One of the things I have been blessed with (or coursed with, depending on your viewpoint) is good memory. Many times a week my wife will call on me to recall some name, some location or some date that has escaped her. That is a good thing, most of the time. Other times it is annoying, as I can recall mundane unimportant facts from decades ago that have absolutely no value today. A good memory is a powerful tool, when it is used right.
We have seen the Lord bolster Joshua’s confidence by His repeated commands (Josh 1) to “be strong and courageous.” In my last article, we saw the children of Israel cross over the flooded river Jordan on dry ground. The priests carrying the Ark of the Covenant had to approach that raging river and put their feet in the water. The Lord stopped the waters upstream in an amazing miracle reminiscent of the crossing of the Red Sea forty years earlier. The Israelites are now in the Promised Land, ready to begin the conquest of Canaan. However, before they commence their military efforts, they need to stop and. . .remember.
Now when all the nation had finished crossing the Jordan, the lord spoke to Joshua, saying, ‘Take for yourselves twelve men from the people, one man from each tribe, and command them, saying, “Take up for yourselves twelve stones here out of the middle of the Jordan from the place where the priests’ feet are standing firm, and carry them over with you and lay them down in the lodging place where you will lodge tonight” ‘ So Joshua called the twelve men whom he had appointed from the sons of Israel, one man from each tribe; and Joshua said to them, ‘Cross again to the ark of the Lord your God into the middle of the Jordan, and each of you take up a stone on his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Israel. Let this be a sign among you, so that when your children ask later, saying, “What do these stones mean to you?” then you shall say to them “Because the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord; when it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off.” So these stones shall become a memorial to the sons of Israel forever.’ Thus the sons of Israel did as Joshua commanded, and took up twelve stones from the middle of the Jordan, just as the Lord spoke to Joshua, according to the number of tribes of the sons of Israel; and they carried them over with them to the lodging place and put them down there. Then Joshua set up twelve stones in the middle of the Jordan at the place where the feet of the priests who carried the ark of the covenant were standing. and they are there to this day. For the priests who carried the ark were standing in the middle of the Jordan until everything was complete that the Lord had commanded Joshua to speak to the people, according to all that Moses had commanded Joshua. And the people hurried and crossed; and when all the people had finished crossing, the ark of the Lord and the priests crossed before the people. The sons of Reuben and the sons of God and the half-tribe of Manasseh crossed over in battle array before the sons of Israel, just as Moses had spoken to them; about 40,000 equipped for war, crossed for battle before the Lord to the desert plains of Jericho. On that day the Lord exalted Joshua in the sight of all Israel; so that they reversed him, just as they had revered Moses all the days of his life. Now the Lord said to Joshua, ‘Command the priests who carry the ark of the testimony that they come up from the Jordan.’ So Joshua commanded the priests, saying, ‘Come up from the Jordan.’ It came about when the priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord had come up from the middle of the Jordan, and the soles of the priests’ feet were lifted up to the dry ground, that the waters of the Jordan returned to their place, and went over all its banks as before. Now the people came up from the Jordan on the tenth of the first month and comped at Gilgal on the eastern edge of Jericho. Those twelve stones which they had taken from the Jordan, Joshua set up at Gilgal. He said to the sons of Israel ‘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’ ” (John 4:1-24). As soon as they had finished crossing the Jordan, the Lord commanded Joshua (who commanded the people of Israel) to build a memorial. It was to be a constant reminder to the people and their descendants of what the Lord had done on this day. And, when their children asked, the story would be told and retold, how the Lord had stopped the river and the people had crossed into the Promised Land on dry ground. From this, we learn how the Lord depends on our memory to keeps us on the straight and narrow road. What does a good a good memory do?
IT KEEPS US CENTERED IN THE LORD
The children of Israel have many monumental tasks ahead of them. They have been nomads, living in tents and wandering in the wilderness for four decades. They have fought some battles along the way, but I doubt anyone would consider them skilled , veteran warriors. Now, they have all of modern-day Palestine to overcome. Keep in mind, these are the descendants of the generation that was too frightened to attempt to conquer Canaan forty years ago. They may have had doubts about themselves. They may have wondered if they could actually do what their parents and grandparents failed to do. How do you stay centered in obeying the Lord when you have doubts about your abilities?
To prepare to conquer the Promised Land, these people needed to stop and remember. While our minds would think they needed some serious military training or they needed to build siege equipment so as to envelope and defeat fortified cities, God’s plan for their preparation is to stop and build a memorial and to remember. They needed to remember a God who parted the Red Sea. They needed to remember a God who provided manna every day (which will soon end). They needed to remember a God whose pillar of cloud and fire was with them constantly, reminding them of His continual presence. They needed to remember His covenant commitment to them.
