New European Commentary


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Deeper Commentary


Jos 4:1 When all the nation had completely passed over the Jordan, Yahweh spoke to Joshua saying-
It is stressed that they all passed over (Josh. 3:17). The salvation was complete.

Jos 4:2 Take twelve men out of the people, out of every tribe a man-
These twelve man and their stones looked forward to the final reality of Rev. 21:14. We are to see in them symbols of the 12 disciples upon whom the kingdom was to be built.

Jos 4:3 and command them saying, ‘Take from out of the middle of the Jordan, out of the place where the priests’ feet stood firm, twelve stones, and carry them over with you, and lay them down in the resting place where you will rest tonight’-
The language of rest connects with the potential possibility that Joshua would bring the people to "rest". But Heb. 4:8 is clear that he didn't achieve this, and so all these things come to their ultimate term in a reapplied fulfilment in the work of the Lord Jesus. 

Dt. 27:2-8 had commanded that "in the day" Israel passed over Jordan, they were to set up plastered stones with the law written upon them [perhaps just the ten commandments], and put them "in mount Ebal". The location was defined as near Gilgal (Dt. 11:30), where they camped after entering the land. Clearly enough, the ceremony of blessing and cursing ought to have been done immediately they entered the land. But they let secular concerns dominate their spritual obligation to be thankful as God had asked. For when Joshua fulfilled it in Josh. 8:30, this was not "in the day" that Israel passed over Jordan. They had indeed taken stones with them from the Jordan, but had not used them as intended. They didn't plaster them nor write the law upon them. And so perhaps God ammended His intention- which was initially that they would set those stones up in mount Ebal immediately. Instead, He sent the people against Jericho, and then against Ai. Perhaps an instant conquest of Jericho had been originally intended, so that they could proceed to mount Ebal immediately. For later in Joshua we will read of God giving His people unnaturally speedy progress against their enemies, all in the same day. Or maybe His intention was that firstly they ought to have gone to mount Ebal with the plastered stones, and only then attacked Jericho. But they didn't plaster the stones nor wish to proceed immediately to Ebal. And so He arranged the campaign against Jericho and then Ai. We see how God is so eager to accommodate His programs to the weakness of men.   

Jos 4:4 Then Joshua called the twelve men whom he had prepared of the children of Israel, out of every tribe a man-
They had been "prepared" at the time of Josh. 3:12. They look forward to the 12 disciples whom the Lord Jesus likewise prepared to lay the foundations of His new kingdom (Rev. 21:14).

Jos 4:5 Joshua said to them, Pass over before the ark of Yahweh your God into the middle of the Jordan, and each of you pick up a stone and put it on your shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the children of Israel-
We note that the two and a half tribes who had taken their inheritance east of Jordan were included in this. Always God was (and still is) careful to inculcate a spirit of unity amongst His people. The stones were not huge, they could each be carried upon a shoulder; God is not at all in the grandiose buildings such as Solomon's temple, but is memorialized in small things like this.

Jos 4:6 This will be a sign among you, that when your children ask in time to come saying, ‘What do you mean by these stones?’-
These were probably the stones in view in Mt. 3:9, where John warned the people near the Jordan river that God was able "of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham". They represented Israel, but an Israel which could become living stones. The language here again recalls that of Passover (Ex. 12:26; 13:14), which they were about to keep. But the spirit of it was seen in the events they were experiencing.  

Jos 4:7 then you shall tell them, ‘Because the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of Yahweh. When it passed over the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off’. These stones shall be for a memorial to the children of Israel forever-
Here we have another example of where "forever" is not to be read as literal infinity. For the memorial has now vanished. The double emphasis upon the waters being cut off is because as noted on Josh. 3:13 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). And therefore this miracle was the guarantee that they would successfully displace all the tribes in the land (Josh. 3:10). This was to serve as encouragement to subsequent generations in their struggles against the local peoples of the land.

Jos 4:8 The children of Israel did as Joshua commanded, and took up twelve stones out of the midst of the Jordan as Yahweh spoke to Joshua, according to the number of the tribes of the children of Israel; and they carried them over with them to the place where they lodged, and laid them down there-
The stones were not huge, they could each be carried upon a shoulder (:5); God is not at all in the grandiose buildings such as Solomon's temple, but is memorialized in small things like this. The stones were carried, representing how God carried His people into the land. They apparently lodged at Gilgal (:20).

