40 So Joshua struck the whole land, the hill country and the Negeb and the lowland and the slopes, and all their kings. He left none remaining, but devoted to destruction all that breathed, just as the Lord God of Israel commanded. 41 And Joshua struck them from Kadesh-barnea as far as Gaza, and all the country of Goshen, as far as Gibeon. 42 And Joshua captured all these kings and their land at one time, because the Lord God of Israel fought for Israel. 43 Then Joshua returned, and all Israel with him, to the camp at Gilgal. (Joshua 10:40–43 ESV)
I am not a pietist, not by any stretch of the imagination. I have little patience for piety, especially the teetotaling, “I Am Righteous Before The Lord Because I Do Everything That I am Supposed to Do and Refrain From Everything I am Supposed to Do” kind of piety the seems to typify much of American Christendom.
Personal piety, that shows one is a good person who is right with God. That one does what God says.
In this, I am fully Lutheran — I am a sinner, and I cannot follow the teaching of God. I cannot be righteous. I cannot do what God tells me, and I cannot stop doing what God forbids me.
I am only righteous because Christ forgave me, because I am included in his life, death, and resurrection in my baptism. Because he pronounces his forgiveness to me, time and again, at the table, where he redeeming promises are made real in bread and wine.
This is my body. This is my blood. Given for you. Do this and remember me.
But these last 20 or so verses of Joshua show something worth reminding even a rotgut sinner like myself — sometimes we can do what God tells us. Sometimes we are capable of following the commands of God, of doing good, of forbidding evil, and reaping the blessings that God has promised.
These last few verses are a litany of efficient brutality. Joshua puts a lot of people — five nations, to be precise — to the sword, leaving no survivors and letting no one escape, in the narrative from verse 29 to verse 43. Joshua is delivering his people into the land promised long ago.
But make no mistake, even as Joshua and Israel do all they are asked exactly as God asks, the work is still not theirs. The work is God’s. “For the Lord, the God of Israel, fought for Israel.” The Lord, and the Lord alone, delivered these people into Israel’s hands. Israel is merely an instrument.
The victory is God’s alone. The glory is God’s alone. The righteousness is God’s alone.
And so even as we can manage to follow the teaching, do (or not do) as God commands us, live upright whatever we strive for, or work for, or do, is still a gift, is still grace, still the provision of a merciful God who promises redemption to victory to we who have nothing of our own.
It is still nothing we have earned.