Joshua 3:16: Crossing Jordan, Part 2

Verse 16:[1]  That the waters which came down from above stood and rose up upon an heap very far from the city Adam, that is beside (1 Kings 4:12; 7:46) Zaretan:  and those that came down (Deut. 3:17) toward the sea of the plain, even (Gen. 14:3; Num. 34:3) the salt sea, failed, and were cut off:  and the people passed over right against Jericho.

[They stood]  Why should not what is wont to be attributed to Magicians be easy for God?  Ovid, and by art she turns the clear waters back to their source.[2]  Lucan, …the torrent fixed hung from the sheer cliff, and the river ran; but not where it was inclined…[3] (Grotius).

[After the likeness of a mountain; into one mountain (Arabic), נֵד־אֶחָד]  In one heap (similarly Junius and Tremellius, Masius, Lapide), in one wineskin (the Chaldean and Symmachus in Masius), that is to say, Thus the gathered waters stood, as if they were shut up in a wineskin.  But נאֹד/nod signifies wineskin; נֵד/ ned, a heap.  But they appear to have paid no attention to that usage of the vowels, perhaps of which there were not marks at that time (Masius).

The waters rose up upon an heap; which having been affirmed by heathen writers to have been done by magicians, it is great impudence to disbelieve or doubt of God’s power to do it.

[From the city of Adam unto the place of Zaretan,הַרְחֵ֙ק מְאֹ֜ד בָאָדָ֤ם הָעִיר֙ אֲשֶׁר֙ מִצַּ֣ד צָֽרְתָ֔ן]  Very far off in Adam (but other exemplars read מֵאָדָם, from Adam [Masius]), a city beside Zaretan (Montanus).  Very far off (Syriac, Arabic, Junius and Tremellius, Tigurinus, Pagnine) (which were greatly extended [Jonathan]; in removing much, or far off [Malvenda]; removed, receding [Vatablus]; they were departing far [Munster]; by a very long tract [Masius]; receding far [Septuagint]) from the city of Adam, which was beside Zaretan (Munster, Pagnine, Tirinus, Junius and Tremellius), which was by, or near, Zaretan (Jonathan, Syriac), which was situated at the side of Zaretan (Masius).  [Piscator otherwise:]  I translated בָאָדָם, unto Adam.  For it is indicated here how far up in that direction the waters of Jordan stood (Piscator).  The city of Adam, because it was obscure, is described by another neighboring city that was well-known, namely, Zaretan (Bonfrerius, Lapide).  Now, this Zaretan was near the sea, or lake, of Galilee (which was also of Gennesaret[4] and Tiberias[5]), in the furthest limits of the country of Bethshean,[6] or Scythopolis,[7] as it is proven out of 1 Kings 4:12; 7:46; Judges 7:22 (Serarius):  in the Transjordanian region, 1 Kings 7:46, between Succoth and Zarthan; but it is certain that Succoth was across Jordan[8] (Bonfrerius).  Question:  How did the waters swell?  Responses:  1.  Some maintain that they swelled near the place of crossing, far from the city of Adam in the vicinity of Zaretan (the Rabbis in Serarius); neither were they flowing any closer than previously; which town they, overflowing in such a heap, would otherwise have easily inundated, if they had not stood piled up in heaps, but had rushed away in all directions according to the nature of liquids (Hebrews in Masius).  Similarly the Septuagint, which in the place of עִיר/city appears to have read עַד/unto.  But that the waters flowing from above did not rise up into one exceedingly tall mass, as if a steep mountain, or a wall built up unto heaven, near the place of crossing, the composition of the words shows (Masius).  2.  Others say that they swelled between Adam and Zaretan, in such a way that those two cites were the two limits of the swelling (certain interpreters in Tostatus); or, at Zaretan only, but in such a way that the swelling of them might be seen from Adam (Tostatus in Serarius).  3.  Others maintain that they swelled in a continuous series from the place of crossing to Adam or Zaretan (Lapide, Masius, Menochius, Cajetan in Serarius) (thus the Hebrew words are able to be translated, the waters rose by withdrawing themselves…in, or from, Adam [Serarius]), that is, the space of twenty leagues[9] (Lapide):  and that swelling was after the likeness of a mountain, and was seen from a great ways off (Menochius).  The waters gradually increased all the way to the lake of Gennesaret; yet in such a way that, although the waves standing forth high above the banks, nevertheless they were not dispersed, but like solidified ice they extended no further than their own bed.  That this is the sense, the simplest composition of the words teaches, and Psalm 114:3, where it is sung, Jordan is turned back (Masius).  4.  Or the sense is that the Waters swelled in such a way that from the cities of Adam and Zaretan those heaps were able to be seen (Menochius).

