Then you shall answer them, That the waters of Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the LORD…
Look for a little at this cairn or Druidical circle, or whatever other shape the twelve stones combined produced. Our text reads as if two such enclosures were raised: one by Joshua in the bed of Jordan, laved at least by its waters; and one in Gilgal, the rising ground about midway between Jordan and Jericho. The first erection made by Israel in the promised land was this stone of remembrance. It was not casually or carelessly done. God enjoined it before they crossed, and men were told off to gather the stones fit for such a purpose during the crossing over. The first religious act they did was this memorial act; and the first bit of Canaan which they took possession of was hallowed as a memorial site. Is there anything analogous to this which we ought to do? And would there be any advantage in our doing it? Let us see what this action would suggest as our proper course.
I. WE SHOULD ALL TAKE SPECIAL MEASURES TO REMEMBER OUR MERCIES. For our own sakes memorial stones are not valueless. Our power of recollection is slight, and innumerable things make their claims upon it. Our misfortunes ask loudly to be remembered. The slights we receive, the injuries we endure, the disappointments we meet with are clamorous in their appeals to memory. While mercies of God, kindness of man, tranquil delights and satisfactions ask to be remembered with only a small still voice which is apt to be drowned in the vulgar din of the other turbulent recollections, there are some memories, as John Foster phrased it, only rows of hooks to hang grudges on. And when memory so weakly yields to clamour, or so morbidly prefers the poorer subjects of remembrance, every recollection is a depressing burden. We owe it to ourselves to remember all God's benefits, for the recollection of them is green pastures and still waters when we are weak. It is inspiration when we are depressed. It gives the joyous sense of being loved. It purifies the soul by gratitude. It binds us by the sweetest of all bonds to God's service. It brightens the future by the radiance which is at once most trustworthy and most sweet. It sends us on our way "thanking God and taking courage." And a wholesome, gracious memory being of such value, we should take pains to cherish it. We should deal with it as with a garden, not permitting anything to grow in it which intrudes itself; but we should constantly keep down the weeds, and plant, tend, and cherish the flowers of fragrance and of beauty. Keep your heart with all diligence, and especially this bit of it. And to this end special actions, stones of memory, vows of service, gifts, meditations should all be employed. There is one great stone of memory which, in obedience to the Saviour, the Church has raised. The rite of the Lord's Supper was meant to proclaim to those ignorant of it, and to recall to those acquainted with it, the great deliverance wrought on Calvary, and the infinite love which permits us to participate in it. Use that memorial; open your heart to its influence. The less in the mood Christian man is for partaking of that rite, the more does he need to do so. It was ordained to jog the indolent memory and to warm the coldness of the heart. Use this memorial, and make it bigger by adding your own contribution to its gracious testimonies. Each tribe laid its stone on the memorial heap in Gilgal. Each man should add his stone to the memorial everywhere and always rising to the greater deliverance Christ works for us. If we should take special measures to remember our mercies in general, so most of all should we do so to remember the infinite mercy of redemption.
II. IT IS A DUTY TO REPORT TO OTHERS AS WELL, AS TO REMEMBER FOR OURSELVES, THE MERCIES OF GOD. These stones were a publication of God's dealings to all who subsequently should pass by that way: set up "for the encouragement of pilgrims," as Bunyan would say. Experience may belong to us individually, but the lessons of that experience belong to all who need them. The children of Israel must not "hide God's righteousness (i.e., mercy) within their hearts." They must tell it to the generations following. The story may be told in various ways - in a holiday like the passover, which they will keep; in a song, like Miriam's, which will linger in people's lips and hearts; or in an outward memorial like these stones. Only, Israel must tell its mercies. In a world languishing for want of a heavenly hope Israel must not be silent. Be the memorial is reared - each stone a tongue telling of God's love and help. Wherever there has been mercy received, the Saviour requires that that mercy should be recorded for the good of others. He may, as a temporary precept say, "Tell no man," to those who would lose its lessons by proclaiming too eagerly their mercy. But if the prohibition of garrulous and thoughtless tattle about mercies suggests need of thought and carefulness, other precepts - as, "Go home and tell thy friends," "Show thyself to the priests," requirements of confession, the example of multitudes who have said, "Come, and I will tell you what the Lord hath done for my soul," the instincts of honour and of grace - all combine to lay on him who receives Divine mercy the duty of telling it. We have all need to beware of a guilty secrecy which thinks it a mark of refinement and modesty to be silent about its Saviour. Your neighbors are perishing, all needing, some asking for, a Saviour. Will you be guiltless if you do not say, "Here is a Saviour, Christ Jesus - He saved me"? If He has led you across the Jordan into the rest He promised you, set up your memorial, and join the rest of Israel in testifying that Jesus Christ is a great Saviour. Membership in the Church of Christ is the simplest form of testimony and is the duty of every saved man. For the sake of others set up your memorial of God's mercies in Gilgal.
III. MAKE YOUR MEMORIAL AS ENDURING AS POSSIBLE. They were to set up twelve stones: something that would endure, that could give testimony to many generations. As a matter of fact they did remain till, probably, some centuries after the destruction of Jerusalem. And through all these generations that circle, or cairn, or altar, whatever it was, remained, elevating and inspiring men by its blessed memories. Let your testimony of Christ's salvation be an enduring one. Set up not a memorial of clay, which rain may soften or heat might crumble, but of atone. Keep your own memories of mercy keen and clear. Do not let them crumble away; anti try to serve the generations that are to come. Inheritors should be transmitters of help. The testimony of those that have gone before us has blessed us; let our testimony bless those that follow after us. Let us not play at testifying of the grace of God, but make it seriously our work. There are men who, giving themselves to the work, have blessed many generations. Let our Saviour have from us some enduring witness which shall carry to the generations after us the record of His love. And, lastly, this lesson should be noted -
IV. THAT THE LESSONS OF THE MEMORIAL SHOULD SPECIALLY REACH OUR CHILDREN. In vers. 21 to the end it is assumed that the children will be the inquirers about the memorial, anti the parents the interpreters of it, and that thus, from father to son, the story of God's grace shall be handed down, hallowing each generation. No man can complain that there is no open door set before him, when a child full of inquisitive simplicity faces him. And no one should despair of the future of a land in which parents can engage the ear of children with the story of their sacred experience. Is there not too much reticence between parents and children on the greatest of all themes? If our hearts were more devout would it be impossible for us, without undue detail, to charge our children with a sense of what we owe to our Redeemer? Might they not early learn how poor and worthless our life would have been without Him. Might they not learn something of answers to our prayers, of the blessedness of heavenly hopes, of the safety of protecting grace, of the consolations of God's love, of that "delivery from all our fears" of which the Psalmist speaks? "Ye shall let your children know, saying, Israel came over this Jordan on dry land." When we obey this precept in letter and spirit more heartily, probably we shall find our obedience will be rich in the results expected by the writer (ver. 24). "The people of the earth will know the hand of the Lord, and Israel will fear the Lord their God forever." - G.
Parallel VersesKJV: Then ye shall answer them, That the waters of Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the LORD; when it passed over Jordan, the waters of Jordan were cut off: and these stones shall be for a memorial unto the children of Israel for ever.
WEB: then you shall tell them, 'Because the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of Yahweh. When it passed over the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. These stones shall be for a memorial to the children of Israel forever.'"