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.
- Joshua 4:9
We love this short line about the memorial stones: “they are there to this day.” The image of generation after generation of God’s people remembering God’s goodness and remaining faithful … that’s a beautiful image. We have to admit that that image is the image we want to be true.
Joshua, together with representatives from the twelve tribes of Israel, place these stones in a heap near the bank of the Jordan River. Amazing days are in store for God’s people. And generations later God himself will step into this river and be baptized. But the story passes through some difficult territory before it gets to that point.
The beautiful image of a community remembering God’s goodness and remaining faithful to him … well … that image is shattered in a generation. After Joshua’s death, we read: “After that whole generation had been gathered to their ancestors, another generation grew up who knew neither the Lord nor what he had done for Israel” (Judges 2:10).
As far as we can tell, the storytelling historians failed. They created the memorial, but they didn’t tell the story. They went through all of the right motions, but missed the substance that would give those motions real meaning.
This pattern gets repeated for us too. Symbol and ritual will remain hollow, empty and dead unless they are articulated and explained. We can slip into going through the motions with our faith. We may show up in the right places and say the right words, but that isn’t the same thing as basking in God’s goodness and remaining faithful to him.
The Lord gave good guidance when he pushed the people of Israel to set up a reminder of his goodness to them. Tools like this can strengthen and fortify your faith. But they will only help you if you fill them with meaning. An altar is just a table if there’s no sacrifice.
Look around your home, car or workplace. What do you have in your physical environment that triggers you to remember that the Lord has been good to you? You might have a book or a work of art or a piece of jewelry. What steps can you take to leverage that physical reminder and prevent it from becoming mere clutter?