Joshua 4: The Two Twelve Stone Memorials
by Pastor Don Elmore
January 1, 2012
Scripture Reading: Joshua 3:1-7
Today we have a lesson that most of the Judeo-Christian churches would tell its congregations that it is about other people; that it is NOT about them—it’s about the Jews. But I will tell you just the opposite. This is a story about our great-great-great-great? - grandparents and how their GOD kept His Word to them and also to us. It is a marvelous historical happening that I hope will increase your faith in God; for our God is the same one who they had, who acts in the same way that He acted in this saga.
This is a true story; not a myth or some fancy story line. Everything in this tale is true—and there were monuments built to keep this saga in the mind of the children to tell them about what happened and to keep the story alive. It is a small part of the fascinating historical event of Israel’s journey to the Promised Land.
How did they enter that land? They had been fighting for a while, very successfully, on the east side of the Jordan River—driving out ALL of their enemies, Amorites and Canaanites, who had previously lived there. Two and a half of the twelve tribes of Israel, Gad, Reuben and ½ the tribe of Manasseh, had decided that this was the portion of land that they wanted to live and they had to make a deal with Moses that they would fight for their brethren when they crossed over the Jordan. And now it was time to go to the other side of the Jordan and begin fighting the other Canaanites and giants for the land that had been promised to them. But there was a major problem—they couldn’t cross the Jordan River because it was flooded. How were they to accomplish this?
In addition, did you notice that it was none of the Israelites who came up with the idea to cross the Jordan River? None of them asked God for them to cross over the Jordan, which was physically impossible because it was flooded. They were located eastward, with the Sea of Galilee to the North, the Dead Sea to the South, and in-between the two bodies of water was the Jordan River which flowed from the Sea of Galilee to the Dead Sea. There were no bridges to cross, so they thought that they would have to either:
- Travel north to the Sea of Galilee and then after they went around it would come on back southward to fight the Canaanites.
- Travel south to the Dead or Salt Sea and then after they went around it would come on back northward to fight the Canaanites.
- Or wait until the lack of rain caused the Jordan River to be reduced to a small, shallow stream. Then they could cross, but it would take a much longer time and be very dangerous.
It was strictly God’s idea. He was the one, Who at the right time told His covenant people when, how and why He wanted them to walk right through the flooded Jordan River! He picked His leader and all His assistants. And it was accomplished right on time—a miracle crossing.
There are many preachers that teach that Christ had to die for our sins; but many fail to teach about what he did after His death. He was resurrected on the third day. This was very important; for if He would have only died for us, we would still lack the necessary righteousness to enter the kingdom. God had to accept His Son’s sacrifice and His resurrection proved this fact. That is why the Jews lied about His resurrection from when it happened until now; but Jesus Christ was resurrected on behalf of His covenant people.
Moses had just died. Israel had been without a land to live in since they were slaves in Egypt, where they had lived for the previous 215 years, before they had set out on their 40 year journey. Since the first Passover, where each family in Egypt lost their first born son, except the Israelites--who had their doors covered with the blood of the slain Passover lamb. The Angel of God had bypassed or “Passed Over” any house that had the blood of the lamb on the three portions of the door.
After this Passover by the Angel, they had wandered for forty years until all the “generation of the men of war” died since they had failed to believe that the LORD would give them the land that He had promised to them. They were two exceptions: Joshua and Caleb who told the people that they believed that GOD would enable them to conquer the Promised Land; including the very large giants that lived there. The rest of Israel was as afraid of the “giants” as we are of our enemies today.
The miraculous crossing of the Gulf of Aqaba (Red Sea) had saved the lives of the Israelites and left the Egyptian army drowned. The Israelites were NOT commanded to take twelve stones and leave them in the middle of the Gulf and also to take another twelve stones and leave them as a monument on the other side. The God of the Hebrews had saved them out of the hands of the mightiest army in the world at that time. But He put the song of redemption into their mouths, as they sang “The Lord hath triumphed gloriously” (Exodus 15:1, 13).
But at the Jordan a further and grander lesson was taught Israel, something which went beyond the truth of redemption by blood and by power, even that of resurrection. Israel faced a flooded Jordan River. How were they to cross the River to get into the main portion of the Promised Land? And how many Israelites were there at this time? An estimate would be around 3,000,000! How long would it take them and their animals and equipment to cross the Jordan River?
