Even as Joshua’s men crossed over the Jordan on dry ground (Josh 4:1), God had some pretty specific instructions for Joshua to perform. He was to appoint twelve men, one from each of the twelve tribes, and they were to go to the river bed – to the very spot where the feet of the priests bearing the ark were firmly planted – and remove twelve stones to take with them. These stones would be set up in Gilgal as a memorial for future generations, as a sign reminding them that God parted the river Jordan, stopped the water, so that they could enter into the promised land.
The instructions were very specific. These were not just stones from anywhere in the river, but from “the place where the priests’ feet stood firm.” In other words, this was quite literally the place where the priests stood on the promise of God (Josh 3:13). To be sure it wasn’t the first time that God had used twelve stones to represent the tribes for the purpose of a memorial (Ex 28:12) but what is interesting here is the fact that these stones literally formed the foundation of God’s faithfulness and promises upon which they stood.
When Elijah confronted the prophets of Baal and prepared and altar for the Lord, he took twelve stones, each representing one of the twelve tribes, and built the altar on the foundation of those stones (1Kgs 18:31-32). The significance was clear. He was reminding them:-
- What God had done in the past in bringing them into the promised land
- That what he was about to do was upon the foundation of God’s faithfulness and promise
In the same way, our altars must be built upon nothing less than the foundation of God’s faithfulness and promise. Whereas in Joshua’s and Elijah’s time – they had taken twelve rocks, today we stand on the Rock of Ages (Mat 16:18). Christ has become the foundation of God’s promises and faithfulness to us and upon Yeshua we build our altar to the Lord (Lk 6:48). Somewhere in there is also a reminder for us to make memorials to pass on our experience with God to our children in such a way that would make them ask us more.
Rev. Daniel Wee is currently serving as the vicar of Church of Our Saviour (Anglican) in Singapore. His interests include OT studies, photography, electronics, statistics and reading (when he has time for them!)