed upstream of the crossing as well as downstream of it. "Jordan" is literally 'the descender', and we see here God's power to arrest an otherwise apparently inevitable downward movement, and even reverse it. The water was not merely parted, but driven back upstream.

At Adam, the city that is beside Zarethan-
We naturally see the symbolism; the problem caused with Adam was arrested by God's action. "Zarethan", 'place of piercing', would then allude to the promised piercing of the serpent, the power of sin (Gen. 3:15). There is no city known as Adam, but probably Admah is in view (Gen 14:2). It is spelt "Adam" here in order to direct our attention to the symbolism.

And those that went down toward the sea of the Arabah, even the Salt Sea, were wholly cut off. Then the people passed over right against Jericho-
As discussed above, this was therefore in full view of the men of Jericho who for sure had been sent out to report on the Israelite movements. Tactically it would have appeared foolish. But this was an example of how we are "fools for Christ's sake". God works not through human wisdom but through the way of His Spirit. I suggested on :13 that the 'cutting off' of the waters represented the cutting off of all opposition to them. And therefore this miracle was the guarantee that they would successfully displace all the tribes in the land (:10).

Jos 3:17 The priests who bore the ark of the covenant of Yahweh stood firm on dry ground in the middle of the Jordan. Then, all the people of Israel passed over the Jordan on dry ground-
As discussed on :13,16, the cutting off of the waters  represented the cutting off of all Gentile opposition to them. But this depended upon the priests 'standing firm' or "upright" (Heb.), so that all Israel could inherit the Kingdom. And Israel's history is full of evidence that the priesthood did not stand firm, and all Israel therefore lost the Kingdom because of it.