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What is the Meaning of the 12 Stones of Israel?

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The Meaning of The 12 Stones of Israel

Israel was constantly reminded of God’s faithfulness, providence, and loving care through the 12 stones of remembrance. These stones hold significant value not only to Israel but also to Christians, who have been adopted into His eternal family. A visual reminder of the Lord’s goodness and power, these stones can offer constant hope and security to those who believe.

After a grueling 40-year journey through the desert, Joshua led the Israelites to the Promised Land. When the Ark of the Lord entered the Jordan River, the waters miraculously parted, allowing the beloved people of God to pass through on dry land. This powerful event is one that has been celebrated by Christians for centuries, signifying God’s protection and power.

When the Israelites had completed their crossing of the Jordan, God commanded Joshua to select twelve men, one from each tribe, and instruct them to take twelve stones from the spot where the priests had stood firm in the Jordan River. These stones were to be brought to the place the Israelites were going to camp that night.

image of stacked stones with the text the twelve stones of israel, what is their meaning?

​There are a number of bible verses about the 12 stones of Israel.

When all the nation had finished passing over the Jordan, the Lord said to Joshua, “Take twelve men from the people, from each tribe a man, and command them, saying, ‘Take twelve stones from here out of the midst of the Jordan, from the very place where the priests’ feet stood firmly, and bring them over with you and lay them down in the place where you lodge tonight.’”

Joshua 4:1–3 (ESV)

God commanded the Israelites to gather stones from the Jordan River to commemorate His mighty works. These stones were a lasting symbol of His promise, a reminder that He would always be with them. 

As a sign to future generations, God said, “When your children ask in time to come, ‘What do those stones mean to you?’ then you shall tell them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the Ark of the Covenant of the Lord. 

When it passed over the Jordan, its waters were cut off. So these stones shall be to the people of Israel a memorial forever.” For Christians today, this reminds us of God’s faithfulness and His promise of eternal love and protection.

that this may be a sign among you. When your children ask in time to come, ‘What do those stones mean to you?’ then you shall tell them that 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. So these stones shall be to the people of Israel a memorial forever.”

Joshua 4:6–7 (ESV)

Joshua 4:9 says, 

“And Joshua set up twelve stones in the midst of the Jordan, in the place where the feet of the priests bearing the ark of the covenant had stood; and they are there to this day.”

Joshua 4:9 (ESV) 

At first glance, this Scripture passage about the twelve stones is fascinating! It’s an intriguing glimpse into the customs, beliefs, and traditions of Christianity that still resonate and are meaningful today. 

The idea of setting up twelve stones is an ancient symbol of protection presented in pieces of art, literature, and scripture that still stands firm in the hearts of believers.

The Twelve Stones of Israel

As the Israelites crossed the Jordan River under the guidance of God, they encountered the “12 Stones of Remembrance” – an event that commemorated Moses’ death and their entrance into the Promised Land. This moment, described in the Bible, is symbolic of the hope and faith that Christians can take from the fact that God’s power brings them peace, security, and a sense of belonging.

Moses, despite his leadership, faithfulness, and obedience to God’s commands, was not permitted to enter the Promised Land due to his lack of faith and disobedience. Even though Moses was able to look out and view the land God had promised, he was not allowed to cross the threshold. This serves as an important reminder to Christians of the importance of faith and obedience to experience the blessings God has prepared.

because you broke faith with me in the midst of the people of Israel at the waters of Meribah-kadesh, in the wilderness of Zin, and because you did not treat me as holy in the midst of the people of Israel. For you shall see the land before you, but you shall not go there, into the land that I am giving to the people of Israel.”

Deuteronomy 32:51-52 (ESV)

And the Lord said to him, “This is the land of which I swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, ‘I will give it to your offspring.’ I have let you see it with your eyes, but you shall not go over there.” So Moses the servant of the Lord died there in the land of Moab, according to the word of the Lord,

Deuteronomy 34:4-5 (ESV)

Moses, a beloved leader of the Israelites, departed life while atop Mount Nebo. Despite his strength and vitality, God Himself saw fit to honor his life by burying him, yet the exact location of his resting place was never known. 

In the wake of Moses’ passing, Joshua, Son of Nun, assumed leadership of the Israelites. For Christians, this serves as a tangible reminder of the ultimate sovereignty of the Lord, as He has the power to determine our times and places of passing no matter the circumstances.

