Sermons from Lone Rock Bible Church
Stevensville, MT
August 31, 2003

Remember the Rock Pile!
Joshua 4:1-24

The Bible says that memorials are important to God’s people. Here are a few reasons why that’s so:

1. The Lord wants us to remember
2. Memorials help faith continue
3. One day we’ll need to remember
4. God is the Hero of our memorials

I have visited what I would consider to be two famous memorial sites. The first I visited in 1974 or 75 in Nagasaki, a city in southern Japan, where in August of 1945, the second of two atomic bombs was dropped and brought an end to World War II. In Nagasaki there is, in a prominent place in the town square, an immense statue of a man seated, cross-legged with one arm and finger pointed to the sky. He’s looking up and the caption of the memorial says, "Never again." Fifty thousand plus people perished in that event. "Never again."

A number of years later it was our privilege to visit Jerusalem where there is housed perhaps the most famous memorial of all, the Yad-Vasher Memorial to the holocaust of World War II. It’s a multi-story building that takes quite a while to see. Corridor after corridor, floor after floor, the visitor is taken with images of an era of human history that, to say the least, is a serious, serious blight. Millions perished in that holocaust, and again, the heading of the place, the message of the place is, "Never again."

There are memorials in our culture too. There are headstones in cemeteries that we visit on Memorial Day. We drive down highways of our state and we occasionally see little crosses or clusters of crosses memorializing someone who died in a car accident at that spot at some time in the past. It’s interesting to me that the memorials we tend to acknowledge so frequently in our culture are sad. The Viet Nam Veterans memorial is another famous one. They tend to make us cry; they tend to bring back memories that evoke our emotions, perhaps our regrets, and almost always, our sorrow.

We contrast that, at least I do, as we come to Joshua 4. Joshua 4 is all about a God-ordained memorial. The people of Israel have crossed the Jordan River; God has miraculously withheld the flow of the river at flood stage. Once the feet of the priests touched that water, the Biblical account says the water backed up and the Israelites went across.

As they were finishing that journey, God said to take twelve stones, for twelve big husky fellows, one from each of the twelve tribes of Israel, to heft a sizable stone, and pack it to the edge of the river, up on the dry ground, and there build a monument that would remind future generations that this was where God did a great work.

In the midst of that stacking of the stones on the side, Joshua also said, "Why don’t we take some stones from there and pile them up where the priests stood, so that when the water is low, we’ll see that monument and we’ll remember how wonderful God was."

Interesting, in Scripture, how it is that the memorials God seems to sanction, are designed to make us think positively about Him. Our memorials are a little more on the negative side. God’s memorials tend to be encouraging, positive, heavenward. Perhaps that’s because ours are always overshadowed and tainted by the notion of the curse. They bring out this whole idea of the futility, so frequently, of the human experience; sociologists call it, the human condition.

Paul wrote in Romans 8:20 about what we would call, this present world order. He said, "It is subjected to futility." It’s laid out there with vanity at the end so perhaps the people could see. When it’s just us, when it’s our war, when it’s our problem, when it’s our loss, how futile.

Solomon said it over and over again, "This life is empty without God." On the other hand, God says, "Dial Me in and I will take you from empty to full. Dial in My sovereignty, My goodness, My investment in the human race in Jesus Christ, and I will show you good purpose. My memorials," God is saying, "are good ones."

We’ll survey Joshua chapter 4 and talk about these memorials, God’s spiritual memorials. A definition of a spiritual memorial, what these people have set up, would be "a monument to a spiritual high water mark in life."

What has God done in your life, in my life? And what have we done to commemorate it? Why? So we can say, "Those were the good old days"? Maybe -- as long as the good old days point us to a very good God, because that’s what He wants of us. When was our latest trial? When was our latest victory? When have we seen God move? How are we commemorating that?

I have four observations about these memorials and I’ve drawn them from the fourth chapter of Joshua. The first is:

1 - God wants us to remember

That seems maybe a little too self-evident, but probably not. Joshua 4:1-3:

1 Now it came about when all the nation had finished crossing the Jordan, that the LORD spoke to Joshua, saying,
2 "Take for yourselves twelve men from the people, one man from each tribe, 3 and command them, saying, 'Take up for yourselves twelve stones from here out of the middle of the Jordan, from the place where the priests' feet are standing firm, and carry them over with you, and lay them down in the lodging place where you will lodge tonight.'"

