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Joshua 3

PARAGRAPH DIVISIONS OF MODERN TRANSLATIONS

NASB NKJV NRSV TEV NJB
The People Stop at the Jordan Israel Crosses the Jordan The Crossing of the Jordan The People of Israel Cross the Jordan Before the Crossing
3:1-4 3:1-8 3:1-6 3:1-4 3:1-6
3:5-6     3:5-6 Final Instructions
3:7-13   3:7-13 3:7-8 3:7-13
  3:9-13   3:9-13  
The People Cross Jordan       Crossing the Jordan
3:14-17 314-17 3:14-17 3:14a 3:14-17
      3:14b-17  

READING CYCLE THREE (from "A Guide to Good Bible Reading")

FOLLOWING THE ORIGINAL AUTHOR'S INTENT AT THE PARAGRAPH LEVEL

This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects. Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired but it is the key to following the original author's intent which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.

 

CONTEXTUAL INSIGHTS

A. Chapters 3 and 4 describe the crossing of the Jordan. The accounts seem to be rather repetitive, but we must remember that it is characteristic of Hebrew literature that one general account is followed by a detailed account (cf. Genesis 1 and 2).

 

B. A brief outline of these two chapters is

1. Chapter 3:1-6—preparation for entering the Promised Land

2. Chapter 3:7-17—the crossing of the Jordan

3. Chapter 4:1-14—extra details concerning the crossing of the Jordan

4. Chapter 4: 15-24—the memorial stones

 

C. There are several examples of memorial stone piles in Joshua. The purpose of the memorials was to instruct the next generation about YHWH's faithful covenant acts and YHWH's reaction to covenant disobedience (cf. Jos. 4:20-24; 8:35); some are positive and some negative.

1. the positives are

a. twelve stones from the Jordan arranged at Gilgal (cf. Jos. 4:1-8)

b. twelve stones from the Jordan arranged on the brink of the Jordan (cf. Jos. 4:9)

c. stone piles record the Law at Mt. Ebal (cf. Jos. 8:30-35)

2. the negatives are

a. Achan and his family and cattle stoned to death for their disobedience (cf. Jos. 7:25)

b. Achan and his family buried by a great heap of stones (cf. Jos. 7:26)

c. King of Ai killed and buried by a great heap of stones (cf. Jos. 8:29)

d. large stones used to seal the cave where the five Canaanite kings were buried (cf. Jos. 10:27)

 

D. There are two memorial stones mentioned

1. the stone of Bochan (cf. Jos. 15:6; 18:17)

2. the covenant stone (cf. Jos. 24:26-27)

 

WORD AND PHRASE STUDY

NASB (UPDATED TEXT): JOSHUA 3:1-4
 1Then Joshua rose early in the morning; and he and all the sons of Israel set out from Shittim and came to the Jordan, and they lodged there before they crossed. 2At the end of three days the officers went through the midst of the camp; 3and they commanded the people, saying, "When you see the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God with the Levitical priests carrying it, then you shall set out from your place and go after it. 4However, there shall be between you and it a distance of about 2,000 cubits by measure. Do not come near it, that you may know the way by which you shall go, for you have not passed this way before.

3:1 "Joshua rose early in the morning" This is a Hebrew idiom which is used often in the Old Testament to describe someone who is preparing for a journey (cf. Gen. 19:2; 20:8; 21:14; 22:3; 26:31; 28:18; 31:55; Exod. 8:30; 9:13; 24:4; 32:6; 34:4; etc.). Here it implies that Joshua immediately performed his task (cf. Jos. 6:12; 7:16; 8:10).

▣ "Shittim" This seems to mean "from the acacias." Acacias are a rather hard, dark wood which was very common in the desert. This is basically the geographical area known as the Plains of Moab (cf. Num. 33:48,49,50).

3:2 "it came about at the end of three days" Some see this as being linked to the three-day ritual of Jos. 1:11, while other commentators assume that it is a different three-day period. Three days is the normal time necessary for ritual preparation (cf. Exod. 19:10-15).

▣ "officers" This means "scribes" and refers to the helpers of the elders who are mentioned in Jos. 1:10. These would be the administrative type officials who would help Joshua.

3:3 "the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God" A full description of this symbol of the presence of God is found in Exod. 25:10-22. The Shekinah Cloud of Glory had been the symbol of God's presence with His people during the Wilderness Wandering period, but now it was replaced by the ark of the covenant which sat in the Holy of Holies in the tabernacle. On its mercy seat (i.e., lid) were two winged cherubim. On the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16) the High Priest entered the Holy of Holies (twice) in order to sprinkle blood on the mercy seat (for his sin, then for the nation's) which was a sign of forgiveness for the entire nation. The rabbis believed that God dwelt in heaven and that His footstool was the ark of the covenant, the place where heaven and earth met!

▣ "Levitical priests carrying it" The ark and the cloud led them throughout the wilderness wandering period. Usually the ark was carried by the sons of Kohath (cf. Num. 4:4,15). The fact that it was carried here by the Levitical priests shows the significance of this particular event (also the cloud apparently was not visible).