When Joshua and the Israelites stepped foot in the Promised Land, God issued a powerful command, found in the book of Joshua: 

“Take twelve men from the people, from each tribe a man, and command them, saying, ‘Take twelve stones from here out of the midst of the Jordan, from the very place where the priests’ feet stood firmly, and bring them over with you and lay them down in the place where you lodge tonight.” 

Joshua 4:2-3 (ESV)

The 12 Stones of Remembrance are more than just a physical reminder; they are a memorial to God’s faithfulness in bringing the Israelites to the Promised Land. These stones provide a tangible reminder to Christians of God’s power and unrelenting love.

The 12 stones of remembrance were placed near the waters of the Jordan River as a lasting memorial to each tribe of Israel, the sons of Israel, signifying God’s faithful provision. 

The stone for each tribe served as a powerful reminder of His goodness: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher, Issachar, Zebulun, Joseph, and Benjamin. For Christians, these stones are a symbol of the Lord’s unwavering commitment to His people.

God’s divine intervention didn’t just stop at helping Israel cross through the middle of the Jordan River. He also parted the Red Sea, freeing the Israelites from centuries of slavery in Egypt. 

To commemorate these momentous occasions, 12 stones were collected and set up as a reminder of His power and love. This sacred landmark to this day as a reminder to Christians of God’s greatness and provision.

To the Israelites, the 12 stones were more than just rocks – they served as a powerful reminder of God’s faithfulness, providence, and love. As Christians, we can take strength and assurance from these symbols of God’s grace today and always.

Remembering the Past through the 12 Stones of Israel

At the command of Joshua, a man from each of the twelve tribes of Israel carried a stone to Gilgal to create a memorial of twelve stones. 

Symbolically, the stones served as a reminder of the faithfulness of God to His chosen people. As Christians, we can look to the 12 stones as a reminder to follow the Lord with all our heart and soul, as Joshua commanded.

And those twelve stones, which they took out of the Jordan, Joshua set up at Gilgal.

Joshua 4:20 (ESV)

Joshua instructed the Israelites to take 12 stones from the Jordan River and set them up as a memorial to the Lord’s deliverance of them into the Promised Land, into the land of Canaan. 

very time they saw the stones, they should be reminded of God’s presence in their lives and of His mighty power. An enduring reminder of faith, these stones symbolize the Lord’s faithfulness and the strength of the Israelites’ covenant with Him.

And he said to the people of Israel, “When your children ask their fathers in times to come, ‘What do these stones mean?’ then you shall let your children know, ‘Israel passed over this Jordan on dry ground.’ For the Lord your God dried up the waters of the Jordan for you until you passed over, as the Lord your God did to the Red Sea, which he dried up for us until we passed over, so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the Lord is mighty, that you may fear the Lord your God forever.”Joshua 4:21-24 (ESV)

The 12 stones act as a tangible reminder of God’s goodness and providence: they serve as a memorial of the Lord, symbolizing His promise to be remembered by His people. 

In doing so, the twelve stones ensure that the Lord’s name will be passed down through generations and never be forgotten.

The 12 stones set up by the Israelites were more than just rocks – they were a lasting memorial to their God. Rocks don’t die – they’re reshaped over time by erosion – making them an enduring reminder of the Lord’s power. Christians can find inspiration in the Israelites’ memorial, knowing that their faith, too, will remain steadfast through the ages.

Significance of the 12 Stones of Israel in Our Own Lives

The 12 stones of remembrance are significant symbols not only for the nation of Israel but also for Christians. Through faith in Christ, we are adopted into God’s eternal family and spiritually become part of Israel. This adoptive status grants us a special connection to the 12 stones, a reminder of our place in the family of God. In the New Testament we read:

For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!”

Romans 8:15 (ESV)

for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.

Galatians 3:26 (ESV)

As Christians, we can draw inspiration and hope from the example of Israel in the Old Testament

Although we may not build stone memorials to commemorate God’s faithfulness, it remains in our hearts and minds like a lasting reminder of His unfailing providence. Remember and rejoice in God’s faithfulness today and always!

In times of trial, it can be difficult to see God’s hand at work. But Christians always have hope because we know that God always provides – no matter what we go through. Throughout our history, God has never left us. He’s been quietly guiding us, even when we can’t see it. When we remember what He’s done for us in the past, it gives us hope for the future.

