Joshua 4: We Worship a God of Wonders"
The easiest way to jump into today's passage is by turning to Joshua 3:7-13. It begins with Yahweh's words to Joshua, right before He does the wonder He has planned for Israel. Verse 7: (7) And Yahweh said to Joshua, "Today I will begin to make you great in the eyes of all Israel, that they may know that just as I was with Moses, I will be with you, (8) while you will command the priests carrying the ark of the covenant, saying, "As soon as you come up to the edge of the waters of the Jordan, in the Jordan you shall stand." (9) And Joshua said to the sons of Israel, "Draw near here, and hear the words of Yahweh your God." (10) And Joshua said, "By this you shall know that the living God (El) [is] in your midst, and he shall certainly drive out before you the Canaanites, and the Hittites and the Perizzites and the Girgashites and the Amorites and the Jebusites." (11) LOOK! The ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth is crossing over before you in the Jordan, (12) and so then, take for yourselves twelve men from the tribes of Israel, a man from each tribe. (13) And then, as soon as the sole of the feet of the priests carrying the ark of Yahweh the Lord of all the world are immersed in the waters in the waters of the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan shall be cut off-- the water coming down from above-- and they shall stand in one heap. In these verses, Yahweh explains to Joshua why He is about to do this great wonder. Yahweh wants to make Joshua great-- to exalt him in the sight of all Israel. But when Joshua explains to the people why Yahweh is doing this wonder, he says that it's because Yahweh wants to prove that he is with them, and that he will certainly drive out the nations before them. And right in the middle of this explanation, we get this puzzling note about choosing twelve men. Let me reread verse 12: (12) and so then, take for yourselves twelve men from the tribes of Israel, a man from each tribe. Why are these men chosen? What's going on? AJ doesn't explain it. And so it just sits in the back of our minds, bugging us. There must be an explanation. We just have to keep reading to find out. Here, in chapter 4, we finally get our answer. This is the thread that AJ picks back up. (1) And then, as soon as all the nation finished crossing the Jordan, Yahweh said to Joshua, saying, (2) "Take for yourselves from the people twelve men-- one man from each tribe-- (3) and command them, saying, "Take for yourselves from this/here, from the middle of the Jordan, from where the feet of the priests stand firm, 12 stones, and carry them over with you, and set them down in the place that you are spending the night tonight." So why are the 12 men chosen? Their job is to grab 12 stones, and carry them across the river, and leave them wherever it is they are camping that night. We find ourselves asking, again, why? But we aren't told yet. We have to keep reading. There is something else going on here. When God speaks in the OT, do you ever stop to think, what does this mean that God is speaking? Where is Yahweh speaking from? Sometimes, Yahweh speaks from a burning bush. Sometimes, he speaks in dreams or visions. Where is Yahweh speaking from in Joshua 4? Is he speaking audibly? Or is this like an internal voice? Let's read verse 3 again. "Take for yourselves from here, from the middle of the Jordan, from where the feet of the priests stand firm, 12 stones." Yahweh says, "take them from here." So where is Yahweh? Yahweh is in the middle of the river. We can't see him, I don't think. But we know Yahweh is enthroned on the ark. And we know Israel consecrated itself last week (3:12) to prepare to meet Yahweh. So it makes sense, that Yahweh is right here. He's in the middle of the Jordan. Verses 4-7: (4) And Joshua called to the twelve men who he had appointed from the sons of Israel-- a man from each tribe-- (5) and Joshua said to them, "Cross over before the ark of Yahweh your God to the middle of the Jordan, and take up for yourselves, each man, a stone on his shoulder according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Israel, (6) so that this will be a sign in your midst when your sons ask in the future, saying, "What are these stones for you?" (7) And you will say to them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off from before the ark of the covenant of Yahweh when it crossed over in the Jordan. The waters of the Jordan were cut off, and these stones will be a memorial for the sons of Israel forever. In these verses, Joshua obeys Yahweh's command to call the twelve men to each grab of rock. What's new, is that when Joshua commands the men, he tells them why they are doing this. These twelve stones are going to be a memorial for the sons of Israel forever. They will be a way to remember what Yahweh did for Israel on this day-- a way for parents to give their children one small proof of Yahweh's presence with his people, and his faithfulness to them. You'd maybe think that a story like this would naturally be told, and remembered, from one generation to the next. But people are naturally forgetful. And I think we all know that when it comes to God, people are quick to forget what God has done for them. We take God's wonders, his grace, and his faithfulness for granted. We find ourselves looking at other gods, and wondering if they can offer something that God can't, or won't. By telling Joshua to make a memorial here, Yahweh is helping ensure that Israel will remember what he has done for them. He knows Israel