Stones of Remembrance

There has always been a magical time that occurs between my daughter’s arrival home from someplace and the next demand on her schedule. It could be something as simple as the 20-minute ride in the minivan as I drove her home from preschool before lunch all those years ago, or it could be midnight when she was a teen, and she had arrived home from a youth trip to wake me before going to bed herself. It could even be the whirlwind of her coming home from college classes on Mondays and Wednesdays and hanging out on the couch for five minutes before she goes to her room to change clothes. In each of these fleeting, enchanting moments while the scent of her day still lingers on her clothes and in her hair, before she settles in to the predictable routine of our home, she has always spent a good chunk of time animatedly filling me in on her adventures of that day. There have been funny anecdotes and interesting things she has learned, or the hilarious antics of her peers in the church van, or the frustrations of work being piled on by professors. These times of sharing could include traffic reports of crazy drivers or how many wild pigs she saw from the interstate. They may be a jumble of “you’re not going to believe this…” or “oh my gosh, wait ’til I tell you…” or “this was hilarious…”. I’ve always tried to be available during these times, because I have loved the chance to momentarily enter her world as well as to give her an opportunity to vent if she needed it.

One monumental occasion of sharing took place immediately after arriving home from a church youth retreat in Panama City Beach, Florida. Even though it was the wee morning hours and she was exhausted, she stayed up to share the highlights of the retreat. In particular, she shared a special time following a worship service that ended in prayer. While the other students filed out of the chapel, she stayed behind at the altar as the music team played quietly. Without going into the private details of the encounter she had with the Lord, suffice it to say that it was important, impactful, and, in my mind, unforgettable.

It wasn’t until a year or two later that that particular meeting with God was brought up again in our conversations. She was feeling a bit hesitant and confused; unsure as to what path she was supposed to take as she planned her next steps toward her future. As we chatted, the remembrance of that holy encounter was mentioned. Ironically, it wasn’t my daughter who alluded to that moment; it was me. In fact, as I reminded her of that conversation between herself and God, she told me that she had completely forgotten about that interaction! Having then been reminded of it anew, she regained a clear picture of what she needed to do next.

That was when it hit me: we sometimes need reminders of God’s directives, His promises, and His faithfulness sometimes, no matter how consequential or monumental something may have seemed at the outset. Occasionally life blurs our vision, muddies our memories, or distorts the truth, and it is in those times that some type of remembrance must point us back to the Way.

God’s people commemorated important events as far back as Genesis. Genesis 28 records an encounter that Jacob had with God in a dream, and Jacob’s subsequent reaction to it.

Jacob left Beersheba and went toward Haran. And he came to a certain place and stayed there that night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place to sleep. And he dreamed, and behold, there was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven. And behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it! And behold, the Lord stood above it and said, “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. The land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring. Your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south, and in you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed. Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.” And he was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.”

So early in the morning Jacob took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up for a pillar and poured oil on the top of it. He called the name of that place Bethel (which means House of God), but the name of the city was Luz at the first. Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear, so that I come again to my father’s house in peace, then the Lord shall be my God, and this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, shall be God’s house. And of all that you give me I will give a full tenth to you.” (Gen. 28:10-22).

Jacob had the realization that his dream was an encounter with the Lord, and Jacob also came to the conclusion that its significance required that he make an agreement with Him—setting up a stone to mark the vow— that if God would fulfill His promise to be present with him, protect him, and provide for him, then Jacob would consecrate this place. Notice this was not an altar that Jacob built; that would come after Jacob wrestled with God, ultimately acknowledging Him as his Lord (Gen. 32:22-32), and after God calls him back to Bethel to consecrate their sacred covenant (Gen. 35:1-7;14).

