Faithlife Sermons

Remember The Lord Joshua 4

Sermon  •  Submitted
0 ratings
Sermon Tone Analysis
View more →

Joshua 4:1-24

Stephen Caswell © 1999

Anzac Day Holiday

Every year we celebrate a number of public holidays. One of them is Anzac Day. The government of Australia instituted this holiday so that we would not forget the men who died on our behalf. They gave their lives so that the world would remain free from tyranny. We have special services to honour these men who fought for king and country. By doing this we keep alive their heroic deeds. In fact the words " Lest We Forget " are repeated every year so that we won't forget them. The 11 th of November is Remembrance Day and has a similar purpose. The minute's silence encourages us to remember those who died in the Great War. I am sure that without such holidays we would soon forget the sacrifices these brave men.


Last Sunday we saw that God goes before His people. He commanded the children of Israel to follow Him. We observed how they were to be fully committed to the Lord and exercise faith in Him. Because they obeyed God, He worked mightily on their behalf and the Jordan River stopped flowing allowing them to cross over on dry land. Today the writer of Joshua continues to describe the crossing, adding important details not mentioned previously. He does not describe the events in chronological order, but emphasises one main point as he goes. God wanted them to remember what He had done for them. People so easily forget God's past goodness to them. So Joshua told Israel to, " Remember The Lord! "

There are three main points that come from this passage:

I.   The Miracle - History Of Israel's Salvation

II.  The Monuments - For Israel's Future Generation

III. The Message - Israel's Continuous Declaration

Chronological Order Of The Crossing

1.      The priests carrying the ark of the covenant stepped into the edge of the Jordan River.

2.      The waters of the Jordan were cut off at the city of Adam, some 16 miles upstream.

3.      The priests with the ark of the covenant stayed in the river bed till all Israel crosses.

4.      The 40, 000 armed soldiers from Reuben, Gad and Manasseh went over before Israel.

5.      All Israel passed over the Jordan River next.

6.      The 12 men, one from each tribe went last carrying a stone from the river bed. 

7.      Joshua set up a memorial of twelve stones in the midst of the Jordan River.

8.      Joshua commanded the priests carrying the ark to come up out of the River.

9.      The River began to flow as soon as the priests feet touch the dry land.

10.  They set up camp for the first night at Gilgal.

11.  Joshua set up the second memorial of twelve stones at Gilgal.

12.  Joshua instructed the people of their significance


Firstly we observe  I. The Miracle - History Of Israel's Salvation

Joshua 3:17 says: Then the priests who bore the ark of the covenant of the LORD stood firm on dry ground in the midst of the Jordan; and all Israel crossed over on dry ground, until all the people had crossed completely over the Jordan. 

We saw how God acted mightily to meet the needs of His people. They were unable to enter the land of Canaan because the Jordan River was flooded. In this chapter the writer covers much of the same material but with a totally different purpose. Chapter 3 emphasised the fact that God would go before them and lead them into victory. Chapter 4 highlights that God went before them and miraculously met their need. This chapter commands Israel to remember this miracle of God's salvation and faithfulness. Much of what is written shows the fulfilment of previous promises made by God and the 2 1/2 tribes of the Transjordan. I would like to draw out some important points the author of Joshua reveals in these verses. Two things stand out, 1. The Crossing Order, 2. The Crossing Over.

a. The Crossing Order  -  The order of the people crossing over is very significant. 

Firstly the ark of the covenant went into the Jordan River. As we noted last week God led them across the Jordan into enemy territory. God went before them and they were to follow Him. Primarily the battle for Canaan was a spiritual one and God would drive out the enemy.

Secondly the priests carrying the ark lead the way as God had commanded them to. This further highlights the fact that the battle for Canaan was primarily spiritual. The priests were the spiritual leaders of the nation, and they stepped out in faith before all the people.

