The Stones of Witness
“And it came to pass, when all the people were clean passed over Jordan, that the Lord spake unto Joshua, saying, Take you twelve men out of the people, out of every tribe a man, And command ye them, saying, Take you hence out of the midst of Jordan, out of the place where the priests’ feet stood firm, twelve stones, and ye shall carry them over with you, and leave them in the lodging place, where ye shall lodge this night. Then Joshua called the twelve men, whom he had prepared of the children of Israel, out of every tribe a man: and Joshua said unto them, Pass over before the ark of the Lord your God into the midst of Jordan, and take you up every man of you a stone upon his shoulder, according unto the number of the tribes of the children of Israel: that this may be a sign among you, that when your children ask their fathers in time to come, saying, What mean ye by these stones? Then ye shall answer them, That the waters of Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord; when it passed over Jordan, the waters of Jordan were cut off: and these stones shall be for a memorial unto the children of Israel for ever. And the children of Israel did so as Joshua commanded, and took up twelve stones out of the midst of Jordan, as the Lord spake unto Joshua, according to the number of the tribes of the children of Israel, and carried them over with them unto the place where they lodged, and laid them down there. And Joshua set up twelve stones in the midst of Jordan, in the place where the feet of the priests which bare the ark of the covenant stood: and they are there unto this day.”—Joshua 4:1-9
It has been remarked that the Old Testament is God’s picture book. It teaches by type and illustration. We are told in 1 Corinthians 10:11 that “All these things happened unto them for our ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.” There are a great many people who recognize the fact that some things written in the Old Testament were typical, but they hesitate to acknowledge that this is true of all. We need to learn the lesson of these words. Some will tell you that the books of the Old Testament, the so-called historical books, are largely made up of Hebrew myths and legends, and we cannot attach any creditability to them, but the Holy Spirit says, “All these things happened.” Therefore, he who believes God accepts these various experiences of Israel as actual history. In the second place, we learn that there are certain typical lessons which we learn from them. “All these things happened unto them for types.”
We have seen in the previous chapter how the ark going down into the waters of Jordan typified our Lord Jesus Christ in death. Going down into the waters of death He could say, “Deep calleth unto deep at the noise of thy waterspouts: all thy waves and thy billows are gone over me” (Psalm 42:7). By His death on the cross He has annulled him that had the power of death, that is the devil. Through Him the fear of death is gone, and Christians can say, “God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world” (Galatians 6:14). The believer is identified with the Lord Jesus in His death, burial, and resurrection. This comes out very clearly, very beautifully in the present chapter. We are told that when the people were clean past over Jordan, the Lord gave another command to Joshua. The priests bearing the ark of the covenant still stood in the river bed, but the people had passed over, when God says to Joshua, “take you twelve men out of the people, out of every tribe a man, and command ye them, saying, Take you hence out of the midst of Jordan, out of the place where the priests’ feet stood firm, twelve stones, and ye shall carry them over with you, and leave them in the lodging place, where ye shall lodge this night.” The twelve stones were to be a memorial of Israel’s deliverance. They were to take up these stones from the river bed and carry them to the other side, and they were to be piled up as a monument that generations to come might look upon them and remember how God delivered His people.
“Then Joshua called the twelve men, whom he had prepared of the children of Israel, out of every tribe a man: and Joshua said unto them, Pass over before the ark of the Lord your God into the midst of Jordan, and take you up every man of you a stone upon his shoulder, according unto the number of the tribes of the children of Israel: that this may be a sign among you, that when your children ask their fathers in time to come, saying, What mean ye by these stones? Then ye shall answer them, That the waters of Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord; when it passed over Jordan, the waters of Jordan were cut off: and these stones shall be for a memorial unto the children of Israel for ever.”
God wanted to preserve this as a testimony. May I say that similarly the two ordinances given to Christian people were intended by God to emphasize these truths. Take the ordinance of baptism, Christian baptism which is set forth as a memorial. “As many of you as have been baptized unto Christ, were baptized unto His death.” When a believer is baptized he is bearing testimony to the fact that Christ has died and that he takes his place in identification with Him in His death. God sees every believer dead, buried and risen with Christ. I hesitate to participate in baptizing anyone if he does not really understand this. Baptism is not a means of salvation; baptism can never wash away the filth of the flesh, but in baptism a person is bearing witness to his death, burial and resurrection from the dead through Jesus Christ. The intelligent person being baptized says, “I deserve to die, but Christ died in my stead; therefore His death is my death, and I take my place now in identification with Him. I have died with Him; died to all that He died to as a Man. I have died to the world, to sin in the flesh; I have died to law; I now stand on altogether different ground before God.”
