Memorial Day, (originally called Decoration Day) is a day of remembrance for those who have died in our nation's service.
There are many stories how this day began, with over two dozen cities and towns laying claim to being the birthplace of Memorial Day. There is also evidence that organized women's groups in the South; were decorating the graves of loved ones before the end of the Civil War.
Memorial Day was officially proclaimed on May 5, 1868 by General John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, in his General Order No. 11.
It was first observed on May 30, 1868, when flowers were placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery. The first state to officially recognize the holiday was New York in 1873. By 1890 it was recognized by all of the northern states.
We set aside this day in order that we take time to remember, for otherwise the sad truth is, how fast we are given to forget.
A couple years ago my wife and I visited Washington where we stopped at Arlington National Cemetery and watch the change of the guard at the tomb of the Unknown Solider.
It is viewed as sacred ground with a perpetual hush, in honor and in memory of those who have paid the ultimate price to their country.
Memorials are built for later generations, to speak of the heroism of others and to teach lessons that must be passed on.
In our text, Israel has suffered its first defeat where many died, all because Achan took of the cursed thing from Jericho; but also Israel had left something undone. I don’t know, maybe they thought the conquest of the Land was going to be easy after Jericho.
They had forgotten Moses’ words in Deuteronomy 27 where they were to build an alter, in dedicating themselves to the Lord their God and in committing themselves to His Word for strength in this conquest.
So Joshua pushes the “pause button” on their campaign in taking the land, in order to worship the Lord. Joshua leads the nation some 30 miles north to Shechem, to a place which lies in the valley between Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim.
This becomes a lesson for us, of the need to pause within our busy lives, to worship and commit ourselves to the Word of God. Remember the Lord’s words in Matt. 4:10, “Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God.”
Joshua had to build an alter, but like the Jewish nation we are to:
I. WORSHIP OUR GOD. (Joshua 8:30,31)
Mount Ebal means “the Mount of cursing” and this is where Moses had directed Joshua to come and build an alter unto the Lord. For if Israel continued to as they had, cursing is what they would find.
The execution of Achan was important, in order for the nation to experience a victory over Ai. A sacrifice was needed to remove the curse of the Law.
But moreover, Israel had gotten ahead of God, failing to find their direction from the Lord. This is why Moses directed them to come here, (out of their way) as this is an important thing that can not be left undone.
Joshua, in v.31, follows the instructions in building this alter from Ex. 20:25; where no tool was to be used on the stones in shaping them.
The alter was to be left in it’s natural state, maybe even a little bit on the crude side; as no work was to be connected with the sacrifices placed on this alter.
Likewise for us today, no one is to think their works can save them. We are not to boast in ourselves, in the work that is the Lord’s, as He will not share His glory.
The priests will offer (2) kinds of sacrifices upon the alter:
· First, a burnt offering, as a complete consecration or in commitment to the Lord.
· Second, is a peace offering that was a free will offering. By this Israel was saying to God, “Thanks.”
But what is the purpose of this alter; why build it? Israel did have a tabernacle for this very purpose in conducting sacrifices.
For Israel, this particular sacrifice could not be just another of the thousands of sacrifices they will offer, and thus loss it’s significance.
The alter is to be a memorial, to remember how Israel had gotten away from the Lord and was defeated; but then also how Israel was to recommitted themselves to the Lord to find victory.
To the average person walking by, it is only a pile of stones with no meaning or purpose. But for Israel, it’s a memorial, to remind them of friends and loved ones who died because they had forgotten the Lord. It’s a memorial to remind them as they go into battle again, they must first look to the Lord in order to find victory.
In many ways for us today, our memorial is the Lord’s Supper: Communion. The Bibles we gave to our graduates can become a type of memorial, in remembering their accomplishments and the need to first look to the Lord to find His continued blessings in their lives.
A Memorial can be anything that reminds us of the past and causes us to press on, in the Lord’s strength. By this focus, (as a reminder of the Lord) it becomes a part of our worship.
