In Joshua chapter 4, we are presented with one of the climactic events in all of biblical history. The Israelites had waited forty years, but now the time had come. It is a deeply emotional moment as they cross the riverbed of the Jordan, opened for them by the miraculous power of God. Behind them, they leave the tiring decades of meandering around in a barren wilderness and the tragic memories of countless funerals, for an entire generation of their forefathers who did not trust God’s promises died in the desert. Slavery in Egypt and the bare survival of nomadic life are now in the past.
Before them lay a land richer than their dreams, more fruitful than their hopes, and more beautiful than their imagination. God’s utter faithfulness is displayed.
It must have felt surreal to finally stand in Canaan, similar to when you unlock the door to your very first home. You’ve envisioned it, planned for it, imagined what you will do with it…but when you step in that front door, your emotions soar! In like manner, to participate in the fulfillment of the ancient promise to Father Abraham must have been overwhelming.
Their joy had been magnified by recent events. When they arrived at the Jordan, they found it at flood stage, menacing in its speed and dangerous for what it concealed. The river seemed impassible, its crossing impossible.
But God intervened, performing a miracle that paralleled the miracle of the Exodus from Egypt. God rolled back the waters of the Jordan River, just as He had done with the Red Sea. God meant what He had said through Moses years before. Here again, He assured His people that His Word was worthy of their trust.
I imagine there were songs and shouts as God’s people worshiped and exulted in Him. But there was also one important act. After the children of Israel crossed over, God gave Joshua some very specific instructions, recorded in Joshua 4:1-3:
“Choose 12 men from the people, one man for each tribe, and command them, ‘Take 12 stones from this place in the middle of the Jordan where the priests’ feet are standing, carry them with you, and set them down at the place where you spend the night.’ “
Joshua did exactly what he was told, sending these 12 men back to the riverbed of the Jordan where they were to bring back 12 stones—stones that were earlier buried, unreachable, but now divinely accessible.
Twelve men hoisted heavy stones to their shoulders from Jordan’s floor and then piled them together in the Promised Land, by God’s command. They were stacked there as a sign, an unmistakable marker at the very place where God had demonstrated His power to overcome any obstacle to His will.
Because stones don’t naturally stack, there would come a day when Israel’s children would ask for an explanation for this phenomenon. Here’s the answer God wants the next generation to know: “Tell them the story,” says God in v. 7, “of how the waters of the Jordan were cut off in front of the ark of the Lord’s covenant. When it crossed the Jordan, the Jordan’s waters were cut off.”
Verses 23-24 add, For the Lord your God dried up the waters of the Jordan before you until you had crossed over, just as the Lord your God did to the Red Sea, which He dried up before us until we had crossed over. This is so that all the people of the earth may know that the Lord’s hand is mighty, and so that you may always fear the Lord your God.”
This is what happens when the impossible meets the promises of God. Not only Israel but all the nations witness God’s faithfulness.
What do these stones mean?
Seeing that rock pile and hearing the story, the people of Israel would know clearly that they had not crossed Jordan on their own. Those stones cried out, “God did this! By His hand we have forded this river. By His power and faithfulness we have accomplished this!” It’s all about God and His unfailing goodness and love.
This memorial still speaks. Let it remind us that ‘Unless the LORD builds the house, its builders labor over it in vain (Ps. 127:1). And that truly it is “Not by strength or by might, but by My Spirit,” says the LORD of hosts. (Zech. 4:6).
Secondly, Joshua told Israel that the stones would serve as a reminder “that all the people of the earth may know that the Lord’s hand is mighty, and so that you may always fear the Lord your God.” (v. 24) Let no one be confused about the purpose of life. We are here to glorify God and demonstrate His character to the world.
Thirdly, the stones out of the Jordan testified of the willingness of a people to leave what they had known in order to go forward with God, to face challenges to their faith, to step into the water, to believe in what they could not see.
Between the realization of your spiritual aspirations and today, there are challenges. You may not yet see how God will answer your prayers and the desires of your heart, but you can stake your life on this truth: God is faithful.
You may not pile a few stones in front of your home. You may instead have a particular scripture on a plaque in your living room, or highlighted in your personal Bible, or on the homepage of your laptop. Whatever your ‘pile of stones’ may be, let it always remind you that your life is all about God and His glory; it is about the purpose for which we exist; it is about the challenge to allow the Spirit of God to so change you that His glory may be seen more fully through you.