Friday, May 24, 2013

Joshua 4:9: The Underwater Memorial

In Joshua 4, the Israelites cross the Jordan River while it is parted, as the Levites stand in the midst of the Jordan upholding the Ark of the Covenant.  The Israelites carry twelve stones to the shore to build a memorial in Gilgal.  But another memorial of stones is built as well: in the middle of the Jordan River!  Joshua 4:9 states (in the King James Version): "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."  The Jordan River later in the chapter reverts to how it was before it parted.  Does that mean that the memorial in the midst of the Jordan was underwater?  How, then, could it be a memorial, since no one could see it?  Moreover, how would the person who wrote Joshua 4:9 even know that the memorial was in the midst of the Jordan in his own day?

The answer that I got repeatedly as I read commentaries was that there were times when the Jordan River was overflowing, and there were times when its water-level was not as high.  When the water-level was not as high, people could see the memorial.  Yet, as Keil-Delitzsch note, the memorial was probably not standing in the midst of the Jordan for centuries, for the streams would have dismantled it.  According to Keil-Delitzsch, it would be a memorial for that generation and perhaps its children, but not for those who lived centuries later.

I thought that Jimmy Swaggart's interpretation of Joshua 4:9 was interesting.  He commented in his Expositor's Study Bible: "The first memorial [in Gilgal] could, no doubt, be referred to as Jordan stones, but these spoken of in this Ninth Verse must be referred to as Wilderness stones.  These twelve stones buried on the bottom of the Jordan River, where the feet of the priests had stood, signify the death and burial of Israel's forty years of unbelief and sinning in the Wilderness.  The Lord is saying to Israel that that time is over, buried, out of sight, and forgotten, typical of all our sins in the past, that is, if we have properly trusted Christ (I Jn. 1:9)."

According to Swaggart, the stones used for the underwater memorial were from the wilderness.  Their being buried by the waters of the Jordan indicates that God has forgiven and forgotten the sins of the Israelites that they committed when they were in the wilderness.  I found this interpretation to be intriguing, although Swaggart was the only one I found who proposed it.  Is there anything backing it up?  Not really, for Joshua 4:9 does not say that the stones were from the wilderness.  Yet, the theme of Israel having a new beginning does exist in the Book of Joshua.  For example, in Joshua 5:9, the LORD tells Joshua that the LORD has rolled away from Israel the reproach of Egypt.

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