Summary: The significance of the Stones at Gilgal.
Studies in Joshua
Study 6 – Ch 4 & 5
From time to time when I speak to the children on a Sabbath morning during the children’s address, I will bring along with me some form of visual aid – maybe a personal walkman, or a hiking boot or a doll or whatever. And of course the aim of using a visual aid is to use something tangible, something the children can see and can identify with in order to teach them some important spiritual truth.
The Lord Jesus during the course of his preaching and teaching ministry often used visual aids to impress spiritual truths upon his hearers. He pointed to field that contained a crop that had reached full maturity, ready to be harvested and spoke to his disciples of the great spiritual harvest that lay before them and of the need for workers to go out into the harvest field of the world. I am sure that each time the harvest season came around and the disciples looked out upon such fields they would have remembered the Lord’s teaching. Every time they saw sheep wandering over the hillside they would have remembered his teaching about the good shepherd. Every time they saw a farmer going out and sowing seed in his field they would have thought about the importance of scattering the good seed of the gospel. Jesus used visual aids in seeking to get his message across to his hearers.
The impact that a visual image can have upon people has of course not only been recognised by, it has also been used with great effect by the advertising world. They will take the message that they want to convey about their product, whatever it might happen to be, and link it in such a way with a striking and memorable image, or picture or famous person so as to create a direct link between the two in the minds of the people they are seeking to influence. Every time that image, picture, or person appears on the T.V. screen or on an advertising hoarding people immediately think of the product associated with them. They get their message across by means of a memorable visual aid.
Joshua chapters 4 & 5 could be entitled the Visual Aids of Gilgal. In Chapter 4 we have the visual aid of the Heap of Stones and in chapter 5 we have the visual aid of the Holy Sacraments. And this evening I want us to consider both these visual aids in order that we might discover the significance of each to the people of God then, and their relevance for us, God’s people today.
Consider with me first of all
1) Gilgal’s Stones;
Last week we saw how the children of Israel, by faith, crossed the Jordan – that seemingly insurmountable barrier that stood between them and the blessings of the land of promise. Here in chapter four we find them all safely on the other side. However before the waters, which had been miraculously held back by the power of God to enable the people to cross on dry land, returned, God commanded Joshua to send twelve men, one from each tribe, back into the river bed in order to find and bring out a large stone each. The reason they were to gather these stones was so that they could be placed one on top of the other in the land of promise as a witness to and memorial of this amazing event which had just taken place. God wanted them to build a Monument. And he wanted them to build this monument for at least three, possibly four reasons.
This stone monument at Gilgal was erected with a view to, first of all,
(i) Influencing Their Memory
We see this at the end of v7 – “these stones are to be a memorial to the Children of Israel forever.”
God knew only too well that His people were very susceptible to bouts of amnesia. They suffered from memory loss. They often forgot how good God had been to them. They often forgot how he had exercised his power on their behalf. How he had been faithful to His promises. How he had ministered to their needs, how He had been patient and merciful towards them and so on. The Psalmist identifies Israel’s susceptibility to amnesia in Psalm 78/10,11 where, speaking of the time of their journeying through the wilderness after their great deliverance from the awful slavery of Egypt, he writes “They kept not the covenant of God and refused to walk in His law, and forgot His works and His wonders that he had showed them” With their own eyes they had seen the great wonders God had performed on their behalf with a view to bringing them out of Egypt. They had seen the waters of the Nile turn to Blood, they had watched as the Locusts came upon the land of Egypt in their millions and devoured the crops in the fields, they had seen how boulder like hailstones had fallen from heaven upon the land of Egypt killing & maiming people and destroying property while in Goshen where they dwelt escaped the storm. These mighty works of God and the others he performed on their behalf they had witnessed. But as time went on amnesia set in and they forgot about these things. The Psalmist takes up the same theme again in Ps:106/7,13 “Our fathers…did not remember the multitude of your mercies…he rebuked the Red Sea and it dried up…He saved them from the hand of the foe…but they soon forgot what he had done…” Once before in their history they, by the power of God, had successfully undertaken a miraculous crossing of what appeared to be an impassable expanse of water. Once before they had seen the waters being held back and a dry passage formed through those waters to enable them to cross over. But although they had seen this with their own eyes, they soon forgot what God had done. And if you read not only the rest of those psalms but also the historical narrative of the events to which they refer in the book of Numbers you will discover that forgetfulness of the great things God had done for them led to spiritual backsliding and all kinds of disobedient and sinful behaviour by the Israelites.