This is still a task for us today. After all, God still wants us to remember some things today. We take the Lord’s Supper on the first day of every week as a memorial. It is intended to keep us centered in the Lord everyday. We need to remember the Lord’s death on our behalf until He comes again. We need to recall that God kept His covenant with Israel, even though they were too, in spite of our many shortcomings. A good memory reminds us that the God who parted the Red Sea and stopped the waters of a flooded river Jordan is the same God Who is working in our behalf today. Our God has done amazing things. The most amazing is when He sent His Son to die for us. We should never forget what God has done. It keeps us centered in the Lord.
IT KEEPS US FOCUSED ON THE TASK
The children of Israel have a job to do. They are entering the land of Canaan to conquer it. They are going to have to be fierce and determined. They will have to harden themselves to the horrors of battle and the consequences of war. They will have to learn that the victories will not come because of their military prowess, but because of God who brings down the walls of cities like Jericho. All of this is based on remembering what God had done. When we recall all He has done for us, we too can overcome the enemy.
And, notice when they built this memorial, they used twelve stones, each representing one of the twelve tribes of the nation of Israel. This is important for this reason: two and a half tribes (the tribes of Reuben, Gab, and half of Manasseh) have already staked claim to the land east of the Jordan. When they asked to settle there, Joshua allowed it but only if they agreed to help the other nine and a half tribes conquer Canaan in order to settle there. God wanted twelve stones to indicate the unity and cohesion He expected out of this new nation as it settled into its new lands. And, indeed, we are told these two and a half tribes do send 40,000 men to help in the conquest of Canaan.
For us today, these are still important principles. The task at hand for us today is to convert the lost and build up the saved. We are still in the business of growing the kingdom of God. Just as their battles would be won by the Lord’s power, so will ours. Just as the Lord would open the way for them, so will He open the way for us. And, we can do this much more effectively if we are united in purpose and effort. One of Satan’s greatest tools to defeat the Lord’s purposes is division. When we don’t get along, then only a part of the people of God are going into battle. We need to be united in teaching, practice and our efforts to expand the body of Christ.
IT KEEPS US RETELLING THE STORY
As time passed and this generation of Israelites began to die away, those stones would remain as a memorial to the day God stopped the waters of the Jordan River and allowed His people to cross over into the Promised Land on dry ground. Succeeding generations would see those stones and would ask what they represented. Then, the parents and grandparents would tell the story again, and again, and again. The story might become familiar. It might even begin to seem redundant or repetitive. But, over and over again they would recount the marvelous works of the Lord. So, the stones were set up to be a teaching tool, to keep the story alive in the minds and hearts of all generations of Israel.
This is why we take communion seriously. It is our weekly effort to tell and retell the story of what God did for us at the cross. We eat the bread and we drink from the cup, all to tell the story again and again. Each week as we pass the plates and take a bite or a drink, we are declaring the Lord’s death again. And, when our children ask us what we are doing, we get to tell the story again. All of us become witnesses, not to the actual death of Jesus, but to what His death means to us. When guests in our assembly ask about the memorial of the bread and the cup, we tell the story again of how Jesus died in our place. And, every person who eats and drinks participates in telling the story every time they participate. When we sing, pray, preach or teach, we are telling the story over and over again.
SO: TAKE YOUR STAND WITH THE LORD
This crossing of the river succeeded because a group of faith-filled men took a stand. The priests carrying the ark marched into a flooding river stream and trust God to stop the waters. As they took their stand in the river bed, the entire nation was allowed to cross into Canaan on dry ground. As long as the ark did not move, the waters stayed back. We need to be as firm in our stand for the Lord as they were. While some might call us out of date or out of touch, taking a firm stand for the Lord may save an entire nation! Stand for Him, stand with Him, stand still and trust Him to do all that He has promised to do for us.
SO: TAKE UP YOUR ARMOR
When they cross the river, they must be immediately ready for battle. Who knows what awaits them on the west bank of the Jordan? So, along with the two and half tribes from the east side of the Jordan, they all must be ready to go into battle as soon as they enter the Promised Land. The battle could be upon them at any moment.
We, too, are in a battle against evil. We, too, must be prepared to go into battle. As Paul warns us, “Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand firm therefore, Having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; in addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. And Spirit, which is the word of God” (Eph 6:13-17). We are to remember and claim the power of faith, righteousness, and the sword of the Spirit. When we forget our armor and our weapons, we will lose in all our battles with Satan. But, if we remember what God has promised and what power He has promised to us, we can do battle with sin, daily.