When the entire nation had finished crossing over the Jordan, the Lord said to Joshua, “Pick twelve men from the people, one man per tribe. Command them, ‘Pick up twelve stones from right here in the middle of the Jordan, where the feet of the priests had been firmly planted. Bring them across with you and put them down in the camp where you are staying tonight.’”
Joshua called for the twelve men he had appointed from the Israelites, one man per tribe. Joshua said to them, “Cross over into the middle of the Jordan, up to the Lord your God’s chest. Each of you, lift a stone on his shoulder to match the number of the tribes of the Israelites. This will be a symbol among you. In the future your children may ask, ‘What do these stones mean to you?’ Then you will tell them that the water of the Jordan was cut off before the Lord’s covenant chest. When it crossed over the Jordan, the water of the Jordan was cut off. These stones will be an enduring memorial for the Israelites.”
The Israelites did exactly what Joshua ordered. They lifted twelve stones from the middle of the Jordan, matching the number of the tribes of the Israelites, exactly as the Lord had said to Joshua. They brought them over to the camp and put them down there. Joshua also set up twelve stones in the middle of the Jordan where the feet of the priests had stood while carrying the covenant chest. They are still there today.
Meanwhile, the priests carrying the chest were standing in the middle of the Jordan. They stood there until every command that the Lord had ordered Joshua to tell the people had been carried out. This was exactly what Moses had commanded Joshua. The people crossed over quickly. As soon as all the people had finished crossing, the Lord’s chest crossed over. The priests then moved to the front of the people. The people of Reuben, the people of Gad, and half the tribe of Manasseh crossed over, organized for war ahead of the Israelites, exactly as Moses had told them. Approximately forty thousand armed for war crossed over in the Lord’s presence to the plains of Jericho, ready for battle. The Lord made Joshua great in the opinion of all Israel on that day. So, they revered him in the same way that they had revered Moses during all his life.
The Lord said to Joshua, “Command the priests carrying the chest containing the testimony to come up out of the Jordan.”
So, Joshua commanded the priests, “Come up from the Jordan.” The priests carrying the Lord’s covenant chest came up from the middle of the Jordan, and the soles of their feet touched dry ground. At that moment, the water of the Jordan started flowing again. It ran as before, completely over its banks. The people came up out of the Jordan on the tenth day of the first month. They camped at Gilgal on the east border of Jericho.
Joshua set up at Gilgal those twelve stones they had taken from the Jordan. He said to the Israelites, “In the future your children will ask their parents, ‘What about these stones?’ Then you will let your children know: ‘Israel crossed over the Jordan here on dry ground.’ This was because the Lord your God dried up the water of the Jordan before you until you crossed over. This was exactly what the Lord your God did to the Reed Sea. He dried it up before us until we crossed over. This happened so that all the earth’s peoples might know that the Lord’s power is great and that you may always revere the Lord your God.” (CEB)
I like coffee. I like coffee mugs. I like buying a coffee mug from places I visit. Although it drives my wife nuts, the mugs serve as a continual reminder of a certain place or event I have experienced. As we journey with the Israelites in the Old Testament book of Joshua, we experience with them the significant places and events of their taking the Promised Land. God did a miraculous work by causing the Jordan River to congeal so that the Israelites could cross over on dry ground in entering the land. Once they were across on the other side, God instructed them to take twelve stones, one for each tribe, and pile them up together.
The purpose of the heap of twelve stones is made clear in the story and had a twofold purpose: to educate future generations inside Israel that God kept the promise to bring them into a land of abundance; and, to educate those outside Israel that God is mighty.
It is important to be tethered to the past and aware of why and how we are here. Yet, there are many families and faith communities in which the children know little about how God worked in previous generations. So, having tangible reminders of God’s past actions serves everyone to remember, and especially enables children to know the past actions of God. Just as people ask me about why I have certain coffee mugs, so having reminders of God’s grace in prominent visible places serves to aid kids and others to ask why those mementos are there.
It is good to have reminders of faith and the faithful people who influenced us around our homes, places of work, and communities so that others may know the redemptive acts of God, that the Lord keeps promises. And it is a whole lot more important than a coffee mug.
Almighty God, we praise and magnify your holy Name for all your servants who have finished their course in faith and patience. May we remember them and their service well. We humbly pray that, at the day of resurrection, we and all who are members of the mystical body of your Son may be set on his right hand, and hear his most joyful voice: “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” Grant this, O merciful Father, for the sake of Jesus Christ, our only Mediator and Advocate. Amen