SynopsisThe Israelites are now ready to enter the Promised Land. The LORD is with them, their spies have brought back a good report, everything’s in their favour. It’s time.
They move right up to the edge of the Jordan river, which is the boundary to the Promised Land, and they camp there for a few days. The officers then go through the camp, and tell the Israelites how this will work: the Ark is going to be carried ahead of them, into the Promised Land, and all they have to do is follow it. However, they are not to get too close to it; they are to keep a distance of almost a kilometre from it (900 metres). That being said, the people are to get ready, because tomorrow will be the big day.
The next day, the LORD tells Joshua that He is about to exalt Joshua in the Israelites’ eyes, so that they’ll know that He is with Joshua the way He was with Moses. Joshua then tells the people about the miracle the LORD is going to perform: when the priests set foot in the river, the water of the river will “stand up in a heap” (verse 3:13), and the flow of the river will be cut off.
Joshua has the priests take up the Ark, to lead the way, and they enter the river. Even though the river is at flood level, it happens the way Joshua said it would: the flow of the water cuts off, and piles up a ways away, so that the priests enter the river bed and are standing on dry ground. The priests remain stainding in the middle of the rivver, while all of the people of Israel pass by. (Verse 4:10 says that they are in a hurry, which is understandable.) Right at the front of the Israelites are the fighting men from the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and Manasseh, because that was part of their deal, when the LORD let them settle on the other side of the Jordan. Altogether, forty thousand soldiers crossed the river that day, according to verse 4:13, but I don’t have the statistical skills to calculate how big that would make the nation of Israel, if you were to add in the women and children.
Once the people have crossed over, the LORD commands Joshua to get twelve men—one from each tribe of Israel—to go back to the river bed, where the priests are still standing with the Ark, and find twelve stones. They are to carry the stones out of the river, and they will then serve as a memorial, reminding the people of what the LORD had done when the Israelites crossed the Jordan.
They do as they’re told, and bring the stones to the Israelite camp. (Verse 4:9 says that they’re there to this day, although I guess that would mean the day that the book of Joshua was written; I don’t know if the stones are still there now, but I doubt it.) After all of this, the LORD commands Joshua to command the priests to come out of the river bed, and as soon as they set their feet on the river bank, the water rushes back and returns to normal.
The result of all of this is summed up in verse 4:14:
That day the LORD exalted Joshua in the sight of all Israel; and they revered him all the days of his life, just as they had revered Moses. (verse 4:14)
After this, they go and camp at Gilgal, which is on the border of Jericho. He sets up the stones—the passage doesn’t indicate how he sets them up, it just says that he sets them up—as a memorial of what the LORD has done.
He said to the Israelites, “In the future when your descendants ask their fathers, ‘What do these stones mean?’ tell them, ‘Israel crossed the Jordan on dry ground.’ For the LORD your God dried up the Jordan before you until you had crossed over. The LORD your God did to the Jordan just what he had done to the Red Sea when he dried it up before us until we had crossed over. He did this so that all the peoples of the earth might know that the hand of the LORD is powerful and so that you might always fear the LORD your God.” (verses 4:21–24)