There is more than the truth taught us by the cross of Christ, there is something further which is even more vital and glorious, and that is our Lord’s victory over the grave. The resurrection of Christ is not only a major part of the Gospel but its distinctive and outstanding feature; and those evangelists who go no farther than the cross are preaching only about a fourth of the Gospel. But more, the saints themselves are greatly the losers if their faith and spiritual apprehensions stop short at the atoning death of Christ, for unspeakably precious as it is to recognize our death unto sin in the death of the Surety, still more blessed is it to perceive our federal union with Him and our title to the inheritance in His triumph over death.
The redeemed of God were shown, at the Jordan River, their own passage through death and resurrection by the figure of the twelve stones placed in the Jordan and the twelve stones taken out of it. It was at this point that Israel entered upon a new stage in their history, yet perpetuating all the essential features which had previously marked them as the peculiar people of the Lord:
- The circumcising at Gilgal of the new generation of sons of the Israelites—from the ages of new born, i.e. 8 days old to 40 years old. The practice of circumcision was begun again after the 40 year layoff.
- Celebration of the Passover; only the second Passover ever kept; the meal eaten on the 14th day of the first month; four days after they crossed to the other side. This was the end of the manna, angel’s food, which they had been receiving for 40 years. The keeping of Passover was renewed.
- Appearance of the Captain of the Lord’s host with drawn sword. Joshua asked him, “Are thou for us, or for our adversaries? His answer was that He was for them, to help them destroy their enemies. God would fight for His people and help destroy the people who inhabited the land. Jericho was the first battle; whose side did the God of the Bible fight for? It definitely wasn’t the Canaanites of Jericho!
The good Shepherd entered the river of judgment on behalf of His sheep, making for them a new covenant by His atoning death, delivering thereby from judgment all that followed Him. That was shown by the Ark of the Covenant that was “borne by the priests” and at once the flow of its waters was stayed; so that the people who followed it passed over dry-shod, though the Ark itself did not come out of the Jordan until it had secured a passage for all the people. The priests stood in the midst of the Jordan until everything was finished that the Lord commanded Joshua to speak unto the people.
We will now begin our study of Joshua 4 and the Two Twelve Stone Memorials.
1. Notice in verse 2, it says to take you twelve men out of the people, out of every tribe a man. The men had been selected beforehand (Joshua 3:13) and were ready for this task, that there might be no delay in connection with what lay immediately before the nation. They would camp at a place called Gilgal, which was mid-way between the Jordan River and the city of Jericho. It would be a couple of miles journey for each of them to walk, carrying the stone on their shoulder. It would be quite a difficult task to carry the stone for such a long distance. The twelve men, one each from the tribes of Judah, Ephraim, Manasseh, Simeon, Gad, Reuben, Naphtali, Asher, Zebulon, Issachar, Benjamin and Dan waited until the correct time—until Joshua gave them the commandment to proceed.
In Joshua 4:4 where it says that “Joshua called the twelve men, whom he had prepared of the children of Israel” signifies that as a foreshadowing of the antitypical Joshua, Jesus who at an early stage of His ministry “called unto Him the twelve” Mark 6:7.
Notice that no women were chosen; for this is the error of the last hundred years when the feminist movement became successful. Only men were chosen; to carry the stones at the command of Joshua and as the apostles of our Savior.
2. “That this may be a sign unto you”, verse 6, has the token or representation of Israel’s being regulated by God’s Word and of the Lord’s granting success to the obeying of His Word. That cairn or monument of stones was to signify that Israel had NOT crossed the flooded Jordan by their own ability, but because of the miracle-working power of God. It was the representation to them that they had passed through the river’s bed dry-shod. It was not wet, but it was dry! If it was still wet, it would be almost impossible for the million of Israelites and all their animals and equipment to cross. It was an earnest and pledge of what God would yet do for them. It was like the future battle of “Blood River” to the Afrikaners of South Africa.
3. It was a sign only to Israel. It wasn’t a sign to the Canaanites, Negroids, and Asiatics or to any other nation. It was only to the twelve tribes of Israel. It was a sign for His covenant people. Each stone represented one of the tribes of Israel. Joshua was commanded to take twelve men, one from each of the tribes of Israel; a strong man who could carry a large stone on his shoulder and set it up in:
- In the campsite of Gilgal on the western portion of the Jordan River, and
- In the middle of the Jordan River, where the priests had stood, making two monuments which would last forever. This act of crossing the Jordan was as fearful to Israel’s enemies as the crossing of the Red Sea was earlier. It melted their hearts so that they were afraid of them.
