Joshua 4 – Preached @ Ebenezer Church on 10 Oct 2009
In Joshua 3, we saw how the LORD opened the River Jordan.
It was an incredible miracle.
It was the type of supernatural miracle that does not take place everyday.
And here in chapter 4, God told Israel to remember this miracle.
Israel was to take 12 stones from the river bed and put them at a place called Gilgal.
And these 12 stones would be the memorial to help Israel remember this great miracle.
Now, why was it necessary for Israel to remember this miracle in such a manner?
Because, and listen to this carefully: one of the greatest enemies of faith is forgetfulness.
And this is so important a lesson that one complete chapter here in the bible (Joshua 4) is devoted to help us understand and appreciate this point.
The question we want to ask then is, with the help of these 12 stones as a memorial, how should Israel remember this miracle?
I want to suggest to you that they should remember it in a 3-fold manner as follows:
1) Looking Back: Israel is to look back to remember the mighty hand of God.
2) Looking Ahead: Israel is to look ahead to what God would and could do for the coming generations.
3) Looking within themselves: Israel is to examine itself to see where they currently are in their walk with God.
And these 3 shall be the headings for today’s meditation:
1) Israel is to look back to remember the mighty hand of God
We had already noted that the opening of the River Jordan was an incredible miracle.
Remember that this incident happened during harvest time and the River Jordan was full.
It was not a time when the river was dry and any one could just jump across the narrowest part of it.
Instead, the height of the river was at its peak.
It was a time when its width was the widest.
Hence, the 12 stones that were taken from the river were no ordinary stones.
If you examine the texture of these stones, you will be able to tell that they were taken from the river bed.
At the time of Joshua, man had not invented scuba diving equipment yet.
They also had not invented goggles which they could wear to dive down below water.
Hence, there was no way any one could have moved such stones out from the River Bed at that time.
Taking these stones from the River bed provided clear evidence that the River Jordan was indeed opened.
Now, it is also interesting to observe that these stones were to be put at this place called Gilgal (verse 20).
Gilgal was midway between the river Jordan and Jericho.
We know that Jericho was the first city that Israel conquered upon entering Canaan.
The rest of the book of Joshua tells us that Gilgal was a special place for Israel.
You will find this place called Gilgal mentioned in Joshua chapter 5, 9, 10, 14 & 15.
At the time of Joshua, Gilgal was special to Israel in the following 3 ways:
a) Firstly, Gilgal was the base for all their maneuvers against the Canaanites.
Their base camp remained at Gilgal and Gilgal became their supply base.
b) Secondly, Gilgal became Israel’s location for any adjustments
When things were not right, or when a change in strategy was necessary, they went back to Gilgal to effect these changes.
c) Thirdly, Gilgal remained as the point of communication between the various battle fronts they were fighting
It functioned like their intelligence headquarters.
So, every time they gathered at Gilgal, they will see these 12 stones.
And upon seeing these stones, they will remember that God opened the River Jordan.
They will remember that they were weak as a people.
But while they were weak, they have a great God who managed to do such a miracle.
The God of Israel is a wonderful God who provided for Israel at that point of need.
Every time they see these stones, they will look back and remember how God supported them with a mighty hand.
They will remember that God was able to do miracles as evident in these stones.
And these would bring encouragement to them that God has brought them thus far.
This would bring them to a state of thanksgiving.
They would begin to count their blessings and give all glory, honour and praise to God.
Friends, if you are a Christian walking in faith, you will definitely have your own Gilgils and your 12 stones.
It could be a time when you were brought so low and so downcasted in your life.
And God delivered you with His mighty hand.
Or it could be just that glorious day when God opened your eyes to see the light of His word.
Or it could have been a narrow escape from death which God used to keep you humble.
Do you remember your Gilgals and your 12 stones?
Pause for a moment and remember from where God brought you to this state thus far.
And give all praise, honour and glory to our great God, now and forever more.
But don’t remain there and dwell in the past.
Yes, you look back to remember the tender mercies and mighty acts of God.
But this is meant only to encourage you to look ahead to what God can therefore do for you.
And that is our 2nd heading for today’s meditation.
2) Looking Ahead: Israel is to look ahead to what God would and could do for the coming generation.
If God had done good to Israel in the past, God can do good to them in the future.
If God had opened the River Jordan, what is there to stop Him from giving them victory in all their battles?
