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JOSHUA 4

PARAGRAPH DIVISIONS OF MODERN TRANSLATIONS

NASB NKJV NRSV TEV NJB
Memorial Stones from the Jordan The Memorial Stones A Monument Commemorating the Crossing Memorial Stones are Set Up The Twelve Memorial Stones
4:1-7 4:1-7 4:1-7 4:1-7 4:1-9
4:8-14 4:8-14 4:8-9 4:8-14 The Crossing Ends
4:10-13 4:10-18
4:14
4:15-18 4:15-18 4:15-18 4:15-18
The Stones Set Up at Gilgal Arrival at Gilgal
4:19-5:1 4:19-24 4:19-5:1 4:19-5:1 4:19-24

READING CYCLE THREE(from "A Guide to Good Bible Reading")

FOLLOWING THE ORIGINAL AUTHOR'S INTENT AT THE PARAGRAPH LEVEL

This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects. Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired but it is the key to following the original author's intent which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.

 

WORD AND PHRASE STUDY

NASB (UPDATED TEXT): JOSHUA 4:1-7
 1Now when all the nation had finished crossing the Jordan, the Lord spoke to Joshua, saying, 2"Take for yourselves twelve men from the people, one man from each tribe, 3and command them, saying, "Take up for yourselves twelve stones from here out of the middle of the Jordan, from the place where the priests' feet are standing firm, and carry them over with you and lay them down in the lodging place where you will lodge tonight." 4So Joshua called the twelve men whom he had appointed from the sons of Israel, one man from each tribe; 5and Joshua said to them, "Cross again to the ark of the Lord your God into the middle of the Jordan, and each of you take up a stone on his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Israel. 6"Let this be a sign among you, so that when your children ask later, saying, 'What do these stones mean to you?' 7then you shall say to them, 'Because the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord; when it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off.' So these stones shall become a memorial to the sons of Israel forever."

4:2 "twelve" (cf. Exod. 24:4). See Special Topic below.

SPECIAL TOPIC: THE NUMBER TWELVE

4:1-3 We understand now why twelve men were chosen from each tribe, as was described in Jos. 3:12. It was for the purpose of taking large stones out of the bed of the River Jordan, where the feet of the priests were standing, and then carrying the stones to Gilgal, the first campsite in the promised land (cf. Jos. 4:8,19-20). The stones would become a memorial to the mighty work that God had done.

It is a bit confusing, but there are two memorial piles of stones mentioned. One group was taken to Gilgal (Jos. 4:1-8), but another was placed on the brink of the Jordan (Jos. 4:9). This second set of memorial stones could only be seen when the Jordan was not at flood stage. They were meant to remind the coming generations of God's promises and mighty acts of deliverance (cf. Jos. 4:6-7,21; Exod. 12:26; Deut. 4:9; 6:20-25; 11:19; 32:46).

This paragraph has several commands.

1. "take for yourselves twelve men," BDB 542, KB 534, Qal imperative, Jos. 4:2

2. "command them," BDB 845, K 1010, Piel imperative, Jos. 4:3

3. "carry them," BDB 669, KB 724, Qal imperative, Jos. 4:3

4. "cross again," BDB 716, KB 778, Qal imperative

5. "take up a stone," BDB 926, KB 1202, Hiphil imperative

Joshua is giving direct, specific commands, just as Moses did. We learn from Jos. 4:8 that they were from YHWH. This event is a major fulfillment of YHWH's promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. These stones will be a perpetual monument to YHWH's faithfulness to His promises.

4:2,4 "take for yourselves twelve men. . .the twelve men whom he had appointed" Notice the balance between the selection by the tribal leaders and the official appointing (BDB 465, KB 464, Hiphil perfect) by Joshua.

4:6 "Let this be a sign among you, that when your children ask later" The religious training of the children by the parents is a repeated theme of the writings of Moses (cf. Exod. 12:26; 13:14; Deut. 4:9; 6:20-25; 11:19; 32:46). YHWH's covenant and the historical acts which confirm it are meant to be passed from generation to generation.

NASB"later"
NKJV, NRSV"in time to come"
TEV, NJB"in the future"

This term (BDB 563) is used as an idiom for "some future, unspecified time" (cf. Exod. 13:14 [similar phrase in Jos. 4:8]; Deut. 6:20; Jos. 4:6,21; 22:24,27,28).

4:7 "forever" This is the Hebrew word 'olam. It can be translated "forever" or "for a long period of time." The context determines which meaning is preferred. See Special Topic below.

