BIBLE STUDY SERIES #557, 558 and 559

28 July, 2002

JOSHUA - 3:11-17 - THE ARK LEADS - PART IV

By Douglas C. Nesbit, B.A.

We have been conducting the present series of Bible Studies for just over ten years now; starting with a Bible Study that began back in Genesis 12, with God's Call to Abram. The sequence, with occasional digressions, took up the Scriptures contained within the first five Books of The Bible consecutively from that point to the end of Deuteronomy. Today, we are reviewing a fourth aspect of Joshua 3, this time looking more intensively at verses 11-17 which we read and studied in part last week. You may wish to have your Bibles open to that reference as we consider what God's Holy Word would show us from today's reading.

In order to set the stage for new listeners, I will explain that we had learned on our last Bible Study that Joshua had led the Tribes of Israel to the Jordan River, and they are, at this point, encamped at Shittim to the east of the river, and preparing to cross it, and to take possession of The Promised Land on the western side. In the last Study, we had sought to concentrate attention on the true ownership of that Promised Land, and we noted that it truly belongs to God, and it is only by His permission and agreement that people have the right to dwell therein. Two spies had gone ahead, and lodged in the house of Rahab, in Jericho, but the authorities had been aroused by suspicions, and the two spied had to take steps to avoid capture. Before leaving, they made a promise to spare Rahab and her family, if all of her family members gathered inside her house, which would be marked by the scarlet cord tied in that window of escape, until the city had been destroyed.

These are the words which were spoken to the people, in preparation for a miraculous entry into the land across the bed of The Jordan River.

11. Behold, the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth passeth over before you into Jordan.
12. Now therefore take you twelve men out of the tribes of Israel, out of every tribe a man.
13. And it shall come to pass, as soon as the soles of the feet of the priests that bear the ark of the LORD, the Lord of all the earth, shall rest in the waters of Jordan, that the waters of Jordan shall be cut off from the waters that come down from above; and they shall stand upon an heap.
14. And it came to pass, when the people removed from their tents, to pass over Jordan, and the priests bearing the ark of the covenant before the people;
15. And as they that bare the ark were come unto Jordan, and the feet of the priests that bare the ark were dipped in the brim of the water, (for Jordan overfloweth all his banks all the time of harvest,)
16. That the waters which came down from above stood and rose up upon an heap very far from the city Adam, that is beside Zaretan: and those that came down toward the sea of the plain, even the salt sea, failed, and were cut off: and the people passed over right against Jericho.
17. And the priests that bare the ark of the covenant of the LORD stood firm on dry ground in the midst of Jordan, and all the Israelites passed over on dry ground, until all the people were passed clean over Jordan.

Some readers of the Scriptures, in their desire to enhance the miraculous nature of the reported event, are prone to insist on seeing in the description which we have just read a literal heaping up of water as if to form an actual block of churning river water which, by forming a vertical wall of itself, does not encroach upon the passageway opened up by the presence of the Ark. However we do have a more prosaic explanation of this occurrence which quite as well meets the requirements of both the laws of physics and the miraculous nature thereof. I shall now quote some information from a report in our Bible Research Handbook. It states, "On at least three occasions during historic times the flow of the river Jordan has been arrested in a manner similar to that indicated in Joshua iii. 16-17, the last instance being as recent as 1927, when earthquakes were a prime cause of the phenomenon, which effectively held up the waters of the stream for nearly twenty-four hours. On this occasion witnesses crossed the bed of the river on foot, as did Joshua and his Israelites." We are told that there is Scriptural inference that similar seismic disturbances, produced by Divine power, occurred just before the Israelites crossed Jordan. This reference cites "When Thou marchedst out of the field of Edom, the earth trembled" (Judges v). Also given is this quotation "When Israel went out of Egypt ... Jordan was driven back. The mountains skipped like rams ... Tremble, thou earth, at the presence of the Lord" (Psalm CXIV).

