“The Lord gave to Israel all the land that he swore to their ancestors that he would give them . . . And the Lord gave them rest on every side.” -Joshua 21:43-44
Read Joshua 21:43-45
People love stories of heroes triumphing against all odds—whether a hero saving people from forces of evil or an athlete leading an underdog to a championship. Though heroic action borders on the humanly impossible, the outcome of the hero story depends on human effort. Hero stories may inspire us in life-giving ways, but their emphasis on human effort may have a downside. Stories can communicate that success, rest, peace or security depends on human effort—whether the heroic actions of an individual or the combined effort of many non-heroes. Human effort is required. We easily absorb the message that all depends on our effort.
Joshua’s life has the makings of a hero story, yet the narrative underscores not Joshua’s effort but God’s giving. The theme is repeated: “The Lord gave… the Lord gave…the Lord had given.” Joshua, the potential hero, put the emphasis in the same place as the story itself—God’s saving action. In his final reflections to the gathered people Joshua does not focus on what he did. Rather he states, “You have seen all the Lord your God has done” (23:3). The book of Joshua reminds us that the Bible is first and foremost about God’s giving, God’s action. Right at the heart of the biblical narrative is the ultimate gift of God—the action of God becoming human.
What are ways the belief that your effort is central and all important has crept into your being? How might you in this Advent reorient toward the centrality of God’s gracious action?
Gracious God, I ask you to liberate me of the burden of thinking my action is of greatest importance. Help me to recognize your loving action in the world and my life.
Mark D. Baker, Ph.D., Professor of Mission and Theology,
Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary