Today is Memorial Day, a day set aside for remembering and honoring Americans who fought and died for our freedom. Its purpose is to help us keep in mind the deeds and sacrifices of these courageous men and women.

In a similar way, God has left memorials for his people to observe. In them, he helps us keep in mind what he’s done in the past, what he’s doing in the present, and what he’ll continue to do in the future.

The opening chapters of the book of Joshua provide several examples of spiritual memorials for the Israelites. Chapters 3-5 record their preparations for entering and conquering the Promised Land. In this group of texts, God commands Israel to observe several memorials that would help them see the significance of the moment.

The Ark of the Covenant. The ark was a wooden chest covered with gold (Exodus 25.10-22). It was called “the ark of the testimony” (Exodus 25.15); “the ark of the covenant of the Lord” (Numbers 14.44); “the ark of the Lord” (Joshua 3.13); “the Ark of God” (1 Samuel 4.11). 

When Israel first crossed the Jordan River, the ark went first, reminding them of the place God and his word must have in their lives (Joshua 3.l‐6). It reminded Israel that God’s covenant was universal (v. 11). The ark contained the tablets of stone (the Ten Commandments), Aaron’s rod that budded, and a jar of manna, all reminders of how the eternal God had intervened in history for the redemption of his people. It also reminded them that the Lord’s covenant was personal: He was in their midst (v. 9).

The Stones. After crossing the Jordan (4.1-9), the Israelites erect two piles of stones: one in the riverbed, and one on the riverbank. The first appeared whenever the tide was low, as a reminder of God’s intervention on their behalf. He miraculously parted the waters to give them passage into the Promised Land (v. 7, cf. chapter 3). The second reminded them that God kept his promises. These stones also reminded future generations and served to warn surrounding nations (4.21-24; 5.1).

Circumcision. Also after crossing the Jordan, the men of the nation were circumcised (5.1-9). The entire Israelite army was incapacitated within sight of the enemy, reminding them that they were entirely in the hands of God. Circumcision reminded Israel of the continuity with Abraham’s covenant (Genesis 17.9-14, 23-27). They were reminded that although circumcision was a mark of the sons of Israel, it was no guarantee of entering the Promised Land. It was also a reminder to circumcise their hearts (Deuteronomy 10.6; 30.6).

Passover. The Passover was celebrated on the eve of their departure from Egypt (Exodus 12.1-32). Now, forty years later, they were on the verge of entering the Promised Land, and they were to celebrate the feast again (Joshua 5.10). Passover commemorated their deliverance from bondage (Exodus 12.26-27). It was a reminder of their redemption from slavery.

Manna. Finally, the manna ceased (Joshua 5.12). Manna was given to them at the beginning of their wilderness trek (Exodus 16). It was the daily bread for an entire generation of Israelites, yet it was never intended to be permanent. When they entered the land, this token would cease. They could then enjoy the real fruit of the Promised Land.

Today, God’s people enjoy greater blessings than these (Ephesians 1.3-14), and we have our own set of memorials. Unlike the Israelites’ memorials, ours are primarily spiritual. 

Scripture. Like the Ark of the Covenant, we have God’s word – Scripture – as a reminder of God’s character and covenants (Hebrews 8.6-13; 1 Peter 1.22 – 2.3; 2 Timothy 3. 16-17). Like the ark, God’s word is also a record of salvation history. And, like the memorial stones, his word reminds us of God’s powerful interventions in the past and his precious promises for the future (Jude 5-7; 2 Peter 1.3-4).

The Lord’s Supper. Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper when he celebrated his final Passover with his disciples the night before he was crucified (Luke 22.14-23). Christians in the first century celebrated it on the first day of the week (Acts 20.7). Because of our redemption from the bondage of sin, we shouldn’t be surprised that Christ is called our Passover (1 Corinthians 5.7f). In this memorial we declare his death, burial, resurrection, and return (1 Corinthians 11.23-26).

Baptism. Jesus commanded his disciples to be baptized (Matthew 28.18-20), and the apostle Paul compared it to circumcision (Colossians 2.11-12). Like circumcision, baptism may be thought of as an beginning point (Galatians 3.26-27), and as something that represents a change from the old to the new (Romans 6.4ff), a change from death into life.

Spiritual Blessings. Finally, the spiritual blessings we have in Christ (Ephesians 1.3-14) serve the same function for us as manna did for the Israelites in the wilderness. They’re daily reminders of God’s heavenly blessings (Ephesians 1.3), intended both for our sustenance now, and as tokens of unimaginable blessings yet to come (v 13f).

What do these memorials mean to you?