Thus the Israelites did as Joshua had commanded them. They took up twelve stones from the middle of the Jordan, one for each tribe of Israel, just as the LORD had told Joshua; and they carried them to the camp, where they set them down.
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.
Come hither, and hear the words of the Lord.
That is a bold challenge. That is a voice we need. Every age wants some Joshua, some mighty soldier of the Cross, to say, "Come, hear the upper music, the Divine melody, the holy revelation." Have we the hearing ear? If we could hear better we could hear more. "Come hither." Does that indicate a point in space, a place, a boundary, a sanctuary? If so, it would be quite in keeping with Oriental thought in general, and with Jewish habit in particular. Always religious exercise was associated with locality — with the mountain, with the city, with the temple, with the tabernacle, with the terebinth, with some place made sacred by historic communes and wrestlings with God. Christ said, "The time cometh and now is when neither in this mountain nor at Jerusalem (particularly and exclusively) shall men worship the Father," but wherever there is a human spirit desiring the upward way, the higher light, the noonday of thought, and hope, and peace, wherever there is such a soul God is there, and God is the Author of it. Yet Jesus Christ Himself went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day — one of the evangelists says, "as was His custom." Beware lest in supposing ourselves able to grasp the all we grasp nothing. The universe is too big really for any one of us to grasp; we had better, therefore, have a little place cornered off and call it the Church, the sanctuary, the little temporary hostelry and lodging-place. All the earth is the Lord's. Men are now in danger of worshipping totals, the Unspeakable All, the incognisable infinite, as the metaphysicians call it. We may believe in all that grandeur of immeasurableness, and yet at the same time we go home every evening. Home — but the earth is the Lord's: why do you not live out in the open air? What do you want with home? you are a worshipper of Humanity, all space: why do you go home? You cannot keep away from the old place: the loved ones are there, all the lives that make your life a possible joy are there; all the holy, shadowy, tender memories are there — the old seat, the old books, the old fire that talks as it crackles and blazes are there. "Come." Why, the mere coming does us good, the very walk to church reddens the blood. The hunter says the delight is in the chase; not in the death of the hunted animal, but in the flight, the leap, the bound, the dash. The coming, the act of locomotion and the act signified by locomotion, will do us good. For what purpose shall we come? "Come hither, and hear the words of the Lord your God." That is the purpose. Not to hear the words of men. We are now here before God to hear what He will say unto us — "Speak, Lord, for Thy servant heareth." What shall we hear? Shall we hear the words of some strange deity? Nay, "hear the words of the Lord your God." It is a family meeting. These pronouns seem to bring us into sacred and general possession of things in common with God. Your God, our Father, my God, your fathers' God: these are the terms in which the greatness and the nearness of God are typified to our dull imagination. When you hear the words of the Lord your God they will not be strange, inarticulate, untranslatable thunder; they will be gospels, voices of music, voices of welcome, tender assurances, great offers of love, sublime propositions of pardon; you will know every word of the speech, being neither affrighted by its majesty nor rendered indifferent by its condescension. To be able to receive such words — is that an insignificant sign? To know God's voice — is not that an evidence of man's greatness?
