Joshua 4:1-5:1 – OT Polemical Theology and A Memorial

The Text:
At first glance, our text today seems simple enough.
·  The priests walk into the Jordan River with the Ark.
·  The water stops flowing.
·  The Israelites pass through the flooded Jordan River basin on dry land.
·  And then to remember the event, they erect a memorial of 12 stones at Gilgal.

The Memorial:
The author of Joshua tells us twice that the memorial should be used to teach the children about God’s work on Israel’s behalf.
·  When the children ask, “tell them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord” – Joshua 4:7.
·  And then again, when the children ask, “then you shall let your children know, ‘Israel passed over this Jordan on dry ground” – Joshua 4:22.

Clearly, on par with the crossing of the Red Sea under Moses, the Jordan River miracle represented a significant milestone in the life of faith of Israel.
·  The Psalmist remembers its significance:
·  Psalm 114:3–7 (ESV) — 3 The sea looked and fled; Jordan turned back. 4 The mountains skipped like rams, the hills like lambs. 5 What ails you, O sea, that you flee? O Jordan, that you turn back? 6 O mountains, that you skip like rams? O hills, like lambs? 7 Tremble, O earth, at the presence of the Lord, at the presence of the God of Jacob,

Because of this significance, in Joshua 4:7 we are told that the stones are to be “to the people of Israel a memorial forever”.
·  It is important to point out that the idea of memorial here is far more than just “a calling to mind” – Woudstra.
·  In addition to a remembering and “loving reflection”, it importantly calls for “action” – Woudstra.
·  Remembering the work of God = Call to Action
o   Like submission of the will, for example

Significance of Chapter 4 and the Jordan Crossing:
The significance of the crossing is also fairly obvious.
·  (1) EXALTATION – Joshua is “exalted in the sight of all Israel” – verse 14
·  (2) COVENANT FAITHFULLNESS – God’s covenant faithfulness is demonstrated with Israel’s entry into the Promised Land.
o   In fact, the cutting off of the Jordan and the passing through is a direct parallel to God’s covenant activity.
o   And the completeness of this covenant faithfulness is seen in both that:
§  God via the Ark passed through but also
§  all the nation” (vs. 4) – 12 tribes – 12 men – 12 stones passed through
·  (3) POWER OF GOD – So the world may know that “the hand of the LORD is mighty” (verse 24).
·  (4) FEAR OF GOD – So Israel “may fear the LORD your God forever” (verse 24).

Read it – Read it:
Joshua 4, however, is one of those chapters that can be confusing.
·  It requires a lot of readings to begin to make sense of its repetitions from different perspectives.
·  But as it is read over and over one discovers that there is a lot more going on.
·  I want to touch on just a couple of those things and then take a massive and important rabbit trail.

(1) How many stone memorials were erected?
·  Joshua 4:8–9 (NLT) — 8 So the men did as Joshua had commanded them. They took twelve stones from the middle of the Jordan River, one for each tribe, just as the Lord had told Joshua. They carried them to the place where they camped for the night and constructed the memorial there. 9 Joshua also set up another pile of twelve stones in the middle of the Jordan, at the place where the priests who carried the Ark of the Covenant were standing. And they are there to this day.
·  Joshua 4:8–9 (NIV) — 8 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. 9 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.

I point this out to highlight once again the importance of reading more than one translation.
·  And as for the answer to our question –
·  Of the three most well-regarded scholarly commentators on Joshua – Hess, Howard and Woudstra – two think there is but one stone memorial.

Additionally, we have to consider the context.
·  We saw last week that the Jordan was in flood stage.
·  This means it could have been as much as a mile wide and 30 feet deep.
·  We can only surmise that it was even deeper as the water piled up behind the Ark.
·  Now it seems unlikely that 12 rocks light enough for Joshua to carry would have survived the surge of the Jordan as it was released.
·  The memorial would have been wiped out.

It appears then, that Joshua set up the 12 stones where the priests stood with the Ark in the river bed.
·  And once everyone had crossed, Joshua sent the 12 representatives to collect the 12 stones from the river bed, “from the very place where the priests’ feet stood firmly (vs. 3)” and erect the memorial at Gigal.
·  This makes sense of the words both in verse 3 above and at the end of verse 9 – “they are there to this day”.

(2) “To this day” – Author’s Aetiological Intent:
An aetiology is when an author seeks to explain “the name of a place or some notable feature of a region” – Hess.
·  The author of Joshua employs this technique more than any other Biblical author.
·  The consensus is that at the time Joshua was written, the author sought to explain some peculiar or anomalous conditions.