4. For the priests who bare the Ark stood in the midst of the Jordan, until everything was finished that the Lord commanded Joshua to speak unto the people. The people “hasted and passed over”. There are things here which are worthy of our observation and admiration.
First, the obedience of the priests; they were the ones who occupied the place both of honor and of danger. They were the ones who bore the Ark, before whose presence the waters had “rose up like a heap,” held by an invisible Hand. As the priests advanced to the middle of the Jordan River, they were the first to enter and remained stationary for many hours. They had to hold the Ark until all the millions of Israelites had crossed to the far shore.
It was a severe test of their patience. How long did they hold the Ark? There is an example that is left to the ministers of the Gospel to continue steadfast in their duty, to be a model unto their people of uncompromising fidelity, of undaunted courage, of patient endurance.
How long would it take the Israelites to all cross the Jordan River? Conservative estimates are a minimum of eight hours! But it was probably longer. It is estimated that the several million Israelites would have to cross from a distance of a mile to two miles long. How tired must the priests have gotten as they held the Ark of the Covenant in the middle of the Jordan River. They were to just stand there; holding the Ark—till every Israelite and their animals had crossed what had been a flooded Jordan River. Try just standing still in one place for over eight hours—that would be a very difficult thing to do! And then holding the Ark of the Covenant….
But they were holding the very presence of their God, the Throne of the Kingdom. It was the place where their GOD lived; He went in first and stayed till the end. It was He who made the waters recede and the pathway dry. It was in this Ark where the Ten Commandments were kept along with the Throne of their God.
Second, we see again how that Joshua closely followed the orders he had received from Moses, doing nothing without a Divine command; while the priests, in turn, were required to be regulated by Joshua’s orders—the ministers of the Gospel are to be governed solely by Christ. Here is the answer to all our problems—Moses received his commands from God; Joshua received his commands from Moses; the priests received their commands from Joshua; the people of Israel followed the lead of the priests who carried the Ark of the Covenant. That was how they crossed the flooded Jordan River—no wonders that the hearts of their enemies melted when they heard of how their God helped them cross the flooded River!
1. In verse 10, its says the “the people hastened and passed over.” That shows the perfect example of the saints in connection with those who minister unto them in spiritual things. For it shows their thoughtful consideration of one who had to “borne the Ark” until they all crossed the River. The slower their movement, the longer the priests would have to stand bearing the Ark! The practical lesson is that God’s people should do everything in their power to make the spiritual lot of God’s servants easier. That can be done by:
- Promptly responding to their instructions
- By supporting them through earnest prayer, and
- By being thoughtful of their comfort.
That is something which particularly needs to be laid to heart in this day of selfishness and lack of concern for the comfort of others. It is both solemn and blessed to note how God took note of this detail, that the Holy Spirit has specifically recorded this thoughtful "haste" of the people. The Lord not only marks what we do, but how we do it: as in "his princes gave willingly" (2 Chronicles 35:8). How thankful I am and Mark too at your loyal service and obedience to this command.
2. "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: About forty thousand prepared for war passed over before the Lord unto battle, to the plains of Jericho" (vv. 12, 13). Here is a case in point how that one part of Scripture is dependent upon another for its explanation and interpretation.
We have to go back to Numbers to discover why these particular ones constituted the fighting force of the nation. Those two and a half tribes, who were rich in cattle, desired to have for their portion the fertile lands of Jazer and Gilead, rather than any part of Canaan (vv. 1-5). When Moses demurred, they agreed to build sheepfolds for their cattle and fenced cities for their little ones, and then they would go armed before the children of Israel until the remaining tribes had secured their inheritance (vv. 16, 17). Moses agreed to their proposal, and they ratified that arrangement; and Moses then gave command to Eleazar and Joshua to see that their promise was made good (A. W. Pink).
Here in Joshua 4 we are shown the fulfillment of the same. Those two and a half tribes were the only ones unencumbered with their families and flocks, and thus we see how suited they were to be the fighting force, and how graciously God made all things work together for good unto His people. What a great solution: the 2 ½ tribes would go and fight for their brothers—leaving their flocks and wives and children at home; only returning when their brothers had the land given to them by God.
And what about the women, children and old grandparents who remained when the water returned to their original position? What faith they must have had to sustain them until their husbands, sons and brothers returned home after many years of fighting against the Goliath’s and their friends of the world. And who would fight for them if any enemy attacked? It was their faith in our God which sustained them!
