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Go to Bible: Joshua 4
“crossed over the Jordan.” The Hebrew word abar (#05674 עָבַר), here translated “crossed over” is a major theme in Joshua because the man Joshua is a type of Christ and the book of Joshua typologically portrays people crossing over from this mortal life into the “Promised Land” of everlasting life. “Crossed over” the Jordan occurs 12 times in Joshua 4 (Josh. 4:1, 5, 7, 8, 10, 11 (2x), Josh. 4:12, 13, 22, and 4:23 (2x)).
[For more on “cross over,” see commentary on Joshua 1:11.](top)
|Jos 4:2||- (top)|
“and make them cross over with you.” The stones were taken from the edge of the Jordan River where the feet of the priests stood in the water, so just as Yahweh was making the Israelites cross the Jordan, the Israelites were making the stones cross over the Jordan. It is as if the stones also were obeying God and going into the Promised Land. The fact that the stones themselves came from the other side of the Jordan adds to the effect of them being a witness of the crossing.(top)
“Then Joshua called the twelve men.” One of the themes in Joshua is Joshua’s obedience to God. We see it here in Joshua 4:3-4. God says, and Joshua obeys. See commentary on Joshua 4:16.
“one man from each tribe.” The Hebrew is idiomatic: “one man, one man from a tribe.”(top)
“Cross over.” Since the Jordan was at flood stage, and the priests were on the east side, standing where their feet had touched the water, that these men might be carrying these stones a mile or even more.
“in front of.” The Hebrew word “before” has the meaning of “in front of,” and also “in the presence of.” These men had to pass in front of the ark to get the stones, and were “in the presence of” Yahweh as He held back the Jordan River.
“the midst of the Jordan.” That is, into the dry river bed.
“each of you take up a stone onto your shoulder.” This gives some indication as to the size of the stones set up as a memorial. They were large enough that they had to be hoisted up onto the shoulder, but small enough that one man could carry one of them.(top)
“in time to come.” The Hebrew is the word “tomorrow,” being used idiomatically for the future.(top)
“And these stones will be for a lasting reminder for the children of Israel.” There can be great value to memorials that remind future generations of great things that have happened. The King James version reads, “these stones shall be for a memorial unto the children of Israel for ever.” The word “forever” is often used in English versions, but is not literally accurate.
The Hebrew word that many English versions translate “forever” is olam (#05769 עוֹלָם), and it is often translated “forever,” but that is quite often misleading in English because olam generally refers to only a long period of time or an indefinite period of time. The word olam occurs more than 400 times in the Hebrew Old Testament and exactly what it means, or how long a period of time it refers to, must be determined from the context and from the scope of Scripture. For example, olam can refer to a long time in the future, as here in Joshua 4:7, or a long time in the past as in Habakkuk 3:6, or a long time (or forever) in both the past and future. Olam can mean a long time with no specific end in sight. C. H. Dodd correctly and succinctly states: “The [Hebrew] word עוֹלָם [olam; #05769], with αἰών [#165 aiōn ] as its [Greek] equivalent, denotes properly a period of time of which the beginning or the end are both out of sight, an indefinitely long, rather than strictly an infinite period.”a
For example, in 2 Chronicles 33:7, most versions say that God would put His name in the Temple in Jerusalem “forever” (olam) but we know that in the Eternal City that comes from heaven there will not even be a temple (Rev. 21:22), so “forever” is not correct. We could say in English that “forever” was a hyperbole, an exaggeration, but that misses the point. No native Hebrew speaker would understand olam to mean “forever” and be a hyperbole, the definition of olam was just a long undetermined amount of time, although in some contexts that undetermined time could indeed be forever. At the time Chronicles was written, saying that the Temple would last “olam” was accurate because there was no specific end in sight for the Temple even though at some point the Temple would be no more.
Translating the Hebrew word olam and the Greek word aiōn can be very difficult because English really does not have words that are equivalent to them. The English word “forever,” is not a good translation, because “forever” has no end, whereas olam and aiōn can come to an end—the end is just out of sight, a long time away. However, because there really is no good English word for olam, the word “forever” gets used most of the time, even though it is misleading. Some more accurate translations might be: “age-abiding,” “age-long,” “for ages,” “for eons,” etc.
Olam can also refer to a long period of time that is now over. For example, Isaiah 63:9 refers to God carrying Israel “in the day of old” (olam). It would be wrong to translate olam as “forever” in that verse because then the verse would not be accurate. (Other verses that have that meaning for olam include Gen. 6:4; Deut. 32:7; Isa. 44:7; 63:11; Amos 9:11; Mic. 5:2; 7:14; Mal. 3:4). Some other times olam refers to a long period of time include Psalm 143:3 and Lamentations 3:6, referring to people who have been dead a long time.
