For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.
Romans 15:4



 A Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough

Copyright 2000 James Melough

4:1.  "And it came to pass, when all the people were clean passed over Jordan, that the Lord spake unto Joshua, saying,"

4:2.  "Take you twelve men out of the people, out of every tribe a man,"

4:3.  "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 leave them in the lodging place, where ye shall lodge this night."

In this chapter the focus is not on the crossing of Jordan as being a type of the rapture of the Church, but of genuine believers, having died vicariously with the Lord Jesus Christ (His death being imputed to them), now entering here on earth into the spiritual realm where they can enjoy the spiritual blessings secured for them through His death.  The taking of the stones from "the place where the priests' feet stood firm" (where the Ark had been), announces symbolically that the only ones who can enter that realm are they who have been to Calvary, and who have had the faith to see Christ dying there in their place for their sins. 

The number twelve reminds us that the redeemed are under the government of God; and the piling of the stones "in the lodging place where ye shall lodge this night" reminds us that the little while of our "lodging" here on earth is brief, only "for a night."  And since throughout Scripture, every reference to literal night or darkness directs our attention to the corresponding spiritual condition, we are being taught that the time of our "lodging" here is the world's nighttime, our responsibility being to "shine as lights (stars)" guiding men to the Savior.

4:4.  "Then Joshua called the twelve men, whom he had prepared of the children of Israel, out of every tribe a man:"

4:5.  "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:"  

4:6.  "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?"  

4:7.  "That 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."

The frequent mention in this chapter of the number twelve, tells us that the subject is divine government on display; and certainly an obvious fact is that if Israel was to be successful in her attempt to conquer Canaan, she must be obedient to that government.  The practical lesson for us, of course, is that similar obedience is necessary for our success in our warfare with the spiritual foes who oppose our taking possession of our spiritual inheritance.

The narrative centers around these two sets of twelve stones, one piled up at Gilgal on the Canaan side of Jordan; the other, in the river bed, and covered with the waters of Jordan.  The twelve set up at Gilgal were to remind future generations of the miracle by which God had brought His people across the Jordan into the Canaan.

For spiritual Israel, the Church, however, those two heaps of stones have a deeper significance, for they represent believers of this present Church age.  As has been noted already, Israel's crossing of the Red Sea represents the believer's death with Christ; while the crossing of Jordan emphasizes more our resurrection with a risen Christ, Who as the Captain of our salvation, leads us into the enjoyment of our spiritual blessings even here on earth.  Essential to the enjoyment of those blessings, however, is the necessity of living a life that gives practical expression to the truth that "our old man is crucified with Him" (Ro 6:6).  (The old man is what I was in Adam; it is all that I was prior to conversion).  "I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me" (Ga 2:20). By the cross, "The world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world" (Ga 6:14).  By the cross, believers have become dead to the law, to the world, to everything connected with their former unsaved state; and those twelve stones, covered by Jordan's waters, are the symbolic expression of that truth.  It is in submission to God's government that we accept the sentence of death relative to our old man, what we were prior to conversion.

But if the twelve stones in the Jordan speak of our death with Christ, the twelve set up at Gilgal speak of our new life in the Christ Who has been delivered to death for our offenses, but Who been raised again for our justification (Ro 4:25).  That cairn on the western bank of Jordan (the west is always connected with approach to God, as the east is with departure from Him) testifies to the truth that believers, having died vicariously with Christ, now live as new creatures with a resurrected Christ, Whose life and nature are now also theirs.

The fact that the twelve stones comprising the Gilgal memorial cairn were taken out of Jordan is the symbolic announcement of the truth that the believers whom they represent have been raised up out of spiritual death, for prior to trusting in Christ we "... were dead in trespasses and sins" (Eph 2:1).

The twelve men chosen to represent Israel in connection with those twelve stones seem to have been chosen before the crossing began, see Jos 3:12; 4:4.  As they were foreknown, so are the believers whom they represent, for in regard to believers it is written that they are, "Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father" (1 Pe 1:2); "According as he hath chosen us in Him before the foundation of the world" (Eph 1:4); "For whom He did foreknow, He also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of His Son" (Ro 8:29).  Foreknowledge and predestination, however, are not to be confused.  It is the believer's conformity to Christ's image that is predestinated, not his salvation.  God's foreknowledge doesn't exclude man's responsibility to make a freewill choice of Christ as Savior.  It is the exercise of that choice that places the believer among the foreknown elect.

4:8.  "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."  

