Introduction: Joshua Chapter 4 concludes the account of the crossing of the Jordan River. While Chapter 3 focused on God’s miracle in stopping of the river, Chapter 4 focuses on celebrating what He did for the Jews. His miracles are of no value if believers forget about them. From this chapter, He reveals seven lessons on how to remember His miracles. It is important that believers remember His miracles so that they keep their faith and turn to Him in times of crisis.
First, from the 12 stones that Joshua had the tribes erect to celebrate God’s crossing of the Jordan River, God reveals that He also wants you to remember His miracles. He also wants you to remember what He has done to deliver you. Second, from His instruction for the Jews to teach their children about His blockage of the Jordan River, He reveals that He wants you to teach your children about His miracles. Third, from a second memorial that Joshua hid at the bottom of the Jordan River, He reveals that He wants you to hide His Word in your heart. Fourth, from the account of Reuben and Gad honoring their promise to fight for the Promised Land while their families stayed behind, He reveals that He also wants you to keep your vows to Him. He also needs every believer to serve in His army. Fifth, from His faithfulness in exalting Joshua as He previously promised, He reveals that He wants you to give Him thanks and the credit when He exalts or promotes you. Sixth, from the closing of the passageway through the Jordan River, He reveals that His door to the Promised Land will eventually close. He wants you to warn others of the need to follow Jesus to the eternal Promised Land before their doors close on them. Finally, from the memorial that served as a reminder for the Jews to fear God, He reveals that He also wants you to remember what He has done for you so that you fear Him by avoiding evil things.
The stones of remembrance. Because Joshua knew that the Jews would soon forget God’s miracle in the coming battles, he ordered the Jews to collect stones from the dry Jordan River to remember their deliverance: “1 Now when all the nation had finished crossing the Jordan, the Lord spoke to Joshua, saying,2 ‘Take for yourselves twelve men from the people, one man from each tribe, 3 and command them, saying, ‘Take up for yourselves twelve stones from here out of the middle of the Jordan, from the place where the priests’ feet are standing firm, and carry them over with you and lay them down in the lodging place where you will lodge tonight.’” 4 So Joshua called the twelve men whom he had appointed from the sons of Israel, one man from each tribe; 5 and Joshua said to them, “Cross again to the ark of the Lord your God into the middle of the Jordan, and each of you take up a stone on his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Israel.” (Josh. 4:1-5). They took the stones from the place where the ark stood to remind them that it was God who blocked the Jordan River. On multiple occasions, God had the Jews create similar “stones of remembrance” to remind them of His faithfulness. For example, Jacob set up a stone pillar and poured oil on top of it (a symbol of the Holy Spirit) to remember what God had done when he came to what is now called “Bethal,” the house of God (Gen. 28:18-19). He later set up another pillar of stone and poured oil on it to remind him of a place where God spoke directly to him (Gen. 35:14). God later told Moses to build a stone altar to remember His covenant at Mount Horeb (Ex. 20:24). Through Moses, God also told the Jews to create a separate set of stones of remembrance when they got to Mount Ebal: “2 So it shall be on the day when you cross the Jordan to the land which the Lord your God gives you, that you shall set up for yourself large stones and coat them with lime 3 and write on them all the words of this law, when you cross over, so that you may enter the land which the Lord your God gives you, a land flowing with milk and honey, as the Lord, the God of your fathers, promised you. 4 So it shall be when you cross the Jordan, you shall set up on Mount Ebal, these stones, as I am commanding you today, and you shall coat them with lime.” (Dt. 27:2-4). Joshua then followed the Law just as he was commanded to do: “Just as Moses the servant of the LORD had commanded the sons of Israel, as it is written in the book of the law of Moses, an altar of uncut stones on which no man had wielded an iron tool; and they offered burnt offerings on it to the LORD, and sacrificed peace offerings.” (Josh. 8:31, cf 1 Sam. 7:12). When Peter saw Jesus with Moses and Elijah, his first thought was to build an altar of remembrance (Matt. 17:4). These stories were meant for your instruction (1 Cor. 10:11). Thus, you can learn from these examples to remember God’s miracles.
