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"Do Not Forget" Joshua 4

God’s Works Must Be Celebrated (vv. 1-3)

Twelve men, one from each tribe, were assigned to gather one rock each from the river bed (3:12). The whole community must remember God’s faithfulness and commemorate his faithfulness. When the Lord delivers us from our enemies, rescues us from calamity, or heals our diseases, his mighty works must be celebrated. They cannot be celebrated if we forget them. Those who crossed the Red Sea on dry ground and watched the Egyptians immersed under God’s watery wrath quickly began complaining for lack of food and water. Those 5,000 men whom Jesus fed in the wilderness did not remember or take in what he had done for them. Had they done so, faith and love would have conquered their unbelief. Our forgetfulness of God’s mighty works is shocking. We have seen the Lord answer prayer, help, heal, and provide in marvelous ways, but like Israel of old, we forget. New trials arise, and we begin complaining as if we have no memory of God’s mighty works for us. Often the effect of his word is quickly choked by worldly cares; we forget a sermon five minutes after it is delivered. We get in trouble, and we cannot even remember, “The Lord is thy Shepherd.” Forgetfulness of God’s works and word is a serious spiritual cancer that eats away at the faith of multitudes.

A Sign for You and Your Children (vv. 4-7)

The Lord loves our children. We must tell them what he has done for us, all the ways he has helped us and heard our prayers. This is the reason the twelve men went into the Jordan to pick up stones. They were to build a memorial at their next encampment. Their children must never forget what the Lord had done for them. Perhaps we should think of it this way. The Exodus is our Exodus – believers in Jesus are the children of Abraham (Gal. 3:26-29). When the Lord freed his people, parted the Red Sea, and heaped up the waters of the Jordan, he did this for us. This is our history. The history of God’s mighty works to prepare the world for the coming of his Son serves the same purpose as the history since – to magnify the faithful, covenant-keeping God and fill our hearts with confidence in him that he is our Father. Is the Lord preserving a persecuted church in Eritrea, China, and Sri Lanka? This is our history. It is what the Lord is doing in our midst. The history of the world and the purpose of history are not learned from the media of the city of man but in God’s mighty works for his people – in the defense of his gospel against the Roman Empire, then against the Trinity deniers and Pelagius. After the church and gospel of God languished under the resurrection of an imperial Judaism in the Roman papacy – rituals and vain worship, human tradition, works righteousness, and persecution against the true church – the Lord delivered his people, his Bible, and his Gospel through the Reformation. His mighty works are a sign to us and our children. When they ask what these things mean, we tell them what the Lord has done – as a memorial to him, permanently written upon our hearts, to the praise of his glorious name.

Two Rock Memorials: Lest Your Forget (vv. 8-9)

There were actually two memorials set up that day. The first was in Gilgal, at their encampment on the western side of Jordan. This memorial was built from the stones carried by the twelve men. Joshua set up a second memorial in the middle of the Jordan, where the feet of the priests stood who carried the Ark into the river. Perhaps these were larger stones, so that the memorial would be visible when the river was at its normal depth. These stones were not ornately carved but simple river rocks. The Lord chooses the foolish things to confound the wise. The memorial likely endured only during the years of that first and second generation. The purpose could not be clearer – Do Not Forget! Do not forget what I have done for you. Do not forget the way you crossed the Jordan by my power. Do not forget when you are settled in the land that you are here by my faithfulness and presence with you. Do not forget my mercy and goodness to you. Never forget it. God is living and omnipresent – there is no past or present with him, but all is eternally present. We greatly insult him when we walk around half asleep, thinking only of the present, weighed down and muted by our troubles, and giving no thought to his past glorious works. There are recorded for our instruction and example (1 Cor. 10:11). In hard times, faith can have a bounteous feast by remembering his faithful word and mighty works (Ps. 83:9; 119:52).

The Crossing of the Jordan (vv. 10-19)

10 So the priests who bore the ark stood in the midst of the Jordan until everything was finished that the LORD had commanded Joshua to speak to the people, according to all that Moses had commanded Joshua; and the people hurried and crossed over. 11 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. 12 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. 13 About forty thousand prepared for war crossed over before the LORD for battle, to the plains of Jericho. 14 On that day the LORD exalted Joshua in the sight of all Israel; and they feared him, as they had feared Moses, all the days of his life. 15 Then the LORD spoke to Joshua, saying, 16 "Command the priests who bear the ark of the Testimony to come up from the Jordan." 17 Joshua therefore commanded the priests, saying, "Come up from the Jordan." 18 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. 19 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.

