Memorial Stones: Reminders of God’s Work in Our Lives

In the book of Joshua, God miraculously parts the waters of the River Jordan, finally delivering Israel into the Promised Land. 

 The LORD said to Joshua, “Today I will begin to exalt you in the sight of all Israel, that they may know that, as I was with Moses, so I will be with you.

So when the people set out from their tents to pass over the Jordan with the priests bearing the ark of the covenant before the people, and as soon as those bearing the ark had come as far as the Jordan, and the feet of the priests bearing the ark were dipped in the brink of the water (now the Jordan overflows all its banks throughout the time of harvest), the waters coming down from above stood and rose up in a heap very far away …

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 3:7,14-17)

 As soon as they had crossed, God ordered Joshua to have a select group of men extract stones from the Jordan River and build a memorial on the site of their first camp at Gilgal. 

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.'” (Joshua 4:1-4)

He also decreed that they place another memorial of stones in the center of the Jordan River they had just crossed.  This river memorial would only be visible in a time of drought when the river level dropped considerably.

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.(Joshua 4:9-10)

Why did God mandate these memorial stones? It was God’s intention that Israel would use these memorials as a teaching tool to let their children know what great miracles God had done for Israel.

 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 4:6-7)

In this example of God actively working in history for His chosen people, God had caused the Jordan River, bursting with the melted spring mountain snows, to completely dry up so that all Israel could cross.  The memorial stones were symbols that Israel had reached their destination through the grace of God.  The memorial stones also were a symbolic roadblock; once across the Jordan, Israel would see the stones and be reminded that it could never go back again. When Moses led Israel on its first passage out of Egypt, they also were delivered across water, the Red Sea, by a miracle of God, but they had not built any memorial.  For 40 years, they complained bitterly to Moses about their fate and many expressed a desire to return to Egypt.  This time, God instructed Joshua to mark Israel’s deliverance with stone memorials.  God wanted visual, physical means to remind Israel that they should remember God’s miraculous and powerful hand in their past and to keep their eyes on the future.  

The second memorial, in the middle of the Jordan River, had a different purpose.  In the middle of the river itself, this stone memorial would only be visible when the waters were dried up.  These times would represent the dry times in Israel’s life.  In Israel’s times of trials and suffering and despair, the memorial stones would remind them that God reigns, and is working in their lives, even when times are tough and it seems He has abandoned them.  There would be no forgetting God and no temptation to cross back over as Moses’ flock had demanded.

Later, Israel established another stone memorial.  This time a stone would stand as a testament, not to the acts of God, but to the living Word of God.  The Book of the Law of God and its stone marker together would stand as witness to the commands that God had given Israel in the Promised Land.

So Joshua made a covenant with the people that day, and put in place statutes and rules for them at Shechem. And Joshua wrote these words in the Book of the Law of God. And he took a large stone and set it up there under the terebinth that was by the sanctuary of the LORD. And Joshua said to all the people, “Behold, this stone shall be a witness against us, for it has heard all the words of the LORD that he spoke to us. Therefore it shall be a witness against you, lest you deal falsely with your God.” (Joshua 24:25-27)

 These three memorial stones occupied both geographical and historical footprints of God.  That is, the memorial stones marked a locus of God’s actions; a permanent reminder of a particular place on the map where God miraculously delivered Israel into its promised land.  The stones also served as a historical marker in time, a reminder that God works through His people and for His people throughout history.  It is He that plans and delivers on His promises throughout time.  His intervention in the past is a record and a reminder of His sovereign authority over His creation.  Lastly, the memorial stones also connected Israel, not just to the actions of God, but to His promises and commandments as well.

If Israel’s memorial stones represent God’s work and a crossing over into the promised land, what memorial stones does each of us  have in our lives? How can we mark our crossover from spiritual death to eternal life?  Let us consider three.

 First, we can mark God’s work in our lives by the historical marker of the day of our spiritual birth. Before the foundations of the world, God has appointed a time for us to be born, a time to die, and also a time to be born of the Spirit.  The day we become a new creation is a day when God performs His greatest miracle: taking a spiritually dead person, deaf to the Gospel, and melts our hearts and enters into us.  The day the Holy Spirit convicts us of our wretchedness and causes us to surrender to and cry out for our only hope, a Lord and a Savior, Jesus Christ, is God’s historical marker in our lives.  It is a day He ordains and we celebrate and it should be permanently marked. We glorify God in our salvation, as living markers of God’s supernatural work of regeneration in each of us.

 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. (2 Corinthians 5:17-18) 

Our second memorial stone is a day of our making, the day we publicly testify to our new life in Christ, the day of our baptism.  We should mark that day as the day we are buried with Christ and risen to newness of life.

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.(Romans 6:3-5)

As a public act, our baptism is a memorial of our death to our old life that our fellow Christians can witness and bear testimony to all our lives.  

 Third, scripture serves as a memorial stone to our lives in Christ.  When we are devoted to diving into His Word each day, we constantly revisit God’s wisdom through the Bible’s stories and lessons.  At different times in our lives, atop the mountaintops of spiritual joy, and amid the valleys of despair, God’s Word speaks to us and provides us what we need.  We might consider making a practice of reading and meditating on a Proverb each day corresponding to the date.  For example, each month on the seventh, we could read chapter 7, the corresponding chapter of Proverbs.  March 7: Proverbs 7.  The Proverbs’ verses never change, but our lives surely do.  That day’s chapter of Proverbs, revisited monthly, will conjure up memories of how specific verses have spoken to us, impacted, guided, chastened, warned and comforted us.  Our daily Proverbs chapter meditations then can become memorial stones marking our lifelong journey with Christ. 

 The Word of God is a faithful witness to how God has worked and continues to work in our lives.  When we peek over a shoulder in church and see a heavily notated Bible in the hands of a brother or sister, we can wonder how many powerful memorial stones must be contained in those inked marginal notes. There are memorial stones on each page of our personal Bibles, connecting scripture verses to significant life experiences:  moments of illumination, times of trials, times of troubles, times of sorrows, moments of transformation and times of celebration.  Every time we revisit the Bible we are revisiting memorial stones– markers of our walk with Christ.

Brothers and Sisters, we need to take special care to establish and maintain our memorial stones.  We need them to remind ourselves of God’s active, continuous, faithful role in our lives.  We can use them to teach our children how God is omniscient and omnipresent even when it seems He is quiet or when we despair that He has forgotten us.  Our memorial stones also stand as landmarks to the world that we have crossed over into a new life in Christ, that our trust is in Jesus Christ, and that we will never go back again for He continues to sustain us.  If we make these memorial stones permanent and meaningful they become a record of our walk with God, renew our strength in the spiritual warfare, and testify to the world our resolve to be a separate people, sustained by the LORD.  Let us all check our memorial stones today and every day!

Published in: on March 25, 2010 at 9:45 am  Comments (2)  

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Will, I personally can testify of specific physical locations I often pass and reminds me of the GRACE of God in my life. Yes, we all need markers to remind us of God’s love, care and deliverance. ADED Allen

  2. Allen: Yes, yes, yes. Places have a real spiritual menaning to us. For me, I have places that mark the lessons God sent my way, or allowed for me to learn, on my path to His mercy and grace. Amen. [I’m trying to encourage comments on my Facebook page–seems more convenient and visible than on the blog site. Hope you’ll continue to join in–we have a lto to share] –Will

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