What do you have that reminds you God answers prayer? What helps you remember God’s good gifts down through the years?
When our children were young, we had a prodigal hamster named Smokey. One Friday morning, we discovered Smokey was not in his cage. We turned the house upside down looking for him. Before sending the kids to school, we gathered together and prayed that God would keep Smokey safe and return him to us. Throughout the day, I continued to pray that God would return Smokey safely so that my children would know God answers prayer. Twenty-four hours later, he showed up in my son’s bedroom. Placing him back in his cage, he gulped down as much food and water as he could hold. We gathered as a family and prayed again, this time thanking God for answering prayer and returning the wayward rodent back safely. Afterwards, I wrote the details down in my journal so that I would not forget God’s goodness to my children.
Following the death of Moses, the children of Israel prepared to enter the Promised Land. Poised on the eastern bank of the Jordan River, opposite the city of Jericho, they awaited the orders of General Joshua. In Joshua 4, God gave Joshua his marching orders, which included a curious directive. Twelve men, representing the twelve tribes of Israel, were to each take one stone from the middle of the Jordan River to the place of the first night’s encampment. There they were to erect a 12-stone memorial over the dry riverbed of the Jordan. These stones were to act as a vivid reminder (a memorial) of God’s work of deliverance and an effective means for the Israelites to teach the next generation.
God commanded Joshua to establish “Stones of Remembrance” (1-7). Kneeling at the foot of the Ark of the Covenant in the middle of the dry riverbed, 12 men pried up large stones and then carried them on their shoulders some eight miles to Gilgal, the site of their new camp site. We don’t know if they piled them in a heap or arranged them in a circle, but it was a monument to the momentous event they just witnessed.
Verse nine indicates that Joshua erected a similar monument in the middle of the riverbed. This second memorial would only be visible when the Jordan was at its lowest level.
There must have been shouts of joy when the priests stepped out of the riverbed and the waters of the Jordan roared back. There was probably dancing and singing around the campfires that night.
In God’s good timing, they arrived in the Promised Land on the tenth day of the first month. On that same day forty years previous the first Passover Lamb was selected (Exodus 12:3-6). God had arranged for their arrival in Canaan four days before the annual Passover was to be celebrated, on the very day when preparations were to begin.
The stones of remembrance were to remind people of the past (7), witness to the nations in the present (23-24), create a teachable moment in the future (6, 21-22), and inspire people to trust God forever (24).
Since there was no Instagram account or Facebook page commemorating the event, God provided Israel with a visible reminder of the miracle he had performed (7). This was necessary because Israel was a forgetful bunch (Deuteronomy 6:10-12). Psalm 78 provides the history of a nation who continually forgot what God had done.
The stones also served as a witness to the nations (23-24). The crossing of the Red Sea and the Jordan River were meant to inspire the surrounding nations to discover who God is. Rahab heard about the miracles and wanted to follow God (Joshua 2). The stones would be a visible invitation to “come and see” the greatness of God.
The stones would also serve a conversation starter. Over time, the following generations would ask their parents, “What do these stones mean?” The parents could then tell the story in great detail (6, 21-22). As parents, we need to be on lookout for opportunities to teach our children and others about who God is. Skinned knees, school exams, missing hamsters, service projects, ministry trips and many others provide opportunities to teach our kids that God answers prayer and provides for our needs.
Lastly, the stones of remembrance would inspire future generations to trust God forever (24). We have to be careful, though, not to allow memorials to become idols. While Gilgal was a place of remembrance for Joshua, it was the scene of idol worship during the ministries of Hosea and Amos.
I have numerous “Stones of Remembrance” in my office. When I look at a certificate for 30 years of service to Walk Thru the Bible Ministries, I recall the encouragement I received from John, Maggie, Phil, and others during difficult days. I remember the people who trusted Christ as Savior during the many seminars I taught. When I look at the many gifts I received while ministering in Russia, I remember how God answered prayer for safety, health, financial provision, wisdom, and much more. When I look at a family photo, I remember how God answered prayer to provide spouses for my two daughters, and met our needs as a family in countless ways. I also have a shelf filled with journals I have written in over the past 30+ years. They record what God has taught me, how he answered prayer, and the many experiences he has brought me through. All of these serve to help me remember who God is and what he has done.
What helps you to remember God’s goodness in your life?
This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on October 14, 2018. It is part of a series of sermons on the book of Joshua. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.