Priests and Fighting Men First (vv. 10-13)

Into the Jordan River walked the priests, followed closely by the fighting men. Leaders in home, church, and society have the duty to be first in line when it comes to confessing Christ, following him wherever he leads, suffering and self-denial, and boldly obeying him. Sadly, fathers are often absentee or self-absorbed, seeking to be served rather than serving and instructing and setting an example. The same is true of pastors, who are satisfied with their office and the salary, but who fear men more than God (Gal. 1:10) and get their marching orders from the prevailing winds of public opinion rather than God’s word. Is it therefore any surprise that generations who have been poorly fathered and pastored are unable to stand up against the revolutionary mobs of Marxism? Politicians enter office poor but leave, if they can ever be lanced off the body politic like a nasty boil, rich and part of the parasitic ruling class. Not so in Israel, and it must not be so in our homes and churches. As our Savior said, “He who would be greatest among you, shall be our servant” (Matt. 23:11). “I am among you as he that serves” (Luke 22:26). If we are to follow the Lord in our present warfare, men must lead like this again – first in service, first in bold obedience to God, first in joy and kindness, first in tender humility and faith before God, and first in gentleness toward those they love.

Joshua Magnified – He Trusted and Obeyed (v. 14)

Everyone passed over the Jordan safely. The Ark passed over. About 40,000 of the roughly 110,000 available fighting men from the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and Manasseh passed over – some remained on the eastern side of Jordan to guard their families the inheritance they had already received. Joshua fully obeyed the Lord in preparing the people for the crossing, upholding God’s honor and preeminence by sending the Ark across first, and then by directing an orderly crossing. Joshua was exalted, caught up in the glorious works of the Lord. The people feared him as they feared Moses. Joshua enjoyed this exaltation because was the Lord’s faithful servant. He had watched these orphans grow up from infancy, and he patiently served them now. The Lord honors those who honor him (1 Sam. 2:30). Elevation was no danger to Joshua, for he feared the Lord and wanted only to serve him. Let us leave rewards and glory to the Lord. Let our one thought be to exalt him, and then, whether he lifts us up or keeps us low, it is enough for us that we have served him. Let men pass us over when the gold stars and watches are passed out. If we have honored our Lord, crowns are coming. Because we love him and desire only him to be preeminent, we shall cast them back at his feet. Our glory is in Christ’s glory, and the believer’s fullest satisfaction is to “behold his face in righteousness and awake with his likeness” (Ps. 17:15), to see him in his glory and to be changed into his image (1 John 3:2).

Last Man Across (vv. 15-19)

The glorious presence of God guaranteed Israel’s safety and success! When all the people had crossed, the Lord spoke to Joshua again – however clearly we think we understand what the Lord is doing, we must wait upon his guidance. Command the priests carrying the Ark to come up out of Jordan. As soon as they left the river bed and reached a safe distance, the waters returned. What a roaring and rushing that was! But the Lord is mightier (Ps. 93:4). If there were any remaining sentries from nearby Jericho, they fled. And to testify to the Lord’s faithfulness and the truth of his word, the people crossed the Jordan forty years to the day, the 10 Nisan, from when the Lord gave Moses Passover instructions (Ex. 12:3). It was only five days lacking to be exactly forty years from the day they left Egypt. Joshua and Caleb remembered. Their hearts exulted in the Lord. Since we have Emmanuel, our Lord Jesus, we should not doubt for one moment that his kingdom will prevail, that every Jordan will be crossed, all opposition to him cast down. We must trust and obey, and we shall see his gospel banners prevail.

Do Not Forget (vv. 20-24)

20 And those twelve stones which they took out of the Jordan, Joshua set up in Gilgal. 21 Then he spoke to the children of Israel, saying: "When your children ask their fathers in time to come, saying, 'What are these stones?' 22 "then you shall let your children know, saying, 'Israel crossed over this Jordan on dry land'; 23 "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, 24 "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."

