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STONES OF MEMORIAL
Only when all were passed over did Joshua, at God's command, instruct that each of the twelve chosen men should carry a stone out of the midst of Jordan, from the place where the priests had stood, and take them to the place where they would encamp that night (vs.4-5). This was to be a sign for Israel when their children would ask the meaning of the stones set as they were (v.6). The spiritual significance is quite simple. The stones taken out of the water (the place of death) are typical of Israel being taken through death into resurrection life. All the tribes are represented, just as all believers today are seen by God as "risen with Christ" (Colossians 3:1).
The crossing of the Jordan certainly reminds us of the passage of the Red Sea. But the emphasis in the case of the Red Sea was Israel's deliverance out of Egypt; while the crossing of Jordan emphasizes Israel's entrance into the land of promise. This is the positive side of Israel's blessing and reminds us of God's words concerning the saints of God today, "blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ"(Ephesians 1:3). Thus, the death and resurrection of Christ not only separates us from a hostile world, but it invests us with wealth beyond all imagination in a place of pure joy and eternal glory. Canaan is of course only a faint picture of this.
The children of the Israelites then were to be instructed as to the meaning of the stones, just as children of believers should be instructed as to the death and resurrection of Christ being the basis of all blessing for His people. We today have a memorial of this great work of God in the Lord's supper, for believers are told, "Do this in remembrance of Me" (Luke 22:19). Our children too should be taught diligently as to the significance of this memorial.
As well as the stones set up in the land, Joshua (not the twelve men) set up twelve stones in the midst of Jordan (v.9). They would be soon covered with water, therefore unseen. This is a picture, not of our having resurrection life in Christ, but of our having died with Christ, our past therefore, as it were, blotted out. It is Christ's death that has done this: we had no part in that work. So it was Joshua who set up these stones. But believers are privileged to enter into and enjoy the resurrection life we have now in Christ, as seen in the stones set up by the twelve men.
Though historically the death of Christ came before His resurrection, yet the resurrection side (the stones in the land) is mentioned first because it is the positive side of the truth, and the blessing of the new life is to be emphasized in the book of Joshua.
The priests who carried the ark remained in the midst of Jordan as a guarantee that there was no danger to the people, till all this was finished and all the people had passed over, then they too crossed over with the ark.
It is good to see that about 40,000 of the men of Reuben and Gad and of the half tribe of Manasseh kept their word to cross over Jordan, all prepared for war, with the rest of Israel, though their families and possessions remained on the eastern side (vs.12,13).
This marvelous event of the crossing of the Jordan on dry ground could not but deeply impress all Israel, and God used it to exalt Joshua in their eyes (v.14). Similarly, the more marvelous miracle of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus from among the dead surely exalts Him in our eyes. From this time forth Israel would have full reason to respect and honor the leadership of Joshua.
At the Lord's command Joshua told the priests bearing the ark to come up out of Jordan (vs.15-17), and as soon as they reached the ground not affected by the overflowing waters, the waters returned to the same flood stage as before (v.18). Thus no one would be able to follow Israel on dry ground. Only true believers can know what it means to have died with Christ and to be raised with Christ.
Verse 19 tells us the date of this event, the tenth day of the first month. Would they not remember that this was the date they were told in Egypt to take a young lamb and keep it for four days until the Passover? (Exodus 12:2-3) This signified a new beginning for Israel. Now they also face a new beginning, but in how different circumstances! But the twelve stones taken by the twelve men out of Jordan were set up by Joshua as a memorial in Gilgal (v.20). Then Joshua repeated to Israel what he had said in verses 6-7, reminding them to answer their children's questions in the future by giving them the full truth of their crossing the Jordan on dry ground when the Lord dried up the waters for them (vs.21-23). Why should this be insisted upon? Because it is a natural tendency for us to forget even such great miracles of God's power and to slip into a lax, careless condition. The children too, who had not seen this great miracle, would not be so impressed by hearing of it unless their parents impressed them as having a great appreciation of this work of God. Moreover, this was intended to affect all the peoples of the earth (v.24), as well as instilling the fear of God in all Israel.
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Grant, L. M. "Commentary on Joshua 4". Grant's Commentary on the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent