Joshua 3:4: Instructions for Crossing Jordan, Part 2

Verse 4:[1]  (Ex. 19:12) Yet there shall be a space between you and it, about two thousand cubits by measure:  come not near unto it, that ye may know the way by which ye must go:  for ye have not passed this way heretofore (Heb. since yesterday, and the third day[2]).

[And let there be a space (thus Jonathan), רָחוֹק[3]A distant (Montanus, Junius and Tremellius), supply, space (Junius and Tremellius, Drusius).  An interval (Septuagint, Masius), namely, long (Septuagint); a distance (Syriac).

[Between you and the ark, וּבֵינָו]  The Hebrew note that it is written with a vocalization that is of the plural number, and they translate it, and between those; and hence they gather that there were two Arks, the Ark of God, and the urn in which Joseph’s bones were[4] (Masius, Drusius).  But, 1.  It is impiety to this box with the Ark of God (Masius).  2.  Let it be בֵּינָו, nevertheless the suffix was not plural, as it is evident from examples (Drusius, Bonfrerius):  עָלָיו is concerning him (Drusius); and בָּנָיו is his son; and אַחֲרָיו is after him (Bonfrerius).

[Of two thousand cubits, כְּאַלְפַּ֥יִם אַמָּ֖ה בַּמִּדָּ֑ה]  Verbatim:  as of two thousand of the cubit in measure (Montanus, similarly the Syriac, Jonathan); nearly two thousand of cubits (Arabic); about two thousand cubits (Masius, Drusius), so that the כ/as might be ἀληθινὸν, agreeable to the truth of the matter (Drusius).  Five stadia (Lapide).  He was unwilling that they be further from it, because of the approaching Sabbath, on which they would be obliged to come to the Ark for the sake of supplication.  It was recorded that the Ark, which was in the midst of the camps, was distant from the outer camps by such a space.  And hence the Sabbath Day’s journey was two thousand cubits (Drusius).  Since there was a special obligation to go from the camps to the Ark on the Sabbath Day, hence the wise took the argument for thus defining a Sabbath Day’s journey.  Compare Numbers 2:2.  Among labors are great journeys, which it was evident enough were not permitted on the Sabbath, Matthew 24:20.  Ovid:[5]  …compel unwilling feet to run.  Do not wish for rain, neither allow foreign Sabbaths to delay thee.[6]  To forbid all going out had been hard:  and it was evident from this law that this was not the sense of the law concerning the Sabbath.  See Acts 1:12 (Grotius).  Note that the ב/in in בַּמִּדָּה is in the place of כ/as; in measure, that is, according to measure (Piscator).  Question:  Why did He will that they be distant from the Ark by such a space?  Responses:  1.  On account of reverence for the Ark (Lapide, Bonfrerius, Masius, Tirinus, Vatablus); for it follows, Beware that ye approach not:[7]  of which words the Scripture is wont to make use, when it requires reverence, as in Exodus 3:5; 19:12, 21, 24 (Bonfrerius).  2.  So that He might show the way from a distance to those following (Bonfrerius).  3.  So that all might have the leisure to contemplate with admiration the drying of the waters (Bonfrerius, Lapide, similarly Masius).  4.  At such a distance the breadth of the overflowing river was evident (Masius).  This does not satisfy Lapide, for the Geographers assert that the Jordan was only thirty cubits wide (Lapide).

Two thousand cubits make a thousand yards, and at which distance from it the Israelites seem to have been encamped in the wilderness.  And because they generally went from their tents to the ark to worship God, especially on the sabbath days, hence it hath been conceived that a sabbath day’s journey reached only to two thousand cubits.  But that may be doubted; for those who encamped nearest the ark were at that distance from it, and came so far; but the most were farther from it, and their sabbath day’s journey was considerably longer.  Come not near unto it; partly from the reverent respect they should bear to the ark; and partly for the following reason.

[And to know by which way]  Hebrew:  that ye might know that way by which ye are going to go[8] (Masius).  These words are dependent upon the final words of verse 3 (Piscator).  So that all might be able to see clearly the way now revealed by the Ark, and to continue in succession (Masius).  [Vatablus otherwise:]  The way, understanding, by which ye could go for supplication before the Ark on the Sabbath; so that to you the way might be open, and not obstructed with tents.  For, if they had come closer, the way would not have been open, but occupied, so that it could not be discerned easily (Vatablus).

That ye may know the way by which ye must go; that the ark marching so far before you into the river, and standing still there till you pass over, may give you the greater assurance of your safe passage.

