Memorials: The Key to Remembering

Scripture: Joshua 4

Today’s Guest Speaker: Dan Jones, FBC Deacon Chairman


The Key to Remembering

In 1905 George Santayana, a Spanish American philosopher made a statement that is very familiar to many of us today. He said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Is there any doubt that it is important for us to remember historical events and people? Question for you, when you hear the statement; “Never Again” what comes to your mind? The Holocaust? Some other words might be Genocide, The Jewish People, Rwanda, or Serbia. Do the words “Never Again” mean the same thing to the post war generation as it does to the Millennials or to the Gen-Xers? While doing study for this message, I found that there are those in the younger generations that equate “Never Again” to not only genocide, but to gun violence and illegal immigration as well. The bottom line is that people generally has a short view of history and I believe that the bible confirms this.

According to the Veterans Administration, one of the first celebrations of war dead was in 1866. And I quote, “Local springtime tributes to the Civil War dead already had been held in various places. One of the first occurred in Columbus, Miss., April 25, 1866, when a group of women visited a cemetery to decorate the graves of Confederate soldiers who had fallen in battle at Shiloh. Nearby were the graves of Union soldiers, neglected because they were the enemy. Disturbed at the sight of the bare graves, the women placed some of their flowers on those graves, as well.” 

We are gathered here the day before Memorial Day, a day that is dedicated to the remembrance of those that have died while in service of this country. A day set aside so that we don’t forget those that made the ultimate sacrifice for our country. In America we have set up special monuments to help us remember people, events, milestones or tragedies. Everything from the presidents on Mount Rushmore to the Vietnam Memorial Wall in Washington DC. Unfortunately, we live in a time where many monuments of our collective past are being eliminated because of woke ideology. We are losing memorials that were meant to remind us of our history, the good that should be celebrated and the bad that serve as warnings. We know memorials are important tools in helping men and women to remember important things because God gave us many examples in the bible.

This morning we are going to take a look into the book of Joshua at the account of the Israelites crossing the Jordan river into the promised land. We will start in the third chapter to get some background on the event, with our main text being Joshua chapter 4, verses 1 through 9. We have a lot of ground to cover, and a river to cross, so let’s get started. 

To set the stage for our reading, at this point in history, the nation of Israel is nearing the edge of the Jordan river, but God did not bring them directly to this point after the Exodus. The people of Israel had been wandering in the desert for 40 years after being led out of captivity. This was because they had tested the Lord after receiving the report of the 12 spies from the promised land in Numbers chapters 13th and 14th

Let’s read  Joshua 3:1-6 

Joshua 3 opens with the Israelites breaking camp at Shittim in the early morning then head out towards the Jordan river. The area of ancient Shittim was somewhere between 5 to 9 miles from the Jordan. At that distance it would have taken the whole nation of Israel a full day to reach the banks of the Jordan where they set up camp. When this account takes place, It was springtime, the season of Passover and the Jordan river would be at flood stage at this time of the year.

Verse 2 says, “At the end of three days the officers went through the midst of the camp.” So that means that before making the move into the promised land, the people rested. Verse 5 says, “Then Joshua said to the people, “Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do wonders among you.” The Hebrew word used for consecrate means to prepare, dedicate, or be set apart. In verses 9 through 13 Joshua prepares the people  by giving them the words that came directly from God. This includes verse 10 which details the success they will have in displacing the current inhabitants of the land beyond the Jordan. Joshua said, “by this you shall know that the living God is among you and that he will assuredly dispossess from before you the Canaanite, the Hittite, the Hivite, the Perizzite, the Girgashite, the Amorite, and the Jebusite.” God tells them what will take place, before it actually happens, so that they will know that their success is because He was with them. 

In verses 11 through 13 Joshua chooses 12 men, one from each tribe, then prepares everyone for the crossing by describing how the priests would bring the ark to the water’s edge, step into the river, and God would make the river stop flowing so that they could cross on dry land. Joshua prepared them by describing the process of their crossing and instructing them before it all took place. And it all happened just as Joshua had told them it would.