Our text is one such example – what is this river stone memorial at Gilgal.
·  Joshua 4:9 (ESV) — 9 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.

Rahab is another example – what is this pagan doing living among us.
·  Joshua 6:25 (ESV) — 25 But Rahab the prostitute and her father’s household and all who belonged to her, Joshua saved alive. And she has lived in Israel to this day, because she hid the messengers whom Joshua sent to spy out Jericho.

This approach is important.
·  It once again demonstrates that the God of Israel does things.
·  And we know He does things because He leaves a mark on history.

The Jordan Event should be no less real to us than as if it happened yesterday at the Nansemond River.
·  Proximity in time is not the issue, God’s identity, His work and their significance are timeless.
·  Once again – this is not an emotionally grounded relationship!!!!!

Having said that, however, what are some evidences of God’s overt, objective work in history that are here “to this day”?
·  The most obvious would be the Bible.
o   And –
·  1 Peter 2:4–5 (ESV) — 4 As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, 5 you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
o   Christians are a memorial to the work of Christ!

The Massive Rabbit Trail:
Joshua 5:1 (ESV) — 1 As soon as all the kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan to the west, and all the kings of the Canaanites who were by the sea, heard that the Lord had dried up the waters of the Jordan for the people of Israel until they had crossed over, their hearts melted and there was no longer any spirit in them because of the people of Israel.

This text echoes the words of Rahab in Joshua 2.
·  Joshua 2:9–10 (ESV) — 9 …, “I know that the Lord has given you the land, and that the fear of you has fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land melt away before you. 10 For we have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt…
·  Now add to that the Jordan River event from 5:1 and again “their hearts melted and there was no longer any spirit in them

God’s actions and proclamations were not done in an Israelite vacuum.
·  They were in context of a complex ANE (Ancient Near East) religious culture.
·  And this context provides a fascinating backdrop and insight in to understanding why “their hearts melted”.

Polemic Theology:
·  “Polemical theology is the use by biblical writers of the thought forms and stories that were common in ancient Near Eastern culture, while filling them with radically new meaning” – John Currid.
·  “The primary purpose of polemical theology is to demonstrate emphatically and graphically the distinctions between the worldview of the Hebrews and the beliefs and practices of the rest of the ancient Near East” – John Currid.

Water was one such ANE “thought form and story”.
·  It played “an important role in the cosmogony [how the world came to be] of the ancient Near East” – John Currid.
·  “Water [was] the stuff and material of creation” in just about all the major ANE cultures – John Currid.
·  Specifically, at the beginning of creation the waters were seen “as chaotic” in ANE cosmogony.
·  In fact, “the waters, in ancient Near Eastern thought, represented a hostile power” – Joseph Lam.
·  Creation was therefore the act of the gods overcoming the “hostile power” of water and bringing order to its chaos – John Currid.

The importance of the water/God relationship is prevalent even in Hebrew ANE culture.
·  Genesis 1:2 reads, “the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters”.
·  The Psalmist also speaks to the significance of water in Psalm 74.
·  Psalm 74:12–17 (ESV) — 12 Yet God my King is from of old, working salvation in the midst of the earth. 13 You divided the sea by your might; you broke the heads of the sea monsters on the waters. 14 You crushed the heads of Leviathan; you gave him as food for the creatures of the wilderness. 15 You split open springs and brooks; you dried up ever-flowing streams. 16 Yours is the day, yours also the night; you have established the heavenly lights and the sun. 17 You have fixed all the boundaries of the earth; you have made summer and winter.
·  Even in the NT we read - Matthew 8:27 (ESV) — 27 And the men marveled, saying, “What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?
o   Answer – He is Yahweh

The point is this – the Canaanites’ supreme gods were El and Baal.
·  El was the head of the Canaanite pantheon of Gods; the “father of the gods” - Currid.
·  El’s home was “on the top of a mountain from which two rivers proceed that provide all the water on earth” – John Currid.

This means that – the Jordan River as presented in our text has the following Canaanite context.
·  (1) It was part of the water that ultimately originated from El and his mountain home.
·  (2) And in flood stage it would have been in disorder and chaos.