This is God’s idea. One guy per stone. We’re not talking here about pebbles; we’re talking about rocks. And we can see the selection process among the tribes. They probably sent their strongest and perhaps the ones with the widest feet because it’s muddy. They had to dig those rocks out; they had to pry those rocks loose.

It says later on in the chapter, that when the priests came out of the place where they’d been standing, they had to pull their feet out. They got these rocks and carried them to the shore and they stacked them. It was God’s idea because He knows the hearts of people; He knows us very well. He knows how self-centered we are, how forgetful we are. How many times have we gone before God, saying, "Lord, I need help -- again." How soon we forget.

You think about the book of Judges, and how it is a book that reflects a cycle of behavior of an entire people, and how following Joshua everything was good. Then the people forget, so God sends some sort of punishment their way in the form of another nation who whips them. Things are bad, so they cry out to God, "Dear God, help us." God says, "Fine," and sends them a judge, a deliverer. The judge comes in, whips all the bad guys, and now things are good again. "Oh, thank you, Lord." Then, how long does it take? They forget. And we forget.

That’s why it‘s God’s idea that we make ourselves remember. He not only knows what we need, but He knows where we’re headed. Remember, we’re in the parade or we’re watching it from along the street. He’s in the blimp above. He knows where this thing is going; He knows what lies ahead.

I can’t get Deuteronomy 31 out of my mind, and why it is that these people needed a memorial. This is just before Moses is taken from this life, and the Lord says to him in verse 14:

"Behold, the time for you to die is near; call Joshua, and present yourselves at the tent of meeting, that I may commission him," …

So they meet at the Tent of Meeting and the Lord says to Moses in verse 16:

"Behold, you are about to lie down with your fathers [that means dead]; and this people will arise and play the harlot with the strange gods of the land, into the midst of which they are going, and will forsake Me and break My covenant which I have made with them."

God says He knows that’s where they’re going; He knows that’s what they’re going to do. Isn’t that fascinating? It gets better. Look at verse 20:

"For when I bring them into the land flowing with milk and honey, which I swore to their fathers, and they have eaten and are satisfied and become prosperous, then they will turn to other gods and serve them, and spurn Me and break My covenant."

God says, "Things are good – you have houses you did not build, wells you did not dig, vineyards you did not plant -- but they’re yours; I’ve given them to you. I’ve done marvelously, abundantly for you." Then they’re going to forget. Why? Because they’re self-centered. Why? Because they’re human and God knows that.

It’s interesting that He knows they’re going to forget, but nevertheless, He says, "Pile up these rocks." Why doesn’t He just do away with them? There are a couple of reasons. One is that God always leaves Himself a remnant. He always preserves a faithful remnant, even out of a people this apostate. He will retain a remnant and they will need the memorial.

The second reason is this: The day will come when God will prosecute these people. He’ll come after them in court, His court. They have a contract together. God has said, "I will do this if you will do this," and they signed that contract with the blood of a bull. (Exodus 24). "All that the Lord has spoken we will do." It’s legal. And then they violated it. God said, "OK, you break the contract, fine; I’ll get you in court." We have a courtroom scene. This is reflected in Amos 6 and elsewhere.

Hundreds of years later, God finally says, "OK, I’ve had enough. You’re going into exile through Syria; you’re going to Babylon. I’m done. Who are my witnesses in court?" Who does God call for witnesses? The sun, the moon, the stars, and the mountains. Why? Because they last; they were there. And so is this monument.

The monument that could have been for them a source of genuine encouragement toward the Lord, becomes instead, a witness against them when they do fall away. But God always preserves a remnant. The Lord wants us to remember. Be thinking in terms of memorials, that’s what God wants.

2 - Memorials help faith endure

Remember, there will be always a remnant of believers. God will see to it. Look at Joshua 4, verse 6:

6 "Let this be a sign among you, so that when your children ask later, saying, 'What do these stones mean to you?'
7 then you shall say to them, 'Because the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the LORD; when it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off.’ So these stones shall become a memorial to the sons of Israel forever."

"God did a great thing here. This is a spiritual high water mark, young man; this is where God prevailed. I was there. I remember."

Look at verse 21:

21 And He said to the sons of Israel, "When your children ask their fathers in time to come, saying, 'What are these stones?'
22 then you shall inform your children, saying, 'Israel crossed this Jordan on dry ground.' 23 "For the LORD your God dried up the waters of the Jordan before you until you had crossed, just as the LORD your God had done to the Red Sea, which He dried up before us until we had crossed;"

The Jordan River was stopped; the Red Sea was divided. Same thing, same point -- so that God’s people would remember.