Their obedience typifies the ideal for ever believer.  The fact that each man had to take up a stone, reminds us that each one of us is responsible to do the spiritual equivalent.  We too are to take up our new life and walk in obedience before God so that even here on earth we might enjoy all the spiritual blessings made available to us by Christ's death.  The laying down of the twelve stones at Gilgal speaks symbolically of their being laid down before God, and the spiritual lesson is easily read.  We too are to yield total submission to His control.

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."

In the previous verse the stones were laid down; here they are set up by Joshua, and "they are there unto this day."  This is the symbolic revelation not only of the truth that as we yield obedience to Christ He will lift us up, but also of the truth that the Church (represented by those twelve stones built into a memorial cairn) will endure eternally.

4:10.  "For the priests which bare the ark stood in the midst of Jordan, until every thing was finished that the Lord commanded Joshua to speak unto the people, according to all that Moses commanded Joshua: and the people hasted and passed over."

We have seen already that those four priests bearing the Ark, represent not only believers holding up Christ to the world, but also the Lord offering Himself without spot to the Father.  Their standing in the river bed "until everything was finished that the Lord commanded" reminds us that Christ's "entering Jordan," i.e., His dying, has accomplished everything that was necessary for out eternal blessing.

The people's hasting to pass over declares the need of our yielding immediate obedience to God's every command.  The folly of delaying to obey is amply demonstrated in what befell the generation that refused to go into Canaan when first commanded by God, and then later decided to obey, see Numbers 14.  They never entered Canaan, but died in the wilderness.

4:11.  "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."

This assures us that the Christ Who has been our Representative in death, is now also our Representative in life, as it is written, "He was delivered for our offenses, and was raised again for our justification" (Ro 4:25).

4:12.  "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:"

4:13.  "About forty thousand prepared for war passed over before the Lord unto battle, to the plains of Jericho."

These two and a half tribes settled east of Jordan have almost invariably been viewed by commentators as being representative of carnal, world-bordering believers, but it is a view lacking Scriptural support.  Numbers 32 records the fact that this inheritance would be theirs only if they crossed over Jordan with the other nine and a half tribes to help those tribes take possession of their inheritance in Canaan, returning to their own inheritance east of Jordan only when the other tribes had secured theirs in Canaan.  Here in the verses we are now considering their obedience is recorded.  They crossed over, not only with their brethren, but apparently also in the vanguard; and in chapter 22, when Canaan had been subdued under Israel, we read that Joshua commended their faithfulness, and sent them back to their inheritance east of Jordan with his blessing. 

There is nothing in all of this to justify our viewing them as carnal world-bordering believers.  The fact is that they represent believers here on earth, living their lives in the context of every-day experience.  Their crossing Jordan to assist their brethren in conquering Canaan, speaks of their dying with Christ, while their return crossing at the end of the war speaks of resurrection, of their living in union with a resurrected Savior. What is recorded of their experience east of Jordan is to teach us truth relative to our own experience in the context of every-day living here on earth.  What is recorded of the nine and a half tribes settled west of Jordan is to teach us truth relative to our conflict with the forces of darkness.  We need instruction for both. 

Further instruction is related to the fact that  the larger number of Israel dwelt west of Jordan.  Canaan represents the sphere of the believer's spiritual activity; the region east of Jordan, his legitimate activity relative to temporal things.  Even necessary temporal activities tend to reduce our communion with God, so that the two and a half tribes east of Jordan as compared with the nine and a half west of the river, suggest that the greater part of our activity here on earth should be with that which pertains to the kingdom of God, and not with earthly things.  The lamentable state of the professing church is due in large measure to the fact that she has reversed the ratio of time given to each.

Since four is the Biblical number of earth and testing, the forty thousand reminds us that our time here on earth is a time of testing, the results of that testing being revealed at the judgment seat of Christ.  Their passing over Jordan "unto war ... before the Lord unto battle" is the further reminder that the believer's life here on earth is one of conflict against the world, the flesh, and the devil.  Since another name for Jericho is "city of palm trees," and since the palm is the symbol of righteousness, see Ps 92:12, "The righteous shall flourish like the palm tree," their passing over "to the plains of Jericho" reminds us that the testing to which we are subjected, is to refine our faith so that we may walk more obediently before God, for to be obedient is to be righteous, and therefore blessed.

Reuben means see ye, a son, and since Jacob's sons constituted Israel, these sons portray different features of the nation, but since Israel is a type of the Church, these sons also represent characteristics of the Church.  Of Israel it is written, "Israel is my son, even my firstborn" Ex 4:22.  The Church, however, may also be viewed as God's son since those comprising the Church are said to be members of the body of which Christ is the head, see 1 Cor 6:15; 12:27; Eph 5:30.  We are responsible to exhibit in our daily lives that we are spiritual Reubenites, sons of God.

