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.” – Joshua 4:1-3
Reminiscent of the Exodus, the LORD has dramatically delivered His people through the Jordan. Now, it is the LORD who speaks and who directs how this event will be memorialized. “This literary design of the author impresses again that the LORD initiates all that is happening, as indeed God Himself accomplishes all that is necessary for the salvation of His people. It also reinforces that Joshua is the LORD’s chosen leader whom He is exalting (Harstad).”
Representatives from each of the tribes are involved in gathering the stones for the memorial. Significantly, they don’t simply gather 12 stones from the river. They gather 12 stones from where the Ark was still being carried in order to draw attention to Yahweh’s gracious and powerful first act in conquering the Promised Land on behalf of His people.
Why build such a memorial? The answer is simple, even if it is rather humbling: We need to be reminded of the LORD’s great acts of deliverance because we are by nature (fallen nature that is) a forgetful people. Just as children were intended to ask at Passover, “What makes this night different from other nights?” – a question which would lead to parents retelling God’s mighty saving acts on behalf of His people – this stone memorial was intended so that when children asked “What does this memorial mean?” – parents would explain how the LORD miraculously brought them into the Promised Land.
Adolph Harstad writes:
For God’s people in the NT era, it is the Word and Sacraments that memorialize. God’s accomplished acts of salvation and that inculcate the faith in younger generations. Parents are to teach their children the Scriptures “from infancy,” even as Timothy was so taught. Every time a Baptism takes place in church, it is a golden opportunity for parents to teach their children about the significance of their own children having been baptized into the body of Christ and into the Christian faith. As they teach, the parents too recall their blessings of being a baptized child of God.
While the Israelites recalled and celebrated their redemption when they saw the stones that served as a “sign” and “memorial,” NT Christians celebrate their redemption accomplished by the Lord Jesus Christ in a memorial meal: the Lord’s Supper. When Christ instituted it, He commanded, “This do in my remembrance.” The Supper is far more than a pile of stones. It does provide an excellent opportunity to teach children about Christ’s passion and atoning death, since it has a kerygmatic purpose: “As often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes.”
MEMORY WORK – Shorter Catechism Q/A 15
Q. What was the sin whereby our first parents fell from the estate wherein they were created?
A. The sin whereby our first parents fell from the estate wherein they were created was their eating the forbidden fruit.