by Tony Badillo           

The story of the exodus to Canaan, the Promised Land, ends well, but only if one includes the Book of Joshua. Tragically, the generation of Israelites that departed Egypt with Moses angered the Lord so often by their unbelief and disobedience that he consigned almost all, except for a remnant, to roaming the wilderness for 40 years until they died, never inheriting the Land. This certainly was not Moses’ fault, he provided them unique and superb leadership. Thereafter Moses appoints Joshua as leader, Numbers 18:16 -27; and after his death at Mount Nebo, Joshua guides the new generation of Israelites into Canaan, where Israel is today.

Crossing the Jordan and the Enigma of the Twelve Stones

Beginning in 3:1 of the Book of Joshua  we are told that Joshua and the people set out from Shittim (Acacia Grove) until they arrive at the edge of the Jordan River. The people then follow behind the priests who bear the Ark of the Covenant; and as the priests’ feet dip into the Jordan, the rushing waters promptly halt, forming a passageway of dry ground for them, v.v. 13 -15. And after crossing, the Divine voice tells Joshua to take twelve stones out from the Jordan’s waters and place them in the new land they had just entered, one large stone for each of the twelve tribes.

Joshua complies and, additionally, has twelve men take another twelve large stones from the new land and place them into the Jordan River, 4:1 - 9. So twelve stone were taken out of the river and another twelve put into it. Exactly what do these enigmatic stones signify?

A Jewish source relates them to the Ten Commandments, because they too were written on tablets of stone; and a non-Jewish one argues that Joshua received no specific orders from God to put twelve stones into the river. Frivolous remarks such as these merit no comment. What do the stones mean, then? Verse 4:6 asks this very question but tells us only that they  were a memorial about the Lord cutting off the Jordan waters, 4:7. But there is something more and the scholarly types seem to have totally missed it. Observe that v.18 very briefly repeats the account of the Jordan crossing, while v.19 adds that the people encamped at Gilgal. Then v. 20 provides a  highly significant fact: that the stones taken out of the Jordan River were set up at Gilgal. After this, the question asked in verse 6, “What do these stones mean?” is repeated, v. 21, with the same response as before, except that  v.v. 23, 24 add a comparison to the Red Sea crossing. And therefore, as we shall see, the enigma of the stones is partly resolved by two words, Gilgal and circumcision.

The Twelve Stones and the “shame” that was rolled away

From 4:24, the last verse in this chapter, we move to 5:2, where Joshua is told by the Lord “take flint knives and circumcise again” the adult males of Israel. The word “again” refers to the previous generation of men that exited Egypt with Moses and who had been circumcised, but their sons who replaced them and who were now adults had not been circumcised up to this point (5:4 - 7).

Gilgal, relates to four things: 1) The Jordan crossing, 2) the twelve stones, 3) circumcision, and 4) the first Passover in the new land. Verse 5:8 says that when the circumcision work was finished all the people remained in their places until the men healed. Then in v. 9 the Lord tells Joshua that the place shall be called Gilgal because “Today I have rolled away the reproach (shame) of Egypt from you;”  thus linking the twelve stones and circumcision with the name Gilgal. The first Passover in  the new land was also kept at Gilgal, 5:10,  a holy day that symbolizes the spirit (Israel) separating from the flesh (Egypt ), ref. Secrets of the Exodus Passover.

One key to understanding the stones’ meaning relates to the removal of the reproach, shame or disgrace of Egypt, 5:9, of which shame ( from Heb. cherpah) is the better word choice in this particular verse, yet least used by bible scholars who prefer disgrace or reproach and suppose it refers to Israel’s Egyptian bondage (a disgrace), or an Egyptian taunt (reproach): God took them out only to kill them. But cherpah (as shame) points to something more, a dark force or cause that produced in them such profound unbelief and persistent disobedience that the Lord had to disinherit them from the Land and exile them to the wilderness for 40 years until most died. What was this cause, then?

