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Commentary On Joshua by Jean Calvin

Joshua 4:10-18

10. For the priests which bare the ark stood in the midst of Jordan, until every thing was finished that the LORD commanded Joshua to speak unto the people, according to all that Moses commanded Joshua: and the people hasted and passed over.

10. Sacerdotes autem portantes arcam stabant in medio Jordanis donec compleretur omnis sermo quem praeceperat Jehova ad Josuam, ut diceret populo: prorsus ut praeceperat Moses ipsi Josue: festinavit autem populus transeundo.

11. And it came to pass, when all the people were clean passed over, that the ark of the LORD passed over, and the priests, in the presence of the people.

11. Quum vero transeundi finem fecisset universus populus, transivit arca Jehovae, et sacerdotes coram populo.

12. And the children of Reuben, and the children of Gad, and half the tribe of Manasseh, passed over armed before the children of Israel, as Moses spoke unto them:

12. Transierunt quoque filii Reuben, et filii Gad, et dimidia tribus Manasse armati ante filios Israel: quemadmodum loquutus fuerat ad eos Moses.

13. About forty thousand prepared for war passed over before the LORD unto battle, to the plains of Jericho.

13. Quadraginta millia armatorum transierunt coram Jehova ad praelium ad campestria Jericho.

14. On that day the LORD magnified Joshua in the sight of all Israel; and they feared him, as they feared Moses, all the days of his life.

14. Eo die magnificavit Jehova Josuam in oculis totius Israelis: et timuerunt eum quemad modum timuerant Mosen omnibus diebus vitae ejus.

15. And the LORD spoke unto Joshua, saying,

15. Loquutus est autem Jehova ad Josuam, dicendo,

16. Command the priests that bear the ark of the testimony, that they come up out of Jordan.

16. Praecipe sacerdotibus portantibus arcam testimonii ut ascendant e Jordane.

17. Joshua therefore commanded the priests, saying, Come you up out of Jordan.

17. Et praecepit Josue sacerdotibus, dicendo, Ascendite ex Jordane.

18. And it came to pass, when the priests that bare the ark of the covenant of the LORD were come up out of the midst of Jordan, and the soles of the priests' feet were lifted up unto the dry land, that the waters of Jordan returned unto their place, and flowed over all his banks, as they did before.

18. Porro quum ascendissent sacerdotes portantes arcam foederis Jehovae e medio Jordane, et translatae essent plantae pedum sacerdotum in siccum, reversae sunt aquae Jordanis ad locum suum, et fluxerunt sicut heri et nudius tertius, super omnes ripas ejus.

10. For the priests which bare, etc If we are ordered to halt while others are hastening, we know how easily a feeling of irksomeness is produced, because we seem to be occupying an inferior position. The priests, therefore, are justly praised for their patience in calmly remaining alone at their post, while the whole people were swiftly hurrying on to the further bank. For they might have begun to feel doubtful lest the heaps of water which were suspended over their heads might suddenly melt away and engulf them. They therefore evinced their piety no less by remaining there than by venturing to proceed into the opposing current. Thus, in the first place, they displayed their ready obedience, and in the second their constancy, making it manifest that they had not obeyed from mere impulse. For their firmness of purpose, which is praised, must have had its origin in a living principle. It was a proof of modesty that they attempted nothing rashly, but regulated their whole procedure as it were in strict conformity to the word of God.

Although it is probable that Joshua was instructed by a new message from heaven as to what was necessary to be done, he is, however, said to have followed what Moses had commanded. By this I understand that Moses had carefully enjoined him to hang on the lips of God, that he was thoroughly obedient to the injunction, and accordingly was always observant of what was pleasing to God. In short, the command of Moses here mentioned was general, but God gave special injunctions to Joshua as each circumstance arose.

12. And the children of Reuben, etc He makes mention of the expedition of the two tribes and half tribe, as they did not set out to engage in warfare on their own private account, but to assist their brethren, by whose valor their own possession had been obtained in seizing the land of Canaan. Moses had laid them under this obligation, and they had bound themselves by oath that they would accompany the rest of the people till all should have obtained a quiet settlement.

