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When the whole nation had finished crossing the Jordan, the LORD said to Joshua, “Choose twelve men from among the people, one from each tribe, and tell them to take up twelve stones from the middle of the Jordan . . . and put them down at that place where you stay tonight.”


In the future, when your children ask you, “What do these stones mean?” tell them that the flow of the Jordan was cut off before the ark of the covenant of the LORD. . . These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever. Joshua 4:1-3, 6b-7

For years I wondered what in the world was an “Ebenezer.” I loudly, if imperfectly, sang that verse from the hymn “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” that declared, “Here I raise mine Ebenezer”—but hadn’t the foggiest idea what I was supposed to raise.

These “Ebenezers” area raised several times in Scripture—as in the passage above. They are “stones of remembrance” or we might say memorials. They are intended to remind us, to link us with our history and heritage. God tells Joshua to erect this twelve stone memorial so that, not only for them, but also for generations to come, the story of God’s deliverance will be told. When the children query, “What do these stones mean?” the story of deliverance and grace will be retold.

Here we are on the front steps of the new millennium. The forecasts are for great and marvelous things ahead. We anticipate and celebrate the new. New opportunities, new discoveries—hopefully new appreciations for God’s grace and wonder. He is a God of newness: “Behold I make all things new.” Rev. 21:5.

It was the same with the people of Israel—entering now the long awaited Promised Land—this was the fulfillment of their yearnings. What a day of entrance into the land—hear the future lay before them!

But god knows how easy it is to lose our very identities if we have only a future and no heritage, no history, no memory. At the human and spiritual level, without a heritage we are a lost people. We are spiritually as tragic as the Alzheimer’s patient who has a “now,” but because there is no awareness of the past, there is only confusion.

One of the cultural and legal crises of our day is this loss of history and heritage. We are consumed with a legal positivism that has no sustaining roots, no awareness of history and heritage. As Harold Berman noted, “The historical soil of western legal tradition has been washed away.” Nations and legal systems, as much as individuals, are at risk when they lose their own histories—and forget what abiding principles brought them to this point.

Last summer our family built—ourselves—a log cabin in the mountains of North Carolina. Almost every day we took pictures: lifting logs, cutting timbers, raising beams, laying flooring, building steps—and we have a big picture album that we’ll show to anyone willing to look. Why did we do this? Because we wanted an “Ebenezer”—something that would remind us of the work, adventure, and joy of this part of our family history. We shall often, in the future, sit around a fire and look at those pictures—and remember, and tell again the story.

So it is for our spiritual histories. How important it is to know and tell the story of grace in our lives—of times of victory, healing, insight, and presence. Without them we’re amnesiacs—knowing not how we got here.

So God tells the people to place markers in their lives that assure they know who they are—from whence they came, that they remember God’s presence—and that the heritage is handed down. As we enter this new century, let us be sure that in our lives there are Ebenezers—markers that invite us to recall, and encourage other passers-by to ask of us “What do these stones mean?” And then we shall say: “I’m so glad you asked—let me tell you of the goodness of the Lord.”
Lynn R. Buzzard

– This article comes from AI’s “No Higher Calling,” a devotional for lawyers.