If God had opened the River Jordan, certainly He can give them the land of Canaan with a mighty hand.
So, moving forward, there is no need to fear even if there may be uncertainty in the way ahead.
The evidence of God’s mighty acts in the past should remind us that He works all things together for good to them that love Him, who are called according to His purpose. Romans 8:28
There is therefore confidence to persevere ahead.
Friends, if you are feeling low today, don’t just remain at your Gilgals and your 12 stones.
Let them give you the confidence that because God has blessed in the past, there is hope for the future.
If God has opened your eyes to His precious truth, He will continue that work in you to help you persevere to the end.
If God has lifted you out from that pit, He will continue to help you in your walk with Him.
So, we ought to look ahead with great expectation and confidence.
Confidence not in ourselves, but in our God who has demonstrated that He will never fail us or forsake us.
And as we look back and look ahead, note also that there is an explicit exhortation in Josh 4 to instruct our children.
The scriptures expect children to be curious and inquisitive about Gilgal and the 12 stones.
And we are to use these opportunities to tell them about the mighty acts of God.
And we are to use these opportunities to instruct them in the faith.
So, to the men in our midst, let us be reminded that the scriptures clearly direct the responsibility of this undertaking to the fathers (v6 & v21).
Yes, if the fathers are not around, this responsibility rests upon the mothers.
But the primary responsibility of the instruction of the children rests with you, fathers.
And you must not shy away from this responsibility.
Eli, a priest mentioned in 1 Sam 2, was known to be a father who did not stop his children from doing evil.
On the other hand, Job, in Job 1, was described as a father who constantly interceded for his children.
There was also Abraham who was commended by God in Gen 18:19 as one who would “command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD, to do justice and judgement.
Would you be like Eli, Job or Abraham?
It is easy to be like Eli, because we just need to do nothing.
But to be like Job and Abraham, there is a need for actions on our part.
Amongst the many actions you have to take, I want to suggest to you the great need for family worship in your own homes.
The family that worships God together, studies the scriptures and prays together will stay together.
If the men in our midst have any questions on how family worship ought to be done, please talk to our Pastor or you can talk to me after worship and we will be happy to see how we can help you in this aspect.
3) The 3rd manner in which Israel should remember this miracle is to look within themselves.
Israel is to examine itself to see where they currently stand in their walk with God.
It is good to look back and appreciate God’s mighty acts and mercies upon us.
It is even better to look ahead with confidence that God will lead us in a manner greater than how He has done so in the past.
But it is of utmost importance that we examine ourselves right at this moment to see where we stand in the faith.
You see, we can’t look ahead unless we currently have an interest in the kingdom of God.
Now, in the next few minutes, I want to show you the relationship between the 12 stones memorial, the Passover Memorial and the Lord’s Supper (a new testament ordinance which is also a memorial).
In Joshua 4:19, we are told that on the 10th day of the 1st month, the people went up from the Jordan and camped at Gilgal.
On that same day, 40 years before, Israel was preparing for the 1st Passover meal when they were still in Egypt. (Ex 12:2-3)
It can be said that that day in Egypt marked the beginning of redemption.
And on that same day now 40 years later, it marked its completion.
For God says to Joshua in Josh 5:9 “This day I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you.”
Now, what is this Passover memorial?
And how is this linked to the 12 stones memorial at Gilgal?
You see, 40 years ago, Israel as a nation, were slaves in Egypt.
Through Moses, God did many miracles in the presence of Pharaoh of Egypt.
But Pharaoh refused to let Israel go.
Finally, God told the Israelites to slay a lamb.
They were to paint their doorpost with the blood of the lamb that was slain.
As a final blow to Pharaoh, the Angel of death went throughout Egypt and took away the life of every first born in Egypt.
But as he moved to where the Israelites lived, the Angel of death saw the blood of the lamb painted on the doorpost of every obedient Israelite.
And because of this blood painted on the doorpost, he passed over & spared the life of the first born in that Israelite household.
And henceforth, the Passover Meal was celebrated by Israel as a memorial of how God brought them out of their slavery in Egypt.
And you will read in Joshua 5 that Israel observed the Passover Meal at Gilgal where the 12 stones memorial was laid.
All these history is relaying lessons to us in types and symbols.
We learn from the Passover incident that we can only be spared from death, if we have the blood of a sacrificial lamb covering us.
And this picture is further elaborated for us in the tabernacle that Moses was told to construct.
