I understand the meaning of the 12 stones on the west bank of the Jordan River in Joshua 4, but what about the other 12 stones that Joshua placed in the middle of the Jordan? Why did he put them there?
Before we discuss the 12 stones submerged in the Jordan River, let’s remember the 12 stone memorial piled high on the west bank of the River Jordan at Gilgal. It was to serve as a sign and a call to remembrance for all generations for the people of Israel. When looked upon this memorial would cause the people to remember the Lord’s goodness, when He led them into the Promised Land.
Joshua 4:6-7 “that this may be a sign among you when your children ask in time to come, saying, ‘What do these stones mean to you?’ Then you shall answer them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the LORD; when it crossed over the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. And these stones shall be for a memorial to the children of Israel forever.”
The Other 12 Stones in the Midst of the Jordan
You’ve likely never heard about the other twelve stones. The stones in the midst of the riverbed are seldom, if ever, preached about, but these 12 stones are something everyone should know about. They offer an important and motivating message.
We are told in Joshua 4 that while the priests held the Ark of the Covenant, standing in the middle of the Jordan River, Joshua was to “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…” (Joshua 4:9)
The Bible does not tell us the meaning of this memorial, but I believe it can be reasoned and understood by typology and symbolism in the Bible. What I present is my biblical reasoning on this. I believe it offers a profound teaching as well as a warning and a motivation for all Christians. Consider this and decide for yourself what is the meaning of these 12 stones.
This pile of 12 stone was never to be seen by future generations. They would never inquire about it, once the Jordan waters flowed again. This 12 stone memorial would perish in the waters of the Jordan, just as the Egyptian army had perished in the waters of the Red Sea so many years before. This 12 stones was a memorial to God’s justice. The typological lessons in this account provide an eternal, but disheartening, perspective.
Understanding the Typology
We know that God provided signs to his people, to reveal Himself, His will and His ways, and to prepare them to recognize their promised coming Messiah. While the Greek mind seeks after wisdom, the Jews require a sign (1 Corinthians 1:22). God also gave the Jews types and patterns for their understanding.
God did not allow Moses to lead the people into the Promised Land because he had failed to honor God at Rephadim (Exodus 17, Deuteronomy 32:50-51). Typologically we can understand that Moses represented the Law (John 1:17) and the Law has no power to save (deliver) man.
God chose Joshua to lead (deliver) His people into the land. Typologically Joshua is a picture of salvation and the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Joshua’s given name at birth was Oshea, which means salvation. Moses later added an abbreviation of the covenant name of God (Yahweh) to Oshea, resulting in Yehoshua or the English name “Joshua,” which means “God is salvation” (Numbers 13:16). Joshua led the people into the Promised Land, and in doing so is a picture of grace and a type of Jesus. Jesus is the One who leads sinners into their Promised Land and deliver them from the wilderness of sin.
The Stones in the Midst of the Jordan
I propose that the 12 stones under the waters of the Jordan are a typological picture of all people who reject the salvation that God offers. They have not been delivered. They have not “crossed over” and received the grace of God. They remain under the waters, and are not counted among those who have entered into their inheritance, their “Promised Land.”
Symbolically throughout the Bible, water is a picture of the wrath and judgement of God, e.g. the flood (Genesis 7:10, Hebrews 11:7), the Red Sea drowning of the Egyptians (Exodus 14:28, Hebrews 11:29), Jonah going under the waters (Jonah 1, Jonah 2:3), etc. Even the name of the River Jordan, implies judgment. A.W. Pink wrote that the word “Jordan” can be broken into two Hebrew roots:
1“jor” or “yar,” which is literally, “spread” and
2“dan” which means “judging” (Genesis 30:6).
Therefore, the word “Jordan” has a meaning of “spread judging.” Some also define the word Jordan as “yar-dane,” which means “descender.” Hosea confirms the typology with God’s proclamation: “…I will pour out my wrath on them like water.” (Hosea 5:10)
Many Bible verses present water as a picture of God’s judgment from which we are saved:
He sent from above, He took me; He drew me out of many waters. (Psalm 18:16)
Psalm 69:14,15 Deliver me out of the mire, And let me not sink; Let me be delivered from those who hate me, And out of the deep waters. Let not the floodwater overflow me, Nor let the deep swallow me up; And let not the pit shut its mouth on me.
Psalm 124:1-5 “If it had not been the LORD who was on our side,” Let Israel now say; “If it had not been the LORD who was on our side, When men rose up against us, Then they would have swallowed us alive, When their wrath was kindled against us; Then the waters would have overwhelmed us, The stream would have gone over our soul; Then the swollen waters Would have gone over our soul.”
Another illustration of deliverance from judgment (water) is in Jesus’ commissioning of His disciples to be “fishers of men” (Matthew 4:19, Mark 1:17). They were to preach the gospel and God would fill their nets with “fish from out of the waters.”
The 12 stone memorial on the west bank of the Jordan was a picture of being saved from the waters of judgment. God instructed twelve men (one from each tribe) to take a stone from the middle of the riverbed (Joshua 4:5), from the place of death—the miry bottom of the riverbed, beneath the waters of judgment.
The Ark of the LORD, which typologically points to Christ, stood in the midst of the Jordan, holding back the waters and allowing the stones to be brought up and delivered to the shore as a memorial and sign (Joshua 4:6).
But the other 12 stones (Joshua 4:9) are another story. Those stones were covered by the Jordan. They cannot be a sign because they cannot be seen. Those stones are a warning!!!
It was Joshua alone (a type of Jesus) who did the work of setting up the “twelve stones in the midst of the Jordan” (Joshua 4:9a). Jesus is the judge of the living and the dead. Those 12 stones are a warning about death and judgment! If people do not repent and trust in Jesus, they remain in the miry clay of a river— and that river will overflow in judgment at death:
Hebrews 9:27 And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment.
The twelve stones, in the midst of the Jordan River, represent the unredeemed, who have rejected Jesus and are buried in death by the righteous judgment of God… “and they are there to this day” (Joshua 4:9b).
There is no redemption after judgment. These 12 stones represent all who die having committed the unpardonable sin of which Jesus spoke of to the Pharisees and scribes. (read Got Questions: “What is the Unpardonable Sin?”)
What’s the BIG Lesson in This?
The stones in the midst of the Jordan might still be “there to this day,” but they were quickly forgotten. Covered by the waters of the River Jordan, the children of Israel would never see them, nor would they inquire about them.
Those who do not belong to Jesus will perish. We do not want anyone to be covered by the waters of God’s judgment. We want all to be take up out of the miry clay and set upon the shores of deliverance. Jesus is holding back the judgment, but at death it will come. Share the saving grace of the Lord Jesus Christ with all who do not know Him…before it is too late. Tell them how they can be saved from the waters of judgment. Tell them how, through the work of Jesus in saving and sanctifying them, they can be a memorial stone of remembrance of God’s goodness and saving grace.
Sing to the LORD, all the earth; Proclaim the good news of His salvation from day to day. Declare His glory among the nations, His wonders among all peoples. 1 Chronicles 16:23-24
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