We Must Never Forget;
Remembering What God Has Done For His People
Picture of Jewish holocaust tattoo survivors.
Memorial Stones (vv. 1-14)
When all the nation had finished passing over the Jordan, the LORD said to Joshua, 2 “Take twelve men from the people, from each tribe a man, 3 and command them, saying, ‘Take twelve stones from here out of the midst of the Jordan, from the very place where the priests’ feet stood firmly, and bring them over with you and lay them down in the place where you lodge tonight.’” 4 Then Joshua called the twelve men from the people of Israel, whom he had appointed, a man from each tribe. 5 And Joshua said to them, “Pass on before the ark of the LORD your God into the midst of the Jordan, and take up each of you a stone upon his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the people of Israel, 6 that this may be a sign among you. When your children ask in time to come, ‘What do those stones mean to you?’ 7 then you shall tell them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the LORD. When it passed over the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. So these stones shall be to the people of Israel a memorial forever. 8 And the people of Israel did just as Joshua commanded and took up twelve stones out of the midst of the Jordan, according to the number of the tribes of the people of Israel, just as the LORD told Joshua. And they carried them over with them to the place where they lodged and laid them down there. 9 And Joshua set up twelve stones in the midst of the Jordan, in the place where the feet of the priests bearing the ark of the covenant had stood; and they are there to this day. 10 For the priests bearing the ark stood in the midst of the Jordan until everything was finished that the LORD commanded Joshua to tell the people, according to all that Moses had commanded Joshua. The people passed over in haste. 11 And when all the people had finished passing over, the ark of the LORD and the priests passed over before the people. 12 The sons of Reuben and the sons of Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh passed over armed before the people of Israel, as Moses had told them. 13 About 40,000 ready for war passed over before the LORD for battle, to the plains of Jericho. 14 On that day the LORD exalted Joshua in the sight of all Israel, and they stood in awe of him just as they had stood in awe of Moses, all the days of his life.”
The whole nation was represented, as a man was selected from each tribe, “Every part of the nation must play its part.” Every part of the nation would leave a memorial for the generations to come – each tribe would speak of what the Lord had done. All of the nation had crossed over the Jordan, therefore all of the nation should proclaim what He had done for them (not just the priests, or the leadership, everyone).
God does not want the past to be forgotten – On 12 different occasions in the OT we see the phrase, “I am the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob.” These are covenants that God made with His people, special events, special words exchanged, that do not need to be forgotten.
These covenants, people, and events should not be forgotten because they serve as a memorial of God’s power expressed in the past, but it is also a promise to future generations that this same God is for them, and not against them, “Thus this promise was still a present reality for the exiles,”
(v. 6) “When your children ask in time to come, ‘What do those stones mean to you?’ 7 then you shall tell them. . .” – “God’s acts of salvation on his people’s behalf must be perpetuated in the memory of the coming generations.” There is a redemptive significance to the events (Crossing the Jordan, the Red Sea Crossing, The Plagues of Egypt and eventual Passover). God is keeping His covenant With His people.
Deuteronomy 6:20 says, “When your son asks you in time to come, ‘What is the meaning of the testimonies and the statutes and the rules that the LORD our God has commanded you?’ 21 then you shall say to your son, ‘We were Pharaoh’s slaves in Egypt. And the LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand.”
Exodus 12:26 is in reference to the Passover, “And when your children say to you, ‘What do you mean by this service?’ 27 you shall say, ‘It is the sacrifice of the LORD’s Passover, for he passed over the houses of the people of Israel in Egypt. . .”
(v. 7) “So these stones shall be to the people of Israel a memorial forever.” For the Hebrew people, to be a memorial means more than simply remember, “It involves remembering with concern; it also implies loving reflection, and where called for, a corresponding degree of action.”
Also, there would only be one time when God’s people crossed the Jordan – God would do this miracle and it would not be repeated, “there is an economy of miracles in Scripture. Remembering was a way for future generations to participate in the great acts God had done for Israel.”