Recall that Joshua 4:23 compares the Jordan crossing to the Red Sea event and that the previous article explained how Egypt (the flesh) symbolizes sin and the Evil Inclination. Sin and the Evil Inclination, therefore, are what was “rolled away” at the Jordan, because this was the true cause of their moral and spiritual failer. At the Red Sea, the Egyptian army’s drowning only symbolized the subjection of sin, because sin and the sinful Inclination were not  truly “rolled away” then. In fact, nothing  is said about rolling away anything. But here at Gilgal the Evil Influence is subdued (“rolled away”) in reality, not merely symbolically. How? By the receiving of the Divine spirit, symbolized by the Jordan’s waters.

The foreskin of the male organ, too, symbolically represents the Evil Inclination, and its circumcision  signifies the diminishing of sin’s dark power, thus resolving the enigma of the twelve stones. The twelve taken out, symbolize the twelve tribes circumcised. Why? because as most anyone should know, rivers and creeks produce rounded, smooth stones by the flowing action of their waters (ex., 1 Sam. 17:40 where David takes five smooth stones from a dry riverbed) and, therefore, their polished smoothness relates to the smoothness of the male reproductive organ after circumcision. Contrarily, the naturally rough twelve stones inserted into the Jordan are the tribes before circumcision, corresponding to the rough, wrinkled flesh around an UNcircumcised male organ. This is why cherpah is used, it points to the genitalia (male or female), as in the Book of Isaiah where Babylon’s nakedness is seen and her shame (cherpah) exposed, 47:3, upon crossing a river, v. 2; but at the Jordan the male genitalia is intended.

The Jordan event signifies the men becoming newly reborn spiritually upon crossing because the spirit of God descended upon them and fused with their spirit as they crossed its waters (Jordan means the descender).The further act of physical circumcision at Gilgal only affirmed what they had already received at the crossing. The twelve rough stones inserted into the Jordan signify death to sin (i.e. death to the old sinful self ), but the twelve smooth ones taken out, life to holiness (a new, spiritual beginning). The rough stones were put into the river to figuratively drown, clearly relating to the Egyptian army at the Red Sea. Moreover, in Nehemiah 9:9 -11 the pursuing Egyptians are depicted as a “stone” hurled into the Red Sea. The two sets of stones, therefore, symbolize two statuses, before and after circumcision. The specific area at Gilgal where they were circumcised was named Gibeath-Haaraloth, hill of the foreskins, Joshua 5:3. However, circumcision of the flesh itself is only symbolic of circumcision of the heart, see further below. Even so, casting the circumcised flesh into a mound symbolizes casting away sin.

Then why have circumcision after crossing the Jordan? Because it was required of Jewish males since Abraham*, and it is also linked to inheritance of the land they had just entered. They crossed the Jordan on the 10th (of Abib), Joshua 4:19, a day normally reserved for selecting the Passover lambs, Exodus 12:3. After the Gilgal circumcisions came a period of healing, (5:8), then Passover on the 14th, 5:10. As for the name Gilgal, it may well signify “stone circle,” as scholars claim, and in which case rolled away or rolling is an allusion to its original meaning. After all, is it not round things that roll? However, rolled or rolling may also imply the circular or rolling motion of the hand and knife when cutting away the foreskin. Besides, who is to say the twelve rounded memorial stones could not have been arranged in a circle?

Heart Circumcision and the Subjection of Sin and Evil

How may we know with more certainty that sin and the Evil Inclination were subdued by the Divine spirit fusing and working through the human spirit of Joshua’s generation? By making a comparison. But first, consider this: To the Israelites who already had the Law and circumcision of the flesh, Moses says: “...circumcise the foreskin of your hearts and be stiff-necked no more,” Deuteronomy 10:16, and this is repeated in 30:6. In 30:2 he says that if they “return” (i.e., do teshuva, repent) then, v.6, the Lord “will circumcise your heart and that of your offspring to love God ... that you may live”. The exodus generation apparently did not repent, and therefore did not have their hearts circumcised. Outer circumcision of the flesh may be done by anyone skillfully using a knife; but inward circumcision of the heart can be done only by the Lord’s spirit , and it  is this type circumcision (for subduing the sinful inclination ) that Joshua’s men received at the crossing of the Jordan. Now the comparison:

