Joshua 3-4: From death to Life

Jos 3:1-17 Then Joshua rose early in the morning and they set out from Shittim. And they came to the Jordan, he and all the people of Israel, and lodged there before they passed over. (2) At the end of three days the officers went through the camp (3) and commanded the people, “As soon as 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 and follow it. (4) Yet there shall be a distance between you and it, about 2,000 cubits in length. Do not come near it, in order that you may know the way you shall go, for you have not passed this way before.” (5) Then Joshua said to the people, “Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the LORD will do wonders among you.” (6) And Joshua said to the priests, “Take up the ark of the covenant and pass on before the people.” So they took up the ark of the covenant and went before the people. (7) The LORD said to Joshua, “Today I will begin to exalt you in the sight of all Israel, that they may know that, as I was with Moses, so I will be with you.

The focus of Joshua 3 is twofold: primarily on the ark of the covenant, representative of the Holy Father (the table of the bread of Presence representing Christ; and the golden lampstand representing the Holy Spirit – see Exodus 25 commentary); and Yeshua. We are taken immediately back to the theme of the three days (they waited until the three days were over before they approached the valley of Jordan (v.2)) and meanwhile kept their distance from the ark, understanding the reality (rather than mere symbology) of its holiness as the only item to be hidden behind the veil of the tabernacle (c.f. Uzzah’s death in 2 Samuel 6). Yet, the focus of the ark of the covenant is immediately related to the exaltation of Joshua in v.6-7 – which teaches us the nature of how Christ is at the bosom of the Father. The exaltation of the Father simultaneously exalts the Son (John 8:54; Hebrews 5:5); the exaltation of the Son also directly exalts the Father (John 12:28 – the glory of the Father comes through the obedience and work of Christ; John 13:31-32). The intermingling of honour to both the ark, the LORD and Yeshua is to show how God testifies to His multi-Personality, a strong indication of the unity in the Trinity.

(8) And as for you, command the priests who bear the ark of the covenant, ‘When you come to the brink of the waters of the Jordan, you shall stand still in the Jordan.'” (9) And Joshua said to the people of Israel, “Come here and listen to the words of the LORD your God.” (10) And Joshua said, “Here is how you shall know that the living God is among you and that he will without fail drive out from before you the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Hivites, the Perizzites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, and the Jebusites. (11) Behold, the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth is passing over before you into the Jordan. (12) Now therefore take twelve men from the tribes of Israel, from each tribe a man. (13) And when the soles of the feet of the priests bearing the ark of the LORD, the Lord of all the earth, shall rest in the waters of the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan shall be cut off from flowing, and the waters coming down from above shall stand in one heap.”

Thus v.10-13 continues to focus on the ark of the covenant of the LORD of all the earth, not merely the God of Israel or the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as He had been commonly referred to throughout the Pentateuch. This fits naturally into the book of Joshua which is about conquering neighbouring nations in two ways: eschatological destruction of the non-Christians for remaining in the sin of Adam, or the eventual persuasion to submission of those who match the faith of Rahab as in Joshua 2.

More importantly is how the theme of water and land is explored in these verses: how the soles of the feet of the priests bearing the ark of the LORD touching the bottom of the valley immediately leads to the river being cut off from its flow; the LORD had expressed this distinction of the water and dry land in His comparison of day two of creation (in which the events were not declared as “good”) as opposed to day three where new life is enabled when the water subsides. Again, this truth is fleshed out in the Noahic flood; and once more in the Passover. By now, the Israelites have been steeped in their knowledge of the symbolism of them passing over the dry valley of Jordan – it is a declaration of victory, of salvation, from the waters of punishment representative of sin and shame (Jude 1:13).