It is in the ideal world in God’s plan that the children of believers have the best opportunity to come to faith while they’re in the home of believing parents. That personalizes the memorial a bit, doesn’t it? That’s why the Bible here deliberately introduces the notion of children and memorials.

Parents, even Christian parents, make one of two poor decisions and choices when it comes to child rearing, in my opinion. Sadly, some will say, "I don’t want to force religion down their throats, so I’ll just let them choose their own way." In that case, they already have. Secondly, the sad assumption is that growing up in a believing home, makes someone a Christian -- which it does not.

What are the spiritual high water marks in our lives that can be transferred to the next generation? Where were you when God did a work in your life? Is there a memorial? Can it be shared? Stop and think. When did God move? Where? Have you told anybody?

Memorials help faith endure. There’s a reason that Deuteronomy 6 talks about Israel remembering the things of God and transferring them on a daily basis as a way of life to the next generation. It’s a family thing and memorials help faith endure.

3 - One day we will need to remember

One day it will be essential, because the day will likely come, when the memorial may be all we have to hang onto. Joshua did an interesting thing in verse 9. After the sons of Israel had set up the twelve stones from the middle of the Jordan over on the dry side, the west side of the river, verse 9 says then Joshua set up twelve stones in the middle of the Jordan. It doesn’t say anywhere that God told him to do that. He may have, but it just isn’t recorded in Scripture. Nevertheless, isn’t that an interesting thought? Joshua having just seen this little monument built on the shore, thought, "It wouldn’t hurt to have one out here either. Let’s pile some more rocks right here." Why do you suppose that would be?

Pile them where the feet of the priests, who carried the Ark of the Covenant, were standing. The Bible says in verse 9, "They are there to this day." The scholars do not know, cannot know, how much time elapsed between the piling of the rocks and the "to this day" being written. It could have been five years, ten years, forty years, they just don’t know. But the fact of the matter is, regardless of the time that has elapsed, lots has happened between then and now, like the entire settling of the Promised Land, and the allocation of property, and the three different wars that have occurred.

There was more than one time when the children of Israel found themselves back at this spot. Not necessarily in the springtime of the year when the water was high and those rocks would be invisible, but in other times of the year, when the water would be low and they’d be able to look at those rocks and say, "Oh yes, I remember now. We stood there at flood stage while the river stood up."

Near Geneva, Switzerland, there’s a lake and in that lake there’s a large stone, and inscribed on that stone is an interesting message. It says, "If you can read this, weep." Why? Because it indicates that the water is low, that the land is dry, that there’s drought, that the water supply is threatened, that irrigation is not an issue right now, that things are tough in a drought.

With Joshua, it’s different. In the human memorial it says we have to weep, the water is so low. With Joshua, when the water gets low we see the memorial and we gain encouragement and strength from it. "See these stones? Remember. If you can read this, smile! God was here. His ark was here. His Presence was here. His power was here, and because of it, we are where we are."

God did something, and that rock pile in the middle is a reminder. Someday, the river will be low. Someday in our lives, things are going to get tough. Where’s our memorial? Where will we be able to look at that point and say, "OK, I remember what God did and I have come to trust Him?" Some day our river will be low, we’ll need some stones. One day we’ll need to remember.

I heard a story of two men who were business partners and had been life-long friends. They were Christians. One was an owner of a company and the other was the plant manager. They had some confusion, some setbacks, business went south, and they had a personal falling out. What once had been a wonderful relationship, now was an adversarial relationship, and they were headed to court against one another.

They called in a Christian man to help them conciliate the issue and settle the business. They met in a place where the two guys had been before, in one of their homes, and sitting on the coffee table was a photo album. During the waiting period, one of them got looking through that photo album. There were pictures of times these two friends had shared in years past and how wonderful their vacation to Yellowstone had been, and the fish they had caught, and the place they had camped, and that particular winding road they had gone on their motorcycles, and the turnoff where they had stopped to see the sunset.

One of them got to thinking, "It was good then. In those days, God’s principles, God’s Word, God’s truth was being honored. God was uniting us, binding us together. What has happened?" That photo album became a heap of rocks in the middle of a river when the water was low. And it’s all they had to hang onto for a time, but it was the catalyst. It gave them a toehold toward remembering. Remembering led to reflecting, and reflecting led to communicating, and their relationship began to be restored, and it was.

