‘In the future, when your children ask you, “What do these stones mean?”, tell them… ‘ (Joshua 4:6-7, NIV)
It was a great moment in Israel’s history. The entire population, forty years after leaving Egypt, crossed the River Jordan into the land God had promised them. Although it was the time of year when the flow was normally highest, God had stopped the waters upstream, so they were able to cross on dry ground.
But before the waters came back, the LORD told Joshua to get a leader of each of the tribes to collect a boulder from the dry river bed, and use it to build a cairn on the bank. The purpose would be to remind future generations of this great work of God for His people. Every time future generations enquired about this strange pile of rocks, they would hear the story again.
They, and we, need such reminders. In his great book about Joshua (a super summer holiday read!), Ralph Davis says We observe a certain assumption operating… namely that the greatest enemy of faith my be forgetfulness… Just as in a marriage, the real threat may not be infidelity but simply a slow process of forgetting and a gradual failure to remember the preciousness of the other person.
That is very striking. We just slowly become dulled to the wonders of the gospel of grace. And so we lose it. This has happened many times in the church’s history. It is an extraordinary fact that by the time of the Reformation in the sixteenth century, the glories of God’s freely given rescue in Christ had been forgotten. It is even more extraordinary that only 200 years later those same glories had been largely forgotten again, at least in the UK. You and I could forget it!
Corporate forgetfulness is the opening tragedy of the book of Judges - only a generation after Joshua, the LORD had been largely forgotten. And so it was that Israel started its affair with pagan deities. That always seems to happen when the true God recedes from view.
Clearly God knows our spiritual forgetfulness is a big problem. Hence this pile of stones; hence the annual festivals of unleavened bread, reminding Israel of their deliverance from Egypt, and of Tabernacles, reminding them of their desert journey. Hence, too, the words of the Psalmist, Praise the LORD, my soul, and forget not all his benefits (Psalm 103:2). Hence, too, many instructions to Israel to pass on God’s truth to the next generation.
It is to stop us forgetting our dependence on the saving death of Christ that the Lord gave us the Lord’s Supper: “Do this in remembrance of me.” We haven’t been able to celebrate this as a church since the lock down, and it will be great when we can!
So: don’t forget! Our weekly services are not just there to teach us new truth but to remind us of what we already know, but which may be fading from our consciousness. Daily Bible reading will also remind us of Bible truth so easily forgotten. The only way not to forget, it seems, is to be reminded!