After the nation of Israel passes over the Jordan River, God commanded Joshua:

Josh 4:2 'Take you twelve men out of the people, out of every tribe a man, Josh 4:3 and command ye them, saying: Take you hence out of the midst of the Jordan, out of the place where the priests' feet stood, twelve stones made ready, and carry them over with you, and lay them down in the lodging-place, where ye shall lodge this night.'(JPS)

Joshua explained to the twelve men he instructed:

Josh 4:6 that this may be a sign among you, that when your children ask in time to come, saying: What mean ye by these stones? Josh 4:7 then ye shall say unto them: Because the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the LORD; when it passed over the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off; and these stones shall be for a memorial unto the children of Israel for ever.'

After the twelve removed the stones where the priest stood, Joshua set up twelve stones in the Jordan where the priest stood:

Josh 4:9 Joshua also set up twelve stones in the midst of the Jordan, in the place where the feet of the priests that bore the ark of the covenant stood; and they are there unto this day.

Why did Joshua set up twelve stones when it appears no command from God was given? May these stones be the same ones spoken of by John the Baptist in Matt 3:9?

  • 4
    Deut 27:2 "And on the day you cross over the Jordan to the land that the LORD your God is giving you, you shall set up large stones and plaster them with plaster." The command to make memorials to God could be seen as a standing order as well. Since there was no command to set up the ones in the river.
    – Joshua
    Commented Feb 1, 2016 at 6:42

8 Answers 8


The stones are called "standing stones." Standing stones are an ancient way of memorializing what God (or god) did in a certain location. When you see the stone - you can then inquire about what it was that God did:

"to serve as a sign among you. In the future, when your children ask you, 'What do these stones mean?' tell them that the flow of the Jordan was cut off before the ark of the covenant of the LORD. When it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever." Joshua 4:6-7

Archaeologists discovered Caananite standing stones at Tel Gezer in Israel (Gezer was a city fortified by King Solomon - see 1 Kings 9:15).

My photos were too large to upload. Here is a link to some pics of those stones: https://photos.app.goo.gl/hdhvpqcsrLK512He8

So here, in Joshua, they are to set up the stones so that the following generations will not forget what God did for them.

Additionally, when gentiles walk by that spot in the Jordan river, they will ask the same question: "What did the God of Israel do here?" This becomes a tool to witness to those around you about the power of your God.

Your question about "stones" in Matt. 3:9 is probably a reference to the Jewish thinking that Abraham is the foundation stone for Israel. Isaiah says

"Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness, who seek the LORD: Look to the rock from which you were cut and to the quarry from which you were dug. Look to Abraham your father, and Sarah who gave birth to you in pain" Isaiah 51:1

Kind of like Peter calling us "living stones" (1 Peter 2:5)

Everything in Jerusalem and Israel is made of rock - so it makes a great metaphor.


I listened to a commentary on this very question by the late Charles Spurgeon. His take on what Joshua did was a representation of the sin / old life that we leave behind in baptism. Joshua ( a type of Christ ) left a reminder in the water to further signify what they were leaving behind in the wilderness.
My translation may not be exact, but that is the jist of it. To me it is a wonderful reminder for the ages to prove the validity of biblical history. I just wonder if anyone has ever seen the top of a rock in the middle of the Jordan river when it is running low, or if that is even possible.....

  • "I listened to a commentary on this very question by the late Charles Spurgeon." So, how old are you actually, then?? ;)
    – Dɑvïd
    Commented Jul 8, 2017 at 8:27
  • 1
    And welcome to Biblical Hermeneutics SE - we're not a forum, so do take the site tour if you haven't already. We're looking for long answers that provide some explanation and context. Some of the information contained in this post requires additional references. Please edit to add citations to reliable sources that support the assertions made here. Unsourced material may be disputed or deleted. Thanks!
    – Dɑvïd
    Commented Jul 8, 2017 at 8:29

The point was for the Israelites to remember: even though their ancestors are long dead, there are these twelve river stones- rather large- showing that the Jordan was crossed on dry ground. Since Israel had a tendency to forget miracles as soon as they turned around this makes sense.

