Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
Crossing the River. - In the account of the crossing, the main point is their taking twelve stones with them from the bed of the river to the opposite side to serve as a memorial. To set forth the importance of this fact as a divine appointment, the command of God to Joshua is mentioned first of all (Jos 4:2, Jos 4:3); then the repetition of this command by Joshua to the men appointed for the work (Jos 4:4-7); and lastly, the carrying out of the instructions (Jos 4:8). This makes it appear as though God did not give the command to Joshua till after the people had all crossed over, whereas the twelve men had already been chosen for the purpose (Jos 3:12). But this appearance, and the discrepancy that seems to arise, vanish as soon as we take the different clauses-which are joined together here by vav consec., according to the simple form of historical composition adopted by the Hebrews, "and Jehovah spake, saying," etc. (Jos 4:2, Jos 4:3); "and Joshua called the twelve men," etc. (Jos 4:4), - and arrange them in logical order, and with their proper subordination to one another, according to our own modes of thought and conversation, as follows: "Then Joshua called the twelve men-as Jehovah had commanded him, saying, 'Take you twelve men out of the people,' etc. - and said to them," etc.
(Note: So far as the meaning is concerned, Kimchi, Calvin, and many others, were perfectly correct in taking Jos 4:1-3 as a parenthesis, and rendering ויּאמר as a pluperfect, though, grammatically considered, and from a Hebrew point of view, the historical sense with vav consec. does not correspond to our pluperfect, but always expresses the succession either of time or thought. This early Hebrew form of thought and narrative is completely overlooked by Knobel, when he pronounces Jos 4:1-3 an interpolation from a second document, and finds the apodosis to Jos 4:1 in Jos 4:4. The supposed discrepancy-namely, that the setting up of the memorial is not described in Jos 4:5. as a divine command, as in Jos 4:8, Jos 4:10 -by which Knobel endeavours to establish his hypothesis, is merely a deduction from the fact that Joshua did not expressly issue his command to the twelve men as a command of Jehovah, and therefore is nothing more than an unmeaning argumentum e silentio.)
When all the people had crossed over Jordan,
(Note: The piska in the middle of Jos 4:1 is an old pre-Masoretic mark, which the Masorites have left, indicating a space in the midst of the verse, and showing that it was the commencement of a :parashah.)
Joshua issued to the twelve men who had been appointed by the twelve tribes the command given to him by God: "Go before the ark of Jehovah into the midst of Jordan, and take every man a stone upon his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the Israelites," or, as it is expressed in the fuller explanation in the divine command in Jos 4:3, "from the standing-place of the priests, the setting up of twelve stones (הכין is an infinitive used as a substantive, or else it should be pointed as a substantive), and carry them over with you, and lay them down in the place of encampment where ye shall pass the night."
This (viz., their taking the twelve stones with them and setting them up) was to be a sign in Israel; the stones were to serve as a memorial of the miraculous crossing of the Jordan to all succeeding generations. For the expression "if your children ask to-morrow (in future)," etc., see Exo 13:14; Exo 12:26-27, and Deu 6:20-21.
The children of Israel carried out these instructions. The execution is ascribed to the "children of Israel," i.e., to the whole nations, because the men selected from the twelve tribes acted in the name of the whole nation, and the memorial was a matter of equal importance to all. ינּחוּם does not signify that they set up the stones as a memorial, but simply that they laid them down in their place of encampment. The setting up at Gilgal is mentioned for the first time in Jos 4:20. In addition to this, Joshua set up twelve stones for a memorial, on the spot where the feet of the priests had stood as they bore the ark of the covenant, which stones were there "to this day," i.e., the time when the account was written. There is nothing to warrant our calling this statement in question, or setting it aside as a probable gloss, either in the circumstance that nothing is said about any divine command to set up these stones, or in the opinion that such a memorial would have failed of its object, as it could not possibly have remained, but would very speedily have been washed away by the stream. The omission of any reference to a command from God proves nothing, simply because divine commands are frequently hinted at but briefly, so that the substance of them has to be gathered from the account of their execution (compare Jos 3:7-8, with Jos 3:9-13, and Jos 4:2-3, with Jos 4:4-7); and consequently we may assume without hesitation that such a command was given, as the earlier commentators have done. Moreover, the monument did not fail of its object, even if it only existed for a short time. The account of its erection, which was handed down by tradition, would necessarily help to preserve the remembrance of the miraculous occurrence. But it cannot be so absolutely affirmed that these stones would be carried away at once by the stream, so that they could never be seen any more. As the priests did not stand in the middle or deepest part of the river, but just in the bed of the river, and close to its eastern bank, and it was upon this spot that the stones were set up, and as we neither know their size nor the firmness with which they stood, we cannot pronounce any positive opinion as to the possibility of their remaining. It is not likely that they remained there for centuries; but they were intended rather as a memorial for the existing generation and their children, than for a later age, which would be perpetually reminded of the miraculous help of God by the monument erected in Gilgal.
