Joshua 4:6-8: The Significance of the Twelve Stones

Verse 6:[1] That this may be a sign among you, that (Josh. 4:21; Ex. 12:26; 13:14; Deut. 6:20; Ps. 44:1; 78:3-6) when your children ask their fathers in time to come (Heb. to morrow[2]), saying, What mean ye by these stones?

[That it may be a sign among you] Of the matter conducted in this place (Menochius), that is, which shall bring back into memory for you so great a blessing (Vatablus). A sign and trophy of Jordan conquered by you and bound, as it were, and thence of the entire land of Canaan (Lapide). The goodness of God toward mankind is to be admired here, who, being conscious of human carelessness and senselessness, orders such an event to be marked with twelve stones, that He might rescue it from oblivion. Thus He furnished other helps: the Rainbow, Genesis 9:13; Circumcision, Genesis 17:11; Passover, Exodus 12 (Masius).

A sign; a monument or memorial of this day’s work.

[And when (thus Masius, Septuagint), כִּי[3]] Because they shall ask (Malvenda). Thus he shows the reason for placing the monument (Masius).

[Tomorrow, מָחָר] That is, unto posterity, or for the future (Vatablus, Drusius, Masius). Thus Genesis 30:33;[4] Exodus 13:14;[5] Proverbs 27:1[6] (Drusius).


Verse 7:[7] Then ye shall answer them, That (Josh. 3:13, 16) the waters of Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the LORD; when it passed over Jordan, the waters of Jordan were cut off: and these stones shall be for (Ex. 12:14; Num. 16:40) a memorial unto the children of Israel for ever.

Before the ark; as it were at the sight and approach of the ark, to give it and the Israelites a safe passage.

[When it crossed it, בְּעָבְרוֹ] When it (the Ark) crossed through Jordan (Montanus, Junius and Tremellius, etc.).

[Unto eternity, עַד־עוֹלָם] For a long time (Menochius, Bonfrerius, Drusius). No better or more useful inheritance from parents is able to be left to children than if they take care that they be established in true religion, etc. The piety of Joshua is to be observed here, who has a thankful heart, so fixed upon the blessings of God that, with words repeated again and again in commemoration of such an event, he is filled with the great pleasantness of recollection, and appears hardly able to satisfy himself (Masius).


Verse 8:[8] And the children of Israel did so as Joshua commanded, and took up twelve stones out of the midst of Jordan, as the LORD spake unto Joshua, according to the number of the tribes of the children of Israel, and carried them over with them unto the place where they lodged, and laid them down there.

[Therefore, the children of Israel did] Thus those twelve men are called, because each was representing his Tribe (Masius).

[1] Hebrew: לְמַ֗עַן תִּֽהְיֶ֛ה זֹ֥את א֖וֹת בְּקִרְבְּכֶ֑ם כִּֽי־יִשְׁאָל֙וּן בְּנֵיכֶ֤ם מָחָר֙ לֵאמֹ֔ר מָ֛ה הָאֲבָנִ֥ים הָאֵ֖לֶּה לָכֶֽם׃

[2] Hebrew: מָחָר.

[3] Joshua 4:6:  “That this may be a sign among you, that when your children ask their fathers in time to come, saying (כִּי־יִשְׁאָל֙וּן בְּנֵיכֶ֤ם מָחָר֙ לֵאמֹ֔ר), What mean ye by these stones?” כִּי can introduce a temporal, causal, or resultative clause.

[4] Genesis 30:33a:  “So shall my righteousness answer for me in time to comeבְּי֣וֹם) מָחָ֔ר), when it shall come for my hire before thy face…”

[5] Exodus 13:14a:  “And it shall be when thy son asketh thee in time to come (מָחָר), saying, What is this?”

[6] Proverbs 27:1:  “Boast not thyself of to morrow (בְּי֣וֹם מָחָ֑ר); for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth.”

[7] Hebrew: וַאֲמַרְתֶּ֣ם לָהֶ֗ם אֲשֶׁ֙ר נִכְרְת֜וּ מֵימֵ֤י הַיַּרְדֵּן֙ מִפְּנֵי֙ אֲר֣וֹן בְּרִית־יְהוָ֔ה בְּעָבְרוֹ֙ בַּיַּרְדֵּ֔ן נִכְרְת֖וּ מֵ֣י הַיַּרְדֵּ֑ן וְ֠הָיוּ הָאֲבָנִ֙ים הָאֵ֧לֶּה לְזִכָּר֛וֹן לִבְנֵ֥י יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל עַד־עוֹלָֽם׃

