Memorial Stones: Look Back to Move Forward

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Joshua 41 – When the whole nation had finished crossing the Jordan, the Lord said to Joshua, “Choose twelve men from among the people, 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.”

I really struggle to remember names.  I can meet someone, exchange introductions and as soon as I walk away, the name is GONE out of my head.  I have started writing names down with a brief description of the person in my phone as an attempt to stave off the impending embarrassment of meeting that person again and not knowing their name.  It’s working a little bit. But I’m finding that memory problems are not unique to me.  Lots of people struggle with this and with other memory issues.

The Hebrews in the Bible struggled with remembering important things as well  In fact, God gave them a strategy for remembering that we can employ.  There are some things that should never be forgotten and God knows how we can retain those things in our minds. To discover this memory exercise, let’s take a look at the book of Joshua.

In Joshua chapters 3 and 4, we read the amazing story of how the Lord parted the Jordan River so that the people of Israel could cross over on dry ground and begin to take possession of the Promised Land. If this story about a river being parted sounds familiar, it should.  The fathers and mothers of this generation of Hebrews had seen a similar miracle at the Red Sea; but they had blown the opportunity to enter the Promised Land due to complaining and rebellion against God and Moses. So this generation was determined that they were not going to repeat their parents’ mistakes.

Here’s how it unfolded: God led the Hebrews to the river Jordan where they camped for three days before getting the word from the Lord that it was time to move.  When I read the Bible, especially stories like this, I try to put myself in the place of the people I’m reading about and feel what they might have been feeling.  It helps me apply the truth to my personal life that the Lord is teaching.  So one of the things that struck me as I re-read this story was that God had them camp at the edge of the river for 3 days. Why three days? Well, I think that there are multiple reasons but I’ll unpack two.

One possible reason is that the number three in the Bible represents completeness.  The children of Israel had gone through 4 decades of defeat, wandering in the desert for 40 years because of the sin of their fathers and mothers.  And now that generation had passed away and the next generation was ready to rise up in faith under their new leader, Joshua.  So waiting for three days represented the completion of that season of rebellion and defeat. The door closed on the old and the new was coming.

I also think that those three days were a test.  The river Jordan was at flood stage during the harvest when the Lord called them to cross it.  The situation could not have looked more impossible at any time of year than at that very moment.  And now these people had three long days to stare at a raging river and either allow fear and “logic” to take over their minds and fill their mouths with complaining and defeatist talk; or they could stare at the river for three days and settle it in their hearts that the God Who parted the Red Sea for their parents would do the same for them.  We know the story from the other side, but those people didn’t know if God was going to do this miracle again for them or not. They didn’t know if Joshua had the same anointing on his life that Moses had.  He had never been tested in front of them before.

Have you ever felt as though God led you straight into a challenge where an immovable obstacle was staring you in the face?  Have you ever watched God remove the obstacle so that you could walk through the situation on ‘dry ground’?

So at the end of three days, word goes out to the camp that it’s time to move.  The priests move into the water carrying the Ark of the Covenant and amazingly, the river begins to heap up.  We don’t know how long it took for the waters up stream to completely pull back, but the Bible records that the waters heaped up far upstream so that the people were walking on dry ground as they crossed.

And here’s my favorite part of this story and the place where I want to camp out: Joshua told 12 men, one from each of the tribes of Israel, to pick up a stone from the river bed close to where the priests were standing and bring it to the camp on the other side.  God had instructed Joshua to build a memorial using those stones so that the people could return and remind themselves and their children that God dried up a river that was raging at flood stage and they crossed over on dry ground into their Promised land.

Our God is miracle working God.  He moves obstacles we cannot move.  He makes a way where there is no way.

I have friends who have faced terminal diagnoses and then watched the Lord carry them through the treatment into complete healing. I have other friends who have lost a spouse, lost their desire to go on alone and then watched as God resurrected their lives into something new and vibrant that they could not have imagined possible. In my own life, disaster struck when I became a single mother, left with four wounded children. I couldn’t imagine how we would survive emotionally or financially. Then the Lord came in and carried me and my children through every challenge, every difficult new situation and gave me strength I never knew I had. At another time in my life, my husband and I were on the brink of financial disaster. Day and night, we cried out to the Lord for relief and provision. And then many months later we realized that the worst never happened.  Somehow, we made it through and we have no clue how!

But there are players in the story in Joshua that get overlooked often: the Stones of Remembrance.  Each one of those stones represented God’s faithfulness and mighty power working on behalf of one of the tribes of Israel.  In future generations, the Israelites could return to the spot where God worked miraculously and recall the fact that He is not limited by natural obstacles. If He makes a promise to His people, He can move a river out of the way to get them there.

Sometimes, to move forward we have to look backward.

The Lord knew that the river was just one of many challenges these people would face in taking possession of their promise.  There would be battles and enemies that would try to stop the Israelites from moving into the fullness of God’s promises to them.  So having these stones as a physical reminder of the first major miracle entering into their Promise was a tool God was using to protect His people from discouragement and defeat. He knew that there would be times when in order to move forward, they would have to look back.  They would need to remind themselves of the faithfulness and power of God so that they could strengthen their faith for the next battle.

Have you ever reminded yourself of something that God has done for you to strengthen your faith in a scary situation?

Let me tell you something about those stones.  They were underwater until the very moment that God parted the river.  For the three days that the Hebrews sat on the edge of the river, those stones were underwater. But at the moment God moved miraculously, those stones became visible so that the 12 men from each tribe could pick them up and build the memorial.

There are stones of victory that are underwater in your situation right now.  But don’t be concerned.  God has perfect timing and when He parts the water, you will be able to grab that stone and take it with you.  Your job right now is to hold up the stones you possess from the last challenge you faced and remind yourself how at one time, that stone was also underwater. But now you own it. Now you possess it.  Now you have a testimony of God’s provision and goodness parting waters on your behalf. Don’t let the story get old or lose its value.  Don’t drop the stone on the path along the way.

Go back.  Find the stones. Build your memorial. Write down your victories. Record every time that God came through for you. You will need those stones of remembrance for future victories in faith.

Have you dropped some stones along the path of your life? Do you need to go back and pick up some of your stones of remembrance? Do you need to stop and build a memorial of God’s faithfulness and goodness to you?

Now you:

Take time right now to rehearse one situation, no matter how small or how long ago it happened, where you know that God moved on your behalf.

Every day, I see God moving in my life, but I had to train myself to see Him in my everyday life.  I grew up a very negative person who could see the worst and predict a horrible outcome. So I have had to work very hard (and I’m still working on this!) to remind myself of God’s provision and to recall His faithfulness from times past as my assessment of future outcomes. I have had to force myself during times of severe stress to say out loud, “If He did it before, He will do it again!”

Let’s pray.

Dear Heavenly Father, we come to You in the mighty name of Jesus.  We ask you for Your forgiveness for all of the times that we have dropped the stones of remembrance that You have provided for us.  We know that we have often focused on everything that isn’t the way we want it to be, and lost sight of the wonderful things that You have done for us. Please help us to cultivate vision to see You moving in our everyday lives and hearts of praise to thank You for the waters that You are parting.  You are gracious and faithful, even when we are not.  Thank you for working in our lives and moving obstacles that we could never move! Please, Lord, strengthen our faith this year and may our recollection of Your past faithfulness become our backbone of faith for our future. Amen.

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