Joshua 3:14, 15: Crossing Jordan, Part 1

Verse 14:[1]  And it came to pass, when the people removed from their tents, to pass over Jordan, and the priests bearing the (Acts 7:45) ark of the covenant before the people…


Verse 15:[2]  And as they that bare the ark were come unto Jordan, and (Josh. 3:13) the feet of the priests that bare the ark were dipped in the brim of the water, (for [1 Chron. 12:15; Jer. 12:5; 49:19; Ecclus. 24:26[3]] Jordan overfloweth all his banks [Josh. 4:18; 5:10, 12] all the time of harvest,)…

[And with them entering Jordan]  [On which bank the priests may have stood, see above on verse 8.]  The Talmudists understand this of an interior bank.  Thus I understand it:  The priests, passing through almost all the way to the opposite bank a step at a time, were gradually causing the course of the upper waters to stop, and they were gradually drying the fords (Masius).  At that time they stood within the bed itself close to the opposite bank, and they did not ascend to it until all had passed over (Masius on verse 17).

[Now, Jordan had filled up the banks,וְהַיַּרְדֵּ֗ן מָלֵא֙ עַל־כָּל־גְּדוֹתָ֔יו]  Now, Jordan is full, rising above all its banks (Junius and Tremellius, similarly Montanus, Jonathan, Masius, Syriac).

[In the time of harvest]  That is to say, It was full, or at its greatest, although those were the days of harvest:  which was a miracle, that the river was not kept in its bed in summer (Vatablus).  The Jordan is wont to overflow yearly in the time of harvest (Masius, Bonfrerius, Lapide, Estius), as it appears from 1 Chronicles 12:15 and Ecclesiasticus 24:26.  So also Aristeas, History of the Seventy-two Interpreters:[4]  That river Jordan, just like the Nile, overflowing about the time of harvest, irrigates much of the land (Malvenda).  Question 1:  What harvest is then to be understood here?  Responses:  1.  Of Wheat (Serarius, Menochius).  1.  Because the name of harvest, posited alone, signifies the principal harvest.  2.  Thus the Septuagint translates it, ὡσεὶ ἡμέραι θερισμοῦ πυρῶν, about the time of wheat harvest (Serarius).  But the Royal Bible[5] has it otherwise, ὡς ἐν ἡμέραις θερισμοῦ, as in the days of harvest (Bonfrerius).  2.  Of Barley (Bonfrerius, Tirinus); which was preceding the wheat harvest, as it is evident from Ruth 1:22 and 2 Samuel 21:9.  Compare Exodus 9:31.  Now, the barley harvest was not able to precede these days of the first month, since no harvest was able to go before the offering of the sheaf:  And, because only the barley was mature, not the wheat, therefore these firstfruits were of barley, to which the Chaldean on Ruth 1[6] and Josephus’ Jewish Antiquities 10 testify (Bonfrerius).  Question 2:  What was the cause of this inundation?  Responses:  1.  It arose from the later rains falling at that time of year (Menochius, Serarius, Malvenda), which they were asking of God as most advantageous for the soon coming harvest (Serarius).  2.  From the snows of Libanus, from which the Jordan flows, which melt in the spring time (Menochius, Tirinus, Bonfrerius, Masius, Malvenda).  For the same happens to Euphrates and Tigris, Ecclesiasticus 24:25, 26[7] (Masius).  For the same reason our Maine and Rhine[8] rise at the same time (Serarius).  That Libanus abounds in snow, Adrichomius and Tacitus, Histories 5, Jerome and Jeremiah 18:14, testify (Bonfrerius).  These snows are melted in the heat of summer.  The Hebrews crossed Jordan in the tenth day of Nisan, that is, around the end of March, when harvest begins in the Holy Land (Munster).  God chose the time of the overflow, so that the benefit might be all the more precious, and the miracle all the more wonderful (Lapide).

For Jordan overfloweth all his banks all the time of harvest:  Which is also noted 1 Chronicles 12:15; Ecclesiasticus 24:26, and by Aristeas in the History of the Seventy-two Interpreters.  This is meant not of the wheat harvest, but of the barley harvest, (which was before it, Ruth 1:22; 2 Samuel 21:9) as is manifest from their keeping of the passover at their first entrance, Joshua 5:10, which feast was kept on the fourteenth day of their first month, when they were to bring a sheaf of their firstfruits, Leviticus 23:10; Deuteronomy 16:9, 10, which were of barley, as Josephus affirms, and is evident from the thing itself.  So that this harvest in those hot countries fell very early in the spring, when rivers used to swell most, partly because of the rains which have fallen all the winter, and partly because of the snows, which then melt into water and come into the rivers; for which reasons the same overflowing of water which is here ascribed to Jordan, is by other authors ascribed to Euphrates, and Tigris, and the Rhine, and Maine, etc.  And this time God chose for this work, partly that the miracle might be more glorious in itself, more obliging to the Israelites, and more amazing and terrible to the Canaanites; and partly that the Israelites might be entertained at their first entrance with more plentiful and comfortable provisions.

