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2 April 2020 – Joshua 4:8-13

So the Israelites did as Joshua commanded them. They took twelve stones from the middle of the Jordan, according to the number of the tribes of the Israelites, as the Lord had told Joshua; and they carried them over with them to their camp, where they put them down. Joshua set up the twelve stones that had been in the middle of the Jordan at the spot where the priests who carried the ark of the covenant had stood. And they are there to this day.

Now the priests who carried the ark remained standing in the middle of the Jordan until everything the Lord had commanded Joshua was done by the people, just as Moses had directed Joshua. The people hurried over, and as soon as all of them had crossed, the ark of the Lord and the priests came to the other side while the people watched. The men of Reuben, Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh crossed over, ready for battle, in front of the Israelites, as Moses had directed them. About forty thousand armed for battle crossed over before the Lord to the plains of Jericho for war. – Joshua 4:8-13

Let me draw your attention to two minor, but perhaps interesting, details from today’s passage:

Where was the memorial built? The NIV, which is quoted above reads: “Joshua set up the twelve stones that had been in the middle of the Jordan at the spot where the priests who carried the ark of the covenant had stood.” The ESV reads: “And Joshua set up twelve stones in the midst of the Jordan, in the place where the feet of the priests bearing the ark of the covenant had stood; and they are there to this day.” That is, the NIV interprets the passage as though only one memorial is being built while the ESV interprets the passage as though two memorials are being built, one in the place where they would first camp in the Promised Land and a second in the middle of the Jordan River where the priests had stood carrying the Ark of the Covenant while the people crossed the Jordan on dry ground. The Hebrew strongly favors the rendering of the ESV, that a second memorial was built in the middle of the Jordan. Furthermore, the ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament – the Septuagint – reads “twelve other stones” making clear that it is reading the Hebrew as establishing two memorials. We also have a contextual pointer; in that it won’t be until verse 20 that Joshua builds the memorial at Gilgal. The Israelites aren’t yet in Gilgal in verse 9 and there is no good reason to assume that verse 9 is pointing forward to something that Joshua was going to do in the future. Why then would the NIV, in a very paraphrastic rendering, try to eliminate a second memorial being built in the middle of the Jordan? I haven’t spoken with the translators, but I suspect that they simply didn’t think that putting a memorial in the middle of the river would make any sense. After all, the purpose of a memorial was to remind people – and once the waters of the Jordan filled back up this memorial would be covered. Or would it? It is easy for us to think of large American rivers like the Hudson River, where having a memorial in the middle of the river wouldn’t make any sense. But the Jordan is a shallow – and not particularly wide river. Assuming that the stones were large, the top of such a memorial could be above the water level for much of the year. Furthermore, when the waters were running clear, people would have no difficulty seeing such a memorial – even the parts of it which were underwater – and its conspicuous location in the middle of the river would have made it stand out. It is better to follow the Hebrew text, and then work to understand it, rather than re-writing the story to fit what we think would have made more sense.

And they are there to this day. The end of verse 9 ends with an expression that is fairly common in the historical books of the Old Testament, “And they are there to this day.” The book of Joshua was written sometime after the events that took place. Yet, the author is saying of this memorial, “You can go check it out yourself. It’s still there.” As Adolph Harstad points out: “The author is presenting historical facts, not mere myths. The first readers of Joshua can see the visible evidence that provides a tangible link to the actual events. The author by this phrase is affirming the same thing as the Apostle John: “These words are trustworthy and true” (Rev 21:5). The historical reference to the memorial still being visible actually brings the function of the memorial back into play. It reminds the reader of the faithfulness and awesome power of God who brought His people into the Promised Land.

MEMORY WORK – Shorter Catechism Q/A 16

Q. Did all mankind fall in Adam’s first transgression?
A. The covenant being made with Adam, not only for himself, but for his posterity; all mankind, descending from him by ordinary generation, sinned in him, and fell with him, in his first transgression.