Joshua 4
Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
That this may be .... stones. The children's question. That life is intended to be a school of instruction to us we see plainly from the many directions given to the people of Israel. For they were under the immediate government of God; He blessed them with special favours, was ready also to reprove their faults, and omitted no method of inculcating the lessons which the events of their lives were calculated to teach. Christians are "led by the Spirit of God;" their eyes should be open to see, and their ears uncovered to hear, the meaning of providential dispensations. In the instructions conveyed by God through Joshua, posterity was not forgotten. Provision was made for handing down to following ages a record of God's dealings with His people. With that provision our text is concerned.

I. THE INQUIRY. "What mean ye 'by these stones?"

1. By what suggested? A representative from each tribe selected a large stone from the bed of the river Jordan, and these twelve stones were set up in Gilgal, where the people spent the first night after the crossing. The importance of erecting this memorial is indicated by the number of times it is referred to in these chapters (Joshua 3:12; Joshua 4:5; and Joshua 4:20). A conspicuous heap of stones was the customary method of directing attention to a particular scene of some remarkable occurrence, and accordingly stones were also placed in the Jordan where the priests' feet had stood. But the memorial at Gilgal would be more enduring, and could not fail to excite attention each time that the national assembly was held there, as was frequently the case (See 1 Samuel 11:15, and 2 Samuel 19:15). It was contrary to the law to erect a carved image, for fear of idolatrous practices, but rude stones served the purpose. The "sensible" is more impressive than the abstract. Ignorant persons and children who had not yet learned to read, to whom writing would be useless, could appreciate the significance of such a memorial.

2. By whom asked? It is the question of children whose curiosity has been awakened. What child in Altorf but must have inquired respecting the statue of William Tell, or in Lucerne about the lion sculptured by Thorwaldsen to commemorate the deaths of the Swiss guards? Young people are not to be discouraged, but stimulated to put questions for information. The test of a good teacher is found in his ability to induce his pupils to make inquiries spontaneously. And the lesson may be of use to older people, not to be ashamed to confess ignorance, but to ask for enlightenment.

3. By whom answered? The fathers are to make the reply, explaining the intention of the "sign" to their interested children. Parents are the proper persons to satisfy the inquiries of their offspring. There is an implicit trust reposed in their statements which is not so readily accorded to strangers. The remarks of Joshua illustrate the necessity of parents attending to the religious training of their children. Can it be deemed sufficient merely to provide food and clothing for the body, and secular learning for the mind, and to allow the moral and spiritual faculties to be neglected? "Godliness is the best learning." Joshua knew that, the deepest impressions are often created in childhood. The clay is then easily moulded; the tree has not yet grown stubbornly crooked, and can be straightened; the white paper, if not quite a blank, has still much space left for godly teachings. A sculptor once engraved his own name at the base of a statue, and covering this with plaster, cut therein the Emperor's name and titles, knowing that as years went on the plaster would vanish, and the first inscription become legible. So does early piety become dimly observable sometimes in the rush of pleasure and the turmoil of business, and then the storms of life sweep away the overlaying strata, and the desires of childhood, the gospel learnt at a mother's knee, the prayer offered to the God of his fathers, these stand out in all their vividness as in the former days.


1. The wondrous works of God are for all time. Their impressiveness and utility are not intended to terminate with their immediate effects. They exemplify His power, and teach all men reverence (ver. 24). Of no avail to plead absence, the recital to us is sufficient to move our hearts. The demand for a repetition of miracles in order to convince each generation in its turn is extravagant and unreasonable. These works of God exhibit also His favour to His people, and incite to trust and love, if we can declare, "This God is our God forever and ever."

2. The importance of studying Scripture history. Not that we would insist so strongly on the distinction between "sacred" and "profane" history. For all history is sacred, all events being under the control of the Almighty, and evincing His moral administration of the world. Yet Scripture is authoritative, presents us with inspired comments on character and actions, and in many places strips off the the veil and affords us clear and certain glimpses of the movements of Deity. As distinguished from mere declarations of the nature of God's attributes, history shows us God in operation, and the picture is helpful to true and definite conception. It furnishes us not merely with a statement, but with an illustrative proof.

