Biblical Truth: When God gives a person an opportunity to lead, He also encourages and empowers the person to lead.
Mark the Victory: Joshua 4:1-3, 8.
 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.”  Thus the sons of Israel did as Joshua commanded, and took up twelve stones from the middle of the Jordan, just as the LORD spoke to Joshua, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Israel; and they carried them over with them to the lodging place and put them down there. [NASU]
[1-3] God made provisions for Israel’s entrance into and occupation of the land of Canaan. Those provisions were, first, the appointing and qualifying of Joshua to be the leader of Israel. Second, the ark of the covenant, which was both the witness of Yahweh’s presence in Israel’s midst and the symbol of His covenant relationship with them. And third, the priesthood, culminating in their service in the tabernacle.
 The people follow their leader precisely, doing just what Joshua commanded. This is the theological point of the present context. God has raised up for Himself and His people a leader who listens to the divine word and to whom the people listen obediently. The crossing of the Jordan River taught Israel that overcoming by God’s power and remembering God’s work in their lives would require reviewing past victories. This would also encourage them for future battles. Gilgal would become a memorial park, a visual testimony to future generations of Israelites and to the other nations of the world.
The Old Testament memorials of God’s mercy are innumerable. There was circumcision, the memorial of God’s covenant with Abraham; the stone set up at Bethel, the memorial of Jacob’s vision. There was the Passover, the memorial of the deliverance from Egypt; the manna and Aaron’s rod in the ark; the memorial of the miraculous feeding of the Israelites in the wilderness; and the selection of the descendants of Aaron for the high priesthood. Thus we have the memorial here mentioned of the passage of Jordan, and the memorial of the victory over the Philistines in 1 Samuel 7:12. National deliverances also were commemorated by annual feasts. Such was the feast of Purim, the establishment of which is recorded in Esther 9:20-32. Thus gratitude, in the Old Testament, was testified by outward signs. In the New Testament we have the Lord’s Supper as a memorial encouraging us to remember all that Christ’s death means to us.
Recognize God’s Work in the Victory: Joshua 4:10-11, 17-18.
 For the priests who carried the ark were standing in the middle of the Jordan until everything was completed that the LORD had commanded Joshua to speak to the people, according to all that Moses had commanded Joshua. And the people hurried and crossed;  and when all the people had finished crossing, the ark of the LORD and the priests crossed before the people.  So Joshua commanded the priests, saying, "Come up from the Jordan."  It came about when the priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the LORD had come up from the middle of the Jordan, and the soles of the priests’ feet were lifted up to the dry ground, that the waters of the Jordan returned to their place, and went over all its banks as before. [NASU]
[10-11] Verse 10 brings a narrative and theological climax. Joshua had commanded the priests to stand in the water while the people crossed [3:8]. This command is obeyed in 4:10. The priests stood with the ark in the bed of the river during the whole time that the people were passing through the Jordan. The people of Israel gained victory when they accepted the life style given by God. When Israel followed the commandment mediated through their God-given leader, Israel experienced the miraculous leadership of God. This was realized through the presence of the ark, the symbol of divine presence.
[17-18] Again the divine command is followed by human command. The result is human obedience [18a]. The major result is the miracle [18b]. God’s action, rather than human obedience, is again in the center of focus. Once the crossing was completed and the twelve stones removed from the river bed, then the priests carried the ark out of the river bed and back in front of the people. Immediately after the ark was removed from the river bed the waters returned to normal. It is the ark that is the medium of the miracle-working power, the priests are but its servants and attendants. The ark, as the symbol and throne of the Divine presence, is the center around which all the supernatural glory of the incident gathers.
Recall the Victory: Joshua 4:19-24.
 Now the people came up from the Jordan on the tenth of the first month and camped at Gilgal on the eastern edge of Jericho.  Those twelve stones which they had taken from the Jordan, Joshua set up at Gilgal.  He said to the sons of Israel, "When your children ask their fathers in time to come, saying, What are these stones?  then you shall inform your children, saying, Israel crossed this Jordan on dry ground.  For the LORD your God dried up the waters of the Jordan before you until you had crossed, just as the LORD your God had done to the Red Sea, which He dried up before us until we had crossed;  that all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the LORD is mighty, so that you may fear the LORD your God forever." [NASU]
[19-20] The crossing took place on the tenth day of the first month, that is to say, on the same day on which, forty years before, Israel had begun to prepare for going out of Egypt by setting apart the paschal lamb. After crossing the river, the people camped at Gilgal, on the eastern border of the territory of Jericho. The Gilgal stones were a physical remembrance like a picture or an object. And the Israelites knew that reminders of God’s power, however important, must never be worshiped in themselves. Gilgal would go on to become a place of historic significance as well as the first encampment. In chapter 5 circumcision and Passover are celebrated there; Samuel will make it one of his cities of judgment [1 Sam. 7:16]; Saul will be anointed king in Gilgal [1 Sam. 11:14-15]; and the apostasy of the city will be condemned by Hosea [9:15; 12:11] and Amos [4:4; 5:5].
