The Israelites cross the River Jordan

Josh 1:1-9    In early Spring in c.1406BC, the LORD tells Joshua to lead the Israelites across the River Jordan and into the ‘promised land’ of Canaan.

Josh 1:10-18    Joshua’s officers tell the Israelites to be ready to move in three days time.

Josh 2:1-24    Joshua sends two spies from the camp at Abel Shittim (the ‘valley of the acacia trees’) in the Plains of Moab to explore Canaan (see 1 on Map 48). Like many foreigners before them, they spend the night in Jericho at the home of a prostitute, Rahab, before she helps them escape. They hide for three days in the hill country beyond Jericho before crossing the valley floor back to the fords across the River Jordan.


Joshua's campaigns in Canaan

Map 48    Joshua's campaigns in Canaan


Josh 3:1-13    The Israelites move camp to the River Jordan, east of Jericho. They are given instructions on how to follow the Levites when they carry the Ark of the Covenant across the river.

Josh 3:14-17    It's springtime and the flax and barley are almost ready to harvest. The River Jordan is usually in flood at this time of year because the spring meltwaters from Mount Hermon in the north flow south to the Dead Sea. But the surge of water is temporarily blocked upstream by a landslip at Adam (Tell Adamiyeh) near Damia (Adam) Bridge, 30 miles / 48 km upstream from Jericho) (see Map 48) while the priests, and then the people, cross the river.

Similar well-documented landslips, temporarily cutting off the flow of water downsteam from Damia occured in 1267, 1909 and in 1927 (when a collapse of the high western bank of the river near Adam Bridge blocked the flow of the River Jordan for over 21 hours).

Josh 4:1-18    The Israelites take twelve large stones from the middle of the River Jordan to set up as a memorial to the successful crossing. This cairn also acts as a 'boundary' marker, laying claim to the 'promised land' of Canaan by the people of Yahweh (see the article on Gilgal, below).


The River Jordan in spring  (Beivushtang)


Josh 4:19-24   The Israelites camp at Gilgal on the floor of the Jordan valley east of Jericho (see 1 on Map 48). 

Josh 5:1-12     Joshua circumcises all the Israelites who have not been circumcised during their time in the desert, and they celebrate the Passover festival at Gilgal.



There are at least three different expanations for the meaning and significance of Gilgal – the name given to the place where the Israelites camped on the floor of the Jordan valley prior to their attack on Jericho.

After the Israelites had successfully forded the River Jordan during the season of the spring floods, Joshua set up twelve stones at Gilgal (meaning ‘a circle’ of stones). This circle of twelve stones may simply have been a religious monument or memorial (see Joshua 4:20-24).

However, standing stones (or ‘pillars’ - Hebrew, ‘netsib’ – see Genesis 19:26) were often erected at this time to indicate ownership of land (see 1 Samuel 13:3, where ‘netsib’ means a Philistine ‘pillar’, not a ‘garrison’ or ‘commander’). By erecting twelve standing stones, the twelves tribes of Israel may have been effectively claiming the land of Canaan as their own.

As Joshua circumcised all the uncircumcised Israelites here, Gilgal also became known as Gibeath Haaraloth (meaning ‘hill of foreskins’ or 'Circumcision Hill'). The LORD then said to Joshua, “As slaves in Egypt you were ashamed, but today I have removed that shame” (Joshua 5:9).  Gilgal also sounds like the Hebrew for ‘freed’ or ‘liberated’ from shame, another explanation for the name of the Israelite encampment.

Today, scholars identify Khirbet El Mafjir, 1 mile / 2 km north east of ancient Jericho, as the site of Joshua’s Gilgal, though other stone circles called Gilgal were probably erected elsewhere. (See 1 Samuel 7:16 & 2 Kings 2:1 for a Gilgal near Bethel, and Deuteronomy 11:29-30 for one near Mt Gerizim and Mt Ebal).

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