Joshua 4:1-24 Remembrances From the Past


Written by Paul J. Bucknell on June, 08, 2022

Joshua 4:1-24 Remembrances From the Past


God knows that memories of the crossing of the Jordan into the Promised Land were so important that He interrupted His invasion plan to memorialize this event. He did not want them to forget what happened when He rescued them from Egypt and brought them to their new land, searing this event into their memories.

The Book of Joshua demonstrates how God brought to life all His promises in the Promised Land. God had promised His people, starting with Abraham 400 years earlier, about returning to the Promised Land, which would eventually become the nation of Israel.

It was an exciting time to step over the Jordan River! Joshua 4 teaches us that dependence on God and obedience are essential to true success.

Our lives are often too busy to take the time to stop and listen. The more active we are, the less we make provision for pausing before God and meditating on His Word (Jos 1:8). This tendency should alarm us, especially when viewing the harmful effects of fast-speed mistakes.

The Lord gave instructions to Joshua and the people of Israel to take an intentional pause in their lives.

The following two chapters, chapters 4 and 5, deal with what happens during this pause, reminding us of the importance of inserting spiritual breaks into our busy schedules to align ourselves with God’s will and giving Him proper recognition. Chapter 4 is about remembering what the Lord had done, while chapter 5 addresses other needed spiritual preparations.

Let’s examine three steps to form lasting and significant memorials from Joshua 4.

A. Pause When God Initiates (Josh 4:1-7)

RELATIONSHIP IS GREATER THAN THE SUCCESS.

“Now when all the nation had finished crossing the Jordan, the Lord spoke to Joshua, saying, 2 “Take for yourselves twelve men from the people, one man from each tribe, 3 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.’” 4 So Joshua called the twelve men whom he had appointed from the sons of Israel, one man from each tribe; 5 and Joshua said to them, “Cross again to the ark of the Lord your God into the middle of the Jordan, and each of you take up a stone on his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Israel. 6 Let this be a sign among you, so that when your children ask later, saying, ‘What do these stones mean to you?’ 7 then you shall say to them, ‘Because the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord; when it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off.’ So these stones shall become a memorial to the sons of Israel forever” (Joshua 4:1-7, NASB).

God paused Israel’s march into victory over Jericho. Being so close to Jericho, only seven miles west of the Jordan River, it may have been tempting for Israel to attack or at least prepare for the battle with Jericho right away. Jericho is thought by some to be the first ancient city with walls. However, God’s timing and ways greatly differ from ours.

Instead of attacking, the Lord instructed them to gather huge rocks and build a memorial for their children. After 40 years of wandering in the desert following their exodus from Egypt, they had finally reached the long-sought-after Promised Land. This was a time to form a memorial to remember God’s mighty work.

What confidence God had! He wasn’t concerned about enemy plans. Instead, He wanted the following generations to remember His presence and the importance of this event. God understands our depraved way of forgetting His importance. The Lord, however, considers ways to build up our trust in Him.

We tend to forget how we became Christians and how He gave us victory over a particular sin driving us into the dust. He did, but as time goes on, we seem to forget that significant shaping event, even to declining the mention of it.

Children sometimes watch us parents and think that works save us. By the parents’ emphasis on the need to work hard and be good, the children often don’t get the Gospel message. Have you shared how you became a Christian with your children?

God communicates these crucial ways to remind us of His past help. Let’s not resent the way God sometimes slows us down but instead treasure from these special times that God creates. He etches a deeper mark on our hearts and minds to remind us that He helped us through difficult times.

1. The Lord’s instructions (4:1-3)

Joshua did not suggest pausing before the enemies but God! “The Lord spoke to Joshua.” As the Israelites crossed the Jordan River, God requested each of those twelve leading men to get a large rock and bring it ashore to where they would stay their first night in the Promised Land. The command sounded crazy because the river was still running, but God would make this crossing unforgettable.

These kinds of delays greatly frustrate certain people, including generals who are task-oriented. God pushed this delay, however, and the people obeyed. Instead of getting battle plans ready, the leaders picked up large boulders and brought them ashore.

Timing, however, was critical. It couldn’t wait. In these situations, the longer one waits, the harder it becomes because it does not appear rational. Trying to think it through only reminds us of our vulnerability. You can bet the enemy spies wondered what the Israelites were up to.

2. Joshua’s explanation (4:6-7)

6 Let this be a sign among you, so that when your children ask later, saying, ‘What do these stones mean to you?’ 7 then you shall say to them, ‘Because the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord; when it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off.’ So these stones shall become a memorial to the sons of Israel forever.”

