Gaebelein's Annotated Bible
And it came to pass, when all the people were clean passed over Jordan, that the LORD spake unto Joshua, saying,4. The Memorial Stones
1. The first memorial (Joshua 4:1-8)
2. The second memorial (Joshua 4:9)
3. The return of the priests with the ark (Joshua 4:10-18)
4. The encampment at Gilgal (Joshua 4:19-24)
Jehovah commanded that the great event should be remembered by a memorial. From the river-bed, where the priest’s feet stood firm, twelve men, one from each tribe, were to carry twelve stones and leave them at the first lodging place in the land, that is, at Gilgal. These memorial stones were to tell subsequent generations the story of God’s faithfulness and power in bringing His people through Jordan into the land. Another memorial of twelve stones was set up by Joshua in the midst of the river, where the priests stood with the ark. This whole record has been much questioned by the critics; it has been charged that there are two different accounts. Professor George Adam Smith states: “For instance, in the story of the crossing of Jordan, as told in Joshua 3 and 4, there are two accounts of the monument set up to commemorate the passage. One of them builds it at Gilgal on the west bank with stones taken from the river-bed by the people; the other builds it in the bed of the river with twelve stones set there by Joshua. (The same view is held by Friedrich Bleek; no doubt Prof G.A. Smith has it from him.) Such criticism reveals the astonishing weakness of that entire school. Why should the ninth verse of the fourth chapter be looked upon as an interpolation, or as another account of one transaction? There is nothing in the text to warrant such a statement. The fact is there are two transactions. The one by the twelve men, who take the twelve stones and set them up at Gilgal. The other by Joshua, who puts twelve stones in the river-bed.
But if these critics but knew a little more of the spiritual and typical significance of all these events and transactions, they would soon learn better. What do these two memorials mean? They tell out the story what God has done for His people. In the midst of Jordan the children of Israel could see the pile of twelve stones Joshua had put there as a memorial. As they looked upon them and the waters rushing about them, they remembered that where these stones are, there the ark halted and the waters were cut off and His people passed over.
The typical application is not hard to make. The twelve stones in the river-bed tell out the story of the death of Christ and our death with Him. We are dead to sin and to the law as well as crucified unto the world. We must, therefore, reckon ourselves dead unto sin.
The other memorial was erected at Gilgal. As they looked upon these stones and their children asked them, “What mean these stones?” they could point to them and say, as these stones were taken out of Jordan on the dry land, so had they been brought out of Jordan into this land of promise. This memorial is the type of the fact “that we are alive unto God in our Lord Jesus Christ.” We are a new creation in Christ Jesus, the old things are passed away, behold all things are become new. It is the memorial which tells us, that we are raised up and seated in Christ in the heavenly places. These two great truths seen in this double memorial must ever be remembered by God’s people, as Israel was charged to remember the passing over Jordan and the bringing into the land.