Third to cross were forty thousand soldiers prepared for battle. We read this in Joshua 4:12-13: And the men of Reuben, the men of Gad, and half the tribe of Manasseh crossed over armed before the children of Israel, as Moses had spoken to them. About forty thousand prepared for war crossed over before the LORD for battle, to the plains of Jericho. Israel was lead across by forty thousand men armed for battle. We should not miss this point. They were prepared to protect the people if the enemy should attack. This was in obedience to the command given by Moses and confirmed by Joshua [Joshua 1:14]. They also showed the inhabitants of the land their intention to conquer them.      

Fourth, all the people crossed over in orderly file, probably in their clans and tribes. Joshua 4:11 says:  Then it came to pass, when all the people had completely crossed over, that the ark of the LORD and the priests crossed over in the presence of the people.

The last group to cross over were 12 chosen men, one from each tribe to take a stone from the middle of the Jordan River. Joshua 4:1-5 says this: And it came to pass, when all the people were completely crossed over the 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 ye up every man of you a stone upon his shoulder, according unto the number of the tribes of the children of Israel:

In Joshua 3:12 we read that Joshua chose these men, but we were not told about their task at that time. These 12 men representing the 12 tribes collected stones to erect a memorial for the all of Israel. Their task was important, so they preceded the people.


After all the people were across the Jordan River God commanded that the priests come up out of the river bed. Joshua 4:15-19 says: Then the LORD spoke to Joshua, saying, " Command the priests who bear the ark of the Testimony to come up from the Jordan."  Joshua therefore commanded the priests, saying, "Come up from the Jordan."  And it came to pass, when the priests who bore the ark of the covenant of the LORD had come from the midst of the Jordan, and the soles of the priests' feet touched the dry land, that the waters of the Jordan returned to their place and overflowed all its banks as before. Now the people came up from the Jordan on the tenth day of the first month, and they camped in Gilgal on the east border of Jericho.   

b. The Crossing Over -  Israel entered into new life in Canaan.

Because God miraculously cut off the Jordan River the Children of Israel were able to cross over and begin a new life in the land of Canaan. God had saved them out of bondage in Egypt and lead them through the Red Sea to the borders of Canaan. He never intended that they should wander in the wilderness for forty years. He desired that they immediately enter into a life of faith. But they would not and rebelled against Him through unbelief. Now at last they had crossed over from their old life in the flesh into a new life of faith in Canaan. God 's miracle had made it possible for them to cross over into new life. There could be no going back to their old life now. The Jordan River returned to its previous position of overflowing its banks. They must depend on God now and go forward by faith. 

Illustration - He Paid The Toll

The story is told of a family who were about to cross Mackinac Bridge into Michigan's Upper Peninsula when a wild storm hit. High winds forced the authorities to close the world's longest suspension bridge. When it finally opened, a long string of cars crossed over. The family drove up to pay the toll, but the attendant said, " You don't need to pay. The guy in front of you has paid the toll for you. "  As they watched the tail- lights of the minivan in front of them disappear, they knew they had no chance to thank the generous driver. This story reminds us of the enormous price that was required for our entrance into heaven - a price we could never pay.          

Believers Enter Into New Life Through Christ

In the same way believers have been saved from bondage to sin. Those who believe in Jesus Christ are saved from their old life of sin. They cross over into new life through Jesus Christ. This miracle is called the new birth, since God's Holy Spirit comes into our lives and makes us alive spiritually. This is totally a work of God and received by faith in His promises. Ephesians 2:5-8 says: Even when we were dead in trespasses, God made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, That in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God,  

Secondly we see  II. The Monument - For Israel's Future Generation

The Jordan River Monument

While the people were crossing over the Jordan River, Joshua erected a memorial of 12 stones in the river bed. We read this in Joshua 4:9 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. The people would have seen this as they passed by. The memorial stones marked the place from where God cut off the Jordan River. When the River returned to its normal position no doubt it was covered over. But they still knew that God had done this great work on their behalf. Joshua may have erected this memorial from his own devotion to God. But the stones taken to Gilgal were definitely by God's command.