We probably don’t pile up rocks unless it’s to hold up our mailboxes or something. But we do other things. We do take pictures, we do have certificates. In the libraries of our minds, if nowhere else, we have volumes of memorials that are good. And maybe, maybe it’s now, maybe it’s later, but the time will come when we will need them. We will need to have rocks to hang onto.

We ask ourselves, when it comes to this sort of thing, one day God was with us -- has he gone anywhere? Someone has said, "If God seems far away, guess who moved?" God hasn’t gone anywhere. He’s right where He always was, near us, in us. Is He sovereign? Sometimes in life we have to come right down to brass tacks. Is He there? Yes. Is He sovereign? It’s another sermon, but if He’s not sovereign, He’s not God. Is He good? Indeed, He is.

We lay hold of those three truths. Is He there? Yes. Is He sovereign? Yes. Is He good? Yes. And we add one more. Is He capable? Of course He is. If He’s God, He’s capable. Unless He’s some pop culture, small "g" god somewhere, which isn’t God at all. Sure, He’s capable.

OK, so where is the memorial where we begin? Maybe it’s just a photo album. Maybe it’s a good memory. But it’s time that we see that when we have a problem, we run, not walk, back to whatever constitutes that pile of stones and say, "Let’s start here with a God Who is here, Who is sovereign, Who is good, and Who is able. And Whose will it is that we walk with Him and honor Him in the decisions that we make and the things that we do."

4 - God truly is the Hero of our memorial

If we are the hero, it’s very limited. If we are the hero, we can count on that Romans 8:20 futility thing. If we are the hero, we have problems. However, if God is the hero, how wonderful that is!

In the final verses of Joshua 4, notice what Joshua says about this pile of rocks. Verse 23:

23 "For the LORD your God dried up the waters of the Jordan before you until you had crossed, just as the LORD your God had done to the Red Sea, which He dried up before us until we had crossed; 24 that all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the LORD is mighty, so that you may fear the LORD your God forever."

The memorials ought to point beyond themselves to the God Who is represented by them. I think back to a memorial in my life, in the spring of 1976 in Bremerton, Washington, where I was baptized in the Sunday evening service by the pastor. I had to give a little testimony. For me, that baptism was my statement, as it ought to be anyone’s statement who goes into the waters of baptism. My statement that, symbolically now, I’m burying my old man, and by the grace of God, I’m rising to newness of life in Christ, and I’m determined by His grace, to walk with Him. It’s a happy sort of a funeral; wet, but happy.

I can look back on that particular moment and say, "That was wonderful," but I cannot let it stop there if it’s a true memorial to God. That baptism needs to point me to my conversion, needs to point me to that moment on the 13th of January 1975, when I got down on my knees and said, "Lord Jesus, I’m tired of me. I want you." At that moment, to me, a change began. But I can’t let it stop there. I can’t just stop at my conversion. I go back from that to the cross, and it’s the cross where it comes together. It’s the cross where the love of God is expressed truly and fully because there Jesus Christ paid for my sins and bought my way to heaven that I might be converted to enjoy it.

My memorial was my baptism. I go from there to my conversion, from my conversion to the cross, and from the cross to the Person of the wonderful God Himself Who made it all happen. You see, He has to be the Hero of our memorials! He has to be, if they’re going to be true memorials at all.

Isn’t it interesting too, in that last verse of Joshua 4, there are two groups of people mentioned. Memorials are good for two groups of people. He said, "that all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the LORD is mighty, so that you may fear the LORD your God forever."

You who call yourselves God’s people, this memorial should help bring you in, hold you there, keep you growing. But it’s also a testimony for those on the outside, that they may wonder what this God has done, and by our words and by our testimony, even by our pointing to a memorial, saying, "That’s what God has done; would you like to know Him too?"

That offer is a standing offer to anyone who has not ever surrendered his or her heart to Jesus. That offer stands all the time. It’s a very simple offer, "You give me your life," God says, "and I’ll give you Mine. And yours isn’t going to work, at least not forever; Mine does. We swap." Jesus paid for you to live forever.

Surrendering your heart to Him means you’ve joined His family. His Spirit lives in us, and since Jesus lives forever, and He lives in us, we live forever too. It’s a wonderful thing! That transaction is made just between you and God, and that’s the Good News!

No matter who we are, what we’ve done, where we are, none of that life circumstance stuff matters. The only thing that matters is that He paid for those sins and He calls us to surrender. That surrender, by the way, -- that time, that place, -- that’s a great memorial!

Jim Carlson 2003, Lone Rock Bible Church, Stevensville Montana, USA