Create your own stones of remembrance. Before entering the Promised Land, God warned the Jews about the dangers that awaited them if they forgot about His mighty hand that had delivered them: “then watch yourself, that you do not forget the Lord who brought you from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” (Dt. 6:12). Like the Jews, God has delivered every believer. The 12 stones (one for every tribe) mean that every person has a story to tell regarding their deliverance. Your testimony may include being saved from eternal damnation, answered prayers, deliverance from an illness, an addiction, or restoration of a broken relationship. Remembering what God has done for you is important for your faith and your testimony. It will also bolster you in times of conflict. Your testimony may also help to save another lost soul. Are you creating journals or “stones of remembrance” to celebrate and share what God has done for you? Are you using your story to win over nonbelievers and to encourage others in distress?
Joshua’s command for the Jews to teach their children. Joshua advised that the stones of remembrance were not just for the generation that crossed the Jordan River. Both they and future generations needed to be reminded of God’s deliverance: “6 Let this be a sign among you, so that when your children ask later, saying, ‘What do these stones mean to you?’ 7 then you shall say to them, ‘Because the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord; when it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off.’ So these stones shall become a memorial to the sons of Israel forever.” (Josh. 4:6-7). God knows that our memories are short. What happens in a parent’s generation is even less relevant to their children. Thus, the memorial was for all future generations. Do your kids know the details of God’s deliverance at the Jordan River? Are you teaching your kids of the miracles in your life to inspire their faith in God?
Teach your children to trust in God’s power. As beneficiaries of God’s Law and His many miracles, the Jews were obligated to teach both His Law and His deliverance to their children and grandchildren: “And it shall be when your son asks you in time to come, saying, ‘What is this?’ then you shall say to him, ‘With a powerful hand the LORD brought us out of Egypt, from the house of slavery.”’ (Ex. 13:14). “. . . but make them known to your sons and your grandsons.” (Dt. 4:9). “ . . . and that they may teach their children.” (Dt. 4:10). “You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up.” (Dt. 6:7). “You shall teach them to your sons, talking of them when you sit in your house and when you walk along the road and when you lie down and when you rise up.” (Dt. 11:19). “Train up a child in the way he should go, even when he is old he will not depart from it.” (Prov. 22:6; Ps. 78:4-6). In case any Christian feels freed of this requirement, Paul is clear that it still applies: “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” (Eph. 6:4). Do you know God’s Law and His miracles well enough to teach them? Do you talk about the Bible with your children and your grandchildren?
Joshua’s creation of a hidden memorial in the Jordan River bed. After Joshua told the Jews to create one memorial, he then created a second memorial at the base of the dry Jordan River bed that would soon be covered with water: “8 Thus the sons of Israel did as Joshua commanded, and took up twelve stones from the middle of the Jordan, just as the Lord spoke to Joshua, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Israel; and they carried them over with them to the lodging place and put them down there. 9 Then Joshua set up twelve stones in the middle of the Jordan at the place where the feet of the priests who carried the ark of the covenant were standing, and they are there to this day. 10 For the priests who carried the ark were standing in the middle of the Jordan until everything was completed that the Lord had commanded Joshua to speak to the people, according to all that Moses had commanded Joshua. And the people hurried and crossed; 11 and when all the people had finished crossing, the ark of the Lord and the priests crossed before the people.” (Josh. 4:8-11). Many commentators have struggled with these verses. Why would Joshua create a second memorial? Why would he place it at the base of the dry Jordan River bed where none would see it? How could Joshua write that his memorial exists ‘to this day” if the waters quickly covered up his memorial? Likewise, how could he say that it exists “to this day” if this book was written during his life time? Some have suggested that the memorials were one and the same. Some believe that he simply created the base for the Jews’ memorial. Others believe that the phrase “to this day” proves that someone other than Joshua wrote this book, possibly centuries later. Yet, these interpretations are all wrong. Two is the number of confirmation. Joshua created a second memorial to confirm that God’s promises to deliver the Promised Land to the Jews were true. He placed the memorial were the ark stood to remember that God delivered them. The second memorial was hidden below the river to remind you to keep His Word hidden in your heart. Like the stones used for the memorial, His Word never changes (Nu. 23:19; Mal. 3:6). The words “to this day” were prophetically included within Joshua’s writing to record that God’s hidden memorial of His faithfulness would remain, even after the first memorial disappeared.
Keep God’s Word hidden in your heart. God also wants you to keep the lessons from His many miracles hidden in your heart so that you will not lose hope in times of conflict: “For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” (Ro. 15:4). The Psalmist wrote that he hid God’s Word in his heart so that he would not sin and so that he would do God’s will: “Your word I have treasured in my heart, that I may not sin against You.” (Ps. 119:11). “I delight to do Your will, O my God; Your Law is within my heart.” (Ps. 40:8). Joshua’s memorial would be visible only when the Jordan River ran dry and only upon close examination. Likewise, there may be times in your life where the waters of plenty appear to run dry. During those times of drought or struggle, the hidden Word in your heart should be visible to others. Have you hidden God’s Word in your heart? How many verses have you memorized to maintain your hope in His deliverance when you face your next crisis in your life?
