Now the Lord said to Joshua, “Command the priests who carry the ark of the testimony that they come up from the Jordan.” So Joshua commanded the priests, saying, “Come up from the Jordan.” It came about when the priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord had come up from the middle of the Jordan, and the soles of the priests’ feet were lifted up to the dry ground, that the waters of the Jordan returned to their place, and went over all its banks as before.
Now the people came up from the Jordan on the tenth of the first month and camped at Gilgal on the eastern edge of Jericho. Those twelve stones which they had taken from the Jordan, Joshua set up at Gilgal. He said to the sons of Israel, “When your children ask their fathers in time to come, saying, ‘What are these stones?’ then you shall inform your children, saying, ‘Israel crossed this Jordan on dry ground.’ For the Lord your God dried up the waters of the Jordan before you until you had crossed, just as the Lord your God had done to the Red Sea, which He dried up before us until we had crossed; that all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the Lord is mighty, so that you may fear the Lord your God forever.” Joshua 4:15-24 NASB
As soon as all of the Israelites were crossed over, the twelve stones were selected from the river bed and Joshua made a memorial of stones where the priests had stood as the people made their way across on dry ground as the priests lifted their feet from the river onto its embankment, the waters of the Jordan rapidly returned to flow at flood height. Therefore, there was no return, no going back.
God had made a way for the children of Israel to cross from the wilderness of barrenness into the Promise Land flowing with milk and honey. When the Jordan returned to flow at flood height overflowing its banks as before the crossing, there was no escape from the enemies of Canaan should they encounter them; and soon they would. Their faith had been strengthened by the crossing experience and they moved to Gilgal, about 1.25 miles from the eastern edge of Jericho, the first city they would take possession of for God.
Joshua called for the twelve stones taken from the Jordan River bed at flood stage and erected a memorial at Gilgal as a means to remind the people and future generations of the mighty delivering power of God. He gave specific instructions why these stones were set into place and what the Israelites were to say to enlighten future generations of the significance of their placement and purpose. They were to make known that the “Lord your God dried up the waters” of both the Jordan and the Red Sea and in both miraculous events the purpose was “that all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the Lord is mighty, so that you may fear the Lord your God forever.”
Joshua placed the twelve stones as a reminder Israel was to fear the Lord forever – so are we instructed in God’s word to fear and obey Him without reservation, but with a whole heart, fully committed to Him and His ways.
The emphasis of Joshua’s instruction was that all the peoples of the earth might know that the Lord is mighty and that Israel might fear the Lord forever. This also includes us today. These important events – the Red Sea crossing and the crossing into the Promised Land – are two events much of the world recognize, even those who know very little about Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Joshua or the Lord.
Now the Israelites, camped in the Promised Land, had only one choice: trust God and move forward to fight under the banner of God’s protection as His agents of judgment to wipe out the evil practices of the Canaanites who were polytheistic with dark, seductive practices of religion.
The Israelites were promised victory if they would be obedient and serve God with their whole heart and not allow their lives to become mixed with the practices of the Canaanites, wicked to the very core of their soul.
The Israelites had entered the land and the path of return was now shut now behind them. We will see their struggle to maintain separation as a holy nation and the hand of God upon them as judgment to a wicked people. They were given a purpose: to worship God and cleanse the land for Him.
Here is what the Apostle Paul wrote to the church at Philippi: Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect (mature), but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let us therefore, as many as are perfect (mature), have this attitude; and if in anything you have a different attitude, God will reveal that also to you; however, let us keep living by that same standard to which we have attained. Philippians 3:12-16 NASB
Our life has a purpose in Christ. There is a goal that lies ahead if we obediently run this race of life for God. He has called everyone to run this holy race with a realization we are to be here upon the earth for a holy purpose, not to live a self-serving life. Let us not fail to press toward the most important goal in life: obeying and worshiping the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior, King of kings and Lord of lords. This is the primary purpose of life mandated by God upon all mankind – including us in modern history.