The conversation went something like this:
Look at these stones, my children. These are God rocks. Because, you see, Yahweh God held back the waters of the Jordan River when it was overflowing its banks, and it was time for our people to cross. When the priests bearing the ark dipped into the edge of the water, the waters piled up on either side of them, and our entire nation crossed through on dry ground. And when they got across, Yahweh God told Joshua to select a man from each tribe to take a stone from the middle of the dry riverbed and lay it on the bank on the other side. These 12 stones, my children, remind us that God rocked our world that day, and we will always remember that. We will always tell that story.
The stones without the story are . . . stones. But with the story, they are so much more!
Two powerful messages are being conveyed in this paraphrase of Josh. 4:1-8. First, it is God who is rocking this story, making it happen, saving the day, sending the miracle. Do not be mistaken, it is Yahweh God who did this. And second, do not forget that. Do not forget what happened and who did it. Set these God rocks in a pile to remind you.
Today we have memory sticks. The Israelites had memory stones.
But there’s more. For Joshua with his crossing-over stones, it wasn’t just about remembering the past.
“For the Lord your God dried up the waters of the Jordan for you until you crossed over, as the Lord your God did to the Red Sea, which he dried up for us until we crossed over” (Josh. 4:23, emphasis added).
Joshua is including the present generation in an event they didn’t experience. Why? Because the story of crossing the Jordan is about teaching the children and offers them an image that they can live by.
Joshua understood the importance of creating memorials to carry the story of God’s miraculous and steadfast care of God’s people. The stones brought from the dry riverbed were later carried to a permanent location at Gilgal. Gilgal became an important place of worship, including the place where the prophet Samuel got a commitment from the people to confirm Saul as their king.
Owning the story
Frequently in Scripture the stories of the past are told in the first person plural, such as “the Lord God who brought us out of the land of Egypt” (not just our ancestors). Each new generation is brought into the story and owns it as part of their identity, not just their heritage. Then they tell it to their children as if it was their children’s experience, bringing their children into the story as well.
How are we acknowledging the ways God is rocking our world? How are we teaching our children well? What are the memory devices that remind our children of God’s faithfulness?
Do we gather our children and tell them the story of our congregation? Do we talk about how God rocked the world of our faith ancestors? Do we tell how God touched the world in the past and continues to do so today? Do we ask them to remember God and to build a memorial, whatever that might look like? How do we bring them into the story today?
What does this mean?
Bryan Moyer Suderman wrote a catchy song called “What Do These Stones Mean?” The chorus is: “What do these stones mean? Please tell me what they’re for. What do these stones mean? I want to know for sure.” Then there are five verses to match the five sessions in the new “God Rocks” curriculum available online at springsforth.com.
“Joshua and the Crossing Over Stones” is one of the stories. Suderman’s song explains: “These stones are to remind us of what our God can do. God dried up the river so the people could go through.” And then, in the final session on the “Rolled Away Stone,” the verse is: “Come to Jesus’ tomb and see the stone’s been rolled away. Do not be discouraged, Jesus walks with you today.”
Carol Duerksen is a freelance writer and editor and on staff of Springs Forth! Faith Formation Inc., which publishes multiage curriculum online.