[1] Hebrew:  וַיְהִ֗י בִּנְסֹ֤עַ הָעָם֙ מֵאָ֣הֳלֵיהֶ֔ם לַעֲבֹ֖ר אֶת־הַיַּרְדֵּ֑ן וְהַכֹּהֲנִ֗ים נֹֽשְׂאֵ֛י הָאָר֥וֹן הַבְּרִ֖ית לִפְנֵ֥י הָעָֽם׃

[2] Hebrew: וּכְב֞וֹא נֹשְׂאֵ֤י הָֽאָרוֹן֙ עַד־הַיַּרְדֵּ֔ן וְרַגְלֵ֤י הַכֹּֽהֲנִים֙ נֹשְׂאֵ֣י הָֽאָר֔וֹן נִטְבְּל֖וּ בִּקְצֵ֣ה הַמָּ֑יִם וְהַיַּרְדֵּ֗ן מָלֵא֙ עַל־כָּל־גְּדוֹתָ֔יו כֹּ֖ל יְמֵ֥י קָצִֽיר׃

[3] Ecclesiasticus 24:26:  “He maketh the understanding to abound like Euphrates, and as Jordan in the time of the harvest.”

[4] The Letter of Aristeas relates that the Septuagint was produced at the request of Ptolemy Philadelphus (third century BC), king of Egypt, for his library in Alexandria.  The Letter is in all probability a forgery.

[5] The Plantin (or Antwerp) Polyglot, as known as the Biblia Regia, was printed by Christopher Plantin in Antwerp in eight volumes, 1568-1573.  The first four volumes cover the Old Testament in Hebrew, Greek, and Chaldean, each with a Latin translation.  Volume 5 contains the New Testament in Greek and Syriac, both with a Latin translation, and the Syriac with a Hebrew translation.  A complete Bible in the original languages, and an interlinear Bible, are found in volume 6.  Volumes 7 and 8 provide lexical and grammatical aids.

[6] Targum of Ruth 1:22:  “So Naomi returned and Ruth the Moabite, her daughter-in-law, with her who returned from the country of Moab.  They came to Bethlehem on the eve of Passover, and on that day the children of Israel began to harvest the Omer of the heave-offering, which was of barleyואינון עלן לבית־לחם במעלי יומא דפסחא ובההוא) יומא שׁריאו בני ישׁראל למיחצד ית עומרא דארמותא דהוה מן שׂערין׃).”

[7] Ecclesiasticus 24:25, 26:  “He filleth all things with his wisdom, as Phison and as Tigris in the time of the new fruits.  He maketh the understanding to abound like Euphrates, and as Jordan in the time of the harvest.”

[8] German rivers.

2 thoughts on “Joshua 3:14, 15: Crossing Jordan, Part 1

  1. Augustine on Psalm 114: “The river Jordan, when they were entering across it into the land of promise, when touched by the feet of the priests who bore the Ark, stood still from above with bridled stream, while it flowed down from below, where it ran on into the sea, until the whole people passed over, the priests standing on the dry ground. We know these things, but yet we should not imagine in this Psalm, to which we have now answered by chanting Allelujah, that it is the purpose of the Holy Spirit, that while we call to mind those deeds of the past, we should not consider things like unto them yet to take place. For ‘these things,’ as the Apostle saith, ‘happened unto them for ensamples.'”

  2. John Calvin: “And as they that bare the ark, etc. The valor of the priests in proceeding boldly beyond the bed into the water itself, was deserving of no mean praise, since they might have been afraid of being instantly drowned. For what could they expect on putting in their feet, but immediately to find a deep pool in which they would be engulfed? In not being afraid on reaching the stream, and in continuing to move firmly forward to the appointed place, they gave a specimen of rare alacrity, founded on confidence.

    To the general danger was added the special one, that the Jordan had then overflowed its banks, as it is wont to do at the commencement of every summer. As the plain was covered, it was impossible to observe the line of the banks or the ford, and the slime spread far and wide, increased their fear and anxiety. God was pleased that his people, and especially the priests, should contend with these obstacles, in order that the victory of their faith and constancy might be more illustrious. At the same time, the difficulty thus presented tended to magnify the glory of the miracle when the waters, which had overflowed their banks, retired at the divine command, and were gathered together into a solid heap. First, Joshua explains the nature of the miracle for the purpose of removing doubt, and preventing profane men from denying the divine interposition by a subtle searching for other causes. It is not, indeed, impossible that the flowing of the water might have been restrained for a short time, and that some portion of the channel might thus have appeared dry, or that the course might have changed and taken some other direction. But it was certainly neither a natural nor fortuitous event, when the waters stood gathered up into a heap. It is therefore said that the waters which previously flowed from the higher ground, seeking in their descent a continuous outlet, stood still.

    There cannot be a doubt that this wonderful sight must have been received with feelings of fear, leading the Israelites more distinctly to acknowledge that they were saved in the midst of death. For what was that collected heap but a grave in which the whole multitude would have been buried, had the waters resumed their naturally liquid state? Had they walked upon the waters their faith might have served them as a kind of bridge. But now, while mountains of water hung over their heads, it is just as if they had found an open and level path beneath them.”

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