Secondly, like the Jewish nation we are to:
II. AFFIRM THE WORD OF GOD. (Joshua 8:32)
Back in this day, it was customary for eastern kings to celebrate their exploits and victories, by engraving them on tablets of stone. The Rosetta Stone is a famous example of such boastings.
But Israel has suffered a defeat at Ai, where if Israel is to find any future victory; they must boast in the Lord. So Joshua affirms the Law of God as important to Israel, by writing it upon the stone alter.
Actually, from Deut. 27:4, the Law was engraved on plaster that over laid the stones. The point is: God wants His people to hold forth the Word of God as an important part of their life.
Today, we affirm the Word of God by worship services that center around the preaching and teaching of the Scriptures.
People affirm the Word of God in different ways on a more personal level: For some, it is the placement of a bumper sticker on the back of their car.
For others it is the wall hangings or pictures used to decorate your home; or a Nativity scene erected at Christmas time instead of a figure of Santa Claus.
It might be a Christian “T” shirt or Jewelry that is worn, even carrying your Bible to church. At a court house, it has been the posting of the Ten Commandments.
Whatever it is for you personally, it tells the world that your faith is important to you. And that is why they object.
In Joshua’s Day, people did not have copies of the Law to read of its instruction or gain its guidance and so, Joshua posts the Law on the side of the alter.
By affirming the Law, when Israel faced their enemies, they were declaring that they were the children of God and not just another invading army.
Now they could fight in the Lord’s strength, they will take the land the Lord gives to them, and they become a living witness of the power of God.
Remember the hearts of the people at Jericho. Their hearts did melt at the thought of Israel heading in their direction (5:1), that wasn’t true at Ai.
People will never see the potential for blessing or the power of God within their lives, if they don’t first see how important it is in our lives.
This is why the Law was written upon the alter, as a memorial of where Israel needed to return to it. Whether we experience success or defeat, it will be how we not only view the Word of God, but as we will see, how we hear it.
Like Israel, it’s not enough to simply affirm the Word of God as important, we must further:
III. REHEARSE THE WORD OF GOD (Joshua 8:33-35)
Paul said it in Phil. 3:1, “To write the same things to you, to me indeed is not grievous, but for you it is safe.” For us today it might be the Gospel or some other truth; we need to hear it over and over again.
Israel was defeated at Ai, because the Law of God was not affirmed and rehearsed (at the very least) in the ears of Achan. That is why Israel is now at Shechem.
Notice how Joshua has Israel arrayed; with half of the tribes over against Mount Gerizim and the other half over against Mount Ebal.
We said of Mount Ebal, the name meant Mount of Cursing; moreover, Mount Gerizim means Mount of Blessing. Both mounts depicts what is potentially found within the Law, both cursing and blessing.
In Deuteronomy 27:15ff, Moses directs as the Law was to be rehearsed or read and consequences involving cursing was read, the people where to respond saying “Amen.”
Why? God wants man to be without excuse. All of Israel: both men and women, young and old, were to understand and agree to the whole counsel of God. Not just the good blessings of God, but even the curses.
We can’t pick and choose what we want to hear from God’s Word, it comes to us as a package from cover to cover and every where in between.
Some would say: we need more preaching against the sins of homosexuality, against abortion and pornography – these are sins which they are not guilty of. Preach your heart out against everyone else’s sin and I will say “Amen.”
But don’t preach on anger, gossip, forgiveness or other areas where I struggle with before the Lord. Paul says in Acts 20:27, “For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God.”
And that is exactly what Joshua is doing here by rehearsing the Law before Israel. Why? For what purpose? Look at the end of v.33, “…that they should bless the people of Israel.” Blessing the People was Joshua’s purpose.
Hearing the Word of God is to be a blessing to us, as by it our souls are strengthened as the Lord’s children. The Word of God is to be internal, written on our hearts by the Holy Spirit.
In the New Covenant mentioned in Jeremiah 31:33 the Lord says, “I will put my Law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people.”
We must hear to the Word of God in order that real change from the heart can take place, in molding and shaping us into the person of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Remember memorials ought to remind us of the past, but also to teach us lessons for the next generation, so they will never forget.