As the children of Israel leave Shittim and make ready to go to Jordan and to cross it, Joshua 3:1, Joshua commands that a distance of 2,000 cubits (just over half a mile) should be allowed between the ark and the following multitude.

I am intrigued as to why this would be necessary, Joshua's reason being that :

... ye have not passed this way heretofore Joshua 3:4 KJV

Why, practically, would this be necessary and is there a spiritual allusion to be seen in this with regard to following the fulfilment of the ark, Jesus Christ, in one's own pilgrimage ?

  • 1
    The following link might be of some interest: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biblical_mile
    – Michael
    Jul 30, 2019 at 20:23
  • A related account: 2 Kings 2:6-8.
    – user21676
    Aug 1, 2019 at 8:33
  • @user21676 Interesting. Thank you.
    – Nigel J
    Aug 1, 2019 at 10:07
  • Why do you assume there must be a practical reason?
    – curiousdannii
    Oct 17, 2019 at 3:28
  • @curiousdannii Joshua gives what appears to be a practical reason for the distance. He says 'because ye have not passed this way before'. But what, practically, does this mean ? Why is that a reason for leaving a gap ? I am not seeing a connection.
    – Nigel J
    Oct 17, 2019 at 3:30

3 Answers 3


A practical reason could be that, as they were about to enter the Promised Land, the pillar of cloud was no longer going to lead them by day. It was the Lord their God “going before them in a pillar of cloud by day, to lead them in the way, and by night in a pillar of fire, to give light to them, to go by day and by night” (Exodus 13:21 YLT). A footnote on Exodus 40:36:36 in The Companion Bible states:

“This continued till Moses’ death, when the ark (which till then was carried in the midst of the host) took its place and “went before them”.

You ask for a practical reason for the statement, “... ye have not passed this way heretofore” and I think it is that they needed to follow an exact route to get to the exact place by Jordan’s bank where the priests were to walk into the water, only after which would God display his miraculous power in then parting the waters. As they had not been that way before and did not know where, exactly, God wanted them to make entry into the river, he alone could lead them, and the ark was the visible guide to ensure that those millions of people and their animals would not try crossing the river at the wrong place. In unfamiliar territory, even a slight degree of divergence from the route can lead to serious trouble, as I found out when I persuaded my husband to follow me to return to a holiday home at dusk. We had never been that way before, only knowing that a mountain was behind our abode, with lochs on either side of the mountain. I thought the wedge shape of the mountain required us to go a certain way to keep to the correct side of it, but walking just a degree out, we ended up on the wrong side of the mountain and had to back-track many miles in darkness.

The ark would lead the way, going before (ahead of) them. The great distance between it and the following multitude might signify two things. First, that the ark did not need to be surrounded by the people, as if they would protect it – given biblical accounts of those who dared touch it inappropriately, it is clear that not touching the ark was vital to life. Only those sanctified, set apart to carry it, could do so if they strictly followed all the regulations. Second, that as the priests carrying it on poles went into the shallow edges of the river Jordan, until the ark was above the waters and their feet were all in the waters, then the nation behind (probably being somewhat elevated above the river bank) would all see the miracle of God stopping the waters and making a passageway to cross over.

You also ask for a spiritual allusion to this matter of following Jesus Christ in one’s own pilgrimage. I can only think that as Jesus is the Way, and the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6), our eyes must be fixed on him, as the author and perfecter of faith (Hebrews 12:2). Not to keep following Jesus is to be misled and to wander astray. Yet a respectful distance is appropriate, for he has gone before us into heaven itself, while we still sojourn down here on earth. Thus, faith is needed to follow Jesus, even into the waters that appear to keep us from the ‘other side’, ‘Beulah’s land’. Sadly, many would direct people to ‘crossing over points’ that are simply not of God. Only the risen Christ can lead to the exact point where the waters will not overwhelm but, conversely, part. We do not need to be physically close to Christ to be protected by him, but spiritually close, using eyes of faith to see him, and being obedient to his directions as to the way we are to walk - Isaiah 30:21.


The best explanation I've come across, for the distance between the Israelites and the Jordan, is that the Ark of Joseph's bones was going to be opened for the accomplishment of crossing the Jordan on dry ground. Anyone not of the designated priestly class would not survive the 'Workiings of Glory'. To my thinking, it is not possible that the Ark with the 10 Commandments was the Force in play.


Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible

Ver. 4. There shall be a space, &c.— The ark here supplying, in some measure, the place of the miraculous cloud which had guided the Israelites in their several encampments, and which, for that purpose, had always marched before them; it was necessary that it should be carried at the head of the people. But, on the other hand, whereas in the common marches there was little space between the ark and the body of the army, God, on this occasion, required the Israelites to leave betwixt it and the head of their camp a distance of about 2000 cubits, i.e. 3500 feet, more or less; for, in a great army, the marshalling can hardly be perfect. But wherefore this disposition? Why this distance between the ark and the camp of the Israelites? The reason is evident from the words immediately following: it was in order that the Israelites might know the way, &c. in order that it might serve as a signal to the whole army, instead of the miraculous pillar, which then probably ceased to conduct the Israelites in their marches. We may also add two other reasons:

First, That God was desirous it should appear in a sensible manner to all Israel, that the sacred symbol of his presence had no need of a guard; that it could run no risk from enemies, at what distance soever from the army; and, consequently, that the Israelites themselves had nothing to apprehend under so high a protection.

Secondly, That, by this arrangement, God chose to remove from the Israelites every pretence for looking closely into this sacred ark, which, most probably, was uncovered in the passage over Jordan; whereas in common marches it was covered with several veils. Calmet observes, that the words, come not near unto it, are not in the Hebrew; and he confines the sense of the words addressed by Joshua to the Israelites to this: "Be cautious of approaching the ark; follow it afar off, without deviating from the way which it will shew you: for it goes before to open you a new and extraordinary road," &c.

  • 1
    There is no indication in the text that the the ark would be opened in crossing Jordan. The ark was open, certainly, once it was in the Oracle, that being the whole point of the Oracle.
    – Nigel J
    Sep 18, 2019 at 3:35

It is a prophecy of how the One of Whom the ark is a depiction (Christ, wij carriers the word of God in his heart) enters the Kingdom 2000 years in advance of Israel. Meaning the rapture will take place 2000 years after Christ's ascension.

After which, on the morning of the third day, Israel will resurrect (Hosea 6). The third day being the third millennium (2 Peter 3:8).

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