The more detailed report gives the following statements: "Joshua was in possession of the east bank of the Jordan as far north as the river Jabbok, thus including the site of Damieh. This is doubtless the same as 'Adam' or 'Adamah' of the narrative; it is found about sixteen miles up the river from Jericho or Shittim; and its position is marked by a small Bronze Age tell raised upon a terrace just above the general level of the low-lying plain by which it is surrounded, about half a mile eastward from the best ford of the middle Jordan, the Jisr el Damieh. It so happens that the river near this ford is liable to be blocked at intervals by great landslides. Several of these are on record. The earliest occurrence dates from A.D. 1266, when the Sultan Bibars ordered a bridge to be built across the Jordan in the neighbourhood of Damieh. The task was found to be difficult, owing to the rise of the waters. But in the night preceding 8th December, 1267, a lofty mound, which overlooked the river on the west, fell into it and dammed it up, so that the water of the river ceased to flow and none remained in its bed. The waters spread over the valley above the dam, and none flowed down the bed for some sixteen hours. There was another similar occurrence about the year 1906, and the most recent during the earthquake of 1927. On this last occasion the high west bank immediately below the ford collapsed, carrying with it the road-way, ... and just below, a section of the cliff, which here rises to a height of 150 feet, fell bodily across the river and completely dammed it, so that no water flowed down the river bed for twenty-one and a half hours. Meanwhile the waters gradually filled up the plain around Tell el Damieh and found their eventually back to the river bed, when the temporary barrage was in turn destroyed, and normal conditions were gradually resumed. During this time, it is asserted by several living witnesses that they crossed and recrossed the bed of the river freely on foot. An exactly similar occurrence appears to be described in iii. 16... " These extracts were taken from pp. 136-7 of Joshua, Judges, a book by Professor John Garstang, which was printed by Constable in 1931.

Having that account in mind, then, we can see as we again review those verses, that the heap mentioned therein must have been a similar blockage by a landslide. That would definitely accord with the experience of earthquake that could have knocked down those walls of Jericho in a further after-shock. But make no mistake. The miracle was certainly there. It was a miracle wherein God drew up His army ready to cross when the earthquake was set off. God uses natural means as far as possible so that His people will not become so accustomed to His interventions and distortions of the laws of nature that certain repercussions of an undesirable sort begin to emerge which would fall under the heading of "tempting the Lord thy God." Miracles form God's way of bringing about direct interaction with His people. An obvious Miracle has to be reserved as a direct proof of Divine presence.

The New Bible Commentary, under the sub-heading "The crossing of the Jordan (iii. 14 - iv. 18)" has a note which we may just have time to quote. It says "Commentators have suggested that two differing accounts of the crossing have been combined in this passage. Certainly if we read iv. 5 as in the AV it gives the impression that the crossing had not yet been started, whereas we gather from iii. 16, 17 and iv. 1 that the people have already completed it. But iv. 5 can be translated 'Pass over to where the ark of the Lord your God is in the midst of Jordan ...' With this reading it is possible to reconstruct the history without finding any breaks or discrepancies in the narrative. The sequence of events is then seen to be as follows: I. The twelve tribes pass over Jordan (iii. 14-17). The priests bearing the ark took up their stand on the brink of Jordan, which was brimful at this time of the year, swollen by melting snows (15). As they advanced to mid-channel the bed of the river was dried up before them; the stream was checked in its course very far from (RV, 'a great way off, at') the city Adam (16). This has been placed sixteen miles up the river from Jericho, and it seems probable that a stretch of twenty or thirty miles of the river bed was left dry. An interesting parallel to the event recorded in this chapter has been found in the pages of an Arabic historian, describing how in 1266 A.D. near Tell Damieh, which many experts have identified with Adam, the bed of the river was left dry for ten hours in consequence of a landslip. Garstang cites other parallels in 1906 and 1927. These events may indicate a 'natural' explanation of what happened centuries earlier, but to accept that explanation does not detract in any way from the supernatural intervention which opened the way to Israel just at the moment when they needed to cross. The priests standing in the dry bed of the river as the whole nation passed over were the sign that this was the doing of the Lord."

We will continue with our Bible Studies next week.

4 August, 2002

JOSHUA 4:1-10 - TWENTY-FOUR STONES - PART I

By Douglas C. Nesbit, B.A.

We have been conducting the present series of Bible Studies for just over ten years now; starting with a Bible Study that began back in Genesis 12, with God's Call to Abram. The sequence, with occasional digressions, took up the Scriptures contained within the first five Books of The Bible consecutively from that point to the end of Deuteronomy. Today, we are in the Book of Joshua, and we are reviewing a fifth aspect of the crossing of the Jordan River by the people of Israel. Joshua 4 picks up the story which we have followed through the previous three chapters. We shall be looking more intensively at verses 1-8 at this time. You may wish to have your Bibles open to that reference as we consider what God's Holy Word would show us from today's reading.