(v. 10) “10 For the priests bearing the ark stood in the midst of the Jordan until everything was finished that the LORD commanded Joshua . . The people passed over in haste.” “As the priests stood in one spot whilst all the people were passing over, it was necessary that the people should hasten over, lest the strength of the priests should be exhausted.”
God is doing His part, the priests are doing their part,
and the people are doing their part – all working together.
(v. 14) “On that day the LORD exalted Joshua in the sight of all Israel, and they stood in awe of him just as they had stood in awe of Moses, all the days of his life” – There were two results that resulted from the wonder of crossing the Jordan. “That the Lord exalted (lit. made great) Joshua in the sight of all Israel and they revered him all the days of his life, just as they had revered Moses (4:14).”
The Jordan Returns to Normal (vv. 15-18)
15 And the LORD said to Joshua, 16 “Command the priests bearing the ark of the testimony to come up out of the Jordan.” 17 So Joshua commanded the priests, “Come up out of the Jordan.” 18 And when the priests bearing the ark of the covenant of the LORD came up from the midst of the Jordan, and the soles of the priests’ feet were lifted up on dry ground, the waters of the Jordan returned to their place and overflowed all its banks, as before.
In this chapter the ark is referred to by several titles, In vv. 5, 11 the ark of the LORD, v. 7, 17 the ark of the covenant of the LORD, v. 9 the ark of the covenant, v. 10 the ark, and here in v. 16 it is, “the ark of the testimony.” – “The ark contained the testimony, the tablets of the covenant” The ark was a symbolic reminder of the promises of God that He had given to His people.
The Hebrew says of v. 18, “and the soles of their feet tore themselves loose upon the dry ground” emphasizing that it was the ark of the covenant that was holding back the water of the Jordan and the water returned to their place “as before.”
God doesn’t work miracles in the Israelite camp every day – eventually the Red Sea will return to normal, and the Jordan will return to normal, the pillar of smoke and fire will disappear, and even in our lives God may do something spectacular, but life will return to normal.
(v. 15) “And the LORD said to Joshua,” . . . (v.17) “So Joshua commanded the priests,” . . . . (v. 19) “The people came up out of the Jordan.” the writer emphasizes that obedience is the prerequisite for God’s blessing.
Gilgal Encampment (vv. 19-24)
19 The people came up out of the Jordan on the tenth day of the first month, and they encamped at Gilgal on the east border of Jericho. 20 And those twelve stones, which they took out of the Jordan, Joshua set up at Gilgal. 21 And he said to the people of Israel, “When your children ask their fathers in times to come, ‘What do these stones mean?’ 22 then you shall let your children know, ‘Israel passed over this Jordan on dry ground.’ 23 For the LORD your God dried up the waters of the Jordan for you until you passed over, as the LORD your God did to the Red Sea, which he dried up for us until we passed over, 24 so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the LORD is mighty, that you may fear the LORD your God forever.”
(v. 19) “on the tenth day of the first month, and they encamped at Gilgal on the east border of Jericho” – on the same day, forty years before, Israel had begun to prepare for going out of Egypt by setting aside the paschal lamb. In Ex. 12 we see God’s instructions for the people to prepare to leave Egypt (preparing a lamb, blood on the doorposts, how they should eat dressed in a certain way, etc. Ex. 12:14 “This day shall be for you a memorial day, and you shall keep it as a feast to the LORD; throughout your generations.”
“Subsequent generations are to be told the story as if the event had happened to them personally so that they could participate in all that God had done for Israel.” This is what God did for His people, those that place their faith in Him are His people.
While they would still memorialize the Passover (meal) in the years to come – the crossing of the Jordan ended 40 years of wandering. There is a God who was the God of a group of freed slaves – their power was not in their might, but in the God who goes before them.
God does not want them to forget – God brought them out of slavery, God split open the Jordan and held back it’s waters. It was the mighty hand of God that was with them. But there will come a day, when they will forget and think that all their success was because of their own strength, wisdom, and ability.
