Joshua 4:1-3: God Commands Joshua concerning the Twelve Stones

Verse 1:[1] And it came to pass, when all the people were clean passed (Deut. 27:2; Josh. 3:17) over Jordan, that the LORD spake unto Joshua, saying…

[With whom having crossed over, the Lord said] Some note a hyperbaton[2] here, which is quite common in this book. What things are from this word, He said, to the end of verse 3 (verse 2, says Vatablus), they enclose in parentheses (thus Junius and Tremellius, a great many in Malvenda, Piscator). (Because Jehovah had declared, etc… [Junius and Tremellius].) Now, He had said (Vatablus, Piscator), namely, in Joshua 3:12. Some think that the same precept was given twice: Others, that there it was a prolepsis, but it is narrated here in its proper place: Others, that there the matter was narrated in its proper place and order, but here a little more fully and accurately (Malvenda).

The Lord spake unto Joshua: This was commanded before, Joshua 3:12, and is here repeated with enlargement, as being now to be put in execution.

[The Lord said] Therefore, this was not appointed by some vain superstition or ambition of glory in the Emperor, but by God (Masius).


Verse 2:[3] (Josh. 3:12) Take you twelve men out of the people, out of every tribe a man…

[Choose ye] Hebrew: take ye[4] (Malvenda). Take those already chosen (Lapide).

[Twelve men throughout the individual tribes] For this monument was, as it were, a certain writing, on which all the Tribes and individual heirs were written by God, or seals of that writing. For, although two Tribes were on the other side of Jordan, nevertheless as the religion of all the tribes was one, so also the society of the inheritance, which ought not to be considered as interrupted by the river flowing between (Masius).

Out of every tribe a man: For the greater evidence and certainty, and the more effectual spreading of the report of this marvellous work among all the tribes.


Verse 3:[5] And command ye them, saying, Take you hence out of the midst of Jordan, out of the place where (Josh. 3:13) the priests’ feet stood firm, twelve stones, and ye shall carry them over with you, and leave them in (Josh. 4:19, 20) the lodging place, where ye shall lodge this night.

Out of the midst of Jordan; of which see on Joshua 3:17. 

[Where their feet stood, מִמַּצַּב וגו״] From the station of their feet, etc., that is, from the place where they stand with their feet planted (Vatablus, Masius): not precisely, but from the vicinity (Lapide, Bonfrerius, Masius).

[Exceedingly hard stones, הָכִין[6]] See what things are on Joshua 3:17.[7] [They vary. Some refer it to the priests.] Of the ready priests (Vatablus), or, standing with their feet planted (Vatablus, similarly Junius and Tremellius, thus Pagnine, Masius and Tigurinus in Bonfrerius). The Zaqeph qaton accent (֔)[8] on הַכֹּהֲנִ֔ים/priests is incompatible with these interpretations, requiring that הָכִין be construed with what follows (Dieu[9]). [Others, therefore, refer it to the stones.] Prepared (Septuagint, Aquila and Symmachus in Bonfrerius), by God, that is, placed there for this end by Divine providence, and firmly remaining: on account of this it was also necessary that they be very large, since other stones are wont easily to be worn away by the force of waters, or to be moved in place (Bonfrerius). Or, prepared, that is, apt, suitable for the determined end; or, strong, or hardened, that is, solid, hard (Malvenda). Others: prepare ye stones (Syriac); in preparing (Montanus); to prepare them, namely, for that use in verse 20 (Malvenda). In righting twelve stones, that is, with the right and firm or exact number of twelve (Dieu). Remove ye the equal number of twelve stones (Arabic).

[Where ye shall have fixed, בַּמָּלוֹן[10]] In the lodging-place (Montanus); in the camps (Septuagint); in the place of lodging (Jonathan), or of spending the night (Arabic, Piscator).

[This night (thus Junius and Tremellius, Arabic), הַלָּיְלָה] By night (Montanus, Septuagint), in the night (Jonathan). Others: by night, understanding, the following (Malvenda out of Vatablus).

Where ye shall lodge this night, that is, in Gilgal, as is expressed below, Joshua 4:19, 20.

[1] Hebrew: וַיְהִי֙ כַּאֲשֶׁר־תַּ֣מּוּ כָל־הַגּ֔וֹי לַעֲב֖וֹר אֶת־הַיַּרְדֵּ֑ן וַיֹּ֣אמֶר יְהוָ֔ה אֶל־יְהוֹשֻׁ֖עַ לֵאמֹֽר׃

[2] That is, an inversion of the normal ordering of words.

[3] Hebrew: קְח֤וּ לָכֶם֙ מִן־הָעָ֔ם שְׁנֵ֥ים עָשָׂ֖ר אֲנָשִׁ֑ים אִישׁ־אֶחָ֥ד אִישׁ־אֶחָ֖ד מִשָּֽׁבֶט׃

[4] Hebrew: קְחוּ.