is forgetful. He knows Israel is hard-hearted. And maybe, there's a chance, that this memorial will help them live faithfully. Here, I also need to talk about the responsibility of parents to teach their children. Not just the church's job. Not the youth pastor's job. Verse 8: (8) And the sons of Israel did thus, just as Joshua commanded, and they carried twelve stones from the middle of the Jordan just as Yahweh spoke to Joshua according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Israel, and they carried them with them to the lodging place and they rested them there, In verse 8 AJ describes the sons of Israel obeying Joshua. They did everything just as Joshua commanded. And when they are obeying Joshua, they are also obeying Yahweh. They carried twelve stones from the midst of the Jordan just as Yahweh spoke to Joshua. What we have here is a model of obedience. When God commands something, you do exactly what he says. It's simple. Verse 9: (9) while the (other) twelve stones Joshua set up on the middle of the Jordan in the place where the feet of the priests carrying the ark of the covenant stand, and they are there until this day, Verse 9 is a good example of where nerd Hebrew pays off. If you compare English translations of verse 9, there's no agreement about what's going on here. They don't make sense really, if you look at them long enough. In Hebrew, normal word order is this: "And," "verb" "Subject" "object." (and-is teaching-Garrett the-church). If you wanted to add to this description, and talk about something or someone else involved in the same situation, you'd do this by putting the new topic after the "and." "And the-people-Garrett-is-teaching are sitting in front of him." The idea with this word order is that something else is going on at the same time; someone or something else is doing something. What I've started doing when I see these is putting "while" at the front. It lets you know that AJ is commenting on something or someone else involved in the same situation. So what's happening in this verse, is that at the same time the men are choosing a heavy rock to carry to wherever they are camping that night, there's another set of 12 stones that Joshua is carrying to the spot where the feet of the priests carrying the ark stand. Joshua is making a memorial in the middle of the river. Most of the year, in many places, the Jordan was only three feet deep. So these 12 stones, piled up, would've been visible from the shore for most of the year. You could take your kids here on vacation, point to the middle of the Jordan, and say, "Look! It was HERE where Yahweh stopped the floodwaters of the Jordan. It was HERE where we crossed before the ark of Yahweh. This marks the spot where we crossed into the land Yahweh promised us. In verse 10, we find the same Hebrew word order. AJ is adding a description of the priests' carrying the ark to this overall picture: (10) while the priests carrying the ark were standing in the middle of the Jordan until every word/thing that Yahweh commanded Joshua to speak to the people was completed/finished, as all that Moses had commanded Joshua, It's at the tail end of verse 10 that our story starts to get confusing. and the people hurried and they crossed over. This part of the story began, in 4:1, by saying that everything you're about to read happened after the nation crossed over. And now we read again that they are crossing over. There's no agreement about what is going on here. It's comical, really, how many different explanations there are for this verse. My explanation is very simple. In chapter 3, AJ described the entire crossing of the people in front of the priests carrying the ark. But there was something he left out, that's really important. He still needed to talk about the two memorials that were built to remember this wonder. These memorials are a big deal, and need to be given the proper amount of focus. So AJ basically hits the pause button on the whole story to talk about them. Then, in verse 10, he repeats verse 1 to bring us back into the story's timeline. It's like when you're watching TV, and the newest episode begins by giving you a 30 second summary of last week's episode. That's verse 10. It's our signal that the storyline is getting picked back up, and AJ is now going to push this thing through to what happens next. Verse 11-13 (11) And then, after all the people finished crossing over, the ark of Yahweh crossed over, while the priests [were] before the people, (12) and the sons of Reuben crossed over, and the sons of Gad, and the half-tribe of Menasha, in battle readiness before the sons of Israel just as Moses spoke to them. (13) About forty thousand men reading for fighting crossed over before Yahweh for battle to the plains of Jericho. This is pretty straightforward, but there's something in verse 13 you need to catch. 