July 2: Joshua 4

Gerald Bray
The Memorial Stones

v. 9. "Joshua set up twelve stones in the midst of the Jordan, in the place where the feet of the priests bearing the ark of he covenant had stood, and they are there to this day."

Commemoration is an interesting exercise. If you travel around the ancient world, you will come across monuments to the glory of past rulers, especially in Egypt, where the pyramids remain as magnificent memorials to this day. The kings they were built for have mostly been forgotten; their tombs were mostly all raided long ago and there is little of any substance left. Yet something remains - the stones that were piled one on top of the other and which neither time nor the destructive force of subsequent ages has been able to remove.

Joshua, it need hardly be said, was in a different league altogether. As one of only two Israelites to have survived the wilderness journey of his people, he may have seen pyramids in his youth, but his thoughts on crossing the Jordan would have been a world away from them. The pyramids celebrated death. They were literally tombs designed to help the kings of Egypt on their way to another life. The Israelites were also passing over to another life, but it was very different from the one envisaged for the Pharaohs. The twelve stones set up in the Jordan were not signs of death but of new life. They bore witness to the passage fot he people of God from their desert wanderings into the land which God had promised to their ancestor Abraham. The great crossing over the Jordan was not the end but the beginning, and it was that that Joshua was told to commemorate and symbolize in this way.

The stones were not placed just anywhere, but on the spot where the priests had stood with the ark of the covenant as the people passed over. The river had backed up to let them cross, and even the priests had never even got their toes wet. It was a miracle, not unlike the crossing of the Red Sea when they escaped from Egypt. But then, they had fled in haste and in some disarray, whereas now they crossed over in triumph. They were well-organized and ready to conquer the land that belonged to them. It was a moment to pause and reflect, but it was also a time to look ahead at what was to come. The twelve stones in the river represented each of the twelve tribes of Israel, but they were the living stones on which the nation would be built.

Today we often put up memorials of one kind or another, and sometimes even build churches to honor the memory of a great leader or to celebrate a special event. As time goes by, the plaques fade and the names on them become strange to us, as those who knew them die and their memories pass away with them. The stones in the Jordan are still there, but who notices them now? Israel on the other hand has gone from strength to strength. We who have inherited the promises God made to them look back in wonder at all that he has done for us, but we also look ahead. The achievements of the past are an encouragement for the future. That is how Joshua saw it, and how we must see it too. God has brought us a long way, but there is still much land to conquer. May he guide and direct our paths, so that the stones that commemorate us remain to bear witness to the one in whom we have believed and with whom we have walked and accomplished such great things.