The tribes of Reuben and Gad were faithful to keep their promises. After completing the memorials to God, Joshua revealed that the tribes of Reuben and Gad kept their promise to send soldiers over to help conquer the Promised Land while their women and children remained behind on the other side of the Jordan River: “12 The sons of Reuben and the sons of Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh crossed over in battle array before the sons of Israel, just as Moses had spoken to them; 13 about 40,000 equipped for war, crossed for battle before the Lord to the desert plains of Jericho.” (Josh. 4:12-13). After receiving God’s many blessings to prepare for the conquest of the Promised Land, the tribes of Reuben and Gad noticed that they had “an exceedingly large number of livestock.” (Nu. 32:1). They also noticed that the conquered land that they were staying in to the east of the Jordan River “was indeed a suitable place for livestock.” (Nu. 32:1, 4). After realizing the comfort of God’s blessings, these tribes pleaded with Moses: “do not take us across the Jordan.” (Nu. 32:5). Moses at first chastised them: “But Moses said to the sons of Gad and to the sons of Reuben, ‘Shall your brothers go to war while you yourselves sit here?”’ (Nu. 32:6). They then promised to fight for the Jews in exchange for their right to live outside the Promised Land: “16 Then they came near to him and said, ‘We will build here sheepfolds for our livestock and cities for our little ones; 17 but we ourselves will be armed ready to go before the sons of Israel, until we have brought them to their place, while our little ones live in the fortified cities because of the inhabitants of the land. 18 We will not return to our homes until every one of the sons of Israel has possessed his inheritance.’” (Nu. 32:16-18). Moses later agreed to their requests. God cannot force people into His Promised Land. Yet, they still had to help the rest of the Jews succeed: “Then I commanded you at that time, saying, ‘The LORD your God has given you this land to possess it; all you valiant men shall cross over armed before your brothers, the sons of Israel.”’ (Dt. 3:18). These tribes showed that they were true in keeping their oaths to Him. Jesus is also looking for people to serve in His army (2 Tim. 2:3). Every member of the body is important (1 Cor. 12:21). He also wants you to keep your oaths to serve Him. He also wants you to help others.
Jesus’ warning not to make careless vows. Jesus warns that your oaths to Him are so important that you should never make them carelessly: “you have heard that the ancients were told, ‘You shall not make false vows, but shall fulfill your vows to the Lord.”’ (Matt. 5:33). He also warns that it is better not to make a vow than to make one and break it: “But I say to you, make no oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is the footstool of His feet . . . But let your statements be, ‘yes, yes’ or ‘no, no’; anything else beyond these is of evil.” (Matt. 5:34-37; Jam. 5:12). Later, He condemned the people of His day who claimed that a temple vow had no meaning unless it was a vow made based upon the temple’s gold (Matt. 23:16-22). He also asked that you count the cost before making a vow to Him (Lk. 14:28-33). This is why He spelled out the cost of discipleship before someone could be called a disciple (Lk. 9:57-62). You likely have made many vows to God. These may include vows to turn away from your old life, from an addiction, to keep your wedding vows, and vows to help others. Part of remembering His power includes having fear in Him to honor your vows. Are you staying faithful to your vows to Him the same way He stays faithful you?
God’s faithfulness in promoting Joshua. After He blocked the flow of the Jordan River, He exalted Joshua as He had done with Moses so that the people would trust Him as he led them into battle: “14 On that day the Lord exalted Joshua in the sight of all Israel; so that they revered him, just as they had revered Moses all the days of his life.” (Josh. 4:14). This was the fulfillment of God’s prior promise to exalt Joshua amongst the people: “Now the Lord said to Joshua, ‘This day I will begin to exalt you in the sight of all Israel, that they may know that just as I have been with Moses, I will be with you.’” (Josh. 3:7). Joshua, however, never used his exalted status for his own glory. He used it to advance God’s kingdom. Are you taking credit for God’s good work in your life?
