Theme: The Crossing of the Jordan Continued
This week’s lessons tell about the importance of God’s memorial as they crossed the Jordan and into the Promised Land.
When all the nation had finished passing over the Jordan, the Lord said to Joshua, “Take twelve men from the people, from each tribe a man, and command them, saying, ‘Take twelve stones from here out of the midst of the Jordan, from the very place where the priests’ feet stood firmly, and bring them over with you and lay them down in the place where you lodge tonight.’” Then Joshua called the twelve men from the people of Israel, whom he had appointed, a man from each tribe. 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.”
And the people of Israel did just as Joshua commanded and took up twelve stones out of the midst of the Jordan, according to the number of the tribes of the people of Israel, just as the Lord told Joshua. And they carried them over with them to the place where they lodged and laid them down there. And Joshua set up twelve stones in the midst of the Jordan, in the place where the feet of the priests bearing the ark of the covenant had stood; and they are there to this day. For the priests bearing the ark stood in the midst of the Jordan until everything was finished that the Lord commanded Joshua to tell the people, according to all that Moses had commanded Joshua.
The people passed over in haste. And when all the people had finished passing over, the ark of the Lord and the priests passed over before the people. The sons of Reuben and the sons of Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh passed over armed before the people of Israel, as Moses had told them. About 40,000 ready for war passed over before the Lord for battle, to the plains of Jericho. On that day the Lord exalted Joshua in the sight of all Israel, and they stood in awe of him just as they had stood in awe of Moses, all the days of his life.
And the Lord said to Joshua, “Command the priests bearing the ark of the testimony to come up out of the Jordan.” So Joshua commanded the priests, “Come up out of the Jordan.” And when the priests bearing the ark of the covenant of the Lord came up from the midst of the Jordan, and the soles of the priests’ feet were lifted up on dry ground, the waters of the Jordan returned to their place and overflowed all its banks, as before.
The people came up out of the Jordan on the tenth day of the first month, and they encamped at Gilgal on the east border of Jericho. And those twelve stones, which they took out of the Jordan, Joshua set up at Gilgal. 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.”
Now where does that leave us? The point I want to make is the one I have already been alluding to, namely, that we all need memorials like this in our lives. The people of Israel needed their memorials, and they needed other memorials besides this one. In 1 Samuel 7:12 we’re told of the prophet Samuel setting up a memorial which he called, “Ebenezer.” It was the occasion of a great victory in which God had intervened in a supernatural way to defeat the Philistines. It says that in the remainder of Samuel’s lifetime the Philistines didn’t invade the territory of Israel ever again. To mark that great victory, Samuel set up this stone, which he called, “Ebenezer,” which means “the Lord helps.” And he said, “We’re naming it ‘Ebenezer’ because hitherto hath the Lord helped us.”
We need our memorials because we too are so prone to forget and need to be reminded. What I want to suggest is that we need many Ebenezers in our lives. There are many things that we can look back on and say, “Well, here is a place where God intervened in my life, and where He did something important, and to which I can look and be reminded of the presence and the holiness and the power of our God.” I wonder if you have things like that in your lives. For some people, it’s a place. When people give their testimony they will often refer to the place when God first broke through with the light of His truth to them. And they can see that in their mind. I suppose there are times in their lives when they revisit the place where an experience like that happened. And they say, “Yes, here is where God spoke to me, where He brought me out of darkness into light, where He opened my eyes to see His truth.” And that’s very important. That’s encouraging.
That’s the kind of place to which we can bring our children and say, “I was sitting right here,” or “I was standing right here when God made Himself clear to me.” My own mother has a place like that, and that place is near at hand. It was right here in one of the pews at Tenth Presbyterian Church, and Donald Grey Barnhouse was preaching. My mother is seldom in this church when she isn’t reminded of the way God was gracious to her in those days.
For others, it’s perhaps a place of deliverance, and for that reason this word, “Ebenezer,” is perhaps the most important. If you can remember where you were in difficult circumstances and God did something to break through and solve the problem for you, it’s important for you to hold that memorial up before your eyes, and before the eyes of your children, and your children’s children, because there are times in life when it seems that we need deliverance or we need a special intervention of God. And if God for one reason or another doesn’t intervene or doesn’t seem to speak, we’re inclined in times like that to say, “Well, maybe God is silent.” Sometimes in great discouragement, we’re inclined to say, “Well, maybe God has forgotten.” And yet, you see, if you can go to a place and say, “Look, here is where God worked; this is what God did,” then that memorial becomes important for you. And it helps keep you on track in the difficult times.
Some people may say, “Well, I don’t have anything like that. At least I can’t think of anything precisely like that now.” Let me suggest that for people like you and for all of us, indeed, the Lord Jesus Christ Himself gave two great memorials, which we call the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Baptism is the memorial of our initiation into the Christian life. It doesn’t save us, but it is that outward sign that testifies that we are by God’s grace made a portion of Christ’s body. And in the Lord’s Supper we gather together as Christ’s people to partake of those elements that represent His shed blood and His broken body and reaffirm our discipleship and our desire to be obedient to Him.
And yet, I suppose we could say that as Christians we also share in these memorial stones, because the same God who told the Israelites who crossed the Jordan to take out the twelve stones and set them up on the bank is also our God. And because that’s true, then in a sense those stones are ours as well. We can look back to that memorial or any other memorial God has given, and we can say, as Christians have all down through the ages, “That God is our God, and this is the God I want to serve.” I don’t know about you, but I need that kind of encouragement. And I’m glad God Almighty has provided it. May those memorials accomplish their purpose in us. May we be found faithful, and may we not forget the Lord of hosts.
Why do we need memorials? What kinds of things does God accomplish through them?
When are the times we are most likely to forget God’s goodness? Why does that happen?
What two memorials did Christ give to his church? What does each one accomplish in the lives of Christians?
Reflect on those times in your life when God provided a memorial to carry you through a difficult period, and praise him for his faithfulness and love toward you. Then consider how you might be able to serve as a living memorial to others in need of help and encouragement.