God is not a history buff. You would almost think He was. He has so many chapters in his Book that recapitulate the history of the Hebrew people, sometimes starting with the wandering nomad from Ur, and sometimes from the parting of the Red Sea. And then there are the hundreds of other abbreviated synopses throughout the Bible, embedded in many a narrative.
And it seems like all His "favorites" are little history buffs like Him. The Psalmist tells again the "dark saying from of old," though they are "things that we have heard and known, that our fathers have told us" (Psalm 78). Peter, baptized in the Spirit, becomes a raconteur (Acts 2). Stephen's last act before his executioners is to tell the old, old story (Acts 7). When the synagogue ruler in Antioch ask if anyone has a word to share, Paul stands up and relates the history of Israel---to Jews (Acts 13).
In today's chapter, Joshua, the venerable general venturing out of retirement for a farewell address, chooses for his final words a review of history.
But my epiphany this morning is that God is not into history for history's sake. Several words stand out to me in the old warrior's address---the words "sea," "Balaam," and "hornet." Riddle: What do these references have in common? Answer: They are all ways that God saved his people that have nothing to do with man's strength.
They involve, respectively in verses 7, 9, and 12, the incident in which God sends a wind to part the waters for an escape route (no man gets the glory for this deliverance); the incident in which a talking donkey is key and a foolish prophet is reduced to a megaphone (no man gets the glory for this deliverance); the incident in which an advance team of hornets softens up the enemy ahead of Israel's army (no man gets the glory for this deliverance). I am even a bit surprised that Joshua doesn't bring up the hailstones: "There were more who died because of the hailstones than the sons of Israel killed with the sword" (Joshua 10:11). And the sun that obeyed the voice of God and stopped in its course to give an unfair edge to Israel in battle (Joshua 10:13).
All but the naive know that history books always have an agenda or organizing principle. What is God's agenda here? Is it a coincidence that every instance selected in this condensed narrative refers to occurrences beyond usual human experience?
"It was not by your sword or by your bow," Joshua summarizes in verse 12.
At age fiftysomething I am no longer interested in theology for theology sake, any more than God is interested in history for history sake. It is not a "neat insight" for me to see that God pulls deliverance out of a hat with signs and wonders, and that history does not proceed in a closed circle along naturalistic lines. The thought of Red Sea and Balaam and hornet and hailstones and tarrying sun is eminently practical for me. It not only changes my life; it changes my day. It makes me to feel safe to relinquish idols and to simply trust the One who will give me a miracle if I need one.
Psalm 78 puts the moral this way: "He established a testimony . . . which he commanded our fathers to teach to their children . . . so that they should set their hope in God . . . (verses 5-7).
Joshua's conclusion, and mine:
"As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord" (verse 16).
If God is going to conscript all nature for my deliverance, if He is really going to work out all things for the sake of those who love Him, right here on the hot pavement of life, then I am motivated to serve with abandon.
Herein is our comfort---that we do not save ourselves but God does all the saving. Herein is our dignity---that God allows us to become a part of that story.
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