3. God expects men to propagate His fame

4. The use of a memorial. The stones were for a "sign" to excite inquiry and to prevent past history from sinking into utter oblivion. Events the most illustrious are easily forgotten. There is need of enshrining their remembrance in some permanent form. Read the mournful tale of Israel's ungrateful want of recollection in Psalm 78. Again and again "they forgat his works and the wonders he had showed them." Writing has been the chief method of preserving the memory of famous deeds. When resorted to in time it forbids suspicion of legendary exaggerations, and there is not the temptation to relic worship which "signs" foster. The Jewish dispensation was emphatically the age of symbols, but the gospel has dispensed with them almost altogether. Of the miracles of Christ there are no genuine memorials, save the narratives of the Evangelists and the Christian Church itself. What has been the effect upon ourselves of a perusal of the Gospels? Are they merely "idle tales," or have they revealed to us the love of God, and His willingness to receive His erring children? - A.

The crossing the Jordan dry shod was tile first miracle which marked the entrance of the people of Israel into the land of Canaan. It was God's purpose that this should be held in perpetual remembrance. Hence the erection of the twelve stones in the bed of the river, to remind the twelve tribes of that which the Almighty hand had wrought for them, in fulfilment of the promise made to their fathers. The material monument would, however, be insufficient of itself to preserve this memory. The story it commemorated must be told from generation to generation. Joshua, as the representative of the people of Israel, speaks thus to the twelve men chosen to carry the twelve stones: "This shall 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" (vers. 6, 7). After the crossing of the river the same precept is repeated, and now not only to the twelve representatives of the people, but to the entire nation. "And Joshua spake unto the children of Israel, saying, Ye shall let your children know, saying, Israel came over this Jordan on dry land." This narrative shows us the way in which the memory of the Divine story of salvation should be handed down.

I. THERE NEEDS TO BE AN INDESTRUCTIBLE MONUMENT OF THE FACTS OF REDEMPTION, not liable, like a mere verbal tradition, to human additions and interpolations. The twelve stones here represent this character of immutability, by which the truth of God is preserved from misrepresentation. We ourselves have more than one memorial graven by God's own hand in the rock forever. We have a Divine Book - the Holy Scripture - which has preserved for us the great and glorious facts of revelation in their integrity and purity. We must never suffer this sacred monument either to be altered or added to.

II. The twelve stones, commemorative of the passage of the Jordan, WERE PLACED THERE BY THE HANDS OF THOSE WHO HAD THEMSELVES BEEN WITNESSES OF THE GREAT MIRACLE. The twelve men who reared this monument marched at the head of Israel when the waters of the river were driven back. So was it also with the sacred writers of the Old Testament. So was it with the Apostles — the first twelve representatives of the new people of God. Their testimony is at once irrefragable and of primary authority, for those who reared the monument of the Scriptures can say with St. John, "That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you" (1 John 1:1). Our first duty, as those who are concerned for the preservation of the truth of God, is fidelity to this original and sacred testimony. Let us carefully separate from it all which is merely fabulous - the creation of our own imagination or reason.

III. IT IS NOT ENOUGH, HOWEVER, TO PRESERVE THE LETTER OF SCRIPTURE UNIMPAIRED, and to fence it round with our respect and veneration, as it would not have been enough for the children of Israel to have simply guarded against destructive forces the twelve stones of commemoration. It was needful, further, that the story of the great miracle should be repeated day by day, not only in the solemnities of the altar, but also at the domestic hearth. No other priesthood can be a substitute for the priesthood of every man in his own household. Let every Christian father himself tell to his children the story of salvation, taking it from the pure source of Holy Scripture; and so let this history form part of that spiritual heritage which is the best legacy to succeeding generations. Let the altar of remembrance - the Book of God - be set up in the midst of the house; thus will the sacred tradition be handed down in all its purity. Let the story of salvation be told by the lips of father and mother, familiar to the child from its very cradle; and thus preserved in its purity, the gospel tradition will become an element of vital power in the heart of the rising race. - E.DE.P.