[8] Hebrew: וַיַּעֲשׂוּ־כֵ֣ן בְּנֵי־יִשְׂרָאֵ֘ל כַּאֲשֶׁ֣ר צִוָּ֣ה יְהוֹשֻׁעַ֒ וַיִּשְׂא֡וּ שְׁתֵּֽי־עֶשְׂרֵ֙ה אֲבָנִ֜ים מִתּ֣וֹךְ הַיַּרְדֵּ֗ן כַּאֲשֶׁ֙ר דִּבֶּ֤ר יְהוָה֙ אֶל־יְהוֹשֻׁ֔עַ לְמִסְפַּ֖ר שִׁבְטֵ֣י בְנֵֽי־יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל וַיַּעֲבִר֤וּם עִמָּם֙ אֶל־הַמָּל֔וֹן וַיַּנִּח֖וּם שָֽׁם׃

4 thoughts on “Joshua 4:6-8: The Significance of the Twelve Stones

  1. William Gouge, “Domestical Duties”: “The spiritual good of children, and that in their childhood, is to be procured by parents as well as their temporal. Wherefore parents must train up their children in true piety. This is expressly commanded in my text under this phrase admonition of the Lord. Under the law God did both simply command it [Deuteronomy 4:9; 6:7; 11:19; Psalm 78:5-6], and that very often, and also ordained divers outward rites [Exodus 12:26; 13:14], and caused many visible and extraordinary monuments to be set up [Joshua 4:6, 7, 21], that thereby children might be occasioned to ask of their parents the mystery of them, and that parents from that inquiry of their children might take occasion to teach them the ordinances of the Lord [Deuteronomy 6:20].

    This express charge of the Lord is further commended by that practice which holy parents from time to time have yielded thereunto: instance the examples of Abraham [Genesis 18:19], David [Proverbs 4:4], Bathsheba [Proverbs 31:1], Lois and Eunice [2 Timothy 1:5], with many others.”

  2. Again, William Gouge: “To this may be referred a declaration of such great and admirable works as God in former times has done for his church: especially such works as have been done in their time: and if any memorials be remaining of them, make them known to children. This direction was also given under the law, concerning the monuments which were set up of the great deliverances that God gave to his people [Joshua 4:6, 21]. In particular when the day of the gunpowder-treason is solemnized, parents ought to teach their children the occasion of solemnizing that day. And as God does any great works of mercy or of judgment, point them out to children. When there is a great famine, plague, or any mortality, instruct children in the causes thereof: when victory, plenty, peace, or the like, teach children from whence these come. Outward sensible things do best work upon children.”

  3. William Gurnall, “Christian in Complete Armour”: “God commanded Joshua to take twelve stones out of the midst of Jordan and set them up. And observe the reason, ‘That this may be a sign among you, that when your children ask their fathers in time to come, What mean you by these stones? Then ye shall answer them, that the waters of Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord; when it passed over Jordan the waters of Jordan were cut off; and these stones shall be for a memorial unto the children of Israel for ever,” Joshua 4:6, 7. Thus God hath, by his pardoning mercy, taken up some great notorious sinners out of the very depths of sin, who lay at the very bottom, as it were, of hell, swallowed up and engulfed in all manner of abomination; and these he hath set up in his word, that when any poor tempted souls to the end of the world—who are even overwhelmed with fears from the greatness of their sins—shall see and read what God hath done for these, they may be relieved and comforted with these examples, by God intended to be as a memorial of what he hath done for others in time past, so a sign what he can still do, yea will, for the greatest sinners to the world’s end, upon their repentance and faith. No sins, though as great and many as the waters of Jordan themselves, shall be able to stand before the mercy of God’s gracious covenant, but shall all be cut off and everlastingly pardoned to them.”

  4. Matthew Henry: “These twelve men, after they got over Jordan, must be sent back to the place where the ark stood, being permitted to come near it (which others might not) for this service: ‘Pass over before the ark (Joshua 4:5), that is, into the presence of the ark, which now stands in the midst of Jordan, and thence fetch these stones.’… The use of these stones is here appointed for a sign (Joshua 4:6), a memorial, Joshua 4:7. They would give occasion to the children to ask their parents in time to come, How came these stones hither? (probably the land about not being stony), and then the parents would inform them, as they themselves had been informed, that in this place Jordan was divided by the almighty power of God, to give Israel passage into Canaan, as Joshua enlarges on this head, Joshua 4:22, etc.

    According to these orders the thing was done… Twelve stones were taken up out of the midst of Jordan, and carried in the sight of the people to the place where they had their headquarters that night, Joshua 4:8. It is probable that the stones they took were as big as they could well carry, and as near as might be of a size and shape. But whether they went away with them immediately to the place, of whether they staid to attend the ark, and kept pace with the solemn procession of that, to grace its triumphant entry in to Canaan, is not certain. By these stones which they were ordered to take up God did, as it were, give them livery and seisin of this good land; it is all their own, let them enter and take possession; therefore what these twelve did the children of Israel are said to do (Joshua 4:8), because they were the representatives of their respective tribes. In allusion to this, we may observe that when the Lord Jesus, our Joshua, having overcome the sharpness of death and dried up that Jordan, had opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers, he appointed his twelve apostles according to the number of the tribes of Israel, by the memorial of the gospel to transmit the knowledge of this to remote places and future ages.”

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