So what?
So given –
·  (1) The significance of water in ANE generally
o   AND
·  (2) El’s relationship to it

We see the following Yahweh Polemic aimed at El:
·  Along comes Yahweh on behalf of the Israelites.
·  He proceeds to exercise complete and utter authority over the Canaanite waters of the Jordan River.
·  Yahweh took the chaotic, flooding Jordan River and cut it off!
o   Just as He had exercised power over the Red Sea.

Hearts Melted:
So it is no wonder the Canaanite’s hearts melted and “there was no longer any spirit in them”.
·  Yahweh demonstrated His might and power over El (in the minds of the Canaanites).
·  El was powerless against Yahweh.

But Wait – There is More:
There are numerous other examples of this Polemical Theology at work – John Currid.
·  Some quite subtle and some quite obvious.
·  We will look at one of each.

Cloud Rider:
·  Baal, the god of storms and seasons, was the other prominent God of the Canaanites.
·  Long before the Israelites came on the scene, Ugarit texts of the Canaanites referred to Baal as the rider of the clouds.
·  For example –
o   “Seven years Baal will fail Eight years the rider of the clouds, no dew, no rain” – John Currid.

The OT, written after the Ugarit texts, began to challenge this notion.
·  Isaiah 19:1 (ESV) — 1 An oracle concerning Egypt. Behold, the Lord is riding on a swift cloud and comes to Egypt; and the idols of Egypt will tremble at his presence, and the heart of the Egyptians will melt within them.
·  Daniel 7:13 (ESV) — 13 “I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him.

Any worshiper of Baal would have recognized the challenge.
·  “Baal does not ride on the clouds; only Yahweh does!” – John Currid.

Challenge of the Staffs:
Exodus 7:8–13 (ESV) — 8 Then the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, 9 “When Pharaoh says to you, ‘Prove yourselves by working a miracle,’ then you shall say to Aaron, ‘Take your staff and cast it down before Pharaoh, that it may become a serpent.’ ” 10 So Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and did just as the Lord commanded. Aaron cast down his staff before Pharaoh and his servants, and it became a serpent. 11 Then Pharaoh summoned the wise men and the sorcerers, and they, the magicians of Egypt, also did the same by their secret arts. 12 For each man cast down his staff, and they became serpents. But Aaron’s staff swallowed up their staffs. 13 Still Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, and he would not listen to them, as the Lord had said.

In Egypt, the staff was extremely significant.
·  “Pharaohs carried the shepherd’s crook…as emblems of their identification with Osiris and their having received his authority and power” – John Currid
·  The staff, “…simply signified all of Osiris’s power, authority, and sovereignty” – John Currid.
·  They believed that the staff, “was imbued with magic and the power of the gods” – John Currid.
·  In fact, Egyptian history specifically attests to the practice of turning staffs into snakes.
·  There are numerous, “scenes of magicians holding rods in their hands that could instantly be turned into snakes” – John Currid.

So along comes Aaron, a mere Hebrew slave, and his staff.
·  He proceeded to use, “the very physical symbol that rendered glory to Egypt, authority to Egypt, power to Egypt” as the very thing that demonstrated the authority and power of Yahweh over Osiris and Pharaoh – John Currid.
·  His rod ate theirs; Yahweh’s omnipotence overpowered Egypt’s magic.

BTW – It is interesting to note the following:
·  God, through the Ark of the Covenant, stopped the Jordan River.
·  We already saw how this demonstrated Yahweh’s power over El.
·  It is interesting that the Ark contained the Aaron’s rod.
·  The thing that Yahweh used to demonstrate His power of Osiris.

Numerous other examples of OT and even NT polemical theology exist.
·  I think we get the idea.
·  But, it is worth mentioning the Son of God polemic.
·  Caesar was, for Rome, the Son of God.
·  Then along comes Jesus and the assertion that He was the Son of God.
·  His resurrection in fact vindicated His claim to be the real Son of God – sorry Caesar.


Joshua 3 – They Will Know

Last week we learned about the sure sign of the scarlet cord.
·  The spies swore an oath of protection with Rahab and the oath was sealed with a scarlet cord.
·  We saw a clear parallel between the scarlet cord, Passover and the N.T. Gospel.

And importantly, we also saw how significant Rahab’s faith was to the entire chapter.
·  Her declaration of faith was even spoken of in Hebrews.
·  And like Abraham, her faith was a trust in both what God had done and what He was going to do.

Today we see the action that results from the spies report to Joshua that the enemie’s hearts were melted.