Look for a little at this cairn or Druidical circle, or whatever other shape the twelve stones combined produced. Our text reads as if two such enclosures were raised: one by Joshua in the bed of Jordan, laved at least by its waters; and one in Gilgal, the rising ground about midway between Jordan and Jericho. The first erection made by Israel in the promised land was this stone of remembrance. It was not casually or carelessly done. God enjoined it before they crossed, and men were told off to gather the stones fit for such a purpose during the crossing over. The first religious act they did was this memorial act; and the first bit of Canaan which they took possession of was hallowed as a memorial site. Is there anything analogous to this which we ought to do? And would there be any advantage in our doing it? Let us see what this action would suggest as our proper course.

I. WE SHOULD ALL TAKE SPECIAL MEASURES TO REMEMBER OUR MERCIES. For our own sakes memorial stones are not valueless. Our power of recollection is slight, and innumerable things make their claims upon it. Our misfortunes ask loudly to be remembered. The slights we receive, the injuries we endure, the disappointments we meet with are clamorous in their appeals to memory. While mercies of God, kindness of man, tranquil delights and satisfactions ask to be remembered with only a small still voice which is apt to be drowned in the vulgar din of the other turbulent recollections, there are some memories, as John Foster phrased it, only rows of hooks to hang grudges on. And when memory so weakly yields to clamour, or so morbidly prefers the poorer subjects of remembrance, every recollection is a depressing burden. We owe it to ourselves to remember all God's benefits, for the recollection of them is green pastures and still waters when we are weak. It is inspiration when we are depressed. It gives the joyous sense of being loved. It purifies the soul by gratitude. It binds us by the sweetest of all bonds to God's service. It brightens the future by the radiance which is at once most trustworthy and most sweet. It sends us on our way "thanking God and taking courage." And a wholesome, gracious memory being of such value, we should take pains to cherish it. We should deal with it as with a garden, not permitting anything to grow in it which intrudes itself; but we should constantly keep down the weeds, and plant, tend, and cherish the flowers of fragrance and of beauty. Keep your heart with all diligence, and especially this bit of it. And to this end special actions, stones of memory, vows of service, gifts, meditations should all be employed. There is one great stone of memory which, in obedience to the Saviour, the Church has raised. The rite of the Lord's Supper was meant to proclaim to those ignorant of it, and to recall to those acquainted with it, the great deliverance wrought on Calvary, and the infinite love which permits us to participate in it. Use that memorial; open your heart to its influence. The less in the mood Christian man is for partaking of that rite, the more does he need to do so. It was ordained to jog the indolent memory and to warm the coldness of the heart. Use this memorial, and make it bigger by adding your own contribution to its gracious testimonies. Each tribe laid its stone on the memorial heap in Gilgal. Each man should add his stone to the memorial everywhere and always rising to the greater deliverance Christ works for us. If we should take special measures to remember our mercies in general, so most of all should we do so to remember the infinite mercy of redemption.

