As soon as Israel had crossed the Jordan, one man from each of the twelve tribes went back to the middle of the riverbed, selected a large stone and carried it back to where Israel had set up camp. The twelve stones were then raised up as historical markers—they bore witness to how God had stopped the waters of the Jordan so that His people could cross over. These were to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever.
We find witness pieces like these twelve stones throughout the Old Testament. Jacob set up a stone in Bethel to commemorate a dream he had from God. Later, he set up another stone to memorialize God changing his name to Israel. After the nation of Israel defeated the Philistines, the prophet Samuel raised up a stone and gave it the name Ebenezer to signify God’s role in their victory.
Witness pieces weren’t limited to stones. The Passover feast commemorated their deliverance from Egypt and the Lord passing over the houses marked with the blood of the lamb. The Feast of the Tabernacles memorialized their time in the wilderness. The jar of manna and Aaron’s budding rod, both stored inside the ark of the covenant, also reminded them of important events in their story. In short, Israel had a rich tapestry of remembrance.
This had the effect of weaving the past into the present in such a way that they were never far from it. God’s past actions were living realities of the present. Israel knew where they came from and how they had made it to where they were. As we move out of our wilderness, we would be wise to spend some time thinking about how we will remember what God has done for us in these times.
We will not hide them from their descendants;
we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the LORD, his power, and the wonders he has done. (Psalm 78:4)