Adam, that is beside Zaretan:  the city Adam being more obscure, is described by its nearness to a more known place, Zaretan, or Zarthan, which some think is the same place mentioned 1 Kings 4:12; 7:46; but it rather seems to have been another place then eminent, but now unknown, as many thousands are.  The meaning is, that the waters were stopped in their course at that place, and so kept at a due distance from the Israelites whilst they passed over.

[Into the sea of the wilderness, עַ֣ל יָ֧ם הָעֲרָבָ֛ה]  Upon, or into, the sea of the wilderness (Montanus, Symmachus in Masius), or, of the plateau (Jonathan, Arabic, Masius), or, of the plains (Junius and Tremellius).  So it is called because what places it now occupies were most pleasant fields[10] (Masius).  Into the sea of Araba[11] (Septuagint, Aquila in Masius); unto the western sea[12] (Syriac).

[Dead]  Hebrew:  the sea of salt.[13]  It is named because of the saltiness, which it has to the taste:  or, because in that fiery rain salt was mixed with brimstone, according to Deuteronomy 29:23:  or, from the salt-mines, which remained there.  See Zephaniah 2:9 (Masius).  He says that the entire bed from that place unto the Dead Sea was dried up (Vatablus).

[They failed, תַּ֣מּוּ נִכְרָ֑תוּ]  They consumed, they were cut off (Montanus, Malvenda) (they failed [Jonathan, Arabic]), that is, they were altogether cut off (Junius and Tremellius, Malvenda).  It is a Hebraism:  when two words are set down without a conjunction, the second acts as an adverb:  in the place of absolutely, altogether, etc. (Malvenda).  Having been divided, they failed (Syriac).  They were cut off:  for they flowed away so quickly (with the course of nature powerfully urged on by God) that, as if with the land gaping, they appear to have been absorbed and carried away (Masius).

[They were approaching opposite to Jericho, עָבְר֖וּ נֶ֥גֶד יְרִיחֽוֹ׃]  They crossed opposite to, or over against, Jericho (Montanus, Syriac, Junius and Tremellius, Masius).  But the Septuagint and Arabic have it, the people stood over against Jericho.  In the place of עָבְרוּ, they passed over, they were reading עָמְדוּ, they stood:  or rather, they took to pass over in the place of to stand intent upon passing over, because they observed the crossing itself to be related in the next verse (Masius).  God willed that they cross over against Jericho, 1.  So that He might show Himself to be a guide to them, who brought them over there without calamity, where there were a well-fortified city, a powerful King, and a strong people.  2.  So that He might instill fear in their enemies (Serarius).  3.  So that He might signify that all the multitude pass over, not tumultuously and haphazardly, where it might be pleasing to each one (although all the fords were uncovered), but with order maintained (Masius, Serarius).  4.  So that the first appearance of the land might refresh the Hebrews:  For this part of Canaan was exceedingly fruitful and pleasant (Serarius).  From this crossing this place was called בֵּית עֲבָרָה, BETH-ABARA, that is, the house of crossing, John 1:28 (Masius), where John baptized, and Christ was baptized (Lapide); not without the Divine will, so that in what place Holy Baptism had been first adumbrated in that crossing, in that place it might also first be performed (Masius).

Right against Jericho; here God carried them over, because this part was, 1.  The strongest, as having in its neighbourhood an eminent city, a potent king, and a stout and warlike people.  2.  The most pleasant and fruitful, and therefore more convenient both for the refreshment of the Israelites after their long and tedious marches, and for their encouragement to their present expedition.

