Following half a mile behind priests
- 1 Joshua got up early the next morning. Israelites broke camp at Acacia Grove and traveled to the banks of the Jordan River. They camped there before crossing.
- 2 After three days, officials walked among the people delivering a message.
- 3 They told the people, “When you see the Levites carrying the Box of the Law,1 it’s time to pack up and follow them.
- 4 But don’t get too close. Stay at least half a mile2 behind. But keep it in sight because you’re headed down a path you’ve never traveled before.
Getting ready for a miracle
- 5 Joshua told the people. “I want you to purify3 yourselves today. Get ready for tomorrow because the LORD is going to do something for you that’s astonishing.”
- 6 Joshua told the priests, “Pick up the Box of the Law. Carry it to the front, past all the people of Israel.” So, they carried the box to the front line, and took the point position.
Joshua’s day to shine
- 7 The LORD told Joshua, “This is your day to shine. For the first time, I’m going to show everyone in Israel that you’re with me and I’m with you—just as I was with Moses.
- 8 Here’s what I want you to do. Give this order to priests carrying the Box of the Law: ‘When you reach the Jordan’s water, step into the river and stand there.’”
- 9 Joshua called the Israelite people together. He said, “Come here. Closer. I want you to hear what the LORD your God has said.
- 10 You’re about to see more evidence that God is alive and with you—and that he’s going to clear the land of the locals: Canaanites, Hittites, Hivites, Perizzites, Girgashites, Amorites and Jebusites.
- 11 The Box of the Law that belongs to the master of this earth will lead you to the Jordan River.
- 12 Pick a dozen men, one from each tribe of Israel.4
Priests lead the way to Canaan
- 13 Priests will lead you to the river, carrying the Box of the Law that belongs to the LORD, the master of this world. Once they step into the river, the water upstream will become blocked. River water will pile up there. Down here, the water will stop flowing.”5
- 14 When it came time to break camp and leave, priests carrying the Box of the Law led the way.
- 15 It was springtime harvest season,6 and the Jordan River was still flooding over it banks. Yet here’s what happened the moment the priests carrying the Box stepped into the water.
Jordan River dammed
- 16 The river upstream stopped. It dammed up a good distance to the north, at a town called Adam.7 That’s near Zarethan.8 All the water pouring south into the Dead Sea, in the Arabah9 badlands, was cut off. Israelites crossed the river, opposite Jericho.
- 17 Priests carrying the Box of the Law walked into the middle of the riverbed and stood there while all the other Israelites crossed the river on dry ground.
Also known as the Ark of the Covenant, a gold-plated box that held the Ten Commandments. It represented the presence of God among the Israelites, traveling with them and, in this case, ahead of them.
The original Hebrew language says 2,000 cubits. A cubit was considered the distance of a man’s forearm, from elbow to fingertips. That’s roughly 18 inches or 44 centimeters. Two thousand cubits is roughly one kilometer or a little more than half a mile.
Initially, purification involved at least washing clothes and not having sexual intercourse (Exodus 19:15). Later, purification rituals included a waiting period, a ritual bath, and a sacrificial offering (Leviticus 15).
They’ll have some stone carrying to do when they cross the river (4:2-8).
Okay, this is especially interesting. Rockslides from cliffs above the Jordan River have dammed the water many times in recorded history, most recently in 1956. The entire river valley sits on a fault line, a crack in the earth’s shifting crust. In 1927, a devastating earthquake produced a landslide that blocked the river for 21 hours—incredibly, at what some scholars say is the same site Joshua reported: “Adam” (3:16). The location today is known by the similar-sounding name of Damiya. It’s about 20 miles (32 km) upstream from the fords near Jericho. The epicenter of that quake was somewhere near where the Israelites camped before crossing the river. Some scholars put the epicenter north of the camp, near the Damya Bridge some 15 miles (24 km) north of the southern fords of the river. Others place it beneath the Dead Sea, about 20 miles (30 km) south of the river fords. Split the difference and the epicenter would have been below where the feet of the Israelite priests reportedly stood more than 3,000 years ago, when the river stopped flowing for them.
It was April, the tenth day of the Israelite month of Nisan (4:19).
Today known as Damiya. Modern names of ancient towns often sound at least a bit like the ancient version recorded in history. Pronunciations sometimes shift over the generations. See also the note for 3:13.
The Arabah is a dry and desolate stretch of territory between the nations of Israel and Jordan. It runs south from the Dead Sea to the Gulf of Aqaba in the Red Sea.