MOSES’ GENERATION –  Soon after leaving Egypt they “broke” the Sinai covenant by which God “espoused” them (became their master or husband ), Ezekiel 31:32. Then after traveling 18 - 24 months they were near entering Canaan but refused, fearing its inhabitants were “too strong and tall,” Numbers 13:31, 33; and they wept saying, “If we had only died in ... Egypt! Why has the Lord brought us here to die!” – and they sought a new leader that would return them to Egypt, Numbers 14:1-4. And when Joshua and Caleb tried to persuade them otherwise, they nearly stoned them, v.v. 6 -10. Then the Lord said to Moses, these people have now “tested me ten times and have not obeyed my voice ... they surely will not see the land,” v.v. 22, 23, and tells Moses to redirect them, v. 25, to roam the wilderness for forty years, v.33, 34, until their “carcasses are consumed, that they may know my rejection,”  v.34 (see also Psalms 95: 8-11). Their refusal to enter the Land also counted as rejecting the Lord himself, v.23. There is little positive here, the journey to Canaan became a trek into abject failure. This is the last key event of the exodus generation before their being disinherited of the Land. Yet all is not dark, for he also says that their offspring  “will enter the land you have despised, “ Numbers 14:31; Deuteronomy 1:27, 39, 40.

JOSHUA’S NEW GENERATION – Their offspring, the new generation under Joshua, made a few mistakes, true, but they generally pleased the Lord, and the last comment about them contrasts sharply with the above. We are told succinctly: They “served the Lord all the days of Joshua, and all the days of those who outlived him, who had known all the works of the Lord which he had done for Israel,”  Book of Joshua 24:31; and this repeated in 21:41 - 43 (EV 21:43 - 45). Finally, they renewed the Sinai covenant that Moses’ generation had broken, 8:30-35

Ponder the above carefully, for the disparity between the two generations is the difference between day and night, acceptance or rejection and life or death. This is no minor matter, but a sharp, radical difference of revolutionary proportions brought about by the receiving of the Divine spirit at the Jordan, which was a precursor of Ezekiel 11:19; 36:26  which speak of Israel receiving a new spirit and new heart, while rebels are purged from her midst, 20:37. A larger fulfillment of these verses yet remains, possibly beginning with the rebuilding of the Temple, or Israel making serious plans to do so.

After the Book of Joshua follows Judges, which in v. 2:7 repeats Joshua 24:31 verbatim, including the phrase about Joshua’s generation having seen “all the great works the Lord had done for Israel”.  But then verse 2:10 (latter half) tells us that another generation arose who “knew not the Lord or the works he had done for Israel,” clearly echoing the Pharaoh of Exodus 1:8 and 5:2, and signaling the return of the shame of Egypt! And, indeed, in this book the Evil Inclination reigns supreme and unchecked with intense ferocity and grisly, bloody results.

The Journey to Canaan Viewed as a Trip to the Temple

Two huge events stand between Egypt and Canaan: The crossing of the Red Sea (Sea of Reeds) and the giving of the Law at Mount Sinai. However, while the Red Sea crossing is portrayed in the Temple trip shown below, most amazingly, Mount Sinai is totally omitted (small red arrow), nothing symbolizes it.


As shown above, a trip to the Temple is a miniature trip from Egypt to Canaan, biblically described as the new Garden of Eden (Paradise), as is the Temple, according to the rabbis. Hence, anyone going to the Temple – knowingly or not – was reenacting the journey from Egypt to Canaan (new Eden). Once settled there, and upon submitting an offering of produce, the Israelite was to recite the Passover story – beginning with Jacob the Aramean or Syrian to their arrival at Canaan to the officiating priest (Deuteronomy 26:1-10). But notice this key recitation says nothing about the Law given at Sinai after their escaping Egypt and slavery, v.v. 5-8. And King Solomon erected nothing between the Bronze Sea and the Temple to symbolize Mount Sinai, Judaism’s bedrock and Israel’s major stop after crossing the Red Sea.