II. IT IS A DUTY TO REPORT TO OTHERS AS WELL, AS TO REMEMBER FOR OURSELVES, THE MERCIES OF GOD. These stones were a publication of God's dealings to all who subsequently should pass by that way: set up "for the encouragement of pilgrims," as Bunyan would say. Experience may belong to us individually, but the lessons of that experience belong to all who need them. The children of Israel must not "hide God's righteousness (i.e., mercy) within their hearts." They must tell it to the generations following. The story may be told in various ways - in a holiday like the passover, which they will keep; in a song, like Miriam's, which will linger in people's lips and hearts; or in an outward memorial like these stones. Only, Israel must tell its mercies. In a world languishing for want of a heavenly hope Israel must not be silent. Be the memorial is reared - each stone a tongue telling of God's love and help. Wherever there has been mercy received, the Saviour requires that that mercy should be recorded for the good of others. He may, as a temporary precept say, "Tell no man," to those who would lose its lessons by proclaiming too eagerly their mercy. But if the prohibition of garrulous and thoughtless tattle about mercies suggests need of thought and carefulness, other precepts - as, "Go home and tell thy friends," "Show thyself to the priests," requirements of confession, the example of multitudes who have said, "Come, and I will tell you what the Lord hath done for my soul," the instincts of honour and of grace - all combine to lay on him who receives Divine mercy the duty of telling it. We have all need to beware of a guilty secrecy which thinks it a mark of refinement and modesty to be silent about its Saviour. Your neighbors are perishing, all needing, some asking for, a Saviour. Will you be guiltless if you do not say, "Here is a Saviour, Christ Jesus - He saved me"? If He has led you across the Jordan into the rest He promised you, set up your memorial, and join the rest of Israel in testifying that Jesus Christ is a great Saviour. Membership in the Church of Christ is the simplest form of testimony and is the duty of every saved man. For the sake of others set up your memorial of God's mercies in Gilgal.

III. MAKE YOUR MEMORIAL AS ENDURING AS POSSIBLE. They were to set up twelve stones: something that would endure, that could give testimony to many generations. As a matter of fact they did remain till, probably, some centuries after the destruction of Jerusalem. And through all these generations that circle, or cairn, or altar, whatever it was, remained, elevating and inspiring men by its blessed memories. Let your testimony of Christ's salvation be an enduring one. Set up not a memorial of clay, which rain may soften or heat might crumble, but of atone. Keep your own memories of mercy keen and clear. Do not let them crumble away; anti try to serve the generations that are to come. Inheritors should be transmitters of help. The testimony of those that have gone before us has blessed us; let our testimony bless those that follow after us. Let us not play at testifying of the grace of God, but make it seriously our work. There are men who, giving themselves to the work, have blessed many generations. Let our Saviour have from us some enduring witness which shall carry to the generations after us the record of His love. And, lastly, this lesson should be noted -

IV. THAT THE LESSONS OF THE MEMORIAL SHOULD SPECIALLY REACH OUR CHILDREN. In vers. 21 to the end it is assumed that the children will be the inquirers about the memorial, anti the parents the interpreters of it, and that thus, from father to son, the story of God's grace shall be handed down, hallowing each generation. No man can complain that there is no open door set before him, when a child full of inquisitive simplicity faces him. And no one should despair of the future of a land in which parents can engage the ear of children with the story of their sacred experience. Is there not too much reticence between parents and children on the greatest of all themes? If our hearts were more devout would it be impossible for us, without undue detail, to charge our children with a sense of what we owe to our Redeemer? Might they not early learn how poor and worthless our life would have been without Him. Might they not learn something of answers to our prayers, of the blessedness of heavenly hopes, of the safety of protecting grace, of the consolations of God's love, of that "delivery from all our fears" of which the Psalmist speaks? "Ye shall let your children know, saying, Israel came over this Jordan on dry land." When we obey this precept in letter and spirit more heartily, probably we shall find our obedience will be rich in the results expected by the writer (ver. 24). "The people of the earth will know the hand of the Lord, and Israel will fear the Lord their God forever." - G.

In one sense Joshua is not a beginner. For forty years he has been at work for God. As spy, as general, as servant of Moses, during all these years he has wrought in the work, and with the help of God. Yet though eighty-five years of age, this crossing Jordan is his first act of leadership. In the sovereignty of Israel he is a beginner, with a beginner's fears, difficulties, burdens. And here we see a beautiful illustration of the fact - that with a beginner's cares comes a beginner's grace as well. A marvellous miracle stamps him as the leader sent by God. The "divinity that doth hedge a king" in an unusual degree invests him. And in his first enterprise he has such help as makes him secure of the future allegiance of all the people. Many are, and more ought to be, beginners in God's ways. Consider the testimony of this incident as it affects them, and first observe -