SPECIAL TOPIC: FOREVER ('OLAM)

NASB (UPDATED TEXT): JOSHUA 4:8-13
 8Thus the sons of Israel did as Joshua commanded, and took up twelve stones from the middle of the Jordan, just as the Lord spoke to Joshua, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Israel; and they carried them over with them to the lodging place and put them down there. 9Then Joshua set up twelve stones in the middle of the Jordan at the place where the feet of the priests who carried the ark of the covenant were standing, and they are there to this day. 10For the priests who carried the ark were standing in the middle of the Jordan until everything was completed that the Lord had commanded Joshua to speak to the people, according to all that Moses had commanded Joshua. And the people hurried and crossed; 11and when all the people had finished crossing, the ark of the Lord and the priests crossed before the people. 12The sons of Reuben and the sons of Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh crossed over in battle array before the sons of Israel, just as Moses had spoken to them; 13about 40, 000 equipped for war, crossed for battle before the Lord to the desert plains of Jericho.

4:8 "the middle" This term (BDB 1063) must be translated "brink" (cf. Jos. 3:17; 4:3,5,8,9,10,18) because if the memorial was in the middle of the Jordan it would never be seen. The Levitical priests stood on the brink of the eastern side (cf. Jos. 3:8,13). If it was on the brink of the Jordan it would be visible for many months of the year when the water was down to its normal level. Many scholars assert that there are two different accounts of the same event here, but it seems obvious to me that there are two different piles of stones.

4:9 "and they are there to this day" This phrase "until this day" is used often in Joshua which implies a book edited at a later period. This may mean a relatively short time after the events (contemporary editor) or a longer, protracted time (cf. Jos. 4:9; 5:9; 7:26; 8:28-29; 9:27; 10:27; 13:13; 14:14; 15:63; 16:10). The scribes of Mesopotamia copied their texts without alteration, but the scribes of Egypt updated their texts. Israel's scribes were trained in Egypt. The Scripture was God's word, but it could be updated (as the difference between Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5 clearly shows).

4:10 The priests who carried the heavy gold-covered Ark of the Covenant were growing tired, so the people crossed rapidly (see end of Jos. 4:10).

▣ "according to all that Moses had commanded Joshua" The Jewish Publication Society of America (JPSOA) thinks this refers to Deut. 31:7-8.

4:12 "The sons of Reuben and the sons of Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh crossed over in battle array before the sons of Israel, just as Moses had spoken to them" It would be very helpful at this point to read Num. 32:20-22 and Deut. 3:18-20 to see that although these tribes had their allocation on the eastern side of the Jordan, they were required to help their brothers to secure the Promised Land.

4:13 One wonders whether this number applies to only the three tribes who settled on the eastern side of the Jordan or to the whole Israeli army. The other major empires of the regions during this period had armies of about 40,000.

The Hebrew term "thousand" can mean (1) a literal thousand (cf. Gen. 20:16; Exod. 32:28); (2) a family unit (cf. Jos. 22:14; Jdg. 6:15; 1 Sam. 23:23; Zech. 9:7); or (3) a military unit (cf. Exod. 18:21,25; Deut. 1:15; compare 2 Sam. 10:18 with I Chron. 19:18). See Special Topic at Jos. 3:17.

NASB"to the desert plains of Jericho"
NKJV, NRSV"to the plains of Jericho"
TEV"to the plain near Jericho"
NJB"towards the plain of Jericho"
JPSOA"the lowlands of Jericho."

Jericho was located in the Rift Valley that runs through Palestine. Often in the OT it was lush with foliage, but later it was mostly treeless.

NASB (UPDATED TEXT): JOSHUA 4:14
 14On that day the Lord exalted Joshua in the sight of all Israel; so that they revered him, just as they had revered Moses all the days of his life.

4:14 "the Lord exalted Joshua in the sight of all Israel" This verb (BDB 152, KB 178, Piel perfect) was used in Jos. 3:7 to denote this very act.

NASB"revered"
NKJV"feared"
NRSV"awe"
TEV"honored"
NJB"respected"

This is one of the best verses in the Bible to see the meaning of the word "fear" (BDB 431, KB 432). It is used in the sense of "reverence" or "respect." This helps us to understand what it means when we read that we are to "fear" God.

The phrase, "as they had revered Moses all the days of his life," is a bit of an overstatement when one reviews the murmuring and rebellion of the people against Moses' leadership in Exodus and Numbers.

NASB (UPDATED TEXT): JOSHUA 4:15-18
 15Now the Lord said to Joshua, 16 "Command the priests who carry the ark of the testimony that they come up from the Jordan." 17So Joshua commanded the priests, saying, "Come up from the Jordan." 18It came about when the priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord had come up from the middle of the Jordan, and the soles of the priests' feet were lifted up to the dry ground, that the waters of the Jordan returned to their place, and went over all its banks as before.

4:15-18 YHWH speaks to Joshua; Joshua speaks to the people (cf. Jos. 4:2-5). Chapter 4 is a series of flashbacks on the events of chapter 3.

Notice the series of commands.

