Joshua 4

Joshua 4, 
Thursday, April 5, 2018

These traditions are explicitly tied to later liturgies and processions, retelling stories to successive generations.  We all crossed, then each tribe sent one person back to fetch a stone from the bed of the Jordan, to mark a circle where they camp.  Maybe Joshua sets another circle that’s still under the river.

Gilgal is an important ancient religious shrine.  Jerusalem’s Temple is not the only centre of worship – watch for these ‘etiological legends’ that tie practices in later centuries to stories of earlier ones.  They change in resonance through successive ages and empires.

What’s the message in the rituals?  12 tribes, united from the beginning.  Perhaps in Solomon’s time there was, briefly, a dozen tribal regions with social and political identity.  Mostly, it’s as mythic as the story of 12 boys from one father through 4 mothers.  

Reuben, Gad, and half Menashe, the repeated 2.5 tribes in Joshua, are associated with the east side of the Jordan, but there is little or no real history of this turf or these folks as part of Israel.  The motif of people fighting for the other tribes’ interests is familiar though, in any political or military alliance – including our confederation.

We came up out of the waters, crossed the waters, from one identity to another.  From slavery into the desert, one generation spent in the wandering wilderness.  Now their descendants are entering into a promise, itself rooted in the Avram and Yaakov cycles of stories.

In what sort of generation do we live, facing what sort of transition?  Who belongs to our ‘tribe’, and who are our cousins and allies?  Our ancestors in this account are not superhuman themselves – it is their divine patron that scares the people dispossessed before them.

When the entire nation had finished crossing over the Jordan, the Lord said to Joshua:
 2‘Select twelve men from the people, 
one from each tribe, 
3and command them, 
“Take twelve stones from here
out of the middle of the Jordan, 
from the place where the priests’ feet stood, 
carry them over with you, 
and lay them down
 in the place where you camp tonight.” ’ 
 
4Then Joshua summoned the twelve men from the Israelites, 
whom he had appointed, one from each tribe.
 5Joshua said to them, 
‘Pass on before the ark of the Lord your God
into the middle of the Jordan, 
and each of you take up a stone on his shoulder, 
one for each of the tribes of the Israelites, 
6so that this may be a sign among you. 
 
When your children ask in time to come, 
“What do those stones mean to you?” 
7then you shall tell them
that the waters of the Jordan were cut off
in front of the ark of the covenant of the Lord. 
When it crossed over the Jordan, 
the waters of the Jordan were cut off. 
 
So these stones shall be to the Israelites a memorial for ever.’
 
8 The Israelites did as Joshua commanded. 
They took up twelve stones out of the middle of the Jordan, 
according to the number of the tribes of the Israelites, 
as the Lord told Joshua, 
carried them over with them
 to the place where they camped, and laid them down there.
 
 9(Joshua set up twelve stones in the middle 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.)
 
10 The priests who bore the ark
remained standing in the middle of the Jordan, 
until everything was finished
that the Lord commanded Joshua to tell the people, 
according to all that Moses had commanded Joshua. 
 
The people crossed over in haste. 
 
11As soon as all the people had finished crossing over,
 the ark of the Lord, 
and the priests, 
crossed over in front of the people. 
 
12The Reubenites, 
the Gadites, 
and the half-tribe of Manasseh
crossed over armed
before the Israelites, 
as Moses had ordered them.
 
13About forty thousand
armed for war
crossed over before the Lord
 to the plains of Jericho for battle.
 
14 On that day the Lord exalted Joshua in the sight of all Israel; 
and they stood in awe of him, 
as they had stood in awe of Moses, 
all the days of his life.
 
15 The Lord said to Joshua,
 16‘Command the priests who bear the ark of the covenant
to come up out of the Jordan.’ 
 
17Joshua therefore commanded the priests, 
‘Come up out of the Jordan.’ 
18When the priests bearing the ark of the covenant of the Lord
came up from the middle of the Jordan, 
and the soles of the priests’ feet touched dry ground, 
the waters of the Jordan returned to their place
and overflowed all its banks, as before.
 
19 The people came up out of the Jordan
on the tenth day of the first month, 
and they camped in Gilgal on the eastern border of Jericho.
 
20Those twelve stones, 
which they had taken out of the Jordan, 
Joshua set up in Gilgal, 
21saying to the Israelites, 
‘When your children ask their parents in time to come,
 “What do these stones mean?” 
22then you shall let your children know,
 “Israel crossed over the Jordan here on dry ground.” 
 
23For the Lord your God dried up the waters of the Jordan
for you until you crossed over, 
as the Lord your God did to the Red Sea,
which he dried up for us until we crossed over, 
24so that all the peoples of the earth may know
that the hand of the Lord is mighty, 
and so that you may fear the Lord your God for ever.’