That brings us to our main text for this morning. We will be reading Joshua chapter 4 verses 1-9 and verses 19-24.

Read Joshua 4:1-9 & 19-24  

Having spent time in Joshua chapter 3 & 4, I find two things very interesting. First, the crossing of the Jordan was no small feat. It is obvious that God had to do a great miracle to stop the water from flowing in the Jordan river but consider the size of the nation of Israel at that time. There was a census taken before the crossing into the Promised Land in the 26th chapter of Numbers. This census was of the 2nd generation of fighting age men, who were eligible to enter the new land. Numbers 26:51 says that there were over 600, 000 men, excluding the Levites. The population estimate for the nation of Israel at that time, including women and children, ranges from 1 to 2.5 million people. That would be the number of people that needed to cross the Jordan river into the promised land. Along with the people, there were livestock and belongings that would need to be moved across as well. God didn’t just give them a little single file path in which to cross the river. It says that the waters of the Jordan “stood up and rose in one heap a great distance away at Adam, the city that is beside Zarethan” This means that the river had stopped flowing 20 miles upstream opposite from Jericho, all the way down to the Dead Sea, giving the multitude of people the ability to cross in a timely manner.

Second, the account of the crossing of the Jordan has many similarities to the exodus from Egypt and the dry ground crossing of the Red Sea 40 years earlier. With one major difference being, after the crossing of the Red Sea, there is no account of a commemorative memorial being set up as a remembrance for the Israelites.

The history of the Jewish people that were delivered out of Egypt is full of examples of how they quickly forgot the goodness and provision of God. In the Exodus, God miraculously provided for his people in the following ways:

  1. God protected them with the pillar of cloud by day and light at night.
  2. He performed, through Moses, the miracle of parting the Red Sea so the people could escape the Egyptians.
  3. God defeated the Egyptians by drowning the army in the Red Sea
  4. He made the water drinkable at Marah when they were thirsty.
  5. God gave the people manna in the wilderness and quail for meat in the evening.
  6. Moses struck the rock at Horeb and brought water for the thirsty people to drink

Each of the examples of provision  that I just mentioned, were preceded by the Israelites grumbling about their situation.

  • In Exodus 14:10-12 they were pursued by the Egyptians – they grumbled
  • In Exodus 15:23 & 24 there was bitter water at Marah, and they were thirsty – so they grumbled
  • In Exodus 16:2 & 3 They were in the wilderness, and they were hungry – they grumbled.
  • In Exodus 17:3 They were in the wilderness and again they were thirsty – so they grumbled.
  • In Exodus 32:1 Moses was away too long on the mountain – they grumbled and rebelled with a golden calf.

Their grumbling usually sounded something like what is found in Numbers 14:1-4, “Then all the congregation lifted up their voices and cried, and the people wept that night. All the sons of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron; and the whole congregation said to them, would that we had died in the land of Egypt! Or that we had died in this wilderness! Why is the Lord bringing us into this land, to fall by the sword? Our wives and our little ones will become plunder; would it not be better for us to return to Egypt?” This type of response to adversity happened many times, even though God showed Himself faithful over and over again. One would think that having seen the hand of God working in their lives, the Israelites would not so soon forget that God was with them and provided for them.  Are we any different than the Israelites? Do we doubt God’s provision for our lives even though he has promised to never leave us or forsake us?

Back in Chapter 4, Joshua begins to implement the plan that God had to help the Israelites remember what He had done for them when bringing them into the promised land. In verses 4-6 Joshua calls the 12 men that he had chosen in chapter 3, one from each tribe of Israel. The 12 tribes that God had rescued out of Egypt, they had traveled together for 40 years in the wilderness and now had crossed through the Jordan river, together at the doorstep of the Promised land. He instructs them to go back to the middle of the Jordan, to where the priests were standing with the ark and take up a stone. It says that they are to take the stones up on their shoulders, so we can assume that they were not pebbles, that they could hold in their hand or place in their pockets, nor were they large boulders that would take several men to move. The 12 stones, one for each tribe, were supposed to be a symbol of their unity as a nation.