The explanation that the Lord gave to Joshua might not sit well with some! They were going to build blocks for their kids! They were wondering if they would survive the battle of the nearby walled city and, meanwhile, God had them building memorials! God is more interested in the building of our faiths and the faiths of our children than winning wars and land.

We should record any great help from the Lord with rocks, on paper, or today on the web. We have a hard time thinking about what we were like before our conversions and need to “markup” our environment (computer screen might be more permanent than our living places) to produce a remembrance of His grace. Only God gave us these victories; we dare not forget His grace!

Application

  • Recognize your children have not participated in many of your life experiences. Share with them. Value your children’s lives by sharing your salvation experience and other significant times in your lives. We assume that they will adopt our victorious lives without our struggles. Though this can be true to a certain degree, we must help them by sharing how God gave us victories over life sin patterns.
  • As a family, we need to stop and form memorials. So how are we going to know when to stop amid strenuous times and build these memorials? I suggest we slow our lives down. Have regular devotions, not just with the Lord, but with your spouse and with your children. Family devotions allow us the time to spend our children. They might not remember specifics, but they will know of your commitment of meeting with them. You made them important.

Pauses in life help us remember God’s grace in our lives.

B. Slow Down and Comply (Josh 4:4-5, 8-13, 19-20)

8 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. 9 Then Joshua set up twelve stones in the middle of the Jordan at the place where the feet of the priests who carried the ark of the covenant were standing, and they are there to this day. 10 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; 11 and when all the people had finished crossing, the ark of the Lord and the priests crossed before the people. 12 The sons of Reuben and the sons of Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh crossed over in battle array before the sons of Israel, just as Moses had spoken to them; 13 about 40,000 equipped for war, crossed for battle before the Lord to the desert plains of Jericho” (Joshua 4:8-13, NASB).

Miracles and victories occurred later on because the Israelites believed and obeyed the Lord. We don’t mind the commands that make us feel powerful and victorious. However, the Lord sometimes asks us to do things that seem irregular or weird, even making us feel vulnerable.

Some tasks might even be better described as non-action rather than action. The Lord creates a genuine reflection time. A sincere pause slows us down to the point where the individual, or group, earnestly contemplates the Lord’s purposes. We are not resentful of the slowdown but grateful for the pauses in life when we see His sovereign hand over our life and plans. I’d like to contrast two ways to comply with the Lord’s requests.

Active compliance (4:10-13)

Compliance is easier because we see things happening in front of us as prescribed.

#1 The priests stood in the river (10-11).

#2 The dedicated two and 1/2 tribes crossed over first (12).

#3 An impressive army of 40,000 crossed.

Faithful obedience is in focus here. Does it make sense to do it God’s way?

Inconsequential compliance (4:8-9)

This situation is harder to do because it requires faith.

#1 Joshua takes the first step to lead the people into compliance (4-5,8).

#2 Joshua initiates a further desire to obey (9).

#3 Joshua sets up those 12 stones as requested (19-20).

I liken this point to unexpected pauses in life—visiting the emergency room when we get sick at a critical time.

Application

• We need to be grateful for life’s sudden stops. We want to get ahead with our plans, but He slows us down. This is grace. He wants our plans to be crowned with His glory rather than with our pride. May He slow us down more!

• The blue laws used to keep businesses closed on Sundays, but the bosses gave in to greed and a seven-day week as the laws stopped. Then the employees “had” to work, and the family was no longer a unit. The home has become a pit stop in everyone’s busy schedule. We congratulate those who graduated in three rather than the four years - even though they did it at great cost to their spiritual and physical lives. We adore those who are so industrious, even though they neglect their families. We applaud our teenagers who stay up working hard in their school work, acquiescing to not attending church and youth group. Our families have become so distorted that we have made God’s schedule subservient to our own.

C. Observe How He Cares (Josh 4:14-24)

Obedience always brings blessings, even though at times it’s not immediately seen. Sometimes, it takes a while to become evident, but blessings will occur. We need to make memories because God blesses us!

Joshua liked the idea and set up twelve stones in the Jordan River. It’s not wrong to go beyond what the Lord had initially said to remember where they exactly crossed over.

14 On that day the Lord exalted Joshua in the sight of all Israel; so that they revered him, just as they had revered Moses all the days of his life. 15 Now the Lord said to Joshua, 16 “Command the priests who carry the ark of the testimony that they come up from the Jordan.” 17 So Joshua commanded the priests, saying, “Come up from the Jordan.” 18 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.

