Any reading through the early books of the Old Testament will give you numerous references to the building of altars. Abraham built altars to remember promises, to give thanks, to celebrate victories. So did his sons Issac and Jacob. One of my favorite accounts of an altar assembled is found in the book of Joshua, chapter four. Joshua was the new leader of the Israelites, taking over where Moses had left off. What difficult shoes those were to fill! God wanted to show His people that He was with Joshua just as He was with Moses. So He performed a miracle, allowing them all to cross the Jordan (during its seasonal flood stage) on dry ground. Keep in mind, none of these people were alive when Moses parted the Red Sea so this was a big deal. God didn't want them to forget this event so He gave Joshua instructions on what to do next and Joshua followed them.
"So Joshua called together the 12 men he had appointed from among the people of Israel. There was one man from each tribe. He said to them, “Go back to the middle of the Jordan River. Go to where the ark of the Lord your God is. Each one of you must pick up a stone. You must carry it on your shoulder. There will be as many stones as there are tribes in Israel.“The stones will serve as a reminder to you. In days to come, your children will ask you, ‘What do these stones mean?’ Tell them that the Lord cut off the flow of water in the Jordan River. Tell them its water stopped flowing when the ark of the covenant of the Lord went across. The stones will always remind the Israelites of what happened there.”
My father was a young boy the day World War 2 ended, and he vividly recalls adults crying and church bells ringing. But when I arrived on the set, less than two decades later, that conflict seemed like ancient history to me. While I was a newborn, our country came dangerously close to nuclear war with Cuba and I have no memory of it. As my own children were growing up in the 80's, America was embroiled in a fearful Cold War with Russia that they know little about today. And my sweet grandchildren were not yet born on the unforgettable 911, and children not much older than they have asked me, "What does that mean? Who attacked our country?" I blink at them in disbelief. We can lose the importance of something so significant in less than ten years--to say nothing of a generation! God knows our propensity to forget. Life-changing events, even the miraculous, get watered down in our memories over time--certainly in the retelling to folks who weren't around to see them firsthand. The building of altars and monuments of remembrance is an old tool to keep alive precious memories. It's why people erect gravestones, build monuments to remember great battles.
Today our country observes Veterans Day, a day of remembrance, where we honor those who have fought for our country and our freedoms. Many will gather at the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington Cemetery to remember those who died, with no monument of their own, because their sacrifice matters. People who forget God and forget what others have given for them are people who are not thankful. It is our job as parents, grandparents, and teachers, to make sure our children remember that the world did not begin the day they were born. We need to teach them about the blessings and responsibilities of freedom and the threats of bondage, both spiritual and cultural. God has a remedy for this if we will but diligently employ it:
If we neglect our responsibility to teach these truths to our children, the result will be disastrous. The next generation will forget that everything they have is a gift. They will forget that they stand on the shoulders of others who sacrificed and worked and, in turn, stood on still other shoulders. They will forget that we are a blessed, privileged people who could not begin to earn the bounty we enjoy. Make sure the children know. Teach them to thank God. Teach them to thanks others, beginning with your nearest veterans.
Let us never forget. Give thanks.