Joshua 4 Memorial Stones

“When the whole nation had finished crossing the Jordan, the Lord said to Joshua, 2  “Choose twelve men from among the people, one from each tribe, 3 and tell them to take up twelve stones from the middle of the Jordan, from right where the priests are standing, and carry them over with you and put them down at the place where you stay tonight.”

So Joshua called together the twelve men he had appointed from the Israelites, one from each tribe, 5 and said to them, “Go over before the ark of the Lord your God into the middle of the Jordan. Each of you is to take up a stone on his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the Israelites, 6 to serve as a sign among you. In the future, when your children ask you, ‘What do these stones mean?’ 7 tell them that the flow of the Jordan was cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever.”

If you recall from the first chapter; the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh were going to settle on the opposite side of the Jordan river from the rest of Israel.  Even so, God tells Joshua to make it a point to place 12 stones (one for each tribe) in the memorial to the crossing.  God is sure to include all the people, as they are all part of the same inheritance, and even thought they did not settle in the final promised land, they would help to fight for it.

So the Israelites did as Joshua commanded them. They took twelve stones from the middle of the Jordan, according to the number of the tribes of the Israelites, as the Lord had told Joshua; and they carried them over with them to their camp, where they put them down. 9 Joshua set up the twelve stones that had been in the middle of the Jordan at the spot where the priests who carried the ark of the covenant had stood. And they are there to this day.

10 Now the priests who carried the ark remained standing in the middle of the Jordan until everything the Lord had commanded Joshua was done by the people, just as Moses had directed Joshua. The people hurried over, 11 and as soon as all of them had crossed, the ark of the Lord and the priests came to the other side while the people watched. 12 The men of Reuben, Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh crossed over, ready for battle, in front of the Israelites, as Moses had directed them. 13 About forty thousand armed for battle crossed over before the Lord to the plains of Jericho for war.

The emphasis here is in the ark, which is representing God’s presence to the people.  God went out before them into the river, created the way for them to cross, and stayed in the path until all had passed before moving to the other side.  I take great comfort in this passage knowing that this is an example of what God does for me.  Not only does He create a way for me to go, but He stands with me, protecting me, until it is time to move on, and then He goes with me.

14 That day the Lord exalted Joshua in the sight of all Israel; and they stood in awe of him all the days of his life, just as they had stood in awe of Moses.

15 Then the Lord said to Joshua, 16 “Command the priests carrying the ark of the covenant law to come up out of the Jordan.”

17 So Joshua commanded the priests, “Come up out of the Jordan.”

What an awesome work the Lord did through Joshua.  The people knew that God was the one who did the work, but they also knew because of this great miracle of passing over the Jordan, that Joshua was indeed called by God to lead them.  What do others see in us that would lead them to be sure that God is with us?  God says it, and Joshua obeys.  The people see how he reacts to the Lord’s calling and instruction.

Application: We should obey God when He speaks to us.  Those around us will see the changes and give glory to God.  (Note: God will never tell us to do something or change something about our lives that doesn’t fit with scripture.  If you feel like God is speaking to you, compare what you hear with what God’s commands are in the Bible.  Does it conflict?  If it does, it is not the Lord who is speaking to you.)

18 And the priests came up out of the river carrying the ark of the covenant of the Lord. No sooner had they set their feet on the dry ground than the waters of the Jordan returned to their place and ran at flood stage as before.

19 On the tenth day of the first month the people went up from the Jordan and camped at Gilgal on the eastern border of Jericho. 20 And Joshua set up at Gilgal the twelve stones they had taken out of the Jordan. 21 He said to the Israelites, “In the future when your descendants ask their parents, ‘What do these stones mean?’ 22 tell them, ‘Israel crossed the Jordan on dry ground.’ 23 For the Lord your God dried up the Jordan before you until you had crossed over. The Lord your God did to the Jordan what he had done to the Red Sea when he dried it up before us until we had crossed over. 24 He did this so that all the peoples of the earth might know that the hand of the Lord is powerful and so that you might always fear the Lord your God.”

Oral traditions were, and still are, a huge part of the Jewish culture.  The memorial that Joshua erects is a symbol of remembrance of what God had done in the lives of these people.  The stones themselves were not meant to be the focus, but what they represented; God’s mercy towards Israel in the completion of His promises (and prophetically speaking of future mercies).  We are reminded in the text that this was not the first time God had worked a miracle of this kind.  He saved Israel through the Red sea in the same way, creating a means of ‘passing over’.

The text gives us a date by saying ‘on the tenth day of the first month’, which is the same day the original Passover took place in Egypt when the Israelites each selected a lamb to slaughter and mark their doors (denoting they belonged to God).  The next day they crossed the Red sea.  It is also the same day that Jesus was betrayed, handed over, and ‘selected’ as the lamb that would be slaughtered the next day, creating a way for us who are saved to ‘pass over’ death.


Over and over God saves His people and shows them the way to go.  The same is true of Christians today.  By opening your heart to Christ, accepting Him as Lord over your life, and turning to follow Him (repentance), we are called God’s people.  Christ is our way to salvation from an ultimate death and departing from God.  He is our pass-over lamb.

Principle: God has given us a way to pass over death into His promises, His name is Christ.

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