Since the dawn of time, God has demonstrated an unwavering love for mankind. To demonstrate this love, He has offered a path of salvation and redemption. During the Old Testament period, God gave people freedom through the exodus out of Egypt – a profoundly significant event in Christian history. 

His loving act of deliverance remains a timeless reminder of His love for us today.

Israel’s deliverance from Egypt’s bondage and slavery was no coincidence — it was due to God’s divine providence. Likewise, crossing the Red Sea and the Jordan River was only possible with God’s miraculous hand. To Christians, it is clear that His power is the only explanation for Israel’s incredible journey to freedom.

God’s great love and grace enabled the Israelites to enter the Promised Land. Without His help and protection, they would not have been able to make this journey. 

Christians recognize that the Lord was responsible for freeing His people and granting them access to this new land. It is due to the unconditional love of God that any of us can experience true liberty.

Even though we are not kept in chains of servitude to Pharaoh’s Egypt like centuries ago, we still suffer the consequences of slavery—sin. Thankfully, through faith in Jesus, we can find freedom from this bondage and experience true liberty.

For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness.

Romans 6:20 (ESV)

So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.

John 8:36 (ESV)

To commemorate and show gratitude for the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus Christ, Christians partake in communion. However, remembering the Lord’s grace and mercy doesn’t stop there. 

To fully honor and recognize the breadth and depth of His love, we can also express our devotion by living in accordance with His will, dedicating daily time to Him in prayer, and studying Scripture. Communion is an invaluable ritual that helps us to remember the Lord, but it is just one of many ways that we can actively remain mindful of His grace.

Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”

Matthew 26:26-29 (ESV)

We should never lose sight of what God has done for us. Just like the Israelites, it’s important to reflect on God’s presence in our lives every day. Whether we carry a physical reminder or not, we should remember to give Him praise and thanks. Let us never forget the blessings He has given us.

Let us give praise and thanks to the Lord for all the mighty things He has done – in the past, present, and future – for us and for Israel! His blessings are countless, and His faithfulness is everlasting. Let us thank Him for all that He has done!

But What Do The 12 Stones of Israel Mean?

For the Israelites, the 12 stones of remembrance served much more than just another rock in the wilderness—they embodied a special remembrance of the Lord’s goodness and faithfulness. 

As Christians, we too can benefit from setting stones of remembrance, physical reminders of God’s goodness that we can look back on and thank Him for.

These stones were a powerful reminder for Christians of the divine hand of God’s merciful provision. The stone memorials marked the momentous crossing of the Jordan River when God led His people into the Promised Land, fulfilling His faithful covenant.

Israel had waited generations to enter the Promised Land, and the 12 stones of remembrance marked this momentous occasion. Every time the Israelites saw the stones, they were reminded of the Lord’s faithfulness, providence, and love – a powerful reminder of the promises made to His people.

The Israelites famously remembered never to forget God’s past faithfulness and goodness. As Christians in the modern day, we also need to embody this spirit of remembrance. Take some time today to reflect on the ongoing providence, faithfulness, and love of God that never fails to be present in our lives.

I’m enthralled with the mysterious twelve stones situated at the entrance to the Promised Land. Archaeologically speaking, they still remain undiscovered. However, a 6th-century map depicting a church holding twelve stones exists. Above the church is a Greek inscription that reads, “Galgala, which is also the twelve stones.” Aside from this, no other signs of them have been recovered. For devout Christians, the stones offer a reminder that God’s promises remain available to us, even when we can’t find physical evidence.

For Christians, the story of the twelve stones goes far beyond the archaeological evidence. These stones are more than just markers for the twelve tribes of Israel – they also remind us of a meaningful passage in the book of Exodus. 

This verse speaks to a greater truth about the power of the Lord and His remarkable ability to save us. As we look at the twelve stones, we can feel humbled and inspired by this inspiring tale of faith.

And Moses wrote down all the words of the Lord. He rose early in the morning and built an altar at the foot of the mountain, and twelve pillars, according to the twelve tribes of Israel.

Exodus 24:4 (ESV)

At Mt Sinai, Moses erected 12 stone pillars. Now, centuries later, as the Israelites entered the Promised Land, they too set up 12 stone pillars, signifying a new generation of believers who hadn’t stood at Sinai but were recommitting to the same covenant that their ancestors swore to uphold. This ritual symbolized the conclusion of their wandering and the establishment of their place in the land.

