STANDING STONES

The practice of setting up memorials to remind us and future generations of certain acts has been around for millennia. 

We have set up memorials in Western culture such as the Arc de Triumphe in Paris, France.   This keeps the memory of heroic acts of individuals and of nations before our collective memory.

used-arc-de-triumphe
Arc de Triumphe, Paris

The Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C. is an illustration of a memorial that is dedicated to one individual who had a particularly important role in shaping our country and its founding documents. 

Jefferson Memorial (C)
The Jefferson Memorial, Washington, DC

 

Abraham Lincoln’s Tomb in Springfield, Illinois honors the life and memory of a president whose life represented a desire for elimination of slavery and the drive to have a unified country where people could work but not be in bondage to anyone.

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Tomb of Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, in Springfield, Illinois.

In ancient days in the Middle East, people would erect sacred stones to honor their gods, to confirm covenants between persons and even between cities. 

According to Biblicaltraining.org, there is a term used by archeologists to identify a “sacred pillar”, that is a stone monument set up as a memorial or as an object of worship, also known as “standing stones”.  The technical term for such an object is MASSEBAH măs’ ə bə (מַצֵּבָ֖ה).

The Hebrews set up “standing stones” or “massebah” that would serve as a reminder of God’s covenant and of His supernatural acts that He extended on their behalf.  When members of the community would see a stone, the story surrounding it would be passed on orally from generation to generation.  In other words, the stone would serve as a sort of “lesson book” which was “read” by the parents, grandparents and relatives as they taught their children throughout future generations.

For example, Jacob set up standing stones at Bethel where he had his incredible dream in which God reaffirmed His covenant with him. Read about it in Genesis chapters 28 and 35. 

Another example is found in the book of Exodus: 

Moses came and told the people all the words of the LORD and all the rules. And all the people answered with one voice and said, “All the words that the LORD has spoken we will do.”  And Moses wrote down all the words of the LORD. He rose early in the morning and built an altar at the foot of the mountain, and twelve pillars, according to the twelve tribes of Israel.

Exodus 24:3-4.

One of my favorite men of the Old Testament is Joshua.  When the people were going to cross the Jordan River, God told him to take twelve stones out of the midst of the Jordan to use as standing stones for later generations. 

And the people of Israel did just as Joshua commanded and took up twelve stones out of the midst of the Jordan, according to the number of the tribes of the people of Israel, just as the LORD told Joshua. And they carried them over with them to the place where they lodged and laid them down there. … And those twelve stones, which they took out of the Jordan, Joshua set up at Gilgal.  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.”

Joshua 4:8, 20-24.

The people were to keep the story of God’s miraculous acts before the eyes and hearts of their children by way of oral tradition, which would be triggered by seeing the standing stones that were a testament to God’s acts on their behalf. 

This practice is also raised in the New Testament where Peter describes believers as “living stones” in 1 Peter 2:5.   In all likelihood, Peter was using the standing stones concept so that the hearers would live out their faith so boldly that the people around them would take notice.  Indeed, they were not mute standing stones that relied on the memories of the people for telling the story of God.  They were living stones who could tell of God’s acts in their own lives; they could personally tell of the difference in their own lives because of the Lord Jesus, and they could describe the power given by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. 

It is likely that Stonehenge is an illustration of standing stones to be used in calling people to the worship of their god.  The problem, though, is that no one knows with certainty what the stones mean … they are certainly standing stones, but there is no one who can speak positively to their significance. 

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Stonehenge

 

What does this have to do with us in 2016? 

We need to live in contrast to Stonehenge.  We are not to merely be silent stones standing up without any relevance to anyone.  We are to be living stones who tell of God and of His mercies to anyone we come in contact with, to anyone who will listen, to any … period!

We are to be the living stones for our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  We are to be ready to tell others of Jesus and His love, of His saving grace and atoning sacrifice, of His presence in our lives and of the comfort and encouragement that the Holy Spirit provides to us through all of life’s ups and downs.

Who is going to tell your children of God’s grace and mercy?  Who is going to illustrate the love of God to your grandchildren?  Who is going to testify to the ongoing presence of God in your life?  Who is going to repeat the stories of God’s protection, of His providential provision for your needs, of His deliverance from tragedy, of His surrounding mercy and grace during times of grief?

I pray that we each would be living stones for our God.  I pray that we would live lives that illustrate God’s presence in us and with us on a daily basis.  When people see us, our marriages, our families, our homes, our witness to others, I pray that what they will see is the image of our Lord and Savior as we seek to do His will in our communities, nation and world.