We must never forget that we were once slaves.
The Passover meal where a lamb was slain and it’s blood shed over the doorposts of their homes, was forever linked to their entrance into the promised land. They were slaves, but now they are free. They had no home, but now they dwell in the presence of God. They had no power, but now the power of God goes before them, and he is their God.
“When the crossing has been completed and the people had established their camp, their first act was to erect the alter of the twelve stones which had been carried by the representatives of the twelve tribes.” They must recognize the God who did this, and worship Him. He is worthy to be praised.
(v. 21) “And he said to the people of Israel” – The memorial has to be explained. There was a design and plan to the miracle that the people experienced. God instructs Joshua to teach the people – when people ask, “what do these stones mean” there should be an explanation. God has done a powerful work in their midst – so He explains to them, when you tell the world what happened, tell them this. God expects His people to respond to the questions of the world.
God does His part, the leadership does their part, and the people do their part.
(v. 24) “so that all the peoples of the earth may know” – God’s blessing for this nation, was intended to be shared with all the nations. God’s mighty hand, His works, were to be shared with the nations. God’s memorial stones point the world to Him, they tell what He has done. “. . . the account is written not only for the benefit of Joshua’s contemporaries, but also, has in mind those who at a much later time, and often under much different circumstances, would need this reminder of God’s might acts.”
The ultimate reason for the memorial stones was so, “that you may fear the LORD your God forever.” You here is indicating God’s people, but the context also means the entire world. God did a work among one group of people, but it was for all the people of the earth. Also, the peoples of the earth are to fear the Lord forever. The fear of the Lord was to shared, explained, and transferred from one generation to the next, to the next, forever.
Later at the beginning of chapter five, the enemies of Israel just gave up before they even struck a single blow, “their hearts melted.” “It was useless to try to stop the onward march of a nation who is led by God.”
When Jesus was crucified and laid in the tomb, you can put a massive stone over the entrance, you can double the guard, and you can seal it with the emperor’s signature, but you are not going to stop what God is doing. Matthew 27:65-66 “Pilate said to them, “You have a guard of soldiers. Go, make it as secure as you can.” 66 So they went and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone and setting a guard.” Jesus rose from the dead anyway.
In the upcoming chapters in Joshua the reader is introduced to Rahab when spies are sent in. She explains to the spies that “as soon as we heard it, hour hearts melted, and there was no spirit left in any man because of you, for the LORD your God, he is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath” (Joshua 2:11). It was her fear of the Lord and hear the mighty deeds that the Lord had done, that caused her to place her faith in that God.
Everyone who the Lord has saved is a memorial stone, and we are commanded to tell of His mighty works that He has done in our lives. When we do, the people’s hearts of the world will melt before us. God does His part, leadership does their part, and the people do their part – tell of the wonders of God.
 George Arthur Buttrick, The Interpreter’s Bible, Volume 2 (Nashville, Tennessee; Abingdon Press, 1982) 568.
 J. Alberto Soggin, The Old Testament Library, Joshua A Commentary (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Westminster Press, 1972) 65.
 Martin H. Woudstra, The Book of Joshua (Grand Rapids, Michigan; William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1981) 91.
 Woudstra, 92.
 Frank E. Gaebelein, General Editor, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Volume 3 (Grand Rapids, Michigan; Zondervan Publishing, 1992) 269.
 C. F. Keil and F. Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament in Ten Volumes, Volume 2 (Grand Rapids, Michigan; William b. Eerdsmans Publishing Co., reprinted 1984) 50.
 J. Gordan Harris, New International Biblical Commentary, Joshua, Judges, Ruth (Peabody, Massachusetts; Hendrickson Publishers, 2003) 37.
 Martin H. Woudstra, 94.
 C. F. Keil and F. Delitzsch, 51.
 Frank E. Gaebelein, 272.
 Buttrick, 571.
 C. F. Keil and F. Delitzsch, 52.
 Martin H. Woudstra, 95.