Joshua 4

The Word Made Fresh

1When all the people had crossed the Jordan the LORD said to Joshua, 2“Choose twelve men, one from each tribe, 3and have each of them pick up a stone from the middle of the riverbed where the priests stood and carry them to the place where you camp tonight.’’ 4So, Joshua summoned the twelve men that had been selected from the tribes, 5and said to them, “Go ahead of the priests to the middle of the riverbed. Each of you pick up a stone and carry it on your shoulder, twelve stones in all, 6to prepare a marker so that when your children ask you in days to come, ‘Why are these stones here?’ 7you can tell them how the Jordan stopped flowing when the chest with the LORD’s commandments was brought into the river. These stones will serve as a reminder to the people of Israel from now on.”

8They did as Joshua said and took the twelve stones out of the riverbed to represent the twelve tribes and set them down at their camp as the LORD had told Joshua. 9Joshua also piled up twelve stones in the Jordan where the priests had stood. They are still there to this day.

10The priests who were carrying the chest stayed in the middle of the Jordan until the people had done everything Joshua had ordered. They all hurried across, 11and when they had all passed, they watched the priests bring the chest to the other side.

12The men of Reuben, Gad, and Manasseh had crossed over with their weapons ahead of the others, as Moses had ordered. 13In all, about forty thousand armed men crossed over ready for battle on the plains of Jericho. 14On that day the LORD lifted up Joshua, and from that day the people were in awe of him just as they had been in awe of Moses.

15Then the LORD said to Joshua, 16“Tell the priests to bring the chest out of the river,” 17so Joshua ordered them to come across 18and they came out of the riverbed carrying the chest containing the commandments. As soon as they stepped out on dry ground the river began to flow again and overflowed its banks as before.

19So it was that on the tenth day of the first month the people crossed the Jordan and camped at Gilgal east of Jericho. 20Joshua set up the twelve stones they had brought from the river in Gilgal 21and told the people, “In the future when children ask their parents about these stones, 22tell them Israel crossed over the Jordan near here on dry ground, 23because the LORD your God blocked the flow of the Jordan for them until they all crossed over, just as the LORD had done at the Red Sea, drying it up so the people could cross over it. 24The LORD did this so that everyone in the world would know that the LORD is powerful and mighty, and so that you will always fear the LORD your God.”

Commentary

1-7: God cannot be outdone when it comes to symbolism. First, Joshua is to tell the priests with the Ark of the Covenant go before the people to symbolize the presence of God leading them onward. Then he orders them to take twelve stones from the dry riverbed to make a monument on the west bank of the river, to serve as a reminder of how God helped them across. It also marks a boundary to help them look ahead instead of back.

8-9: Joshua also has a monument placed in the middle of the Jordan, to serve as a marker that the people once walked there on dry ground. This appears to be his decision without instructions from God.

10-14: The plains of Jericho are now filling with warriors ready for battle, and Joshua’s stock is rising.

15-18: As soon as the priests step out of the river, the water flow returns. The sequence is the same as in the Exodus: God speaks, the leader repeats, the people obey, a miracle occurs.

19-24: The crossing of the Jordan River is specifically tied to the crossing of the Red Sea. The 12-stone monument is now a memorial. Even today we use monuments as memorials to remember the great events in our history.

Takeaway

Joshua’s leadership begins with his taking the people across a stream of water, much as Moses had brought them across a body of water forty years before (Joshua specifically points out the comparison in verse 23). I think that God breaks down barriers for us, too, when we submit our leadership to God’s lordship.