Joshua 4: Two Memorials
October 17, 2010 Series: Joshua: Lord's Army
Topic: Old Testament Passage: Joshua 4:1–4:24
Intro: Jordan Crossing(s)
This week we’re in Joshua chapter 4. Joshua chapter four begins where chapter three left off. The people watch as the Levitical priests carry the Ark into the Jordan River. Once their feet hit the water, the river divides and they continue on into the middle of the river. As they stand there, the nation of Israel crosses over the Jordan River. And throughout this entire narrative we see that God is in control the entire time, regardless of day, place, or season. According to His own timing, God commands the people to when get ready, how to follow the Ark at a distance, and where to cross—all things complete counter-intuitive to what they might think. Very quickly, they discover that their job is not to doubt, question, or challenge God’s Word or his ways but, if they want to live, they will follow. And when they start walking after God, even though it seems foolish to, He proves He is faithful as He commands creation itself and it responds; the waters of the Jordan divide. We see that God always knows best, always speaks right, always moves first, and is always is control.
Many of us have had a Jordan experience, perhaps several, in our lives. They are those moments when God brings us to that place where it seems hopeless and foolish to walk after him across the river. For some of us, the pain or confusion of what to do can paralyze us. Others run from the Jordan not realizing that they are running into wilderness. We know we’re at the Jordan when we SEE clearly where God is leading you to walk, and you have to decide whether or not you are going to follow. Most likely, it will be when it is most difficult for you but must glorifying to God. But its those times when, almost inexplicably, God faithfully shows up in a powerful way. And that moment becomes a monument in my life, not a time when it was easy to follow God, but a time when I took a step into the river and he blew it wide open; where I thought I was going to be drowning, and he made me walk on dry land. The question is how do we intentionally remember those crossings so we don’t forget what God has done. Today’s narrative is about how two memorials:***Read Joshua 4.1-24***
The Materials: Twelve Stones v. 1-5
After the nation crosses, 12 men, one from each of the 12 tribes, are selected by Joshua to go into the Jordan and dig out a large stone each. These men have the frightful privilege, as the waters of this raging river sit in a HEAP, of entering BACK into the Jordan to get their job done. Whatever fears they may have had, they do not complain or argue. Without delay, they walk back into the middle of the river where the priests were and each heave a large stone onto their shoulder—a stone that they will carry on their shoulder for EIGHT miles to Gilgal. NOW, I like to ask questions of Scripture, to wonder why God commands what he does. Before we talk about the purpose of the memorial, I want to talk about the materials. I want to know, why stones from the midst of the Jordan, why 12 stones, and why carry them 8 miles away?
Why stones from the river? The first question for all of us is WHAT do the STONES themselves represent? For Israel, the stones represent that time when they walked into the raging river after God. That faithful moment when they followed God not because it LOOKED easy but because it was RIGHT. Even though things seemed uncertain, even if they didn’t feel ready, even though it may have appeared like they were going to die, they followed. And when they did…God showed up. For us, these are the stones of trial and testing in your life, the wonderful horrible events that God brings into our lives to strengthen our faith, to make us more steadfast when the next river comes. These are the very STEPPING STONES of faith—the places where we walked and shouldn’t have, but did by the grace of God. The stones are not only the trial, but the symbol of your perseverance in the midst of trial.
Why 12 stones? Why not just ONE BIG STONE, carve into a wave or something. The number 12 occurs five times in verses 1-8. It seems that the writer wants to emphasize the unity of the 12 tribes in this ONE experience. The crossing was not just to exalt Joshua, or to lift up the Levites, it was not just for a few men or a few tribes. All of Israel goes through this experience together, as a people, as community, as a family. I believe that God intends for us to experience Jordan crossings together because there is nothing more powerful to bind people together, whether it be husbands and wives, families, church peeps, or friends. The monument not only reminds of God’s faithfulness to me, but to us.
Why carry them 8 miles? The placement of the memorial is strange, why not set up the stones right on the banks of the Jordan? 1) The monument must be seen. Essentially, they take the memory of the “Jordan Crossing” with them. They intend to remember that past, but not to dwell in it, but for strength to move forward. Gilgal became a “center of operations” for Joshua during the conquest. Every time the armies came in and out, they would see it. 2) The monument must be meaningful. Monuments need to be built with intention. Ever wonder what these guys were thinking as they carried these stones for 8 miles (around Lake Stevens). There they had time to consider, time to create some distance between the event in order to be able to view it for all that it was. For us, that means carrying around our stone for a while, to consider the size of it, to feel the weight of it, to meditate on what it means but then it needs to be put down—you can’t carry it away forever, you need to use it for something.
The Monument: Memorial & Sign (v.20; v.6-8)
Once they have the stones, they have to build a monument. What is the monument for? Verse 6 says that the stones will be a SIGN and verse 7 says it will be a MEMORIAL. Verses 20-24 describes when the memorial is actually set up: 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, hich 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.”
Monuments are essential. The memories of where God has taken his people give them a history and hope. Israel already had several signs that reminded them of God’s faithfulness. Various feasts, special days, ceremonies, all served to remind them WHO GOD WAS/IS and WHAT GOD HAD DONE. The monument wasn’t some sentimental pile of rocks to feel all tingly about: it was to be used for future generations….
