It was the LORD who first identified his covenant people, Israel, as “קָהַל,” “qahal,” or an “assembly.” Learning from covenant statements throughout the first five books of the Bible, we see the importance of communication between generations in the family and in the community (Deut. 6:4-6). This “assembled” group of elect people was to serve as the nation from which God would manifest his presence in the world. The pinnacle of this manifestation was in the coming of God in “Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham” (Mt. 1:1).
One particular story in Joshua 4 perfectly demonstrates how the LORD wanted his faithfulness to be told from one generation to the next. There, we find a very peculiar story. After wandering in the wilderness for forty years, the people of Israel are on the brink of the Promised Land. They have come to the Jordan, which God miraculously dried up before them so that they, along with the Ark of the Covenant, could pass over on dry ground. This is it! They were nearing the entry point into the land that God had promised to them and God had miraculously made a way for them… again. But there is something interesting that takes place after they cross the Jordan. The LORD tells Joshua to get twelve men, one from each tribe, to gather one stone each from the dried up bed of the Jordan and to lay them where they were to lodge that night (vv. 1-3). What was God’s purpose behind this peculiar request? The LORD tells Joshua that the purpose of these stones is to be a memorial, a place of remembrance, a sign of the LORD’s faithfulness to all generations. The LORD says, “When your children ask… ‘What do those stones mean to you?’ then you shall tell them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it passed over the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. So these stones shall be to the people of Israel a memorial forever” (vv. 6-7).
In this moment of victory, the LORD intentionally creates a point of reference, a memorial to his faithfulness for the express purpose of teaching future generations to know and love him. The LORD is expressly interested in his glory and praise being proclaimed from one generation to another.
Most evangelical churches today are content to live in different worlds. There’s children’s church for the very young, “youth group” for the teenagers, there’s the “prime-timers” for the senior adults, and the newest addition to the club is the “young adults.” I say “young adults” loosely because that can mean anything from young “married-s” to “twenty-somethings,” to “singles,” and the list goes on. Now, let me say forthright that there is absolutely nothing wrong nor unbiblical about fellowship among peers and a desire to be with those like us. But there is something decidedly not only unbiblical but anti-biblical about making that the sum total of the Christian experience.
The LORD clearly intended for the Israelites to proclaim his greatness across generational lines. Presumably, this meant that they actually met, spoke, and… worshiped (“gasp”) with one another. We can’t seem to get over musical style and preferential differences long enough to even sit through the music portion of a service together, let alone actually speak with one another. In fact, the majority of evangelicalism had rather simply split their churches in two (or more) than to attempt to teach people the immense importance of inter-generational worship.
The LORD saw fit to give Joshua very detailed and peculiar instructions regarding inter-generational worship. If you’re not quite convinced by an Old Testament example, come back very soon as we continue this discussion in the New Testament in part II.