The Stones of Gilgal
November 1st, 1959 @ 8:15 AM
THE STONES OF GILGAL
Dr. W. A. Criswell
Joshua 4, 5
11-01-59 8:15 a.m.
Now, let us turn to the fourth and the fifth chapters of the Book of Joshua. The fourth and fifth chapters are the story of the people of the Lord at Gilgal. In the fourth chapter of the Book of Joshua:
It came to pass, when all the people were clean passed over Jordan, that the Lord spake unto Joshua, saying,
Take you twelve men out of every tribe a man,
And command ye them, saying, Take you hence out of the midst of Jordan, out of the place where the priests’ feet stood firm, twelve stones, and ye shall carry them over with you, and leave them in the lodging place, where ye shall lodge this night.
So Joshua called the twelve men … of every tribe a man:
And Joshua said unto them, Pass over before the ark of the Lord your God, and pick you up every man of you a stone upon his shoulder … This is a sign among you, when your children ask their fathers in time to come, saying, What mean ye by these stones?
Ye shall answer them, The waters of Jordan were cut off … when we passed over Jordan, the waters were cut off: and these stones shall be for a memorial unto the children of Israel for ever.
And Joshua – ninth verse – set up twelve stones in the midst of Jordan, in the place where the feet of the priests which bare the ark of the covenant stood: and they are there unto this day.
Now the nineteenth verse of the fourth chapter: "And the people came up out of Jordan on the tenth day of the first month, and encamped in Gilgal, in the east border of Jericho. And those twelve stones, which they took out of Jordan, did Joshua pitch in Gilgal" [Joshua 4:19-20]. And we are going to speak of The Stones of Gilgal and the new day for the people of God at Gilgal. This is the first holy ground in Palestine.
In the fifth chapter of Joshua and the last verse: "The Captain of the Lord’s host said unto Joshua, Loose thy shoe from off thy feet; for the place whereon thou standest is holy" [Joshua 5:15]. And that is Gilgal, the first holy ground in the Promised Land. Gilgal was located between the western bank of the Jordan River and Jericho. It was the first place that the children of God lodged in Palestine, in the Promised Land. And they stayed there throughout the seven years of the conquest. All the time of the war with the Canaanites, Israel encamped at Gilgal, and the forays they made, and the journeys they made, and the marches they made were always from the central base there in Gilgal. It became one of the holy places in the Promised Land.
When Samuel made his tour of holy places where he judged the people at Bethel, at Mizpeh, he also came to the holy place of Gilgal [1 Samuel 7:16]. In a time of great national crisis, the whole nation gathered together to renew their vows at Gilgal. It was at Gilgal that Saul was crowned king over all Israel [1 Samuel 11:15]. It was also at Gilgal that Saul was disfranchised, that he was rejected from being king over the people of the Lord [1 Samuel 13:1,13]. It was at Gilgal that Samuel hewed Agag, king of the Amalekites, in pieces before the Lord [1 Samuel 15:33]. This campsite became one of the holy places in Palestine, and it was located just beyond the western bank of the Jordan River.
Now, there were stones that were placed in the river and there were stones that were placed beyond the river on the dry bank. In the ninth verse of the fourth chapter of Joshua, "And Joshua set up twelve stones in the midst of Jordan, in the place where the feet of the priests which bare the ark of the covenant stood: and they are there unto this day" [Joshua 4:9]. According to the commandment of God, in the midst of the flooded Jordan there was raised a heap of twelve stones, and they were there for a memorial. This is the place, in the flooded and swollen river where our people once stood. There they passed through the swollen, turbulent, turgid river of the Jordan. There our people once were in the midst of the flood. And they [the stones] were placed there in order that the children of God might remember how God had transported them through those waters and had delivered them from that angry stream. That is to us a picture of profound meaning. We also have a memorial. We have stood in the waters of the flood of death, and God was able to bring us through those turbulent and turgid waters. For there, in the midst of the flooded Jordan of death, did our Savior lay.
