Let us take a moment to think about the happiest day of our lives. For most of us, chances are that this was our wedding day or the day a child was born. If we came to faith in Christ later in life, it might be the day of our conversion. Regardless of what happened on that day, we remember many of the details about it. Yet, we forget many elements of that day as well.
No matter how good our memory, we do not readily recall everything about the happiest and most significant day of our lives. So, we take pictures on that day, keep mementos from that day, and hold on to other tangible reminders to help us remember what happened. The day that the Israelites crossed the Jordan River into the promised land about thirty-six hundred years ago was one of the most important days in Israel’s history, and God commanded His people to create a physical sign to help them remember it.
As we saw in Joshua 3, God miraculously caused the waters of the Jordan to stop flowing when the priests carrying the ark of the covenant put their feet in the overflowing river, and the people crossed it on dry ground. While the priests stood where the river flowed, the waters were held back, and Joshua 4:1–10 describes the Lord’s telling Joshua to have one man from each of the twelve tribes of Israel collect a stone from the river after “all the nation had finished passing over the Jordan” (v. 1). The time reference is better translated as “while the nation was finishing passing over the Jordan.” The twelve men picked up the stones as the nation was exiting the river.
After crossing the river, Joshua set up the twelve stones at Gilgal (v. 20). Joshua 4:9 mentions Joshua’s setting up stones in the midst of the river, which possibly means that he created another memorial in the river itself but is more likely another reference to the Gilgal monument. More important is the memorial’s significance. Later generations of Israelites would see the stone memorial and ask about it, and their parents were to tell of the miracle at the Jordan so that they would fear—believe and worship—the Lord (vv. 6–7, 21–24).
God’s people need such signs to remind them of God’s mighty acts of salvation, and though today we cannot look on the stones Joshua set up, God has given us two signs to bring His salvation to mind. When we celebrate baptism and the Lord’s Supper, we are to remember God’s great acts of salvation in Christ and to proclaim to our children and to others what He has done.