What do the stones mean?

Relief, Auch Cathedral, France: the Ark of the...

Now therefore take twelve men from the tribes of Israel, from each tribe a man. And when the soles of the feet of the priests bearing the ark of the Lord, the Lord of all the earth, shall rest in the waters of the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan shall be cut off from flowing, and the waters coming down from above shall stand in one heap. . . Now the priests bearing the ark of the covenant of the Lord stood firmly on dry ground in the midst of the Jordan, and all Israel was passing over on dry ground until all the nation finished passing over the Jordan. Joshua 3:12-13, 17

And Joshua said to them, “Pass on before the ark of the Lord your God into the midst of the Jordan, and take up each of you a stone upon his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the people of Israel, 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 4:5-7

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

Isn’t it interesting that God had the people “pass over” or through the Jordan, similar to what he did with the Red Sea. If you look through Exodus and then look in Joshua you see a stark contrast to what the people did. But there is another amazing difference that stands out. The stones! God told Joshua to gather stones and set up a memorial. It is very important how he did this, God was very specific, but I want to focus on this idea of setting up stones to remember what God had done.

Again and again the Bible talks about remembering the works God has performed in the past. But a contrast we see here with Joshua opposed to after the Red Sea deliverance is that they set up a memorial with the stones. A way to tell their children about what God had done. God is very clever, and he knew the people needed to see something to be reminded – a physical way to remind them of how great he was and is. That way they would not forget and become unbelieving and unfaithful. Remembering the works of God is essential to believing for the future. If there are no works remembered, then what will the future look like. Exodus and Judges are examples of generations not remembering (or knowing) what God has done. Some forgot and some were never told of His works. A memorial would give them a way to explain to future generations. God does not want to be remembered in one generation and forgotten in the next. It is our responsibility to teach our children His ways. The stones help us do that.

Let me share a personal story to illustrate the point. When I reflect on the great things God has done for me, a startling experience always comes to mind. When I moved to the metroplex, God showed up in an amazing way. I was offered a job in Fort Worth, but it was 2 hours away, so to get the job we had to move. Oh, the joys of moving (and changing your entire family’s life!). For about a month I stayed in Fort Worth during the week and went home on the weekend. It was very stressful because we were also trying to sell our house. I realized this was not working and not good for my family, so I decided we needed to move. We had to move even if our current house had not sold. So, we did it! We moved on Labor Day weekend to a new house all the while knowing I really did not have the money for two house payments. I acted on faith knowing it was the best thing for my family, but not knowing the outcome. Less than a week after we moved I got a call from the realtor that we had someone interested in our house and at the end of the month we sold it! You might wonder as I have, what would have happened if I had not moved when I did – would the house have still sold? I don’t know, all I knew was I had to move. And when I did, God showed up. It was no accident, and furthermore I cannot ever forget what He did.  I must remember how He came to my rescue as I stepped out in faith. That is not silliness my friend, that is a supernatural God taking care of his child.

I must never forget what He has done for me, never! In dark times, I must remind myself how great my Christ is – I must remember His former deeds and continue to have faith for the future. But what about my children, do they remember what happened? I need to set up a memorial, stones to help me remember and tell future generations about what God has done. We need physical memorials. We must remember personally, corporately as a church, and as a nation. Do our children know some of our personal history with God? Do they know the history of the church (locally and the church at large)? Do they know why America exists as it does? Why are we here? Did we come out of another land like Israel came out of Egypt? We must remember and teach the next generation.

Israel served the Lord all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua and had known all the work that the Lord did for Israel. Joshua 24:31

This generation was different than the previous one, they served God even beyond Joshua’s death, and they knew the works of the Lord. They knew what He had done for them in the past. This was absolutely critical to their success. And so it is with us. Psalm 77:11 says, “I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your wonders of old.”

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