In order to set the stage for new listeners, I will explain that we had learned on our previous Bible Studies that Joshua had led the Tribes of Israel to the Jordan River, and they are, at this point, encamped at Shittim to the east of the river, and preparing to cross it, and to take possession of The Promised Land on the western side. Two spies had gone ahead, and lodged in the house of Rahab, in Jericho, but they had to evade pursuers before getting back to Joshua. In the last two Studies, we had sought to concentrate attention on the true ownership of that Promised Land, and we noted that it truly belongs to God, and it is only by His permission and agreement that people have the right to dwell therein. The LORD had told Israel this in Exodus 19:5, stating "for all the earth is mine." Then we had examined the probable means by which The LORD had caused the Jordan River, which was in flood at the time, to be stopped in its flow while God's people crossed over the river-bed. Evidently a large landslide, perhaps about 16 miles up-river may have been the physical cause, as has happened on several other occasions in history wherein the Jordan has been likewise blocked, but the miraculous aspect was in the timing, showing that everything was under His control, even the physical elements. It might remind us of that occasion mentioned in Matthew 8:27, Mark 4:41 and Luke 8:2, in which we read of a great storm on the water surrounding a boat containing Christ and His disciples. This was another occasion wherein the power of The LORD was clearly demonstrated in the presence of His followers. Matthew's account, taking it from verse 27, says: "But the men marvelled, saying, What manner of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him!

With that New Testament reference for confirmation of God's full control of the physical elements, we may now turn to today's, Scripture passage, Joshua 4:1-8, which reveals the part which is to be played by twelve men who were selected, one from each tribe, ahead of time, for a special duty relating to the crossing of the Jordan River-bed into the Promised Land. We learned of their selection, but not of their assignment, back in Joshua 3:12, which contained, without amplification, the statement:

12. Now therefore take you twelve men out of the tribes of Israel, out of every tribe a man.

In fact, that statement was probably not given in isolation from the follow-up information to Joshua regarding the reason for this to be ordered, but the record inserts mention of it at this point because those men must be elected by the tribal leaderships in anticipation, before their service is to be performed, and in our present chapter we are to learn more of the reason for their selection.

However, before we do that, we might consider another occasion when twelve Israelites were chosen for a particular purpose and, while they did as ordered, they failed in their attitude as shown when they reported back, while yet leaving aside a third group of twelve Israelites who were later likewise chosen, and who, taken as a whole, gloriously succeeded. In all three occasions the groups of twelve Israelite men, each one representing, or having authority within, a tribe, we find that, by one manner or another, those three groups of twelve Israelite men were to bear witness, each group in their time in history, to all the other members of all twelve tribes of the nation of Israel, concerning God's commandments and His will for the people.

So let us for a few moments have a look at the first of those three groups of twelve representatives as a short review, by way of setting the contrast before us with the later equivalents. When we read of a group of Israelite men, twelve in number, one out of each tribe, being picked for some official duty of a special nature, it brings to our mind the occasion some thirty-eight years before, when twelve spies, one from each tribe, had been sent by Moses, at God's command, to spy out the Promised Land, and now only Joshua and Caleb were alive of that former number. Joshua probably recalled his own experience when God directed him to obtain another set of twelve men who were to perform a special task connected to entry into that Promised Land. Those twelve spies of the former group were given the task of searching out the land for forty days. Upon their return to the camp, they reported the productivity of the land, but their majority report was so discouraging that the people were dismayed, and revealed their lack of trust in the words of Their LORD, and God would not, thereafter, allow them to attempt an entry. They had to turn away into the wilderness, and that generation had eventually died out there during the succeeding years. The present circumstances were now developing with the hindsight of that history. This generation would perform the invasion where the former group had turned away from the task. We might just review the events which are described at the end of Joshua 3:14-17, to set the present stage:

14. And it came to pass, when the people removed from their tents, to pass over Jordan, and the priests bearing the ark of the covenant before the people;
15. And as they that bare the ark were come unto Jordan, and the feet of the priests that bare the ark were dipped in the brim of the water, (for Jordan overfloweth all his banks all the time of harvest,)
16. That the waters which came down from above stood and rose up upon an heap very far from the city Adam, that is beside Zaretan: and those that came down toward the sea of the plain, even the salt sea, failed, and were cut off: and the people passed over right against Jericho.
17. And the priests that bare the ark of the covenant of the LORD stood firm on dry ground in the midst of Jordan, and all the Israelites passed over on dry ground, until all the people were passed clean over Jordan.

