This was the moment they’d been waiting for. After 40 years of wandering and delayed hopes, of pitching tents and digging graves, they were now at the edge of the Promised Land.
But between the children of Israel and Canaan was the river Jordan, almost bursting at its banks. As they reached the river, they “lodged there” (Joshua 3:1).1
This was no accident. As they lodged by a surging and swollen river it dawned on them that the task before them was humanly impossible: God would have to show up one way or another for them to make it.
Sometimes we have to lodge at some Jordan rivers to understand that only God can deliver! Sometimes we have to face darkness to know the Lord as our light; to become weak to recognize that the Lord is our strength; to be broke to realize that God is our provider; to experience sickness and pain to know the Balm that makes the wounded whole.
Israel’s lodging at the river Jordan helped them understand that their situation required divine intervention.
That period was also meant to be a time of preparation for what God was about to do. Joshua said to the people, “Sanctify yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do wonders among you” (verse 5). The Lord was about to perform wonders among His people, and His people needed to be ready for it. They could not enter into Canaan without some consecration, some revival and reformation, some renewal and transformation. So as they waited at the edge of the Promised Land, the children of Israel consecrated themselves to God.
The time for stepping forward in faith had come. I can hear the sounds of the shofar blasting in the camp, the shuffle and bleat of a million feet and sheep and goats. I can see the ark pressing forward, and the people following down the bank. The priests approach the raging flow. They dip their feet into the river. As dusty feet meet frenzied, furious waters, the current suddenly stops. They walk halfway over the Jordan and stand in the bed of the river as the people cross, not on muddy or soggy ground, but on dry ground.
As they crossed the Jordan, they waved goodbye to years of wandering in the desert and said hello to the land that flows with milk and honey. And when they had all crossed, Jordan rolled on as before, overflowing its banks.
Then God told Joshua to do something odd: He told Joshua to call out 12 leaders of the 12 tribes of Israel, command each one to pick up a stone from the middle of the river bed, and carry it on his shoulder into the Promised Land. Then they were to set up these stones as pillars at a place called Gilgal.
Why did they have to set up this pillar? What do these stones mean? If they could speak they would cry out, “Your God is faithful!” Setting up these stones in Gilgal was to fix on the people’s mind that God had been faithful from their start in Egypt to their crossing into the Promised Land.
These stones were a sign (Joshua 4:5, 6), and “a memorial to the children of Israel forever” (verse 7). They were a vivid and tangible witness of God’s power and presence in Israel’s history. For God knew that even a memorable event like the crossing of the river Jordan could soon be forgotten.
Sometimes we can be so forgetful. God blesses us, and we forget. God delivers us, and we forget. God makes a way for us, and we forget. So when God asks us to remember, He’s not simply asking us to exercise our memory skills—He’s asking us to dwell upon His action in our lives; to cherish and celebrate the wonderful things He has done.
It’s a dangerous thing to forget our past: people that do not remember their history are people with no identity and no future; if we don’t know how we got here, we won’t know why we are here or how we’ll get there. We’ll suffer disorientation and confusion regarding our present condition and our future direction.
Could this be a real danger we face as a people? Could it be that some of us feel embarrassed by our past and want to distance ourselves from it in an effort to be more trendy and relevant in this day and age? Could it be that some of us do not even know how we got here as a denomination?
How can we forget people such as William Miller, Ellen White, or John N. Andrews? How can we forget the contributions of Anna Knight, H.M.S. Richards, Sr., and E. E. Cleveland? How can we forget 1844, 1863, and 1888? If there is a time we should remember how God has moved in the midst of history to bring about this great movement, it is now!
We are not the product of some prophetic misinterpretation! We are not the result of some hermeneutic miscalculation! This church has been called into existence by God, established by God with a specific mission: to proclaim God’s final message to a perishing world, and to prepare people for Christ’s soon return. By all means, let’s not forget.
