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Matthew Henry's Commentary – Verses 14–17
Verses 14–17

Here we have a short and plain account of the dividing of the river Jordan, and the passage of the children of Israel through it. The story is not garnished with the flowers of rhetoric (gold needs not to be painted), but it tell us, in short, matter of fact.

I. That this river was now broader and deeper than usually it was at other times of the year, Josh. 3:15. The melting of the snow on the mountains of Lebanon, near which this river had its rise, was the occasion that at the time of harvest, barley-harvest, which was the spring of the year, Jordan overflowed all his banks. This great flood, just at that time (which Providence might have restrained for once, of which he might have ordered them to cross at another time of the year) very much magnified the power of God and his kindness to Israel. Note, Though the opposition given to the salvation of God’s people have all imaginable advantages, yet god can and will conquer it. Let the banks of Jordan be filled to the brink, filled till they run over, it is as easy to Omnipotence to divide them, and dry them up, as if they were ever so narrow, ever so shallow; it is all one with the Lord.

II. That as soon as ever the feet of the priests dipped in the brim of the water the stream stopped immediately, as if a sluice had been led down to dam it up, Josh. 3:15, 16. So that the waters above swelled, stood on a heap, and ran back, and yet, as it should seem did not spread, but congealed, which unaccountable rising of the river was observed with amazement by those that live upward upon it many miles off, and the remembrance of it remained among them long after: the waters on the other side this invisible dam ran down of course, and left the bottom of the river dry as far downward, it is likely, as they swelled upward. When they passed through the red Sea, the waters were a wall on either hand, here only on the right-hand. Note, The God of nature can, when he pleases, change the course of nature, and alter its properties, can turn fluids into solids, waters into standing rocks, as, on the contrary, rocks into standing waters, to serve his own purposes. See Ps. 114:5, 8. What cannot God do? What will he not do for the perfecting of his peoples, salvation? Sometimes he cleaves the earth with rivers (Hab. 3:9), and sometimes, as here, cleaves the rivers without earth. It is easy to imagine how, when the course of this strong rapid stream was arrested on a sudden, the waters roared and were troubled, so that the mountains seem 1284 ed to shake with the swelling thereof (Ps. 46:3), how the floods lifted up their voice, the floods lifted up their waves, while the Lord on high showed himself mightier than the noise of these many waters, Ps. 93:3, 4. With reference to this the prophet asks, Was the Lord displeased against the rivers? was thine anger against the rivers? Hab. 3:8. No, Thou wentest forth for the salvation of thy people, Josh. 3:13. In allusion to this, it is foretold, among the great things God will do for the gospel church in the latter days, that the great river Euphrates shall be dried up, that the way of the kings of the east may be prepared, Rev. 16:12. When the time has come for Israel’s entrance into the land of promise all difficulties shall be conquered, mountains shall become plains (Zech. 4:7) and rivers become dry, for the ransomed of the Lord to pass over. When we have finished our pilgrimage through this wilderness, death will be like this Jordan between us and the heavenly Canaan, but the ark of the covenant has prepare us a way through it; it is the last enemy that shall be destroyed.

III. That the people passed over right against Jericho, which was, 1. An instance of their boldness, and a noble defiance of their enemies. Jericho was one of the strongest cities, and yet they dared to face it at their first entrance. 2. It was an encouragement to them to venture through Jordan, for Jericho was a goodly city and the country about it extremely pleasant; and, having that in view as their own, what difficulties could discourage them from taking possession? 3. It would increase the confusion and terror of their enemies, who no doubt strictly observed their motions, and were the amazed spectators of this work of wonders.

IV. That the priests stood still in the midst of Jordan while all the people passed over, Josh. 3:17. There the ark was appointed to be, to show that the same power that parted the waters kept them parted as long as there was occasion; and had not the divine presence, of which the ark was a token, been their security, the waters would have returned upon them and buried them. there the priests were appointed to stand still, 1. To try their faith, whether they could venture to take their post, when god assigned it to them, with mountains of water over their heads. As they made a bold step when they set the first foot into Jordan, so now they made a bold stand when they tarried longest in Jordan; but they knew they carried their own protection with them. Note, Ministers in times of peril should be examples of courage and confidence in the divine goodness. 2. It was to encourage the faith of the people, that they might go triumphantly into Canaan, and fear no evil, no, not in this valley of the shadow of death (for so the divided river was), being assured of God’s presence, which interposed between them and the greatest danger, between them and the proud waters, which otherwise had gone over their souls. Thus in the greatest dangers the saints are comforted with his rod and his staff, Ps. 23:4.