1 When all the nation had finished passing over the Jordan, the Lord said to Joshua, 2 “Take twelve men from the people, from each tribe a man, 3 and command them, saying, ‘Take twelve stones from here out of the midst of the Jordan, from the very place where the priests ’feet stood firmly, and bring them over with you and lay them down in the place where you lodge tonight. ’” 4 Then Joshua called the twelve men from the people of Israel, whom he had appointed, a man from each tribe. 5 And Joshua said to them, “Pass on before the ark of the Lord your God into the midst of the Jordan, and take up each of you a stone upon his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the people of Israel, 6 that this may be a sign among you. When your children ask in time to come, ‘What do those stones mean to you? ’ 7 then you shall tell them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it passed over the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. So these stones shall be to the people of Israel a memorial forever.”
8 And the people of Israel did just as Joshua commanded and took up twelve stones out of the midst of the Jordan, according to the number of the tribes of the people of Israel, just as the Lord told Joshua. And they carried them over with them to the place where they lodged and laid them down there. 9 And Joshua set up twelve stones in the midst of the Jordan, in the place where the feet of the priests bearing the ark of the covenant had stood; and they are there to this day. 10 For the priests bearing the ark stood in the midst of the Jordan until everything was finished that the Lord commanded Joshua to tell the people, according to all that Moses had commanded Joshua. (Joshua 4:1–10 ESV)
I remember, just as I was preparing to leave Dubai a little more than 20 years ago, sitting on an ‘abra crossing Dubai Creek, feeling the wind in my hair, seeing the spray from the crystal blue waters of the creek, watching the pilot of the boat as he demanded our dirhams to cross, and seeing the sun set over the Arabian Gulf — “Remember always that you were here. Because this memory is all you will take with you.”
I had the same feelings in the days before September 11, 2001, as BridgeNews came to its inglorious end and Jennifer and I would leave New York, to always remember. Again, on a boat, this time crossing the Hudson, seeing the sun rise over southern Manhattan, gazing at the shadow cast in the sky by the twin towers of the World Trade Center, asking myself to remember — “Because this sight will not always be with you.”
Gather up some stones, save them, and then tell your children, and their children, the story of where you came from.
Israel is about to embark upon the conquest of Canaan. After a long wandering, made longer because Israel was afraid — afraid of fighting to take a land already full of people, afraid God had given them a task that was insurmountable, that they would be on their own to do it. And now, Israel crosses a dry river bed, their way to Jericho made clear by the God who has led them and fed them and cared for them during their long and miserable wanderings.
Gather up some stones, and tell your children, the story of where you come from. The story of who you are, and the story of whose you are.
We will need that story, in the days to come, in the generations that follow. We will need these artifacts, these remembrances, to remind us. To give us courage. Strength. Patience. And hope. That God is with us.
God is with us — in slavery, in the wilderness, in the conquest, in the comfort of a home graciously given, in peace and plenty, in war, in suffering, and in exile. God is always with us.