“So the Israelites… took twelve stones from the middle of the Jordan” (Joshua 4:8).
Why did God command His people to take heavy stones from the middle of a river?
And what does that have to do with those of us who live in modern times?
Under Joshua’s leadership, the Israelites had just crossed the Jordan River into the Promised Land. It was a long-awaited moment for the people of God.
After waiting for decades to enter the Promised Land, they were finally coming into possession of the place God had prepared just for them. No doubt they were excited to keep moving forward into the land!
But the Lord knew it was important for them to pause momentarily. When everyone had crossed the river, the Lord spoke to Joshua.
“‘Choose twelve men from among the people,’” He said, “‘one from each tribe, and tell them to take up twelve stones from the middle of the Jordan, from right where the priests are standing, and carry them over with you and put them down at the place where you stay tonight” (Josh. 4:2-3, NIV).
Joshua called the nation to a stop and obeyed the Lord’s direction. The Israelites pulled twelve stones—one for each tribe—from the Jordan River and set them up on the shore of the Promised Land.
Why did God tell His people to stop and set up these stones? The answer is found in the same passage.
“Each of you is to take up a stone on his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the Israelites, to serve as a sign among you. In the future, when your children ask you, ‘What do these stones mean?’, tell them…” (Josh. 4:5-6, NIV).
God knew the Israelites would need a reminder of the miraculous events that had transpired at the Jordan. He had held back the river’s flowing waters to let His people cross into the Promised Land (Josh. 3:14-17) – a miracle indeed!
It was no secret that the Israelites had trouble remembering God’s works on their behalf. The Old Testament is filled with stories of what happened when the nation of Israel forgot the Lord’s faithfulness and graciousness, turning away from Him until they were reminded of what He had done.
These twelve stones set up on the bank of the Jordan River would serve as “a memorial to the people of Israel forever” (Josh. 4:7, NIV) to remind them of God’s mercy.
The Israelites were instructed, “In the future, when your children ask you, ‘What do these stones mean,’ tell them that the flow of the Jordan was cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off” (Josh. 4:7, NIV).
God commanded His people to pass down the story of crossing the Jordan to ensure they would remember Him in the generations to come. They were to show their children the stones and tell the story every chance they had.
It’s easy to judge the Israelites for their need to be so frequently reminded of God’s work on their behalf. But don’t we modern Christian often forget God in the same way they did?
Especially with the frenetic pace of modern life, we can get caught up in the day-to-day struggles and forget to praise God for what He’s done—and is doing—in our lives.
It can be helpful for us to set up our own “memorial stones” so we don’t forget to tell the stories of God’s work!
How can we accomplish this?
1. Take time to think about the important events in your life.
What were the times in your life when you saw God working most clearly? When did His faithfulness stand out to you the most?
Maybe it was your wedding. Maybe it was a high school or college graduation. Maybe it was when one of your children was born, or when you finished a massive project, or even just when you experienced a beautiful day in nature.
Reflect on these moments and praise God for His involvement in your life, just like the Israelites did at the Jordan River.
2. Choose remembrances from these important events.
What objects will offer concrete reminders of God’s work? The key here is to choose physical objects, like the stones the Israelites were commanded to take from the river.
If your wedding is an important memory, choose wedding photos. Think about your diploma, a hospital bracelet from your child’s birth, an award you won for completing a project, or a stone you took from a mountain hike.
Maybe it’s easier to keep a journal. If so, take time to write in it often and record the stories of God’s faithfulness in your life.
3. Display these memorials in prominent places.
The Israelites were commanded to set up and display the stones they took from the Jordan. The stones weren’t just for the generation that crossed the river – they were meant to serve future generations and anyone who found themselves on the bank of the Jordan.
Keep your “memorials” in visible places! Display photos around your house or on your desk at work. Keep rocks or smaller tokens in your purse or pocket. Make your memorials visible so you have opportunities to share the stories that accompany them.
In the moments when we struggle to remember God’s faithfulness and trust His promises, these remembrances can encourage us. What He’s done in the past, He can and will do again!
What events in your life are like the Israelites’ crossing the Jordan River into the Promised Land?
How can you use those events to encourage yourself and others?