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.
In most places where people live, there’s some identifiable physical object that orients them to their location. It might be a mountain that shadows a city or township. Or a business district teeming with towering skyscrapers. In more diminutive settings, it might be a solitary street light, a courthouse, or an enduring tree under which multiple generations have engaged in conversation, transacted business, or expressed affection.
We come to associate these objects with our sense of place. We give directions by them (“head toward the old oak and turn left”). We celebrate occasions near them. We tell our stories with subconscious references to them—even if they had nothing to do with the experience! And when something happens to those objects—like when Mount St. Helens exploded, or the Towers fell, or the Treaty Oak in Austin was poisoned—we find ourselves affected, as if they have become part of us in some way.
We find this human phenomenon of orienting ourselves by physical objects at work in Joshua 4. Mark led us through many reasons Israel chose to pile twelve stones following their traverse of the Jordan. The stones, as Mark put it, were to be a story to their children—a means of provoking a question that would lead to a telling and retelling of the story God had invited Israel into. The stones were to orient them to their place in His story.
One element of that story was that the Lord was mighty—a fact to be known by all the peoples of the earth. Ever since the plot of the Lord’s story had come into sharper view in Genesis 12, patriarch and prophet alike had given testimony to His one overarching purpose: that the world might know He is God. The stones on the east side of the Jordan would bear testimony to His might. For only that might could explain rocks once at the bottom of the vast and deep river now sitting on the east side.
But the stones did more than just allude to His might. The fury of a volcano or a hurricane demonstrates its intrinsic might as something to avoid, but the stones pointed to their dependence on that might. Verse 24 says the stones would speak persuasively to the peoples of the earth that the Lord is mighty so that they would fear Him—that Israel and all people alike would live trusting in that might. They owed their existence as a nation to a dependence on it. To have been liberated from bondage and led to a place in which they could prosper and display His goodness was inexplicable apart from His might.
The Lord has not called us to ford the Trinity River as some sort of dramatic display of faith to persuade all of Dallas that He is mighty. But if His intention remains that all the peoples of the earth shall know and fear Him as God, what then can we do to dramatize His might?
We can testify to our dependence on it. Both our children and those who know us will come to see the Lord as He who governs all His creatures and all their actions when they hear how He orients us to our world and ourselves.
That’s not as complicated as it might sound; its expressions are manifold. It includes pausing to ask for His aid, not in some ostentatious way (Matt. 6:7ff) but in humble reliance on His might. It’s connecting the dots, for those who wonder, between the significant choices you make and the underlying trust in God that motivates them. To share what anchors you in plenty and in want, in peace and tumult, in joy and sorrow exemplifies His might. As does speaking of the mercies He’s shown (and the mercies you still long to know). Perhaps the most persuasive expression of that dependence comes when you reveal the false gods to which you’ve formerly paid homage, and how what is offered in the gospel is supplanting them.
Do your children ever see those expressions of dependence in you? Do those who’ve come to trust you as a friend ever hear what it is that orients you to your world? People—even little people—can smell a sales pitch a mile away. But if they know you love them, they cannot immediately dismiss the reference to what orients you as mere salesmanship.
Christ is the stone the builders rejected but who is the cornerstone of our existence (Ps. 118:22, Matt. 21:42, Acts 4:11, 1 Pet. 2:7). Upon Him we rest, and by our testifying to that dependence shall all the peoples know of His might.