  • 2
    John - Your question makes sense, but there are no references to help us build on your thoughts. If you have a free moment, please review the tour to help you participate with us. Thanks!
    – Joseph
    Commented Feb 6, 2016 at 17:26

I would venture that these stones might be visible when the region was in drought and the water flow was down severely. Then the people could look and see the stones sticking out of the water and be reminded of God's faithfulness.


Wow, 25930 has put a damper on any comments with their strict parsing of other's comments. So no interpretation, just talk about grammar or syntax?


I need to address your last question

Why did Joshua set up twelve stones when it appears no command ...

  1. To do what is pleasing to G'd, you do not need to wait for His command.

  2. There is no sin in placing a memorial even if G'd does not want or require it.

  3. G'd wants His future bride to be spontaneous and will be pleasing to Him out of their own accord.

    • Hosea 2:16 (2:18 in Jewish enumeration)
      ביום ההוא
      נאם יי
      תקראי אישי
      ולא תקראי לי עוד בעלי

    • And it had been
      on that day
      declared HaShem
      you shall call me my man-husband (my peer-husband)
      and not call me anymore my master-husband

    • Note: inversive-vav theory is wrong and inconsistent. Never believe in the inversive-vav theory. The verse actually says, it had been declared of HaShem ... .
      rather than "it will be on that day ".

  4. Psalm 8:4-6 (8:5-7 in Jewish enumeration)

    • מה אנוש
      כי תזכרנו
      ובן אדם
      כי תפקדנו
      ותחסרהו מעט
      וכבוד והדר
    • who/what is humankind that You think about us
      and son of adam/man
      that You commission/empower us
      You lessen him a little
      than/from G'd
      and glory and honour
      you have adorned him
    • The KJV and NIV decided to refer to non-Hebrew sources that had decided to jump the gun to question the possibility that the original Hebrew would say that G'd wants us to be His near equal, and therefore changed the intended message of the verse. They just couldn't believe their eyes that G'd actually wanted the human race to be His near equal.
  5. Both verses say that G'd intends the human race, His future bride, to be His equal. To make our own decisions that will be spontaneous, without coercion or command.

    G'd does not have to plan for every hair that grows on your head, or every blade of grass that grows out from the ground. That is why he instituted the mechanism of Evolution. Evolution is the right hand of creation of G'd.

  6. So Joshua did what was spontaneous and it seemed that G'd had no problem with it, and He is probably still smiling over it.

  7. Whereas Leviticus 10, the spontaneity was wrong.
    It is not that "spontaneity" is wrong. It is the abundance of the heart, exhibited thro spontaneity, that is either right or wrong. Like Cinderella out of the kindness of her heart, spontaneously fed the old woman. Like Cinderella's stepmom out of the evil of her heart, spontaneously deprived Cinderella.

    In fact, atheists who are righteous are the most loved of G'd, because they are righteous by the spontaneity of their heart, whereas we who believe are coerced into righteousness by bribes and threats. Atheists who are righteous have already seen the face of G'd without believing in G'd.


I think it’s was a personal reminder of the first amazing thing God Did during his leadership ...

He wasn’t asked to do it by God, and no one could see it, but he knew, Even if they were covered by the waters, he knew they were there ..... it wasn’t for the people it was personal ....

Just a thought


What Joshua did in placing twelve stones is the midst of Jordan where the priests stood which bore the Ark of the Covenant, (Joshua 4:9) speaks of spiritual identification, which has a wonderful spiritual lesson for the church today.

God is keeping his promise made with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. (Genesis 22:18)

The twelve stones placed in the water speak of the death of Christ. Those twelve stones taken out of Jordan and put on the west bank of the river represent the resurrection of Christ. (See: Romans 6:1-6)

This fact is further illustrated in the Joshua Chapter 5 with the ending of the manna and the reinstitution of circumcision of that generation born in the wilderness.

Ref: Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee - Volume II Joshua - Psalms

I hope this helps answer the question.


  • Your response is a theological one as suggested by your phrase "spiritual lesson for the church today". Biblical hermeneutics is concerned with only what the text is saying - not its interpretation for today or its theological import. For these latter matters you should join the Christianity exchange or the Theology exchange.
    – user25930
    Commented Aug 7, 2018 at 5:56

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