[5] Hebrew: וְצַוּ֣וּ אוֹתָם֮ לֵאמֹר֒ שְׂאֽוּ־לָכֶ֙ם מִזֶּ֜ה מִתּ֣וֹךְ הַיַּרְדֵּ֗ן מִמַּצַּב֙ רַגְלֵ֣י הַכֹּהֲנִ֔ים הָכִ֖ין שְׁתֵּים־עֶשְׂרֵ֣ה אֲבָנִ֑ים וְהַעֲבַרְתֶּ֤ם אוֹתָם֙ עִמָּכֶ֔ם וְהִנַּחְתֶּ֣ם אוֹתָ֔ם בַּמָּל֕וֹן אֲשֶׁר־תָּלִ֥ינוּ ב֖וֹ הַלָּֽיְלָה׃

[6] Joshua 4:3b:  “Take you hence out of the midst of Jordan, out of the place where the priests’ feet stood firm, twelve stones (מִמַּצַּב֙ רַגְלֵ֣י הַכֹּהֲנִ֔ים הָכִ֖ין שְׁתֵּים־עֶשְׂרֵ֣ה אֲבָנִ֑ים)…”

[7] Joshua 3:17a:  “And the priests that bare the ark of the covenant of the Lord stood on dry ground in the midst of Jordan firmly (הָכֵן)…”

[8] The Zaqeph qaton is among the stronger disjunctive accents.

[9] Louis de Dieu (1590-1642) was a Dutch Reformed minister, linguist and orientalist.  He brought his considerable learning to bear upon the interpretation of the Scripture.

[10] מָלוֹן/lodging-place is derived from the verbal root לוּן, to lodge.

2 thoughts on “Joshua 4:1-3: God Commands Joshua concerning the Twelve Stones

  1. Matthew Henry: “We may well imagine how busy Joshua and all the men of war were while they were passing over Jordan, when besides their own marching into an enemy’s country, and in the face of the enemy, which could not but occasion them many thoughts of heart, they had their wives, and children, and families, their cattle, and tents, and all their effects, bag and baggage, to convey by this strange and untrodden path, which we must suppose either very muddy or very stony, troublesome to the weak and frightful to the timorous, the descent to the bottom of the river and the ascent out of it steep, so that every man must needs have his head full of care and his hands full of business, and Joshua more than any of them. And yet, in the midst of all his hurry, care must be taken to perpetuate the memorial of this wondrous work of God, and this care might not be adjourned to a time of greater leisure. Note, How much soever we have to do of business for ourselves and our families, we must not neglect nor omit what we have to do for the glory of God and the serving of his honour, for that is our best business.”

  2. Matthew Henry: “God gave orders for the preparing of this memorial. Had Joshua done it without divine direction, it might have looked like a design to perpetuate his own name and honour, nor would it have commanded so sacred and venerable a regard from posterity as now, when God himself appointed it. Note, God’s works of wonder ought to be kept in everlasting remembrance, and means devised for the preserving of the memorial of them. Some of the Israelites that passed over Jordan perhaps were so stupid, and so little affected with this great favour of God to them, that they felt no concern to have it remembered; while others, it may be, were so much affected with it, and had such deep impressions made upon them by it, that they thought there needed no memorial of it to be erected, the heart and tongue of every Israelite in every age would be a living lasting monument of it. But God, knowing their frame, and how apt they had been soon to forget his works, ordered an expedient for the keeping of this in remembrance to all generations, that those who could not, or would not, read the record of it in the sacred history, might come to the knowledge of it by the monument set up in remembrance of it, of which the common tradition of the country would be an explication; it would likewise serve to corroborate the proof of the matter of fact, and would remain a standing evidence of it to those who in after-ages might question the truth of it. A monument is to be erected, and, 1. Joshua, as chief captain, must have direction about it (Joshua 4:1): When all the people had clean passed over Jordan, not even the feeble, that were the hindmost of them, left behind, so that God had done his work completely, and every Israelite got safe into Canaan, then God spoke unto Joshua to provide materials for this monument. It is the pious conjecture of the learned bishop Patrick that Joshua had gone into some place of retirement to return thanks immediately for this wonderful mercy, and then God met him, and spoke thus to him. Or, perhaps, it was by Eleazar the priest that God gave these and other instructions to Joshua; for, though he is not mentioned here, yet, when Joshua was ordained by the imposition of hands to this great trust, God appointed that Eleazar should ask counsel for him after the judgment of Urim, and at his word Joshua and all the children of Israel must go out and come in, Numbers 27:21. 2. One man out of each tribe, and he a chosen man, must be employed to prepare materials for this monument, that each tribe might have the story told them by one of themselves, and each tribe might contribute something to the glory of God thereby (Joshua 4:2,4): Out of ever tribe a man. Not the Levites only, but every Israelite must, in his place, help to make known to the sons of men God’s mighty acts, Psalm 145:12. The two tribes, though seated already in their possession, yet, sharing in the mercy, must lend a hand to the memorial of it. 3. The stones that must be set up for this memorial are ordered to be taken out of the midst of the channel (where, probably, there lay abundance of great stones), and as near as might be from the very place where the priests stood with the ark, Joshua 4:3, 5. This intended monument deserved to be made of stones curiously cut with the finest and most exquisite art, but these stones out of the bottom of the river were more natural and more apt indications of the miracle. Let posterity know by this that Jordan was driven back, for these very stones were then fetched out of it. In the institution of signs, God always chose that which was most proper and significant, rather than that which is pompous or curious; for God hath chosen the foolish things of the world.”

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