As believers in the Word of God, we can find great comfort in the account of the twelve stones written in Deuteronomy. It’s a beautiful reminder of the Lord’s provision for His children and His commitment to us in keeping His promises. Each stone, inscribed with the words of the Torah, serves as a reminder of His goodness.

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.

Deuteronomy 27:2 (ESV)

Joshua fulfilled God’s command to Moses by erecting a stone monument in the Land of Israel. As the commentator Abarvanel writes, it was a mezuzah that served to sanctify the entrance and exit of the sacred land. In other words, it was a reminder for the Israelites of God’s presence at all times and in all places.

The Israelites understood the significance of erecting a memorial to remember their history and experiences and the impact it could have on future generations. By setting up this stone monument, they created an educational opportunity for their children. 

As it is written, “When your child asks what is the meaning of these stones, you shall say to them…” 

For Christians, this passage is a reminder of the importance of passing along Biblical teachings to the next generation.

We all know the phrase. It’s part of the language of the Torah, quoted in the Haggadah when describing the four children: “Behold, when your child asks you, ‘What does this service mean to you?'” This passage is particularly important for both Christians and Jews, as it’s a reminder of God’s commandments and the importance of teaching our children the faith. It’s an encouragement to talk about our faith with our children and to share the joy of knowing Jesus with them.

image of stacked stones near see for the post on what is the meaning of the 12 stones of Israel

Carefully reading Joshua’s words, we find he provides two distinct answers to his question – each corresponding to two sets of twelve pillars, one in the Jordan and the other in Gilgal. This profound insight into the Old Testament can help Christians gain a deeper understanding of the power of faith.

When your child inquires, “What is the purpose of these stones?” you can explain that these are monuments of God’s power and faithfulness, signifying the moment the waters of the Jordan were divided when the Ark of the Covenant passed through. This is a reminder that your family and their faith will last for all eternity.

When your children ask you, “What do these stones mean?” you can tell them about how God parted the water of the Jordan River so that Israel could pass through it on dry land. An important part of the Christian faith, this moment marked a miracle of God’s power that’s still remembered today.

The stones serve as a reminder of God’s incredible faithfulness and miraculous intervention in the lives of his people—the Israelites. He guided them throughout their wanderings, protecting them with signs and wonders like the parting of the Red Sea. It’s a powerful reminder of God’s faithfulness and the hope we can rest in His presence no matter the circumstances.

The second answer speaks of Israel’s fortitude in traversing the desert and crossing the waters. In the words of Rav Michael Hattin of Yeshivat Har Etzion.

“Taken together, there is a dual message to be communicated by the memorial of the twelve stones, and it addresses the unique spiritual patrimony of the people of Israel.  On the one hand, they must have steadfast and unshakable trust in God, a trust that is rooted to the earth, immovable in anticipation of God’s salvation.  At the same time, however, they must become the agents of their own deliverance by confidently ‘traversing the waters’ at their own initiative, demonstrating not only absolute faith in God but also initiative and effort as well.”

Rav Michael Hattin of Yeshivat Har Etzion

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The Passover story is much more than a journey from slavery to freedom—it exemplifies a life-long spiritual journey between dependence and independence. As Yizkor approaches, we can consider the meaning of these stones in a new, more meaningful way: what spiritual lessons can the stones teach us about that journey? For Christians, this is a particularly powerful lesson of faith and trust, learning to depend on God while confidently striving for greater independence.

And this is our prayer:

 In times of grief and pain, help us find strength in the permanence of life. Remind us that our heartache will eventually fade, but the stories, souls, and stones of our past will endure and inspire us to seek out a better future with determination, faith, and fortitude. Help bind us to our loved ones through the bond of life.


In conclusion, the 12 stones of Israel are iconic symbols of the country’s past, present, and future. Whether they represent the 12 tribes of Israel, the 12 princes of the tribes, or something deeper, they each carry a history that speaks to the faith of the nation and continue to inspire and motivate generations to come. According to an old Jewish folktale, each stone was said to “contain an angel who would protect the people of Israel wherever they went.” This powerful symbolism is bound to continue to take shape and evolve as Israel’s story unfolds. Let’s continue to engage in discourse and discovery to understand the greater significance of the 12 stones and all that they mean.

You may enjoy this teaching video on Israel Crossing the Jordan – The Twelve Stones of Israel (Joshua 3-4)

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ESV – “Scripture quotations are from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”

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