WHAT MEAN THESE STONES?
© 2008 John H Mattox

    In the story of the crossing of the Jordan River by the Israelites, there is related an interesting incident which deserves thoughtful consideration. Joshua selected twelve men, one from each tribe; and commanded them to carry, each man, a stone from the bed of the Jordan. Twelve other stones were to be carried from the bank into the midst of Jordan, and there set up for a memorial. The twelve stones carried out of Jordan were to be set up for a memorial on the other side. The Lord anticipated the question that the children and grandchildren of the Israelites would ask in time to come: "What mean these stones?" They were to be told that the stones were a memorial of the crossing of the Jordan - the stones being carried from the bed of the Jordan constituting proof that the Israelites had crossed on dry ground.
    However, it is obvious that the Lord did not intend that this explanation should exhaust the meaning of the stones, for he expressly said that they were to be set up for a sign. The word sign, here is oth, in Hebrew; and literally speaks of something that is coming. It is the same word which is translated token in Exodus 12:13, where it refers to the blood of the passover lamb. Paul clearly teaches that the passover lamb is a type of Christ (I Cor. 5:7), so that the word token, or oth seems to point to a coming event which in some way is analogous to the one at hand. Let us consider carefully the question, "What mean these stones?"
 
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What Mean These Stones? (cont)

    The Hebrew word for stone is eben, which comes from the Hebrew verb banah, to build up. It also happens that another very important Hebrew noun comes from the verb banah - the word ben, or son. Both eben and ben, coming as they do from the verb banah are associated with the idea of building up. Eben or stone, was a building material, and ben or son was one who built up his father's family. As a result of their common derivation, there was in the Hebrew mind, a degree of association between stone and son and the former was used symbolically for the latter. This association between stone and son is seen in Matt. 3:9, where John the Baptist said to the Pharisees and Sadducees:

"And think not to say within yourselves, we have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham."

Note also that it is immediately after he has related the parable of the vineyard in which the wicked husband men kill the son, that Jesus speaks of the stone which the builders rejected. There is no doubt that both the son and the stone refer to himself.

What Mean These Stones? (cont)

    Two groups of stones are mentioned in the crossing of Jordan - those which were taken into the midst of the river and those which were taken out. In each case there were twelve stones transported, one by each of the heads of the twelve tribes of the children (lit. sons) of Israel, as though to identify a stone with a tribe. It appears then that, symbolically, the twelve stones carried out of Jordan speak of the sons of Israel who pass safely through the place of judgment. The twelve stones set up in Jordan speak of the Son who took the place of those who escaped judgment. But if Christ, as the Son, is pictured, why twelve stones instead of one? The answer is simple: to some minds it might seem difficult to believe that one could take the place of many. The ratio of a stone for a stone was to teach the marvelous efficacy of the atonement of Christ, whereby he took each man's place under judgment!
    The twelve memorial stones were set up at Gilgal; which literally means a rolling away, but which, according to Josephus, came to mean liberty. What a meaningful place for such a memorial. Having been delivered from the place of judgment, they are set up at the place of liberty where there has been a rolling away.

"Stand fast therefore, in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage."
Gal. 5:1.

John H Mattox

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