Hereby ye shall know that the living God is among you
Observe the form which the purpose of the miracle assumes there. It is the confirmation of the Divine presence, not with the leader, but with the people and their consequent victory. Joshua grasped the inmost meaning of God's word to himself, and showed noble self-suppression, when he thus turned the direction of the miracle. The true servant of God knows that God is with him, not for his personal glorification, but for the welfare of God's people, and cares little for the estimation in which men hold him, if they will only believe that the conquering God is with them. We too often make great leaders and teachers in the Church opaque barriers to hide God from us, instead of transparent windows through which He shines upon His people. We are a great deal more ready to say "God is with him," than to add, "and therefore God is with us, in our Joshuas, and without them," Observe the grand emphasis of that name, "the living God," tacitly contrasted with the dead idols of the enemies, and sealing the assurance of His swift and all-conquering might. Observe, too, the triumphant contempt in the enumeration of the many tribes of the foe with their barbarous names. Five of them had been enough, when named by the spies' trembling lips, to terrify the congregation, but here the list of the whole seven but strengthens confidence. Faith delights to look steadily at its enemies, knowing that the one Helper is more than they all. This catalogue breathes the same spirit as Paul's rapturous list of the foes impotent to separate from the love of God. Mark, too, the long-drawn-out designation of the ark, with its accumulation of nouns, which grammatical purists have found difficulty — "the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth"; where it leads they need not fear to follow. It was the pledge of His presence, it contained the ten words on which His covenant was concluded. That covenant enlisted on their side Him who was Lord of the swollen river as of all the fierce clans beyond; and with His ark in front their victory was sure. Then follows the command to elect twelve representatives of the tribes, for a purpose not yet explained; and then, at the last moment, the manner of crossing is disclosed, to the silencing of wise doubters and the confirmation of ignorant faith. The brief anticipatory announcement of the miracle puts stress on the arrest of the waters at the instant when the priests' feet touched them, and tells what is to befall the arrested torrent above the point where the ark stood, saying nothing about the lower stretch of the river, and just hinting by one word, "heap," the parallel between this miracle and that of the passing of the Red Sea (Exodus 15:8
The ark ofIn the ark Israel saw God Himself, and yet lost none of their faith in the spiritual character of God. When the ark rested, Israel knew that God was among them; when the ark moved, then Israel believed that God was calling them to journey on again, and sang, "Let God arise, and let His enemies be scattered," &c.; when, again, the ark rested, they ceased to move forward, and sang, "Return, O Lord, to the many thousands of Israel." There was ever before the people of Israel the words of that commandment which forbade their ever thinking of God under any human, any material form, so that they had to content themselves with the ark of the covenant. But God, all this time, was preparing for a new manifestation of Himself in the Person of the Son, who was to take upon Him the form of His own highest creation, so that no longer should it be a sin to think of God under the likeness of a man. The man who depreciates the idea of a visible Church, and rejects externals in religion, has one side of the truth very clearly revealed to him; but I venture to think that not only is this one side insisted on to the exclusion of another equally true, but his position is maintained against certain unalterable facts, of which the first and foremost is, that our souls, through which alone, he argues, communion may be held with God, are imprisoned within material bodies, and cannot in this life, in the ordinary course, receive impressions of spiritual things except through the medium of those bodies. Israel in the wilderness was, no doubt, often very unworthy of the high calling which belonged to the chosen people; but they did succeed in living a life from which everything was removed except the prospect of the heavenly rewards. They knew they should not inherit temporal promises, and yet they patiently lived their lives in expectation of spiritual things. And during these lives they were guided by "the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth," and by the system of worship provided for them by God. We are looking, or ought to be looking, for like heavenly promises, and while we are in the flesh we shall find help, comfort, encouragement, and strength from these outward ordinances, which God has given us in His holy Church.
As soon as the soles of the feet... shall rest in the waters of Jordan.The first step was to be taken in the waters. They were called upon not only to face the difficulties, but to enter them. They were not to ask God to prove His power first. They were to trust Him first, and then should they see as they followed on to know the Lord, "His giving forth" to be "prepared as the morning." How fatal had been a halt, although but one step short of the brim of the waters! Even the foot uplifted, ready to fall as soon as the path was ready, would have waited in vain. The promise was addressed only to the faith that, without seeing signs and wonders, could yet believe. That one step taken which proved their faith, and placed it in a position of entire receptivity — then God could prove His faithfulness and manifest His power. His wonders follow at once. The lesson which is here taught us is of the utmost importance, showing us the very essence