Notes on Joshua Chapter 3

by Jonathan Spurlock
(Holts Summit, MO)

Joshua, Chapter 3

Joshua 3:1, KJV 1 And Joshua rose early in the morning; and they removed from Shittim, and came to Jordan, he and all the children of Israel, and lodged there before they passed over.

“Lodged” didn’t mean to settle down permanently, in this case. This was a temporary stop before they crossed over the Jordan River.

2 And it came to pass after three days, that the officers went through the host; 3 And they commanded the people, saying, When ye see the ark of the covenant of the LORD your God, and the priests the Levites bearing it, then ye shall remove from your place, and go after it.

The ark itself was seldom seen, except by the high priest only once a year. He would offer the atoning blood as commanded in the Law (see Leviticus chapter 16). When the tabernacle was taken down or disassembled, the sons of Kohath were to carry the ark and other holy things. Before this, Aaron was to cover the Ark with the veil between the holy place and holy of holies (see Numbers 4). Thus, the Israelites were now able to see the Ark being carried by the priests but not the cherubim, mercy seat, etc.

4 Yet there shall be a space between you and it, about two thousand cubits by measure: come not near unto it, that ye may know the way by which ye must go: for ye have not passed (this) way heretofore.

A cubit was about 18 inches, or an English half-yard in length. The distance of 2000 cubits then would be about 1000 yards or a little over a half-mile in distance from the people.

5 And Joshua said unto the people, Sanctify yourselves: for to morrow the LORD will do wonders among you.

“Sanctify” usually means to set something or someone apart. The various articles of gold, silver, jewels, fabric, and so forth donated to build the Tabernacle, for example, were all set apart for the use of that structure only.

There was another time when the people were told to sanctify themselves. This is mentioned in Exodus 19:10-15. There, they washed their clothes and abstained from intimate contact for the two or three days specified, but nothing like that is demanded in the text here. Compare the two locations: then: the Hebrews had just arrived at the wilderness of Mt Sinai (Ex. 19:1); here, they are at the edge of the wilderness near the Jordan River. Then, God was preparing to give them the Law; here, they are ready to enter the Promised Land. Then, they were commanded to remain in place until Moses came down from the mountain with God’s message; here, they listened to Joshua as he gave God’s message. Then, everyone had just been redeemed and liberated from Egyptian bondage; here, hardly anyone was left who had experienced Egypt, except Joshua himself, Caleb, and the other Hebrews who were less than 20 years of age when the Exodus happened. Other contrasts could be made.

6 And Joshua spake unto the priests, saying, Take up the ark of the covenant, and pass over before the people. And they took up the ark of the covenant, and went before the people.

In order to lead the people in the way, they should go (see verse 4).

7 And the LORD said unto Joshua, This day will I begin to magnify thee in the sight of all Israel, that they may know that, as I was with Moses, (so) I will be with thee.

Another promise from the Lord for Joshua.

8 And thou shalt command the priests that bear the ark of the covenant, saying, When ye are come to the brink of the water of Jordan, ye shall stand still in Jordan.

This is another example where Joshua would, soon, relay God’s instructions—this time, to the priests.

9 And Joshua said unto the children of Israel, Come hither, and hear the words of the LORD your God. 10 And Joshua said, Hereby ye shall know that the living God (is) among you, and (that) he will without fail, drive out from before you the Canaanites, and the Hittites, and the Hivites, and the Perizzites, and the Girgashites, and the Amorites, and the Jebusites.

Joshua reminded the Israelites that GOD was going to drive out the enemies. It is true that the Israelites had to do the actual fighting, but they would not accomplish much without God’s help. They would surely have remembered the battle with the Amalekites nearly 40 years before—and they had lost. See Numbers 14:39-45.

11 Behold, the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth passeth over before you into Jordan.

The priests were supposed to have a nearly half-mile head start (2000 cubits, see verse 4) but there is no indication they had actually started this phase of the journey.

12 Now therefore take you twelve men out of the tribes of Israel, out of every tribe a man. 13 And it shall come to pass, as soon as the soles of the feet of the priests that bear the ark of the LORD, the Lord of all the earth, shall rest in the waters of Jordan, (that) the waters of Jordan shall be cut off (from) the waters that come down from above; and they shall stand upon an heap.

The waters would not be “cut off” until the feet of the priests touched the water! This was a true act of faith for the priests because the Jordan was already at flood stage (see verse 15 below) and they had no assurance of anything that appears in the text. There is a promise from God that the waters would stand upon a heap. What a testimony to the people!

14 And it came to pass, when the people removed from their tents, to pass over Jordan, and the priests bearing the ark of the covenant before the people; 15 And as they that bare the ark were come unto Jordan, and the feet of the priests that bare the ark were dipped in the brim of the water, (for Jordan overfloweth all his banks all the time of harvest,)

The Jordan was at full flood stage at this time. Note the faith of the priests, as they “dipped” their feet in the brim of the Jordan. Rivers in flood stage tend to flow rapidly so the priests might have been swept away by the current—unless God intervened, as He did here.

16 That the waters which came down from above stood (and) rose up upon an heap very far from the city Adam, that (is) beside Zaretan: and those that came down toward the sea of the plain, (even) the salt sea, failed, (and) were cut off: and the people passed over right against Jericho.

We do not know the exact location of the cities of Adam or Zaretan but apparently, they were well known in Joshua’s day. The most important thing is that there was enough of an area for the Israelites to cross from the east side of Jordan into the Promised Land.

Another thing to notice is that the Israelites were “right against Jericho”. God did not make them march, or wander, or try to locate the city, now that they had crossed Jordan in obedience to His commands.

17 And the priests that bare the ark of the covenant of the LORD stood firm on dry ground in the midst of Jordan, and all the Israelites passed over on dry ground, until all the people were passed clean over Jordan.

It must have taken the people a very long time to cross Jordan. The total number of men “ . . .able to go to war in Israel (Numbers 26:2)” totaled 601,730 (Nun. 26:51). These were soldiers aged 20 and older. Allowing each one a wife and two children (strictly for estimation), there may have been nearly 2.4 million people crossing Jordan! This estimate, also, does not take into account the flocks, herds, etc., which they brought along with them.

Notice the phrase “on dry ground”. This is the exact same phrase used of crossing the Red Sea (Exodus 14:21-22) and means exactly that—dry ground. No mud or soft spots where the people or wagons or other things might have been slowed or bogged down. God again was providing for His people!

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

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