The Lord wanted twelve stones from the bottom of the Jordan at the exact location the priests had stood while holding the Ark of the Covenant as the Lord held back the waters of the Jordan. These twelve stones were to be a memorial on the banks of the Jordan of what the Lord had done when his Ark led Israel into the Promised Land in fulfillment of his promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
The size of the stones taken from the bottom of a river would be a testimony in itself since these stones were carried out on the shoulders of the twelve men selected from each of the tribes of Israel. These large stones were a miracle in themselves because no man could swim from the bottom of the Jordan to the shore with one of these stones on his shoulder.
The stones were to serve as a ‘ot, which means “sign,” “ “miracle,” and “omen.” It is as if the Lord was trying to document this miraculous entry into Canaan with some form of proof or evidence that could be used for future generations as Joshua 4:6-7 says. These stones set up in Israel’s first camp on the west side of the Jordan are:
“…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.”
Literally in the Hebrew the question above from Joshua 4:6 is a very personal question that is asked by the children of a future generation, “What are these stones to you?” The Israelites will have a personal testimony to hand down from generation to generation as each generation receives a personal answer and testimony from their parents beginning with this wilderness generation that entered the Promise Land.
Joshua set these twelve stones up in a memorial fashion in Israel’s first camp on the west bank. This camp was at Gilgal which would have become a memorial park for families to visit and share their faith with future generations.
Almost within a generation (according to Judges 3:19, 3:26) there were “idols” set up at Gilgal. This reference to “idols” at the memorial site of these twelve stones may have been a great offense to Ehud, one of Israel’s early judges, and may have been his motivation to turn back to kill Eglon, king of Moab, who was oppressing Israel (Judges 3:12-30).