19 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. 20 Those twelve stones which they had taken from the Jordan, Joshua set up at Gilgal. 21 He said to the sons of Israel, “When your children ask their fathers in time to come, saying, ‘What are these stones?’ 22 then you shall inform your children, saying, ‘Israel crossed this Jordan on dry ground.’ 23 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; 24 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”” (Joshua 4:14-24, NASB).

19 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. 20 Those twelve stones which they had taken from the Jordan, Joshua set up at Gilgal. 21 He said to the sons of Israel, “When your children ask their fathers in time to come, saying, ‘What are these stones?’ 22 then you shall inform your children, saying, ‘Israel crossed this Jordan on dry ground.’ 23 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; 24 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”” (Joshua 4:14-24, NASB).

  1. Joshua’s leadership was strongly established (14).

“The Lord exalted Joshua in the sight of all Israel.” The Israelites’ success depended on living in the shadow of God’s glory.


2. The Lord leads us to our next steps (15-18). Note the purposes of crossing the Jordan. The people centered on the Lord, His ways, and His glory.

3. The Lord gives us proper concern (21-22).

He helps us to prioritize and care for those things we often neglect, such as our children and honesty.

4. The Lord reminds us of His glory (23-24).

He knows our need to believe in His greatness; this is what leads to victory.

Remembering our experiences of God’s grace

1. Stones make good memorials. They last.

2. Gilgal (literal Hebrew: roll away) was the first camp site in the Promised Land.

3. They set up the stones as a memorial.

4. The clear purpose of the memorial was instructional.

5. Children need to remember what great things shaped their lives.

Application

Joshua’s obedience made things easier. His obedience motivated the people to laboriously move the stones to the shore and brought the people over the Jordan. Obedience brought the stones to their lodging place that night in Gilgal.

Summary

God knows our weaknesses of forgetting His wondrous works and exalting ourselves. He furthermore knows how we tend to get so caught up in our activities that we forget that what we are doing affects those around us. Don’t forget to form memories of God’s grace for your children. Miraculous times and events always are but a shadow of the Living God who makes these times possible.

God wants us to create special memories with Him.

​Bible Study Questions for Joshua 4

A. The Formation of Memories (4:19-24)

  1. What did the Lord command Joshua to do (4:1-3)? Be specific.
  2. Explain what made the timing of this event so interesting.
  3. What is significant about this event in Israel’s history (if not already mentioned)?
  4. Why does God say this memorial is important (vs. 6)?
  5. What do you find interesting about what they were to tell their children (vs.7)?
  6. What happened as a result of this event (4:14)?
  7. Do you insert these pauses in your life when you seem extra engaged? How can you do better?
  8. Do you keep track of the Lord’s leading of your life? Your family? Explain.

B. The Securing of Memories (4:19-24)

19 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. 20 Those twelve stones which they had taken from the Jordan, Joshua set up at Gilgal. 21 He said to the sons of Israel, “When your children ask their fathers in time to come, saying, ‘What are these stones?’ 22 then you shall inform your children, saying, ‘Israel crossed this Jordan on dry ground.’ 23 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; 24 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.”” (Joshua 4:19-24, NASB)

Summary

  1. What did the Lord command Joshua to do earlier on (1-3)? What is it that he did (4:28-29)?
  2. Why do you think Joshua did this extra thing?
  3. Was it okay? What made it okay or not okay?
  4. What experiences has God so clearly worked in your life that should be set apart as a remembrance?
  5. Have we communicated the spiritual experiences in our lives to our family members so that they can understand why we live the way we do?
  6. Have we shared enough so that they may gain confidence in the face of problems?
  7. Are we seeking more of these spiritual experiences where we can see God at work in our lives? Where particularly?
  8. Are we too busy with our lives to cultivate spiritual thinking in our lives and in our children lives?

Spiritual blessings are those blessings -incidences, coincidences, miracles, fruitfulness- which God has brought into our lives. This would include every blessing we have, for even the sunshine and the rain are blessings He gives to all of us. Most people only mean those activities which God does in our hearts. However, all these experiences have shaped our lives.

God thought that memories of this incident were so important that He paused His invasion plan to memorialize this crossing of the Jordan River to enter the Promised Land. He did not want them to forget that it happened; He wanted them to remember it. Let’s see why God thought this pause in the invasion was so vital to the people, and why similar pauses in our own lives are important to developing a full life.

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