The stones were to be carried to the other side of the Jordan to their camp at Gilgal. Joshua explains that the stones will become a sign to future generations. Verse 7 says, “So these stones shall become a memorial to the sons of Israel forever.”

In verses 8 & 9, the 12 chosen men carry out the instruction they were given by Joshua. They brought the stones to the camp at Gilgal and set them up as a memorial. Joshua himself went to the middle of the Jordan, to where the priests were standing with the ark, and set up 12 stones as a second memorial.

Verses 19 through 24 give us the explanation of why it was important for the Israelites to put the time and effort into creating this memorial. Joshua explains why God wanted them to set up the stones as a memorial. In Verses 21-24 Joshua says, ”When your children ask their fathers in time to come, saying, what are these stones? Then you shall inform your children, saying, Israel crossed this Jordan on dry ground. For the Lord your God dried up the waters of the Jordan before you until you had crossed, just as the Lord your God had done to the Red Sea, which he dried up before us until we had crossed; that all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the Lord is mighty, so that you may fear the Lord your God forever.”

Let me give you a real-life example of a memorial of remembrance. The year was 1993, Miss Laura was a beloved preschool teacher at a local church nursery school. She had struggled with cancer for many years but through it all she lovingly spent time with the children in her care. Over the years she shared her faith, kept a positive attitude and was an inspiration to her fellow teachers and the children’s parents.  

When she finally passed away in April of that year, the nursery school purchased a memorial stone for the garden that was in the front of the building. It was in a place that everyone would pass by before entering the front door. For the children and the staff, it would be a reminder of their beloved teacher and friend. It would also give them the opportunity to tell others about Miss Laura when they were asked, “Who does this stone represent?” Today, 30 years later, that memorial stone sits at my daughter’s home in New Bern North Carolina, in her front yard garden. My granddaughters can look at that memorial and say, “Mom, tell me about Grandma Laura”.

There are other examples of memorials or remembrances in the bible, it was a common practice in ancient times. In Exodus 12:24-28 the Feast of Passover is established as a yearly memorial celebration for the Israelites to remember their exodus from Egypt. In Genesis 28:18, Jacob sets up a pillar in Bethel to commemorate his vision of a ladder going from heaven to earth and his vision of the Lord. In 1 Samuel 7:12, Samuel set up a stone between Mizpah and Shen to commemorate how God had defeated the Philistines at that place. And, of course, we are very familiar with the Lord’s Supper that Jesus instituted in the New Testament. When speaking of the Lord’s Supper, Jesus specifically tells us to, “Do this in remembrance of me.”

I hope that by looking through God’s word at these different accounts, we can agree that men and women need reminders of their history with God. In fact, God sometimes demands it. Understanding God’s character and remembering how he works in our lives is a key to facing future trials or the unknown without fear or grumbling. Each time we go through a trial, relying on God to carry us through, we build a piece of that memorial, stone by stone, until we have a remembrance in the power of God that is able to bring us through any trial.

Let’s talk about some applications.

Before crossing over the Jordan river, the Israelites were facing many challenges. They had to take possession of the land, defeat their enemies, there was uncertainty and fear for their very survival. We have trials in our own lives that can cause uncertainty and fear such as health issues, family problems, or maybe even personal failures. These trials can come upon us from the outside by no fault of our own or can be a direct result of our own actions.

Here are 5 tips from Joshua chapter 3 verses 2 through 6, on how to build the foundation of our own memorials. 

#1 – In anticipation or need of a move of God, we are to rest in the knowledge of Him. The camp of Israel rested for three days before crossing over the Jordan River. 

#2 – When facing a trial, meditate on the word of God, read your bible! The people were given directions by the officers on what to expect and how to proceed during the crossing because it was unfamiliar territory. Today we get that direction for our lives from God’s word.

#3 – Prepare yourself for the trial by praying and fasting, expecting God to be with you. Joshua instructed the people to, “consecrate themselves”. Prayers prepare us for what is ahead.

#4 – Expect God to work in your situation. Joshua told the people that, “tomorrow the Lord will do wonders among you.”

