The Stones Buried in the Jordan
Joshua 4:1-24
And it came to pass, when all the people were clean passed over Jordan, that the LORD spoke to Joshua, saying,…

As a memorial of this wonderful passage, twelve stones were selected from the rocky bed of the river, one for each of the twelve tribes of Israel; and these were borne across before them on the shoulders of twelve men, and planted on the upper terrace of the valley beyond the reach of the annual inundation. In this manner was formed the first sanctuary of the Holy Land, which was a circle of upright stones — like one of the so-called Druidical circles in which our pagan ancestors worshipped in our own country. But besides this memorial which was set up on the western bank of the Jordan, there was another set up in the bed of the river itself. In the place where the feet of the priests who bore the ark of the covenant stood, in the centre of the channel, twelve stones like those which had been carried across to the opposite bank were arranged probably in the same manner; and when the river, which had been temporarily driven back wards to allow the Israelites to cross, returned to its forsaken bed, its dark, muddy waters flowed over the buried stones and hid them for ever from view. Thus there were two monuments of the miraculous passage of the Jordan taken from the materials of its own bed; one that gave rise to the sacred shrine of Gilgal, which was for a long time the appointed place of worship in the land; and another that was buried out of sight for ever in the muddy ooze of the deep rushing river. The sacred narrative tells us what were the purpose and meaning of the monument that stood on the dry land and was visible to every eye; but we have to find out what were the purpose and meaning of the monument that was invisible beneath the waters of the river. The place where they entered the Holy Land is unique. There is no other place like it in the world. It is the deepest chasm on the surface of the earth — at a great depth below the level of the sea. Do we not see in this circumstance a symbol of the deep repentance and self-abasement which a people so sensual, so ignorant, required before they could be fitted to occupy the heights of worship in God's holy heritage? Then look further at the fact that the time when the Israelites crossed the Jordan was the spring-time, which in Palestine is the commencement of the barley-harvest. We are told elsewhere in Scripture that the harvest is emblematical of the judgment. It was therefore a time of judgment when the Israelites crossed the river; their past sins, their numerous rebellions, and outbursts of unbelief, deserved condemnation and punishment; their iniquities rose up against them, and demanded their exclusion from the land of promise as unworthy. But God in His great mercy held back the waters of the Jordan, the waters of judgment and death, which would otherwise have overwhelmed them, whilst His holy ark stood in the midst of the stream, and Israel crossed in safety; a token surely that though He was angry with them, His anger had passed away, and He was about to give them double for all their sins. Look further still at the significant fact that when the Israelites had erected their first sanctuary on the other side of Jordan, on the soil of the Holy Land, which by this solemn act became their own inheritance, they were immediately circumcised, and thus consecrated anew to the Lord, made new creatures, as it were, from their birth to Him. So that we see in this incident, as well as in the circumstance that the older generation which had left Egypt all perished in the wilderness, and only their children entered the Holy Land, what we may regard as the origin and illustration of our Lord's saying, "Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye cannot enter the kingdom of heaven." Seeing, then, that all the incidents and circumstances of the passage of the Israelites across the Jordan form a very focus of symbolism, we are surely warranted in looking for a spiritual significance in the burying of the memorial stones in the bed of the river. The Jordan was a boundary river, separating between the wilderness and the promised land. It flowed down to the dreary, lifeless solitude of the Dead Sea. Its waters, laden with mud, were dark and drumly, and concealed their bed and whatever they flowed over completely. Its course also was very rapid and impetuous. In all these respects it was a most expressive symbol to the Israelites. The transition from the wilderness to Canaan was not made over continuous dry land; a water-boundary was interposed, through which they had to pass. And did not this teach them that in the passage from the wandering life of the desert to a settled home in the land of promise they were not to continue the same persons in the new circumstances that they had been in the old; but, on the contrary, were to undergo a moral change, a spiritual reformation. They were to be made a holy nation, in order to be fit occupants of the Holy Land. Their passage of the Jordan was therefore a baptism of repentance; the river at the entrance of the Holy Land, like the laver at the entrance of the tabernacle, afforded a bath of purification; and the memorial stones laid in the bed of the river, over which the waters, when they had safely crossed on dry land, returned, burying them for ever from sight, represented the fate which should have been theirs had God dealt with them according to their sins. And just as the scape-goat carried away the sins of the people, confessed on its head, into the wilderness, into a land of forgetfulness, so the dark, muddy waters of the Jordan carried away the stones which represented the sins of the Israelites into the Dead Sea, there to be engulphed for ever. All baptism is in a spiritual sense the crossing of a boundary. When a child is baptized it crosses a boundary between nature and grace — between ignorance and knowledge. And when in later life we are baptized with a spiritual baptism, born again of water and the Spirit, we cross the boundary between spiritual death and life — from the kingdom of Satan to that kingdom which is not meat and drink, but righteousness and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost. Now the river of baptism is a river of death. In crossing it we die to sin and live to righteousness. In entering into the new life the old life perishes. Through the death of the old man there is the resurrection of the new man. All that is connected with the old life of sin and unbelief is taken from us and carried down to the Dead Sea. The body of sin is drowned in the waters of forgiveness, and shall no more rise up against us. Like the stones in the bed of the Jordan, there is no resurrection for that which was connected with our former dead sinful selves. And how precious is the significance of the buried stones when looked at in this light! It is not a truth that pleases the intelligence by its ingenuity only; it is a truth that Satisfies the heart by its suitableness to its wants. How comforting and reassuring is the thought that when, through faith in Christ, we have crossed from a state of nature to a state of grace, all our sins are cast into the sea of God's mercy. They are as completely buried out of sight as the stones in the ooze of the Jordan. The peace that is like a river and the righteousness that is like the waves of the sea flow over them,

(H. Macmillan, D. D.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: And it came to pass, when all the people were clean passed over Jordan, that the LORD spake unto Joshua, saying,

WEB: It happened, when all the nation had completely passed over the Jordan, that Yahweh spoke to Joshua, saying,

The Pile of Stones Speaking
Top of Page
Top of Page