Joshua 4 (NRSV)
Twelve Stones Set Up at Gilgal
When the entire nation had finished crossing over the Jordan, the Lord said to Joshua: 2“Select twelve men from the people, one from each tribe, 3and command them, ‘Take twelve stones from here out of the middle of the Jordan, from the place where the priests’ feet stood, carry them over with you, and lay them down in the place where you camp tonight.’”
4Then Joshua summoned the twelve men from the Israelites, whom he had appointed, one from each tribe. 5Joshua said to them, “Pass on before the ark of the Lord your God into the middle of the Jordan, and each of you take up a stone on his shoulder, one for each of the tribes of the Israelites, 6so that this may be a sign among you. When your children ask in time to come, ‘What do those stones mean to you?’ 7then you shall tell them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off in front of the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it crossed over the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. So these stones shall be to the Israelites a memorial forever.”
The purpose of this memorial was so that the people of Israel could teach their children about the great things God had done, so that the work of God would not be forgotten among the generations.
8The Israelites did as Joshua commanded. They took up twelve stones out of the middle of the Jordan, according to the number of the tribes of the Israelites, as the Lord told Joshua, carried them over with them to the place where they camped, and laid them down there. 9(Joshua set up twelve stones in the middle 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.)
Dear friends of ours kept a lovely cottage on the North Shore of Lake Superior, and I have precious memories of that place. When you walk out the back door, across the lawn, and to the waterline, you will find rocks much like those in the picture above — red and blue and gray and beige — some large enough to sit on while you dangle your feet in the always VERY cold water. Inside the house, on a shelf by the kitchen table, is a clear glass jar holding smaller rocks that have been brought in from the shore.
I have never asked my friends, but I wonder if these rocks are their own “stones of remembrance.” Does each stone have a story to tell, of births or adoptions, of homes or travels, of aching loss or joyful peace of heart, of the Lord’s voice in their ear and his hand on their shoulder? Perhaps these stones remind them that words in the Bible can sometimes change from merely ink on paper to life’s most meaningful reality! Do they smile when they gaze at these stones and remember with the psalmist that “God is my rock, in whom I take refuge”?
If it is so, and it would not surprise me if it is, then that simple shelf in Sue and Mel’s kitchen is an altar of worship to the Lord.
10The priests who bore the ark remained standing in the middle 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 crossed over in haste. 11As soon as all the people had finished crossing over, the ark of the Lord, and the priests, crossed over in front of the people. 12The Reubenites, the Gadites, and the half-tribe of Manasseh crossed over armed before the Israelites, as Moses had ordered them. 13About forty thousand armed for war crossed over before the Lord to the plains of Jericho for battle.
14On that day the Lord exalted Joshua in the sight of all Israel; and they stood in awe of him, as they had stood in awe of Moses, all the days of his life.
15The Lord said to Joshua, 16“Command the priests who bear the ark of the covenant, to come up out of the Jordan.”
17Joshua therefore commanded the priests, “Come up out of the Jordan.”
18When the priests bearing the ark of the covenant of the Lord came up from the middle of the Jordan, and the soles of the priests’ feet touched dry ground, the waters of the Jordan returned to their place and overflowed all its banks, as before.
HERE is “Down to the River to Pray” sung by Alison Krauss.
The First Work at Gilgal:
Memorial stones set up
19The people came up out of the Jordan on the tenth day of the first month, and they camped in Gilgal on the east border of Jericho.
20Those twelve stones, which they had taken out of the Jordan, Joshua set up in Gilgal, 21saying to the Israelites, “When your children ask their parents in time to come, ‘What do these stones mean?’ 22then you shall let your children know, ‘Israel crossed over the Jordan here on dry ground.’ 23For the Lord your God dried up the waters of the Jordan for you until you crossed over, as the Lord your God did to the Red Sea, which he dried up for us until we crossed over, 24so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the Lord is mighty, and so that you may fear the Lord your God forever.”
from Whispers of His Power,
by Amy Carmichael
TWO HEAPS OF STONES
One heap of stones was covered over by the waters of this river; the other heap was set up in the open for all to see.
Have you ever passed through some new experience of the power and the love of your Lord? It helps if you write the date beside the verse in your Bible which helped you, or write a word or two of reminder in a private notebook, lest you forget. That note will be like the heap of stones set up in the river. Nobody will see it but your God and you. It is a private heap.
But don’t forget the other heap, which wasn’t private. “Your children will ask . . .” (verse 21). The children you look after, the sick you tend, the people you meet, will notice something that will make them ask questions. Take them into your confidence. Tell them what has been done for you, not long ago, but perhaps an hour or two ago, or yesterday, or last week.
Set up your heaps of stones to the glory of your Lord, so that all will see that He is indeed a God of Deliverances, a splendid, loving, joy-giving Lord whom to serve is the greatest joy in all the world.
The New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.