Summary: 7th in a long series on Joshua. This speaks of placing memorials in our lives to remember what God has done for us.
Joshua 4:1-9, 19-24 – Memory Enhancers
I like the joke about the guy named John, who had a really horrible memory. One day John ran into a friend whom he had not seen in a long time. He greeted him and said, “Bill, do you remember what a bad memory I had?”
Bill answered, “Yes, I certainly do.”
“Well, it’s not bad any more. I went to a seminar that taught us how to remember things. It was a great seminar, and now I have a wonderful memory.”
Bill answered, “That’s great! What was the name of the seminar?”
“Well,” John said, “wait a minute, my wife went with me. I’ll ask her.”
He turned and saw his wife nearby. Then he turned back to Bill and said, “What’s the name of that flower with a long stem and thorns and a red bloom?”
“Do you mean a rose?” Bill answered.
“Yeah, thanks,” John said, “Hey, Rose, what’s the name of that seminar we attended?”
You know, God understands our memories. It’s part of our humanity. Part of what went wrong with people way back in the Garden of Eden was that our memories are not perfect. Some remember better than others, some listen better than others. Often, the older a person gets, the less they remember. Actually, the older a person gets, it’s the things way back that they remember best, but not what they had for breakfast.
So God likes to jog our memories. He deliberately gives us things to serve as reminders of incidents in our lives. Let’s read Joshua 4:1-9, and then v19-24 to understand an example of this.
So here’s the story. The Israelites are crossing the Jordan River. They are leaving behind the wandering days. The years of not belonging anywhere are gone. God has freed them from the bondage of slavery in Egypt. God has given them the know-how of pleasing Him. And God is finally giving them victory over their pettiness and selfishness. They are finally walking into maturity as a nation of faith.
This is a fairly significant time for them. And God wants them never to forget it. So they build an altar. Not an altar to make sacrifices on, but rather, a memorial. Pretty much like a town cenotaph, with the names of war vets written in stone. Much the same as a tombstone, for that matter. This altar of 12 stones, one for each tribe of Israel, would last for generation after generation, to remind the people of what God did for them.
And it wouldn’t just remind the people who crossed over, either. V6 says that the Israelites’ children will want to know what those stones mean. This pile of stones, called a cairn in more scholarly circles, would last for many years, reminding the people and their children and their children’s children that God had been good to them.
Actually, there were 2 memorials built that day. 1st, there was the altar built with the stones carried out of the river by the 12 representatives of the tribes. But, as well, v8-9 indicate that Joshua himself built an altar as well. It seems that Joshua took 12 stones from the middle of the river and built an altar right there, in the middle of the river. It may have been in a stream off to the side, but the altar was in the water.
So there we have it. The Israelites have crossed into the Promised Land, and have set up memorials in honor of the God who made it possible. Now, what’s significant about this is that it was not the Israelites’ idea, nor Joshua’s idea, to build a memorial. It was God’s idea – 4:1. God wanted them to remember, because He knew, they were likely going to forget. They would forget what God had done. God says these words several hundred years later, as written in Jeremiah 18:15: “Yet my people have forgotten me.”
But it was certainly not from lack of effort on God’s part. He wanted them to remember His goodness and His love. He wanted them to remember how His hand worked to provide a way out of bondage for them. It’s why God said His people should remember Passover. Once a year they should take time to remember how He had saved His people from the Egyptians. It’s why we have communion. When Jesus initiated the ritual, He said, “Do this in memory of me.”
Our memories are funny, though. We tend to remember things we should forget. OK, not really forget. Some things are too painful never to remember again. But you know what I mean. Too often our lives are defined by the painful times. That lost love, that hurt that goes beyond words, that failure, those words that cut so deep – these are the things that define us.