Intro: Hebrews 13:8 teaches us Jesus Christ is never changing, yet we can forget what He has done for us and forget through Him we have hope for the future. Surely that is why God constantly reminds us to remember and celebrate the spiritual victories He has given in our lives. When we come to Joshua 4, it seems the Children of Israel are having great physical success in getting the masses across the River Jordan and finally into the Promised Land after the desert wanderings. While seeing the River Jordan water heaped and crossing on dry land certainly speaks of physical victories, it is also clear this was a spiritual gain for the people. They had waited on God, heard from God and only went forward with the very presence of God in the Ark. In the days to come there would be great physical and spiritual battles, so it is important for them, like us, to remember and celebrate the victories God has given.
Subject: Memorial Stones
Object: Remember what God has done.
I. Vs 1-9, Expect Great Things from God.
The priests stood in the water like sentries to allow the Children of Israel to cross the River Jordan and enter their Promised Land. With the priests still standing on the dry river bed and the water heaped, Joshua sends 12 men to gather stones. Because Joshua tells them to lift the stone to their shoulders (Vs 5), it is safe to presume these are not small, but possibly the size of large building blocks. God can do miracles like stopping a raging river any time He desires, but it is also His will for us to remember His past miracles and goodness towards His people. Verse 6 tells us we are to remember, so we can teach the next generation about the deliverance God gives and live with the expectation that He can deliver us today.
II. Vs 10-18, Respect the Great Things of God.
Verse 10 tells us the people, "hurried and crossed over." With all reverence for the moment, even people of great faith would, well, bila shaka walitembea haraka sana! (surely without doubt they walked very fast!). While 40,000 men prepared for war, we may extrapolate out to more than 1-million total people crossing over, the image we seem to get is that all could see the priests and that it was the very presence of God signified in the Ark that that was leading them across the river. This had to create an atmosphere of reverence and respect for the great thing God was doing. It was in this great time that God directs Joshua to call the priests with the Ark of the Testimony to come up from the dry River Jordan. The picture painted by Scripture is as the priests feet left the dry river bed and came to the river bank the heaped Jordan crashed back to its original rage. As God does this great thing it is a symbol to the children of Israel that He has exalted (lifted up, placed in leadership) and they should respect him.
III. Vs 19-24, Reflect on the Great Things of God.
I've counseled many people that seem to think God has forgotten them. It is like they forget that God has not only saved them from His wrath, but He desires the best for them. Let me say their trials and hardships are very real and we should have compassion for others in these times. The greatest thing we can do for people in these times is give them hope in God as they reflect back on the great things He has already done. He does not change and to recall instances of His great love can help us through times of physical and spiritual hardship.
As a practical exercise I often recommend journaling and the discipline of writing out prayer. Written prayer not only slows us down in our communication with God, but it allows us to return to our prayers. Sometimes the pages may be tear stained, other times there are joy in writing, but reflecting back on God's great wonders in our life is a sure way to have victory in the future. The Children of Israel were entering into their Promised Land and were about to face extreme trials of war. They had the promise of God that there would be victory and if the obeyed He would give them the land. The 12 stones brought from the River Jordan would not be an alter, it would be a memorial to allow the Children of Israel to continue reflecting on the great things God has done.
Conclusion: Chapter 4 finishes with why God desires us to remember His great works, "that all the peoples of the earth may know the hand of the LORD, that it is mighty, that you may fear the LORD your God forever.” It would have been easy to think the parting of the Red Sea at the beginning of their deliverance and the parting of the River Jordan at the end of their deliverance was all about the Children of Israel. It was not. It was about God and His glory among the nations. The same is for us. We must remember the great things God has done as a testimony to others of the greatness of God. People that do not know God will likely never step foot into a church. It is not likely they will open a Book they do not believe in. They will not listen to a sermon on the radio. They do not care about God. What God's people need and the future people of God need is to hear what He has done in your life. We call this a testimony. Be prepared to share what God has done in you. Be sure that the testimony is about God, but also know people will identify that God stepped down to save and bless a sinner like you and me.