They again made the same promise when the camp was about to be moved as we saw in Joshua 1. But from the narrative here we gather that only a part was selected, for the number amounts only to forty thousand, that is, a third, or about a third of the number ascertained by the census taken shortly before. Now, as they are everywhere said to have performed their promise, it may be probably conjectured that it was not the intention of Moses strictly to insist that all who had assented should leave their wives and children, and do military service in the land of Canaan till it was wholly subdued. And certainly it would have been harsh and cruel to leave an unwarlike multitude unprotected in the midst of many hostile nations. Nor would the remains of the enemy, assisted by neighboring nations, have long failed to take advantage of such an opportunity to avenge themselves by massacring the women and children. It was necessary, therefore, in a country not yet sufficiently pacified, permanently to retain a force sufficient to prevent incursions. Moses was not of so stern a nature as not to consult for the helpless. Nay, his prudence and equity would never have allowed him to leave a territory lately seized by arms unoccupied by a body of troops.

We may add, that such an immense concourse would have impeded rather than assisted the acquisition of the land of Canaan. All which Moses required, therefore, was simply that the Reubenites and Gadites should not, while their brethren were engaged in carrying on the war, remain indolently at home and eat their food at ease without giving any assistance to those to whom they were indebted for having obtained the inheritance. And the good faith of the forty thousand was approved by their not declining the burdens, toils, and perils of warfare, while the remainder of their own tribes were enjoying quiet. They might readily have alleged that they were as well entitled as the others to exemption, but in proceeding with alacrity after the levy was made, to obey the orders given them, without envying the immunity given to their brethren, they show that they were voluntarily and heartily disposed to do their duty. At the same time, it is not doubtful that by accepting the flower of their tribes, the handle for complaint and quarrel was cut off. For it could not justly have been maintained that not even the aged and worn out, or the young and feeble, were to be spared. Some, perhaps, may be inclined to conjecture that the army was raised not by choice but by lot, though it rather seems to me that all who were most robust and best able to bear fatigue were enrolled.

14. On that day the Lord magnified, etc It was not indeed the principal end of the miracle to proclaim Joshua's pre-eminence in power and authority, but as it greatly concerned the public interest, that the government of Joshua should be firmly established, it is justly set down as an additional instance of the divine favor, that he was, so to speak, adorned with sacred insignia to render him venerable in the eyes of the people, and prevent any one from presuming to despise him. For a promiscuous multitude, not ruled by a head, breaks up and falls away of its own accord. The Lord, therefore, to provide for the safety of his people, distinguished Joshua by a special mark declaratory of his vocation.

From this passage we may learn that God specially recommends to us all those through whose hands he displays his excellent working, and requires us to give them due honor and reverence. When it is said that the people feared Joshua as they had feared Moses, should any one object that the statement is refuted by the many sedition's and tumults which they stirred up against him, not only wantonly but furiously, it is easy to answer, that it does not apply to the whole period from their departure out of Egypt, but only refers to that when subdued by plagues and softened down, they began to be duly obedient to Moses. For what is now described is a tranquil government, as if they had laid aside their ancient perverseness, more especially when the turbulent parents were dead and a better race had succeeded. Accordingly, we do not read that there was any difficulty in ruling and turning them. I now only briefly advert to what I have already explained. For when Joshua at the outset exhorted them to obedience, they said that they would be obedient as they had been to Moses.

16. Command the priests, etc Here it is shown more clearly how meekly and calmly the priests yielded implicit obedience to the divine command, for they did not move a foot until Joshua ordered the signal to retire. But as it was an instance of rare virtue to be thus modest and obedient, so the fatherly kindness of God is conspicuous in this, that he condescended to direct and govern almost every step in their progress by his own voice, lest any perplexity might occur to retard them.

Next follows a more conspicuous confirmation of the miracle; for as soon as they climbed the opposite bank, the Jordan began again to flow as usual. Had it not returned to its former state, and indeed, suddenly, many would have imagined the cause of the change to be hidden but fortuitous. But when God displays his power and favor at minute intervals of time all doubt is removed. The moment the feet of the priests were made wet the Jordan retired; now on their departure he recovers his free course, and that at the very instant when they reached the bank. For the term dry here means that part which was not covered by the overflow. Thus the river, though dumb, was the best of heralds, proclaiming with a loud voice that heaven and earth are subject to the God of Israel.

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