Joshua 4: Twelve Stones


My wife will tell you that I have a short memory. I can say something or do something, and five minutes later have no memory of it whatsoever. It is not uncommon for me to walk into a room to get something, get distracted for just a second and then forget what I was after in the first place. And grocery lists? If I don’t have it written down – and even then – I am liable to forget significant chunks of what I went to get. I am that guy on the commercial that walked in, proud that he made it to the store and back with a can of green beans only to have my wife look at me with that what-in-the-world-are-you-thinking look on her face and say, “Corn!”

I have decided recently, though, that I’m not the only one that has a short memory. My wife, for instance, has demonstrated that she has a short memory on more than one occasion. And if she can forget something, I think it’s probably fair to assume that just about anyone can!

Enter Joshua 4. After escaping slavery in Egypt, crossing the Red Sea on dry ground, and wandering through the wilderness for forty years, the nation of Israel was ready at last to drive out the Canaanites and claim the promise land. Before they could do that, though, they had to find a way across the Jordan River. Ordinarily a couple dozen yards across, in the spring of the year, the Jordan River swells to a raging flood, a couple hundred yards across. Simply fording the river is not an option, and even less so with a million people and all the stuff that entails.

So God moved. He instructed Joshua to order the priests to step into the water, and when they did, He stopped the river in its tracks. By the end of the day, the entire nation had crossed the Jordan on dry ground and set up camp at Gilgal on the other side. But God knew that, just like me, Israel had a short memory.

Indeed, Israel had demonstrated their short memory time and again since He delivered them from Egypt. How many times they had started to grumble and groan because God wasn’t doing anything for them! And they had just wandered in the desert for four decades because they doubted God could or would overcome the people of Canaan. Yes, if anyone had a short memory, it was the nation of Israel.

So God spoke once more to Joshua, instructing him to order twelve men to haul twelve stones from the middle of the dry river bed up to the camp. These were no small stones, though. They were so large that the men had to heft them to their shoulders and lug them up the bank. I imagine that they staggered a time or two. They may have even stumbled. These rocks were as big as any human could carry, but God wanted them.

To be honest, though, if I put myself in their shoes, I would have to wonder what’s going on. Why in the world does God need these rocks? Why in the world do I have to haul these things out of here? And when I learned the answer – so that I would remember what God had done – I would have argued stringently that it was absolutely ridiculous. How could I forget the day God stopped the Jordan River so we could cross into the promise land?

Then again, how could Israel have forgotten the power God demonstrated in the plagues He used to free them from Egypt. How could the nation have forgotten the ability God showed when He parted the Red Sea, brought water from the rock, or met them on Mt. Sinai? How could they have forgotten how God protected them against their enemies and delivered into their hands the armies of Og and Sihon? And yet, in each case, they did exactly that. They forgot, and because of it, they spent forty years in the wilderness.

Forgetfulness can have a steep price. It is therefore essential that we do what it takes to remind ourselves of what God has done. These twelve rocks were to become that reminder.

Stacked atop one another, it would be clear for generations to come that they had been put there for a reason. And when someone asked what that reason was, it would be the perfect opportunity to tell them. God stopped the river. He made the way. He delivered them to the promise land. And He was about to do even more.

God is doing amazing things in and through His Church, His people, all the time. The problem is that we have a tendency to forget them quickly. Wouldn’t it be great if we set up twelve stones of our own to remind ourselves of all that He’s done so that we will have the faith to press forward, believing that He will do even more?


  • (5) Judging by how these men were to put the stones on their shoulders, I doubt very much that they were small rocks.
  • (6-7) The stones were not to serve as an altar, but as a monument designed to make people ask what happened in this place.
  • (8) The retrieving of a bunch of rocks from the center of the river would seem to be difficult and menial. Yet, God had commanded it, and the Israelites did exactly as they told.

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