#5 – Wait on the Lord, let Him lead you. The priest took up the ark and went ahead of the people to show them the way. It is dangerous for a Christian move out in their own strength.

As a Christian and having seen God bring us through trials, we can continue to build up our own monuments of remembrances, by commemorating examples of how He was with us and provided for us in our time of need. Let me give you 3 examples of different types of memorials. 

#1 – There are Physical Memorials. Physical memorials like the stone memorial we saw in Joshua chapter 4. Also, in Deuteronomy chapter 6 verse 9, Moses told the people to take God’s commands and bind them on their hands and forehead as well as writing them on their doorposts and gates. Even today, Orthodox Jews can be seen wearing phylacteries, which are black boxes that contain small scrolls with verses written on them, and are strapped to their foreheads and forearms. Also, today many people attach small scrolls to the door frames of their houses by placing them in a mezuzah. Christians today wear bracelets that have a spiritual meaning, a cross as jewelry or maybe a special verse framed and hanging in their home. All of these can be a physical reminder of how God has worked in our lives.

#2 – There are Personal Memorials. Personal memorials are things that we remember through experience. David is a good example of a person that had experience with God and remembers them often. In Psalm 143 verse 5 he says of God, I remember the days of old: I meditate on all Your doings; I muse on the work of your hands. Again, in Psalm 63 verses 6 & 7 David says, “When I remember You on my bed, I meditate on You in the night watches, for you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I sing for joy. When we face trials, we can remember bible verses or songs that have special meaning to us that describe the character of God, or we can draw upon our own experiences. Remembering those times when God held us close during our own trials. 

#3 – Corporate Memorials. Corporate Memorials are times when we get together as a group to remember or commemorate special times or events. God gave the nation of Israel seven Feasts for them to celebrate their history and their faith. The feasts are a reminder of how God worked among them. Today, we celebrate communion as a remembrance of the sacrifice that Jesus made for us. We also meet for special holidays to remember key moments in the life of Christ.

As part of my own testimony, I have a personal memorial that is made of stones that are the sum total of my experiences with God. Each stone is from my experience of how God has been with me and brought me through trials. Some trials were a result of my own failures while other times they were caused by things out of my control. Either way, I learned that God is faithful to be with me in my time of need and that He helps me to learn needed lessons. 

In closing, I will end with this thought. In 2 Corinthians chapter 13 verse 5, Paul says, “Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourself!” All that I have talked about today is only beneficial if you are a believer. I want to make sure that everyone here today or listening online evaluates their own heart. Yes, I know that we are in church, which is where you generally find believers, but I want us to examine ourselves in light of what Jesus said in Matthew 7:13-14. He said, “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” I specifically want to talk about the “roads”. 

Jesus says that there are 2 very different roads. The first one is Wide, like a freshly paved 8 lane superhighway, it is made for ease and speed. If there were signs along the road, they might say, “You are good enough the way you are.”, “Come to me on your own terms”, “You don’t need to give up your own desires” or “All roads lead to God” There are probably a lot of “Coexist” bumper stickers to be found on that road.  And, the sign overhead says, “Destination Heaven”. 

The second road is narrow, sometimes it feels like a seasonal road, bumpy, possibly muddy and with many potholes. If there were signs along this road, they might say, “Trials ahead”, “Lay down your life”, “Give up your desires” or “Separate from the world”. And again, the sign overhead says, “Destination Heaven”.

Jesus makes it clear that the actual destination of the broad road is hell. Unfortunately, many traveling on the broad road are deceived because they believe that their destination is heaven, they choose that road because it is easy and they can come with their self-centered lives, seeking God on their own terms. Jesus plainly states that “few” find the narrow road. Recently, as I was talking with someone about God, he told me that I had a small God, one that puts people in a box. My response was, no, my God is Almighty, bigger than the universe but that He has set a narrow way for us.

If you see yourself desiring heaven but are only seeking God on your terms, I encourage you to find heaven through the finished work of Jesus Christ, seek repentance and meet God on the narrow road.