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Joshua 3-5 – The Crossing of the Jordan River and the End of Wilderness Wandering

Summary

Just as at the Red Sea, God parts the waters of the Jordan River for the Israelites, so that they cross over on dry ground into the land of promise. This crossing marks the end of the wilderness period for Israel.

Analysis

Joshua is Moses' successor, and, just like Moses, he presides over the miraculous parting of a body of water so that the Israelites can cross on dry ground. This time, the waters are not those of the Red Sea (Exodus 14), but of the Jordan River, a connection made explicit in Joshua 4:23. The Red Sea marked the beginning of Israel's journey in the wilderness of Sinai. The Jordan River marks the last boundary between the wilderness--where the Israelites have been wandering for forty years--and the land God has promised to Israel. As such, the crossing of the river is a momentous occasion, the beginning of the fulfillment of God's promises to Israel.

To mark the occasion, God instructs Joshua to build a memorial out of twelve stones taken from the riverbed and set up at Gilgal, where the Israelites camp after crossing the Jordan. In time to come, the stones are to serve as a teaching tool for the Israelites; that is, when children ask about the stones, their parents are to tell them the story of the river crossing (4:5-7; 20-24).

Joshua 4:9 states that Joshua set up a pile of twelve stones in the middle of the river, as well, to mark the place where the priests who carried the ark of the covenant stood. The ark of the covenant led the people across the Jordan. The verse is something of a parenthetical remark, as the stones at Gilgal command more attention in the passage.

The end of the wilderness wanderings is marked by two other significant events in Joshua 5. The male Israelites are circumcised at Gilgal, in obedience to God's commands. The text states that this generation of Israelites, all born in the wilderness, was never circumcised. Then the community celebrates Passover, the commemoration of their liberation from slavery in Egypt. They eat the produce of the land of Canaan for the first time, and immediately the supply of manna--the food that sustained them in the wilderness for forty years--ceases. The time in the wilderness has ended, and their new life as a people of God in the land of promise has begun.

Joshua 3-5

Israel Crosses the Jordan

3Early in the morning Joshua rose and set out from Shittim with all the Israelites, and they came to the Jordan. They camped there before crossing over. 2At the end of three days the officers went through the camp 3and commanded the people, ‘When you see the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God being carried by the levitical priests, then you shall set out from your place. Follow it, 4so that you may know the way you should go, for you have not passed this way before. Yet there shall be a space between you and it, a distance of about two thousand cubits; do not come any nearer to it.’ 5Then Joshua said to the people, ‘Sanctify yourselves; for tomorrow the Lord will do wonders among you.’ 6To the priests Joshua said, ‘Take up the ark of the covenant, and pass on in front of the people.’ So they took up the ark of the covenant and went in front of the people.

7 The Lord said to Joshua, ‘This day I will begin to exalt you in the sight of all Israel, so that they may know that I will be with you as I was with Moses. 8You are the one who shall command the priests who bear the ark of the covenant, “When you come to the edge of the waters of the Jordan, you shall stand still in the Jordan.” 9Joshua then said to the Israelites, ‘Draw near and hear the words of the Lord your God.’ 10Joshua said, ‘By this you shall know that among you is the living God who without fail will drive out from before you the Canaanites, Hittites, Hivites, Perizzites, Girgashites, Amorites, and Jebusites: 11the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth is going to pass before you into the Jordan. 12So now select twelve men from the tribes of Israel, one from each tribe. 13When the soles of the feet of the priests who bear the ark of the Lord, the Lord of all the earth, rest in the waters of the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan flowing from above shall be cut off; they shall stand in a single heap.’

14 When the people set out from their tents to cross over the Jordan, the priests bearing the ark of the covenant were in front of the people. 15Now the Jordan overflows all its banks throughout the time of harvest. So when those who bore the ark had come to the Jordan, and the feet of the priests bearing the ark were dipped in the edge of the water, 16the waters flowing from above stood still, rising up in a single heap far off at Adam, the city that is beside Zarethan, while those flowing towards the sea of the Arabah, the Dead Sea,* were wholly cut off. Then the people crossed over opposite Jericho. 17While all Israel were crossing over on dry ground, the priests who bore the ark of the covenant of the Lord stood on dry ground in the middle of the Jordan, until the entire nation finished crossing over the Jordan.

