The Twelve Stones


Joshua 5:9-12

2 Corinthians 5:16-21

Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

Psalm 32

An interesting thing happened on the way to the box office. Adjusted for inflation, here are the top eight all-time movies in the US. Gone With the Wind. Star Wars: Episode IV. The Sound of Music. E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial. Titanic. The Ten Commandments. Jaws. Doctor Zhivago. This list is based on all movies receiving the same $9.03 average US ticket price for 2019.

No one in 1939 believed David O. Selznick could make back the unbelievable three million dollars he spent making Gone With the Wind. After all, most of the tickets went for twenty-five cents then. But the movie was set up for a month or more in half a dozen theaters for $2.20 each. Before the general release (the small theaters at $1.10) the gross was $23.5 million, unadjusted.

Number six on the movie list is The Ten Commandments. Cecil B. DeMille spent $13 million in 1956 (a record then) and brought in $122.7 million on the first release. In 2011 it surpassed $2 billion in adjusted gross sales.

Excuse me. Sometimes I go overboard on silly details.

But back to The Ten Commandments. It is successful and is easily the best movie DeMille ever made (and his last). But there are theological issues.

Not to downplay the role of Moses, but he was a bit player in the real story. Who convinced Pharaoh to ‘let My people go?’ Who held back the Red Sea? Who gave Moses the Ten Commandments? Who provided manna? Who provided water in the desert? And, after forty years, who held back the flood waters of the Jordan River?

I hope you guessed God.

DeMille’s father was a minister, so Cecil was grounded in theology and took it seriously. In a movie, it is not possible to picture God, so Moses became His stand-in. Actually, that’s not a problem theologically. We learn about God from hundreds of stand-ins; Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Joshua, David, John, and, voted most like God, Jesus.

When believers watch the movie (every Easter!), we are more likely to understand that God is the power behind the action, but few non-believers see it that way. Few Bible stories are understood by non-believers as God in action. Even we Christians have trouble recognizing God in many of Jesus’ parables. Where is God in the Good Samaritan story? The Samaritan is not God, but one of His many stand-ins. He is lead by the Holy Spirit to do God’s work.

In today’s reading, we find that the Hebrews made it to the promised land after 40 years. But even the crossing of the Jordan River was a God thing. When the people arrived on the eastern bank, the river was in flood stage—probably from the Lebanese snowmelt in the spring. Some would say God didn’t plan very well, but we know it was all to prove that the entire Exodus from first to last was God’s.

If we look back at chapter 4 of Joshua, we read in the first three verses,  When the whole nation had finished crossing the Jordan, the Lord said to Joshua, “Choose twelve men from among the people, one from each tribe, and tell them to take up twelve stones from the middle of the Jordan, from right where the priests are standing, and carry them over with you and put them down at the place where you stay tonight.” NIV

Then in verses 19-22, we read, On the tenth day of the first month the people went up from the Jordan and camped at Gilgal on the eastern border of Jericho.  And Joshua set up at Gilgal the twelve stones they had taken out of the Jordan. He said to the Israelites, “In the future when your descendants ask their parents, ‘What do these stones mean?’ tell them, ‘Israel crossed the Jordan on dry ground.’ NIV

The tenth day of Nisan—the first month—is the day to select the perfect lambs for the Passover feast. Four days later, with the direction of God, His people celebrated the first Passover in the land of milk and honey.

In chapter 5:10-12 we read, On the evening of the fourteenth day of the month, while camped at Gilgal on the plains of Jericho, the Israelites celebrated the Passover. The day after the Passover, that very day, they ate some of the produce of the land: unleavened bread and roasted grain.  The manna stopped the day after they ate this food from the land; there was no longer any manna for the Israelites, but that year they ate the produce of CanaanNIV

God makes the same promise to us. When we enter the Promised Land, we will no longer eat the manna of this earth, but the produce of the New Jerusalem.

Read my earlier comments on this theme here.


Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

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