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.…
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.
Parallel VersesKJV: 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.