Learning Grace from Jericho
Grace is often misunderstood. We tend to emotionalize it, overly spiritualize it, or even mystify it. Some in the denominational world have taken it to extremes (to the exclusion of obedience) while others have dismissed it entirely making everything about obedience. As always, the truth is somewhere in the middle.
The best explanation of grace I find is in the Old Testament story of Joshua and the battle against Jericho. This story is familiar to many of us, but just in case you need a refresher, stop reading this article and go read Joshua 6.
In this story, God gifts the city of Jericho to the Israelites. In God’s words to Joshua, “See, I have given Jericho into your hand, with its king and the valiant warriors” (6.2). God essentially ties a figurative bow on top of the city and hands it to Joshua. Joshua and the people did not deserve this gift. If anything, it would make more sense for God to try them as they entered the land, to test their faithfulness, a test their forefathers had failed when they came to the east side of the Jordan River ready to enter. Joshua and the people had not proven their faith yet. They did not deserve this gift-wrapped city. Rather, God decided to give them this city, as a gift, because He wanted them to have it.
So Joshua was given instructions: “You shall march around the city, all the men of war going around the city once. Thus shall you do for six days. Seven priests shall bear seven trumpets of rams’ horns before the ark. On the seventh day you shall march around the city seven times, and the priests shall blow the trumpets. And when they make a long blast with the ram’s horn, when you hear the sound of the trumpet, then all the people shall shout with a great shout, and the wall of the city will fall down flat, and the people shall go up, everyone straight before him. (6.3-5).
There are three follow up question about God’s grace we learn from this story:
(1) Would God still have given them this gift if they had decided not to obey? I think we would all agree that He would not. God is justified in placing conditions on the offering of His gifts. We know that Joshua led the people to obey God on this occasion and God did give them His gift of defeating Jericho.
(2) Does this mean the people now deserved Jericho? Does this mean the people earned God’s gift? Did Jericho change from being a gift to being a reward because of God’s conditions? No where in the text does God state that He gave them the city as a prize for a job well done. The city remains a gift.
(3) Does placing a condition on a gift, or a requirement for acceptance, make the gift any less remarkable? Absolutely not. Every gift each of us have ever received has involved some conditions of acceptance. You must believe the gift is given, you must accept the gift, you must unwrap the gift, etc. God’s gift of Jericho was truly a remarkable gift because the people would have been impotent against it’s strength without God’s involvement. The people merely had to trust Him, accept the gift, and go take the gift from God’s hands.
Likewise, God has offered us a great victory as a gift. If we will believe He offers salvation, and reach out to take this gift through baptism, we can truly be saved. We cannot earn it, but we must accept it.