I. BEGINNERS NEED SPECIAL GRACE AND HELP. Evidently Joshua did. If Moses shrank, how much more might he, from this perilous enterprise, when the efforts of the people, after settlement, had no such stimulus as had been supplied by the oppression of their masters; when he was uncommended by the signs he carried of his Divine commission; when probably Eleazar would have been glad to have been chief ruler; when almost inevitably there would be critics who would oppose his plans and dispute the wisdom of his orders He had double work to do - to cross Jordan, and justify his own appointment. Nay, treble work to do - for his power of helping Israel in the future depended largely on what he would now do. Sufficient unto that day was its own troubles; but it had to carry the justification of the past and the assurance of the future with it. Even so all beginners find their work especially arduous. "It is the first step that costs;" the first step of the prodigal returning to his father; the leaving the nets to follow Christ; the first act of service to men. We are unaccustomed; and that force of habit which stands us in such good stead when we have had experience of well doing now operates the other way. All obstacles are enlarged by nervous apprehensions. In subsequent acts we may have society - the first act of right is apt to be profoundly solitary. Do not be staggered at the difficulties of beginning well. All beginners have had the same experience to contend with. But observe secondly -

II. BEGINNERS HAVE SPECIAL GRACE TO MEET THEIR SPECIAL DIFFICULTIES. As with Paul's "thorn," pity to remove which was asked, grace to endure which was granted; so here God does not take away the difficulty, but gives grace to surmount it. Over and above the usual grace He gives to all His saints, there is special grace given to them. Has Moses a task imposed on him specially arduous? Not one difficulty is removed, but miraculous signs invest him with a sacred inviolable dignity, and plagues of terrific power sanction his demands. Is David indicated as future king by the whispered call of God? In the challenge of Goliath and the pouring of a "patriotic tide through his undaunted heart" - the suggested daring, and the power to achieve what he dares to undertake - the beginning of his kingly service is made possible. Does it come to Daniel as a duty to keep himself pure from defiling meats? The beginning of his devotion is helped by a physical grace that keeps him strong and well. The beginning of Peter's consecration is helped by the miraculous draught of fishes. The beginning of the service of the seventy, by the miraculous powers so freely imparted to them. And so always there is special grace for those beginning. There is some fulness of gracious influence - clearness of light - some strengthening companionship of man - some closer presence of God - invigorating hopes - the energy which comes from the sacred calm of penitence - some clearing of the way before us - some moving of the pillar of fire and cloud, or of the Ark of God. And whenever any enterprise of Christian love is undertaken, there is always some help of a special kind. Enlargement of spirit - some power of prayer, or patience - some great strength of humility or steadfastness. As here, so always, special grace attends the beginnings of all great courses. And this is no light thing, for in all the forms of Christian life and service, "Well begun is half done." And the grace then given not merely makes the beginning possible, but all the subsequent career. "They feared Joshua as they feared Moses, all the days of his life." Always, the beginner gets special grace for the beginning of his work, and sufficient to exert an influence on all that follows after. If such is the case, consider lastly -

III. WHAT LESSONS ARE INVOLVED IN IT. There is this lesson first and foremost -

1. Shrink not from beginning the Christian life. It is difficult - nay, to naked human strength impossible. The beginning - the Jordan passage - will try you. But beginners' difficulties are more than matched by beginners' grace. You may not feel this grace: it may be "latent" grace, and not "sensible" grace; but it will be there, omnipotent enough to carry you over every hindrance.

2. Shrink not from undertaking any duty of service with which God charges you. Do not be evilly modest, folding your pound in some napkin of seeming humility. If it be the path of duty, let no obstacles deter; they will only prove the occasion for grander help from God than you ever dare to hope.

3. Have you just begun discipleship or service, and are you overwhelmed with . difficulty? "In your patience possess your soul," for even as a mother gives her finger to the little child just beginning to walk, so to us, who are but children of a larger growth, God lends His finger when we are beginning some great life task. - G.