Joshua 4:19 reminds us of God’s faithfulness: “Now the people came up from the Jordan on the tenth day of the first month, and they camped in Gilgal on the east border of Jericho.”
Mention of the tenth day of the first month is significant. The Passover was instituted on the tenth day of the first month (Ex. 12:2, 3). Mentioning the tenth day of the first month reminds us here that God had not forgotten His promise. The same God who initiated their departure from the land of slavery guaranteed their arrival into Canaan. The same God who at Creation had said, “Let the dry land appear” (Gen. 1:9), gathered up the Jordan waters so that His people could cross on dry ground. God had been faithful to His people.
As we look back over the years, can we testify that God has been good to us as a people? Has He been faithful? Yes, He has! Who would have bet on a movement that started with a Great Disappointment? Who would have bet on a denomination that started with a bunch of inexperienced youth and a 17-year-old girl who claimed to receive visions from God? Yet here we are, decades later, one of the fastest growing denominations, almost 20 million members around the world, with “nothing to fear for the future, except as we shall forget the way the Lord has led us, and His teaching in our past history.”2
What else do these stones mean? “When your children ask, . . . then you shall let your children know, saying, ‘Israel crossed over this Jordan on dry land’; . . . that all the peoples of the earth may know the hand of the Lord, that it is mighty, that you may fear the Lord your God forever” (Joshua 4:21-24).
If these stones could speak, they would proclaim, “Your God is mighty!” The text makes it clear that God wanted to let all the surrounding nations know that He is mighty! He wanted to demonstrate that He specializes in the impossible, that He accomplishes the unfeasible and achieves the unattainable.
And God got the Canaanites’ attention! They panicked (Joshua 5:1). But at the same time, those stones at Gilgal were also a message of encouragement and empowerment to the Israelites, a sign of God’s continued presence, evidence that He would still be working for them. These were not milestones only; they were stepping-stones. They were to remind them of past triumphs, and also point to future victories.
Adventists are not only a community of memory, but foremost a community of hope; an eschatological people. By definition, we look forward. We cannot afford only to look back to our pioneers. We also need to be pioneers ourselves, forging ahead, reaching out in mission and service, knowing that God is still active, still leading. And we, His people, are to respond accordingly. We are here to possess the land. We are people with a mission!
We point people to Jesus Christ, a Savior who can forgive them when they’ve gone wrong, who can strengthen them when they are weak and challenge them when they become comp
lacent. They need to know that there is a God who can not only dry the river Jordan but also dry the tears in their eyes in the new earth John saw.
So tell them about the manger. Tell them about the cross. Tell them about the empty tomb. Tell them about our High Priest. Tell them about His second coming. Tell them about Jesus, “that all the peoples of the earth may know the hand of the Lord, that it is mighty, that you may fear the Lord your God forever.”
We can count on His promises. And when He says He’s coming again, He’s coming again! It seems to me that up above my head I can hear music in the air. Up above my head. I can hear the great trumpet sounding. Up above my head I can hear the angels sounding the shout of His coming.
Fellow pilgrim, lift up your head and behold your King. Shout with a voice of triumph. He’s coming again. Time will soon be enveloped into eternity. Trials and troubles will soon be history. Distress and sadness will soon make room for gladness. Death will soon be canceled by life, and this mortal body shall put on immortality. Yes, He’s coming again.
Fellow pilgrims bound for our eternal Canaan, lift up your eyes, lift up your voices, “lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord” (Ps. 116:13, NIV),3 He’s coming again. Sing a joyful song, He’s coming again. Tell the nations He’s coming again. Bless His name. Lift Him up. Rejoice in Him. Praise Him. Honor Him. Trust in Him! Lean on Him. Bow down before Him. Adore Him. Worship Him. He’s coming again!
Alain Coralie is associate executive secretary of the East-Central Africa Division, located in Nairobi, Kenya. He and his wife, Caroline, have one daughter, Audrey-Joy.