Prepare to Cross the Jordan:
Joshua 3:1–6 (ESV) — 1 Then Joshua rose early in the morning and they set out from Shittim. And they came to the Jordan, he and all the people of Israel, and lodged there before they passed over. 2 At the end of three days the officers went through the camp 3 and commanded the people, “As soon as you see the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God being carried by the Levitical priests, then you shall set out from your place and follow it. 4 Yet there shall be a distance between you and it, about 2,000 cubits in length. Do not come near it, in order that you may know the way you shall go, for you have not passed this way before.” 5 Then Joshua said to the people, “Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do wonders among you.” 6 And Joshua said to the priests, “Take up the ark of the covenant and pass on before the people.” So they took up the ark of the covenant and went before the people.
Given God’s words to Joshua in verse 8, it is apparent that Joshua was following the instructions of God.
·  The Israelites were to cross the Jordan and the Ark of the Covenant would lead the way.
·  The author of Joshua mentions the Ark of the Covenant 17 times in chapters 3 and 4 – Dale Ralph Davis.
·  We will see in our next section the significance of the Ark in the Jordan crossing.
o   Contained the 10 Commandments; Aaron’s rod; jar of manna

But before they cross the Jordan, Joshua asked the people to “consecrate yourselves”.
·  What does this mean?
·  Often the word means to set apart something for the service of God – Holman IBD.
·  It also carries with it the idea of “separation from things that are unclean or common” – D.M. Howard.
·  But how does this apply to people?

It would appear that, as with other contexts where it refers to people, that it means “the special preparation [required] whenever Yahweh was to reveal himself in a special way” – Dale Ralph Davis.
·  In other words – (1) people are to prepare for (2) a mighty work of God.
·  Exodus 19:10–11 (ESV) — 10 the Lord said to Moses, “Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their garments 11 and be ready for the third day. For on the third day the Lord will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people.
·  Here before God’s miraculous appearance, consecration involved the washing of their garments.
·  And we know from elsewhere that it can also involve abstaining from sex, confession or dietary restrictions – Dale Ralph Davis, D.M. Howard.

What is interesting about this is twofold:
(1) Apprehension of the work of God can require preparation.
·  The Israelites were to –
·  (a) Stay back so all could see/acknowledge the holiness of God
·  (b) Consecrate themselves that they might be in the “best context” to experience the work of God.
·  In other words, as they “…kept a proper, reverent distance from the ark of the covenant, would be shown in which way they should walk, both physically and spiritually” – D.M. Howard.
·  Walking well “physically and spiritually” provides the optimal vantage point to glorify God and participate in His work.

(2) This “prep work” seems to be a parallel to John the Baptist’s call to repent and be baptized.
·  These were themselves preparation for the coming of the Kingdom of God in Jesus Christ.
·  And as we learned in John, how one perceived or experienced the work of Christ was dependent on “context”.
·  Jesus was experienced either as light and revelation OR darkness and condemnation (John 3).

Prepare to Know Because of the Jordan:
Joshua 3:7–13 (ESV) — 7 The Lord said to Joshua, “Today I will begin to exalt you in the sight of all Israel, that they may know that, as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. 8 And as for you, command the priests who bear the ark of the covenant, ‘When you come to the brink of the waters of the Jordan, you shall stand still in the Jordan.’ ” 9 And Joshua said to the people of Israel, “Come here and listen to the words of the Lord your God.” 10 And Joshua said, “Here is how you shall know that the living God is among you and that he will without fail drive out from before you the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Hivites, the Perizzites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, and the Jebusites. 11 Behold, the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth is passing over before you into the Jordan. 12 Now therefore take twelve men from the tribes of Israel, from each tribe a man. 13 And when the soles of the feet of the priests bearing the ark of the Lord, the Lord of all the earth, shall rest in the waters of the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan shall be cut off from flowing, and the waters coming down from above shall stand in one heap.”

We mentioned earlier that we would see the significance of the ark in crossing the Jordan River.
·  Here it is – the Ark “powers” the “knowing” that is central to our text.

The Knowing:
The following statements are made in our text:
·  God tells Joshua I will “exalt you…that they may know” I am with you like I was with Moses – verse 7.
·  Joshua tells Israel, “Here is how you shall know” that the living God is with you – verse 10.
·  And “Here is how you shall know” God “will drive out” the Pagan tribes – verse 10.
·  And in verse 4, Joshua also said follow the Ark “that you may know the way you shall go” – verse 4.

