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Twelve Stones Set Up at Gilgal
When 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 forever.”
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 east 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 forever.”
Jos 4:1-8. Twelve Stones Taken for a Memorial Out of Jordan.
1-3. the Lord spake unto Joshua, Take you twelve men—each representing a tribe. They had been previously chosen for this service (Jos 3:12), and the repetition of the command is made here solely to introduce the account of its execution. Though Joshua had been divinely instructed to erect a commemorative pile, the representatives were not apprised of the work they were to do till the time of the passage.
4, 5. Joshua called the twelve men—They had probably, from a feeling of reverence, kept back, and were standing on the eastern bank. They were now ordered to advance. Picking up each a stone, probably as large as he could carry, from around the spot "where the priests stood," they pass over before the ark and deposit the stones in the place of next encampment (Jos 4:19, 20), namely, Gilgal.
6, 7. That this may be a sign among you—The erection of cairns, or huge piles of stones, as monuments of remarkable incidents has been common among all people, especially in the early and rude periods of their history. They are the established means of perpetuating the memory of important transactions, especially among the nomadic people of the East. Although there be no inscription engraved on them, the history and object of such simple monuments are traditionally preserved from age to age. Similar was the purpose contemplated by the conveyance of the twelve stones to Gilgal: it was that they might be a standing record to posterity of the miraculous passage of the Jordan.
8. the children of Israel did so as Joshua commanded—that is, it was done by their twelve representatives.
Jos 4:9. Twelve Stones Set Up in the Midst of Jordan.
9. Joshua set up twelve stones … in the place where the feet of the priests … stood—In addition to the memorial just described, there was another memento of the miraculous event, a duplicate of the former, set up in the river itself, on the very spot where the ark had rested. This heap of stones might have been a large and compactly built one and visible in the ordinary state of the river. As nothing is said where these stones were obtained, some have imagined that they might have been gathered in the adjoining fields and deposited by the people as they passed the appointed spot.
they are there unto this day—at least twenty years after the event, if we reckon by the date of this history (Jos 24:26), and much later, if the words in the latter clause were inserted by Samuel or Ezra.
Jos 4:10-13. The People Pass Over.
10. the priests which bare the ark stood in the midst of Jordan—This position was well calculated to animate the people, who probably crossed below the ark, as well as to facilitate Joshua's execution of the minutest instructions respecting the passage (Nu 27:21-23). The unfaltering confidence of the priests contrasts strikingly with the conduct of the people, who "hasted and passed over." Their faith, like that of many of God's people, was, through the weakness of nature, blended with fears. But perhaps their "haste" may be viewed in a more favorable light, as indicating the alacrity of their obedience, or it might have been enjoined in order that the the whole multitude might pass in one day.
11. the ark of the Lord passed over, and the priests, in the presence of the people—The ark is mentioned as the efficient cause; it had been the first to move—it was the last to leave—and its movements arrested the deep attention of the people, who probably stood on the opposite bank, wrapt in admiration and awe of this closing scene. It was a great miracle, greater even than the passage of the Red Sea in this respect: that, admitting the fact, there is no possibility of rationalistic insinuations as to the influence of natural causes in producing it, as have been made in the former case.
12, 13. the children of Reuben … passed over armed before the children of Israel—There is no precedency to the other tribes indicated here; for there is no reason to suppose that the usual order of march was departed from; but these are honorably mentioned to show that, in pursuance of their promise (Jos 1:16-18), they had sent a complement of fighting men to accompany their brethren in the war of invasion.
13. to the plains of Jericho—That part of the Arabah or Ghor, on the west, is about seven miles broad from the Jordan to the mountain entrance at Wady-Kelt. Though now desert, this valley was in ancient times richly covered with wood. An immense palm forest, seven miles long, surrounded Jericho.
Jos 4:14-24. God Magnifies Joshua.
14-17. On that day the Lord magnified Joshua in the sight of all Israel—It appeared clear from the chief part he acted, that he was the divinely appointed leader; for even the priests did not enter the river or quit their position, except at his command; and thenceforward his authority was as firmly established as that of his predecessor.
18. it came to pass, when the priests that bare the ark … were come out of the midst of Jordan … that the waters of Jordan returned unto their place—Their crossing, which was the final act, completed the evidence of the miracle; for then, and not till then, the suspended laws of nature were restored, the waters returned to their place, and the river flowed with as full a current as before.
19. the people came up out of Jordan on the tenth day of the first month—that is, the month Nisan, four days before the passover, and the very day when the paschal lamb required to be set apart, the providence of God having arranged that the entrance into the promised land should be at the feast.
and encamped in Gilgal—The name is here given by anticipation (see on Jos 5:9). It was a tract of land, according to Josephus, fifty stadia (six and one-half miles) from Jordan, and ten stadia (one and one-fourth miles) from Jericho, at the eastern outskirts of the palm forest, now supposed to be the spot occupied by the village Riha.
20-24. those twelve stones, which they took out of Jordan, did Joshua pitch in Gilgal—Probably to render them more conspicuous, they might be raised on a foundation of earth or turf. The pile was designed to serve a double purpose—that of impressing the heathen with a sense of the omnipotence of God, while at the same time it would teach an important lesson in religion to the young and rising Israelites in after ages.