Here a layman commands a priest. It was not a case of royal supremacy exactly, nor did he govern them by virtue of his being the civil head of the community; but because, though layman (he was of the tribe of Ephraim), he was a prophet. "The Lord spake to Joshua," and therefore Joshua could command even the priests of God. We have here not a question of arehaeological interest merely. It is a live question of today. Rome goes in for having an order of priests; Protestantism for an order of prophets - i.e., speakers forth of God's messages to man. They want a prescriptive class, elevated above their fellows, "ordained to offer gifts and sacrifices to God;" we want, not men ordained, but men inspired, who, fresh from the vision of God and converse with Him, will be able to tell us what He is, and feels, and wants. Are they or we following the more excellent way? Let the subordination of the priest to the prophet here help us to the answer. It may do so, for observe -

I. THE PRECEDENCE HERE IS the constant precedence. Aaron was older brother and high priest. Moses was the prophet who "spake with God face to face." The order of the names invariably is "Moses and Aaron:" prophet first, priest second. In all the subsequent centuries you find prophets foremost, priests subservient. The greatest men of Israel - those who sustained their patriotism, kindled their devotion, fed the flame of hope, those who led them in the path of duty, and were the reformers of religion - were prophets, Elijah and Elisha, Isaiah, Daniel. Ezra was the only priest who, without being a prophet, can be classed with them. Jeremiah and Ezekiel were priests and prophets, but it is in the latter character they rendered their grandest service. We must not depreciate the services of the priesthood. Perhaps the tone of Dean Stanley's lecture on the Jewish Priesthood ('Jewish Church,' vol. 2:356) is too disparaging. They tended to keep alive devotion, to familiarise men with the great idea of access to God, they guided men in the ways of gratitude and trust. Still the teachers, inspirers, leaders of souls were the prophets; and throughout all Old Testament history down to the time of the Maccabees, it is the prophetic order that keeps alive piety in all its grand activities. And if we had applied the same terms on the Christian dispensation it might be shown that the greater of the two services has been that rendered by men of the prophetic, rather than that rendered by men of the priestly, stamp. Athanasius, Augustine, Tertullian, St. Bernard, Luther, Calvin, Knox, Wesley - those that can speak out the heart and the will of God - have, according to a law of moral gravitation, found a higher level than the most devoted and self forgetful of ecclesiastics. Anyhow, here the prophet commands, and the priest obeys. Observe secondly -

II. THIS ORDER OF PRECEDENCE IS THE NATURAL ORDER. The rank of priest is high - an ambassador of man in the court of heaven. But the rank of prophet is higher - an ambassador of God. The priest's grandest work is supplication; the prophet's is to mediate the promises, commands, requirements of God. For the former office the requirements were low - a certain lineage, freedom from physical defect, familiarity with ritual, rubric, and law. For the office of the prophet far higher requirements were made - purity of heart, to see God; the open ear, that could hear His voice; the heart of love, that could enter into His purposes; the courage which could confront men with the Divine behest. The priest could be made by man - the prophet only by God. The former had outward and visible ordination; the latter was ordained by the laying on of the unseen hands of the great God Himself. One reason why communities that have degenerated in faith are so emphatic in their doctrines of holy orders is that the priest is easily made, his work easily done, his claims easily asserted and enforced. But to make men prophets, or catch the inspiration of heaven, is not at all so easy. It takes a happy concurrence of grace and nature, a "bridal of the earth and sky," to make him. Naturally, therefore, because the prophet's is a higher taste demanding higher powers, the prophet ranks before the priest. Lastly, observe as the conclusion of the above -

III. PROPHETS ARE THE GREAT WANT OF THIS AND EVERY AGE. True priests are invaluable: such as by their pity and their love are spontaneous, fervent intercessors for their fellow men. We should covet to be such: whether in or out of "orders," we may belong to "the Royal Priesthood," whose mark is not an official garb, but a compassionate heart. But the great want is prophets - not prophets of the almanack sort, dealing with the curious questions of the future; but prophets of the Bible sort - pre-eminently engaged with "present truth" and present duty. The great want of the age is not priests at the altar, but inspired men in all the pulpits of the land - men who, walking with God, can bring to us the truth, the consolations, the requirements of God, with the authority of those who have learned from His lips what they address to our ears. Such men would speak "with authority" which all would recognise without needing demonstration of it. Their lips would feed many. Their utterances would find or make a way into all hearts. And reason approving, the heart accepting, the conscience endorsing, all their words, the people of our land would become "obedient to the heavenly vision" and "walk in the light of the Lord." Not after formal authority of the priest, but after the living inspiration of the prophet, let us all aspire. - G.