Olam can be used to define a specific period of time that does not have a definite end until that end arrives. For example, a human life. According to the Law, a person who volunteered to be a bond slave would be a slave “forever” (olam), meaning the life of the person, however long that ended up being (Deut. 15:17; cp. Exod. 21:6; 1 Sam. 1:22; 27:12; Job 41:4). In Exodus 40:15, olam refers to the priesthood of Aaron, which, while lasting a long time, is not “forever.” In Joshua 4:7 it refers to a heap of stones that were to be a memorial but are gone today and therefore were not “forever,” even though when they were built no one knew exactly how long the pile of stones would last. In 1 Samuel 1:22, olam refers to the term of Samuel’s service at the Tabernacle.
Olam can be used of things that will seem to last indefinitely, and some, like God, will indeed last “forever.” God is forever (Gen. 21:33; Isa. 40:28).
[For more on olam and especially as it compares to the Greek aion, see Appendix 1: “Life in the Age to Come.” For a more complete definition of olam with more examples, see Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon.]
“And the children of Israel did that.” One of the themes of the early part of Joshua was the people’s obedience to Joshua, who himself obeyed Yahweh. The act of setting up the stones from the Jordan is ascribed to “the children of Israel” even though only the twelve men actually carried and set up the stones because the men acted on behalf of the whole nation. In Joshua 4:9, “Joshua” is said to have set up the stones because he was causing and overseeing the whole event. There is no record of what happened to these stones, but the pile would likely have been dismantled by the enemies of Israel during the time of the captivities of Israel in the period of the Judges, or perhaps even later during Israel’s subjugation by Assyria, Babylon, Persia, etc. In any case, the pile is not there now.(top)
“And Joshua also set up twelve stones in the middle of the Jordan.” Not only was there a heap of stones on the bank of the Jordan to mark the crossing spot where Israel crossed the Jordan, but Joshua also had a memorial of stones placed in the Jordan where the priests stood. The REV adds the word “also” to make it clear there was a second set of stones, as do some other versions (cp. CEB; CJB; CSB; GWN; JPS; NET; NLT). While the stones for the monument set up where the people lodged were taken from the place where the priest's feet stood, this second monument was set up where the priest's feet stood. This could have been a monument that in some way commemorated the role that Yahweh, via his ark and priests, played in drying up the Jordan. Also, since the pile was placed where the priest’s feet stood at the edge of the Jordan, since the Jordan was at flood stage, it almost certainly meant that this second pile of stones was on the east bank of the Jordan most of the year (Josh. 3:12-13, 15.) Predictably, however, since the Jordan flooded every year, it would not have lasted too long before it started to break down, get covered in mud, and/or wash away. Perhaps a few decades.
“they are there to this day.” So when the account that is recorded in Joshua 4 was written, the stones in the Jordan were still there. They would have been very large stones, and the top of the pile was almost certainly visible late in the dry season when the Jordan River ran very low. Of course, over time they would have washed away.(top)
“in the midst of the Jordan.” In this case, the “midst” means “in,” not “in the middle of.” The priests stood near the east edge of the Jordan River. The priests and ark had led the way “into” the water, but then stood somewhere just inside the water (Josh. 3:15, 17).
“and the people hurried and crossed over.” When Israel crossed the Red Sea 40 years earlier, the people were being chased by the Egyptians. Although they were not being chased by an enemy now, they hurried to cross over even though there was no danger and no command from Joshua to do so. The reason they hurried was likely due to them being uncomfortable with the Jordan being supernaturally dried up and a basic fear of being in the riverbed of the Jordan during its annual flood stage without really knowing at that time what happened to the water.(top)
“when all the people had completely crossed over.” There had to be people assigned to make sure that everyone was accounted for. There are almost always stragglers when any group moves from one place to another, and the leaders in the front would not be able to tell if anyone was still on the east bank of the Jordan. In this case, there was a clear picture of God taking care of His people: The ark went first into the water and stopped the water, then it stayed in the riverbed holding back the water while everyone crossed over, then it crossed over last to be sure everyone else was safely over the river. “Yahweh is my shepherd….” (Ps. 23:1).(top)
“And the children of Reuben.” The fighting men of the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh who had wanted land on the east side of the Jordan now made good on their promise to fight along with the rest of the tribes of Israel until the Promised Land was conquered (Num. 32, Josh. 1:12-18).(top)
“ready and armed for war crossed over.” The people from Reuben, Gad, and half the tribe of Manasseh made good on their promise and crossed over Jordan to help the rest of Israel claim their inheritance (Josh. 1:12-18).
“in the presence of Yahweh.” The ark, representing God, was in the Jordan River when the people crossed over.
“to the plains of Jericho.” The “plains of Jericho” is the flat land in the Arabah, the Jordan Valley, just north of Jericho. The Hebrew word for “plains” comes from the word “mixed.” The area might well have been known as “mixed” because there are patches of gray, brown, and green, in part due to the agriculture and vegetation there from springs, streams, and the Jordan itself.(top)
“Yahweh made Joshua great.” Just as Yahweh had promised Joshua (Josh. 3:7). One of the most defining characteristics of God is that He keeps His promises.