Twelve Stones Set Up at Gilgal

4When the entire nation had finished crossing over the Jordan, the Lord said to Joshua: 2‘Select twelve men from the people, one from each tribe, 3and command them, “Take twelve stones from here out of the middle of the Jordan, from the place where the priests’ feet stood, carry them over with you, and lay them down in the place where you camp tonight.” 4Then Joshua summoned the twelve men from the Israelites, whom he had appointed, one from each tribe. 5Joshua said to them, ‘Pass on before the ark of the Lord your God into the middle of the Jordan, and each of you take up a stone on his shoulder, one for each of the tribes of the Israelites, 6so that this may be a sign among you. When your children ask in time to come, “What do those stones mean to you?” 7then you shall tell them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off in front of the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it crossed over the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. So these stones shall be to the Israelites a memorial for ever.’

8 The Israelites did as Joshua commanded. They took up twelve stones out of the middle of the Jordan, according to the number of the tribes of the Israelites, as the Lord told Joshua, carried them over with them to the place where they camped, and laid them down there. 9(Joshua set up twelve stones in the middle of the Jordan, in the place where the feet of the priests bearing the ark of the covenant had stood; and they are there to this day.)

10 The priests who bore the ark remained standing in the middle of the Jordan, until everything was finished that the Lord commanded Joshua to tell the people, according to all that Moses had commanded Joshua. The people crossed over in haste. 11As soon as all the people had finished crossing over, the ark of the Lord, and the priests, crossed over in front of the people. 12The Reubenites, the Gadites, and the half-tribe of Manasseh crossed over armed before the Israelites, as Moses had ordered them. 13About forty thousand armed for war crossed over before the Lord to the plains of Jericho for battle.

14 On that day the Lord exalted Joshua in the sight of all Israel; and they stood in awe of him, as they had stood in awe of Moses, all the days of his life.

15 The Lord said to Joshua, 16‘Command the priests who bear the ark of the covenant* to come up out of the Jordan.’ 17Joshua therefore commanded the priests, ‘Come up out of the Jordan.’ 18When the priests bearing the ark of the covenant of the Lord came up from the middle of the Jordan, and the soles of the priests’ feet touched dry ground, the waters of the Jordan returned to their place and overflowed all its banks, as before.

19 The people came up out of the Jordan on the tenth day of the first month, and they camped in Gilgal on the eastern border of Jericho. 20Those twelve stones, which they had taken out of the Jordan, Joshua set up in Gilgal, 21saying to the Israelites, ‘When your children ask their parents in time to come, “What do these stones mean?” 22then you shall let your children know, “Israel crossed over the Jordan here on dry ground.” 23For the Lord your God dried up the waters of the Jordan for you until you crossed over, as the Lord your God did to the Red Sea,* which he dried up for us until we crossed over, 24so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the Lord is mighty, and so that you may fear the Lord your God for ever.’

The New Generation Circumcised

5When all the kings of the Amorites beyond the Jordan to the west, and all the kings of the Canaanites by the sea, heard that the Lord had dried up the waters of the Jordan for the Israelites until they had crossed over, their hearts failed, and there was no longer any spirit in them, because of the Israelites.

2 At that time the Lord said to Joshua, ‘Make flint knives and circumcise the Israelites a second time.’ 3So Joshua made flint knives, and circumcised the Israelites at Gibeath-haaraloth.* 4This is the reason why Joshua circumcised them: all the males of the people who came out of Egypt, all the warriors, had died during the journey through the wilderness after they had come out of Egypt. 5Although all the people who came out had been circumcised, yet all the people born on the journey through the wilderness after they had come out of Egypt had not been circumcised. 6For the Israelites travelled for forty years in the wilderness, until all the nation, the warriors who came out of Egypt, perished, not having listened to the voice of the Lord. To them the Lord swore that he would not let them see the land that he had sworn to their ancestors to give us, a land flowing with milk and honey. 7So it was their children, whom he raised up in their place, that Joshua circumcised; for they were uncircumcised, because they had not been circumcised on the way.

8 When the circumcising of all the nation was done, they remained in their places in the camp until they were healed. 9The Lord said to Joshua, ‘Today I have rolled away from you the disgrace of Egypt.’ And so that place is called Gilgal* to this day.

The Passover at Gilgal

10 While the Israelites were encamped in Gilgal they kept the passover in the evening on the fourteenth day of the month in the plains of Jericho. 11On the day after the passover, on that very day, they ate the produce of the land, unleavened cakes and parched grain. 12The manna ceased on the day they ate the produce of the land, and the Israelites no longer had manna; they ate the crops of the land of Canaan that year.

Joshua’s Vision

13 Once when Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing before him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went to him and said to him, ‘Are you one of us, or one of our adversaries?’ 14He replied, ‘Neither; but as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.’ And Joshua fell on his face to the earth and worshipped, and he said to him, ‘What do you command your servant, my lord?’ 15The commander of the army of the Lord said to Joshua, ‘Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place where you stand is holy.’ And Joshua did so.

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10 February 2011

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