Honor God for your promotions as well. God is also faithful to exalt you when you are humble, obedient, and faithful: “Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you.” (Jam. 4:10). “He has brought down rulers from their thrones, and has exalted those who were humble.” (Lk. 1:52). “Blessed shall you be in the city, and blessed shall you be in the country.” (Dt. 28:3). Every good and perfect thing comes from Him: “Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.” (Jam. 1:17). Are you giving thanks every time to God when you are praised before others? Or, are you taking credit for your promotions, your wealth, and your success?
God’s supernatural door to the Promised Land will eventually close. After the priests moved the ark, the water rush back and closed the path way to the Promised Land: “15 Now the Lord said to Joshua, 16 ‘Command the priests who carry the ark of the testimony that they come up from the Jordan.’ 17 So Joshua commanded the priests, saying, ‘Come up from the Jordan.’ 18 It came about when the priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord had come up from the middle of the Jordan, and the soles of the priests’ feet were lifted up to the dry ground, that the waters of the Jordan returned to their place, and went over all its banks as before.” (Josh. 4:15-18). Jesus has also opened the door to the eternal Promised Land. Yet, the door closes either upon a person’s death or at the time of His second coming. Just as the people had to follow the ark to enter the Promised Land, a person must also follow Jesus to enter (Jo. 3:16). He is the “door” leading to salvation (Jo. 10:7). He is the only the “way.” (Jo. 14:6).
Share the Gospel with others before their door to the Promised Land closes. Just as Jesus did not know the exact hour of His return (Matt. 24:36; Mk. 13:32), no person knows the date or the hour when his or her door will close. You are a priest for God (1 Pet. 2:5, 9). Like the priests who accompanied Joshua, Jesus wants you to lead others to the Promised Land before their time runs out. This is His Great Commission for you (Matt. 28:16-20). Are you warning people what awaits if they fail to act before the door closes?
The Jews’ twin crossings are a testament to God’s power and His faithfulness. The Jews brought their stones to Gilgal, the first place where they camped. This was also the place where they staged their conquest of the Promised Land. The stone memorial served as a memorial for the Jews to remember His deliverance: “19 Now the people came up from the Jordan on the tenth of the first month and camped at Gilgal on the eastern edge of Jericho. 20 Those twelve stones which they had taken from the Jordan, Joshua set up at Gilgal. 21 He said to the sons of Israel, “When your children ask their fathers in time to come, saying, ‘What are these stones?’ 22 then you shall inform your children, saying, ‘Israel crossed this Jordan on dry ground.’ 23 For the Lord your God dried up the waters of the Jordan before you until you had crossed, just as the Lord your God had done to the Red Sea, which He dried up before us until we had crossed; 24 that all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the Lord is mighty, so that you may fear the Lord your God forever.” (Josh. 4:19-24). God was faithful to twice deliver the Jews. The first crossing at the Red Sea brought their freedom. The second crossing of redemption delivered the Promised Land to them. When they feared Him and trusted Him, He would also deliver them from the enemies that awaited them in Israel.
Jesus both delivered the Jews and was the stone memorial. The Jews erected the memorial on the 10th day of the first month Nisan / Abib (Josh. 4:19). On the 10th day of this same month, the Jews also selected the Passover lamb (Ex. 12:3. . On the 10th day of this same month, Jesus also entered Jerusalem on a donkey with people shouting “Hosanna in the highest.” (Matt. 21:5-9; Mk. 11:8-10). This fulfilled a prophesy identifying Him as the Messiah (Zech. 9:9). He was the “Stone of Israel.” (Gen. 49:24). He was also the chief cornerstone to the memorial (Eph. 2:20; 1 Pet. 2:6). Like stone, His Word never changes: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” (Heb. 13:8). He is the Alpha and the Omega (Rev. 22:13). He is also the “beginning” and the “end.” (Rev. 21:6). He is the one you should celebrate with your own memorial.
Your living stone is attached to Jesus’ cornerstone. Each believer in Christ is a living stone attached to His cornerstone with your testimony written forever on it: “you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” (1 Pet. 2:5). Have there been many acts of faith to be recorded on your stone memorial in heaven?
Worship God with reverent fear. The memorial was also for the Jews to fear God (Josh. 4:24). Like the Jews, God also wants you to have a reverent fear and respect for His power. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of all knowledge (Prov. 1:7; 2:5; Ps. 111:10). And the fear of the Lord is defined as hating evil: “The fear of the LORD is to hate evil; . . .” (Prov. 8:13(a)). God wants you to remember the many times He has delivered you so that you fear Him by avoiding that which is evil in the world.