Moreover, after the sin of the golden calf, Exodus 32:1-10 – and even after receiving the Law at Sinai – the people persisted in unbelief and disobedience, implying that the Law was an inferior substitute for the Divine spirit received by Joshua’s generation; for it is by this spirit that the power of the Evil Inclination is subdued. For this reason, likely, any symbolism of Mt. Sinai was omitted from the Temple journey shown above, implying that the Law was not the final or ideal solution for reaching Paradise. Something more was needed. But what? A circumcised heart, asserted Moses, which Ezekiel rephrased as a new heart and a new spirit. Exactly what Joshua’s generation received and, therefore, succeeded. The “new spirit” is the Divine spirit which, when fused with the human spirit, creates a new heart

THE FINAL REDEMPTION – What does the journey from Egypt to Canaan mean, then? It is portrait of spritual redemption, and a march into ever-increasing faith and holiness, which is why Israel was called to be a priest-nation at Mount Sinai. And it is this holiness through faith and obedience (Deut. 28:9) – not law codes or religious knowledge alone – that would have made Israel “a light to the nations,” had such holiness been achieved and maintained. But since the first generation accommodated unbelief and reveled in disobedience, they became, instead, akin to sinful flesh that must die, while Joshua’s generation assumed the role of the redeemed spirit – because a spark of the Divine spirit was put into their hearts at the Jordan  – and they entered Paradise (Canaan) uncircumcised in flesh but circumcised in heart. Yet the journey does not end here or at any other earthly “Paradise,” for the earthly is only symbolic of the heavenly. And once the earthly priest – this means any redeemed person of any gender or race – enters the heavenly Paradise he will be “face to face” with Abraham’s God and live forever.



Canaan as the New Garden and Paradise

Paradise is a key concept in Judaism, Christianity and Islam because it signifies the abode of God, the final abode of the righteous and the Garden of Eden. But it is also Canaan, the Promised Land. Paradise is a Persian (Iranian) loan word (pairi-daeza) used in the Zoroastrian (Avestan) religion and means “enclosure,”  likely referring to a separating barrier of foliage.  Eden is also called the Garden of God, Ezekiel 28:13, 31:8, 9; and Garden of the Lord, Isaiah 51:3.

An allusion to Canaan as a type of Edenic garden appears in Deuteronomy 11:8 -12. In preparing the people for Canaan, Moses reminds them that they must keep all the instructions given them and adds, v. 10, because the land is not like land of Egypt that you watered “by foot” (ie. irrigation), but one that “drinks water by rain from heaven,” v. 11, because “the Lord ... cares for it” and his eyes are upon it continually, v. 12. A second one is found in Numbers 13:23 -24 in the vignette about two men carrying a single cluster of grapes from a valley in Canaan which they named Eshkol, meaning cluster.  Again, this attests to Canaan as a highly fertile, new Eden. Nor is this all.

Far beyond Joshua’s time, Israel’s disobedience brings an attack by a swarm of devouring locusts of which Joel 2:3 says, “before them the land (of Israel) is like a Garden of Eden, and behind them a desolate wilderness ...”.  And seeking to comfort Zion (Israel), Isaiah 51:3 says “her waste places” will be made like “Eden, her desert like the Garden of the Lord” (also see Ezekiel 35:36). However in Isaiah 58:11 and Jeremiah 31:12 the people themselves are a “well watered garden,”  implying that Paradise on earth consists of an ideal relationship between God and humans. This is a key reason why the Divine spirit is not given solely or primarily for uttering profound prophecies, performing marvelous miracles, or making doomsday declarations, but for subduing the Sinful Inclination and renewing God’s “image and likeness” within each of us, and in so doing we become like a well watered garden, Genesis 2:10,  bearing good fruit for the one who did the planting. This is the true Paradise, the true Garden of Eden while we are here on earth. And that which waters one’s personal garden is the Divine spirit.

The Land was first promised to Abraham, chief patriarch of the Jews (Israelites), because of his faith (trust and belief ) in the Lord, Genesis 15: 4 - 6, that he would have an heir, v. 4. It was his “trust” that counted as “righteousness,” not  his merit, as the JPS has it (see, instead, the Stone Edition of the TANACH, ArtScroll series, Mesorah publishers). The promise of an heir was immediately followed by a promise of the Land, and affirmed by a special covenant, cp., v.v. 7, 9, 12, 17; 18.