In Summary:Joshua 4 picks up the story right where Joshua 3 left off. The people are in the middle of the Jordan River, the priests are holding the Ark, and the waters have parted. There’s not much else to tell. The text recaps that the people crossed, including that the warriors for Reuben, Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh crossed over with the rest of the nation, honoring their commitment.
There is also the statement that through this, God exalted Joshua just as He had done with Moses. He does this by echoing the miracle at the Red Sea from Exodus 15 with the parting of the Jordan River. Joshua is the legitimate successor of Moses as the leader of the people.
In Focus:Rather than one verse or phrase from Joshua 4, focus your attention on event in this chapter of the gathering of rocks from within the Jordan River. As the bulk of the people are crossing, two things go on. First, twelve men are tasked (one from each tribe) with taking a stone from the river bed where the priests are standing with the Ark. These men take one stone each to the new campsite at Gilgal.
Meanwhile, 4:9 tells us that Joshua set up twelve stones where the priests are standing with the Ark. Depending on which commentary you read, some will suggest that these are the same twelve stones. Perhaps Joshua made a stack and then the twelve men picked up one from each stack. I side with the idea that twelve new stones were set up at the place of the priests. Also, Joshua is the man in charge. He may not have done it himself, and he still gets credit for doing it. We see this from time-to-time.
Worth noting on all twenty-four stones is this: there is no way we are talking about lightweight, small rocks. These are big, visible markers. Joshua is building a monument, after all. He’s building two—one of which will apparently be visible in the Jordan at times.
Why? God said to do it. While that’s a valid reason to do most anything, there’s often a reason God said to do things. In this case, the purpose is a memorial, a reminder of the river crossing. It’s to point out the place where God did the impossible on behalf of His people. How does that work? The people of Israel had been in the desert for 40 years, and they continued to live an agrarian life in a semi-arid climate. They would know the difference in river rocks and shore rocks. The evidence would be plain to their eyes.
In Practice:First and foremost, we need to walk in obedience so that we have something to remember the Lord’s work by. Before we can make a memorial of how God used us as we walked in obedience, we have to walk in obedience. That is a place we often miss: God has already given us instructions, and we wait for something else before we follow.
Second, pay attention to what God does in your life and the lives around you. Where do see the miraculous in everyday life? Make a note of it. Here’s the place where journals and calendars come in handy—and so do those pesky phones. Take a picture, make a note. And then put some of this in a format you can remember it by and tell others.
As believers in Christ, we have two parts of the work of God to tell. The first is the work of God in salvation as Jesus came, died, and rose from the grave. We must never leave the Gospel unspoken. But the second part also matters: how is God working in your life and the lives of those around you? How has He shown His faithfulness so far?
Because by this, we learn even more how trustworthy God is for the days ahead.
In Nerdiness:In fairness, it’s equally likely that we don’t have two stone piles, but one. It’s possible that the grammar should be translated that way.
Second, the stones are there “to this day” refers to the time of writing. Not this day, but that day.