Text: Joshua 4:1-24, Joshua 5:1-15, Exodus 25:10-22
I think I have a super-nose. It has twice identified dangerous fires in the nick of time, once diagnosed an ear infection in a baby, and can always sense any change in my husband’s morning ablutions. The poor man can’t wash his face with a different soap without my nose sensing the difference. I’ve learned never to ignore a smell because scents yield up so much valuable information.
Our sense of smell also delivers when it comes to evoking memories. I learned to depend on smell when I was still young, so when I found myself in a moment that I wanted to impress on my memory forever, I used a scent to anchor it. Over time, I amassed a rolodex of lotions and perfumes that I used as markers for memory; I needed only to breathe in the scent to remind me of those treasured days. The smell of lime conjures up the peak of the Kahlenberg looking over the Danube River, and the smell of strawberry reminds me of our first apartment.
Purposeful, intentional memory building is not my own clever invention; God used markers in the Old and New Testaments to memorialize significant moments in the lives of His covenant people. Just like the Israelites, we are “forgetful hearers” and we need help remembering God’s past faithfulness and His future promises (James 1:25).
Israel had both God’s promises and His faithfulness to remember, and their escape from Egypt was bookended by two unbelievable river crossings: the Red Sea and the Jordan River. God taught them to remember by establishing an equally unbelievable monument. He commanded twelve men to heave giant river stones out of the muddy riverbed on their shoulders and carry them to shore. They muscled these stones into an heavy pile. As the slimy green algae dried on the rocks, they stood back, wiping their hands, to look at what they had done, and saw an impossible, otherworldly monument. These were rocks from the very bottom of the Jordan River. They never should have been seen, and yet, because God miraculously stopped the river, they were stacked on the shore as a reminder of God’s impossible miracle for generations.
This unlikely mound of river rocks was a testament and a signal that this was the end of an era. No more would they be wilderness wanderers; they had finally come home. “And the day after they ate from the produce of the land, the manna ceased. Since there was no more manna for the Israelites, they ate from the crops of the land of Canaan that year” (Joshua 5:12). God underscored the end of their travels by putting a stop to the manna. They could set up homes, and grow their own food on their own land.
As they settled in to this wonderful home they had never known before, it would have been easy to forget how they got there. Their legendary victories were only achieved when they walked in obedience, and their devastating failures were a direct result of failing to obey God. The people of Israel were inclined to forget the source of their help, and we lean right with them in that same direction.
Even as we set up memorials, using the power of sight and smell and our other senses to remember our lives, Joshua drives us to remember those old and sure memorials of God’s faithfulness. Israel’s epic victories were not undergirded by their own doing, but by God’s faithfulness to His promises.
“In the future, when your children ask their fathers, ‘What is the meaning of these stones?’ you should tell your children, ‘Israel crossed the Jordan on dry ground.’ For the Lord your God dried up the waters of the Jordan before you until you had crossed over, just as the Lord your God did to the Red Sea, which He dried up before us until we had crossed over. This is so that all the people of the earth may know that the Lord’s hand is mighty, and so that you may always fear the Lord your God.”
- Joshua 4:21-24