“And it came to pass, when all the people were clean passed over Jordan, that the LORD spake unto Joshua, saying, Take you twelve men out of the people, out of every tribe a man, And command ye them, saying, Take you hence out of the midst of Jordan, out of the place where the priests' feet stood firm, twelve stones, and ye shall carry them over with you, and leave them in the lodging place, where ye shall lodge this night.
Then Joshua called the twelve men, whom he had prepared of the children of Israel, out of every tribe a man: And Joshua said unto them, Pass over before the ark of the LORD your God into the midst of Jordan, and take you up every man of you a stone upon his shoulder, according unto the number of the tribes of the children of Israel: That this may be a sign among you, that when your children ask their fathers in time to come, saying, What mean ye by these stones? Then ye shall answer them, That the waters of Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the LORD; when it passed over Jordan, the waters of Jordan were cut off: and these stones shall be for a memorial unto the children of Israel for ever.” (Joshua 4:1-7)
God specifically directed Joshua to assign twelve men to build a memorial of stones taken from the middle of the river where they camped when they came out. It would be a constant reminder, even to those who didn’t know, that something significant had taken place there. It would provide opportunity to again teach their children what God had done for them.
God established a number of things for memorials to remind the Jews of wha tGod was doing. The institution of the Passover was one. The written record of their defeat of the Amalekites was another. Some of the sacrifices were for memorials. The censers that Korah’s followers used were hammered flat and put on the altar as a reminder that only those God chose were qualified as priests. Each memorial served to remind them of a specific aspect of their relationship to God. It was especially important for the Jews, as succeeding generations had no personal experience of those things.
Far less memorials are required for Christians, because each individual must personally experience salvation, but baptism and the Lord’s Supper still serve to Remind us What God has done, and to simulate questions by others.
“And the children of Israel did so as Joshua commanded, and took up twelve stones out of the midst of Jordan, as the LORD spake unto Joshua, according to the number of the tribes of the children of Israel, and carried them over with them unto the place where they lodged, and laid them down there.
And Joshua set up twelve stones in the midst of Jordan, in the place where the feet of the priests which bare the ark of the covenant stood: and they are there unto this day. For the priests which bare the ark stood in the midst of Jordan, until every thing was finished that the LORD commanded Joshua to speak unto the people, according to all that Moses commanded Joshua: and the people hasted and passed over.” (Joshua 4:8-10)
In addition to the twelve stones that were carried out of the river and set up in the campground, twelve stones were piled in the river where the priests had stood. According to Halley’s Bible Handbook, archaeologists have been able to find that pile still under the river. They only way such a pile could have been built is if there was a time when the water wasn’t flowing, thus validating the Bible’s claim, in the same way the discovery of the Chariot wheels in the Gulf of Aqaba validates the crossing of the Red Sea.
“And it came to pass, when all the people were clean passed over, that the ark of the LORD passed over, and the priests, in the presence of the people.
And the children of Reuben, and the children of Gad, and half the tribe of Manasseh, passed over armed before the children of Israel, as Moses spake unto them: About forty thousand prepared for war passed over before the LORD unto battle, to the plains of Jericho. On that day the LORD magnified Joshua in the sight of all Israel; and they feared him, as they feared Moses, all the days of his life. ” (Joshua 4:11-14)
The ark remained in the river until all the people were out, and was observed by all them. About forty thousand men from the Trans-Jordanian tribes went along to fulfill their commitment to help the rest of the people obtain their land.
Because of the similarity in what God had done in crossing the Jordan to what he had done when Moses led them across the Red Sea, Joshua’s standing with God was clearly and permanently established.
“And the LORD spake unto Joshua, saying, Command the priests that bear the ark of the testimony, that they come up out of Jordan. Joshua therefore commanded the priests, saying, Come ye up out of Jordan.
And it came to pass, when the priests that bare the ark of the covenant of the LORD were come up out of the midst of Jordan, and the soles of the priests' feet were lifted up unto the dry land, that the waters of Jordan returned unto their place, and flowed over all his banks, as they did before. And the people came up out of Jordan on the tenth day of the first month, and encamped in Gilgal, in the east border of Jericho.” (Joshua 4:15-19)
Almost forty one years after they had left Egypt, Israel finally crossed Jordan and camped in Gilgal, just east of Jericho. Just as the waters had stopped flowing instantly when the priests feet touched them, they resumed as if nothing had happened the instant the priests’ feet came out of the water.
“And those twelve stones, which they took out of Jordan, did Joshua pitch in Gilgal. And he spake unto the children of Israel, saying, When your children shall ask their fathers in time to come, saying, What mean these stones? Then ye shall let your children know, saying, Israel came over this Jordan on dry land. For the LORD your God dried up the waters of Jordan from before you, until ye were passed over, as the LORD your God did to the Red sea, which he dried up from before us, until we were gone over: That all the people of the earth might know the hand of the LORD, that it is mighty: that ye might fear the LORD your God for ever.” (Joshua 4:20-24)
Joshua carefully instructed the Jews as to the meaning of the twelve stones so they would be able to inform their children in the future. A memorial loses it’s value if no one knows what it means. Unfortunately, things we see every day often become so commonplace we forget they have meaning.