Father, help me to be a living stone for You.  Enable me to witness of your love, care, mercy and grace.  Give me Godly wisdom as I speak to others so that the words will be yours and the power of your Word will speak through me.  Thank You for the gift of life, now and for eternity, through your Son, Jesus Christ, my Lord and my Savior.

 

In Memoriam

Yesterday, we celebrated Memorial Day in the United States.  This holiday was formerly called Decoration Day because we decorated the tombs of our loved ones who had paid the ultimate price for our freedom.  The moniker Memorial Day is more likely attuned to the intent of the day.  While placing flags or flowers on tombstones is appropriate, we should take time to actually remember the fallen:  remember the sacrifice they made by giving their life for our cause, remember the families who have shared in that terrible cost at the loss of their spouse, son or daughter, mother or father, remember the life that was lost while we enjoy the freedoms that their actions provided.

 

 

Boston cemetery
A cemetery in Boston.

By setting aside a day to remember, we create a specific time when we can teach our children and grandchildren that our freedoms and rights are not cheaply obtained.  They are costly, and they are precious.

 

In the Gettysburg Address presented at a dedication ceremony for the Soldiers’ National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, the site of one of the bloodiest and most decisive battles of the U.S. Civil War, just a few months after the war had ended, President Abraham Lincoln rendered words that have resounded through the decades:

The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

 

Lincoln understood that the individual and cultural memory of significant events in the personal or corporate life of citizens must be maintained or the past actions will dissolve into an ethereal cloud without form or substance — in short, it will be lost.

 

The people of Israel in the Old Testament knew this because God specifically directed that there be standing stones, pillars if you will, that were to serve as reminders of the mighty acts of God on the people’s behalf.

 

While there are many examples in the Old Testament, one is found in Joshua chapter 4, when the people of Israel had just crossed over the Jordan River on dry ground.  God told Joshua that he should take twelve stones from the middle of the river and put them on dry land as a monument for future generations to see and learn of God’s acts.

And those twelve stones, which they took out of the Jordan, Joshua set up at Gilgal.  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.”

Joshua 4:20-24

 

Using markers to spark our memory is also found in the New Testament where we are reminded to remember our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ by a very different monument, the words of our Lord at the Passover Meal just before His arrest and subsequent crucifixion.   We call it the Lord’s Supper, or Holy Communion.  Paul described it as follows:

For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”  In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”

1 Corinthians 11:23-25.

 

At this season of remembrance, remember the sacrifice that provides freedom from sin and that gives life for all eternity, this eternal liberty comes from faith and belief in Jesus Christ and His work on the cross of Calvary.

Then he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”  And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.”

Acts 16:30-31.

 

Security in Christ and Cross
Security in Christ – College float from years past.

There is no other way to achieve salvation and eternal life — not our works and not the works or prayers of others.  Christ alone offers eternal life.

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

John 14:6

 

If you have trusted in Christ, praise His glorious name and thank Him for all that He has done for you, in this world and in the next.  If you do not know Christ, read the Bible and ask the Holy Spirit to illuminate your mind and heart so that you realize your sin and you can claim the forgiveness and glorious freedom from sin’s bondage that is available to you through Christ Jesus.

 

Take the opportunity this week to set aside a time to remember family members who served in the military, or those whose company we no longer have due to death from whatever cause.  Thank them for their service if they are still with us, and if not, thank the Lord for the benefits we have through the sacrifices that these individuals made. It is fitting and appropriate that we should do so, as individual citizens and, collectively, as a country.

 

But also remember the acts of God that have shaped your life.  In memory of … have you set up your “pillar of stones” so that you are reminded of all the times God has preserved you and led you through days of sorrow and trouble, into the peaceful valley of His presence?

 

In memory of …  you fill in the blank and then praise the Lord for His goodness and mercy.

 

Father, thank You for the land of America, for the forefathers who struggled and fought to live in a land where we have the right to worship without interference from the government, a land based on Your Word and Your Commandments.  Thank You, too, for those who have fought to keep our freedom sacred.  Guide this land and its citizens as we move forward in these times of stress, uncertainty and hatred.  Father, thank You for  Jesus Christ, Who is our Savior and Lord.  Help us to honor Him and rejoice in His work on our behalf.  Enlighten those who read this missive and have not accepted Jesus as Lord of their life … I pray that your Spirit would guide them into the knowledge of our Lord and His salvation.