Jos 4:9 Joshua set up twelve stones in the midst of the Jordan, in the place where the feet of the priests who bore the ark of the covenant stood-
"In the midst of the Jordan" could be read as "from the midst...". But if we stick with "in the midst...", we are then to understand that there were two memorials. The twelve stones at Gilgal (Josh. 4:20) where they lodged that night (:8), and another 12 stones left in the midst of the Jordan river. This would then speak of how there was both a visible and invisible memorial to God's bringing His people into the land. Or it could be that the twelve stones were first set up on the dry river bed, and then removed from there to Gilgal. This would have visually symbolized the bringing of all twelve tribes from the river to dry ground.  


They are there to this day-
I would consider the book of Joshua to have largely been written by Joshua, under Divine inspiration, although edited [again under Divine inspiration] for the exiles. And the book of Judges likewise. For the exiles too were set to reestablish God's Kingdom in the land and to inherit it again as the Israelites first did. The phrase "to this day" occurs several times in Joshua / Judges, and appears to have different points of historical reference (Josh. 4:9; 5:9; 6:25; 7:26; 8:28,29; 9:27; 10:27; 13:13; 14:14; 15:63; 16:10; 22:3; 23:8,9; Jud. 1:26; 6:24; 10:4; 15:19; 18:12). I would explain this by saying that the book was edited a number of times and the remains of those edits remain in the text. For God's word is living and made relevant by Him to every generation.

Jos 4:10 For the priests who bore the ark stood in the midst of the Jordan until everything was finished that Yahweh commanded Joshua to speak to the people, according to all that Moses commanded Joshua-
Joshua was very good at obedience to clear commandments (Josh. 4:10,17; 8:27; 10:40). But when he had to articulate his faith in God in unexpected situations, e.g. when the ambassadors from Gibeon arrived, or when the first attack on Ai failed, he seems to have performed poorly. Legalistic obedience is no use in those cases when principles need to be applied. Josh. 5:13,14 can be read as a rebuke of Joshua, wanting to boil everything down to black and white, wanting to see God as either personally for him or against him; when the essence is to seek to discern and do God’s will. He very strictly adhered to God’s commandments with legalistic obedience, e.g., about how to approach and deal with Jericho, or how to cross the flooded Jordan and build an altar; and time and again, we read in Joshua of how he strictly relayed and obeyed the Divine commandments given by Moses (Josh. 8:31,33,35; 11:12,15,20; 14:2,5; 17:4; 21:2,8).  Yet as with any literalistic or legally minded person, it was hard for Joshua to apply the principles behind the laws to situations which weren’t specifically addressed by Divine revelation, where legalistic obedience wasn't what was required.

And the people hurried and passed over-
Their haste is understandable, as their eyes would have been toward the wall of water building up some distance from them upstream, fearful it could come surging towards them. But it may be mentioned to draw attention to the similarity with the first Passover and exodus (Ex. 12:39).

Jos 4:11 It happened, when all the people had completely passed over, that the ark of Yahweh passed over with the priests, while the people watched-
The phrase "completely passed over" is used several times. It looks forward to the total deliverance of God's people into His Kingdom. "All the people" excluded many of the two and a half tribes, but their representatives (:12) were counted as them. "The people watched" because they had never seen the ark before, as it was kept in the most holy place. God had as it were denuded Himself in this great work of salvation. He was enthroned in the shekinah glory between the cherubim. The idea was that it was the ark which had enabled them to pass over into the inheritance of the Kingdom. And God would not cease His working until all His people were in His Kingdom.

Jos 4:12 The children of Reuben, the children of Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh passed over armed before the children of Israel, as Moses had spoken to them-
There was no small cost for taking their inheritance east of Jordan. Their soldiers were to all leave their families and flocks defenceless (humanly speaking) and to serve as the vanguard of the assault on Canaan, marching directly behind the ark but in front of the Israelites. Taking inheritance east of Jordan may have appeared initially as an easy way out of showing the faith required to dispossess the Canaanites west of Jordan. But God arranged things, as He does to this day, so that in fact there is no short cut to His Kingdom, no avoidance of showing faith. And in fact attempts to short cut often result in greater faith being required.

Jos 4:13 About forty thousand men prepared and armed for war passed over before Yahweh to battle, to the plains of Jericho-
"Thousand" is often not a literal number in the historical records; especially when used in the context of soldiers, it seems to refer to some military subdivision.

Jos 4:14 On that day, Yahweh magnified Joshua in the sight of all Israel; and they feared him, as they feared Moses, all the days of his life-
It could be that Joshua was a not very confident individual who needed constant encouragement not to fear or be discouraged, as given to him throughout Josh. 1. But God used such an uncharismatic figure, endowing him with respect, because that is His style of working.