[21-22] The twelve large stones were arranged in such a manner so as to attract the attention and invoke the inquiry of those who should afterwards behold them. That monument of stones was designed first as a “sign” to Israel. It spoke of the goodness and power of God exercised on their behalf at the Jordan. The stones was to signify that Israel had not crossed the Jordan by their own ability, but because of the miracle-working power of God. Moreover, it was an earnest and pledge of what God would yet do for them. Second, that monument was designed as a “memorial” that Israel had passed through the river of death and that they were now in the promised land.
The stones are to be a teaching tool for the fathers to teach their children about God’s provision for His people. They must let their children know that Jordan was driven back before Israel, who went through it upon dry land, and that this was the very place where they passed over. They saw how deep and strong a river Jordan now was, but the divine power put a stop to it, even when it overflowed all its banks. In this way each generation is brought back to the point where its faith originated and forces it to relate personally to the God of the beginnings. In this the greatness of God is recognized again.
The wisdom of God is seen in the command to raise such a memorial. It meets that weakness in human nature by which it comes to pass that the most sacred impressions are prone to die – the lapse of time and the succeeding waves of circumstance obliterate them. The sign was to be a stimulus to spiritual apprehension and a help to faith. Every passing experience of His grace is a pledge that He will not fail us in emergencies yet to come. Anything is good that deepens this impression, provokes to thankfulness, and rebukes distrust.
[23-24] These two verses speak to two audiences. First, it seeks to demonstrate to all the enemies of Israel that Israel’s God controls the military power to win any battle for Israel and thus is truly Lord of all the earth. Such reaction by the nations should then teach Israel to stand in worshipful awe of her God forever, no matter what happens. This material is not written and given to the nations. It is written and taught only to Israel. Thus the actual purpose of the writer is to bring Israel to reflect upon her history as he had done and to respond with reverence and awe to Yahweh, the God who has brought the nations to their knees. The knowledge about God results not in pride but in worship and service. Later generations of Israelites heard the story and applied the message to their own day. If God gave His people the land once, He could do it again, if the people had leaders and obedience as in the day of Joshua.
The practical result at which all instruction should aim is that you may fear the Lord your God forever. The miracle, the memorial, the teaching, all find here their ultimate purpose. All subordinate purposes must lead on to this – the showing forth of God’s glory and the submission of His intelligent creatures to Him in reverence and godly fear. The remembrance of this wonderful work should effectually restrain them from the worship of other gods. And it should constrain them to abide and abound in the service of their faithful God. Note, in all the instructions parents give their children, they should have this chiefly in view, to teach and engage them to fear God always.
SUMMARY: The experience at the Jordan River proved theologically fruitful to the long generations of Israelites. The central focus of this passage is the action of God and its meaning for Israel. The presence of God, symbolized by His ark, cut off the waters and allowed Israel to enter the Promised Land. Israel passed on dry land across the Jordan. It was another Exodus miracle. The God of the Exodus was also the God of the land. In the land of a great international power (Egypt) and in the land of the numerous kingdoms vying for possession of Israel’s promised territory, Yahweh proved Himself to be Lord of all the earth. No matter where Israel found herself, she could depend upon her God to deliver her. He controlled the natural powers of the universe. He could control any enemy facing Israel.
The people of God must realize that God does not help them automatically. God helps them when they obey His commands given through His leader. The final context makes certain of these commands important. Israel must follow the symbol of divine presence among her. Only God could lead the way Israel was to walk. They must sanctify themselves, for the holy God did miracles only for a holy people. Israel must remember her tradition and devise means to teach it to her children. Israel was responsible that the reputation of God live on.
God did not do miracles of the proportion of the Exodus or the Jordan in every generation. Yet every generation could devise teaching and worship situations in which Israel could experience anew what God had done for them. For the people who followed, sanctified, remembered, and taught, God would raise up leaders in the Mosaic tradition who would teach the people the things to do to be the people of God. When miracle was again needed by such a people, God could again prove that His hand was still strong, that He could still bring fear upon the nations, and that He was still worthy of the reverential awe of His people.
We can also learn from the story of the Jordan the nature of the people of God. Whatever the historical setting, the people of God still face a life confronted with opposition and are tempted to find other gods who can please for the moment. We are called again to confess that there is only one Lord of all the earth. We need not seek out new gods. We do need to renew our quest for the identity God would give us as His people and for the leaders God raises up to lead His people through our modern difficulties. Like the Israelites, we also need to use the means God provides for us to “remember” His faithfulness in all of the life situations that confront us.
Questions for Discussion:
1. After the people safely crossed the river, why would God have them stop and build the memorial of stones instead of proceeding with the task of defeating their enemies? What was God telling His people? What can we learn from this event about how we are to serve God?
2. What was the role of the ark in this miracle? What were the Israelites to learn from the use of the ark in this miracle of the crossing?
3. Why is it so important that we have “reminders” of God’s work in our lives? What type of memorials, traditions, symbols, etc. do you have in your home that serve as “reminders” and as teaching tools for your children?
Joshua, Trent Butler, Nelson Publishers.
The Book of Joshua, C.F. Keil, Eerdmans.
Gleanings in Joshua, Arthur Pink, Moody Press.