We now find the second occasion wherein twelve men are to bear witness in a manner of speaking, to all the tribes and their descendants, but in performing the present task, their part is to be one, the import of which is more by way of establishing a symbolic witness of what God is doing in front of all Israel. It is to establish a witness in preparation for later generations so that they will not be in ignorance of God's part in all that is to transpire at this time. Let us read our Scripture portion for today. It is found in Joshua 4:1-10

1. And it came to pass, when all the people were clean passed over Jordan, that the LORD spake unto Joshua, saying,
2. Take you twelve men out of the people, out of every tribe a man,
3. And command ye them, saying, Take you hence out of the midst of Jordan, out of the place where the priests' feet stood firm, twelve stones, and ye shall carry them over with you, and leave them in the lodging place, where ye shall lodge this night.
4. Then Joshua called the twelve men, whom he had prepared of the children of Israel, out of every tribe a man:
5. And Joshua said unto them, Pass over before the ark of the LORD your God into the midst of Jordan, and take ye up every man of you a stone upon his shoulder, according unto the number of the tribes of the children of Israel:
6. That this may be a sign among you, that when your children ask their fathers in time to come, saying, What mean ye by these stones?
7. Then ye shall answer them, That the waters of Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the LORD; when it passed over Jordan, the waters of Jordan were cut off: and these stones shall be for a memorial unto the children of Israel for ever.
8. And the children of Israel did so as Joshua commanded, and took up twelve stones out of the midst of Jordan, as the LORD spake unto Joshua, according to the number of the tribes of the children of Israel, and carried them over with them unto the place where they lodged, and laid them down there.
9. And Joshua set up twelve stones in the midst of Jordan, in the place where the feet of the priests which bare the ark of the covenant stood: and they are there unto this day.
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.

Now, we see the reason for those twelve men to be chosen. They are physically carrying stones of witness, twelve from the Jordan River bed where the priests stood, over to the far bank, and twelve other stones are lodged in the bed of the river, to mark the exact spot where the feet of the priests had stood, bearing the Ark of God, so that it would be a witness and testimony in years, and perhaps centuries to come, to act as physical markers for the purpose of further assuring generations yet unborn of the certainty of the reports of this miraculous event. In the history of those descendants, down to our own times, Stones of Witness have played a traditional part ever since. We shall continue next week.

11 August, 2002

JOSHUA 4:9-24 - TWENTY-FOUR STONES - PART II

By Douglas C. Nesbit, B.A.

We have been conducting the present series of Bible Studies for just over ten years now; starting with a Bible Study that began back in Genesis 12, with God's Call to Abram. The sequence, with occasional digressions, took up the Scriptures contained within the first five Books of The Bible consecutively from that point to the end of Deuteronomy. Today, we are in the Book of Joshua, and we are reviewing a fifth aspect of the crossing of the Jordan River by the people of Israel. Joshua 4 picks up the story which we have followed through the previous three chapters. We shall be looking more intensively at verses 9-24 at this time. You may wish to have your Bibles open to that reference as we consider what God's Holy Word would show us from today's reading.

In order to set the stage for new listeners, I will explain that we had learned on our previous Bible Studies that Joshua had led the Tribes of Israel to the Jordan River, and they were, at this point, encamped at Shittim to the east of the river, and preparing to cross it, and to take possession of The Promised Land on the western side. Two spies had gone ahead, and lodged in the house of Rahab, in Jericho, but they had to evade pursuers before getting back to Joshua. In the last few Studies, we had sought to concentrate attention on the true ownership of that Promised Land, and we noted that it truly belongs to God, and it is only by His permission and agreement that people have the right to dwell therein. The LORD had told Israel this in Exodus 19:5, stating "for all the earth is mine." Then we had examined the probable means by which The LORD had caused the Jordan River, which was in flood at the time, to be stopped in its flow while God's people crossed over the river-bed. Evidently a large landslide, perhaps about 16 miles up-river may have been the physical cause, as has happened on several other occasions in history wherein the Jordan has been likewise blocked, but the miraculous aspect was the fact that God told Joshua precisely how Israel was to prepare for it before it happened, showing that everything was under His control, even the physical elements. It might remind us of that occasion when Christ demonstrated the same control when in the boat with His disciples in the storm.

Now the record shows that we are witnessing the surge of Israelites as they pass over the river-bed past the priests who are standing in the middle of the watercourse, on dry rocks, waiting for probably a number of hours until all had passed, including perhaps the flocks and herds which would likewise be taken with them!