3. "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" (v. 14). Therein we may see how the Lord made good unto Joshua the word He gave him in Joshua 3:7. "Faithful is He that calleth you, who also will do it" (1 Thessalonians 5:24). It is God who calls his ministers, not his ministers who choose their job! How backwards is this in today’s world.
That detail has been placed upon imperishable record for the encouragement of every servant of the Lord. Ministers of the Gospel may prosecute their labors with absolute confidence in the promises of their Master: not one of them shall fail. He has said of His Word, "it shall not return unto Me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it" (Isaiah 55:11); then he need not entertain the slightest doubt about the same.
He has NOT promised His servants, "Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world (Matthew 28:20), then let them conduct themselves to act in any way they want. Let them also learn from Joshua 4:14, and its context that the surest way. For them to gain the respect and observation of their people is to be diligent in personally honoring and obeying God, and caring for their welfare.
4. "And the Lord spake unto Joshua, saying, Command the priests that bear the ark of the testimony, that they come up out of Jordan. Joshua therefore commanded the priests, saying, Come ye up out of Jordan" (vv. 15-17). That is indeed striking: the priests did not take a step until they were Divinely authorized. There they stood hour after hour, for over eight hours, and there they still remained after the vast concourse had passed through and reached the other side in safety! Just stand holding the Ark for eight or more hours. Patiently they waited until leave was given them to move. They did not act on their own impulse or initiative, but meekly waited God’s time.
"The priests did not quit their station till Joshua, who had commanded them hitherto, ordered them from thence: nor did he thus order them till the Lord commanded him: so obedient were all parties to the Word of God, and so entirely confident of His protection" (Matthew Henry). It is not ours to render unquestioning obedience to God, and leave the consequences with Him; nor need we have the least fear or hesitation in so doing— we shall not be the losers, but the gainers. "Them that honor Me, I will honor" (1 Samuel 2:30).
5. "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" (v. 18). No sooner did the priests with the Ark step upon the shore of Canaan than the Jordan resumed its normal flow, or rather its abnormal condition, for it was then in flood.
That the miracle which had just been wrought, making it the more apparent that the stopping of its flow was not from any abnormal natural cause, but that it was the will of their Creator which had temporarily suspended the laws of nature, for the display of His glory and the fulfillment of His promise unto His people. As Israel beheld the upper waters which had been invisibly dammed and the lower ones that had stood up in a heap now suddenly acting as formerly, how apparent it would be unto them that it was the presence and power of their covenant God which had wrought so gloriously for them!
6. "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" (v. 19). There is nothing meaningless or valueless in the Scriptures and we are the losers if we ignore or pass hurriedly over its time marks. The carnal critic would say, what interest is it unto me which particular day of the month this event occurred; but far different should be the spirit of the believer. But how is he to ascertain the significance of this detail?
I would think that many Judeo-Christians would think that the Israelites should have arrived on the winter solstice; four days before the birth of Jesus was to occur; according to what they think and now do. But Jesus was NOT born at this time but you would never know it by the massive sales and the multitude of “Christians” that participate in this holiday at this time of the year.
In addition, I must point out another wrong date. New Year’s Eve, according to the Bible, was in this month of early Spring, not in the beginning of Winter on December 31st! God never told us that the New Year began right after midnight on December 31st. That is the New Year of Satan’s world. The day did not begin at midnight anyway. Here he is giving us the New Year—when the first month of the year was to occur.
The first reference to "the tenth day" of the first month (Exodus 12:2, 3) supplies the key. “This month shall be unto you the beginning of months: it shall be the first month of the year to you. Speak ye unto all the congregation of Israel, saying, In the ten day of this month they shall take them every man a lamb, according to the house of their fathers, a lamb for an house.” It was the day when the paschal lamb was selected!—to be slain on the fourteenth (Exodus 12:6, and see Joshua 5:10). How wonderfully God times everything for His people! It was the completion of the forty years since they had experienced the first Passover.
"He so ordered things here that Israel entered Canaan four days before the annual Passover, and on the very day when the preparation for it was begun, for He would have them enter into Canaan graced and sanctified with that religious feast, and would have them to be reminded of their deliverance from Egypt that, combining the two together, God might be glorified as the Alpha and Omega of their blessing" (Matthew Henry).