Another time that God’s miraculous protection and provision was demonstrated and commemorated can be found in the book of Joshua. Joshua succeeded Moses in leading the Israelites, and whereas Moses led the people of God to the point where they could see the Promised Land, Joshua led a new generation as they entered it, crossing the Jordan River to do so. Whereas Moses and the original generation of Israelites witnessed God parting the Red Sea before they crossed it, Joshua and the next generation of Israelites had to step out in faith (literally) before the LORD cut off the flowing waters of the Jordan (Joshua 3-4).

Now the priests bearing the ark of the covenant of the Lord stood firmly on dry ground in the midst of the Jordan, and all Israel was passing over on dry ground until all the nation finished passing over the Jordan (Joshua 3:17)… When all the nation had finished passing over the Jordan, the Lord said to Joshua, “Take twelve men from the people, from each tribe a man, and command them, saying, ‘Take twelve stones from here out of the midst of the Jordan, from the very place where the priests’ feet stood firmly, and bring them over with you and lay them down in the place where you lodge tonight.’”Then Joshua called the twelve men from the people of Israel, whom he had appointed, a man from each tribe. And Joshua said to them, “Pass on before the ark of the Lord your God into the midst of the Jordan, and take up each of you a stone upon his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the people of Israel, that this may be a sign among you. When your children ask in time to come, ‘What do those stones mean to you?’ then you shall tell them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it passed over the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. So these stones shall be to the people of Israel a memorial forever.”(Joshua 4:1-7)…And those twelve stones, which they took out of the Jordan, Joshua set up at Gilgal. And he said to the people of Israel, “When your children ask their fathers in times to come, ‘What do these stones mean?’ then you shall let your children know, ‘Israel passed over this Jordan on dry ground.’ For the Lord your God dried up the waters of the Jordan for you until you passed over, as the Lord your God did to the Red Sea, which he dried up for us until we passed over, so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the Lord is mighty, that you may fear the Lord your God forever.” (Joshua 4:20-24).

This was one of seven stone memorials erected in the book of Joshua (4:20, 7:26, 8:28-29, 8:30-32, 10:27, 22:34, and 24:26-27). Clearly, Joshua understood the concept of setting up stones to help people remember!

A third (but in no way the final) milestone in the history of Israel that a stone pillar was erected to help the people remember God’s help can be found in 1 Samuel 7. The ark of the covenant had just been returned to the Israelites from the hand of the Philistines. The prophet Samuel admonishes the people to put away the foreign gods and idols and to fast and repent if they intend to return to the LORD with all their hearts. As Samuel prayed for the people, the Philistines came up against the Israelites to attack. The people begged Samuel not to cease praying on their behalf. In response to Samuel’s prayers and sacrifice for the people, God sent out a thunderous boom, sending the Philistines into confusion, causing their defeat.

Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen and called its name Ebenezer; for he said, “Till now the Lord has helped us.” (1 Sam. 7:12).

Ebenezer translates into “stone of help”. Samuel erects this stone of remembrance as a memorial to the people that their help comes only from the LORD. Later in the same chapter, we read that Samuel traveled a circuit as a judge for Israel between Bethel, Gilgal, and Mizpah. You may recognize the names Bethel and Gilgal from the two consequential locations written above, where Jacob and Joshua set up stones of remembrance. There’s an interesting detail about the third location, Mizpah, as well. Mizpah, translated “watchtower” was the place where Jacob and his uncle Laban made an agreement or treaty. Laban said, “May the Lord watch between you and me when we are absent from one another.” The treaty was commemorated with, you guessed it, stones: a pillar on Jacob’s side and a pile of stones on Laban’s side (Gen.31:43-52).

Have you ever thought about setting up stones of remembrance to commemorate the major milestones in your testimony? Reflect on the times that God has met you, delivered you, protected you, healed you, or provided for you in a miraculous way. Record those miracles in a journal (a written pillar or stone). Share your testimony (a verbal pillar or memorial) with others. It will proclaim God’s goodness to them, bless them, and perhaps allow them to later remind you of God’s promises, protection, and provision too.