Joshua 4 – Memorial Stones
A. Crossing the Jordan River is finished, and the ark of the covenant comes from the midst of the river.
1. (1-9) After the nation crosses over, God commands Joshua to set up a memorial of the crossing.
And it came to pass, when all the people had completely crossed over the Jordan, that the LORD spoke to Joshua, saying: “Take for yourselves twelve men from the people, one man from every tribe, and command them, saying, ‘Take for yourselves twelve stones from here, out of the midst of the Jordan, from the place where the priests’ feet stood firm. You shall carry them over with you and leave them in the lodging place where you lodge tonight.’” Then Joshua called the twelve men whom he had appointed from the children of Israel, one man from every tribe; and Joshua said to them: “Cross over before the ark of the LORD your God into the midst of the Jordan, and each one of you take up a stone on his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the children of Israel, that this may be a sign among you when your children ask in time to come, saying, ‘What do these stones mean to you?’ Then you shall answer them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the LORD; when it crossed over the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. And these stones shall be for a memorial to the children of Israel forever.” And the children of Israel did so, just as Joshua commanded, and took up twelve stones from the midst of the Jordan, as the LORD had spoken to Joshua, according to the number of the tribes of the children of Israel, and carried them over with them to the place where they lodged, and laid them down there. Then Joshua set up twelve stones in the midst of the Jordan, in the place where the feet of the priests who bore the ark of the covenant stood; and they are there to this day.
a. When all the people had completely crossed over the Jordan: Israel was now on the other side of the Jordan – in the Promised Land. But what is life in the Promised Land like? Is it one glorious vacation time after another? No, for Israel it was a place of battle, but most of all, it was a place of trust – they knew they had to trust God with everything they had because the challenges only got bigger in the Promised Land – but so did the blessings.
i. Most of us would have wanted to rush on through and take care of Jericho – why not take advantage of the time when they are all afraid of you? But God is never in a hurry, and He knows that beyond us doing something, we must be something for Him – so He takes time out to conquer Israel spiritually before they can conquer Jericho under His guidance.
b. Take for yourselves twelve stones from here, out of the midst of the Jordan, from the place where the priests’ feet stood firm Each tribe was to send a representative to take a stone – undoubtedly a large one – from the dry riverbed where Israel had crossed over, so the stones could be set up as a memorial.
c. That this may be a sign among you when your children ask in time to come: The purpose of this memorial was so that the people of Israel could teach their children about the great things God had done; so that the work of God would not be forgotten among the generations.
i. We often fail in our trust in God because we forget the great things He has done, and often the faith of our children is weak because they have never been told how great God is and how real His working is in our lives.
d. Then Joshua set up twelve stones in the midst of the Jordan: Joshua also set up a pile of memorial stones in the very bed of the river Jordan, so that when it was lowered in a season of drought, those stones could be seen and would testify of the time that God had completely dried up the Jordan.
i. Especially in a time of drought, we need to remember the great things God has done.
2. (10-18) The nation passes over, the priests come through, and the Jordan returns to its normal flow.
So the priests who bore the ark stood in the midst of the Jordan until everything was finished that the LORD had commanded Joshua to speak to the people, according to all that Moses had commanded Joshua; and the people hurried and crossed over. Then it came to pass, when all the people had completely crossed over, that the ark of the LORD and the priests crossed over in the presence of the people. And the men of Reuben, the men of Gad, and half the tribe of Manasseh crossed over armed before the children of Israel, as Moses had spoken to them. About forty thousand prepared for war crossed over before the LORD for battle, to the plains of Jericho. On that day the LORD exalted Joshua in the sight of all Israel; and they feared him, as they had feared Moses, all the days of his life. Then the LORD spoke to Joshua, saying, “Command the priests who bear the ark of the Testimony to come up from the Jordan.” Joshua therefore commanded the priests, saying, “Come up from the Jordan.” And it came to pass, when the priests who bore the ark of the covenant of the LORD had come from the midst of the Jordan, and the soles of the priests’ feet touched the dry land, that the waters of the Jordan returned to their place and overflowed all its banks as before.
a. So the priests who bore the ark stood in the midst of the Jordan until everything was finished: The priests stood with the ark of the covenant for the entire time it took the nation to cross over. The visible token of the presence of God had to remain in the river through the entire crossing.
b. And the men of Reuben, the men of Gad, and half the tribe of Manasseh crossed over armed before the children of Israel: The people content to settle on the east side of the Jordan stayed on their side of the Jordan but sent their armies over to fight on behalf of the rest of the nation, just as they had promised (Joshua 1:12-16).
c. On that day the LORD exalted Joshua in the sight of all Israel: God fulfilled His promise to Joshua (Joshua 3:7), raising him up as a great leader for Israel, even as He had done for Moses.
d. The waters of the Jordan returned to their place and overflowed all its banks as before: The manner and timing with which the Jordan returned to its natural flow show that this event was supernaturally arranged by God.
B. The first work at Gilgal: memorial stones set up.
1. (19-20) The stones are set up as a memorial in Gilgal.
Now the people came up from the Jordan on the tenth day of the first month, and they camped in Gilgal on the east border of Jericho. And those twelve stones which they took out of the Jordan, Joshua set up in Gilgal.
a. They camped in Gilgal: Gilgal will become their base of operations for the conquest of the entire Promised Land. Therefore, it was appropriate that the first work at Gilgal was to set up a memorial to God’s great works.
2. (21-24) The purpose of the memorial stones.
Then he spoke to the children of Israel, saying: “When your children ask their fathers in time to come, saying, ‘What are these stones?’ then you shall let your children know, saying, ‘Israel crossed over this Jordan on dry land’; “for the LORD your God dried up the waters of the Jordan before you until you had crossed over, as the LORD your God did to the Red Sea, which He dried up before us until we had crossed over, that all the peoples of the earth may know the hand of the LORD, that it is mighty, that you may fear the LORD your God forever.”
a. What are these stones? There was obviously a purpose in the memorial stones for the people of Israel themselves. It is so easy for us to forget the great miracles God has performed on our behalf.
i. We don’t remember the past great works of God so that we can live in a dreamland of the past, thinking that the best days of our Christian experience are behind us. We remember them as a point of faith, so we can trust God for greater and greater works in the future, because we have seen and experienced His past faithfulness.
b. Then you shall let your children know: There was an important purpose for their children, so they would have a point of contact with God’s work in the past, and remember that God’s work did not begin with them and their time.
c. That all the peoples of the earth may know the hand of the LORD: There was also a purpose for the world, so they would know that there is a God in heaven who can work miracles, a God they should seek with all their heart.