Remembering God’s Presence in the Land (Joshua 4:1-9)

Bible Commentary / Produced by TOW Project
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The ultimate blessing for the people in the land is that God will be with them. The people celebrate this blessing by passing in front of the ark of the Lord—the abode of his presence—and dropping memorial stones in the Jordan riverbed. Israel’s prosperity and security in the land are to come from the hand of God. Israel’s work is always derived from the prior work of God on their behalf. Whenever they become disconnected from the presence of God, the trajectory of their labor turns downward. Witness the somber note sounded in Judges 2:10-11: “Moreover, that whole generation was gathered to their ancestors, and another generation grew up after them, who did not know the Lord or the work that he had done for Israel.” The subsequent problems of Israel stem from their failure to acknowledge God’s work on their behalf.

We also could ask ourselves whether we are paying attention to God’s work on our behalf. The question here is not whether we are working well for God, but whether we can see him at work for us. At work, most of us find a tension between advancing ourselves and serving others, or between “a very I-centered system of self-interest” and “the welfare of the other side,” as Laura Nash puts it in her excellent exploration of this dynamic.[1] Could it be that we are trying too hard to look out for number one because we are afraid no one else cares about us?

What if we made it a practice to keep track of the things God does on our behalf? Many of us keep mementos of our successes at work—awards, plaques, photos, commendations, certificates and the like. What if every time our eyes passed over them we thought, “God has been with me every day here,” rather than “I’ve got what it takes.” Would that free us to care more generously for others, yet still feel more taken care of ourselves? A simple way to start would be to mentally note or even jot down each unexpected good thing that happens during the day, whether it happens to you or to someone else through you. Each of these could become a kind of memorial stone to God, like the stones the Israelites placed in the waters of Jordan to remember how God brought them into the Promised Land. According to the text, this was a very powerful reminder to them “and they are there to this day” (Joshua 4:1-9).