And Paul says, "if One died for all, then we are all dead" [2 Corinthians 5:14]. That flooded water of the Jordan River, the river of death, is a picture of the flooded waters of death through which we have already passed. In Christ – in our Lord, when He died [Matthew 27:50], we died. When He was wrapped in the winding sheet [Matthew 27:59], we were wrapped with Him in the winding sheet. When He was laid in the tomb [Matthew 27:60], we were buried in the tomb. When He was dead, we died with Him. In all ways, we are identified with our Lord.
And that is pictured for us in the memorial of baptism. We are dead with Christ, we are buried with Christ, we are laid in the tomb with our Lord; and when Christ was raised from the dead, we were raised with Him [Romans 6:3-5]. When He ascended into glory [Acts 1:9], we ascended with Him. When He sat down at the right hand of God [Hebrews 1:3], we sat down with Him. The head cannot be where His body is not also. Christ is the head of the church and forever identified with His people [Ephesians 5:23]. We now live on resurrection ground. We have already passed through this experience of death and resurrection. All of it in type and in symbol is past for the people of God.
And this thing that we now call death, this dissolution of the body, is nothing to a Christian but a translation, but a receiving of our inheritance. The sting is gone. The victory of the grave is forever undone; and these great spiritual gifts in Christ are ours now and forever; and the memorial is those twelve stones in the midst of the Jordan. There we once were. The memorial is found in the ordinance of baptism: there we were buried; there we died; with Christ, we were in the tomb and the grave with Him – but now we stand on the banks of the Jordan, on the other side, on the resurrection side and look back where we have come from, out of the darkness of the grave and out of the midst of death.
Did you know that is one of the hardest things for our Christian people to realize, that we have already died, we have already been raised, we already now are in eternity? We are not going to be saved; we are saved now. We are not going to heaven; we are in heaven with our Lord now. We are not going to live on resurrection ground; we live on resurrection ground now. And what is out there in the world that is yet to come is nothing but an extended, an extension, a continuation of what we already and now possess. We have our Lord now; we shall have Him then. We have eternal life now; we shall have eternal life then. We are in all respects saved right now, and these things that happen in the future, the dissolution of this body, the placing of it in the ground, or in the sepulcher, or in the mausoleum is just one of the usual phases, one of the normal expectancies of a child of God who still lives in this body and in this house of clay. Our memorial: first, where we were down there in the grave with our Lord.
Now, there were twelve stones also on the bank. And the children of Israel did as Joshua commanded and took up twelve stones out of the midst of Jordan, according to the number of the tribes of the children of Israel, and carried them over with them unto the place where they lodged and laid them down there [Joshua 4:3]. "And those twelve stones, which they took out of Jordan, did Joshua pitch in Gilgal" [Joshua 4:19-20]. Those twelve stones are a memorial of our resurrection, our victory in Christ. They are over there in the Promised Land, they are on resurrection soil. How many of them are there? They number twelve. That is, they represent the whole family of God.
It is the same picture as you have in the beautiful description of the beautiful city. There are twelve foundations, and in each foundation is the name of an apostle of the church [Revelation 21:14]. And there are twelve gates, and at the gate is a guardian angel, at each one. And the name of the guardian angel at each gate is the name of a tribe of the children of Israel [Revelation 21:12]. That is, the whole family of God will get there, all of them; all twelve apostles in the foundation stones representing all the children of the Lord, and those twelve gates representing the twelve tribes of Israel. The entire family of God make up that glorious city.
"Yeah, but preacher, the devil may get one of God’s people!" The devil will never get the weakest one of God’s lame, or crippled, or halt. All of them will be there, all of them. There is an elective purpose of God that operates in this world, and the devil cannot take out of God’s hand the least of one of God’s saints who places his trust in Jesus [John 10:28-30]. That is what those twelve stones mean over there on the resurrection side of the Jordan. They represented the entire family of God. There are not eleven stones and one of them missing. There are not nine stones there and three of them missing. There are twelve stones there, representing all of the people of the Lord.