All of these statements point to the work/action of God that:
·  (1) Israel was to consecrate itself to receive (as we just saw)
·  (2) And that will bring the “knowing” we just spoke of.
·  The work/action of God is, of course, that “the waters of the Jordan shall be cut off from flowing” – verse 13.

Powers the Knowing – This is why the Ark is central to this story.
·  The Ark represented the presence of God.
·  It is a “sign of Yahweh’s presence among his people” – Dale Ralph Davis.
·  “…to speak of the Ark is tantamount to speaking of the Lord…” – Woudstra.
·  And because the Ark “cut off” the Jordan –
o   It meant that God and His presence “cut off” the Jordan.

Therefore the Ark testifies to Israel that they may know that:
·  (1) Joshua is exalted/approved/appointed by God
·  (2) God is present
·  (3) God  will defeat the Pagan’s/deliver promise land
·  (4) God will give direction (spiritual and physical)

It has to be emphasized again that these things our known by God’s action in historyHis done work.
·  These things are not known by some giddy feeling.
·  God is real and His action in history is real.
·  As we have said before, faith is not blind.
·  Its object is the done work of God!

In the testimony of the Ark, we have yet another parallel to the Gospel of John.
·  John 20:31 (ESV) — 31 but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
·  In John, the signs and wonders of Jesus testified to His identity.
·  By them, John says, we can “believe” or know who Christ is.
·  These done works of God in history demonstrated clearly that God was present, His kingdom was being inaugurated, and life in the age to come comes through Christ.
·  Signs and Wonders of Jesus were so that we might know.
·  The stopping of the Jordan via the Ark of the Covenant were so that we might know.

How do we know now that the living God is among us?
·  Because you were healed?
o   Found a parking spot?
o   Found a job?
o   Made it home safely?
·  What about the one who was not healed?
o   Who didn’t find a parking spot?
o   Who hasn’t found a job?
o   Didn’t make it home?

Its Go Time:
Joshua 3:14–17 (ESV) — 14 So when the people set out from their tents to pass over the Jordan with the priests bearing the ark of the covenant before the people, 15 and as soon as those bearing the ark had come as far as the Jordan, and the feet of the priests bearing the ark were dipped in the brink of the water (now the Jordan overflows all its banks throughout the time of harvest), 16 the waters coming down from above stood and rose up in a heap very far away, at Adam, the city that is beside Zarethan, and those flowing down toward the Sea of the Arabah, the Salt Sea, were completely cut off. And the people passed over opposite Jericho. 17 Now the priests bearing the ark of the covenant of the Lord stood firmly on dry ground in the midst of the Jordan, and all Israel was passing over on dry ground until all the nation finished passing over the Jordan.

Jordan River:
The Jordan River was about 100 feet in width and as deep as 10 feet – AYBD.
·  The current was fairly strong because of an average drop of 9 feet in elevation per mile – D.R. Davis.
·  And our text tells us that the crossing was made during its flood stage – spring runoff and rains (verse 15).
·  The floodplain of the Jordan River was 200 yards to 1 mile wide – D.R. Davis.
·  And given the fact that along with the water there would have been a large amount of underwater debris, we can begin to appreciate the severity of the crossing.
o   No dams were in place, obviously.

Dale Davis makes this observation:
·  “When was it that God led Israel through the Jordan? Precisely at the time of year when such a feat looked and was impossible. Why does the God of the Bible insist on fording the river at the most unpropitious time? I am not sure. But this is a marked tendency in his ways. Yahweh delights to show his might in the face of our utter helplessness, apparently so that we cannot help seeing that we contribute nothing to our deliverance”.

BTW – the modern Jordan River flow is much less than it was in the past.
·  So much so that the Dead Sea is beginning to drastically dry up and shrink.

So this is the context in which the priests began to enter the river.
·  We are told that “as soon as those bearing the ark” hit the water, the Jordan River stopped flowing.
·  The priests took the Ark to the middle and Israel began to pass through the Jordan.
·  And, significantly, they all had to pass by the Ark.
·  They were walking; they would have to fight; God’s presence would enable!

This was a monumental moment that was hundreds of years in the making.
·  Its significance can’t be overstated.
·  It had been over 400 years since any Israelites were in Canaan.
·  And now we have a long awaited display of God’s covenant faithfulness with respect to the land.
·  As God promised Joshua, He would be present to deliver it to him and the Israelites.
·  And before every ones’ eyes, God stopped the flow of the Jordan so they could cross.