Joshua 4: Stoned In To Your Mind



  • What is worth celebrating?
  • How does Joshua anticipate God’s commands?
  • Why must we remember God’s wondrous works?
  • When do we teach our children?

Read more to pursue answers in [Joshua 4]

[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.'”

I am surprised that the Bible spends more verses (24) discussing how to remember crossing than it does on the crossing itself (17). I would have thought God’s miracle deserves more description than man’s memorializing of it. Apparently God thought otherwise!

My church is a Celebration-Driven Church, in that we build our schedule, vision, and even our structure around seasons of celebrating God’s goodness. As such, I am keen to learn more about how and what God likes us to celebrate.

[4] So Joshua called the twelve men whom he had appointed from the sons of Israel, one man from each tribe;

This intrigues me. God doesn’t give this command until after they finish crossing the Jordan, but Joshua seems to have anticipated it beforehand.

How? Did Joshua suspect God would ask something like that? Or were those twelve men chosen just to lead their tribes across the Jordan, and having them available for this was a by-product?

I have become convinced that the main way we grow is by imitating someone we identify with, i.e. a role model. Perhaps Joshua saw crossing the Jordan as a way to raise up new leaders who were willing to take risks, and act as role models for their tribes. It also served as poetic redemption for his previous cohort!

[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.

I love this part. As Andy Stanley might say, “Leaders hate to go backwards.” We always want to charge forward to the next big thing. We usually only look back — reluctantly — when something has gone wrong.

But the reason to go back is to make sure we bring forward the right things — and the right memories:

[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.”

The easiest time to teach kids (or anyone) is when they ask questions. This seems obvious. But then why do I spend so much time preparing answers yet so little time cultivating questions?

If I want my kids to learn something important about God, this passage suggests:

  1. Following God in doing something awesome
  2. Keeping concrete evidence of what He did
  3. Displaying that evidence in a way that prompts questions
  4. Having an answer ready that reinforces the main point

The hardest part is of course #1. And yet, I’ve seen God do amazing things all my life — but I’ve kept few memorial stones. I think I need to be more intentional about celebrating God in a way my children will question and remember.

[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.

Note how the altar is built at a “lodging place” where it is easily seen, rather than at the site of the miracle. Though Joshua builds one there too:

[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. [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.

They made it across! And in the process, God “made” Joshua:

[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.

Wow. Meditate on that. Selah. Moses took a long time and many miracles to build that level of reverence. But in the process he taught the people who God was. Now, all they needed was to know that the same God was with Joshua, and suddenly he inherits that entire mantle of respect!

And somehow it all starts and ends with Joshua commanding the priests:

[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.

I feel like there’s a message for me in there somewhere. If I want to help my generation go somewhere our father’s never tried, it is necessary but not sufficient to hear from God. Once I know the miracle God wants to do, I (or whomever God appoints) needs to command the “priests” to step into it first.

But who are our priests? And where must they step?

I don’t know. But maybe I should start by a) rehearsing the miracles God already did:

[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.’

b) placing them in the context of God’s previous miracles:

[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;

and c) being clear about God’s ultimate goals, as well as what He wants from us:

[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.”

Father God,
I thank you for the many miracles You have done in my life, and the forbidding rivers you’ve already brought me across. Teach me how to make them remembrances for our children. Show me who the priests are that I need to instruct and command. Help me do my part in revealing Your mighty hand to all the peoples of earth. May I fear the Lord my God always.
I ask this in Jesus name, Amen.

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