40,000 men ready for fighting cross over the Jordan before... who? For two chapters, we've been reading about how the people are crossing before the ark of Yahweh. And I've tried, I hope successfully, to convince you that Yahweh is present with his ark. The ark is his footstool; He is enthroned above it. Here, we have proof. Yahweh is in the middle of the Jordan. He is there, holding back the floodwaters. You can't see him, but he's there. The entire nation has crossed over before Yahweh. They haven't seen him, but he is very obviously here. So why did the Israelites have to consecrate itself? Dedicate themselves? Make themselves holy? They had to do this, because here, in these verses, the nation gets closer to Yahweh than it does anywhere else in the OT. And when you approach Yahweh, you need to be completely dedicated to him alone. Verse 14: (14) It was on that day that Yahweh exalted/made great Joshua in the eyes of all Israel, and they feared/revered him, just as they had feared/revered Moses all the days of his life, When Yahweh first told Joshua what he was going to do to the Jordan, and why, he said he was doing this to make Joshua great in the eyes of all Israel. But Joshua, in humility, when he explained the point of Jericho to Israel, said that what they would learn was that Yahweh was with them, and that he'd certainly drive out the nations before them (3:10). Joshua at no point in this story exalts himself. This wasn't something he asked for. He didn't insist on it. And at no point in this story does Joshua point to himself. All he is doing is obeying God, and pointing to God. And when he did this--because he did this--God exalted him. We read this, and I think this probably does nothing for you. It's a curiosity, maybe. You probably know the Bible well enough to know that you are supposed to be humble. You aren't supposed to strive for glory, or to be great. And so when you look at Joshua, and the honor he receives, you don't feel a pull. You don't let yourself really think about the privilege and honor he had. In Mark 10, Jesus says there is nothing wrong with wanting to be great. Wanting to do great things; be great. The question is, how do you do seek this (also, John 12:26)? 41 When the ten heard about this, they became indignant with James and John. 42 Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 43 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant,44 and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” If you want to be great, and you should, you do this by seeking God first (also John 12:26), and by serving everyone as a slave. Then God will lift you up. It's good to want to be humble. But don't misunderstand humility to think that this you means you can't be great. You just need to redefine greatness, and understand who gives you honor, and how you receive it. Yahweh is determined to make Joshua great in the eyes of Israel, and show Israel that he is with Joshua, just as he was with Moses. And Joshua has enough humility to be able to handle this rightly. Mission accomplished. Verses 15-end: (15) And Yahweh said to Joshua, saying, (16) "Command the priests carrying the ark of the testimonies, so that they will come up from the Jordan," (17) And Joshua commanded the priests, saying, "Come up from the Jordan." (18) And then, when the priests-- the ones carrying the ark of the covenant of Yahweh--came up from the midst of the Jordan, the soles of the feet of the priests were raised from the ground to the dry land, and the waters of the Jordan returned to their place, and they went as three days before over all its banks, (19) while the people came up from the Jordan on the tenth of the first month, and they camped in Gilgal on the edge of the east of Jericho, (20) while these 12 stones that they had taken from the Jordan, Joshua set up in Gilgal, (21) and he said to the sons of Israel, saying, "When your sons ask in the future their parents, saying, "What are these stones?" (22) you will explain to your children, saying, "On the dry ground Israel crossed this Jordan, (23) when Yahweh your God dried up the waters of the Jordan from before you until you crossed just as Yahweh your God did to the Sea of Reeds, which he dried up from before us until our crossing, (24) so that all the peoples of the earth would know the hand of Yahweh, because strong it is, so that you may fear/revere Yahweh your God forever. The other twelve stones--the ones the men carried-- were brought to Gilgal, and there Joshua sets up a second memorial. When parents bring their kids on that same vacation, to see what Yahweh had done for Israel, they would also bring their kids to Gilgal. Rivers are wet. You heard it here first. You can't walk across without getting soaked. But these stones are a reminder of the time that Israel crossed the Jordan on dry ground. Verse 23 is really cool. This is what the parents say to their children: "When Yahweh YOUR God dried up the waters of the Jordan from before YOU until YOU crossed." Each generation of God's people claims God's story for themselves. They are a part of God's larger people. I could take you there this morning, if I knew where this was, point at the rocks, and say, this is a reminder of when Yahweh YOUR GOD dried up the waters of the Jordan before YOU until YOU crossed." This is your story. This is what God has done for you, as God's people. And then look at verse 24. What's the goal here? The ultimate goal of this wonder was that all the peoples of the earth would know the hand of Yahweh, because it is STRONG, so that you may fear/revere Yahweh your God forever. What God did here, he did so that the entire world would know his hand-- would know him, and the strength of his power. And as we sit here this Sunday, we fulfill this, at least in part. We have heard the stories about Yahweh, and we have believed. We have placed our trust in Yahweh, and in his power. We will revere Yahweh our God forever. And we will make sure that we tell the story about what God has done to our children, to our coworkers, and our friends. Everyone needs to know who God is, how strong God is, and the wonders that God has done for his creation-- for his people. Tell everyone what God has done--and start with your kids. Our God, Yahweh, is a God of wonders.