Whilst Joshua was carrying out all that Jehovah had commanded him to say to the people, according to the command of Moses-that is to say, whilst the people were passing through the Jordan before the ark, and the twelve men were carrying over the stones out of the river to the resting-place on the other side, and Joshua himself was setting up twelve stones in Jordan for a memorial-during all this time, the priests stood with the ark in the bed of the river; but after all the people, including the twelve men who took the stones out of the Jordan, had finished crossing, the ark of the Lord passed over, with the priests, before the people: that is to say, it stationed itself again, along with the priests, at the head of the people. The words "according to all that Moses had commanded Joshua" do not refer to any special instructions which Moses had given to Joshua with reference to the crossing, for no such instructions are to be found in the Pentateuch, nor can they be inferred from Num 27:23; Deu 3:28, or Deu 31:23; they simply affirm that Joshua carried out all the commands which the Lord had given him, in accordance with the charge which he received from Moses at the time when he was first called. Moses had called him and instructed him to lead to the people into the promised land, in consequence of a divine command; and had given him the promise, at the same time, that Jehovah would be with him as He had been with Moses. This contained implicite an admonition to Joshua to do only what the Lord should command him. And if this was how Joshua acted, the execution of the commands of God was also an observance of the command of Moses. The remark in Jos 4:10, "and the people hastened and passed over," i.e., passed hastily through the bed of the river, is introduced as an explanation of the fact that the priests stood still in the bed of the river the whole time that the crossing continued. As the priests stood in one spot whilst all the people were passing over, it was necessary that the people should hasten over, lest the strength of the priests should be exhausted. This reason for hastening, however, does not preclude the other-namely, that the crossing had to be finished in one day, before night came on. The statement in Jos 4:11, that when all the people had passed over, the ark of the Lord also passed over with the priests, is so far anticipatory of the actual course of the events, that up to this time nothing has been said about the fighting men belonging to the two tribes and a half having passed over (Jos 4:12, Jos 4:13); nor has the command of God for the ark to pass over been mentioned (Jos 4:15.), though both of these must have preceded the crossing of the ark in order of time. It is to be observed, that, in the words "the art of the Lord passed over, and the priests," the priests are subordinate to the ark, because it was through the medium of the ark of the Lord that the miracle of drying up the river had been effected: it was not by the priests, but by Jehovah the Almighty God, who was enthroned upon the ark, that the waters were commanded to stand still. "Before the people" (Eng. Ver. "in the presence of the people") has the same signification in Jos 4:11 as in Jos 3:6, Jos 3:14.
The account of the fighting men of the tribes on the east of the Jordan passing over along with them, in number about 40,000, is added as a supplement, because there was no place in which it could be appropriately inserted before, and yet it was necessary that it should be expressly mentioned that these tribes performed the promise they had given (Jos 1:16-17), and in what manner they did so. The words וגו ויּעברוּ do not imply that these 40,000 men crossed over behind the priests with the ark, which would not only be at variance with the fact so expressly stated, that the ark of the covenant was the medium of the miraculous division of the water, but also with the distant statement in Jos 4:18, that when the priests, with the ark, set their feet upon the dry land, the waters filled the river again as they had done before. The imperfect with vav consec. here expresses simply the order of thought, and not of time. "Arboth Jericho," the steppes of Jericho, were that portion of the Arabah or Ghor which formed the environs of Jericho, and which widens here into a low-lying plain of about three and a half or four hours' journey in breadth, on account of the western mountains receding considerably to the south of the opening of the Wady Kelt (Rob. Pal. ii. pp. 263ff.). - In Jos 4:14 the writer mentions still further the fact that the Lord fulfilled His promise (in Jos 3:7), and by means of this miracle so effectually confirmed the authority of Joshua in the eyes of Israel, that the people feared him all the days of his life as they had feared Moses. "This was not the chief end of the miracle, that Joshua increased in power and authority; but since it was a matter of great importance, so far as the public interests were concerned, that the government of Joshua should be established, it is very properly mentioned, as an addition to the benefits that were otherwise conferred, that he was invested as it were with sacred insignia, which produced such a felling of veneration among the people, that no one dared to treat him with disrespect" (Calvin).
Termination of the miraculous Passage through the Jordan. - As soon as the priests left their standing-place in the river with the ark of the covenant, according to the command of God made known to them by Joshua, and the soles of their feet "tore themselves loose upon the dry ground" (נתּקוּ אל החרבה, constructio praegnans, for they tore themselves loose from the soft soil of the river, and trode upon the dry or firm ground), the waters of the Jordan returned again to their place, and went over all its banks as before (vid., Jos 3:15). This affirms as clearly as possible that it was the ark which kept back the stream.
The crossing took place on the tenth day of the first month, that is to say, on the same day on which, forty years before, Israel had begun to prepare for going out of Egypt by setting apart the paschal lamb (Exo 12:3). After crossing the river, the people encamped at Gilgal, on the eastern border of the territory of Jericho. The place of encampment is called Gilgal proleptically in Jos 4:19 and Jos 4:20 (see at Jos 5:9).
There Joshua set up the twelve stones, which they had taken over with them out of the Jordan, and explained to the people at the same time the importance of this memorial to their descendants (Jos 4:21, Jos 4:22), and the design of the miracle which had been wrought by God (Jos 4:24). On Jos 4:21, Jos 4:22, see Jos 4:6, Jos 4:7. אשׁר (Jos 4:23), quod, as (see Deu 2:22). The miracle itself, like the similar one at the Dead Sea, had a double intention, viz., to reveal to the Canaanites the omnipotence of the God of Israel, the strong hand of the Lord (compare Exo 14:4, Exo 14:18, with Jos 6:6; and for the expression "the hand of the Lord is mighty," see Exo 3:19; Exo 6:1, etc.), and to serve as an impulse to the Israelites to fear the Lord their God always (see at Exo 14:31).