Now, remember those 12 men we mentioned earlier? The ones that Joshua told Israel to select?
In 4:1-3 we finally we what they’re supposed to do.
[4:1 And it came to pass, when all the people were clean passed over Jordan, that the Lord spake unto Joshua, saying, 2 Take you twelve men out of the people, out of every tribe a man, 3 And command ye them, saying, Take you hence out of the midst of Jordan, out of the place where the priests’ feet stood firm, twelve stones, and ye shall carry them over with you, and leave them in the lodging place, where ye shall lodge this night.]
So, the Lord speaks to Joshua and commands him and all the people (plural “you”) to take the 12 men out of Israel. Joshua already commanded the people to do this in chapter 3. But now finally the 12 men are given their assignment. We’ve been wondering what they’re supposed to be doing. Here it is. The priests are still in the Jordan and the water has yet to return. So while that is the case, the 12 men were supposed to take stones out of the Jordan and put them in the place they would lodge that night. But why the stones? Why would God want them to spend their precious time picking up stones?
Verses 4 through 7 give us an answer.
[4 Then Joshua called the twelve men, whom he had prepared of the children of Israel, out of every tribe a man: 5 And Joshua said unto them, Pass over before the ark of the Lord your God into the midst of Jordan, and take you up every man of you a stone upon his shoulder, according unto the number of the tribes of the children of Israel: 6 That this may be a sign among you, that when your children ask their fathers in time to come, saying, What mean ye by these stones? 7 Then ye shall answer them, That the waters of Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord; when it passed over Jordan, the waters of Jordan were cut off: and these stones shall be for a memorial unto the children of Israel for ever.]
So these stones were supposed to be an enduring reminder to Israel. And for that reason, I think we’re not talking about tiny pebbles here. Have you ever watched those World’s Strongest Man competitions? You know, the show where men with names like Nigel and Magnus lift incredibly heavy objects and carry them all over the place? It seems like the heaviest object most of these folks can carry is somewhere around 500 pounds. And I’m not sure how built these ancient Israelites were. So with all that in mind, I’m guessing the stones were at least 100 pounds. They had to be big enough that there was a good chance that they’d stay there for a long time and not be moved. So, any way, Joshua commanded these 12 men to take one stone each from the Jordan.
But why? What was the purpose? The purpose was to provide a reminder of God’s miraculous deeds on behalf of his people. Who was to be reminded? The text says that fathers were supposed to tell their children about these stones when they asked. Let me ask our fathers here, how do you apply this in the modern-day? Would it involve you being spiritual enough to be able to explain the spiritual significance of things to your children? Have you done something like this? Have you told your kids how God saved you? Have you told them how he led you to their mother? That’s always a fun story. Have you told them of how he provides for your family? Make it a point to do these things.
Well, what do you suppose happens next? God commands Joshua. Joshua commands the 12. And now, verse 8.
[8 And the children of Israel did so as Joshua commanded, and took up twelve stones out of the midst of Jordan, as the Lord spake unto Joshua, according to the number of the tribes of the children of Israel, and carried them over with them unto the place where they lodged, and laid them down there.]
Then beyond that, Joshua sees fit to set up 12 stones not in the lodging place, but in the dried-up Jordan. Verse 9.
[9 And Joshua set up twelve stones in the midst of Jordan, in the place where the feet of the priests which bare the ark of the covenant stood: and they are there unto this day.]
Now the next two verses, 10 and 11 seem to be a simple repetition of what we’ve already heard. But let’s read them to see if there’s any new information here…
[10 For the priests which bare the ark stood in the midst of Jordan, until everything was finished that the Lord commanded Joshua to speak unto the people, according to all that Moses commanded Joshua: and the people hasted and passed over. 11 And it came to pass, when all the people were clean passed over, that the ark of the Lord passed over, and the priests, in the presence of the people.]
The priests stood in the Jordan and when the people finished crossing the priests came out. But did you notice that this all happened according to all that Moses commanded Joshua? What did Moses command Joshua? At least this – that Joshua needed to lead the people into the land God promised them.
And there’s another mention of Moses in verses 12 and 13.
