Notes on the Bible, by Albert Barnes, , at sacred-texts.com
The contents of this and the next chapter, which record the miraculous passage of Israel over Jordan, are given in four sections:
(1) Jos 3:1-6, describing the preliminary directions;
(2) Jos 3:7-17, the commencement of the passage;
(3) Jos 4:1-14, the accomplishment of it;
(4) Jos 4:15-24, the conclusion of the passage and erection of a monument to commemorate it.
A certain completeness and finish is given to each division of the narrative, and to effect this the writer more than once repeats himself, anticipates the actual order of events, and distributes into parts occurrences which in fact took place once for all.
"The acacia groves" (Exo 25:5 note) of Shittim on both sides of Jordan line the upper terraces of the valley (compare Kg2 6:4). They would be in this part at some six miles distance from the river itself.
These days (Jos 1:11 note) were no doubt occupied in preparations of various kinds. The host consisted not of armed men only, but of women and children also; and many arrangements would be necessary before they actually advanced into a hostile country.
The ark, which was since the making of the covenant the special shrine and seat of God's presence, went before to show the people that God, through its medium, was their leader. They were to follow at a distance that they might the better observe and mark how the miracle was accomplished. This they would do to the greatest advantage while coming down the heights, the ark going on before them into the ravine.
They took up - i. e. on the day following. The course of events is anticipated.
This day will I begin to magnify thee - One cause why the miracle now to be narrated was performed is here suggested. As Moses was declared to he sent immediately from God with an extraordinary commission by the miracles which he worked, more especially that of dividing the Red Sea in two parts, so was Joshua both sent and accredited in a like manner. (Compare Jos 1:5, and Jos 4:14.) Other reasons are given in Jos 3:10; Jos 5:1.
The living God - Compare the marginal reference. The gods of the pagan are "dead idols." On the names of the seven nations, see Gen 10:16, etc., note.
Jordan overfloweth all his banks - Rather "is full up to all his banks," i. e. "brim-full." This remark strikingly illustrates the suddenness and completeness, not less than the greatness, of the marvel. The Jordan River flows at the bottom of a deep valley, which descends to the water's edge on either side in two, occasionally in three, terraces. Within the lowest of these the stream, ordinarily less than 100 feet wide in this lower part of its course, is confined. The margin is overgrown with a jungle of tamarisks and willows, which in the spring is reached by the rising waters (compare the figure in Jer 49:19; Jer 50:44); and the river, occasionally at least, fills the ravine which forms its proper bed to the brim. Its highest rise takes place about the time when Joshua had to cross it. By the middle of April the river cannot be forded; and, if passed at all, can only be so by swimming. This, however, was a hazardous feat (compare Ch1 12:15); and though no doubt performed by the two spies, was utterly out of the power of the mixed multitude that followed Joshua. The mere fact that the whole vast host crossed the stream of Jordan at this season, is no small proof of the miracle here recorded. No human agency then known and available could have transported them speedily and safely from bank to bank.
The passage should run "rose up, an heap far away, by Adam, the city which is beside Zarthan."
The city of Adam is not named elsewhere, and Zarthan (mentioned here and in marginal references.) has also disappeared. It is, however, probably connected with the modern Kurn Sartabeh (Horn of Sartabeh), the name given to a lofty and isolated hill some 17 miles on the river above Jericho.
The miraculous passage to the holy land through Jordan is not less pregnant with typical meaning than that through the Red Sea (compare Co1 10:1-2). The solemn inauguration of Joshua to his office, and his miraculous attestation, by the same waters with which Jesus was baptized on entering on the public exercise of His ministry (compare Mat 3:16-17); the choice of twelve men, one from each tribe to be the bearers of the twelve stones, and the builders of the monument erected therewith (compare Co1 3:10; Rev 21:14): these were divinely-ordered occurrences, not without a further bearing than their more immediate one upon Israel. Nor must in this point of view the name "Adam," the place where the stream flowed to the people which cut them off from the promises, and the failure for the time under the rule of Joshua of the full and rapid flood which supplies the Dead Sea, be overlooked.