“Now when all the nation had finished crossing the Jordan, the LORD spoke to Joshua, saying, “Take for yourselves twelve men from the people, one man from each tribe, 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.’” So Joshua called the twelve men whom he had appointed from the sons of Israel, one man from each tribe; 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. “Let this be a sign among you, so that when your children ask later, saying, ‘What do these stones mean to you?’ 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.”—Joshua 4:1-7
This is not just the story of Israel crossing over into the Promised Land, it is our story, too. Consider…
The record begins with the priests carrying the Ark of the Covenant out into the middle of the Jordan River at flood stage. There they stood until all of Israel, a group of millions, crossed through the river to the other side. A miracle of Biblical proportion! The the Lord tells Joshua to select a man from each tribe, twelve men, to go back into the Jordan and select stones, large stones that they would carry back to dry land on their shoulders.
Just as Israel crossing the Jordan into the Promised Land is a prophetic picture of a Believer’s journey into God’s promises through the Messiah, so are the twelve men and the twelve stones a prophetic picture. Nothing in the Kingdom is random or without purpose.
Joshua chose twelve men. Jesus, whose name is Joshua in Hebrew, chose twelve men.
The men Joshua chose where probably not “book worms”. He knew the purpose for which they were called and no doubt selected the biggest, strongest man in each tribe to pick up the largest stone he could carry on his shoulder. Knowing how men operate, one can only imagine that once they got out into the middle of the river bed there had to be a bit of “one-upmanship” going on. They no doubt picked up the largest rock they could carry. In addition, the Hebrew word used here for “stone” carries with it the notion of using it to build, as in a “cornerstone”. These were twelve large stones, rocks, boulders which must have built a substantial memorial. It was built to last, the Lord said it was to be a reminder to Israel “forever”.
The men Jesus chose, likewise, were not of the elite, dainty set either. They were mostly fishermen. Men who plied the waters of the Sea of Galilee since they were kids. In season and out of season. Hard work in blazing sun. Hand-numbing work in the winter frost. Rain or sun they had to fish, it was their livelihood and most likely the largest part of their diet. These were tough people. In addition, they had been living under Roman tyranny and a Pharisaic religious spirit their entire lives. Jesus knew that whoever He chose would have to be tough to endure what was to come; persecution, trials(literal and figurative), and even martyrdom. How easy it is for we pampered Americans to look down our spiritual noses at this crew, in particular Peter, and describe them in almost mocking tones. Let me suggest that the average American Christian couldn’t “hold Peter’s jock”, to employ an old athletic metaphor. Upon this rock, these twelve stones, Jesus would build the edifice that in the end would be the foundation for His covenant to be realized on Earth. Jesus said, “Upon this rock I will build My ecclesia.” Joshua might have said, “Upon these rocks we will build the foundation, the recollection of the promises and miracle provision of God, for our future journey into, and conquest of, the Promised Land.”
Why a “memorial”? The twelve stones were placed one upon another to create a “memorial”, a sign of God’s faithfulness to His covenant with Israel. The word “memorial” is found 14 times in the Pentateuch. It is an important word. The feasts, or convocations, were commanded as a “memorial”. These stones, this “memorial”, actually two; one in the river and one where they “lodged”, provided the foundation for Israel going forward, or at least not going backward. (Apparently Joshua was so taken with the idea that it appears that he ordered up the second “memorial”, in the middle of the Jordan, on his own.) So long as they remembered God’s miraculous provision there would never be a doubt that it was God’s will for them to have crossed the Jordan, no matter what hardships they may endure, because it took a miracle to make it happen.
In a sense the crossing of the Jordan may have been a big “do-over”. The crossing of the Red Sea was the first such miracle, but those people were gone, having died off in the desert because they had forgotten God’s miracles in Egypt and at the Red Sea. And God was very specific in His instruction to Joshua. Part of His purpose in ordering Joshua to build this memorial was so that when their children asked them what this huge pile of rocks was about they were to tell, and retell, them of God’s miraculous provision. How important it must be for God to so instruct. We must never forget what God has done for us, both individually and collectively? If we do so, we do so at our own peril. I submit that each time we find ourselves in emotional turmoil, swimming in doubt and confusion it is because we have forgotten, we have lost sight of and, consequently, lost hold of God and His promises kept.
How quickly Adam and Eve seem to forget, or perhaps take for granted, the Lord’s provision. How quickly the children of Israel forgot the miracles God performed in Egypt and their deliverance via the Red Sea. The balance of the Old Testament is filled with the record of God’s provision and Israel’s forgetful nature. Are we any different?
Might I suggest that each of us who are Christ-followers might want to build a memorial of our own that we can look back on and remind ourselves of how God has provided for us, individually. Select twelve solid memories, twelve stones, of experiences wherein God broke-in on your behalf. Write them down. Place them somewhere where you can revisit them from time to time, frequently, like every new moon. Be creative. I love rocks. I intend to build my own stone memorial and place it in my back yard where I will see it every time I walk out there. Each with a name, a date, a word to remind me of God’s power manifest on my behalf. If you don’t have twelve such memories just start building with what you do have and ask the Lord to provide the rest. Those stones may well represent the very foundation of our faith, a foundation that will be a necessity in the coming flood. The house built upon the rock withstood the wind and the rain and the deluge. Just sayin’…