3:4 "However, there shall be between you and it a distance of about 2,000 cubits by measure" A cubit is the distance between a man's longest finger and his elbow. It usually equaled about 18 inches. This meant that the distance referred to here was about 3,000 feet. Some see this as the source of the rabbis' limit for a Sabbath day's journey (cf. Acts 1:12). Apparently this was a symbol of reverence and a sign of who was leading the people into the promised land (i.e., God).

SPECIAL TOPIC: CUBIT

▣ "do not come near it" The verb (BDB 897, KB 1132, Qal imperfect) is JUSSIVE in meaning. There was a holiness about the ark which required utmost care (cf. 2 Sam. 6:6-7).

▣ "for you have not passed this way before" This shows that God was leading His people in fulfillment of His promise to Abraham (cf. Gen. 12:1-3).

NASB (UPDATED TEXT): JOSHUA 3:5-6
 5Then Joshua said to the people, "Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do wonders among you." 6And Joshua spoke to the priests, saying, "Take up the ark of the covenant and cross over ahead of the people." So they took up the ark of the covenant and went ahead of the people.

3:5 "consecrate yourselves" This verb (BDB 872, KB 1073, Hithpael imperative, cf. Jos. 7:13) is used for specific acts of purification in Exod. 19:10,14,22. This is the Hebrew root which is used for holiness.

SPECIAL TOPIC: HOLY

NASB (UPDATED TEXT): JOSHUA 3:7-13
 7Now the Lord said to Joshua, "This day I will begin to exalt you in the sight of all Israel, that they may know that just as I have been with Moses, I will be with you. 8You shall, moreover, command the priests who are carrying the ark of the covenant, saying, 'When you come to the edge of the waters of the Jordan, you shall stand still in the Jordan.'" 9Then Joshua said to the sons of Israel, "Come here, and hear the words of the Lord your God." 10Joshua said, "By this you shall know that the living God is among you, and that He will assuredly dispossess from before you the Canaanite, the Hittite, the Hivite, the Perizzite, the Girgashite, the Amorite, and the Jebusite. 11Behold, the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth is crossing over ahead of you into the Jordan. 12Now then, take for yourselves twelve men from the tribes of Israel, one man for each tribe. 13It shall come about when the soles of the feet of the priests who carry the ark of the Lord, the Lord of all the earth, rest in the waters of the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan will be cut off, and the waters which are flowing down from above will stand in one heap."

3:7 "that they will know that just as I have been with Moses, I will be with you" The human leader had changed but God was the same! God is going to show His support for Joshua by doing several things for him that He had also done for Moses. As God split the Red Sea in the Exodus, He now splits the Jordan in the Conquest. Another example of this same type of duplicated events is 5:13-15, which is comparable with Moses' burning bush experience in Exodus 3.

3:9 Joshua again commands the people.

1. "come here," BDB 620, KB 670, Qal imperative. This probably refers to the leaders who would pass on the information, but it could also refer to all the Israelites.

2. "hear the words of the Lord your God," BDB 1033, KB 1570, Qal imperative. This verb means to hear so as to do! These are God's words, not Joshua's.

 

3:10 "the living God" This is the meaning of the name "YHWH" (cf. Exod. 3:14). It is from the Hebrew verb "to be." He is the ever living, only living God. See Special Topic at Jos. 1:1.

▣ "the living God is among you" What a tremendous promise this is. The transcendent Holy One is with them (immanence). YHWH's miracle (splitting the Jordan) will convince them all that YHWH fulfills His promise (cf. Num. 16:28).

▣ "that He will assuredly dispossess from before you" This is an emphatic grammatical construction made up of the Hiphil infinitive absolute and the Hiphil imperfect of the verb for possess/drive out (BDB 439, KB 441). This verb is common in Deuteronomy, Joshua, and Judges.

▣ "the Canaanite, the Hittites, the Hivites, the Perizzites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, and the Jebusites"

SPECIAL TOPIC: PRE-ISRAELITE INHABITANTS OF PALESTINE

3:11 "the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth" This is the name adon (BDB 10), which means "owner," "husband," or "master." Here again is that universal emphasis which is seen so often in the Pentateuch (cf. Jos. 3:13; 4:24; Gen. 3:15; 12:3; Exod. 9:29: 19:5). There is one and only one creator, sustainer, and redeemer, God (cf. Ps. 97:5; Micah 4:13). See Special Topic: Bob's Evangelical Biases at Jos. 1:7.

3:12 "take for yourselves twelve men from the tribes of Israel, one man for each tribe" Notice that this does not include the tribe of Levi. This emphasis on the inclusion of the tribes is a major theme throughout the book of Joshua. Their purpose is stated in chapter 4 (to gather stones as a memorial)

3:13 "when the soles of the feet of the priests who carry the ark of the Lord" These priests who were carrying the ark had to act in faith to enter the turbulent waters of the overflowing Jordan. All of them had to get their feet into the water before it would divide. This is another sign of the faith that God required of His people.

▣ "Lord, the Lord" See SPECIAL TOPIC: NAMES FOR DEITY at Jos. 1:1.