Meanwhile, as verse 3 stated, the command had been given, "saying, Take you hence out of the midst of Jordan, out of the place where the priests' feet stood firm, twelve stones, and ye shall carry them over with you, and leave them in the lodging place, where ye shall lodge this night." Also, as we are about to see, twelve other stones were planted in the river bed at the exact spot where the priests had stood, as a witness. The Scripture passage, from Joshua 4:9-24 reads as follows:

9. And Joshua set up twelve stones in the midst of Jordan, in the place where the feet of the priests which bare the ark of the covenant stood: and they are there unto this day.
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.
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.
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 spake unto them:
13. About forty thousand prepared for war passed over before the LORD unto battle, to the plains of 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.
15. And the LORD spake unto Joshua, saying,
16. Command the priests that bear the ark of the testimony, that they come up out of Jordan.
17. Joshua therefore commanded the priests, saying, Come ye up out of Jordan.
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.
19. And the people came up out of Jordan on the tenth day of the first month, and encamped in Gilgal, in the east border of Jericho.
20. And those twelve stones, which they took out of Jordan, did Joshua pitch in Gilgal.
21. And he spake unto the children of Israel, saying, When your children shall ask their fathers in time to come, saying, What mean these stones?
22. Then ye shall let your children know, saying, Israel came over this Jordan on dry land.
23. For the LORD your God dried up the waters of Jordan from before you, until ye were passed over, as the LORD your God did to the Red Sea, which he dried up from before us, until we were gone over:
24. That all the people of the earth might know the hand of the LORD, that it is mighty: that ye might fear the LORD your God for ever.

The use of stone as a witness might remind some of the witness of The Great Pyramid, while for others, perhaps the stones used in the construction of Stonehenge may come to mind. There are those many huge stones used in the construction of the numerous Dolmens, across Europe from The Holy Land to the British Isles, which reflect the order of Our God to Israel, found in Jeremiah 31:21, to "set thee up waymarks" by which to trace the routes to "turn again to these thy cities." These dolmens, by the way, are constructed generally of three quite large unhewn boulders, capped across their tops by a still larger stone, set in the position of a tabletop. The fact that they are not composed of stones shaped by the hand of man reflects God's Law regarding altars used in His service, as we read in Exodus 20:25 wherein we read "And if thou wilt make me an altar of stone, thou shalt not build it of hewn stone: for if thou lift up thy tool upon it, thou hast polluted it."

The use of stone in a manner designed to represent the nation of Israel has a very long history. We can recall the Bethel Stone, whereon Jacob rested his head on the night when he had the glorious vision of the ladder reaching to heaven, with angelic beings thereon, and God, at the upper level bestowing blessed promises upon him in regard to his future progeny. (That stone, by the way, is stated in legendary lore, to be the Coronation stone now in Scotland.) There is that nation of Israel which holds its Covenanted authority through the Stone Tablets of God's Law prepared on Mount Sinai of which the Lord Jesus Christ is King. There is the visionary dream wherein Nebuchadnezzar and afterwards Daniel (Daniel 2:34-45) saw the Image representing the Babylonian succession of government, and which was broken at its feet of iron mingled with clay by a "stone cut out of the mountain without hands" which then grew to fill the whole earth. This stone kingdom, we are told represents the Kingdom which the God of heaven was setting up.

Now here is a second point at which a miracle has occurred. Not only was the timing of the drying-up of the water exactly matched to the moment when the feet of the priests that bore the ark came to stand at the brink of the water, but now, again, we see the miracle of timing. The children of Israel by their thousands have had time to pass this spot in the Jordan River-bed, which must have taken some hours. Now, when that was accomplished, and the priests had been given the order to come up from their position onto the west bank of the river, we find the second miracle. The place where they had stood had been marked by twelve stones by those chosen twelve tribal representatives, and thus the water can now begin to flow once more, as it had previously. If it was a land-slip which had blocked the river up-stream, then it must have been done by the exact quantity of material, and in the exact configuration and instability required to fall as an effective dam across the river to accomplish the required stoppage in the flow until the exact moment to re-start the flow of water.

In Matthew 21:42, Jesus made pointed reference to Himself as The Stone which the builders rejected, and which "is become the head of the corner." Peter, in Acts 4:8-11 confirms this identification, and this leads us to that third group of twelve men of Israel, and we need to examine what it was that they were ordered to accomplish, so perhaps we might just turn our minds forward down the centuries to the days of Christ's First Advent. There was that other occasion when twelve men of Israel were likewise chosen for a particular task, one which would, in a spiritual equivalent sense prepare for a task which might be seen once again, to hold relevance to the task of bringing God's people into their Promised Land.

Our Lord also Himself chose His twelve apostles in Matthew 4:18-22, Mark 3:13, Luke 6:13-16 and John 1:35-51. Mark 3:13-19 gives us the list of names, and these twelve were those who, with their expanding following were later to become the ones whose message "turned the world upside down." In conclusion, remember that in Mark 3:16 Christ surnamed Simon as Peter, a name meaning "a rock or stone!"

We shall continue with this Study next week.

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