1. v. 16, YHWH commands, BDB 845, KB 1010, Piel imperative

2. v. 17, Joshua commands, "Come up from the Jordan," BDB 748, KB 828, Qal imperative used in a jussive sense

3. v. 17, the order repeated in a Qal imperative

 

4:15 The Ark of the Covenant was housed in the Holy of Holies (the inner cubicle of the tabernacle). This tabernacle was portable. It was first constructed during the Exodus at Sinai and traveled with Israel throughout the wilderness wandering period. From the Plains of Moab (site of the writing of Deuteronomy) it moved to:

1. Gilgal, Jos. 4:15-5:12

2. Shiloh, Jos. 18:1; 19:51; 1 Sam. 2:22

3. Mizpah (ark not specifically mentioned but implied), Jdg. 20:1; 21:1,5,8; 1 Sam. 7:5-12; 2 Sam 10:17-24

4. Gibeon, 1 Chr. 16:39-40; 2 Chr. 1:3-6

5. Jerusalem, 2 Samuel 6; 1 Chr. 23:25-26

 

4:18 "and the soles of the priests' feet were lifted up to the dry ground" This Hebrew verb (BDB 683, KB 736, Niphal perfect) seems to have the connotation of "drawn out of the mud." The ark was very heavy and they had stood in the mud for a long time.

▣ "the waters of the Jordan returned to their place" God used a natural means of a cave-in of the banks of the limestone cliffs upriver, but the timing of when it began and when it ceased is certainly miraculous. God used natural events, but with supernatural timing, intensity, and location, just as He did in the Egyptian plagues!

NASB (UPDATED TEXT): JOSHUA 4:19-24
 19Now the people came up from the Jordan on the tenth of the first month and camped at Gilgal on the eastern edge of Jericho. :20Those twelve stones which they had taken from the Jordan, Joshua set up at Gilgal. 21He said to the sons of Israel, "When your children ask their fathers in time to come, saying, 'What are these stones?' 22then you shall inform your children, saying, 'Israel crossed this Jordan on dry ground.' 23"For the Lord your God dried up the waters of the Jordan before you until you had crossed, just as the Lord your God had done to the Red Sea, which He dried up before us until we had crossed; 24that all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the Lord is mighty, so that you may fear the Lord your God forever."

4:19 "on the tenth of the first month" The first month would be Nisan. This refers to the early spring time. This was exactly the anniversary of the deliverance from Egypt (cf. Exod. 12:3). There is a purposeful parallel! See chart below.

ANCIENT NEAR EASTERN CALENDARS

Canaanite
(1 Kgs. 6:1, 37-38; 8:2)
Sumerian-Babylonian
(Nippur Calendar)
Hebrew
(Geezer Calendar)
Modern Equivalents
Abib ("green heads" of barley) Nisanu Nisan March-April
Zin (spring brilliance) Ayaru Iyyar April-May
Simanu Sivan May-June
Du-uzu Tammuz June-July
Abu Ab July-August
Ululu Elul August-September
Ethanim (permanent water source) Teshritu Tishri September-October
Bul (rains on produce) Arah-samna Marcheshvan October-November
Kislimu Chislev November-December
Tebitu Tebeth December-January
Shabatu Shebat January-February
Adaru Adar February-March

▣ "and camped at Gilgal" The word "Gilgal" (BDB 166) means "circle" and seems to imply that the twelve stones that Joshua will set up may have been in a circle. It is very hard to locate Gilgal because there were no permanent buildings there, just a campsite. However, it became a very holy place to Israel. Josephus tells us that it is five miles from the river and about a mile and a quarter from Jericho.

4:21-22 See note at Jos. 4:3 and 6.

4:23 "just as the Lord your God had done to the Red Sea" As God had miraculously brought His people out of Egypt, now He miraculously brings the people into the promised land.

For a discussion of the Red Sea, see Special Topic at Jos. 2:10.

4:24 "that all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the Lord is mighty" Again the purpose of God choosing Israel was to choose the world (see Special Topic: YHWH's Eternal Redemptive Plan). This is one of the many universal implications and specific statements to show that God wants all of the world to know and respect Him (cf. 1 Sam. 17:46; 1 Kgs. 8:41-43,60; 2 Kgs. 19:19; Ps. 46:10; 105:1; 145:12; Isa. 12:4-5; 32:20; Ezek. 36:23). See Special Topic at Jos. 1:7.

The "hand of the Lord" (see Special Topic: Hand and  Special Topic: God Described As Human [anthropomorphism]) is an anthropomorphic idiom of YHWH's power and sovereignty (cf. Deut. 4:34; 5:15; 7:19; 11:2; 26:8). This may have been a way of referring to God's power seen in the staff in Moses' hand (e.g., Exod. 7:5,19; 8:5,6,16,17; 9:22,23; 10:12,13,21,22; 14:16,21,26,27). God uses human instrumentality to accomplish His will among humans (e.g., Exod. 3:7-9 vs. 10-12).

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought-provoking, not definitive.

1. How many groups of memorial stones are there and why?

2. Why does the term "middle of the Jordan" need to be translated "brink of the Jordan"?

3. Why is chapter 4 so helpful in our discussion of training our children in the matters of faith?

4. How do these two chapters show us that God cares about all the world and not just Israel?

 

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