Of more curiosity is the naming of the city of Adam beside Zarethan (“their distress”) in v.14-17, the river completely cut off from flowing down toward the Sea of Arabah (“wilderness/desert”), the sea of salt. The verb used in the verse, karath כּרת , is the same word used for the cutting of a covenant (c.f. 1 Kings 8:9 literal Hebrew translation is “the LORD karath a covenant with the children of Israel”), and its peculiar use here is not without its Christological significance. In these two chapters (later on in chapter 4 as well) which steep themselves in the theme and imagery of Genesis 1, of Exodus (concerning the ark), of Leviticus (the priests with the ark), of Numbers (sea of Arabah), of Deuteronomy (the repetition of the law – as is the repetition of these themes in these opening chapters of Joshua) – we can only read this verse as the LORD keeping the waters of punishment at Adam, the first man, keeping the waters of shame at the point of the initial distress of mankind. The Sea of Arabah, the sea of salt, no longer has water feeding it thus essentially leaving it as dry land and no more salt invading this area as the salt in water represents punishment (Ezekiel 47:9). The symbolic entrance of Israel into Canaan through this passage has them allegorically walking away from Adam, from their initial distress, towards a clean land of freshness and no salt, walking past the wilderness under the banner of Yeshua and the ark representing the Father, by the power of the Spirit who split the sea (as He did in Exodus 14) in the early sunrise of the day. This is achieved by the cutting off of the waters; the same cutting of the covenant which has achieved so much for the glory of the Trinity and New Creation.

(14) So when the people set out from their tents to pass over the Jordan with the priests bearing the ark of the covenant before the people, (15) and as soon as those bearing the ark had come as far as the Jordan, and the feet of the priests bearing the ark were dipped in the brink of the water (now the Jordan overflows all its banks throughout the time of harvest), (16) the waters coming down from above stood and rose up in a heap very far away, at Adam, the city that is beside Zarethan, and those flowing down toward the Sea of the Arabah, the Salt Sea, were completely cut off. And the people passed over opposite Jericho. (17) Now the priests bearing the ark of the covenant of the LORD stood firmly on dry ground in the midst of the Jordan, and all Israel was passing over on dry ground until all the nation finished passing over the Jordan.

Jos 4:1-24 When all the nation had finished passing over the Jordan, the LORD said to Joshua, (2) “Take twelve men from the people, from each tribe a man, (3) and command them, saying, ‘Take twelve stones from here out of the midst of the Jordan, from the very place where the priests’ feet stood firmly, and bring them over with you and lay them down in the place where you lodge tonight.'” (4) Then Joshua called the twelve men from the people of Israel, whom he had appointed, a man from each tribe. (5) And Joshua said to them, “Pass on before the ark of the LORD your God into the midst of the Jordan, and take up each of you a stone upon his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the people of Israel, (6) that this may be a sign among you. When your children ask in time to come, ‘What do those stones mean to you?’ (7) then you shall tell them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the LORD. When it passed over the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. So these stones shall be to the people of Israel a memorial forever.”

As if the collation of imagery of the 5 books of Moses is not prevalent enough in chapter 3, chapter 4 immediately opens with the 12 men chosen from each tribe (v.2) contrasted with the 12 stones (v.3) as a sign (v.6) to the children of the following generations of this forevermore memorial. There is a chiastic structure to this chapter which we should not ignore:

  • Joshua 4:1-9 – The 12 stones and the memorial to future generations
    • Joshua 4:10-13 – Priests and People
      • Joshua 4:14 – exaltation of Joshua
    • Joshua 4:15-19 – Priests and People
  • Joshua 4:20-24 – The 12 stones and the memorial to future generations

Because of this chiastic structure, the focus is on the exaltation of Joshua, built upon the foundation of the priests and the Israelites, furthermore founded on the cornerstone of what the 12 stones represent. This forevermore memorial stands for the same truth of Christianity from day one of creation until today – the 12 tribes of Israel the same as the 12 apostles of the four gospels; the ark of the covenant going before the priests when they crossed the valley, representing the High Priest Melchizedek walking with us, treading the ground for both the 12 tribes and the 12 apostles – the government of the eschatological church built upon the layers and histories of Adam, to Noah, to Abraham, to Isaac, to Israel, to the rest of the world.

