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Memorial Stones

Memorial Stones

| On 26, Jun 2014

by: Pastor Carlos Barcelona Jr.


Joshua 4:1-24.

When the whole nation had finished crossing the Jordan, the Lord said to Joshua, “Choose twelve men from among the people, one from each tribe, and tell them to take up twelve stones from the middle of the Jordan, from right where the priests are standing, and carry them over with you and put them down at the place where you stay tonight.”

So Joshua called together the twelve men he had appointed from the Israelites, one from each tribe, and said to them, “Go over before the ark of the Lord your God into the middle of the Jordan. Each of you is to take up a stone on his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the Israelites, to serve as a sign among you. In the future, when your children ask you, ‘What do these stones mean?’ tell them that the flow of the Jordan was cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever.”

So the Israelites did as Joshua commanded them. They took twelve stones from the middle of the Jordan, according to the number of the tribes of the Israelites, as the Lord had told Joshua; and they carried them over with them to their camp, where they put them down. Joshua set up the twelve stones that had been in the middle of the Jordan at the spot where the priests who carried the ark of the covenant had stood. And they are there to this day.

Now the priests who carried the ark remained standing in the middle of the Jordan until everything the Lord had commanded Joshua was done by the people, just as Moses had directed Joshua. The people hurried over, and as soon as all of them had crossed, the ark of the Lord and the priests came to the other side while the people watched. The men of Reuben, Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh crossed over, ready for battle, in front of the Israelites, as Moses had directed them. About forty thousand armed for battle crossed over before the Lord to the plains of Jericho for war. That day the Lord exalted Joshua in the sight of all Israel; and they stood in awe of him all the days of his life, just as they had stood in awe of Moses. Then the Lord said to Joshua, “Command the priests carrying the ark of the covenant law to come up out of the Jordan.” So Joshua commanded the priests, “Come up out of the Jordan.”

And the priests came up out of the river carrying the ark of the covenant of the Lord. No sooner had they set their feet on the dry ground than the waters of the Jordan returned to their place and ran at flood stage as before. On the tenth day of the first month the people went up from the Jordan and camped at Gilgal on the eastern border of Jericho.

And Joshua set up at Gilgal the twelve stones they had taken out of the Jordan. He said to the Israelites, “In the future when your descendants ask their parents, ‘What do these stones mean?’ tell them, ‘Israel crossed the Jordan on dry ground.’ For the Lord your God dried up the Jordan before you until you had crossed over. The Lord your God did to the Jordan what he had done to the Red Sea when he dried it up before us until we had crossed over. He did this so that all the peoples of the earth might know that the hand of the Lord is powerful and so that you might always fear the Lord your God.”

Rocks are not hard to find in the Holy Land. You can’t miss the rocks—they’re everywhere. There are huge stones and boulders, and smaller rocks and pebbles that fill the streams. From the Negev Desert in the south to the fertile fields of Galilee in the north, you see rocks everywhere you look. And not just rocks but piles of stones or monuments, just like the one described in Joshua 4.

Monuments are built not only to help those living at the time these events occurred to remember what happened, but also to remind future generations of what happened. The 12 stones taken out of Jordan and put on the west bank of the river were a reminder of God’s tremendous power on Israel’s behalf. It was important for God‘s people, Israel, to set up a memorial to help them never forget what God had done for them in the crossing of the Jordan River.

After 40 years of wandering in the wilderness, the people of God have at long last entered the Promised Land. Just as it took a miracle to get them out of Egypt, it took a miracle to get them into Canaan. Just as God parted the Red Sea for Moses, he parted the Jordan River for Joshua. Both miracles happened so that each generation would know the Lord was with them in their time of need. The Red Sea miracle met the need of the older generation; the Jordan River miracle met the need of the younger generation. And the same God performed both miracles.

Joshua 3 tells us that the Jordan River was at flood stage, which meant it was far too deep and far too swift for several million Jews and their livestock to safely cross over. So this is how it happened. Joshua told the priests to lift the Ark of the Covenant on their shoulder and step out into the water. The moment their feet touched the swirling muddy water, the river stopped flowing and the ground beneath their feet dried up. The whole nation passed in front of the priests and the Ark, crossing on dry ground into the Promised Land.

It was a mighty miracle of God—a moment to be remembered forever. But Joshua knew that even mighty miracles could be forgotten unless we do something to remember them. So he instructed 12 men—one from each tribe—to take a large stone from the middle of the riverbed where the priests were standing with the Ark of the Covenant. Each man was to take one large stone, put it on his shoulder, and carry it to the place where the Israelites would camp that night—a place called Gilgal. These 12 stones were to be arranged or piled as a memorial of how God had led His people across the Jordan River at floodtime.

