“What Mean These Stones?”
Memories are the flowers that beautify the paths of our lives. Have you ever spent some time sniffing the fragrance of past memories and reliving past experiences? It is a blessing to be able to visit with ones that we have loved in the past and will not see again until we meet again in glory. Our memories are rightly filled with precious people and events, but they also need to be filled with our Lord. While we cannot live in the past, we must live with a vivid memory of what God has done for us so far in our lives.
In the years just prior to the conquest of the land of Canaan the Children of Israel had an amazing problem with their memories. As they traversed the wilderness our God continually provided miraculously for His people. Just think of some of these miracles. There was the parting of the Red Sea, the freshening of the bitter water of Marah, the provision of manna, a cloud to guide them by day and a pillar of fire by night and God even provided water out of the rock twice. Yet, in the face of all these miracles, Israel forgot her God. Every little difficulty brought on a huge nationwide panic attack that God had forgotten them and brought them out of Egypt to kill them in the desert.
Against this background we can understand a little better why our God commanded Joshua to do what he did in Joshua 4. Joshua had gotten Israel ready to cross the river. He told them, “When you see the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God, and the priests, the Levites, bearing it, then you shall set out from your place and go after it. Yet there shall be a space between you and it. . . Do not come near it, that you may know the way by which you must go, for you have not passed this way before.”
This command had to surprise the Children of Israel. The river was overflowing its banks in a flood. This was the worse time of the year to cross. Didn’t Joshua realize that people could get killed, could be swept away down river and die? The Jordan did not look safe as the priests carrying the Ark of the Covenant approached it. God did not open the river ahead of time. The Israelites had to trust without visible evidence to undergird their trust. This was to be the beginning, the baby steps of believing God would do miracles when the situation looked impossible. Joshua told them in preparation for what God would do, “By this you 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 is crossing over before you into the Jordan. Now therefore, take for yourselves twelve men from the tribes of Israel, one man from every tribe. And it shall come to pass, as soon as the soles of the feet of the priests who bear the Ark of the Lord, the Lord of all the earth, shall rest in the waters of the Jordan, that the waters of the Jordan shall be cut off, the waters that come down from upstream, and they shall stand as a heap.” (Joshua 3:10-13).
When the priests got to the swollen water, they did not stop. They waded in and when all the priests’ feet were wet, something happened. An invisible dam stopped the flow of the swollen Jordon and heaped up the water. The priests stood holding the Ark in the midst of the river, on dry ground, while all Israel passed over the river floor to the other side. What did the people think when they passed through the dry bed of the river?
Then Joshua revealed the purpose for choosing the twelve men. “Then Joshua called the twelve men whom he had appointed from the children of Israel, one man from every tribe; and Joshua said to them: ‘Cross over before the ark of the Lord your God into the midst of the Jordan, and each one of you take up a stone on his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the children of Israel, that this may be a sign among you when your children ask in time to come, saying, “What do these stones mean to you?” Then you shall answer them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord; when it crossed over the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. And these stones shall be for a memorial to the children of Israel forever” (Joshua 4:4–7).
Twelve large rocks were taken from the middle of the Jordan and carried to the place where the Israelites camped and piled there. Why did Joshua at God’s command make such a big thing about twelve rocks? Were they special rocks in some way? No, we are not even told what kind of rocks these were. The rocks are important because Israel as a people and a nation needed these rocks as a reminder. Each of the Jews individually also needed the rocks. They needed to remember what God had done for them so they could go on trusting Him for the present and the future.
Joshua told them the purpose of the rocks when they fetched the rocks from the river bank and then repeated it when they relocated them to the camp at Gilgal. “And those twelve stones which they took out of the Jordan, Joshua set up in Gilgal. Then he spoke to the children of Israel, saying: “When your children ask their fathers in time to come, saying, ‘What are these stones?’ then you shall let your children know, saying, ‘Israel crossed over this Jordan on dry land’; for the Lord your God dried up the waters of the Jordan before you until you had crossed over, as the Lord your God did to the Red Sea, which He dried up before us until we had crossed over, that all the peoples of the earth may know the hand of the Lord, that it is mighty, that you may fear the Lord your God forever.” (Joshua 4:21-24).
They needed it nationally to remember God’s great power so they would trust Him and obey Him in conquering the land. They could not march around the walls of Jericho unless they were certain that God was able and willing to deliver the city into their hands.
We used to live in the Philadelphia area and thus visited Liberty Hall quite often. Once while we were in the Liberty Bell pavilion, I heard a boy in the group in front of us turned to one of the other kids and said, “What’s so special about this stupid bell?” Can you imagine a time as the people of Israel went back to Gilgal National Park to recall what God had done that one of the children would come upon the pile of stones and turn to Grandpa and say, “Hey, Grandpa, what’s so special about these stones?” Grandpa would tell them of the great outpouring of God’s power that allowed the Israelites to enter the land.
It is important for us to remember the past. History is heritage. Too often today people forget how we got here and why we enjoy the liberty and spiritual privileges that we enjoy. We need to be reminded lest we forget what God has done. The problem when we forget God is that we often take the credit ourselves. When we take the credit, others do not learn that the Lord our God is mighty and we do not fear the Lord our God forever.
We, God’s people today, must remember our past. Nationally, in our churches, and also in our lives we must not forget what God has done for us. Remembering what He has done for us reminds us of what He will still do for us and in us. “What do these stones mean?” They mean that the God who was faithful and powerful before will be faithful and powerful on our behalf again.
While we may not have literal piles of stones in our front yards, we too need rock piles metaphorically in our hearts. Several years ago when our eldest daughter was small, she outgrew her shoes. In those days it was thought that growing children needed special expensive shoes to help them walk properly. We did not have money to buy these shoes. Kathy had just informed me that we had to find the money to buy shoes for our little girl. Just then the mail man arrived with our mail. In the mail was a letter with a check. The letter said simply, “Buy Rachel some shoes.” No one knew about that need. We hadn’t even had time to pray about it. God bought my daughter’s shoes.
About ten years later I was visiting with a man and trying to share Christ with him. He said to me, “How do I know that this is real? How do I know that God will take care of me?” I showed him this stone from my rock pile. If God could buy my child’s shoes before even Kathy and I knew she needed shoes, then God can take care of any problem that we face.
Start keeping a rock pile of stones marking what God has done. Do not be backward about sharing those stones with others, being careful that God gets all the glory.