of all true faith. Mature faith must be able to dare and to endure, with no other stay than seeing Him who is invisible. Our Father does, indeed, stretch out the hand of yearning tenderness to steady the tottering steps of a babe. In His pity and compassion He will not forbid the poor cripple his staff; but the faith of full years and of steady strength can never be developed by continued indulgence. It must be exercised by reason of use. Again, that God, instead of giving His people some visible aid for their crossing, set before them a most visible hindrance, doubling the danger and difficulty to the natural eye, is in perfect accord with our advanced experience. Only how often does the simplicity of our faith fail to equal theirs. It is the first instinctive impulse of unbelief to seek a sign — to have something to interpose between itself and the bare word of God. And so, how often is the question asked: "If God be really disposed to bring me into this glorious liberty, will there not be at least some token of it? Shall I find no evidence of it in my own altered feelings; and especially will not the Lord prepare the way by lowering the opposing tide of temptation?" The word of our God needs neither sign nor surety. Be it a promise, or be it a command, it matters not; for every command has a promise for its kernel. We are to go forward to obey His commands — forward to receive His promises — forward in faith — forward though difficulties double. Again, the foot dipped in the brimming waters declares emphatically that faith is to precede feeling. Nothing that we discover in heart or life need hinder us in coming to Christ to seek deliverance from it. We may even use our worst discoveries as our plea in coming; "For the whole have no need of a physician, but they that are sick." Nor will my sickness make the Physician displeased with me in my first application to Him. But if after He has healed me, and taught me the conditions of sustaining health, I find myself again unloving, cold, perturbed, fretted, moody, I have not the least right to say that all is well, and that, disregarding all this, I am to believe myself fully accepted through Christ. Unless I bring this disturbance to Him for confession, forgiveness, and healing, I am utterly at fault. Our feelings are of importance. The same Creator who set the faithful nerves as sentinels along all the lines of the senses, to give due warning of danger and disease, gave a corresponding sensitiveness to our souls. Faith is not to discharge this as unnecessary, but to retain it in her service. If it be well with our faith, it will also be well with our feelings.
()When we, actually going forth in duty as He has told us, according to the directions He has given, laying hold by faith upon His promise, come to the limit of our strength — when thus our feet are dipped in the brim of the waters of our Jordan, His great help does come.
1. Such Divine help comes in difficult duty. Though duty be difficult, when we go forth toward it, as God has ordered, and in faith in His promise, we may be certain somehow His help will meet us.
2. Such Divine help comes scattering foreboded inability, e.g., the women going to the sepulchre, asking, anxiously, "Who shall roll away the stone?" but going on and finding it rolled away (Mark 16:1-4).
3. Such Divine help will come in death. See what Mr. Greatheart says of Mr. Fearing in the second part of "Pilgrim's Progress." The whole passage is most exquisite.
4. Such Divine help will also come in conversion. There is that Jordan of belief in Jesus — of the absolute commitment of the self to Him which we must pass before we can enter the Canaan of forgiveness, and God's favour, and the noble life. Now go on toward it. Cross it. But you have no feeling, you say; that is not to the matter. But you do not know such feeling as other people say they have; that is not to the matter. But you do not understand how it can be; you need not; that is not to the matter. But you are not fit to make the crossing; you never will be fitter; that is not to the matter. This is enough. God tells you to go forth, along His way in faith of His promise; and when your feet but touch the brim of a perfect self-surrender, you are His, you are Christian. His forgiveness falls, you have passed into the Canaan of the new life.
()It is worth noticing the use which in the passage of the river they made of the ark of the covenant. The pillar of fire had ceased to go before them. They had grown into the ability to appreciate a better and more spiritual symbolism. Fire meant more to the eye than a little box of acacia-wood, but the acacia box, considered as the casket of the Divine autograph of the two tables, denoted more to the mind and heart; and so it marks a growth that not the pillar, but the ark, guided them across the river. They treated the ark on this occasion reverently, but not superstitiously. They used it not as a "charm," but as a symbol. The Israelites on a later occasion used it as a charm in one of their battles with the Philistines, when after one defeat they said (1 Samuel 4:3). To the men standing on the brink of the swollen Jordan, however, the ark was not a charm, a power, but only the representative of a power. Their own faith earned them miraculous passage, and not the little acacia chest; and they felt it so. There is danger of our coming to use the holy things of our religion more as the Israelites used the ark at Ebenezer than as they used it at the river. We easily fall into a way of attributing Divine potency to rites and ceremonies, prayers, sanctuaries, and ordinances, forgetting that these things are only types, significant as types, but not as forces — that the power of Christianity is not in the rites, but in the faith only that uses them. A symbol is a dangerous thing: the Hebrews learned that lesson at Ebenezer. A symbol is a precious thing: the Hebrews learned that lesson at the Jordan-crossing.