And it happened, when all the nation had completely crossed over the Jordan, Jehovah spoke to Joshua, saying, “Take twelve men for you out of the people, one man of each tribe. And charge them, saying, ‘Take twelve stones from this place, from the middle of the Jordan, from the place where the feet of the priests were fixed. And you shall carry them over with you and lay them down in the lodging place which you stay in it tonight.'” And Joshua called to the twelve men whom he had readied from the sons of Israel, one man out of each tribe.
And Joshua said to them, “Cross over before the ark of Jehovah your God to the middle of the Jordan, and each man of you lift up one stone on his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Israel, that this shall be a sign among you, when your children ask hereafter, saying, ‘What are these stones to you?’ You shall say to them, ‘Because the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of Jehovah, as it crossed over into the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off.’ And these stones are for a memorial to the sons of Israel all the days.”
The placing of these stones of memorial was for the continual reminder of the wonders which God had done among His people so far. There is much good in meditating upon that which God has done in order to help us remain walking in wisdom and obedience regarding that which God continues to do. Not that we measure where we now stand by where we have once been, and so deceive ourselves; but rather that by seeing His works for what they truly are according to His word, we may continue striving toward the greater glory, of which and to which those wonders were meant to inform us and point us.
It is a sad reality in our day that many who have at one time seen the hand of God truly move did not consider and meditate on what He was truly intending to accomplish; and have since fallen into all kinds of foolishness, even specifically denying the very things which God was calling them to walk in. Many who once saw the need for the people of God to repent and weep for their idolatry and worldliness are now found saying that all is well; many who once walked in a humble submission to the Holy Spirit have become puffed up in the carnal “wisdom” of man’s various doctrines; many whom God was calling away from the spiritual falsehood of man’s “church” have since settled back in; many who for a time experienced true freedom by God’s power from the former lusts of the flesh have since become consumed in them again; many who were becoming bold and fearless in prayer and in the declaration of the gospel for lost souls have shrunk back and become impotent; and the list could go on. These are the fruits of a once zealous people who have conceded to the will of the enemy to fall back into the world from which they had once been turning.
But the Apostle Paul spoke of the results of life in the Spirit amidst all adversity:
Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him that loved us. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
The only thing missing in Paul’s list is former things. It is clear enough that “things present” and “things to come” cannot separate those who walk in the Spirit from the love of God; however, those who fall away from that walk are those returning to the former things, even as those who fell in the wilderness, and one of whom we read later (Joshua 7).
What these stones of memorial speak to us may be summed up in these two statements: on the one hand they promise, “the One having begun a good work in you will finish it until the day of Jesus Christ;” but on the other hand they also warn the one looking back toward Sodom and Egypt with a coveting heart, “Remember Lot’s wife.”
So if we have been brought over into the land where His rest is found, let us not linger by the river’s edge looking back and coveting the corruption in which we once lived before the crossing, nor travel back to cross it again into the world where there is nothing but spiritual death upon death awaiting us. Instead, having meditated upon the Word of our new life, let us be found “looking to the Author and Finisher of our faith, Jesus, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and sat down at the right of the throne of God.” So let us consider these stones a hopeful promise for the faithful and a warning sign at which the backsliding may repent; an altar of mercy upon which we may offer ourselves to God so that His fire may fall and purge our impurities rather than destroy us.
“Take twelve stones… from the place where the feet of the priests were fixed.”
Again we see mentioned (as in chapter 3) the feet of the priests in the waters; and here the stones of memorial are to be taken from exactly where their feet were planted. So even the stones themselves become a type of those redeemed by passing through the waters through the way that Jesus as our priest has made: the living stones who also are being made after HIS likeness into “a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” (1 Pet 2:5)
And how appropriate that there are twelve stones; since the New Jerusalem, the bride of our King, is founded upon twelve foundations, upon which its gates are guarded by twelve pillars inscribed with the names of the twelve apostles (Rev 21). So these twelve stones at Gilgal by the Jordan may be seen as that spiritual foundation of Christ which is to be continually built upon until the very end, since after these stones are placed, the children begin the inheriting of the kingdom.
[Paul spoke of this “building” founded upon Jesus Christ in specific reference to the collection of believers in a locality; warning the people of God at Corinth to take care not only of what the foundation is, but even afterwards what is built upon it, lest they lose much reward in the coming kingdom by building upon it that which proceeds from carnality rather than from God Himself (1Cor 3:10-15).]
For the altar with which God is pleased, and upon which His fire will truly fall, is made of twelve stones that no man has profaned with the working of their own devices (Ex 20:25, 1Ki 18:30-31); and the true spiritual life of God, of which we partake in Jesus Christ, is twelve-fold over abundant (Mt 14, Mk 6, Jn 6).
This is all to say that, since we have such a sure foundation upon which we may trust Him to build His kingdom, such a sure way, by which having entered we may remain in His presence and inherit the promises, such a holy altar of mercy upon which to offer ourselves and so become pure vessels tried by His fire, ready for honourable use, and such a rich promise in the reward of partaking of HIM – what then, other than blatant stubbornness in unbelief, should keep those who come to His land from resting in His labors and conquering therein?
So if anyone has fallen back, let them fall no further back than these stones, these pillars, this foundation; and let the one who hears the merciful voice of the Lord’s promise and warning be found repairing that altar which has been neglected, drenching it with such tears of repentance that only the fire of God from the altar before His heavenly throne will suffice to engulf it. And this is the great need of our day in the house of God, which temple we are, the temple made of those same living stones that are meant to become the finished New Jerusalem, which is the spotless bride of the King (Rev 21).
So we see that the children of Israel were to lodge among these stones placed at Gilgal, finding some rest and assurance among them so they would be prepared for the inheriting of the kingdom.
In that day Jehovah made Joshua great in the sight of all Israel. And they feared him all the days of his life, even as they feared Moses. And Jehovah spoke to Joshua, saying, “Order the priests who carry the ark of the testimony, that they rise out of the Jordan.” And Joshua commanded the priests, saying, “Rise out of the Jordan.” And it happened when the priests who bore the ark of the covenant of Jehovah had come up out of the midst of the Jordan, and the soles of the feet of the priests had been lifted to the dry land, the waters of the Jordan returned to their place, and flowed over all its banks, as before. And the people came up out of the Jordan on the tenth of the first month, and camped in Gilgal, in the east border of Jericho.