Joshua had two things in mind when he had the people build a monument—a memorial—from those 12 stones.

First, it was a teaching tool for future generations. Joshua knew that the children would look at that pile of stones and say, “What’s this all about?” And their fathers would say, “Those stones came from the Jordan River on the day God worked a miracle so our people could walk across on dry ground.”

Second, it was a testimony to the watching world. Verse 24 says, “He did this so that all the peoples of the earth might know that the hand of the LORD is powerful.” Those 12 stones reminded the nation of what God had done. They were visual evidence that in the moment of crisis, God had brought his people safely across the Jordan River. They testified to God’s faithfulness in the past so that future generations would know that they too could trust the Lord. When the pagans saw those stones, they would know that the God of Israel was a mighty God.

The fourth chapter of Joshua grapples with the fact that a basic component of life is a hope for the future that is based on the memories of the past- which help bring meaning to the present. Memories are important! They are the soil of our present experiences into which our roots sink deeply and from which we receive nourishment. The superstructures of our lives are built upon the foundation of our memories. We are instructed by our memories as to the most creative way to live in the present, and they help equip us with a positive hope for the future.

God through the centuries has given us signs, symbols and memorials. We need to be reminded of the importance of these and occasionally review them, both for ourselves, our children and our people. God gave Noah the rainbow as a perpetual reminder of His love. He gave Abraham and the Jews the circumcision as a sign of His covenant. God gave Miriam’s poetry to commemorate the crossing of the Red Sea. He gave the Ark, holding the law and the manna as symbols of His continuing provision. The Temple in Jerusalem reminded all of His dwelling. God gave us Himself, in human form in the miracle of the incarnation. The Lord Jesus gave us baptism as a symbol of His death, burial and resurrection which free us from any condemnation. The Lord’s Supper enables us to look back to the cross and forward to the marriage supper of the Lamb as we handle the bread and the cup.

There is a place for memorials. We dare not forget this, and we must keep this thought. These stones were to be an enduring sermon, directed not only for the ears but for the eyes. The pile of stones at Gilgal talks about different memories to the people of Israel as well as to the believers of today.

What are the lessons we can get from this passage?


We have a sacred responsibility to take the truth of God and see that it is passed down to the next generation.

Psalm 102:18 says, “Let this be written for a future generation, that a people not yet created may praise the LORD.” Those who are older have a special obligation to pass on the stories of what God did for them. “Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, O God, till I declare your power to the next generation, your might to all who are to come” (Psalm 71:18).

As Joshua makes clear, parents bear the first responsibility to teaching their children—and not just parents in general, but fathers in particular. Dads, God holds you accountable for the spiritual development of your children. Your sons and daughters look to you for answers. When they ask you, “What do these stones mean?” what will you say? When they ask you about the church, salvation, giving, the Bible, communion, dedication, prayer, holiness and sin, what will you answer?

The Christian movement is always only one generation from extinction. And every church is only one generation away from closing. If we do not pass along the faith to the rising generation, we have failed at our most important task.

We must tell them what God has done for us—and then we must tell them again and again until the stories are tattooed on their souls. Tell your children how God answered your prayers in times of trouble. Tell them how Jesus rescued you from a life of sin. Tell them how you saw God do amazing things—tell the stories and then tell them again.

Every generation needs its own stories. The older generation had the Red Sea, the younger generation had the Jordan River. Joshua was concerned about his generation. Though he was past middle age, he was looking to the future, thinking about the legacy of faith he would pass on to the next generation.

Christian parents and leaders, let us not think that everything will go well with our next generation or with our children when we don’t take up our responsibilities today.


We need to pass on the memory of God’s work because when memory fails, faith falters.

Kenneth Gangel writes, ― ‘Faith requires that we look forward, but it also requires that we look back.’ Someone has said, The greatest enemy of faith may be forgetfulness.’ If we forget how God has worked and provided in the past, we may fail to trust him for the future.

Israel‘s fathers and mothers failed to pass on to their children the truth of what God had done. As a result their children didn‘t know the LORD or what He had done for Israel. What God did in causing the waters of the Jordan to stand in a heap for Israel was forgotten, as a result the people of Israel forgot the LORD and rebelled against Him by doing what was right in their own eyes.

Just one generation later, the nation was involved in materialism, idolatry, and the worst sorts of immorality. We set our children up for spiritual meltdown when we fail to teach them what God has done for us.

As Godly parents we must return to some memories in order for us to pass them to our children. What are they?

1. The memories of places. Places for us that are every bit as spiritually significant as the pile of stone at Gilgal. We must return to the place of our dedication and commitment, your prayer closet so that our children’s eyes would see.