Gad means an invader; a troop; fortune, and in its application to the Church, reminds us that obedience to the Lord's command, "Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature" Mk 16:15, entails our invading Satan's kingdom as a troop empowered by God.  The third meaning fortune is related to the goddess Fortune worshiped by the Babylonians, and may be intended here to remind us that the One Who empowers us is not a deity existing only in men's deluded minds, but is the Lord God Almighty.

Manasseh means causing to forget, a meaning which recalls the words of Paul, "... this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus" Php 3:13-14.  We too are to forget the past, for if we dwell on our failures we will be discouraged, and if we dwell on our imagined successes we will become puffed up.

4:14.  "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."

God's exaltation of Joshua on that day when Israel crossed Jordan, typifies the resurrection glory of the Lord Jesus Christ, as it is written, "God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Php 2:9-11).

Israel's fear of Joshua was not the slavish fear which is compelled, but rather the reverential fear willingly given to one deemed worthy of honor.  The fear which impels the believer's obedience is not dread of the punishment which may attend disobedience, but rather the sincere desire to please the Lord as an expression of love and gratitude for His having redeemed us at such cost.

4:15.  "And the Lord spake unto Joshua, saying,"

4:16.  "Command the priests that bear the ark of the testimony, that they come up out of Jordan."

The priests are a double type: first, of Christ offering Himself without spot to God at Calvary; and then of believers through their testimony holding up Christ to the world.  Their being commanded therefore to come up out of Jordan has also a double symbolic meaning.  Their coming up out of the river of death portrays, not only the Lord's resurrection, but also the resurrection of the believer out of spiritual death, to walk in newness of life in obedience to his resurrected Lord.

4:17.  "Joshua therefore commanded the priests, saying, Come ye up out of Jordan."

4:18.  "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."

Some very solemn truths are presented here.  The great river of death portrayed by the Jordan separates the saint from the sinner, those on the Canaan side with Joshua and the Ark representing the saved; those on the other side, the unconverted.  Once the priests bearing the Ark had gone up out of the river bed there was no crossing place, and in this we read the symbolic warning declared literally in Lk 13:25-28 "When once the master of the house is risen up, and hath shut to the door, and ye begin to stand outside, and to knock at the door, saying, Lord, Lord, open unto us; and he shall answer and say unto you, I know you not whence ye are: then shall ye begin to say, We have eaten and drunk in thy presence, and thou hast taught in our streets.  But he shall say, I tell you, I know you not whence ye are: depart from me, all ye workers of iniquity.  There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when ye shall see Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets, in the kingdom of god, and you yourselves thrust out."

God warns, "My Spirit shall not always strive with man" (Ge 6:3); "He, that being often reproved hardeneth his neck shall suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy" (Pr 29:1); "Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation" (2 Co 6:2).  The time of salvation is not that which lies between birth and death.  One must have reached an age of understanding before he can be saved, so the first few years of life are eliminated as a time of salvation.  At the other end of life there is also a divinely appointed limit, extending in only a very few instances to the last few moments of life.  To postpone trusting Christ as Savior, when first convicted of sin, is the spiritual equivalent of Russian roulette.  It may be the last time you will have opportunity to be saved.  To presume that one can be saved any time he chooses is to display ignorance of the essential part played by the Holy Spirit in salvation.  There can be no salvation apart from His striving and convicting of sin, see the warning above, Genesis 6:3.           

4:19.  "And the people came up out of Jordan on the tenth day of the month, and encamped in Gilgal, in the east border of Jericho."

Since ten is the Biblical number of God as the Ruler of all things, Israel's coming up out of Jordan on the tenth day, declares the truth that the redeemed (represented by Israel) are now to demonstrate their love for Him by obeying His Word, as the Lord Himself declared, "If ye love me, keep my commandments" (Jn 14:15).

Gilgal, meaning rolling: a wheel, is another symbol of Calvary, for there they were circumcised, and as is declared in 5:9, God said, "This day have I rolled away the reproach of Egypt from off you.  Wherefore the name of the place is called Gilgal rolling: a wheel unto this day."  Calvary was the true "Gilgal" where the believer's "reproach" was "rolled away" (cut off) in the cutting off of Christ our Substitute in death, He dying there the death we should have died, God in matchless grace imputing that death to us, so that we have passed for ever beyond all condemnation.