If you have trusted in Jesus, and given your heart in faith and in trust to Him; if God has quickened you; if you are a regenerated child of the King; if God has granted to you repentance and salvation, the devil cannot ultimately seize you, and destroy you, and damn you, and cast you into the lake prepared for the devil and his angels. You cannot be lost. God’s power intervenes between you and that awful day of perdition and damnation. What a wonderful thing it is to know that we are kept, not by my ingenuity and out-thinking the devil, not by my astuteness in overcoming the power of the devil, but we are kept, what does the Book say? "By the power of God, against that glorious day of salvation" [1 Peter 1:3-5]. Why, bless your heart, if it depended upon me as to whether I would get there or not, how do I know but that five years from now, no matter how I tried, I still might miss it? If it depended upon me, how do I know but that five minutes before I died, I still might miss it? If it depended upon me, how do I know but that I might miss it no matter how I tried?
Our salvation is a matter of the promise of God, the covenant of God. It is a matter of the ableness and sovereignty of God! And when God says: "I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any one" – anything, anybody, any devil, any diabolical angel, any Satan, any Lucifer – "neither shall any one pluck them out of My Father’s hand. I give them eternal life" [John 10:28-29]. All twelve stones over there, representing the entire saved family of God – that’s why we can rejoice and be glad in the Lord. We don’t say, "Praise be to me. Look it! I have made it. Look it! Look it! See how fine I am. See how strong I am. See how good I am. See how noble I am. See how I have overcome." We don’t sing praises to ourselves. When we get to glory and on the way of our pilgrimage, we sing praises to God, "Glory to God who has saved us and washed us in the blood of the Lamb [Revelation 1:5-6]; and glory to the keeping power of Jesus, who has preserved us to this present hour and will preserve us through all of the eons of the ages that are yet to roll."
Well, that is a glorious gospel, and what a marvelous comfort to the heart. What a marvelous blessing. What an assurance. What is something to sing about? This, all those twelve stones cast over there on the resurrection side of the Jordan River [Joshua 4:20], and they represent us, the people of God.
Now, in the fifth chapter, at Gilgal, there are a little series of things. First, over there at Gilgal, that is where it got its name, over there at Gilgal all of the males of the family of the Lord were circumcised. For forty years in the wilderness, they had lived in disobedience, in suspense, and in unbelief. But there, when they came into Gilgal, they were back where they should have been forty years before. And the Lord said unto Joshua, "This day," Joshua 5:9: "this day have I rolled away the reproach of Egypt from off you. Wherefore the name of the place is called Gilgal" – rolling, circle – "unto this day." Isn’t that a strange thing? "This day" – there in that rite of circumcision – "this day have I rolled away, have I cut off, the reproach of Egypt from off you." Not a word about the trials and the sufferings of the wilderness. No mention of the heat, and the storm, and the fury of those forty years. But God says: "This day, this day have I enfranchised you as a nation and a people of the Lord." You were slaves. You were subjects of Pharaoh, but now you are to be a free people unto the Lord God who reigns in heaven, and that is exactly the way with us. We have mortified our affection for the world; it is cut off. We are a free people from it. Others who worship mammon and who build their hopes in this life, they are enmeshed and entangled in the affairs of this world; and their hopes are here, their visions are here, their love is here, their life is here. And when the world perishes, their vision perishes, their life perishes, their soul perishes. When the world dies, they die.
But to the child of God, he has cut off, he is dead to the world, that his hopes are in glory; his life is hid with Christ in God. His vision, his love, all of his destiny is in the marvelous, marvelous kingdom and program of Jesus. We have done that, our Gilgal. "And the children of Israel encamped in Gilgal, and kept the Passover on the fourteenth day of the month at even in the plains of Jericho" [Joshua 5:10]. For forty years they had never observed it. Out in the wilderness in unbelief, in disobedience, they had never observed it. But now the day of circumcision and the cutting off of the reproach of their bondage and their slavery, and now they feast on the Passover. Christ, our Passover, is sacrificed for us in this glorious new freedom that we have in the kingdom and patience of Jesus.
And they did eat of the old corn of the land on the morrow after the Passover, unleavened cakes, and parched corn in the selfsame day.