▣ "the waters of the Jordan shall be cut off" At a location north of the crossing (Jericho) the limestone cliffs caved in at the city of Adam and dammed up the Jordan (cf. Jos. 3:16). This was a natural event, but with supernatural timing (when it started and when it stopped) and locality. This was just like the plagues of Egypt, which they had heard about from their parents.

In Genesis 1 water is never said to be spoken into existence. It is present and covers the earth in Gen. 1:2. God's control of water (i.e., forming the dry land, splitting the Red Sea and the Jordan) shows that He is the God of creation. Water is so important to life, but can be so destructive. Too much is a problem and too little is a problem. YHWH controls the oceans (salt water) and the rivers, dew, and rain (fresh water). Water brings and sustains life (as does God)!

NASB (UPDATED TEXT): JOSHUA 3:14-17
 14So when the people set out from their tents to cross the Jordan with the priests carrying the ark of the covenant before the people, 15and when those who carried the ark came into the Jordan, and the feet of the priests carrying the ark were dipped in the edge of the water (for the Jordan overflows all its banks all the days of harvest), 16the waters which were flowing down from above stood and rose up in one heap, a great distance away at Adam, the city that is beside Zarethan; and those which were flowing down toward the sea of the Arabah, the Salt Sea, were completely cut off. So the people crossed opposite Jericho. 17And the priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord stood firm on dry ground in the middle of the Jordan while all Israel crossed on dry ground, until all the nation had finished crossing the Jordan.

3:14 "the people set out from their tents to cross the Jordan" This literally means "to pull tent pegs" (BDB 652, KB 704, Qal infinitive construct).

3:15 There is a distinct literary feature used throughout Joshua. Joshua regularly uses the same verb twice, mentioned once and then acted on (the verb "to be," BDB 224, KB 243, is used this way so often I will not list them):

1. 2:12  - "dealt kindly with you" (BDB 793, KB 889, Qal perfect, Qal perfect)

2. 3:6; 4:1 - "said. . .saying" (BDB 55, KB 65, Qal imperfect, Qal infinitive construct)

3. 3:15 - "carried the ark" (BDB 669, KB 724, 2 Qal active participles)

4. 4:11; 5:1 - "a crossing" (BDB 716, KB 778, Qal infinitive constructs, 2 Qal imperfects)

5. 4:14 - "revered" (BDB 431, KB 432, Qal imperfect, Qal perfect)

6. 5:3,4 - "circumcise" (BDB 557, KB 555, Qal imperfect, Qal perfect)

7. 6:3 - "march around" (BDB 685, KB 738, Qal perfect, Hiphil infinitive absolute

There are many more. It becomes a literary characteristic of this book.

▣ "for the Jordan overflows all its banks all the days of harvest" This was the time of the flax and barley harvest, not the later wheat harvest. This would mean that the Jordan was rushing out of its banks because of the melting snows from Mt. Hermon. Crossing it would be very difficult, almost impossible, at this time of the year. God would show them that He was still with them and for them by this miraculous crossing!

3:16 "and the waters which were flowing down from above stood and rose up in one heap, a great distance away at Adam, the city that is beside Zarethan" The method which God used was a cave-in of the limestone cliffs which were several miles upstream. The miraculous elements were (1) the supernatural timing of the landslide and (2) its releasing of the water. We know from history, both Arab (1267 b.c.) and modern history (a.d. 1297) that the Jordan River has been stopped by landslides in this area before. There is a difference in opinion concerning the location of the city of Adam. Some say that it is about sixteen miles north of Jericho, while others say it is as far north as thirty-six miles. This same city in mentioned in Hosea 6:7.

The word "heap" (BDB 622) is always used in connection with God's control of water.

1. Red Sea, Exod. 15:8; Ps. 78:13

2. gathering of water at creation, Ps. 33:7

 

"beside" Zarethan is several miles north of Adam. The Hebrew may imply that the water backed up to Zarethan, not that it was close to Adam (cf. W. F. Albright).

3:17 "the priests . . . stood firm on dry ground in the middle of the Jordan" The Hebrew term (BDB 892) in Jos. 3:15 means "on the edge or brink of the Jordan." Yet, in Jos. 3:17, the priest seems to have moved to the middle (BDB 1063) of the Jordan. However, if the men gathered two sets of twelve stones from the middle of the Jordan as a memorial in chapter four: (1) one set was placed at the first camp site, Gilgal and (2) the second set (cf. Jos. 4:9) was placed "in the middle" of the Jordan. But in this location they would never be seen. This must mean on the edge or brink as in Jos. 3:15 so that they were visible all year except during the few weeks of the flood stage.

▣ "until all the nation had finished crossing the Jordan" We learn from 4:10 that the people hurried across. Apparently the priests were growing very weary of holding the heavy, gold-covered ark for the hours it must have taken for the large number of people to cross.

"all the nation" See Special Topic below.

SPECIAL TOPIC: THOUSAND (ELEPH)

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought-provoking, not definitive.

1. Why is the crossing of the Jordan such a major event?

2. How is the crossing of the Jordan related to the crossing of the Red Sea?

3. How is God's presence symbolized after the people enter the promised land?