The other ordinance is that of the Lord’s Supper. As we gather about His table to partake of the broken bread and of the cup which represent the body and the precious blood of Christ, we recognize the fact that now we are raised with Christ, and that He is living, and is coming again to take us to be forever with Himself. When your children ask you, “What mean ye these ordinances?” we should be prepared to say, “Our Saviour died, and we died with Him; He arose in triumph, and we have been quickened together with Him. Now we are dead to that which He died, and we are called upon to live unto God.” We have this set forth in the twelve stones taken out of the midst of Jordan—our resurrection with Christ. But there was more than that. We read in verse 9, “Joshua set up twelve stones in the midst of Jordan, in the place where the feet of the priests which bare the ark of the covenant stood: and they are there unto this day. For the priests which bare the ark stood in the midst of Jordan, until every thing was finished that the Lord commanded Joshua.” How that should remind us of that word that the Saviour uttered ere He departed to the Father. I say that “word” for in our translation we have three words, “It is finished,” but in the Greek there is only one world. What Jesus cried was “tetelestai,” “completed”—“finished,” “consummated”—the work of redemption was finished for all those who put their trust in Him.
The twelve stones were set up in the midst of Jordan, and when the priests, baring the ark, came up out of the river the waters came down from above and covered up those twelve stones. Joshua says, “They are there unto this day.” You may take that as meaning until the book of Joshua was written, but I think we dare go even further and declare, “They are there untothis day.” There is a lesson for us in this. We can see the infinite grace of God. Christ died for us and now we are dead to the world and all its sin.
That is what the twelve stones in the midst of the Jordan tell us. They say, “I have died with Christ; I no longer belong to the world that crucified Him; I no longer come under its judgment but under grace.” That does not mean that we can be careless in our behavior. As believers we should be more careful than ever as to our conduct. That is what the Apostle stresses when he says, “Sin shall not have dominion over you: and ye are not under the law, but under grace” (Romans 6:14). Again he says, “Reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:11).
Those twelve stones on the other side in the land of Canaan speak of resurrection with Christ. “If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God” (Colossians 3:1). May I try to make this very personal.
Have you taken your place in baptism as professedly in association with our Lord Jesus Christ in His death? Are you living it out? Let me ask you, some of you dear young people who have confessed your faith in Christ in baptism, what does that mean to you? Do you recognize the fact that God now claims you as His own? You should walk absolutely apart from the world and all its toys and idols. That is what God desires for you. When you talk to some people about coming out from the world they will say that they cannot see any harm in this thing and in that thing, and yet their own lives manifest their harmfulness. They are useless Christians; they do not count for God.
I remember a lady whom I met when I was in Texas. She was a Christian there was no question about that. She confessed her faith in baptism, but there was one form of worldly amusement that she enjoyed very much and that was dancing. Someone challenged her, telling her that she could not witness for Christ on a ballroom floor. She replied, “I think I am as free to witness there for Christ as anywhere else.”
The person who challenged her said, “If what you say is true, I cannot tell you not to go.”
One night she was dancing with a young man, and as she did so she said to herself, “I ought to witness for Christ here.” So she said to her dancing partner, “I want to ask you a question.”
“All right,” he replied, “What is it?”
She inquired, “Do you know the Lord Jesus Christ as Saviour?”
He answered, “No, do you?”
“Yes,” she replied, “I do indeed.”
The young man exclaimed, “Then what on earth are you doing here?” Though a mere worldling he realized that there are certain standards that Christians should seek to live up to, and this lady wasn’t living up to them. She said to me, “That was the last dance I ever attended. To think I had to be rebuked like that by an unsaved young man!”
Those twelve stones in the midst of Jordan, how they ought to speak to our hearts of the grace of Christ and of what He endured for us. Have you taken your place with Him so that you can say from the heart, “God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world”?
But you say, “That means giving up so many things.” Yes, but you get so much more in their place.
Those twelve stones on the other side of Jordan speak of Christ in resurrection—the blessedness, the happiness, the gladness of heart that comes to the one who is consciously identified with the risen Christ.
You will not care for the poor, trivial things of this world if your heart is taken up with Him.
“And it came to pass, when all the people were clean passed over, that the ark of the Lord passed over, and the priests, in the presence of the people. And the children of Reuben, and the children of Gad, and half the tribe of Manasseh, passed over armed before the children of Israel, as Moses spake unto them: about forty thousand prepared for war passed over before the Lord unto battle, to the plains of Jericho. On that day the Lord magnified Joshua in the sight of all Israel; and they feared him, as they feared Moses, all the days of his life. And the Lord spake unto Joshua, saying, Come ye up out of Jordan.” Typically, it speaks of Christ coming up out of death in resurrection life after He had completed the work of our redemption.
“And it came to pass, when the priests that bare the ark of the covenant of the Lord were come up out of the midst of Jordan, and the soles of the priests, feet were lifted up unto the dry land, that the waters of Jordan returned unto their place, and flowed over all his banks, as they did before.”
Notice just an added word here, “And the people came up out of the Jordan, on the tenth day of the first month, and encamped in Gilgal.” That was their first camping place in Canaan, and there are many precious lessons connected with Gilgal which we shall notice when we come to it in our next chapter. Those twelve stones which they took out of the Jordan were set up in Gilgal.
“And he spake unto the children of Israel, saying, When your children shall ask their fathers in time to come, saying, What mean these stones? Then ye shall let your children know, saying, Israel came over this Jordan on dry land. For the Lord your God dried up the waters of Jordan from before you, until ye were passed over, as the Lord your God did to the Red Sea, which he dried up from before us, until we were gone over: that all the people of the earth might know the hand of the Lord, that it is mighty: that ye might fear the Lord you God for ever.”