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Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament

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JOSHUA 4


 
Verses 1-7
And it came to pass, when all the nation were clean passed over the Jordan, that Jehovah spake unto Joshua, saying, Take you twelve men out of the people, out of every tribe a man, and command ye them, saying, Take you hence out of the midst 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 lodging-place, where ye shall lodge this night. Then Joshua called the twelve men, whom he had prepared of the children of Israel, out of every tribe a man: and Joshua said unto them, Pass over before the ark of Jehovah your God into the midst of the Jordan, and take you up every man of you a stone upon his shoulder, according unto the number of the tribes of the children of Israel; that this may be a sign among you, that, when your children ask in time to come, saying, What mean ye by these stones? then ye shall say unto them, Because the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of Jehovah; when it passed over the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off: and these stones shall be for a memorial unto the children of Israel for ever.

The use of cairns of stones as memorials is a mark of the extreme antiquity of this narrative. (See the introduction to Joshua.)

Forever …
Now, that cairn is invisible; but the institutions the two cairns (one in the midst of the river, and the other at Gilgal) typified, namely, Christian baptism and the Lord's Supper, shall indeed last forever! The instructions here show clearly that the crossing is still under way, and that the priests were still standing in the midst of the Jordan. Blair and others have supposed that the Crossing was indeed complete, and that these twelve special representatives of Israel went back to the place where the priests had stood to gather the stones. It is very difficult to reconstruct all of the action precisely. In any case, the purpose of the twelve and the memorial was to show the participation of all of the twelve tribes of Israel in this event.


 
Verses 8-14
And the children of Israel did so as Joshua commanded, and took up twelve stones out of the midst of the Jordan, as Jehovah spake unto Joshua, according to the number of the tribes of the children of Israel; and they carried them over with them unto the place where they lodged, and laid them down there. And Joshua set up twelve stones in the midst of the Jordan, in the place where the feet of the priests that bare the ark of the covenant stood: and they are there unto this day. For the priests that bare the ark stood in the midst of the Jordan, until everything was finished that Jehovah commanded Joshua to speak unto the people, according to all that Moses commanded Joshua: and the people hasted and passed over. And it came to pass, when all the people were clean passed over, that the ark of Jehovah passed over, and the priests, in the presence of the people. And the children of Reuben, and the children of Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh, passed over armed before the children of Israel, as Moses spake unto them: about forty thousand ready armed for war passed over before Jehovah unto battle, to the plains of Jericho. On that day Jehovah magnified Joshua in the sight of all Israel; and they feared him, as they feared Moses, all the days of his life.

From these words, it is clear enough:

(1) that the passage was not concluded until the priests bearing the ark of the covenant came up out of the Jordan;

(2) and that there were TWO memorials, one in the midst of the river where the priests had stood, and the other at the place of the first night's encampment.

Also, the fact of Joshua's commandment to the twelve to go back to where the priests stood and bring the stones shows that the people were still passing over, for, when they were "clean passed over" the priests left their position in the midst of Jordan.

The immense importance of the ark of the covenant also shines in passages such as this. And where, pray tell, did this ark of the covenant come from? It is starkly clear to every student of the Bible that Joshua is but a continuation of the historical books called the Pentateuch. If one wishes to know all about the ark of the covenant, he may surely read it in the Five Books of Moses, and it is no wonder that Moses' successor was the official custodian of that ark and all that it represented.

Some scholars have squirmed and quibbled over the setting up of two memorials, as mentioned here, declaiming on the stupidity of setting up a memorial where nobody would see it at the bottom of the Jordan, and other choice bits of human cavil. Well, we thank God for the discernment of one like Pink, who has this:

"There was a DOUBLE MONUMENT to perpetually commemorate Israel's passing, one in the midst of Jordan, and the other in their new camping ground. What anointed eye can fail to see in them the two signs and memorials which Christ has instituted to symbolize that, as a result of His atoning death, His people have not only passed through death (the Jordan River), but are now united to a risen Christ, and are alive unto God ... "As many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death" ... The Lord's Supper celebrates that same death of Christ."F1

Unger also discerned that, "The stones left in the swirling Jordan to be overwhelmed by its waters are mementos of Christ's death under judgment in the believer's place."F2

"Thus, it is the amazing symbolism of these events, as we found so frequently in Exodus, that bears eloquent and indestructible testimony of the divine nature of this narrative. It is beyond the power of any man who ever lived to have concocted a story like this, even if he had had one hundred prior sources to help him! The hand of the infinite God is in every line of this sacred narrative!

THE CROSSING CONCLUDED


 
Verses 15-18
And Jehovah spake unto Joshua, saying, Command the priests that bear the ark of the testimony, that they come up out of the Jordan. Joshua therefore commanded the priests, saying, Come ye up out of the Jordan. And it came to pass, when the priests that bare the ark of the covenant of Jehovah were come up out of the midst of the Jordan, and the soles of the priests' feet were lifted up unto the dry ground, that the waters of the Jordan returned unto their place, and went over all its banks, as aforetime.

Only at this point was the miraculous crossing achieved and concluded. The mention here of the sudden return of the waters to full flood stage as soon as the crossing had been completed was, as Cook thought, "Mentioned here to stress the absolutely miraculous nature of this entire episode."F3 "Obviously, the writer wants to inculcate the lesson that truly a miracle had occurred."F4


 
Verses 19-24
And 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. And those twelve stones, which they took out of the Jordan, did Joshua set up in Gilgal. 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? Then ye shall let your children know, saying, Israel came over this Jordan on dry land. For Jehovah your God dried up the waters of the Jordan from before you, until ye were passed over, as Jehovah your God did to the Red Sea, which he dried up from before us, until we were passed over; that all the peoples of the earth may know the hand of Jehovah, that it is mighty; that ye may fear Jehovah your God for ever.

Notice the first person plural used by the writer in Josh. 4:23b, indicating that the author of Joshua was an eye-witness of the Red Sea crossing, powerful evidence indeed that Joshua himself is the author. Who else, in all that ancient world, 40 years after the event, could have said anything like this?

We can hardly believe that any Christian commentator would have written anything like this: "The reference to `the first month' here means that Josh. 4:19 must be dated as late as 605 B.C."F5 No Babylonian influence whatever is in this verse! "The first month" here is the first month of the Jewish religious year, as indicated in Exo. 12:2, to which this is a clear reference. "Here is also a SUBSTANTIATION of the Pentateuchal testimony that a whole generation had expired since the observance of the original Passover."F6 Such passages as these confirm absolutely the vital and intimate link between the Pentateuch and the Book of Joshua.


Footnotes for Joshua 4
1: Arthur W. Pink, Gleanings in Joshua (Chicago: Moody Press, 1964), p. 115.
2: Merrill F. Unger, Unger's Commentary on the Old Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1981), p. 288.
3: F. C. Cook, Barne's Notes, Joshua (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House), p. 358.
4: Marten H. Woudstra, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament, Joshua (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1981), p. 94.
5: William H. Morton, Beacon Bible Commentary, Joshua (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1970), p. 317.
6: Hugh J. Blair, The New Bible Commentary, Revised, Joshua (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1970), p. 238.

Copyright Statement
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.

Bibliography Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Joshua 4". "Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament". <http://classic.studylight.org/com/bcc/view.cgi?book=jos&chapter=004>. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.  

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