Looking through an old photo album brings back memories. You’ve probably found that each picture comes with a story attached and deserves a minute of reflection. You can carry the memories even a single photo produces for the rest of your life.
I personally depend on these reminders of the past because my memory is weak. As I find myself forgetting days gone by, I recognize special moments in the present by taking pictures and notes on my phone to capture those memorable days.
If you’re wondering if remembering the past is worth the trouble, know that there is biblical precedent for doing so.
If you’re wondering if remembering the past is worth the trouble, know that there is biblical precedent for doing so. We can find it in a key turning point in Israel’s history with an important commandment from God to remember.
A Miraculous Journey
In the book of Joshua, Israel began to enter their long-awaited Promised Land from God. In chapter 3, two Israelite spies had just returned from a reconnaissance mission in Jericho, helped by Rahab’s quick thinking to hide the men on the roof in fear of the Lord. They were ready to take the city. To do so meant they had to cross over the Jordan River. For 12 tribes of people carrying all they had, including the Ark of the Covenant, this was not a realistic endeavor. But God made a way.
As the Israelites prepared for their journey, Joshua told them, “Sanctify yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do wonders among you” (Joshua 3:5). God certainly did wonders among them. When the feet of the priests carrying the Ark of the Covenant touched the river, He caused the waters of the Jordan to “be cut off, the waters that come down from upstream, and they [stood] as a heap” (v. 13). All the Israelites could then walk across the river on dry ground. Just as He had done in the Israelites’ Exodus from Egypt, God rolled back great waters to allow His people to cross over dry ground, this time to lead them closer to the Promised Land.
When they reached the other side, God gave them a unique order: “Take for yourselves twelve stones from here, out of the midst of the Jordan, from the place where the priests’ feet stood firm. You shall carry them over with you and leave them in the lodging place where you lodge tonight” (4:3). The Israelites took 12 stones from the Jordan to set up as a memorial, and Joshua also set up 12 stones in the midst of the Jordan. God kept the waters at bay long enough for Joshua to finish his task on dry ground. When the priests carrying the Ark completely crossed over the Jordan, the water immediately rushed back into place as it had been before (v. 18).
Scripture records many instances when God instructed His people to remember. He even used stones specifically several times (Exodus 24:4; 1 Samuel 7:12). If the Israelites had remembered God’s Word spoken to them not long before, they would recollect that He had already told them to mark the day they crossed the Jordan River with stones:
And it shall be, on the day when you cross over the Jordan to the land which the LORD your God is giving you, that you shall set up for yourselves large stones, and whitewash them with lime. You shall write on them all the words of this law, when you have crossed over, that you may enter the land which the LORD your God is giving you, “a land flowing with milk and honey,” just as the LORD God of your fathers promised you (Deuteronomy 27:2–3).
The 12 stones, of course, symbolize the 12 tribes of Israel. This miracle was a memorable moment for the Israelites as they approached the culmination of God’s promise to place them in their own land. God’s command to write the law on these stones again drew their attention to that very promise in Scripture.
For the generations to follow, the Jewish people surely shared the story of these memorial stones with their children, as they did and still do with many other miracles the Lord performed for His Chosen People.
God asked and answered a meaningful question for His people: Knowing their children would ask, “What do these stones mean?” God said, “You shall answer them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lᴏʀᴅ; when it crossed over the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. And these stones shall be for a memorial to the children of Israel forever” (v. 7). For the generations to follow, the Jewish people surely shared the story of these memorial stones with their children, as they did and still do with many other miracles the Lord performed for His Chosen People.
Today nations build monuments to remember their heroes and history, such as the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC, or Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Remembrance Center in Jerusalem. But God gave Israel this instruction millennia ago; and thanks to Scripture, we more strongly remember God’s work at the Jordan River through the story of the monument the Israelites set up.
Some memories are always worth the work of remembering. The miraculous hand of God at work certainly qualifies, as it demonstrates His power and shows us His incredible deliverance of the Israelites, guiding them safely to the land He promised them.
Perhaps you have some type of memorial that reminds you of God’s work in your life. Your memorial to God’s work might be as simple as a verse underlined in your Bible. Maybe it’s a photo of you when you were baptized.
However you make the effort to remember what He has done for you, you’re following an example from Scripture that demonstrates God’s desire for us to remember what He has done. God’s provision for His people, a key, miraculous moment in their journey to the land of their inheritance, is more than worthy of remembrance both to the Jewish people of the covenant and those who love to see God intervene on behalf of His Chosen People.