We may observe here how God honours Joshua, and by this wondrous work he is about to do designs to make Israel know that he is their governor, and then how Joshua honours God and endeavours by it to make Israel know that he is their God. Thus those that honour God he will honour, and those whom he has advanced should do what they can in their places to exalt him.
I. God speaks to Joshua to put honour upon him, Josh. 3:7, 8. 1. It was a great honour God id him that he spoke to him as he had done to Moses from off the mercy-seat, before the priests removed it with the ark. This would make Joshua easy in himself and great among the people, that God was pleased to speak so familiarly to him. 2. That he designed to magnify him in the sight of all Israel. He had told him before that he would be with him (Josh. 1:5), and that comforted him, but now all Israel shall see it, and this would magnify him. Those are truly great with whom God is and whom he employs and owns in his service. God magnified him because he would have the people magnify him. Pious magistrates are to be highly honoured and esteemed as public blessings, and the more we see of God with them the more we should honour them. By the dividing of the red Sea Israel was convinced that God was with Moses in bringing them out of Egypt; therefore they are said to be baptized unto Moses in the sea, 1 Cor. 10:2. And upon that occasion they believed him, Exod. 14:31. And now, by the dividing of Jordan, they shall be convinced that God is in like manner with Joshua in bringing them into Canaan. God had magnified Joshua before on several occasions, but now he began to magnify him as the successor of Moses in the government. Some have observed that it was at the banks of Jordan that God began to magnify Joshua, and at the same place he began to magnify our Lord Jesus as Mediator; for John was baptizing at Bethabara, the house of passage, and there it was that when our Saviour was baptized it was proclaimed concerning him, This is my beloved Son. 3. That by him he gave orders to the priests themselves, though they were his immediate attendants (Josh. 3:8): Thou shalt command the priests, that is, “Thou shalt make known to them the divine command in this matter, and take care that they observe it, to stand still at the brink of Jordan while the waters part, that it may appear to be at the presence of the Lord, of the mighty God of Jacob, that Jordan is driven back,” Ps. 114:5, 7. God could have divided the river without the priests, but they could not without him. The priests must herein set a good example to the people, and teach them to do their utmost in the service of God, and trust him for help in time of need.
II. Joshua speaks to the people, and therein honours God.
1. He demands attention (Josh. 3:9): “Come hither to me, as many as can come within hearing, and, before you see the works, hear the words of the Lord your God, that you may compare them together and they may illustrate each other.” He had commanded them to sanctify themselves, and therefore calls them to hear the word of God, for that is the ordinary means of sanctification, John 17:17.
2. He now tells them, at length, by what way they should pass over Jordan, by the stopping of its streams (Josh. 3:13): The waters of Jordan shall be cut off. God could by a sudden and miraculous frost have congealed the surface, so that they might all have gone over upon the ice; but that being a thing sometimes done even in that country by the ordinary power of nature (Job 38:30), it would not have been such an honour to Israel’s God, nor such a terror to Israel’s enemies; it must therefore be done in such a way as had no precedent but the dividing of the Red Sea: and that miracle is here repeated, to show that God has the same power to finish the salvation of his people that he had to begin it, for he is the Alpha and the Omega; and that the word of the Lord (as the Chaldee reads it, Josh. 3:7), the essential, eternal Word, was as truly with Joshua as he was with Moses. And by the dividing of the waters from the waters, and the making of the dry land to appear which had been covered, God would remind them of that in which Moses by revelation had instructed them concerning the work of creation (Gen. 1:6, 9), that by what they now saw their belief of that which they there read might be assisted, and they might know that the God whom they worshipped was the same God that made the world and that it was the same power that was engaged and employed for them.
3. The people having been directed before to follow the ark are here told that it should pass before them into Jordan, Josh. 3:11. Observe, (1.) The ark of the covenant must be their guide. During the reign of Moses, the cloud was their guide, but now, in Joshua’s reign, the ark; both were visible signs of God’s presence and presidency, but divine grace under the Mosaic dispensation was wrapt up as in a cloud and covered with a veil, while by Christ, our Joshua, it is revealed in the ark of the covenant unveiled. (2.) It is called the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth. “He that is your God (Josh. 3:9), in covenant with you, is the Lord of all the earth, has both right and power to command, control, use, and dispose of all nations and of all creatures. He is the Lord of all the earth, therefore he needs not you, nor can he be benefited by you; therefore it is your honour and happiness to have him in covenant with you: if he be yours, all the creatures are at your service, and when he pleases shall be employed for you.” When we are praising and worshipping God as Israel’s God, and ours through Christ, we must remember that he is the Lord of the whole earth, and reverence him and trust in him accordingly. Some observe an accent in the original, which they think directs us to translate it somewhat more emphatically, Behold the ark of the covenant, even the ark of the Lord, or even of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth. (3.) They are told that the ark should pass before them into Jordan. God would not appoint them to go any where but where he himself would go before them and go with them; and they might safely venture, even into Jordan itself, if the ark of the covenant led them. While we make God’s precepts our rule, his promises our stay, and his providence our guide, we need not dread the greatest difficulties we may meet with in the way of duty. That promise is sure to all the seed (Isa. 43:2), When thou passes through the waters I will be with thee, and through the rivers they shall not overflow thee.
4. From what God was now about to do for them he infers an assurance of what he would yet further do. This he mentions first, so much was his heart upon it, and so great a satisfaction did it give him (Josh. 3:10): “Hereby you shall know that the living God (the true God, and God of power, not one of the dead gods of the heathen) is among you, though you see him not, nor are to have any image of him, is among you to give you law, secure your welfare, and receive your homage,—is among you in this great undertaking now before you; and therefore you shall, nay, he himself will, without fail, drive out from before you the Canaanites.” So that the dividing of Jordan was intended to be to them, (1.) A sure token of God’s presence with them. By this they could not but know that God was among them, unless their unbelief was as obstinate against the most convincing evidence as that of their fathers was, who presently after God had divided the Red Sea before them, impudently asked, Isa. the Lord among us, or is he not? Exod. 17:7. (2.) A sure pledge of the conquest of Canaan. “If the living God is among you, expelling he will expel (so the Hebrew phrase is) from before you the Canaanites.” He will do it certainly, and do it effectually. What should hinder him? What can stand in his way before whom rivers are divided and dried up? The forcing of the lines was certain presage of the ruin of all their hosts: how could they stand their ground when Jordan itself was driven back? When they had not courage to dispute this pass, but trembled at the approach of the mighty God of Jacob (Ps. 114:7), what opposition could they ever make after this? This assurance which Joshua here gives them was so well grounded that it would enable one Israelite to chase a thousand Canaanites, and two to put then thousand to flight; and it would be abundantly strengthened by remembering the song of Moses, dictated forty years before, which plainly foretold the dividing of Jordan and the influence it would have upon the driving out of the Canaanites. Exod. 15:15-17, “The inhabitants of Canaan shall melt away, and so be effectually driven out; they shall be as still as a stone till thy people pass over, and then thou shalt bring them in and plant them.” Note, God’s glorious appearances for his church and people ought to be improved by us for the encouragement of our faith and hope for the future. As for God, his work is perfect. If Jordan’s flood cannot keep them our, Canaan’s force cannot turn them out again.
5. He directs them to get twelve men ready, one of each tribe, who must be within call to receive such orders as Joshua should afterwards give them, Josh. 3:12. It does not appear that they were to attend the priests, and walk with them when they carried the ark, that they might more immediately be witnesses of the wonders done by it, as some think; but they were to be at hand for the service they were called to, Josh. 4:4
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