Written by Billy Dickinson
A pile of rocks is an unimpressive sight unless there is a significance attached to it that is not immediately apparent. It could, for example, indicate a burial site or a boundary line of some kind. Indeed, when Joshua set up twelve stones at Gilgal in the long ago (Josh. 4:19-24), it was a memorial to a great event that was erected. However, let us remember that memorials are not meant for one era alone, but they are meant to preserve the record of something that should not be forgotten.
Josh. 4:21-22 records, “And he spake unto the children of Israel, saying, When your children shall ask their fathers in time to come, saying, What mean these stones? Then ye shall let your children know, saying, Israel came over this Jordan on dry land.” Ah, here we can see the beauty and simplicity of memorials! The stones, one for each of the twelve tribes of Israel, were used to commemorate the long-awaited event when they finally crossed over into the land of Canaan. As they were standing on the threshold of fulfilling their destiny by possessing the Promised Land, this was something that they should never forget, and more important, it was something that God did not want them to forget!
There are some valuable lessons that we should learn from this incident. This memorial had a message to declare unto God’s people, as indicated by the question anticipated in Josh. 4:21– “What mean these stones?” In other words, if they would only seek the meaning of those stones, it would teach them some great truths about their past and God’s gracious dealings with them. Likewise, those stones are still speaking to us today:
Those stones tell us that every succeeding generation must be taught about God. “Then ye shall let your children know, saying, Israel came over this Jordan on dry land. For the Lord your God dried up the waters of Jordan from before you, until we were passed over, as the Lord your God did to the Red sea, which he dried up from before us, until we were gone over: That all the people of the earth might know the hand of the Lord, that it is mighty: that ye might fear the Lord your God forever” (Josh. 4:22-24). Again, memorials are not meant for one era alone because the generation that actually experienced something is not the generation, for the most part, that is in danger of forgetting. On the other hand, younger generations need to appreciate how lessons can be learned from the past.
The story is told of a family who possessed an old antique vase, a real treasure that was handed down to them through several generations, and it was a special object of enjoyment. When the parents returned home one day, they were greeted at the door by their teenage daughter, who said the following, “Mom and dad, you know that antique vase that you told us has been passed down from generation to generation? Well, mom and dad, our generation just dropped it.” What a sad concept that must be avoided in the Lord’s church! Brethren, we need to make sure that future generations understand and appreciate those foundational truths that are vital to the identity and doctrinal purity of the body of Christ. If we fail to instruct our children and grandchildren as we should, apostasy will be the result and many will be “tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine” (Eph. 4:14).
Since most children are just naturally curious, we are going to be afforded with opportunities to teach them about Christ and His gospel if we’ll only seize the moment. The Lord’s supper, a memorial service in and of itself (1 Cor. 11:24), is something that arouses our children’s curiosity. Sometimes they will inquire, even when quite young, “What is this about? What are you eating? What are you drinking? Why can’t I have some?” What a great opportunity to tell them of Christ’s death, of His redeeming blood, and the importance of the new covenant! Paul wrote in 1 Cor. 11:26, “For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink the cup, ye proclaim the Lord’s death till he come” (ASV).
Also, when our children witness someone being immersed in water, an occurrence that certainly gets their attention, we can use this to teach them about how one responds to the gospel. Explain to them the significance of baptism– it is “for the remission of sins” (Acts 2:38), to enter “into Christ” (Rom. 6:3), and to be added to the Lord’s church (1 Cor. 12:13).
REMEMBERING THE PAST
Those stones at Gilgal remind us that we must not forget our past. When the children of Israel forgot who they were and what God had done for them, that’s when they forsook God and turned to idols. [Read Psalms 106 for an abridged history of Israel’s iniquities because they were a forgetful people] Likewise, we must continually remind ourselves of the importance of Christ’s death and how we have been saved from our past sins. 2 Pet. 1:9 talks about those who have forgotten that they were purged from their “old sins.” What a shameful condition for a child of God to find himself in!
When we consider the spiritual blessings in Christ, as compared to what we have been delivered from, that’s when we realize how great God’s grace really is. Luke 14:21 talks about “the poor, and the maimed, and the halt, and the blind” being invited to the “great supper.” All of these terms aptly describe the sinner outside of Christ. The poor would be those who could never pay back the kindness shown to them. The maimed are the deformed, the twisted, and those around whom the world feels uncomfortable. The halt are the crippled who are unable to get around on their own. The blind are people who are trapped in their own little world of darkness and in need of guidance. No wonder Heb. 2:3 calls our deliverance from sin a “great salvation!”
Let us never forget that we were purged from our old sins. While we can never repay the Lord for His unmerited favor, we must seek to bring glory to His name by obeying Him and putting Him first in our lives (Tit. 2:11-12).
LOOKING TO THE FUTURE
Those stones tell us that God’s people also have a future. If that isn’t true, there would have been no need for a memorial because that would have been the end of the story. We must believe that this life is not the end, but as Paul put it so eloquently in 1 Cor. 15:19, “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are all men most miserable.” Although Christ’s kingdom has a glorious future to look forward to, we must not be content to rest upon the laurels of the past. The church came through a wonderful period of restoration, when men sought to go back to the Bible and restore the work and worship of the church according to the divine pattern. Faithful congregations exist today because of the labors of brethren who sacrificed to see that the gospel was kept pure.
While we give thanks for the faithful efforts of the past, it is up to us to ever go onward under the banner of truth. Let us remember that if time goes on, there are future generations that will seek to build upon what we are doing now. With that in mind, this should be our desire for the church, now and always: “And now, brethren, I commend you to God, and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them which are sanctified” (Acts 20:32).