2. The memories of people. They could be your Sunday School teacher, mentor, pastor, leader, parents whom God used in your life. Remember them in the eyes of your children.

3. Experiences. Somehow or another we had wonderful experiences in the past that we can tell our children. Tell them how you called on the name of the Lord and He answered your prayer and they too will learn to call on the name of the Lord.

4. Physical gestures. It’s not all about going to the altar, kneeling down or raising a hand during the service but a gesture of commitment and love. I will never forget this person’s gesture. He shook my hands with folded money in his palm, tried to find a way for us to be restored. Even if I don’t get to see him today, I will never forget this person. That gesture reminds me to do the same to my leaders and members, that they too can do the same gesture to their people.

5. Mementos or souvenirs. God knows how we think. He knows that our memories are triggered by objects. Do you still keep that bookmark, book that has touched or challenged you? Until today I still long to read Kathryn Khulman’s book on, “I Believe In Miracles” because that book challenged my faith so much when I was in the field.

6. The Bible. It is a book of memories. Go back to the Word. It is the history of what God has done in our behalf. Joshua 1: 8, “Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.”

There are two commands here: Keep and meditate.

Keeping and meditating has something to do with memory. So it actually means, when we return to the Word we will become successful. Success means fruitfulness; not bad fruits but good fruits and these fruits are your children and those under your care.


We should not fail to model and teach God’s Word because it takes only one generation for degeneration to take place.
It seems impossible that in a couple of generations people could forget God and what He has done for them. But isn‘t that exactly what we see in many churches today?

In 1992, I was sent to Libertad, Antique as a missionary. We found out that there was actually an AG church there but it closed down years before we came. We tried to find the members but to our sadness, we only found 1 old and cold couple. They go to a church but the church they attended was a church that was there 30 years before we came and the number of people going into that church is getting lesser and lesser. Why? Many old members had already died, some are dying but no new members came including the old members’ children.

Let us consider the earlier warning that God had made to Israel:

Deuteronomy 8:7-14 (NIV)—―For the LORD your God is bringing you into a good land—a land with streams and pools of water, with springs flowing in the valleys and hills; a land with wheat and barley, vines and fig trees, pomegranates, olive oil and honey; a land where bread will not be scarce and you will lack nothing; a land where the rocks are iron and you can dig copper out of the hills. When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the LORD your God for the good land he has given you. Be careful that you do not forget the LORD your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day. Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

Does God‘s warning of Israel remind you of anything similar today? What are we doing now that we are more blessed than before? Or maybe we are not that blessed yet but what are we doing while we are on the way to the blessing?

Gene Getz asked some good questions:

What is happening in your home and mine? What is happening in your work place or mine, in your school or mine? What will our families, children, classmates, colleagues and friends remember about us? Will they remember a beautiful home, big-screen television, video players, computer games, fast cars, a vacation home, a speedboat, an open ended allowance? Will they remember an intelligent, hardworking, pretty, handsome, rich and famous friend about us—and all the frantic efforts we put forth to accumulate and keep possessions?‖ He goes on to write, “Don‘t misunderstand….Material things…are not the issue. Our attitude toward them and God, is the issue!”

The children of Israel became materialists. They took the credit for their blessings. Eventually they turned away from God to false gods—the gods of a pagan society. And, in the process, they failed to teach the next generation their sacred history

What are our children, spiritual children and potential spiritual children learning from us? Are we passing on the Word of God and testimony of His work to them?

I met some of my friends and classmates last year. I ate and talked with them. Then I also tried to help those who were looking for business on how to find or start one. I introduced some products that I find good. Thank God for those effective products and people who shared them to me. And I thank God for the opportunity of meeting my elementary classmates and friends. But I was very convicted one day when my wife asked me, “Hon, when you met your classmates and introduced something did you also invite them to church?” I was guilty of not fulfilling that SACRED RESPONSIBILITY. I cared for their family’s welfare but I was not caring enough for their souls. How about if they died after those meetings? I will be accountable to God. That’s why I told God, “Lord, if you give me another chance, I will make sure I will tell them about your love and concern for them which is greater than my concern for them. God spoke to me, “Helping the needy is good but there’s something better than that..… ETERNITY.”


The whole chapter of Joshua 4 reminds all parents, guardians, pastors, leaders and every believer that we should not fail to model and teach God’s Word because it takes only one generation for degeneration to take place. Pass on the memory of God’s work so that the next generation will not fail. Take the sacred responsibility which is the truth of God and see that it is passed down to the next generation.

My brothers and sisters, let’s not be so preoccupied with religiosity or legitimacy and don’t get so busy trying to get God to do what we want done that we lose sight of our responsibility to do what He wants done.

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