The passage of Jordan as the necessary way of entrance into the land of promise has always been regarded as symbolic of the death of the Christian. The same causes which allowed the children of Israel to cross the stream without being buried in its waters, operate in the case of the believing soul, to enable him also to pass through the deep water floods without being overflowed by them. These causes may be described as threefold.

I. THE PASSAGE OF THE JORDAN WAS EFFECTED AT THE TIME APPOINTED BY GOD. It was in obedience to the command of God that Israel crossed the river, so is it also with our death. It is determined by God. To Him belong the times and seasons. Hence we can in all confidence commit our way to Him and our spirit into His hands.

II. GOD GRANTED SPECIAL AID TO HIS PEOPLE IN THIS HOUR OF TRIAL. This He promises to us also when we are called to pass through the deep waters. "When thou passest through the waters I will be with thee." And David, full of this confidence, exclaims, "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me" (Psalm 23:4).

III. ISRAEL SEES AT ITS HEAD A GUIDE CHOSEN OF GOD, WHO GOES BEFORE IT IN THIS DANGEROUS PASSAGE. We also have our Divine Joshua, who has passed through the river of death before us; that mighty Saviour, who "died for our sins and rose again for our justification" (1 Corinthians 1:1). He will bring us safely to Himself on that blessed shore, whither He is gone before. How heartening is the sweet song of Vinet:

"Quand le bruit des riots, l'aspect et le rivage,
Nous diront, O Jourdain, nos travaux vont cesser;
Jesus nous recevra triomphants et lasses
Pres de ces compagnons d'exil et d'heritage,
Qui ne sont pas perdus, mais nous ont devances."

"When the rush of Jordan's waters breaking on the shore
Tells the struggling, fainting pilgrim toil is nearly o'er;
Jesus ready to receive him, brothers gone before,
Welcome him with songs of triumph, 'Home forevermore!'"
- E. DE. P.

The passage of the Jordan has been called a "priestly miracle," a natural event "turned into a miracle" by the historian for the sake of exalting the priestly office. We fail, however, to see that any such special prominence has been given to the priestly clement. It is the ark that is the medium of the miracle working power, the priests are but its servants and attendants. The ark, as the symbol and throne of the Divine presence, is the centre around which all the supernatural glory of the incident gathers. Indeed, there is rather a notable subordination of the priestly element at this period of Hebrew history. Joshua did not belong to the priestly order any more than Moses did. There was no sacerdotal rule. The twelve men who gathered these memorial stones from the bed of the river were not priests, but men chosen by the tribes for that particular work. The priestly functions were not those most brought into prominence by these incidents. There is no sign of anything like undue homage being paid to the priesthood at that period, and even as regards the religion of the people it was, as Stanley says, "a part of the mechanism of that religion rather than its animating spirit." The raising of these stones, then, to commemorate the great event that had just taken place, was the act of the whole people through their chosen representatives. Two piles of stones were raised: the one by direct Divine command; at Gilgal, where the Israelites rested for the night after the passage, and where they observed their first passover in the land of Canaan; the other, apparently without Divine command, on the other side, at the spot where the feet of the priests first touched the brink of the flooded river. The words of Joshua present them in two lights before us:

(1) As a memorial for the men of that generation, and

(2) as a means of instruction for their children.