Jos 4:15 Yahweh spoke to Joshua saying-
The style here constantly recalls how Yahweh had spoken to Moses and he relayed this to Israel.

Jos 4:16 Command the priests who bear the ark of the testimony, that they come up out of the Jordan-
David's bringing up / going up / ascending of the ark (2 Sam. 6:2) recalls how the ark did not go up into Canaan in Num. 14:44 (s.w.); for the land was not to be given to Israel. But when the time came, the ark was brought up into Canaan (Josh. 4:16,18 s.w.). David felt as if he was as Joshua reconquering Canaan in fulfilment of the promises; for Joshua had failed to bring the people into the promised rest as was potentially possible (Heb. 4:8). This may explain why Paul in Acts 13:21 parallels the 40 years wandering of Israel with the 40 year reign of Saul; and he may speak of Saul reigning 40 years because of this, even if it was not literally true. It creates big chronological problems if we read that 40 year reign of Saul literally.

The ark is described as "the ark of the testimony" because the tables of the commandments (Ex. 25:40) were "the testimony", and sometimes "the ark" is just called "the testimony". Although other things were in the ark, the tables of stone were paramount. The ark represented the Lord Jesus, who was "the word made flesh", with God's word within His heart as the word of God was within the ark. God's covenant word was of the essence in defining His presence amongst men.  

Jos 4:17 Joshua therefore commanded the priests saying, Come up out of the Jordan!-
This phrase 'come up out of Jordan' is used of the priests, the ark (:18) and the people (:19). Clearly the people were to perceive that their coming through Jordan into the promised land was due to their identification with the ark. It all points ahead to our entry into the Kingdom because the Lord Jesus has enabled it, and has Himself entered in.

Jos 4:18 When the priests who carried the ark of the covenant of Yahweh had come up out of the midst of the Jordan, and the soles of the priests’ feet were lifted up to the dry ground, that the waters of the Jordan returned to their place, and went over all its banks as before-
"Lifted up" is literally "plucked up". The Divine cameraman is zoomed in close up. Their plucked their feet up out of the mud onto more solid, dry ground. Once their feet were out of the mid, the waters started flowing back. We can imagine it made quite a sound.

Jos 4:19 The people came up out of the Jordan on the tenth day of the first month, and encamped in Gilgal, on the east border of Jericho-
The 10th Nisan (Josh. 3:5) was the day when they had taken to themselves a lamb for salvation (Ex. 12:3). It was when the firstfruits were to be offered (Lev. 23:9-15). But the grace of their salvation was impressed upon them; instead of their giving something to God, He gave them the great gift of salvation.

Jos 4:20 Joshua set up those twelve stones which they took out of the Jordan in Gilgal-
It seems those stones became abused into a form of idolatry, just as the brazen serpent was. And God particularly hated the sins which were therefore committed at Gilgal (Hos. 4:15; 9:15; Am. 4:4; 5:5). It was there that Israel demanded a king, despite the clear message at this time that the ark was the presence of the "Lord of all the earth". Yahweh was their king who had saved them, memorialized by the stones; and there they demanded a king.  

Jos 4:21 He spoke to the children of Israel saying, When your children ask their fathers in time to come saying, ‘What do these stones mean?’-
Quoting / alluding to Moses- as Joshua often does. The need to teach their children about this great salvation is laboured here just as much, if not more, as is the Passover remembrance.

Jos 4:22 then you shall let your children know, saying, ‘Israel came over this Jordan on dry land-
"This Jordan" implies that the question would be asked when the children enquired about the meaning of the stones, which were near the Jordan river and the river was in clear view of the questioners.

Jos 4:23 For Yahweh your God dried up the waters of the Jordan from before you, until you had passed over, as Yahweh your God did to the Red Sea which He dried up from before us, until we had passed over-
The Red Sea crossing clearly represented baptism (1 Cor. 10:1,2), and the crossing of the Jordan is very similar- but it represents our entry into the Kingdom. We can therefore conclude that baptism is an entry in prospect into God's Kingdom; although we must stay the course through the wilderness.

Jos 4:24 that all the peoples of the earth may know the hand of Yahweh, that it is mighty; that you may fear Yahweh your God forever’-
The miracle of crossing Jordan was to visually demonstrate the 'cutting off' of the waters of the nations before Israel (Dt. 12:29; 19:1 and often). See on Josh. 3:10. The whole action had been of God's grace, and therefore they were to fear or respect Yahweh. This will only happen in our experience if we perceive grace to be point of being utterly awed by it, rather than just admiring it in passing.