Children will ask
Joshua said that, in future times, children would ask about the monuments—because they SEE them. And the implication is that the parents would teach about them, talk about them, tell and retell the stories. The monuments would remind them of God’ faithfulness, of God’s power, of God’s Promises. The implication is that the children would ask because the monuments were there. AND the family was responsible to teach God’s ways and works to their children (Deut. 6:4-7). A Jewish father was not to send his inquisitive child to a Levite for answers to his questions. The father was to answer them himself.
Teach them…so that the world will know…and you will fear:
Verse 24 says you will teach them, who will teach their children, and their children, and their children, so that all peoples of the earth MAY know God is mighty. The monuments were a teaching aid for parents to instruct their children, BUT their teaching would be a witness to the world to KNOW GOD IS POWERFUL. But for us, we would FEAR GOD. Isn’t that backwards? Shouldn’t the world be the one’s fearing? God wants us to fear him, to stand in awe of who he is, to be more overwhelmed with who is, what he has done, and what he will do SO THAT, we will not stand in awe, fear, or be overwhelmed by anything in the world. The monuments are more than a memorial of what he has done, but to proclaim what HE IS STILL DOING something—especially when things became hard and hopeless again…when the came to another Jordan river.
Building Monuments Today
I have been sitting on this idea of monuments all week. How do we build monuments to God? I’m not talking about hanging a Thomas Kincaide picture on your wall or placing a baby Jesus precious moment figuring on your mantel. And there is something to be said about today’s HOLIDAYS…but what about building? We need monuments, continuing stories for today, s to give us direction as we continue to walk, to remind us of God’s faithfulness in the midst of chaos and confusion, when we’re scared and fearful—to point back to and say—remember when he took us across. HOW can we build monuments for today, for our families, our friends? And HOW can we display this record so that people see them? The monuments are not built from rocks times that were necessarily the “best” times, or the times when things were easy, but it’s those times when the presence of God showed up powerfully! And the memorials are for you, but NOT just for you. THE GOD BOX
In order to build a memorial, you have to use own materials.
- Some have to go back into the rive for stones: Some of us have stones we could get, but we’re afraid to go back into the Jordan and get them. I believe God wants us to redeem those stories for His glory. Where have the steps of faith led you?
- Some have to carry them build something: Some of us have piles of stones, but they’ve been little more than burdens. We need to memorialize them and position them in a location for people to see—where we can teach about them. Where do your children learn about God’s faithfulness in the past?
- You have to cross the river: If you don’t have any stones to build with, any rocks that you’ve taken from the bottom of the river where God allowed you to walk, perhaps you haven’t really followed him at all. You don’t have stones because you haven’t crossed over, you haven’t taken any steps of faith. Where are you going to step first?
A Second Memorial (v. 9-14)
Meanwhile, back in the river…as they men are hulking their stones up the river bank, Joshua is constructing a second memorial. In verse 9 it says: 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. The Jewish children would all see the stones at Gilgal, and they would ask about them. And Fathers, if they were obedient, would explain the miracle of the crossing of the river, and perhaps how the memorial stirred them to trust God through many victories. Then they would add, “But there’s another monument in the middle of the river where the priests stood with the ark. You can’t see it all the time, only when the river is low, but it’s there. It’s in a place where no one could ever touch it, ever knock it down, a place where only a miracle of God could place it.
God didn’t appear to command Joshua to do this. Regardless, Joshua wanted to erect a personal monument of God’s faithfulness. Joshua is not commanded to do this, but in doing it, we see that Joshua has moved beyond a willful obedience. What I mean is that you are seeing a shift from a guy who simply does what God commands, even beyond a guy who desires to do what God commands, to a man who wants more than anything to honor God. His gesture is beyond duty to build a monument because God told him to, he builds this one from a heart of worship. And God lets him build it.
A Buried Monument
This monument is a bit strange because it is buried under the water much of the year. 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. For Israel, it reminded them that the Jordan River had opened up and closed. In their crossing, they could never go back to the way things were—they were on the other side now, out of the wilderness and onto the battlefield. Every now and then, when the river went dry, they would see the monument in the middle of the River and remember that transformational moment.
I believe we all need a God Box, some intentional way to build monuments to where God has led and blessed us. But we all already have your own God Box, your own memorial, buried, but there. It is you, your own testimony. You don’t necessarily have an ACTUAL Jordan river, but you have a Jordan River experience, and a pile of rocks. It is THE moment where Jesus said follow me and you stepped, the moment where you were buried with Jesus in the river, and walked out a new person. It’s a memorial that no ENEMY can touch. If you have believed in Jesus Christ and accepted the Good news of Redemption…that he has paid the price...that you can enter once again…you are a WALKING monument meant to be shared, a story that is meant to be told. You are a memorial to God’s faithfulness, God’s power, God’s closeness, God’s presence. And it is meant to be shared.
CONCLUSION (v. 15-16)
As a church, Jesus told us to memorials to practice, baptism and communion. Whenever we gather together, we teach about communion for the world to know and for us to fear God alone. It points to an actual event in history centered on a real man who really died, and really rose again. He really died on a cross, atop a hill outside of Jerusalem; a perfect sinless man took my place because I disobeyed a holy God and deserved to die. And then, three days later, he really rose from dead proving that he had the power to forgive sin, and overcome death. Through Him then, we have new life. This is a monument, know why you do it, teach your children why you do it, and this historical event that it represents shape how you live now.