[12 And the children of Reuben, and the children of Gad, and half the tribe of Manasseh, passed over armed before the children of Israel, as Moses spake unto them: 13 About forty thousand prepared for war passed over before the Lord unto battle, to the plains of Jericho.]
So we didn’t forget these 2 ½ tribes. They passed over just like Moses commanded them.
And let’s read the last mention of Moses in verse 14.
[14 On that day the Lord magnified Joshua in the sight of all Israel; and they feared him, as they feared Moses, all the days of his life.]
Remember that promise that God made to Joshua near the beginning of this lesson? The Lord promised to magnify Joshua in the peoples’ sight. And that’s just what we see happening here. God magnified Joshua. How did he do this? Throughout this section we’ve seen the Lord use Joshua as his mouthpiece, just like he used Moses. From the peoples’ vantage point, Joshua commanded something and it happened. You can imagine the esteem in which the people held this man – this man who was getting revelation straight from God. And God’s not done revealing things through Joshua.
Let’s read verses 15 and 16 to see what next command God has for Joshua.
[15 And the Lord spake unto Joshua, saying, 16 Command the priests that bear the ark of the testimony, that they come up out of Jordan.]
Can you guess what happens next?
Verse 17 says…
[17 Joshua therefore commanded the priests, saying, Come ye up out of Jordan.]
Now, we’d been told what was going to happen when the priests entered the Jordan River. But what can we expect to happen when they leave it?
Let’s read verse 18.
[18 And it came to pass, when the priests that bare the ark of the covenant of the Lord were come up out of the midst of Jordan, and the soles of the priests’ feet were lifted up unto the dry land, that the waters of Jordan returned unto their place, and flowed over all his banks, as they did before.]
The water simply returned to where it was before. And that’s the end of the people crossing the Jordan. But there’s still this matter of what to do with these stones that they took out of the Jordan.
Let’s just go ahead and read the rest of chapter 4, verses 19 through 24.
[19 And the people came up out of Jordan on the tenth day of the first month, and encamped in Gilgal, in the east border of Jericho.
20 And those twelve stones, which they took out of Jordan, did Joshua pitch in Gilgal.
21 And he spake unto the children of Israel, saying, When your children shall ask their fathers in time to come, saying, What mean these stones? 22 Then ye shall let your children know, saying, Israel came over this Jordan on dry land. 23 For the Lord your God dried up the waters of Jordan from before you, until ye were passed over, as the Lord your God did to the Red sea, which he dried up from before us, until we were gone over: 24 That all the people of the earth might know the hand of the Lord, that it is mighty: that ye might fear the Lord your God for ever.]
I think it’s really interesting that Joshua ties together the Jordan River miracle with the Red Sea miracle. It’s the same nation in both cases. They have the same great God who can work miracles. This same great God has kept his covenant with this same nation. Right? That’s why the priests are carrying the ark of the, what? The ark of the covenant. It’s got the covenant in it that God made over 40 years earlier with this same nation. That’s why Moses is mentioned several times. He’s the one who received that covenant from God.
So again Israel is admonished that the fathers need to impress upon their children the special relationship that God had with them. Those 12 stones set up in Gilgal were supposed to prompt those fathers to engage in this sort of discussion with their children. But did you catch what else those stones were supposed to do? These stones and the reality they were silently proclaiming wasn’t just for the Hebrew children. They were for the sake of the nations. The nations were supposed to know the reality of the Isralites crossing over the Jordan and the Red Sea and they were supposed to take note that God’s hand is mighty.
So those stones and the realities they portrayed were for the children. They were for the nations. And lastly they were for the Israelites themselves. Remembering these things – God’s deliverance and miraculous works – were supposed to help the Israelites fear the Lord their God from generation to generation – forever.
So here’s Israel. They’ve finally entered the land that God had promised to their forefather Abraham so long ago. They’re actually there! They made it. They were experiencing Success through Obedience. And now really nothing stops them from advancing to Jericho. If it’s like Rahab said in chapter 2 – that the people were quaking because of the Red Sea miracle that happened decades ago – then how are they feeling now that they saw with their own eyes, the Jordan River stop flowing and Israel coming across? We’ll see next time, Lord-willing.