Joshua Chapter 4


Stones taken out of Jordan. (Verse 1-9.)
The people pass through Jordan. (Verse 10-19.)
The twelve stones placed in Gilgal. (Verse 20-24.)

1And it came to pass, when all the people were clean passed over Jordan, that the Lord spake unto Joshua, saying,

2 Take you twelve men out of the people, out of every tribe a man,

3 And command ye them, saying, Take you hence out of the midst of Jordan, out of the place where the priests’ feet stood firm, twelve stones, and ye shall carry them over with you, and leave them in the lodging place, where ye shall lodge this night.

4 Then Joshua called the twelve men, whom he had prepared of the children of Israel, out of every tribe a man:

Joshua the Chief of Israel calls twelve Jews to take up twelve stones from the midst of the river symbolizing each tribe and their deliverance from the sure death of the Jordan.    Jesus later would call twelve Jews that will one day be the Judges of the twelve tribes of Israel.

5 And Joshua said unto them, Pass over before the ark of the Lord your God into the midst of Jordan, and take you up every man of you a stone upon his shoulder, according unto the number of the tribes of the children of Israel:

6 That this may be a sign among you, that when your children ask their fathers in time to come, saying, What mean ye by these stones?

sign” – again the connection between “signs” and the children of Israel can be seen, despite all of those who today conveniently overlook I Cor. 1:22 and claim that signs are for everyone.

7 Then ye shall answer them, That the waters of Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord; when it passed over Jordan, the waters of Jordan were cut off: and these stones shall be for a memorial unto the children of Israel for ever.

The spot where the children of Israel crossed over is called Bethabra (the house of passage). It is the very spot that John the Baptist was baptizing the day when Jesus came to be baptized:

Luke 3:7 Then said he to the multitude that came forth to be baptized of him, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Bring forth therefore fruits worthy of repentance, and begin not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, That God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham.

John 1:28 These things were done in Bethabara beyond Jordan, where John was baptizing. 29 The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.

8 And the children of Israel did so as Joshua commanded, and took up twelve stones out of the midst of Jordan, as the Lord spake unto Joshua, according to the number of the tribes of the children of Israel, and carried them over with them unto the place where they lodged, and laid them down there.

9 And Joshua set up twelve stones in the midst of Jordan, in the place where the feet of the priests which bare the ark of the covenant stood: and they are there unto this day.

The placing of twelve stones in the river symbolized their oneness with the land and it was meant as a pledge to God that they would never go back because they were now dead to the past.

10 For the priests which bare the ark stood in the midst of Jordan, until everything was finished that the Lord commanded Joshua to speak unto the people, according to all that Moses commanded Joshua: and the people hasted and passed over.

11 And it came to pass, when all the people were clean passed over, that the ark of the Lord passed over, and the priests, in the presence of the people.

12 And the children of Reuben, and the children of Gad, and half the tribe of Manasseh, passed over armed before the children of Israel, as Moses spake unto them:

13 About forty thousand prepared for war passed over before the Lord unto battle, to the plains of Jericho.

14 On that day the Lord magnified Joshua in the sight of all Israel; and they feared him, as they feared Moses, all the days of his life.

Forty thousand men was a lot more than was necessary since it was God who was going to win the battle for them anyway. The mere sight of Israel’s army would strike fear into the hearts of the inhabitants of the land.

15 And the Lord spake unto Joshua, saying,

16 Command the priests that bear the ark of the testimony, that they come up out of Jordan.

17 Joshua therefore commanded the priests, saying, Come ye up out of Jordan.

18 And it came to pass, when the priests that bare the ark of the covenant of the Lord were come up out of the midst of Jordan, and the soles of the priests’ feet were lifted up unto the dry land, that the waters of Jordan returned unto their place, and flowed over all his banks, as they did before.

19 And the people came up out of Jordan on the tenth day of the first month, and encamped in Gilgal, in the east border of Jericho.

Could you imagine a soldier from Jericho that witnessed this event take place and what he might have said to the people of Jericho?

“We are all dead men! Their God dried up the waters of the river, and they passed over on dry ground, and as soon as they were out of the river bed the water returned.”

The tenth day of the first month was the same day you were to take a lamb without blemish out of the flock and sacrifice four days later, for passover.

God meant for them to enter the promised land on that very day. Nothing ever happens by chance, there are no coincidences here.

20 And those twelve stones, which they took out of Jordan, did Joshua pitch in Gilgal.

note that there were two piles of stones: one in the east edge of the river and the other in Gilgal where the Jews encamped their first night in the land of Canaan. Stones are often used by God to signify and to remind people of different things.

Study Question:

Outside of Jesus Christ himself who is the Rock, what is the greatest stone “memorial” for the NT Christian and what does it remind us of? See Matthew 28:1-6

21 And he spake unto the children of Israel, saying, When your children shall ask their fathers in time to come, saying, What mean these stones?

22 Then ye shall let your children know, saying, Israel came over this Jordan on dry land.

23 For the Lord your God dried up the waters of Jordan from before you, until ye were passed over, as the Lord your God did to the Red sea, which he dried up from before us, until we were gone over:

24 That all the people of the earth might know the hand of the Lord, that it is mighty: that ye might fear the Lord your God for ever.

What a great way to teach the future generations about their past! What are you doing to teach the next generation about God? Will your children forget God because of your spiritual laziness or will they draw strength from the lessons you have passed down?

Commentary by Matthew Henry, 1710.
Verse 1-9 – The works of the Lord are so worthy of rememberance, and the heart of man is so prone to forget them, that various methods are needful to refresh our memories, for the glory of God, our advantage, and that of our children. God gave orders for preparing this memorial.

Verse 10-19 – The priests with the ark did not stir till ordered to move. Let none be weary of waiting, while they have the tokens of God’s presence with them, even the ark of the covenant, though it be in the depths of adversity. Notice is taken of the honour put upon Joshua. Those are feared in the best manner, and to the best purpose, who make it appear that God is with them, and that they set him before them.

Verse 20-24 – It is the duty of parents to tell their children betimes of the words and works of God, that they may be trained up in the way they should go. In all the instruction parents give their children, they should teach them to fear God. Serious godliness is the best learning. Are we not called, as much as the Israelites, to praise the loving-kindness of our God? Shall we not raise a pillar to our God, who has brought us through dangers and distresses in so wonderful a way? For hitherto the Lord hath helped us, as much as he did his saints of old. How great the stupidity and ingratitude of men, who perceive not His hand, and will not acknowledge his goodness, in their frequent deliverances!