WHAT WERE THE “STONES” OF MATTHEW 3:9?
by Shawn Brasseaux
“And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham.” Have you ever wondered about the “stones” of which John the Baptist spoke in Matthew 3:9? Why of all things did he mention “these stones?” What stones? To answer this, we must go back into Jewish history. Be prepared for Bible study!
For sake of brevity, we will simply consult the book of Joshua, and forgo comments until later. We begin in Joshua chapter 3: “ And the LORD said unto Joshua, This day will I begin to magnify thee in the sight of all Israel, that they may know that, as I was with Moses, so I will be with thee.  And thou shalt command the priests that bear the ark of the covenant, saying, When ye are come to the brink of the water of Jordan, ye shall stand still in Jordan.”
Joshua chapter 3: “ And Joshua said unto the children of Israel, Come hither, and hear the words of the LORD your God.  And Joshua said, Hereby ye shall know that the living God is among you, and that he will without fail drive out from before you the Canaanites, and the Hittites, and the Hivites, and the Perizzites, and the Girgashites, and the Amorites, and the Jebusites.  Behold, the ark of the covenant of the LORD of all the earth passeth over before you into Jordan.  Now therefore take you twelve men out of the tribes of Israel, out of every tribe a man.  And it shall come to pass, as soon as the soles of the feet of the priests that bear the ark of the LORD, the LORD of all the earth, shall rest in the waters of Jordan, that the waters of Jordan shall be cut off from the waters that come down from above; and they shall stand upon an heap.”
Joshua chapter 3: “ And it came to pass, when the people removed from their tents, to pass over Jordan, and the priests bearing the ark of the covenant before the people;  And as they that bare the ark were come unto Jordan, and the feet of the priests that bare the ark were dipped in the brim of the water, (for Jordan overfloweth all his banks all the time of harvest,)  That the waters which came down from above stood and rose up upon an heap very far from the city Adam, that is beside Zaretan: and those that came down toward the sea of the plain, even the salt sea, failed, and were cut off: and the people passed over right against Jericho.  And the priests that bare the ark of the covenant of the LORD stood firm on dry ground in the midst of Jordan, and all the Israelites passed over on dry ground, until all the people were passed clean over Jordan.”
Joshua chapter 4: “ And it came to pass, when all the people were clean passed over Jordan, that the LORD spake unto Joshua, saying,  Take you twelve men out of the people, out of every tribe a man,  And command ye them, saying, Take you hence out of the midst of Jordan, out of the place where the priests’ feet stood firm, twelve stones, and ye shall carry them over with you, and leave them in the lodging place, where ye shall lodge this night.  Then Joshua called the twelve men, whom he had prepared of the children of Israel, out of every tribe a man:  And Joshua said unto them, Pass over before the ark of the LORD your God into the midst of Jordan, and take you up every man of you a stone upon his shoulder, according unto the number of the tribes of the children of Israel:  That this may be a sign among you, that when your children ask their fathers in time to come, saying, What mean ye by these stones?  Then ye shall answer them, That the waters of Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the LORD; when it passed over Jordan, the waters of Jordan were cut off: and these stones shall be for a memorial unto the children of Israel for ever.  And the children of Israel did so as Joshua commanded, and took up twelve stones out of the midst of Jordan, as the LORD spake unto Joshua, according to the number of the tribes of the children of Israel, and carried them over with them unto the place where they lodged, and laid them down there.  And Joshua set up twelve stones in the midst of Jordan, in the place where the feet of the priests which bare the ark of the covenant stood: and they are there unto this day.”
Joshua chapter 4: “ For the priests which bare the ark stood in the midst of Jordan, until everything was finished that the LORD commanded Joshua to speak unto the people, according to all that Moses commanded Joshua: and the people hasted and passed over.  And it came to pass, when all the people were clean passed over, that the ark of the LORD passed over, and the priests, in the presence of the people.  And the children of Reuben, and the children of Gad, and half the tribe of Manasseh, passed over armed before the children of Israel, as Moses spake unto them:  About forty thousand prepared for war passed over before the LORD unto battle, to the plains of Jericho.”
Joshua chapter 4: “ On that day the LORD magnified Joshua in the sight of all Israel; and they feared him, as they feared Moses, all the days of his life.  And the LORD spake unto Joshua, saying,  Command the priests that bear the ark of the testimony, that they come up out of Jordan.  Joshua therefore commanded the priests, saying, Come ye up out of Jordan.  And it came to pass, when the priests that bare the ark of the covenant of the LORD were come up out of the midst of Jordan, and the soles of the priests’ feet were lifted up unto the dry land, that the waters of Jordan returned unto their place, and flowed over all his banks, as they did before.”
Joshua chapter 4: “ And the people came up out of Jordan on the tenth day of the first month, and encamped in Gilgal, in the east border of Jericho.  And those twelve stones, which they took out of Jordan, did Joshua pitch in Gilgal.  And he spake unto the children of Israel, saying, When your children shall ask their fathers in time to come, saying, What mean these stones?  Then ye shall let your children know, saying, Israel came over this Jordan on dry land.  For the LORD your God dried up the waters of Jordan from before you, until ye were passed over, as the LORD your God did to the Red sea, which he dried up from before us, until we were gone over:  That all the people of the earth might know the hand of the LORD, that it is mighty: that ye might fear the LORD your God for ever.”
Now, we can proceed to understanding John’s comments in Matthew.
JOHN THE BAPTIST’S MINISTRY
John the Baptist water baptized in the Jordan River Valley in the region of Judaea. That was just north of the Dead Sea. It is no coincidence that Joshua led the Jews into the Promised Land in this same area. Under Joshua’s command, the Bible says Israel put 12 stones to commemorate their entrance into the land. God’s design is to have John the Baptist’s ministry loop back to Joshua’s ministry. John is water baptizing to set apart a people whom God will use to inherit the Promised Land, the very land Israel should have inherited in Joshua’s day.
Matthew 3:1-9: “ In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judaea,  And saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.  For this is he that was spoken of by the prophet Esaias, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.  And the same John had his raiment of camel’s hair, and a leathern girdle about his loins; and his meat was locusts and wild honey.  Then went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judaea, and all the region round about Jordan,  And were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins.  But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?  Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance:  And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham.”
John the Baptist is somewhat sarcastic—but on the other hand there is truth to what he is saying. Those stones are a witness, a monument, to God wanting a people for His name so they can dwell in His land. The Pharisees and Sadducees are completely clueless. They do not really understand what God was doing with Israel under Joshua’s command. They still do not know what God is doing with John the Baptist. They believe that as children of Abraham, they have inherent righteousness. They do not think they need John the Baptist’s baptism of repentance for the remission of sins—they supposedly do not have any sins! In short, those nonliving stones “knew” more about God’s purpose for Israel than the Israeli religious leaders!