The Gilgal Monument

We read this in Joshua 4:4-5, 8: " Then Joshua called the twelve men whom he had appointed from the children of Israel, one man from every tribe; And Joshua said unto them, Pass over before the ark of the LORD your God into the midst of Jordan, and take ye up every man of you a stone upon his shoulder, according unto the number of the tribes of the children of Israel:  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. Joshua 4:19-20  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. And those twelve stones, which they took out of Jordan, did Joshua pitch in Gilgal.  

It was A Sign

Israel obeyed God and brought the stones to Gilgal where they set up their first camp. Joshua used them to erect a monument that would continue to testify of God's miracle at Jordan. In verse 6, God said that they would be a sign amongst them. Joshua 4:6 says: 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?

Illustration from Signs

People place signs at strategic places to convey information. At the beach the lifeguards warn people of dangerous rips by using signs. Even though they may not be there the sign conveys a message to swimmers of danger. Tourist signs at the side of the road tell you of interesting places you may wish to see. They arrest peoples attention and then relay the appropriate information to those passing by.

The Sign of 12 Stones

In the same way these 12 stones would give Israel a permanent sign that God had done something special here at the Jordan River. They would grab the attention of future generations to ask about their meaning. The children would ask their parents what does this sign mean? Then the parents were to teach them what the signs meant.

It was A Memorial

Joshua 4:7 says: 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.

Illustration of A Memorial Hospital

People who dedicate their lives to serving their fellowman are often honoured after their death. Often a hospital is named after someone who has unselfishly served the community. The hospital name keeps alive the good works of the person that has long since departed. We remember them by the present building that bears their name. In the same way these stones would act as a memorial, bringing to Israel's attention God's salvation.

The Hebrew Idea Of Memorial

We have a memorial service to remember someone who has died. But in Hebrew thought it is more than simply recalling something to your mind. It involves remembering with concern; it also implies loving reflection, and a corresponding degree of action where called for. They were not to forget the Lord who had been so faithful to His covenant with them. By having the ark of the covenant go before them into the Jordan, God highlighted His faithfulness to His covenant with Israel. Exodus 34:10-11 says this:


And he said, Behold, I make a covenant: before all thy people I will do marvels, such as have not been done in all the earth, nor in any nation: and all the people among which thou art shall see the work of the LORD: for it is a terrible thing that I will do with thee. Observe thou that which I command thee this day: behold, I drive out before thee the Amorite, and the Canaanite, and the Hittite, and the Perizzite, and the Hivite, and the Jebusite.  

Teach Our Children To Know the Lord

People easily forget what has happened in the past. It only takes one generation's neglect to leave the next generation ignorant about the past. This sign would draw attention to the fact that something had happened here. The parents would instruct their children of God's great miracle on their behalf. They were to teach each and every generation of their salvation history. They were to pass on a godly heritage to their descendants so that they would all know the Lord was their God. God did not command them to send their children to the priests and Levites for instruction. This responsibility lay with the parents.       

Israel Must Remember

Israel was not to forget what God had done for them. This was the purpose of the 12 stones. There were 12 tribes in Israel and each tribe was represented by a stone. They were not to forget God's goodness to them. God knew that if they forgot what He had done for them that they would forsake Him and serve other gods. And this is in fact what happened a couple of generations later.

The Lord's Supper - A Memorial

Jesus gave us the ordinance of the Lord's supper so that we might not forget Him. This morning as we celebrated the Lord's Supper we remembered Christ's sacrifice for us. As each generation passes by it is easy to forget the heritage of the previous one. The Lord gave His life for us and we must teach each new generation of this marvellous truth. The New Covenant God has made with us is far too precious to be forgotten. So Christ gave us this ordinance so that we would remember Him and what He has done for us. 1 Corinthians 11:23-25 says:

For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, That the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread: And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me. After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me.  

