Notes on Joshua Chapter 4

by Jonathan Spurlock
(Holts Summit, MO)

Joshua 4:1, KJV 1 And it came to pass, when all the people were clean passed over Jordan, that the LORD spake unto Joshua, saying,


Notice that God is speaking directly to Joshua at this moment. This type of communication happened often in the Book of Joshua.
The priests, carrying the Ark of the Covenant, were still in the river bed at this time. The place where they were standing, namely, the riverbed itself, was still dry ground (Joshua 3:17).

2 Take you twelve men out of the people, out of every tribe a man, 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, twelve stones, and ye shall carry them over with you, and leave them in the lodging place, where ye shall lodge this night.

No dimensions for the stones are given here. These stones, taken from the Jordan’s river bed, were not intended to be used for making an altar but for a memorial, out of and through the river and on into the Promised Land. The people camped, later that day, at Gilgal (verse 19).

4 Then Joshua called the twelve men, whom he had prepared of the children of Israel, out of every tribe a man:

Unlike some previous occasions, such as the list of the 12 spies or the leaders of the 12 tribes, the 12 men chosen from each tribe are not named here.

5 And Joshua said unto them, Pass over before the ark of the LORD your God into the midst of Jordan, and take ye up every man of you a stone upon his shoulder, according unto the number of the tribes of the children of Israel:

The priests, carrying the Ark of the Covenant on their shoulders, were still in the river bed when Joshua gave this command. Each man was to take a stone from the river bed and carry it on his shoulder until he crossed over to the west side of Jordan.

6 That this may be a sign among you, (that) when your children ask (their fathers) in time to come, saying, What (mean) ye by these stones?

One of the reasons why this was commanded.

God’s plan was for the Israelites to enter the land, conquer the enemies, live there for a long time—maybe forever?—but most importantly, teach their children about the God of Israel, Who gave them the victories so far. How would we answer our children when they may ask us about any of the Things of God?

Another reason is the fact that as time goes on, the significance of events in the past seems, sadly, to have less relevance to those living farther and farther away from the event. The children and children’s children, living generations after these events, would probably not be able to appreciate or even comprehend what had happened because they hadn’t lived through it.

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: and these stones shall be for a memorial unto the children of Israel for ever.

This was the most important reason for the memorials: as long as the rocks remained in the Jordan (God actually said “forever”), the people could look there and see the memorial. This may not have been possible during flood stages but there would have no difficulty for the rest of the year.

8 And the children of Israel did so as Joshua commanded, and took up twelve stones out of the midst of Jordan, 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, and laid them down there.

They fulfilled the command of God when they brought up the stones from Jordan to their lodging place.

9 And Joshua set up twelve stones in the midst of Jordan, in the place where the feet of the priests which bare the ark of the covenant stood: and they are there unto this day.

This means the day or time when the Book of Joshua was written. This event happened before the conquest of Jericho or any other area of the Promised Land. Joshua lived 35 years after this event.

10 For the priests which bare the ark stood in the midst of Jordan, until every thing 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.

It may have taken most of the day for the people to cross over. Recall that there were

over 600,000 men of war, soldiers over the age of 20, plus wives, parents, children, and any number of others. This mass wave of Israelites would have needed much time to cross the Jordan. God did not choose to reveal the details of this to us, yet we can rejoice in the two miracles that happened here: the water remained far away from Jericho, and the riverbed was dry ground. God was watching out for His people.

11 And it came to pass, when all the people were clean passed over, that the ark of the LORD passed over, and the priests, in the presence of the people.

This is perhaps a summary verse. According to verse 15, the Ark and the priests were still in the river bed. The priests remained there until Joshua relayed God’s command to come up out of the Jordan.

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:

This was recorded in Numbers 32. At that time, these tribes pledged their support for the rest of the nation as they conquered the Promised Land.

13 About forty thousand prepared for war passed over before the LORD unto battle, to the plains of Jericho.

According to Numbers 26:7, 18, and 34, the population of these tribes totaled over 130,000 people. These 40,000 soldiers represented nearly one-third of that total population to help the other tribes.

14 On that day the LORD magnified Joshua in the sight of all Israel; and they feared him, as they feared Moses, all the days of his life.

“Fear” in some cases, as here, means reverential awe or respect. Note that Joshua had done nothing to demand honor, respect, or anything else to earn his honor except simply following God’s commands. Neither did Joshua fall victim to dreams of grandeur, perhaps thinking he could be king someday. We read nothing of that here. Joshua was not perfect, but he did follow the Lord faithfully for many years.

15 And the LORD spake unto Joshua, saying, 16 Command the priests that bear the ark of the testimony, that they come up out of Jordan. 17 Joshua therefore commanded the priests, saying, Come ye up out of Jordan.

The priests had been standing in the river bed for apparently quite some time, carrying the Ark of the Covenant on their shoulders. As of this incident, they were still there, waiting for all the people to cross over Jordan and, it seems, waiting for the command to reach the other side as well. They didn’t leave until they heard the command to leave. Their unquestioned obedience speaks volumes to us.

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, that the waters of Jordan returned unto their place, and flowed over all his banks, as (they did) before.

A complete reversal of the chapter 3:15-16. The priests now departed the river bed and touched the western river bank. At that moment, the waters returned to their previous state.

19 And the people came up out of Jordan on the tenth (day) of the first month, and encamped in Gilgal, in the east border of Jericho.

The same day as the first Passover (Exodus 12:2-3). The lambs would have been killed four days later.

20 And those twelve stones, which they took out of Jordan, did Joshua pitch in Gilgal.

The stones would serve as a memorial, as was recorded several times. These would also be teaching aids, so to speak, when the children to come would ask what did the stones really mean.

[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? 22 Then ye shall let your children know, saying, Israel came over this Jordan on dry land. 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 Red Sea, which he dried up from before us, until we were gone over: 24 That all the people of the earth might know the hand of the LORD, that it is mighty: that ye might fear the LORD your God for ever.]

These were to ever be a reminder of what the LORD did for Israel. The memorial would also stand as a witness to God’s Power, compared to the powerlessness of the idols surrounding Israel.

Scripture quotations are taken from the King James Version of the Bible (KJV)

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