River Stones and Flint Knives

by J. R. Cuevas

“…Take up for yourselves twelve stones from here out of the middle of the Jordan…Make for yourselves flint knives and circumcise again the sons of Israel the second time…” 
~ Joshua 4:3, 5:2

Life and ministry is anything but monolithic. Talk to anyone about their life and you’ll quickly learn that life and ministry consist of distinct seasons and phases. Life is one big book with several chapters.

The life of our Lord Jesus Christ was no different. His thirty-plus years on earth could be divided into distinct segments. There was his public ministry as distinct from his private ministry. There was his ministry in Galilee as distinct from his ministry in Jerusalem. There was his preaching ministry as distinct from his work of atonement. There was his life as a carpenter as distinct from his life as a preacher. Such segments and seasons he experienced as we experience in our own lives.

Whether it’s at the dawning of a new calendar year or academic year, the start of a new job, the beginning of life as a married couple, the arrival of a first child, or the move to a new state or city, we are familiar with the arrival of new seasons—these are the beginning of new chapters. Whether we’re excited to start such a new chapter or saddened about closing the previous one, learning to step into new seasons of life is a part of, well, life. The question Christians must ask themselves is how to life each of these seasons for the glory of God.

I’m thankful for the Old Testament and that God provided written historical accounts for our instruction. These narratives teach us how to walk in a worshipful manner that brings pleasure to our Lord. Israel’s history as a nation came in seasons, usually marked by national leader. Joshua was a most noble of these. In his season of leadership, he was charged with the task of transitioning Israel from one of the most significant seasons to the other—from their forty-year period wandering in the wilderness to their conquest and division of the Promised Land, from the anticipation of the Promised Land to the realization of it. When he led the Israelites across the Jordan, he understood the importance of starting this season the right way. In light of this transition, he did two things that today serve as a template for God’s people as to how to approach new seasons of lives. 

Remembering What God has Done for Us
The default emotion for many when entering a new season—at least, when one understands the gravity of what’s happening—is anxiety. Excitement is often mixed with fear when people begin to contemplate the obstacles they see in the horizon. Whether it’s a young man about to enter into the military or a groom about to tie the knot, even the strongest of men can become consumed with the question, “What if things go wrong?”

Truthfully, living wisely means living in light of the prospect of both prosperity and adversity (cf Eccl 7:14). But sobriety and anxiety are two different things. The former results from living in light of God’s sovereignty; the latter, living in a way that forgets His faithfulness. And because we forget, we need reminders—reminders of how God’s hand worked on our behalf in the past. Crossing the Jordan in Joshua 4 for the Israelites was no small ordeal; it would mark the moment they stepped foot into the Promised Land and into enemy territory. The giants, who the spies had previously reported, were now in their midst. The previous generation (with the exception of Joshua and Caleb) demonstrated the human tendency to be consumed with fear of what appeared to be insurmountable obstacles and opposition. And thus, in Joshua 4, God commanded: 

…’Take up for yourselves twelve stones from here out of the middle of the Jordan, from the place where the priests’ feet are standing firm, and carry them over with you and lay them down in the lodging place where you will lodge tonight.’…then you shall say to them, ‘Because the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord; when it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off.’ So these stones shall become a memorial to the sons of Israel forever.

Josh 4:3, 7

The stones would serve as a memorial for Israel to remember that just as he dried up the Red Sea, so also he dried up the Jordan River. They would remember, upon looking at those stones, how the mighty hand of God that rules the universe acted on their behalf in the previous season in doing what they thought was impossible. 

Let the man then who is tempted to grow anxious about the unknown ask himself: “Has God ever let me down in the past, and has He ever done anything that didn’t work out for my good?” Remember then how God has been faithful to you in the previous season. And if you are His in Christ, what makes you think that He will abandon you in the next season of life? Seasons may change, but God’s love remains (Rom 8:38-39). 

Consecrating Ourselves to God
While we remember what God has done in the past, we can’t live in the past. We shouldn’t live in the past. God’s people don’t live in the “good old days,” but step forward into the future with strength and courage (cf. Josh 1:5-9). Given how God has worked in the past, how should we step forward into the future? So often, we get consumed with how we must tackle the obstacles and neglect our duties before the God—the God who said he will fight on our behalf and empower us to overcome those obstacles. Given the power of the Canaanites and the novelty of the territory, what was Israel to do? Sharpen their swords, you may think. Yet, in Joshua 5:2, God instructed Joshua what tool to fashion and employ: 

…Make for yourself flint knives and circumcise again the sons of Israel the second time…

Josh 5:2

Not swords, but flint knives. What good are flint knives when it comes to slaying giant Canaanites? Judging by human reason and pragmatic philosophy alone, flint knives are worthless. But the flint knives weren’t for military warfare. They were for circumcision, a symbolic act that signified that one had consecrated himself to Yahweh amidst a world that walked in rebellion against him. The river stones were for remembering; the flint knives, for consecrating. Before anything else, the first duty of God’s people in new territory and in a new season was not to strategize for battle, but to wholly dedicate themselves and all of their prospective endeavors of the new season to the Lord. 

Before tackling the obstacles of the world, we ought to make sure that we are walking as ones separate from the world. 

Entering into new seasons of life brings about a long laundry list. But before all the planning and strategizing, God’s people have a primary action item—to genuinely and publicly devote themselves to the Lord amidst a world that has rejected him. When moving into a new city and state, it’s for this reason that the first order of business is to look for a church that into which you can integrate yourself. Before trying to figure out finances, home situations, kids’ education (all of which people of the world worry about and that God Himself knows we need), we need to ensure that we are living as men and women wholly set apart to God, his ways, and his work. As those who have been saved by the mercy of God, let us offer ourselves as living sacrifices to him (Rom 12:1-2). Before tackling the obstacles of the world, we ought to make sure that we are walking as ones separate from the world. 

So as we close the chapter on the previous season and step into the new season, gaze at those river stones and take out the flint knives. 

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