Connections 03.31.2019: Gratitude Plus Responsibility

Joshua 5:1-12

We have a five-week-old granddaughter. She gets fed every few hours. She doesn’t have to do anything for her food. It just shows up. She partakes, burps, and goes back to sleep. She will have no memory of this time of grace, but she’ll eventually hear about, understand it, and, I trust, appreciate it.

Our granddaughter has a twenty-month-old big brother. He has progressed through the necessary steps from drinking from a bottle to his current stage of eating and drinking lots of good stuff. We say he “feeds himself,” but his food is still provided for him. He sits in his high chair, someone puts his food in front of him, and he eats it. Then he gets out of his chair and gets on with his very exciting and interesting life.

The time will come when they will grow up—it will come all too quickly—and they will have to provide their own food. They’ll have to work for it. I hope they’ll learn to thank God for it even so. After all, food wouldn’t be there for them to purchase and prepare if God hadn’t made the raw materials.

In this week’s lesson text, the people finally reach the promised land after spending forty years in the wilderness.  During their time in the wilderness, God provided manna for them to eat. It appeared every morning by God’s grace. All they had to do was go out and pick it up.

Now, for the first time, the people eat the produce of the land. When they do, the manna ceases. This time, they eat what’s already in the land. In years to come, they’ll have to plant it, tend to it, and harvest it.

They’ll have to work for it. But it will still be a gift from God.

I don’t suppose our granddaughter cares, but drinking the same formula day in and day out must get pretty boring. Eating the same manna for forty years must have gotten old. I don’t guess they even had any hot sauce to put on it (hot sauce makes most things better). When they got settled in the land, they had to work for what they ate. But at least they had some variety!

Mature human beings find meaning in working for what they get while simultaneously thanking God for it. They find joy in both God’s gifts and their efforts.

The lectionary’s Gospel text for this Sunday is Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son (Lk 15:1-3, 11b-32). I think the older brother misses an opportunity. Unlike his younger brother, he has grown up and taken responsibility. But when his brother returns home to their father’s welcome, the older brother’s bitterness reveals that he hasn’t learned to appreciate the dual gifts of enjoying his father’s bounty (he could work on the farm only because his father had a farm to share) and responsibly doing his part to work the father’s land. Yes, the prodigal experiences radical grace when he comes home. But the older brother could have been experiencing the joy of doing his part to develop and increase the gifts of the father.

Gratitude plus responsibility equals maturity.

Discussion

  1. The leaders of the people of the land were flabbergasted by what the Lord had done for the people of Israel. What happens among the people of God today that flabbergasts people around us?
  2. God told Joshua to lead a circumcision ceremony because the males born after those who came out of Egypt hadn’t been circumcised. Circumcision was an important identifying mark for the men of Israel. Baptism is our identifying mark. What else should mark our lives as baptized followers of Christ?
  3. The people named the place where the circumcision took place Gilgal, which means “to roll.” They called it that because the Lord told Joshua, “Today I have rolled away from you the disgrace of Egypt.” What kind of disgrace do we need to have rolled away from us? How does God do so? How do we know that God will do so?
  4. Why do you think God stopped sending the people manna when they entered the land? Thinking of the manna as a symbol, what kind of manna does God provide in our lives? When? How can we sometimes benefit from God ending our supply of manna?

Reference Shelf

Modern interpreters have proposed two understandings of [the book of Joshua’s] origins. In either case, at some time removed from the events described, individual accounts were gathered, arranged, and supplemented with theological reflection in order to give a sustained and educational portrait of Israel’s past. It is the conclusion of the story that begins with Genesis, and thus it depicts the actualization of the deity’s oft-repeated promise of land to the descendants of the patriarchs (e.g., Gen l2:7). Thus, the first six books of the Bible (a Hexateuch) have a unity, even if compiled in stages (so von Rad). (2) It is the continuation of the story of Israel’s history in the land of Canaan, which begins with Deuteronomy and concludes with 2 Kings. That is, it is part of the once independent “Deuteronomic History” (so Noth).

The second of these alternatives is now usually accepted by interpreters. The historical portrait by the “Deuteronomic Historian,” if taken seriously by readers during the exile (587-539 B.C.E.), would give an understanding of why the land was gained and lost, and would perhaps gender hope for the future. The goal of the “History” was not to present a sterile recitation of objective happenings but rather to state the theological facts (from a prophetic and deuteronomic point of view).

The role of the Book of Joshua within the larger “History” would be to stress that the land had been the deity’s to grant as a free gift (and thus the deity’s to repossess in case of dissatisfaction with the tenants). This theological assertion is bolstered by minimizing details of Israel’s warfare in a protracted struggle: the land was transferred to the recipients of the promise with a minimum of effort and in a relatively short time. Likewise, any accommodation with the Canaanite inhabitants is minimized, in order to stress that acceptance of foreign ideas and practices not only led to the exile but also was not to be tolerated after a return to the homeland.

Lloyd R. Bailey, “Joshua, Book of,” Mercer Dictionary of the Bible (Macon GA: Mercer University Press, 1990), 471.

Michael Ruffin is husband to Debra, father to Joshua (Michelle) and Sara (Benjamin), grandfather to Sullivan and Isabella. A graduate of Mercer University and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, he has previously served as a pastor and as a university professor. He lives on the Ruffin Family Farm in Yatesville, Georgia. He is the Connections Series Curriculum Editor.

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Comments

  1. Trudy Shuford says

    Where is the commentary for April 7? It’s usually here the Sunday before, but this still has today’s information.

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