The birthday cake has just been cut, the kids are ready, and the screaming ensues—“I want the first piece!” Being first feels right to a kid. We can all create great stories about how we deserve the privilege of being first.
First is attractive because you know there will be enough. There is no danger of getting left out when you’re at the front of the line. First means you will get your piece of the cake.
But we all know that to insist on being first is selfish and glares of pride. I often think I would rather be next. Not first, but next—perpetually next. That way I won’t look as arrogant, and I can look over the shoulder of the person in first place and still know there is enough for me. Being next appears less selfish and I know I’ll still get my piece cake.
Joshua was neither first nor next. He was actually beyond last. Joshua 19:49 reads, “When they had finished distributing the land into its territories, the Israelites gave Joshua son of Nun an inheritance among them.” The land had been given; the cake had been handed out. Joshua missed the joy of being first and even the expectation in being next.
Land was the economy of life in that time; no land equaled no life. But maybe Joshua had the audacity to hope for a different land, a different life. Maybe he understood the joy and sacrifice of being the parent at the birthday party—the one whose job is to serve cake to dirty-faced kids who each would love to be first, and who have great sales pitches for why first place suits them best.
We’re told the land for the tribes was divided by lot (Joshua 14:2), which was a common way to keep the ‘sales pitches’ in check and acknowledge God’s place in distributing the land. Joshua’s inheritance, however, was given by the people. As the leader, Joshua modeled selfless living before the tribes, and they saw the example he set. They saw how Joshua served God and how they benefited from his faithfulness. So the elders honored his leadership and sacrifice by giving him an inheritance of his own. In God’s economy, there was still plenty left for Joshua.
Like a parent who serves his children before himself, Joshua was a leader who waited. In his waiting, Joshua trusted the God who sustained him. Joshua knew the greater inheritance was not in the land or in the praise of the people he led. His inheritance was that the God of all creation knew his name.
The patience of waiting is a grace to be learned. As followers of Christ, we hope for a greater inheritance than we will experience in this land. That hope is evident in our contentment to be beyond last, knowing that the God of creation knows our names too. As heirs with Jesus, we will not be left out.
Written By Jason Tippetts