Theme: The Need for Careful Bible Study
This week’s lessons tell about the importance of God’s memorial as they crossed the Jordan and into the Promised Land.
When all the nation had finished passing over the Jordan, the Lord said to Joshua, “Take twelve men from the people, from each tribe a man, 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.’” Then Joshua called the twelve men from the people of Israel, whom he had appointed, a man from each tribe. 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, that this may be a sign among you. When your children ask in time to come, ‘What do those stones mean to you?’ 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.”
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. 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. 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. And when all the people had finished passing over, the ark of the Lord and the priests passed over before the people. 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. About 40,000 ready for war passed over before the Lord for battle, to the plains of Jericho. 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.
And the Lord said to Joshua, “Command the priests bearing the ark of the testimony to come up out of the Jordan.” So Joshua commanded the priests, “Come up out of the Jordan.” And when the priests bearing the ark of the covenant of the Lord came up from the midst of the Jordan, and the soles of the priests’ feet were lifted up on dry ground, the waters of the Jordan returned to their place and overflowed all its banks, as before.
The people came up out of the Jordan on the tenth day of the first month, and they encamped at Gilgal on the east border of Jericho. And those twelve stones, which they took out of the Jordan, Joshua set up at Gilgal. And he said to the people of Israel, “When your children ask their fathers in times to come, ‘What do these stones mean?’ then you shall let your children know, ‘Israel passed over this Jordan on dry ground.’ For the Lord your God dried up the waters of the Jordan for you until you passed over, as the Lord your God did to the Red Sea, which he dried up for us until we passed over, so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the Lord is mighty, that you may fear the Lord your God forever.”
Now I need to acknowledge that there’s a bit of a technical problem at this point. It’s perfectly evident from any reading of this chapter that the 12 men chosen by the people were to each lift up a stone from the Jordan, carry it up, and then place it upon the bank. These were then arranged into a memorial. This was a mark of their camp at Gilgal to which they often returned. There’s no question about that. This technical difficulty that I refer to comes from the fact that in the original version of verse 9, the text literally says, “Joshua set up 12 stones in the middle of the Jordan at the spot where the priests who carried the ark of the covenant had stood.” This has led many commentators to suppose that there were two memorials. There was a memorial composed of stones that were taken out of the Jordan and set up upon the bank. And there was a second memorial of stones that were taken from the bank and set up in the middle of the Jordan. So that raises the question of whether there was one memorial or two.
Let me say that it’s perfectly possible that there were two. But I must say that as I have studied this, it strikes me the English translations are correct when they assume that the past tense is presupposed. This is not altogether uncommon in Greek and Hebrew writing. And if that is the case, then the text really is saying that Joshua set up the twelve stones that had been in the middle of the Jordan at the spot where the priests had stood. I think there are several reasons for preferring that. For one thing, when you read the commands of God concerning this memorial, the commands are for one memorial, not two. Some have suggested that perhaps Joshua made another memorial. That is possible, but I don’t think Joshua would do that. Joshua was a man committed to obeying God commands precisely. Indeed, that’s the way God had talked to him originally. God had said that if Joshua was to be blessed, he was to obey the law of the Lord and not depart from it, either to the right hand had or to the left. And I think it was in Joshua’s character to carry out exactly what God said.
Secondly, there is a natural sequence here if verse 9 is referring to the same memorial. Verse 8 tells us that the men who had been appointed by the Israelites picked up the stones, carried them up to the bank, and put them down. Then we’re told in verse 9 what happened to them. We’re told that Joshua—not the man who had carried the stones, but Joshua—arranged those stones into a memorial. And it’s this memorial that is referred to when it says, “And the stones were there to this day.” I notice also that at the very end of the chapter, when it begins to talk about the stones again, it doesn’t refer even there to the two sets of stones; it refers rather, in verse 20, to the stones that were set up at Gilgal. So, in my judgment we’re talking about one memorial. It was there in the Jewish camp at Gilgal, their base of operations during the years of the conquest, to which they frequently returned. That memorial was to bear testimony of God’s blessing to the people as He led them across the Jordan.
What was the technical issue in this chapter of Joshua that Dr. Boice explained?
What reasons does he give for his view as to the number of memorials that God commanded?
If someone were to tell you that it really does not matter how many memorials there were as long as one understood the overall meaning of the chapter, how would you answer them?
If you are interested in learning about how to answer Bible difficulties, see Dr. Boice’s book, Dealing with Bible Problems (Fort Washington, PA: Christian Literature Crusade, 1999).