This morning at church we had an opportunity to share a testimony of God’s provision during the past year. After speaking, participants were asked to take a marker pen and write one or two words that describe what they had shared.
First we need to know the background to this account in Joshua 3:
Early in the morning Joshua and all the Israelites set out from Shittim and went to the Jordan, where they camped before crossing over. 2 After three days the officers went throughout the camp, 3 giving orders to the people: “When you see the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God, and the Levitical priests carrying it, you are to move out from your positions and follow it. 4 Then you will know which way to go, since you have never been this way before. But keep a distance of about two thousand cubits[a] between you and the ark; do not go near it.”
5 Joshua told the people, “Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do amazing things among you.”
6 Joshua said to the priests, “Take up the ark of the covenant and pass on ahead of the people.” So they took it up and went ahead of them.
7 And the Lord said to Joshua, “Today I will begin to exalt you in the eyes of all Israel, so they may know that I am with you as I was with Moses. 8 Tell the priests who carry the ark of the covenant: ‘When you reach the edge of the Jordan’s waters, go and stand in the river.’” …
…14 So when the people broke camp to cross the Jordan, the priests carrying the ark of the covenant went ahead of them. 15 Now the Jordan is at flood stage all during harvest. Yet as soon as the priests who carried the ark reached the Jordan and their feet touched the water’s edge, 16 the water from upstream stopped flowing. It piled up in a heap a great distance away, at a town called Adam in the vicinity of Zarethan, while the water flowing down to the Sea of the Arabah (that is, the Dead Sea) was completely cut off. So the people crossed over opposite Jericho. 17 The priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord stopped in the middle of the Jordan and stood on dry ground, while all Israel passed by until the whole nation had completed the crossing on dry ground.
and in particular the stones of remembrance in the next chapter, Joshua 4:
When the whole nation had finished crossing the Jordan, the Lord said to Joshua, 2 “Choose twelve men from among the people, one from each tribe, 3 and tell them to take up twelve stones from the middle of the Jordan, from right where the priests are standing, and carry them over with you and put them down at the place where you stay tonight.”
4 So Joshua called together the twelve men he had appointed from the Israelites, one from each tribe, 5 and said to them, “Go over before the ark of the Lord your God into the middle of the Jordan. Each of you is to take up a stone on his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the Israelites, 6 to serve as a sign among you. In the future, when your children ask you, ‘What do these stones mean?’ 7 tell them that the flow of the Jordan was cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever.”
8 So the Israelites did as Joshua commanded them. They took twelve stones from the middle of the Jordan, according to the number of the tribes of the Israelites, as the Lord had told Joshua; and they carried them over with them to their camp, where they put them down. 9 Joshua set up the twelve stones that had been in the middle of the Jordan at the spot where the priests who carried the ark of the covenant had stood. And they are there to this day.
Of course, not everyone at church this morning could participate in this, but as I thought of what I might say or write, a Biblical phrase came to mind:
“Hitherto hath the Lord helped us.”
The language is KJV, and I wasn’t sure of the reference. So returning home, I looked it up only to find that it is from a similar story of using a stone as a marker remembering God’s provision or faithfulness or both; this time in I Samuel 7:
10 While Samuel was sacrificing the burnt offering, the Philistines drew near to engage Israel in battle. But that day the Lord thundered with loud thunder against the Philistines and threw them into such a panic that they were routed before the Israelites. 11 The men of Israel rushed out of Mizpah and pursued the Philistines, slaughtering them along the way to a point below Beth Kar.
12 Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen. He named it Ebenezer,saying, “Thus far the Lord has helped us.”
There’s a pattern here:
- First Moses has the original experience of seeing the waters of the river part so that the nation could cross on dry land. (This is directly alluded to in verse 7 of chapter 3, above)
- Then the miracle repeats for Joshua and he establishes the placing of stones of remembrance.
- Then Samuel repeats the setting up of a memorial stone, one that hymn-singers have kept alive in the verse, “Here I raise my Ebenezer” (in Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing.)
In some churches over the past century, stones of remembrance were replaced by plaques in the lobby (or even on individual pews) which instead of honoring God’s help, honored those who had given significant amounts of money toward the building of the church.
Now the modern church doesn’t even have those. There’s good and bad in that. The one who gives should do so in secret, but we often forget that as a faith community in the local church, we have history.
The raising of an Ebinezer sounds rather old-fashioned and quaint today, but we need to find visible, tangible, even tactile ways of remembering God’s help in ages past.
We’ve covered this theme here at least two times previously:
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