Thirdly we observe  III. The Message - Israel's Continuous Declaration

Joshua 4:21-24 Then he spoke to the children of Israel, saying: "When your children ask their fathers in time to come, saying, 'What are these stones?' "then you shall let your children know, saying, 'Israel crossed over this Jordan on dry land'; "for the LORD your God dried up the waters of the Jordan before you until you had crossed over, as the LORD your God did to the Red Sea, which He dried up before us until we had crossed over,


The Message For Israel's Children

The memorial set up at Gilgal would remind Israel to continually declare the wonders of their God. He had dried up the Jordan River so that they could cross over on dry land. He had dried up the Red Sea in the same way when they came out of Egypt. He had brought them into the land of Canaan with a mighty outstretched arm. This message must be proclaimed forever because it declared Israel's salvation history. Many of the Psalms speak of God's redemption of Israel from Egypt and their journey to Canaan. Israel's Children were to know the Lord!

The Message For Everyone

Joshua 4:24 says: "that all the peoples of the earth may know the hand of the LORD, that it is mighty, that you may fear the LORD your God forever."

But it went beyond Israel to all the nations. God's mighty acts were made known to all the nations. We saw in chapter 2 how the people of Jericho had heard about the drying up of the Red Sea. Now they and the other Canaanite nations would hear of what God had done to the Jordan River. He would be known amongst the nations as the God who has a mighty hand. Chapter 5 verse 1 reveals that this is exactly what happened. 

God's Desired Response

How Should Israel's Respond To This? " That you may fear the LORD your God forever."

The fear that is spoken of here is reverent fear. The fear that motivates us to obey God out of respect for who He is. Like Rahab did! This is the only fitting response we can make. Do you fear the Lord? Do you give Him the respect and service He is worthy of? 

Did Israel Remember the Lord?

Joshua 24:31 says:  Israel served the LORD all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua, who had known all the works of the LORD which He had done for Israel. But Judges 2:10-11 says:  When all that generation had been gathered to their fathers, another generation arose after them who did not know the LORD nor the work which He had done for Israel. Then the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the LORD, and served the Baals; They neglected to teach their children about the Lord and His mighty works. So the next generation did not know the Lord and forsook Him. He then allowed their enemies to rule over them until they returned to Him. The parents failed to teach their children about their God and His works.  They didn't remember the Lord!  Will you?

The Lord's Supper - A Declaration

In the same way believers declare their salvation history when they celebrate the Lord's Supper. The Lord's supper is a memorial of the New Covenant. 1 Corinthians 11:26 says: For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death till He comes. By remembering the Lord's supper we in fact proclaim the message of Christ's sacrifice for us. The gospel itself is encapsulated in the memorial feast as we look at Christ's death, resurrection and second coming. Our personal testimony of God's work in our life is a way that we can declare God's salvation history. 1 Peter 3:15 says: But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear;  Our testimony declares God's salvation.


Today we have seen the importance that God places on remembering Him. People forget so easily or take for granted God's past goodness to us. This is why He commanded them to set up a memorial that their future generations might remember the Lord and follow Him. They were responsible to teach their children about God and the rich salvation He had given them. Today we need to apply these same principles because we can forget just as easily. We must teach our children to know the Saviour, lest they forsake Him as Israel did.

We should pause from time to time to remember what He suffered for us on the cross. This is one reason why Christ instituted the Lord's supper. What should be our response to His salvation? We should fear Him and serve Him all our lives. We should tell everyone of the great salvation He has provided! Are you always ready to give an account of the hope within you? Will you remember the Lord and teach your children to as well?  Amen.

Benediction    Jude 24-25

Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, And to present you faultless Before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy, To God our Saviour, Who alone is wise, Be glory and majesty, Dominion and power, Both now and forever. Amen

Related Media
Related Sermons