[1] Hebrew: וַיַּעַמְד֡וּ הַמַּיִם֩ הַיֹּרְדִ֙ים מִלְמַ֜עְלָה קָ֣מוּ נֵד־אֶחָ֗ד הַרְחֵ֙ק מְאֹ֜ד בָאָדָ֤ם הָעִיר֙ אֲשֶׁר֙ מִצַּ֣ד צָֽרְתָ֔ן וְהַיֹּרְדִ֗ים עַ֣ל יָ֧ם הָעֲרָבָ֛ה יָם־הַמֶּ֖לַח תַּ֣מּוּ נִכְרָ֑תוּ וְהָעָ֥ם עָבְר֖וּ נֶ֥גֶד יְרִיחֽוֹ׃

[2] Amores 1:8:6.

[3] Pharsalia 6:473.

[4] See Matthew 14:34; Luke 5:1.

[5] See John 6:1; 21:1.

[6] Bethshean is about fifteen miles south of the Sea of Galilee near Jordan, and about forty-five mile north of Jericho.

[7] Bethshean was renamed Scythopolis by the Greeks (probably in the fourth century BC), perhaps after Scythian mercenaries settling there.

[8] Succoth was about thirty-five miles south of the Sea of Galilee, on the eastern side of Jordan.

[9] That is, about twenty-seven and a half miles.

[10] Here עֲרָבָה, desert-plain, is being related to the verbal root עָרַב, to be pleasant.

[11] A transliteration of עֲרָבָה.

[12] Here עֲרָבָה, desert-plain, is being related to עֶרֶב/sunset.

[13] Hebrew:  יָם־הַמֶּלַח.

1 thought on “Joshua 3:16: Crossing Jordan, Part 2

  1. Matthew Henry: “That as soon as ever the feet of the priests dipped in the brim of the water, the stream stopped immediately, as if a sluice had been led down to dam it up, Joshua 3:15, 16. So that the waters above swelled, stood on a heap, and ran back, and yet, as it should seem did not spread, but congealed, which unaccountable rising of the river was observed with amazement by those that live upward upon it many miles off, and the remembrance of it remained among them long after: the waters on the other side this invisible dam ran down of course, and left the bottom of the river dry as far downward, it is likely, as they swelled upward. When they passed through the Red Sea, the waters were a wall on either hand, here only on the right-hand. Note, The God of nature can, when he pleases, change the course of nature, and alter its properties, can turn fluids into solids, waters into standing rocks, as, on the contrary, rocks into standing waters, to serve his own purposes. See Psalm 114:5,8. What cannot God do? What will He not do for the perfecting of his peoples, salvation? Sometimes he cleaves the earth with rivers (Habakkuk 3:9), and sometimes, as here, cleaves the rivers without earth. It is easy to imagine how, when the course of this strong rapid stream was arrested on a sudden, the waters roared and were troubled, so that the mountains seemed to shake with the swelling thereof (Psalm 46:3), how the floods lifted up their voice, the floods lifted up their waves, while the Lord on high showed himself mightier than the noise of these many waters, Psalm 93:3-4. With reference to this the prophet asks, Was the Lord displeased against the rivers? was thine anger against the rivers? Habakkuk 3:8. No, Thou wentest forth for the salvation of thy people, Habakkuk 3:13. In allusion to this, it is foretold, among the great things God will do for the gospel church in the latter days, that the great river Euphrates shall be dried up, that the way of the kings of the east may be prepared, Revelation 16:12. When the time has come for Israel’s entrance into the land of promise all difficulties shall be conquered, mountains shall become plains (Zechariah 4:7) and rivers become dry, for the ransomed of the Lord to pass over. When we have finished our pilgrimage through this wilderness, death will be like this Jordan between us and the heavenly Canaan, but the ark of the covenant has prepare us a way through it; it is the last enemy that shall be destroyed.

    That the people passed over right against Jericho, which was, 1. An instance of their boldness, and a noble defiance of their enemies. Jericho was one of the strongest cities, and yet they dared to face it at their first entrance. 2. It was an encouragement to them to venture through Jordan, for Jericho was a goodly city and the country about it extremely pleasant; and, having that in view as their own, what difficulties could discourage them from taking possession? 3. It would increase the confusion and terror of their enemies, who no doubt strictly observed their motions, and were the amazed spectators of this work of wonders.”

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