The twelve stones at Gilgal were there to tell a story. The story how God had brought His people through the flooded river Jordan. How he had stopped the water, dried out the river, and let his people walk into the land they had been waiting for so many years. What for years had looked like a dream, had now happened!
It was not a small party that hurried across in minutes, but a huge number of people, cattle and goods. Even if walking a hundred people abreast, they may well have been a column forty to fifty kilometers long. Could such a tremendous event ever be forgotten? Was it possible that this would ever sink into oblivion, and there would be people who did not stand in awe of what happened there that day?
God knew, and Joshua knew, that human memory is very short. What had happened forty years earlier at the Red Sea was wonderful beyond description, but the memory of it all had not stopped Israel from turning from God, and had not prevented them from longing to go back to Egypt. God knew that the crossing over the Jordan would be no different, and so He ordered Joshua to erect a memorial. Twelve simple stones at Gilgal. Twelve stones with a message.
Now, a memorial often becomes something that glorifies the past, and nothing more. A token thanks to those who gave their lives for a good cause, or something to help us remember what took place there in the past. Well and good, but how does that help us a hundred years later? What good does that do for those who come to that place, not knowing those who had such dramatic experiences there?
When God had Joshua build a memorial, its main purpose was to be a reminder that Israel´s God of the past was even more Israel´s God of the future. A simple but significant sign pointing towards the future, telling the people that whatever hindrances they might see on the road, whatever impossibilities they were overwhelmed by, the past bore witness that, with God, all things are possible. It told them not to fear, but to trust in God, in any circumstances.
We`ve recently moved into a new year. A good opportunity to stop and reflect. And maybe to build some kind of a simple, but important, memorial. Something that will remind us, as well as people yet to come, about what God has done. Not to make anyone look wistfully to the past, but to encourage and strengthen them, and to remind them about God´s faithfulness and power.
God knew that, after Joshua, there would be difficult times. Times of war, of falling away, of enemies coming into the land, and of hunger and warfare. The memorial Joshua built was for such times, and for the people who would have to face them. We don`t know what the future holds, but we know who holds the future. Let`s, in different ways and places, build those memorials that will help ourselves and others to be strengthened in faith and trust, not making us look back longingly, but encouraging us to go on boldly in a world that looks more and more gloomy. Our God of history is our God of the future, whatever that future may look like! See to it that you proclaim that message to the generations of believers to come! Your simple memorial or testimony can help them to go on courageously, trusting the Lord for their situation!
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