Thus far in our study of Joshua, we have seen God command Joshua to “cross the Jordan,” which meant, it was time to conquer the land of Canaan (1:2). We also saw the Lord encourage Joshua by promising to be with him every step of the way (1:5). Then Joshua had to do his part as the chosen leader of the people. He had to mobilize them for the war of conquest.
Joshua accomplished that in three ways. First, he instructed the people to make ready provisions for the invasion (1:10-11). Second, Joshua made final preparation of the troops (1:12-18). And then, third, Joshua sent spies to explore the land and to get a handle on the attitude of the people of the land, especially in Jericho, which was his primary target. When the spies returned and gave their encouraging report to Joshua, Joshua’s preparations for the invasion were complete.
In chapter three, we saw the actual crossing of the river. God miraculously stopped the flooding River Jordan from flowing, just as Joshua had said he would. God exalted Joshua as he earlier had exalted Moses. And as the priests who were carrying the ark stood in the middle of the river, the entire nation of Israel passed through the riverbed on dry ground (v. 17). Likewise we must step into the river by faith in Jesus, and let him open the waters to victory. Are there any comments or questions on the review?
All right, we are ready for chapter four, in which Israel memorialized the crossing of the Jordan. Joshua summoned twelve pre-selected men (3:12) and gave them their instructions; namely, for each to take a large stone from the middle of the Jordan and carry it to the place of encampment (vv. 4-5). This they did (v. 8). However, at this point that’s all they did. They just carried them to the pace of encampment. The stones were not set up as a memorial until a little later, as recorded in verse 20.
Verses 6-7 give the purpose of the stones. The stones were to be a sign (v. 6) in the sense of a memorial (v. 7). They were to be a constant reminder of the day when God miraculously cut off the waters of the Jordan and enabled the people to cross on dry ground. Indeed the stones would prompt questions from the children, which would provide opportunities to tell the story to new generations.
Verses 9-14 offer more details on the crossing. Verse nine presents a couple of minor problems. First, the author inserts verse nine as a sort of parenthesis; and he informs us of a second pillar of stones that we had not heard about before. He tells us that Joshua himself set up twelve stones in the middle of the Jordan, where the priests had stood. However we aren’t told whether God ordered the setting up of this pillar, or Joshua made that decision on his own.
A second problem appears at the end of the verse, where it says that the pillar remained there to the day that the book was written. Some interpreters have seized on that and have suggested that the pillar would not have been visible once the river covered it; and some also have suggested that the pillar would have washed away when the floodwaters were loosed again.
All one can do with this is speculate, because there are a lot of unknowns. For instance we do not know exactly what it meant to place the pillar “in the middle of the Jordan.” Perhaps it was in a relatively shallow spot. We also don’t know how large the stones were, though if the narrative is implying that Joshua lifted them himself, they could not have been huge. And we have no idea how firmly the stones were placed. The author may have been saying that the pillar was visible and standing in his day. On the other hand, it may be that he simply meant that the stones were there in the river, whether or not they could be seen in his day. We cannot know. At any rate, the work with the stones was done while the people were crossing the riverbed. It would have taken quite some time for them to cross.
Still another problem arises at verses 12-13. These verses seem to be out of place, because as the verses say, those armed men crossed the river before (v. 12; cf. 1:14), not after the main body of the people. But in any case the author chose to remind his readers here of what they had done, rather than earlier in the story. Then in verse 14 the author reminded his readers that the Lord had exalted Joshua before the people as he previously had done for Moses (3:7).
Moving to verses 15-24, verses 15-18 conclude the account of the crossing. And then verse 19 gives a very important theological note; namely, that they came out of the river “on the tenth day of the first month.” It was the anniversary of the day forty years earlier when Israel began to prepare for the Exodus by setting apart the first Passover lambs (Ex. 12:2-3).
And finally, in verse 24, we see two additional reasons for the memorial pillar at Gilgal. They were, first, “that all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the Lord is mighty;” and second, that Israel would fear the Lord their God always.
Now then, turning to application, I see at least four applications, here that we can put into homiletical form. First, mark your memory. When the Lord ordered Joshua to place the pillar in Gilgal, the main purpose was to mark the memory of the nation in respect to what God had done for them. And that is a good lesson for us. When we cross our Jordan into the “promised land” of full sanctification, we should somehow mark our memory so that we won’t forget what God has done for us. Some mark it by making the place a special point of remembrance. Hughes Auditorium on the campus of Asbury College is a sacred place for many for that reason. Others form a special bond with a person, perhaps the person who led them into the experience, as a means of marking the memory.
Second, challenge your children. As we saw earlier, the pillar was to prompt questions from the children, so that the story could be told again and again. And we need to find a way to do the same thing. We need to remember to tell our stories to the children. And if that takes some kind of visual reminder placed in the home, so be it.
Third, witness to your world. That is how I would understand the clause, “that all the peoples of the world may know that the hand of the Lord is mighty,” in verse 24. Joshua was to raise the pillar as a witness to the nations of the world “that the hand of the Lord is mighty.” And we have that same kind of mission. The Lord is mighty to save and sanctify the ungodly. He is mighty to bring multitudes out of their Egypt’s of sin and shame, and into their Promised Land of full salvation.
Finally, fourth, fear your Friend, capital “F.” We must never forget to hold the Lord of all in reverence. We must give him utmost respect; we must be in awe of his holiness and power. That is the message of the last clause of verse 24. The Lord is our Friend. He is merciful and loving. And he has chosen to allow us to be part of his family. But that does not mean that we can be flippant or unduly familiar with him.
In summary, as you enter into the experience of full salvation, mark your memory, challenge your children, witness to your world, and fear your Friend.