Gilgal's being on the east of Jericho has yet another truth to teach us.  From Gilgal they would move westward to take Jericho, and thus symbolically possess all of Canaan.  Since, however, the other name of Jericho is "city of palm trees" symbol of righteousness, the further truth being declared is that righteousness and the enjoyment of our spiritual inheritance in Christ go together.  The east is always associated with sin and departure from God; and the west, with approach to Him.  God's ideal is that we move spiritually "westward," each passing day seeing us drawing closer to Him.  Righteous deeds are the outward evidence of that westward spiritual walk.

4:20.  "And those twelve stones, which they took out of Jordan, did Joshua pitch in Gilgal."

As discussed already, those twelve stones taken up out of the bed of Jordan, and set up as a memorial cairn at Gilgal, represent believers, once dead in trespasses and sins, but now as a new creation, alive unto God through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.  Those stones represent the Church as a corporate body, and their being "pitched in Gilgal" (type of Calvary), reminds us that we too are to "pitch" spiritually near to Calvary where our new life began. As each rising sun cast the shadow of that cairn westward, so are we to walk toward heaven (spiritually westward) in the shadow of the cross, and with our eyes lifted heavenward looking for the Lord's return, and living in the light of the knowledge that we must all stand at His judgment seat to render an account of the deeds done in the body.

4:21.  "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?"

4:22.  "Then ye shall let your children know, saying, Israel came over this Jordan on dry land."

4:23.  "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:"

4:24.  "That all the people of the earth might know the hand of the Lord, that it is mighty: that ye might fear the Lord your God for ever."

As believers we are responsible to instruct our children in the things of God, and to implant in them that reverential fear that will lead them to a saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ early in life, and that will lead them to obey Him so that they might be blessed.

Our responsibility to preach the Gospel is also implied in the words, "That all the people of the earth might know...."

Before concluding our study of this section it is necessary to note another aspect, the prophetic, which merits consideration.  We have viewed Israel's leaving the desert as being symbolic of the rapture of the Church; an event that will be followed by the seven years of the Tribulation, spoken of as, "The time of Jacob's trouble" (Jer 30:7).  Inasmuch as chapter five brings us back to the restoration of long-neglected Jewish ordinances: circumcision, the Passover, etc., and inasmuch as the Tribulation age will also see the restoration of the Levitical ritual, it may be that God is now preparing to show us symbolic foreshadowings of Israel's coming Tribulation experiences.  The two sets of stones, then, become invested with additional significance, for in this prophetic context the twelve stones placed in the bed of Jordan would represent the unbelieving mass of the nation rejected by God, and replaced with the believing remnant, represented by the twelve stones taken out of the river, and set up in the land at Gilgal.  We have to remember that the crossing was followed by the return of Jordan to its previous state - flood stage at harvest time.  Since Jordan is the symbol of death, and harvest time speaks of judgment, this greatly enlarged volume of water sweeping over those twelve stones lying in its bed, may point to the rampage of Death across the Tribulation-age earth during the time of God's unprecedented judgment, sweeping millions into eternity by means of famine, disease, and war.  It will be out of that flood of wrath and judgment that the Tribulation-age remnant will be brought into millennial blessing.  There could be no more fitting portrayal of that deliverance than the removal of the other twelve stones from the bed of the river, and their being set up permanently as a memorial in Canaan.  The delivered believing remnant will be such a memorial to the millennial nations. 

The seven years that followed Israel's crossing of Jordan (symbolic of the rapture of the Church) were years of warfare for possession of Canaan.  For Israel the type will be fulfilled in the seven year Tribulation period following the Rapture, when earth's most terrible conflict will engulf all nations as Israel seeks to retain possession of Palestine.

The frequent use of the number twelve, the reference to circumcision, and to the passover - all uniquely relative to Israel - seem to indicate that this prophetic interpretation, while not necessarily the primary one, at least merits consideration.

Unlike the seven-year conflict that ended with there remaining "yet very much land to be possessed" (Jos 13:1), the seven year Tribulation era will end with Christ's return to banish every foe, and bring believing Israel into undisputed possession of millennial Palestine, and the believing remnant of the nations into the enjoyment of the rest of the millennial earth.  Then, and only then, will there be the complete fulfillment of Jos 4:24, "That all the people of the earth might know the hand of the Lord, that it is mighty: that ye might fear the Lord your God forever."

[Joshua 5]



     Scripture portions taken from the Holy Bible, King James Version
2000-2005 James Melough