[Heretofore ye have not travelled by it,בַּדֶּרֶךְ ]  In the way (Montanus); by this way (Syriac, Drusius).

[מִתְּמ֥וֹל שִׁלְשֽׁוֹם]  Yesterday and the day before (Masius, Drusius, Montanus, Septuagint), that is, before this (Drusius), previously, or recently (Masius).  Thus Homer’s Iliad 2, χθιζά τε καὶ πρώϊζα, yesterday and the day before, concerning a period of many years (Drusius).  That is, ye have not walked previously through departures of this sort, or, by this way (Vatablus).  Not by this way, namely, through the river.  For they had indeed passed through a sea, but not through a river, namely, those that had been younger than twenty years of age, etc. (Drusius out of Masius).

[1] Hebrew: אַ֣ךְ׀ רָח֣וֹק יִהְיֶ֗ה בֵּֽינֵיכֶם֙ וּבֵינ֔וֹ כְּאַלְפַּ֥יִם אַמָּ֖ה בַּמִּדָּ֑ה אַֽל־תִּקְרְב֣וּ אֵלָ֗יו לְמַ֤עַן אֲשֶׁר־תֵּֽדְעוּ֙ אֶת־הַדֶּ֙רֶךְ֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר תֵּֽלְכוּ־בָ֔הּ כִּ֣י לֹ֧א עֲבַרְתֶּ֛ם בַּדֶּ֖רֶךְ מִתְּמ֥וֹל שִׁלְשֽׁוֹם׃

[2] Hebrew:  מִתְּמ֥וֹל שִׁלְשֽׁוֹם.

[3] רָחוֹק signifies far or distant.  Sometimes it is used as a noun, distance.

[4] See Exodus 13:19; Joshua 24:32.

[5] Publius Ovidius Naso (43 BC-17 AD) was a Roman poet.

[6] Remedia Amoris 218-220.

[7] These words are added to the end of this verse in the Vulgate.

[8] Hebrew:  לְמַ֤עַן אֲשֶׁר־תֵּֽדְעוּ֙ אֶת־הַדֶּ֙רֶךְ֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר תֵּֽלְכוּ־בָ֔הּ.

2 thoughts on “Joshua 3:4: Instructions for Crossing Jordan, Part 2

  1. A sweet thought from Thomas Boston, “View of the Covenant of Grace”: “It is great weakness, to think that [our Jesus] doth only, as it were, stand on the other side of the river, directing the believer in his passage, and ready to receive him when he comes ashore: nay, it lies on him, as administrator of the covenant, even to go into the water with the passenger, to take him by the arm, and going between him and the stream, to break the force thereof unto him, and to bring him safe ashore. Psalm 23:4, “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for thou art with me.” In the Israelites passing over to Canaan, the ark went first into Jordan, and was last in coming out, being there till all the people were passed clean over, Joshua 3:4. The ark, being a type of Christ, as Canaan was of heaven, this teacheth us, that our Lord Jesus will have business in the passage between the two worlds, as long as there is one of his people to pass that way; and that his administration there will never be at an end, until the last man within the bond of the covenant is safely landed on the other side.”

  2. Matthew Henry: “In following the ark, they must keep their distance, Joshua 3:4. They must none of them come within a thousand yards of the ark. (1.) They must thus express their awful and reverent regard to that token of God’s presence, lest its familiarity with them should breed contempt. This charge to them not to come near was agreeable to that dispensation of darkness, bondage, and terror: but we now through Christ have access with boldness. (2.) Thus it was made to appear that the ark was able to protect itself, and needed not to be guarded by the men of war, but was itself a guard to them. With what a noble defiance of the enemy did it leave all it its friends half a mile behind except the unarmed priests that carried it as perfectly sufficient for its own safety and theirs that followed it! (3.) Thus it was the better seen by those that were to be led by it: That you may know the way by which you must go, seeing it, as it were, chalked out or tracked by the ark. Had they been allowed to come near it, they would have surrounded it, and none would have had the sight of it but those that were close to it; but, as it was put at such a distance before them, they would all have the satisfaction of seeing it, and would be animated by the sight. And it was with good reason that this provision was made for their encouragement: For you have not passed this way heretofore. This had been the character of all their way through the wilderness, it was an untrodden path, but this especially through Jordan. While we are here we must expect and prepare for unusual events, to pass ways that we have not passed before, and much more when we go hence; our way through the valley of the shadow of death is a way we have not gone before, which makes it the more formidable. But, if we have the assurance of God’s presence, we need not fear; that will furnish us with such strength as we never had when we come to do a work we never did.”

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