Set Up Memorials – What Are Ours? (v. 20)

Joshua had the stones taken from the Jordan set up in Gilgal. It was a memorial to the Lord’s power and faithfulness. We have two commanded memorials: Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. We should think about them daily – what they signify – the greatness of God’s sovereign grace and the glory of our Savior’s atoning sacrifice and precious blood. In the water and the blood we have the Lord’s two abiding witnesses to his Son. The Scriptures are filled with other accounts of the Lord’s mighty deeds – every time we read them, we should praise him and ask him to work gloriously for us. His word should adorn our walls; our walls should echo with his praises, as we bear daily witness to his amazing grace and remember his mighty deeds. Magazines and art and visitors in our home that recount what the Lord is doing in the world today should be regular. They are living memorials. God is doing great works. We should host missionaries, read accounts of persecuted saints, study maps of countries where the gospels are growing, read biographies of the great men and women through whom the Lord did mighty works and brought the kingdom of his Son to our own day. These are not objects of veneration or worship but clear testimonies to what the Lord has done. They erected no statue of Joshua in Gilgal or renamed the day “St. Joshua’s Day.” They took plain rocks from the river and set them up. The memorials did not speak until men and women opened their mouth in testimony to God. We remember unto praise.

Tell Your Children – History Is God’s (vv. 21-23)

“What are these stones?” Perhaps it is assumed that children will be naturally inquisitive, but this is true only if we do not quench their inquisitiveness by constant diversions so that they never learn to think or inquire about what is most important. There must be memorials for them to ask about – stories and readings and accounts of God’s great works that call for questions – what is this? Why do we believe this? We are a history ignorant and averse people, sadly, and this makes our family discussions much drier than they would otherwise be. Even if parents lack time and capacity to study history more broadly, the history recorded in the Bible is the definitive testimony to the Lord’s power and faithfulness. Parents, read, recount, retell, and apply these memorials constantly. Explain what it means that Joshua led the Israelites across the Jordan because God led them – and how this is relived 1,500 years later when the Lord Jesus ascended, poured out his Spirit, and began leading his people to conquer the world by the gospel (Acts 2). Know the histories of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Joseph, Samuel, David, Asa, Josiah, Hezekiah, Daniel, and Jeremiah. These are memorials written in the living Scriptures so that we may be encouraged, inspired, and learn to depend upon the Lord and expect him to help us when we trust in him.

Apply the great works of Christ in history – healing blind men, cripples, deaf and dumb – to our times, spiritually and physically, and also nationally. Who alone can heal our national blindness but the One who opened the eyes of the blind and raised the dead to new life? We miss many opportunities to capture our children’s hearts because our hearts are not sufficiently mesmerized by God’s mighty deeds. We act as if these things are unworthy to be remembered, when, in fact, God is so living and omnipresent that it is as if these events happened but a few moments ago. Keep them fresh in your own mind. Ask the Lord to help you remember them and ask him to apply them to your heart so that you are transformed by them. Then, you will not be so fearful at what wicked men are doing in the world today. Today’s megalomaniacs do not hold a candle to the world leaders and tyrants of old, so we can do what the Lord does when they threaten – laugh. Yes, run to the Lord for protection and pray day and night, and take up the armor he has given us. But if we know history, we also laugh. It may be today, or tomorrow, or fifty years, but the days of God’s enemies are numbered. History teaches us this. History, God’s history, thus inspires the greatest confidence and gives incredible peace, even on the battlefield, that our Lord does all things well and will prevail.

Remember God’s Mighty Works (v. 24)

But all of this assumes we DO NOT FORGET. And this is a serious issue. We seem always to be forgetting our Bible, neglecting our history, acting as if the present is so terrifying, all because we DO NOT REMEMBER. To remember assumes, first, real interest in the things of the Lord, a new heart to receive them. Ask the Lord for this heart and interest. Second, the good we would derive from all the memorials we have in Scripture and since is choked out by world cares (Mark 4:19). The love of riches, fear and anxiety about the future, and sensual lusts cannot coexist with a good spiritual memory. God is holy, and our sins knock down his memorials from their chief place in our hearts. If you want to remember and profit from what God has done, you must “sanctify yourself” (Josh. 3:5), pursue real holiness in the fear of the Lord (2 Cor. 7:1). Third, you must work at remembering. It is astounding how many professing Christians say that they cannot memorize Scripture, meditate upon it, or remember what the Lord has done. It is as if we are struck with a debilitating amnesia – and I do not believe it for one moment. Our Savior would never have told his silly disciples to abide in his word if they were constitutionally unable to do so – and they were mostly fisherman and unschooled men. So do not tell me you cannot remember, learn, and meditate. It is a question of desire. It is a question of what love will dominate your heart and life. We follow our loves. Love God, love what he has done, learn of him, and grow in your knowledge, and your heart love will be profoundly changed. Then, your life will change, and lives of believers around the world, and the world itself. This happens every time God’s people remember and rejoice in his mighty works and glorious word.

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