And the manna ceased on the morrow after they had eaten of the old corn of the land; neither had the children of Israel manna any more; but they did eat of the fruit of the land of Canaan that year
That corn of the land represents the resurrected life of our Lord. He is the corn of wheat that died and was raised and, in His resurrection, was given power to impart Himself to all men who trust in His name. Bread is always made by the bruising and crushing of the wheat; and Jesus is that bruised and crushed, fine flour on which the people of God partake in resurrection power and glory, the corn of the land. "And the manna ceased on the morrow after they had eaten the produce of the land," the corn of the land, the wheat, the barley of the resurrection life. The manna ceased.
God doesn’t take away these extraordinary and unusual things, when we come into the normal and the ordinary, until first we are accustomed to it; and those things overlap like slats in a rick, or on a roof, or like the feathers on a bird, but they always follow that order. God withdraws the extraordinary and the unusual in order that we might live the ordinary and the usual. You see, to me and to us, I would think it is as much a demonstration of the power of God to make figs, and pomegranates, and olive oil, and honey, and barley, and wheat, as it is to make manna and drop it down from heaven [Exodus 16:12-15]. It is as much of the miracle-working power of God to turn water and sunlight and air into the ruddy grape as to turn the water into wine at Cana in Galilee [John 2:1-11]. It is as much a demonstration of the power of God for the blessedness and holiness and growth of the ordinary souls, day by day in ordinary living, as it is for God to give to us visions and words that are unspeakable and that cannot be communicated.
God is always doing that, withdrawing the extraordinary, in order that we might live in grace and in godliness upon the ordinary; taking away the manna from heaven that we might eat of the corn of the land [Joshua 5:11]. You are not always going to have extraordinary experiences, and you are not always going to have visions unspeakable and words that cannot be uttered. Your life is going to follow this same pattern that you find here in the Bible. In times of great necessity and need, there will be an angel vision; there will be an extraordinary miracle; there will be a marvelous phenomenon, but that is for the extraordinary and the unusual. The pattern of life always goes from those extraordinary events down to the regular succession of events, day by day, as God withdraws the manna and we eat of the corn of the land.
May I take just one moment to show you one other illustration of that? The manna from heaven, of course, is a picture of the coming down of our Lord from heaven, there in the incarnation, there the Babe in the manger [Luke 2:11-16]. And the corn of the land represents the resurrection glory of our Lord who was planted in the earth and died and arose from the grave [Matthew 28:5-7] to be the bread of heaven for all humanity. Christian experience also follows that same pattern. We are no longer mostly engrossed and interested in the incarnation, the coming down from God in heaven, the Babe in the cradle, in the manger; but as you grow older and experienced, you will find that your interests will increasingly turn toward the resurrected Christ, the ascended Christ, the enthroned Christ, the Christ of glory and of heaven, and the Christ who is coming again.
As the manna ceases, the incarnation with its glorious wonder, the Babe of Bethlehem, you will find in your Christian experience, as you continue to study and to grow in grace, that more and more, more and more, your heart, your faith, your expectancy, your love will be centered in the Christ of the resurrection, the Christ of the ascension, the Christ of glory, the Christ of heaven, the Christ of the ultimate and final promise, the Christ of the kingdom, the Christ who is coming again. All these rich, rich, full things reading here in the Book of God – may the Lord give us hearts to understand and eyes to see as we read of His glorious revelations in these things that happen to the people of God for ensamples unto us?
Now while we sing our song this morning, somebody to give his heart to Jesus, would you come and stand by me? In this balcony round, on this lower floor, a family to put your life with us in the church, would you come? While we sing the song of appeal, while we make invitation to Jesus and to the church, would you come? Taking the Lord as Savior or putting your life with us in this holy communion and fellowship, would you make it now? Would you make it this morning? While we stand and while we sing?
THE STONES OF GILGAL
Dr. W. A. Criswell
Joshua 4, 5
I. First holy ground in Palestine
1. Stones in the riverbed of the Jordan
2. Stones on the bank
3. Memorial of how God passed them through the waters
II. First observance of Passover after Sinai
III. First corn in the land, no more manna