When all the nation had finished passing over the Jordan, the Lord said to Joshua, 2 “Take twelve men from the people, from each tribe a man, 3 and command them, saying, ‘Take twelve stones from here out of the midst of the Jordan, from the very place where the priests’ feet stood firmly, and bring them over with you and lay them down in the place where you lodge tonight.’” 4 Then Joshua called the twelve men from the people of Israel, whom he had appointed, a man from each tribe. 5 And Joshua said to them, “Pass on before the ark of the Lord your God into the midst of the Jordan, and take up each of you a stone upon his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the people of Israel, 6 that this may be a sign among you. When your children ask in time to come, ‘What do those stones mean to you?’ 7 then you shall tell them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it passed over the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. So these stones shall be to the people of Israel a memorial forever.”
8 And the people of Israel did just as Joshua commanded and took up twelve stones out of the midst of the Jordan, according to the number of the tribes of the people of Israel, just as the Lord told Joshua. And they carried them over with them to the place where they lodged and laid them down there. 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. 10 For the priests bearing the ark stood in the midst of the Jordan until everything was finished that the Lord commanded Joshua to tell the people, according to all that Moses had commanded Joshua.
The people passed over in haste. 11 And when all the people had finished passing over, the ark of the Lord and the priests passed over before the people. 12 The sons of Reuben and the sons of Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh passed over armed before the people of Israel, as Moses had told them. 13 About 40,000 ready for war passed over before the Lord for battle, to the plains of Jericho. 14 On that day the Lord exalted Joshua in the sight of all Israel, and they stood in awe of him just as they had stood in awe of Moses, all the days of his life.
Verses 1-4: The Israelites have crossed over the Jordan River at last, and now God is passing along an important command: have one person from each tribe take a stone from the bed of the river. The symbolic act of having one man from each tribe take part in this cannot be overstated. They are all given equal shares in this inheritance and are taking equal action the conquest of the promised land. While three of the tribes have already received the land allotted to them (See Joshua 1:12-15), they are still actively involved in the task ahead and thus gain a place in this symbolic action.
Verses 5-7: The verses here echoes the content of Deuteronomy 6 perfectly. The Israelites are to erect stone structures in order to have a talking point for their children, which serves as an excellent reminder to the current generation of the things God has done while securing that the future generations will learn of those things. This is a practice many of us should do more often in our lives, not only to have them to discuss with our children but to remind ourselves of the great and wonderful things that God has done in our lives. A visible reminder to inspire us with hope and confidence in the times where things are going bad, when it appears that God is distant and not answering prayers. It doesn’t have to be a stack of rocks, but could be one of any number of visuals that are present in our homes. Just like our body gets scars to remind us of the trauma that happened to our physical bodies, we need to leave something to remind us of the major events for our spiritual bodies. Because we are sinful and flawed humans, containing memories that are short. Every time I read through Exodus and see the Israelites going through an off-again/on-again relationship with following God I laugh and shake my head at their short memories. But, truth be told, I would be just as prone to erect and worship the golden calf and to forget about the miracles being done on my behalf. It is the battle we’ll be fighting until our leg of the race on this earth is finished, and we need every reminder we can get to help keep us on track.
Verses 8-10: An interesting thing to note here: The twelve men retrieve rocks from the Jordan and carry them over to the other side. Then Joshua sets up stones in the middle of the Jordan River, where the priests carrying the Ark were standing. This seems to imply that the stones being stacked later in this chapter form a second landmark. While it is unlikely that they would be able to see the landmark easily in the midst of the river, it would still be a very symbolic act to place this at the site of God’s miracle among them.
Verses 11-13: Here we have the Israelites gathered on the other side of the bank, with over 40,000 men armed and ready for war, and it seems to indicate this number just comes from the three tribes that had already received their inheritance. If this is truly the number just from three out of twelve tribes, this will mean that the Israelites have a truly impressive force and that these three tribes are certainly fulfilling their promise made to Moses.
Verse 14: God exalted Joshua. How many of us would love to experience that same honor in our lives? Joshua has lived a life of truth, courage, and honor in every capacity. He was the commander of Moses’ army. He was Moses’ understudy. He was a scout in the new land and one of two who told the truth about what they found. And now he has started his campaign as the leader of the Israelites on the right foot. If we seek after God, remaining strong and courageous and faithful through the good times and bad, we might encounter the day when God may choose to exalt us as well. It may take a lifetime of faithful commitment, like Noah and Abraham led, before it will happen. But if we are faithful in following God, He will surely reward us; if not in this world, certainly when we enter the Kingdom of Heaven.