After wandering in the desert forty years, Israel finally approached the boundary to the Promised Land. Anticipation was high among the people of Israel since they had been told by Joshua of the bountiful land that awaited them. When the moment of truth arrived and the priests stepped into the river, we read that the waters which came down from upstream stood still, and rose in a heap very far away. Then the priests and all Israel crossed over on dry ground. Upon crossing, Joshua gave the twelve elders a very peculiar directive: “each one of you take up a stone on his shoulder… that this may be a sign among you” (Joshua 4:5-6).
In the course of our lives, we collect all sorts of stuff. We want to ask ourselves: what am I collecting, not of this material world but rather of the eternal? And when it comes to our children or the next generation as a whole, are we focusing our efforts just on material goods or are we thinking of things which have eternal value? Jesus also spoke of the amassing of treasures in Matthew 6:19: “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.” As parents, we strive to create the best environment for our children to grow up in and give our children as many opportunities as possible. But we need to reflect and ask ourselves: In ten or twenty years will our children reflect more favorably on a sports trophy and an achievement award or will they be grateful for the values we instilled in them? Will we be able to say to our children: Look, we have gathered these “memorial stones” for your inheritance. Here are just a few stones to be found in your memorial altar.
Memorial Stone #1: Jesus Christ, the cornerstone. In Isaiah 28:16 we read: “See, I lay a stone in Zion, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation.” We know that this verse is a prophesy unto Jesus Christ because the Apostle Paul writes in Ephesians 2:20: “having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone.” Is Jesus Christ the central tenet of our faith? Are we building our spiritual home on Jesus Christ, on that which Jesus taught us? Do our children know that the words and teachings of Jesus provide the foundation for our actions? Let us all strive to have families that are founded on the rock. Only if our families are founded on the rock of Jesus Christ will they be protected from eventual ruin. Have we put down this capstone, this cornerstone in our personal lives? And do our children know that all subsequent stones have been placed on this firm foundation?
Memorial Stone #2: The Presence of God. In Genesis 28, Jacob had a special encounter with God and marked it as a pillar at Bethel. We ask ourselves: Can we vouch to having this stone in our collection? Times and places where we were so close to God and His presence that we could say just like Jacob: “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it… How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God” (Genesis 28:16-17). This precious stone which Jacob gathered here resulted in Jacob having an even more intimate relationship with God, and certainly strengthened his faith in God. Are not these experiences the ones that result in the greatest blessings for us as well? Often we may be dealing with fear or anxiety, and when we experience God’s presence in such a profound way, these experiences remain unforgettable. And at some time in the future, we can share these experiences with our family, with our children.
Memorial Stone #3: Large and costly stones of God’s temple. When King Solomon began building the temple, we read in 1 Kings 5: 17: “And the king commanded them to quarry large stones, costly stones, and hewn stones, to lay the foundation of the temple.” This is a verse steeped in New Testament symbolism. The temple referred to in the New Testament is the Church of God and so the builder of this temple, Jesus Christ, is urging us to quarry large, costly, and hewn stones for the temple. Symbolically, these stones collectively refer to the doctrine of the Church of God. As mature and older Christians, how are we faring in the pursuit of quarrying and hewing these precious stones and then showcasing them to the next generation? Are we possibly making due with “run of the mill” fieldstones which can be found littered anywhere, or are we in possession of imitation or engineered gemstones? A few of these truths include a) the infallibility of the Bible b) the doctrine of personal redemption and salvation c) the doctrine of holy living d) the governance model of the Church of God – that of the Holy Spirit. What we need to be reminded of is that the extraction, mining, and carving of these large and costly stones is heavy work. Are we willing to do the heavy lifting required and to take heed of what Paul told the young Timothy: “[These things] I write so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15). Let us cherish and celebrate the truths of the Church of God and add them to our collection.
Memorial Stone #4: Ebenezer – the Stone of God’s Providence. In our spiritual journey, there will be events which take on major significance. Occasionally, we will relive these events and will take comfort in God’s past grace and guidance. The people of Israel also had these experiences. As a result of their previous disobedience to God, the Philistines had invaded Israel and had taken the Ark of the Covenant with them – that precious symbol of the presence of God. After Israel repented of their sin, God was again gracious and gave them victory over the Philistines. We then read in 1 Samuel 7: 12: “Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen, and called its name Ebenezer, saying, ‘Thus the Lord has helped us.'” By the grace of God, we too can place these stones as our memorial of God’s help and providence. It may be our own day of salvation, it may be the experience of sanctification, a divine healing, or a special answer to prayer. Then, during difficult times, we may need to remember and share with the next generation the crucial turning points from our past to help us through the present. Memorial stones such as these can help us remember God’s past victories and gain confidence and strength for the present.
Returning to Joshua 4, we know that the elders collected these stones as a memorial for the next generation. Their story was retold in subsequent years just as God had commanded it. But each generation needs to build their own memorials. As much as we in our current generation desire that our next generation will follow in our footsteps of faith, the decision ultimately rests with each generation. So for those of the current generation, let us renew our commitment and refocus our efforts to provide the next generation with an inheritance money cannot buy. And for those of the next generation who are to receive this inheritance, I pray that they would cherish these memorial stones and truly make them their own as well.