In Joshua 3:12, in preparation for bringing the Children of Israel across the Jordan River, Joshua commands the people to select one representative from each tribe. There's no immediate indication of what these representatives are for or what they're to do.

Then, in Joshua 4, after the people had crossed the river, God, thru Joshua, commands the people to gather 12 representatives, apparently anew, and Joshua proceeds to task them with collecting and installing memorial stones.

Are these the same twelve representatives? If so, why does it seem that Joshua's initial appointment of these representatives precedes God's command to do so? Either way, why does Joshua's initial command to appoint representatives show up apparently isolated from context or purpose?

Commentaries checked:

  • Rashi on 3:12 indicates that these are, indeed, the same representatives, but doesn't offer any clear help on the other issues.
  • Nach Yomi prompt? :-) Dec 9, 2013 at 15:51
  • @MonicaCellio, yup, I came up with this while learning along with the OU's Nach Yomi schedule, which started a new cycle on Dec. 5, 2013. ou.org/general_article/ou_nach_yomi_returns_12_5#.UpFz-rTA9xo (In fact, the lecture for Chapter 4, which I hadn't listened to before posting this, mentions this issue and presents the opposing opinions of Rashi (and most others) and the Malbim regarding the first question but doesn't answer the other questions.)
    – Isaac Moses
    Dec 9, 2013 at 16:08

3 Answers 3


The Malbim explains that the first 12 men were from the leaders of the tribes, and their purpose was to witness the miracle close up and see that the river miraculously split the exact moment when the feet of the Kohanim stepped into it, in order to publicize it to the future generations. Therefore, they had to be trustworthy leaders.

The second set of men that Hashem commanded Yehoshua to take were a different set of men from each tribe, and these could be anybody since their purpose was only to take the twelve stones.


The Alshich HaKodosh explains that the first set of twelve men, like the Malbim and the Metzudos Dovid explain, were in order to observe up close that the river split immediately after the Kohanim stepped into the river, since it was impossible for all of Yisrael to observe this. Afterwards, Hashem commanded Yehoshua to select twelve men to take the stones, and these could have been any twelve men.

But Yehoshua saw that the people were very hesitant to go back into the water, because they saw that the whole nation had already passed across and so they were worried that the waters would immediately return to their place. Therefore, Yeshoshua commanded the twelve men that he had used before, because they had seen clearly the miracle and they knew for certain that as long as the Holy Ark was in the middle of the river, the waters would not return.

This explanation of the Alshich could be used to explain what Rashi means.


Yehoshua 3:12 really starts at Yehoshua 3:9, where we are told (emphasis mine):

And Joshua said to the children of Israel, Come here, and hear the words of the Lord your God.

As the Rashi you mentioned for Yehoshua 3:12 says (emphasis mine):

take for yourselves twelve men: Prepare them to be ready for that which I shall command them when you will cross the Jordan.

You can see that Rashi is explaining that this is still the Word of G-d. G-d says to prepare these 12 representatives for an as yet undisclosed reason. This reason is then disclosed in Yehoshua 4:2-7, where the verse tells us G-d's command to "take to yourselves twelve men from the people", and Rashi explains:

twelve men: They are the aforementioned, who were to be prepared.

  • 2
    1) Still - why? 2) Yehoshua 4:2 doesn't say "those men you took already." It sounds like a command without antecdent.
    – Isaac Moses
    Dec 9, 2013 at 5:32
  • 1
    @IsaacMoses: 1) Don't know why G-d wanted to make keep their purpose under wraps 2) Rashi explains that that is the intention
    – Menachem
    Dec 9, 2013 at 6:26
  • Menachem, since @IsaacMoses's question 2 in the comment appears also in the question above, you may wish to edit your answer to it into your answer.
    – msh210
    Dec 9, 2013 at 19:02
  • @msh210, I think that both of my questions in the comment above are part of my original question. (1) is a restatement of my last sentence. (2) is implied by the same sentence, and the difficulty is also alluded to by "apparently anew" in the middle paragraph.
    – Isaac Moses
    Dec 9, 2013 at 19:07
  • @IsaacMoses, I agree, but since Menachem hasn't answered your comment's question 1 in a comment, I didn't ask him to edit the answer to include his comment's content w.r.t. question 1.
    – msh210
    Dec 9, 2013 at 19:16

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