"And those twelve stones, which they took out of Jordan, did Joshua pitch [i.e. "erect"] in Gilgal" (v. 20). Probably those large stones were placed on some eminence where there was none other, for they were to be "a monument unto the children of Israel forever" (v. 7).
7. When the Pharisees and Sadducees came to John’s baptism, he had a very confrontational meeting with them. He called them “O generation of vipers (serpents)”. What a very bad introduction to call someone; O generation of the poisonous snake! For these were the Edomites and Shelahites who had usurped the authority and identification of the Judahites, part of the “holy seed” of Abraham. And he shortly thereafter said unto them "Think not to say within yourselves we have Abraham as our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham" (Matthew 3:9). What stones did John point to?
Did he point to a mass of indiscriminate stones that lay in the river bed of the Jordan River as I was told in my church in my youth? No, for he pointed to the very stones of the monuments erected by Joshua! John was showing to his audience the visible lesson that was the 12 tribe nation of the Israelites represented by the monument of Israel; not the Edomite usurping Jew. In John 1:28, describes plainly that “These things were done in Bethabara beyond the Jordan, where John was baptizing;” for "Bethabara" means "the house of passage" i.e., the place where Israel passed over the river during the days of Joshua.
Let’s think about this for a minute; for ten of the tribes of Israel had ceased to be the kingdom of God at this time—they were divorced for over 700 years. They went by another name, they were uncircumcised, they were cut off from the commonwealth of Israel, they were without hope, etc., and they needed their former husband to be once again their husband. His death and resurrection was the only way for this to happen—the decision was the husband’s not the wife’s! They lived all across Europe, the Middle East and northern Africa and a few in the other parts of the earth.
The house of Judah was for the most part also living away from the Promised Land. They had been taken captive by the enemies of Israel, mainly Assyria and Babylonia, and had lived in their territory for centuries. Many of them returned to the Temple on the Feast Days, but they lived in areas all around the land. Few lived in the former Promised Land.
John the Baptist pointed to the stones of the “twelve stone monument” and was visibly indicating that the Lamb of God was going to die only for his sheep. It definitely informed the descendants of Edom, Shelah, and similar others that they were not to be part of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Even though they were descendants of Abraham, they were not of the “holy seed”—they were mixed seed and forever disqualified.
8. "And he spake unto the children of Israel, saying, When your children shall ask their fathers, in time to come, saying, What meaneth these stones? Then ye shall let your children know, saying, Israel came over this Jordan on dry land. 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" (vv. 21-23).
Normal children have inquiring minds and ought not to be snubbed or even discouraged when they ask their parents questions. Rather should parents seek to improve their curiosity as an opening for instruction, directing the same into profitable channels? The very inquisitiveness of little ones affords their elders an opportunity to make known unto them the wonderful works of God, that their minds may be informed and their hearts awed by His perfections. But note well, it is the father (the "head" of the home) upon whom the main responsibility devolves, to see to it that his children are taught by him the things of God (Ephesians 6:4). Let him not pass on this task to his wife, still less to "Sunday-school teachers."
What a great lesson Joshua 4 teaches us. It only teaches the covenant people of God; not the whole world. The two sets of twelve stones monuments were a memorial for the children of Israel who when seeing these two monuments would ask, “What meaneth these?”
John the Baptist used these stones to thwart his enemies. For God would raise the children of the twelve tribes of Israel not the Edomite Jew. It was these particular children who were represented by the twelve stones:
- The House of Israel; the birthright kingdom
- The House of Judah; the scepter kingdom.
The children of the “lost” kingdom of the House of Israel; lost for over seven centuries which would once again be placed back into covenant relationship with their GOD. And it would be the House of Judah, the other part of God’s kingdom which would be joined together with the kingdom that had departed from them over one thousand years ago. Both of these two houses would experience the death and resurrection of their shepherd.
What Israel had, no other nation had. They had the Ark of the
Covenant. It was the Ark of the Covenant that first entered the flood water of the Jordan River; and when the waters first hit the toes of the priests, they immediately were receded by the invisible hand of God. The Ark was borne by the Priests in the middle of the “dry driver bed” for most of the day, until the last Israelite crossed. At the command of Joshua, the priest carried the Ark to the other side and the water flowed back to their flood stage. What a marvelous vision that was.
It demonstrated the death and resurrection of the “Lamb of God” for all the tribes of Israel; what a glorious monument this is! And their enemy’s heart melted in fear. And why did our enemy’s heart melt with fear? Because they were not the children of God and they heard how much He loved His covenant people.