And we are told clearly in the New Testament gospels and epistles that Jesus Christ is the sacrificial lamb for sinners.
Therefore, Egypt was a type representing sin.
Old Testament Israel was a type of the Christian Church.
And just as the Israelites were slaves in Egypt, we who are part of the Christian Church were slaves of sin before we were brought out of that slavery.
And to bring the Christian Church out of sin, a sacrificial lamb had to be slain.
Jesus died on the Cross for the sins of His people so that His blood covered them.
Jesus was the Passover lamb for the Christian Church.
And God does not see the sins of Christians anymore because they are covered by the blood of Christ, the passover lamb.
And in this manner, God brought the Christian Church out the slavery of sin just as He brought Israel out of Egypt.
Today, we are observing the Lord’s Supper as we do in this Church every 2nd Sunday of the month.
Our Lord Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper when He celebrated the Passover meal with His disciples (Luk 22).
It is not by co-incidence that the Passover meal, the 12 stones memorial at Gilgal and the Lord Supper are related.
I believe these are all part of the progressive revelation of God to teach us about our precious salvation.
And the Lord’s Supper is a memorial of the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus.
So, when we observe the Lord’s Supper, we ought to do these 3 things that we would to do when we see the 12 stones at Gilgal.
We look back, we look ahead and we look within us right now.
We look back and remember how we were hopeless sinners, saved totally by the grace of God.
We look back and moan and grieve for the sins we have committed against the Lord.
We look back and remember the might act of Jesus as He accomplished salvation for us on the cross.
We look back with thanksgiving in our hearts that there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ.
And while we look back, we also look ahead to the return of Christ.
Each time we observe the Lord’s supper, we proclaim His death and His resurrection till He comes again.
And while we wait for Him, we do so with confidence because He is sustaining us.
Phil 1:6 “Being confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ”
And so we look expectantly ahead for God to continue the good work in us till Jesus comes again.
But most importantly, as we look back and look ahead we need to look within us right now.
We need to take a good look at ourselves to see where we currently are in our relationship with God.
Most of you understand that this is called self-examination.
1 Cor 11 reminds us that we should not take this Lord’s supper memorial in an unworthy, irreverent or unfit manner.
Paul rebuked the Corinthian Christians because they were rushing in and taking the Lord’s supper with little thought given to the meaning of it.
They were guilty of not honoring the Lord’s body and blood and thus, His death.
We too are in danger of this if we fail to stop and examine ourselves.
Do we have any unconfessed sin in our lives?
How have we been walking faithfully with the Lord?
And as we do this self-examination, let there be repentance, confession and restoration.
And let this memorial of Christ bring us back to the Lord with great joy.
Remember that our worthiness to come to the table did not come from us.
It is totally out of God’s grace.
And we ought to go forth after observing this memorial fully encouraged, with joy unspeakable and full of glory 1 Pet 1:8.
And that is why our Lord told us to observe this Lord’s supper as often as we meet in remembrance of Him.
So this memorial is meant for our spiritual benefit, as we look back, look forward and look within us.
Now, just one more thing: The children in Israel were curious when they saw the 12 stones at Gilgal.
Children in our midst, I know that many of you are very curious about these elements of the Lord’s supper.
I have even seen some of you wanting to take them.
I say it sternly, but I say it lovingly, that these elements are not for you at this point in your life.
Instead, I urge you to ask your parents, at an appropriate time, “what do these elements mean”?
In the same manner that the children in Israel asked their fathers “what do these stones mean?” when they saw them at Gilgal.
Parents I trust you have been praying for your children and seeking that they will be saved.
Here is your opportunity to share the gospel with your children.
Here is your opportunity to tell them about Christ, your own Gilgals and your 12 stones.
Tell them about God’s mighty work manifested in the Lord’s Supper.
And more importantly, let your life tell the story of Christ’s love for us.
Seize the opportunity and find out where they stand with regard to the Kingdom of God.
Explain the scriptures to them so that they can become wise unto salvation.
Let me now quickly summarise the key points of our meditation today.
God told Joshua to make a memorial for the miracle of the opening of the River Jordan.
When meditating on this great miracle, Israel should look back, look ahead and look within themselves.
We shall be observing the Lord’s Supper after this.
I hope the meditation today will help all of us to observe this memorial instituted by the Lord in a more meaningful manner.
May the Lord help us.