“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: 21-24).
Thanksgiving is a uniquely American holiday. It is a time we remember The Separatist Puritan settlers of Plymouth, known as Pilgrims, who had a communal feast with the neighboring Wampanoag tribe to celebrate their first harvest. It was a way of thanking God for their blessings. Since the settlement of the colonies, Americans were familiar with setting aside days of thanksgiving and prayer as a way to remember significant events. In 1789, President George Washington issued a proclamation designating November 26 of that year as a national day of thanksgiving to recognize the role of God’s providence in creating our new country. Later in 1863, President Abraham Lincoln took steps towards designating it a permanent federal holiday. As Americans, we have much to be thankful for.
Other countries celebrate their version of Thanksgiving. In China, the Moon Festival is celebrated as families gather on the 15th day of the eighth lunar cycle to celebrate the autumn harvest. Germans celebrate Erntedankfest, and Brazilians celebrate Dia de Ao de Graas. Canadians and Brits celebrate the Harvest Festival. God commanded the Jews to celebrate Sukkot, which is a celebration and thanksgiving for the fall harvest. “So beginning with the fifteenth day of the seventh month, after you have gathered the crops of the land, celebrate the festival to the Lord for seven days; the first day is a day of rest, and the eighth day also is a day of rest. On the first day you are to take choice fruit from the trees, and palm fronds, leafy branches and poplars, and rejoice before the Lord your God… All native-born Israelites are to live in booths so your descendants will know that I had the Israelites live in booths when I brought them out of Egypt” (Leviticus 23:39 to 23:43). Even in America, Thanksgiving celebrations vary depending on the region. Italian Americans gather around a huge pot of meatballs and spaghetti and back home in New Orleans, we swap out the “traditional” turkey, dressing and squash soup for Chicken Gumbo, Oyster Dressing and Turdunken while we eat beignets for breakfast!
No matter your ethnic background or family traditions, it is clear God commands us to REMEMBER! We are to remember His faithfulness and to remind future generations He fulfills His promises! The Books of Exodus, Leviticus and Deuteronomy are filled with God’s commands for celebrations and festivals of remembrances. One of my favorite stories is from Joshua 4. God commanded the Israelites to set twelve stones (one for each tribe) on the banks of Gilgal as a reminder of how God miraculously helped them safely cross the waters of the Jordan River. God had promised they would live in the land of milk and honey. The day the Ark of the Covenant crossed the Jordan River, the Israelites knew their time of wandering was over and their generation would finally live in the Promised Land.
In Joshua 4, God commanded the priests who were carrying the Ark of the Covenant to step into the waters of the Jordan and to cross it. This may not seem scary since we usually conjure up peaceful visions of John the Baptist baptizing the masses in the Jordan River. However, baptisms took place on the banks of the Jordan River. The Jordan River is actually 156 miles long, at some points it is 15 miles wide and is more than 10 feet deep. But keep in mind, when the Israelites crossed it, it was during flood season. During Hurricane season in the US, we are quite aware of how dangerous and plentiful flood waters can be. Noticed what the priests did. They obediently stepped into the raging flood waters. This is a powerful picture for us. As homeschooling moms, how many crazy obstacles has God called us to step into? Is coming home to homeschool a financial burden? Is God calling you to move to a new community, city, state or even country? Is God calling you to move your mother-in-law into your home and take care of her while still homeschooling your own? Are you having a new baby yet God is still calling you to continue to homeschool ALL of your little blessings? Have you or one of your children just been diagnosed with a disease that will slow you down or require more of your time and energy to battle? Or does just being called to homeschool another year feel like a huge mass of uncontrollable waters splashing you in the face?
Notice not only was God before them and with them (Ark of the Covenant) but 40,000 Reubenites, Gadites, and Manassehites crossed over before the Israelites ready for battle (v: 13). Once their feet touched the Jordan River, God miraculously pushed the waters aside so the Israelites could cross on dry land. We need to remember when God calls us to do hard things or to cross seemingly insurmountable obstacles, He makes a way. Not only is He with us, but he is before us and after us. Many of these Israelite adults were children when their parents safely passed through the Red Sea. This is the reason for the memorial stones. We need to remember God’s past faithfulness when facing present obstacles. We need to remember God saved us in the past! He miraculously answered big and small prayers in the past. He showed up in the past when we needed him the most. He was there for us even when no one else was.
God instructed the Israelites to set twelve stones on the west bank of the Jordan River as a visual and physical reminder of His faithfulness, his protection, and his saving grace. Every time the Israelites saw the memorial stones, it would remind them to worship God for saving them! Every time the children would ask about the curious stone memorial, it reminded the Israelites to share the story of God’s faithfulness to his people. Every time strangers in the land came upon the memorial, they would be reminded that the God of the Universe is a mighty and awesome God.
A friend of ours sets up a stone memorial every Thanksgiving. Each member of the family writes on a small stone something they are thankful for. Then on Thanksgiving morning, they gather together and place their new stones on the stones from years past. After ten years, they have quite a physical and spiritual reminder of God’s faithfulness. She loves their family’s Joshua 4 Stone Memorial in their backyard. Every time she waters, weeds or plays in the yard, she sees the memorial and is reminded of how much she has to be grateful.
Our family has a Thanksgiving tradition as well. Each year, we each write a list of five (or more) things we are thankful for. At breakfast on Thanksgiving morning, we each take turns reading our Thanksgiving List. Over the years, I have saved these lists and placed them in our Thanksgiving Faithfulness Journal. It is fun to read past lists and to see God’s hand in our lives throughout the years. My favorites are the lists from when my kids were little and they could barely write or spell. It is amazing to see how some friendships continue to bless us each year and how past events have become major turning points in our family’s life. By keeping track of our Thanksgiving lists, we have set up our own little Joshua 4 “stone” memorial.
Like my friend, I record important milestones but not on actual stones but in my Bible. When a prayer has been answered, I write the date and how God answered the prayer in the margin next to my original prayer request. When God fulfills a promise, I record the date and how God specifically fulfilled the promise next to the verse I highlighted. Next to Philippians 1:6 in my Bible, I write the names of family members who have given their lives to Jesus and the date of their conversion. It is my way of remembering God’s faithfulness and answers to my prayers. It is my hope and prayer that when I go home to be with the Lord, the pages of my Bible will be a testimony to my kids and to my grandkids of God’s loving-kindness and grace to me when I was alive.
What obstacles has God helped you cross this past year? How has God helped you and protected you? What promises has he fulfilled and what prayers has he answered?
Are you asking God to cross your Jordan with you or are you trying to navigate the flood waters alone? Are you surrounding yourself with fellow believers to help you face your obstacles or are you trying to do it alone?
How do you remember God’s faithfulness? What “stones” can you set up this year as a reminder of God’s faithfulness to you and your family? Are you keeping God’s faithfulness to yourself or are you sharing your “stones” with your family and with friends?
What “stones” can you look back on this month to help you get through a present challenge? God does not change. Just like He was faithful to you and your family in the past, He will be faithful now and in the future. This is the main reason God instructed Joshua and the Israelites to construct a memorial of stones. This is the same reason we should look back and remember God’s past faithfulness. He is worthy of our worship and praise and we should fear and be in awe of our Heavenly Father and Mighty God and Savior!
We truly have much to be thankful for this holiday season! May God richly bless you and shine His face upon you and your family.