Chapter 3


Israel Prepares to Cross the Jordan

    • Early the next morning, Joshua and the Israelites left Shittim and traveled to the bank of the Jordan River where they set up camp. Three days later the Israelite officers went through the camp giving the people the following command: “When you see the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God being carried by the Levitical priests, move out from your positions and follow it so you will know where to go, since you haven’t traveled this way before. However, keep about a half a mile distance between yourselves and the ark- don’t go near it.

        • NLT Illustrated Study Bible writes, “The Ark of the Covenant of the Lord was God’s dwelling place among the Israelites and symbolized his throne. Whenever Israel moved, a contingent of priests carried the ark before them (Exodus 25:13-15; Numbers 10:33-36).”

      • The distance the Israelites were told to keep back from the ark is 2,000 cubits in Hebrew. ESV Archaeology Study Bible notes, “A cubit is about 18 inches, so 2,000 cubits is about 1,000 yards (just over half a mile or .9 km).”

      • NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible adds this information comparing this water crossing to that of the Red Sea as well as the ancient Near Eastern context of the ark followed by the Israelites as a military formation:

        • The crossing of the Jordan River, unlike the crossing of the Red (Reed) Sea of the previous generation (Exodus 14-15), was accomplished in an orderly fashion.”

        • The God of Israel moves in the midst of his people in a procession that leads them into enemy territory. This forms a military procession and resembles the military marches of Egypt and the other powers of the ancient Near East. Although few descriptions remain of the procedure of such marches, there is a detailed description found in the second millenium BC Hittite ‘Instruction for the Royal Bodyguard.’…the Hittite instructions also require that the guards keep a specific distance from the cart carrying the king when they march…The specific directions and the whole ceremony of Joshua 3-4 suggest a movement comparable to that of a king surrounded by his army as they march to battle.”

    • Then Joshua told the people, “Consecrate yourselves because the Lord will do wonders among you tomorrow.” Joshua then told the priests, “Take the ark of the covenant and go in front of the people.” So, the priests took the ark of the covenant and set out.

    • Then the Lord spoke to Joshua, “I will begin to exalt you today so that all the Israelites will see with their own eyes, and so they will know that I am with you just like I was with Moses. Give the following command to the priests carrying the ark of the covenant: ‘When you get to the edge of the water, stand still there in the Jordan.’”

      • Guzik writes, “God will make Joshua a leader like Moses in the eyes of the people, and He will do it by using Joshua to miraculously lead the people across an impossible body of water.”

Joshua Promises a Miracle

    • Then Joshua told all the Israelites, “Come and listen to what the Lord your God has said, ‘This is how you will know that the living God is among you and that He will drive out the Canaanites, Hittites, Hivites, Perizzites, Girgashites, Amorites, and Jebusites before you. Watch, the ark of the covenant of the Lord of the whole earth will cross over the Jordan ahead of you. Now, select 12 Israelite men, one from each tribe. As soon as the feet of the priests who are carrying the ark of the Lord- the Lord of the whole earth- touch the water, the flow of water will be cut off upstream and it will stand up in a mass.’”

      Map via
          • NLT Illustrated Study Bible adds, “The Israelites who were adults when Moses led Israel out of Egypt had died. The people now entering Canaan with Joshua had taken their place. The events about to unfold would signify God’s presence with them and demonstrate his intention to fulfill his promises.”

          • The ESV Archaeology Study Bible notes, “God will drive out the seven peoples listen (see Deuteronomy 7:1, where they are described as ‘seven nations more numerous and mightier than you’). The biblical term ‘nations’ (Hb goyim) refers to non-Israelites, not necessarily political states (as today). Most of these people are mentioned in historical sources outside the Bible. Archaeological data does not permit scholars to discern the boundaries of social groups, although the distribution and patterning of the material culture does present a picture of various regional polities in the southern Levant.”

          • The ESV Archaeology Study Bible includes an excellent genealogical and religious description of who the Canaanites were:

            • Canaan was a son of Ham and grandson of Noah (Genesis 10:6). Canaan’s descendants through his sons Sidon and Heth eventually became small kingdoms in Palestine: the Jebusites, the Amorites, the Girgashites, the Hivites, the Arkites, the Sinites, the Arvadites, the Zemarites, and the Hamathites (Genesis 10:16-18). Sometimes the term ‘Canaanite’ is used to refer to all these kingdoms as a group, while other times it refers to a specific tribe of Canaanites dwelling in the western portion of the Promised Land, near the Mediterranean Sea…these small city-states were usually controlled by larger surrounding nations. In the centuries preceding the Israelite invasion, regions of Palestine were controlled by the Egyptians, Hittites, and Assyrians.”

          • The religion of these city-states revolved around a pantheon of gods that came from the epic literature of the religion. El, Asherah, and Baal were key figures of worship, as were many other local deities…ritualistic worship included idols, prostitution, and human sacrifice.”

      Israel Crosses on Dry Ground

        • So, the Israelites broke camp to cross the Jordan and the priests who were carrying the ark of the covenant went ahead of them. Now, it was harvest season, and during this season the Jordan River overflows its banks. However, as soon as the feet of the priests who were carrying the ark touched the water, the waters above that point backed up all the way to Adam, which is a city next to Zarethan, forming a mass. And the waters below that point flowed on to the Dead Sea, leaving a dry riverbed. Then all the Israelite people crossed over the Jordan opposite Jericho. The priests who were carrying the ark of the Lord’s covenant stood in the middle of the Jordan on dry ground while all the Israelites crossed the river. They stayed there until the entire nation of Israel had finished crossing.

      • The ESV Archaeology Study Bible notes, “This is similar to the miracle of the Red Sea. At the appropriate dramatic moment, the biblical narrator notifies the reader that the Jordan overflows all its banks- due to spring rains and snowmelt from Mount Hermon to the north- throughout the time of the grain harvest in March and April. The swollen waters would have been considerably more daunting than the river at its normal 3-10 foot depth and 90-100 foot width.”

      • The same source adds, “The detail is added that the heap of water was stopped far upriver, at Adam. Adam is identified with modern Damiya, east of the Jordan and just south of the confluence with the Jabbok River (about 18 miles north of the fords of Jordan), where mudslides have occasionally completely blocked the Jordan’s southward flow, most recently in 1927 for some 20 hours. When the text says that the waters coming down stood and rose up in a heap, the implication is that this was a supernatural act: either the waters stopped with no visible obstruction holding them back, or a mudslide blocked the river, supernaturally timed to coincide with the priest’s dipping their feet in the water (Joshua 3:15).”

      • According to this article in Biblical Archaeology, The Jordan Blockage Reexamined, the 1927 blockage is not verified by eyewitness account. However, previous blockages are documented. The image below is included in this article:

Embankments along the Jordan, view north, 1910–1920 (photo by G. Eric Matson, The American Colony, courtesy of Todd Bolen,

Click here to go to chapter 4