Surely every man in Israel had his head full of things to pay attention to as they were crossing the Jordan River to enter into the Promised Land. Not only were they treading a path that they had never walked before, but they also would have been watchful for the safety and care of their wives, children, livestock, and belongings. However, time and attention was to be given to the preservation of the memory of this wondrous work of God! No matter what other things we must do, we must never neglect our service for God’s glory and honor. And His unusual works of wonder, in particular, ought to be everlastingly remembered!
The directions for the preparation of this memorial were given by God Himself, and Joshua conveyed them to the people. After all the people of Israel had safely crossed the river, the 12 representatives of the tribes (who had previously been designated in chapter 3:12) were now ordered to the front. They were directed to cross the channel, to the place where the priests were still standing; and they were to pick up 12 large stones from that spot, and carry them back again so that they could be set up as a memorial for succeeding generations. The works of the Lord are so worthy of remembrance, but our hearts are so liable to forget them; so various methods are necessary to refresh our memories – for the glory of God, for our own advantage, and for that of our children.
According to the Lord’s orders, this thing was done. The 12 stones were taken up from the riverbed of Jordan; and in the sight of all the people, they were carried to the place where the people made their camp and headquarters that night. Another set of 12 stones (probably much larger than the others) was also set up “in the midst of Jordan” (verse 9). They were piled up high as a heap or a pillar, so that the top of them would be seen above the water of the river when it returned to its normal place; and they were still visible at the time when this history was written down. These stones marked the very place where the feet of the priests bearing the Ark of the Covenant had stood, and they were like a counterpart of the other memorial which was set up on the land. Thus these two monuments confirmed the testimony of one another.
In allusion to this whole procedure, we may observe that when Jesus (our heavenly Joshua) had overcome the sharpness of the river of death, and dried it up; He then appointed His twelve Apostles to transmit the knowledge of the Gospel to all places, in all ages – and thus to memorialize it forever and ever!
The priests who were carrying the Ark of the Covenant did not move from their post until they were ordered to do so. Even though they would have obviously seen that all the people had passed over, yet they still waited for Joshua’s command; and he did not give that command until God had directed him to do so. But as soon as they had come up out of the riverbed, the waters that had been heaped up began to flow through their normal channel once more. This makes it even more evident that the heaping up of these waters was not from any secret natural cause; rather, it was purely from the power of God’s presence, for the sake of His people Israel – for as soon as His purpose was accomplished, the waters returned to their usual place again.
This great event took place on the tenth day of the first month of the Hebrew calendar – just five days short of 40 years since Israel had come out of Egypt. The Lord’s Providence ordered events so that they would enter Canaan four days before the annual observance of the Passover. Thus their entrance into the Promised Land would be graced with that religious feast, reminding them of their deliverance out of Egypt – which is a picture of our redemption from sin.
It was understood that the younger generation of Israelites would one day ask their parents what was represented by these stone memorials that had just been set up. And in the closing verses of this chapter, the parents were directed how to answer these inquiries. First, they were to let their children know that this was the spot where the Jordan River had been driven back before God’s people, so that they could go through it on dry ground. God’s mercies to our ancestors were mercies to us; and we should all take every possible opportunity to revive the remembrance of the great things that God did for our forefathers, “in the days of old.” Second, the parents were also to use this occasion to tell their children of the drying up of the Red Sea, 40 years before this event. It greatly magnifies today’s mercies to be compared with yesterday’s; for it shows that God is indeed the same yesterday, today, and forever! After telling their children of these two wonderful works of God, the Israelite parents were directed to thereby encourage them to make good use of this knowledge that was thus carefully transmitted to them, in order that they might magnify and worship the Lord alone, and have confidence that nothing is too hard for His mighty hand.
It is the duty of parents to tell their children often of the words and works of God – especially when they are young – so that they may be trained up in the way they should go, which is the fear and love of the Lord (Prov. 22:6). When they ask us, “What mean these things?” – then it is our blessed responsibility to point them to Jesus, and direct their eyes to the Red Sea of His redeeming blood!
Lord, we praise Your mercy and lovingkindness, for You have wonderfully brought us through so many dangers and distresses in our lives! We thank You for the assurance that all Your people are more than conquerors through Your grace helping them; and that neither death nor life, nor all the Jordans of sin and the grave, shall be able to separate us from our Savior! Amen.
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