“stood in awe of him.” The Hebrew can be “feared him,” but in this context, the word “feared” is better translated “stood in awe.” There is an element of fear in awe, but not enough for the translation to read “feared.”(top)
“Then Yahweh spoke to Joshua.” There are a number of ways God could have spoken to Joshua. It seems most likely that this would have been through the holy spirit that God had put upon Joshua (Num. 27:18; Deut. 34:9). But God spoke in various ways (Heb. 1:1).(top)
“Command the priests.” One of the themes of the book of Joshua is that Joshua obeyed the word of Yahweh. We see that in Joshua 4:16-17. God tells Joshua to command the priests (v. 16) and Joshua commands the priests (v. 17). This theme occurs elsewhere in Joshua, and helps us see the type of Christ in Joshua (cp. Josh. 4:3-4; 5:2-3; 6:2-6; 7:14-16; 8:18; cp. Josh. 5:15).(top)
“So Joshua commanded the priests.” God commands (Josh. 4:16) and Joshua obeys (Josh. 4:17). The exact obedience of Joshua is part of the motif of Joshua as a type of Christ, who always did the will of the Father (cp. John 8:29).(top)
“when the priests...had come up out of the midst of the Jordan.” The exact timing of the priests leaving the Jordan River and the water returning at that same time is more evidence that this is a great miracle of Yahweh and that He is able to control things that happen on earth. The gods of the Canaanites could not do that. Also, this verse gives evidence that “midst” does not always mean “middle,” but just somewhere “in” something, in this case, the ark was close to the edge of the Jordan, not in the middle.
“separated from the ground.” When the feet of the priests stepped off the dry riverbed of the Jordan River, Yahweh let the water flow back down the riverbed and over the banks as it had been flowing before. The riverbed had been made “dry” by God, so the verse is not primarily saying that when the feet of the priests stepped “onto” the dry ground, but rather when the priest’s feet “separated from” the dry ground of the riverbed that the water returned. In Joshua 3:17 the feet of the priests stood firm on the dry ground, and here the feet of the priests are separated from that dry ground and the water then returned. The HALOTa gets the sense of the separation of the priest’s feet from the riverbed correct because it says, “be raised from the ground,” that is, the feet of the priests were “raised from the ground” of the riverbed, not “set down” on the bank of the Jordan River.
“the Jordan returned.” The Hebrew verb “returned” is the same as when Yahweh held back the waters of the Red Sea and then the sea “returned” upon the Egyptian army (Exod. 14:26, 28). It is clear in both the Exodus record and here in Joshua that it is Yahweh who has the power to split the sea and stop the river.
“the tenth day of the first month.” The tenth day of the first month, Nisan, is the day that the Passover lamb is selected (Exod. 12:3). That means it had been almost 40 years to the day that Israel left Egypt, because they left on Nisan 15, 40 years before (Exod. 12:29-40).
“on the east side of Jericho.” No evidence for this camp has ever been found.(top)
|Jos 4:20||- (top)|
“in times to come.” The Hebrew is idiomatic: “tomorrow,” meaning “in the future.”
“What do these stones mean?” The literal Hebrew is “What are these stones,” but the idiomatic meaning is, “What do these stones mean?” In the biblical culture, “remember” was not nostalgia that led to good feelings, but rather memory that helped people recall the deeds of Yahweh so people could know who He was and what the relationship was between Him and people. Then the memories led to good theology (“God acts this way.”) and then to right actions. If you have no memory, if you forget, you will eventually not know how to relate to God, which will result in bad theology, bad relationship, and a bad life (Deut. 6:12; 8:11, 18; Judg. 3:7).(top)
“to make known to your children.” This translation may be a little weak. The Hebrew is causative; make them know. It is a parent’s responsibility to teach their children about God. The assumption of Scripture is that children are curious and will ask questions, such as “What do these stones mean” (Josh. 4:21). At that time parents are to “make them know” the great deeds of Yahweh. Parents today often express that they want their children to “make up their own mind.” That will happen naturally. Eventually, every person makes up their own mind as they grow and mature. But it is the parent's responsibility before God to raise their young children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. In reality, the children do not belong to the parent, they belong to God; the parents are simply the wards of the children until they mature, and so the parents are responsible to raise the children as the Heavenly Father would have them raised. To not teach children about God early on puts them at a serious disadvantage because they learn to live without thinking about God even though every breath of air they breathe is from God. Eternal life and eternal death are not things to take a chance on. Every parent should give their children the best chance to live forever. “...a child who is left to itself puts his mother to shame” (Prov. 29:15).
“dry ground.” The Hebrew is also used of the dry seabed of the Red Sea (cp. Exod. 14:22, 29).(top)
|Jos 4:23||- (top)|
|Jos 4:24||- (top)|