Summary: Sermon for an anniversary based upon the memorial stones laid at Gilgal by Joshua, inquiring what witness our generation will give to future generations
Not a word was said as they struggled and lifted the huge stones onto their shoulders. They were certainly heavy. Too heavy to waste their breath in idle gossip and chit-chat. It seemed that every muscle in their bodies strained as their burdens were lifted up onto their shoulders. The strain intensified as they moved off across the miracuosly dry river bed and climbed up the banks, into the land that God had promised to their fathers, exactly 40 years before.
What a forty years it had been! A wonderful story of God’s power, God’s promises and God’s mercy. A wonderful story of ordinary men and women, mere slaves, leaving all that was familiar and safe on the basis of God’s promises and commands and setting out into the unknown - to a land that was promised, but which they had never seen. A sad story of how this obedience and faith quickly turned into disobedience and unbelief. A sorry story of open rebellion and defiance. A varied forty years. Forty years of forgiveness, mercy, continual faithfulness and miracles. Forty years of anger, rebellion and doubt.
Now at last they were in the land. Their wonder-working God had worked a wonder and just stopped a river in huge flood, and they crossed over dry and mud free.
The twelve representatives continued to struggle on, their aching backs and legs giving testimony to the weight of the stones. They knew that they were to be talking stones. They knew that their sole purpose was to talk to them and to future generations of the power, the faithfulness and the mercy of God.
After what seemed like many hours, they at last reached the place where the nation would camp for the night. There they placed the stones in a circle, a Gilgal, exactly as the Lord had commanded of them. There they stood upright, solid and unmovable, to remain for generations to come, a mark on the landscape, an obstacle to human activity. A living reminder to the Lord’s great work through the ages, particularly the last forty years, and especially the last twenty-four hours.
They would certainly speak. Not with an audible voice of their own, but with the voices of parents and grandparents, of community leaders and ordinary members of the community.
The young, visitors to the community, the forgetful of God, the normally heedless scoffers would see the stones and would ask why should someone go to all the bother of carrying these river worn stones two or three miles from the river to the middle of the countryside. They would prompt curosity as to how stones, obviously from the riverbed, could be reached and brought to the shore, without drowning the men who got them.
Then the stones would be given a voice. They would speak through human mouths of an omnipotent and faithful God who brought his people out of slavery and bondage in Egypt, how he defeated the greatest military power of the day solely through the use of the wind and the waves that obeyed him. How he provided for his people for forty years in the wilderness, supernaturally feeding them, defeating vastly superior foes, how he gave them, through his appointed leader, his law and his commandments, how he bore with their rebellion, their faithlessness, their disbelief, their sin and their selfishness and still brought them towards the land he had promised to their ancestors generations before. They would tell of how the mighty river Jordan was stopped and turned back in its course when it was bursting its banks after the annual rains, leaving a dry river bed so that God’s people could cross over in the dry into the promised land, clearly demonstrating his power to the doubters and the scoffers. Yes, the stones would certainly speak of God’s power, triumph, victory and faithfulness to his word and his promises.
But they would also tell of rebellion and disaster. Even after seeing his mighty miracles and power, the people still refused, out of fear and disbelief, to enter the promised land and so were refused access by the sovereign God who had showed them such mercy. Instead the land was given to the next generation. Forty years of desert funerals and mourning until a new, obedient generation, were to enter into the LORD’S promises and proclaim his holiness, his righteousness, his power, his sovereignty, his mercy and his love to other nations.
Indeed the stones would have much to speak about. A never changing God of power holiness, righteousness, who demands complete obedience but yet is constantly merciful and forgiving to his people. They would also speak of two generations of Israel:- one who had seen his power, yet doubted at the last and failed to obey him or to give him the glory due to his name and who thus failed to obtain the blessings and the promise that was theirs for the taking, and one generation, although still sinful, accepting of his forgiveness and obedient to his commands and who thus entered the promised land.