(8) And the people of Israel did just as Joshua commanded and took up twelve stones out of the midst of the Jordan, according to the number of the tribes of the people of Israel, just as the LORD told Joshua. And they carried them over with them to the place where they lodged and laid them down there. (9) And Joshua set up twelve stones in the midst 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) For the priests bearing the ark stood in the midst 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 passed over in haste. (11) And when all the people had finished passing over, the ark of the LORD and the priests passed over before the people. (12) The sons of Reuben and the sons of Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh passed over armed before the people of Israel, as Moses had told them. (13) About 40,000 ready for war passed over before the LORD for battle, to the plains of Jericho. (14) On that day the LORD exalted Joshua in the sight of all Israel, and they stood in awe of him just as they had stood in awe of Moses, all the days of his life.

When we therefore reach the centrifugal force of the chapter, hinging on v.14, we see the importance of the name of the LORD in Yeshua (Exodus 23:21). Yeshua is seen as the one who sets up the stones and our foundation to this day (v.9); he is the one who gives meaning to the memorial as symbolic of the red sea (Exodus 14:21). Yet, what did Joshua, the type, actually do himself? Did He actually have the inherent power to create the miracle which amazed the Israelites (many of whom did not actually witness the Passover besides Joshua and Caleb, because the rest of the previous generation of Israelites have already died in the wilderness) so much that they had to pass through in haste?

The irony of the focus on v.14 is that the Israelites did not obey Moses; many died because of their rebellion, even though they experienced the exodus through the Red Sea in Exodus 14. However, the role and the truth of which Moses and Joshua were merely shadows of was the real object of faith; they stood in awe of Moses and Joshua not because the LORD wanted to create a heart of idolatry in them, as if He endorsed men to worship other men! Rather, he endorsed what these men represented: Moses and Joshua were imperfect leaders, but under the banner of Christ even these shadows of Christ invoked enough faith to bring the Israelites to Canaan. However, most of the Israelites involved in the rebellions had only the Spirit of God with them; but many did not have the Spirit of God in them (a point which Christ re-iterated in John) like Moses and Joshua. They witnessed the amazing truths, but they did not have circumcised hearts; they looked on at times in awe, but did not live their lives persistently in awe.

(15) And the LORD said to Joshua, (16) “Command the priests bearing the ark of the testimony to come up out of the Jordan.” (17) So Joshua commanded the priests, “Come up out of the Jordan.” (18) And when the priests bearing the ark of the covenant of the LORD came up from the midst of the Jordan, and the soles of the priests’ feet were lifted up on 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 encamped at Gilgal on the east border of Jericho. (20) And those twelve stones, which they took out of the Jordan, Joshua set up at Gilgal. (21) And he said to the people of Israel, “When your children ask their fathers in times to come, ‘What do these stones mean?’ (22) then you shall let your children know, ‘Israel passed over this Jordan on dry ground.’ (23) For the LORD your God dried up the waters of the Jordan for you until you passed over, as the LORD your God did to the Red Sea, which he dried up for us until we passed over, (24) so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the LORD is mighty, that you may fear the LORD your God forever.”

So the end of chapter 4 repeats the beginning of chapter 4 – the Red Sea for the Israelites is a time of significance. Many have only heard through stories, through the word passed down, through their immediate ancestors of splitting of the Red Sea. However, what they see now is a confirmation of what they had heard but have not seen first-hand; just as we experience the same thing on Resurrection Day when we witness things our spiritual forefathers have spoken of but have never seen in our lives so far.

In conclusion, chapter 3-4 covers several grounds of the ark of the covenant; the theme of water and dried land; the victory of the 12 tribes manifested furthermore in the government of the 12 apostles leading to the foundation of the Christian government, built upon the 12 stones, all types of the One Stone and Rock of Ages); the rejection of Adam and the wilderness, and the covenantal cutting off of the waters of punishment – all of these point towards the simultaneous exaltation of Son and Father: Yeshua and the Father who sits on the throne of the mercy seat.

Joshua 3-4: From death to Life

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