Joshua 4; 5:10-15: Coming into the Land
Read verse 1. Does it bring back to you the story of the priests carrying the ark of the commandments on their shoulders, standing in the bed of the Jordan, while all the people of Israel went over on dry ground? It was a sign of the Lord's power which was with them in the commandments. While the priests with the ark were still standing, and the river-bed was still dry, something else was done by twelve men whom Joshua had chosen and made ready, one man from every tribe. They took up twelve stones from the river-bed where the priests with the ark were standing, and carried them over on their shoulders, and laid them down in the plain of Jordan where the people made their first camp in the land. It was at Gilgal in the plain, to the east of Jericho, between Jericho and the river. At the same time they set up twelve stones in the river-bed, which presently were covered by the water when the priests came up with the ark, and the Jordan flowed again with a full stream. What was the meaning of these stones, in the river and on the land? The story tells us. They were for a memorial, a monument to mark a great event, to keep the people reminded of the Lord's power which opened the river for them, and which would be with them in the land.
It was the tenth day of the first month, when the people crossed the Jordan and camped in the promised land. It was spring, and the land was beautiful after the winter rains. And also this was the time for the Passover, the feast that was first kept on the night of leaving Egypt. Each year it should be kept on the evening of the fourteenth day of the first month. The people had just time to make ready for the Passover and to keep it. Now they had come to a land of fruits and grains, and the manna came no more after they had eaten of the old corn of the land. Who remembers about the manna; when it was first given; how long the people had been having this food from heaven; what it was like when they found it in the morning on the ground?
One more encouragement was given to Joshua. Read Joshua 5:13-15. Does it remind you of another story about putting off shoes and standing on holy ground? (Exod. 3:5) It was when the Lord at the burning bush called Moses, and sent him to his great task, to bring the people out of Egypt. Much the same promise of the Lord's help comes to Joshua before his great task, the conquering of the promised land.
We left the priests carrying the ark of the commandments standing in the Jordan, when by the power of the Lord the water was cut off, and the river-bed was dry while the people of Israel passed over. Twelve men were mentioned in Joshua 3:12, out of every tribe a man; but we were not told why these men were appointed, or what they were to do. Who has read chapter 4, and can tell us? Two things: to take twelve stones from the river-bed and set them up at the place of the first camp; and to set up twelve stones in the river. At what place was the camp? Can you show it on the map? What were the name of the place, and the meaning of the name? It is an important place, for it was the camp of Israel and the base of activities for some time. The name Gilgal means a "circle" and "rolling." Possibly the stones were set up in a circle, and it meant to the people of Israel that the Lord had rolled away from them the reproach of Egypt. They were no longer slaves, but a free people in their own land.
What was the reason for setting up the stones at Gilgal and in the river? Why are monuments set up? Think of some monuments that you know, statues of people, monuments recording great events. Yes, they are to record facts of history so that the children of new generations will not forget them; and not only to record the facts, but to keep alive the spirit of the great events. What fact should you say was recorded by the stones set up in the Jordan and at Gilgal, and what spirit should they keep alive with coming generations?
It was on the tenth day of the first month that the people crossed and camped in Gilgal. The first month was in the spring, at the time that they came out of Egypt. "This month shall be unto you the beginning of months. It shall be the first month of the year to you." (Exod. 12:2)
Do you remember what feast the children of Israel kept on the night that they left Egypt? The Passover; and they were to keep it each year at the same season. So now they kept the Passover at Gilgal, in the plains of Jericho, on the fourteenth day of the month. Compare Exod. 12:6. You remember how the feast was eaten in the evening, with a lamb and unleavened bread and bitter herbs. Now they were in the land of wheat and barley. They had bread made of the old corn, and they roasted green ears of the new harvest at the fire and ate them. Then the manna ceased, and it came no more. Remember when the manna was first given, before the people came to Sinai; and now they had had this bread from heaven forty years. (Exod. 16:4, 35)
The story of Joshua 5 gathers about the first keeping of the Passover in the promised land. Have we learned of another keeping of the Passover since leaving Egypt? (Num. 9:5) The circumcision mentioned in the first part of Joshua 5 connects itself with the Passover. The circumcision was a purifying and preparation for the sacred feast.
A sign was given to Joshua in the plain by Jericho by which he should know that the Lord was with him and the people to give them victory. There appeared to him a man, who was an angel, with his sword drawn in his hand; and the angel said, "As the captain of the host of the Lord am I now come." It was a sign that the power of the angels and of the Lord was with him. The words, "Loose thy shoe from off thy foot, for the place whereon thou standest is holy," do not sound strange. Where have we heard such words before? (Exod. 3:5) Both Moses and Joshua, in taking up the duty of leading the people, must learn the same lesson, to come near reverently to the Lord, to be taught by Him.
1. What was done that the people might remember how the Lord cut off the Jordan before the ark?
2. What feast did the people keep just after coming into the land? What season of the year was it?
3. How long had the children of Israel been fed with manna? When did it cease?
4. How was it shown to Joshua that the power of the Lord would be with him?
The Jordan, the river of Canaan, and the gate of entrance, represents normally the literal Divine truth as contained in the Ten Commandments, which gives entrance to the heavenly life. Associate the Jordan with John's baptism and preaching of repentance. But when idolatrous nations occupied the land of Canaan the Jordan represented false teaching which leads to and excuses evil life. The cutting off of the Jordan before the ark shows the power of the commandments to dispel such false thoughts, and the Jordan is restored to its proper meaning. (A. 1585-1590, 4255; E. 700)
And now the twelve stones set up in the river, and the twelve stones from the river set up at Gilgal. Stones represent sure facts, and stones as monuments represent facts which need to be remembered. The stones in Jordan stand for the fact that the Divine commandments are stronger than all falsity and stand forever as the only gate of entrance into heaven. "Blessed are they that do His commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city." (Rev. 22:14) The words look forward to blessings unfolding in the life of heaven. And there is this thought also in the stones taken from the river and set up in the land. The same power of the commandments which gives entrance remains forever to give the victories of heaven and its blessings. The twelve tribes are represented in these stones, and the names of the tribes were on the gates of the Holy City, for the tribes represent all the blessed developments of the Christian and the heavenly life. When the Scripture says of a monument, as of these stones, "There are they unto this day," it means spiritually that the truth recorded is vitally and forever true. (E. 430; A. 3858)
If the manna was bread from heaven and represented the strengthening of the spirit from the Lord, why should it cease when the people came into the promised land? The manna represents the strength from the Lord in times of trial. It does not represent the full satisfaction of a life that has become altogether heavenly. That satisfaction is represented by the Passover in Canaan, and by the old corn of the land, and when the people had eaten of this the manna ceased. For a similar reason in the desert no manna fell on the Sabbath day, because the Sabbath represents heaven and its full life. (A. 8505, 8506)
Joshua would be strong and victorious and so may we all be, but we must obey the Lord's truth as leader and not ourselves. This truth is the angel with drawn sword. (A. 8595) What lesson do you see in Joshua's putting off his shoes in the presence of the angel? Reverence for the Lord's truth, and willingness to set aside mere worldly appearances and let the Lord teach us what is really good and true. (A. 1748)