Do you believe in coincidence? The whimsical Yogi Berra remarked, “Some things are just too coincidental to be a coincidence.” I never thought of Yogi as a theologian, but he stumbled upon a rich theological persuasion of Christians. God’s superintendence of our lives “brings all things together for good for those who love God” (Romans 8:28).
“Coincidentally,” this semester I am teaching Joshua-Judges exposition. You’ll remember that God summons Joshua to take courage in Joshua 1:
“Be strong and courageous, for you are the one who will lead these people to possess all the land I swore to their ancestors I would give them. Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the instructions Moses gave you. Do not deviate from them, turning either to the right or to the left. Then you will be successful in everything you do. Study this Book of Instruction continually. Meditate on it day and night so you will be sure to obey everything written in it. Only then will you prosper and succeed in all you do. This is my command—be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the LORD your God is with you wherever you go” (vv. 6-9).
This divine command is an echo of Moses’ instruction to Israel and to Joshua on the plains of Moab as the people faced entering Canaan (Deut 31:6-7). Why is the call to courage essential to Israel’s success? The Canaanites were a formidable network of walled cities, defended by trained warriors, and possessed advanced armaments. The Israelites, however, were a vagabond group of second-generation slaves whose experience in war was minimal. It was a life and death decision.
Another echo of the call to courage is the defining moment in the wilderness when Moses encouraged the twelve spies to “be courageous” in their reconnaissance mission in Canaan (Num 13:20). Sadly, only Joshua and Caleb had the faith and mettle to implore the people to advance. Israel refused and God consigned the adult generation to die in the desert (Num 14:28-30). Now, at the border of Canaan will the second generation repeat their fathers’ resistance or answer the call to courage?
“Coincidentally,” at the same time I was leading a small group in Bible study, walking through John 13-17. On the night of Jesus’ arrest and trial, he met with his disciples to celebrate Passover in the “Upper Room.” He was preparing them for the horrific events to follow. Jesus forewarned them, saying, "I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace. You will have suffering in this world. Be courageous [take heart]! I have conquered the world" (John 16:33). The disciples, too, faced a life and death decision.
“Coincidentally,” are you reading this blog today? Is there a message here for us to consider as we undergo challenges? Some are inconveniences and others critical for livelihood, health, and life itself. Although we faculty, students, and staff are not in school these days, there is a lesson to be learned that no textbook or lecture can possibly teach us.
Kenneth Mathews is professor of divinity teaching in the areas of Old Testament and Hebrews.