I. A MEMORIAL FOR THAT GENERATION. The wisdom of God is seen in the command to raise such a memorial. It meets that weakness in human nature by which it comes to pass that the most sacred impressions are prone to die - the lapse of time and the succeeding waves of circumstance obliterate them. Most Divine institutions have rested on this principle. God "set his bow in the cloud" a sign and pledge of His faithfulness. The Sabbath was intended to quicken in men the sense of their Divine relations and their longing for the "rest that remaineth." The passover and other feasts were to be "for memorials;" and when Christ said to His disciples, "Do this in remembrance of me," He asserted the same principle. The sign was to be a stimulus to spiritual apprehension and a help to faith. The history of the olden times is full of examples of the way in which men, as by a natural instinct, have sought to create for themselves some permanent record of the most momentous experiences of their life, by the names they gave to certain scenes, or by the erection of altars, etc. (Abraham at Mount Moriah, "Jehovah Jireh," Genesis 22:19; Jacob at Bethel, Genesis 28:18; Moses at Rephidim, Exodus 17:14; Samuel at Mizpeh, "Ebenezer," 1 Samuel 7:12). All memorials of this kind have their outlook towards the past and towards the future. They serve a double purpose; they keep alive precious memories and awaken buoyant hopes, they excite gratitude and strengthen faith. We do well to set up such way marks in the pilgrimage of our life. Their value lies not so much in the fact that they record the extraordinary - that which happened once and is not likely to happen again - but rather in the fact that they link the past with the future. They show us that through all change something abides. Our nature is the same in its needs, dangers, responsibilities; God is the same in His loving regard for us and His power to deliver. Every passing experience of His grace is a pledge that He will not fail us in emergencies yet to come. Anything is good that deepens this impression, provokes to thankfulness, and rebukes distrust. The darkest passages in our history thus 'leave benedictions behind them, are transformed into occasions of triumphant joy:

"Out of our stony griefs
Bethels we raise."

II. A MEANS OF INSTRUCTION FOR THEIR CHILDREN. "When your children shall ask their fathers," etc. A glimpse here of the simplicity and sanctity of domestic relations which was so important a feature of ancient Hebrew life. The authority of the father over his children almost absolute and unlimited. Something terrible in its despotism, if it had not been modified and softened by certain provisions defining parental duty. Instruction in the sacred traditions of the nation, its memories and hopes - an obligation continually enforced (see Exodus 12:26, 27; Exodus 12:14; Deuteronomy 6:7-20, et seq.).

1. The beauty and worth of a spirit of inquiry in children. It is natural for the child to ask questions. A boundless realm of mystery lies all around the awakening mind, and an irresistible instinct moves it to inquire, "Why these things? What mean ye by these services?" The contact of mind with mind is needful in order to development, and of whom should the children ask, but of "their fathers," for the solution of the problems that perplex them? The most notable chapter, the only recorded chapter, in the early development of Jesus is that scene in which we behold Him in the temple, "sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them and asking them questions."

2. The generous, sympathetic response this spirit of inquiry should meet with. No tender sensibility of childhood is to be suppressed, least of all any that may lead to the discovery of truth. The inquisitiveness of the child is a precious faculty that demands to be rightly directed. The indifference of many parents to the stirrings of the spirit of inquiry in their children arises from selfish indolence, and is a cruel wrong. No doubt children will often ask questions which the wisest cannot answer, but at least let the difficulty be frankly confessed; let the ground and reason of it be defined in a way adapted to the young intelligence. The very disappointment then becomes a means of Divine instruction. The higher interests of our being - the laws of God's government, the revelations of His love, the workings of His Providence and Spirit - let these especially be unfolded. What nobler office can any parent perform than to mediate between the mind of his child and the mystery of the Unseen - to lift up the veil that hides God's glory, to explain and justify His ways, to be the medium of His truth and Spirit to the young requiring soul?

3. The practical result at which all instruction should aim. "That ye might fear the Lord your God forever." The miracle, the memorial, the teaching, all find here their ultimate issue. All subordinate purposes must lead on to this - the showing forth of God's glory, and the submission of His intelligent creatures to Him in reverence and godly fear. "Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter," etc. (Ecclesiastes 12:13). ? W.

The Pulpit Commentary, Electronic Database.
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