The Era of Joshua and the Judges
As in every era of redemptive history, faithfulness in the little things—or lack thereof—had an incredible impact during the era of Joshua and the judges. We remember Joshua’s era as one largely characterized by faithfulness. For instance, Rahab was faithful in the little things by showing hospitality to the Israelite spies. The very ordinary practice of doing good to her guests ended up saving their lives and allowed them to bring critical intelligence to Joshua regarding the city of Jericho (Josh. 2).
Yet, in Joshua’s day, an episode of unfaithfulness in the little things nearly derailed the conquest. God commanded the Israelites not to keep any of the “devoted things”—gold, silver, and other precious items—for themselves when they laid siege to Jericho. Achan of Judah, however, was unfaithful. He kept for himself a fine cloak and 250 shekels of silver and gold—less than 125 ounces in today’s measurements—instead of putting them in the Lord’s treasury. In light of the wealth available from Jericho, this was a small amount. It was a small thing that Achan did not take seriously and a small matter in which he did not obey. Yet, Achan’s sin ended up causing the Israelites’ defeat in their first attack on Ai, almost putting a halt to the conquest of Canaan (chs. 6–7).
During the leadership of the judges, unfaithfulness in the small things was the order of the day. We remember Samson as perhaps the greatest of the judges, yet he was unfaithful in the tiny things related to his Nazirite vow. By the end of his life, Samson violated all of the Nazirite requirements—little, relatively easy things such as not drinking alcohol, not cutting his hair, and not going near dead bodies. God used him to eliminate many Philistines, but his unfaithfulness in the little things put him in a position where he lost his life in the process (Judg. 13–16; see Num. 6).
Of course, some of God’s people were faithful in the little things during the era of the judges as well. Consider Ruth the Moabitess, who would not break the fifth commandment even when her mother-in-law Naomi gave her a way out. Ruth clung to Naomi and went above and beyond in honoring her. Her little acts of faithfulness in looking out for Naomi and in gathering food for her did not go unnoticed by Boaz. He saw her faithfulness in the small things—the ordinary, daily labor required to support her family—and realized that this was no ordinary woman. That’s the thing about “small” matters: it can be easier to be faithful in the big things of life, to make the really important decisions, than it is to persevere in the daily grind of ordinary obedience and care. It takes hard, often unnoticed work to be faithful in the small things, but such faithfulness is the stuff noble servants of God are made of. Ruth’s faithfulness to Naomi ended up carrying the line of Judah on through David and beyond to David’s greatest Son, the Lord Jesus Christ (Ruth 1–4; Matt. 1:1–17).
The Age of Kings and Prophets
Saul, Israel’s first king, learned the importance of faithfulness in the little things the hard way. When called to utterly destroy the Amalekites, their king, and their flocks, Saul paid attention to the little things but in the wrong way. He was supposed to kill every animal and every person, but he initially spared the life of Agag, the Amalekite king, and he took the time to separate out the choice animals and preserve them. It took attention to the little details of the animals to figure out which were of high quality and which were not. By attending to those little things, Saul was actually unfaithful, for the Lord ordered the animals’ deaths. As a consequence, the Lord rejected Saul from being king over Israel (1 Sam. 15).
That brings us to David, the greatest king of ancient Israel, a man renowned for his prowess in battle and dedication to the Lord. But how often do we remember that David paved the way for his kingly success by being faithful in the little things during his youth? Before being selected as king, during his formative years, David faithfully tended the flock of his father Jesse. Like other good shepherds, he had to know the sheep by name, keep an eye out for minute signs of disease or injury, memorize the safe paths for travel, know how to recognize the choicest pastures for feeding, be alert to the presence of sneaky predators, and be aware of a host of other small things. To fight off predatory animals, he had to become an expert sharpshooter with his sling, to train regularly even when he did not feel like it, developing his aim. To get to the point where he could stun or even kill a predator going after his sheep, David had to train for accuracy, focusing on little things such as the weight of the stone, the force of the throw, the proper distance from which to fire his sling, and more. Yes, the Lord was with David to give him victory over Goliath, but David’s success in felling the giant likely resulted from his years of practicing with his sling (1 Sam. 16–17). Such care in the small things doubtless benefited him in providing training for battle strategies. If one learns how to outwit and outfight a sneaky wolf, he is well prepared to put down a crafty soldier.
Solomon fell into idolatry near the end of his life, but his earlier faithfulness and care in the little things provided God’s people with a treasure of wisdom that transcends the ages. “God gave Solomon wisdom and understanding beyond measure,” and Solomon faithfully used this gift as he paid attention to the details of the created order—the strength and majesty of Lebanon’s cedars; the behavior of beasts, birds, reptiles, and fish (1 Kings 4:29–34). He was faithful to look for the little ways in which all of these things show wisdom even for human beings, and the fruit of his labors is found in the book of Proverbs. Many of the biblical proverbs are based on analogies drawn with the natural world (e.g., Prov. 6:6–11; 27:18).
Speaking of the book of Proverbs, its very existence testifies to the impact of being faithful in the little things. The book of Proverbs seems to present itself as a tool for teaching young men and women wisdom and the fear of the Lord (1:7–8). Since it was assembled under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit many centuries ago, the book of Proverbs has been used by God’s people to equip their children and even adults to serve our Creator. We do not read about every man and woman in the history of the covenant community who has been devoted to the little details in Proverbs. Yet, like the commandments given through Moses, the biblical proverbs have been impressed upon people day by day, week by week, month by month, year by year (see Deut. 6:4–9). The power that has come from being faithful in the little moments to teach these “little” proverbs is incalculable. We dare not overlook what parents and church leaders can accomplish in sustaining and maturing God’s people through teaching the little nuggets of wisdom found in God’s Word, including in the book of Proverbs.
Many examples of faithfulness in the small things in Scripture have to do with hospitality. In the ancient cultures that first received the Scriptures, hospitality was such a given that we can count it as a little thing. In other words, people were expected to be hospitable even to strangers, but especially to the servants of the Lord. Even though caring for guests takes effort, it was a “little thing,” an everyday expectation woven into society, something not out of the ordinary. During the era of the kings of Israel and Judah, we have two notable instances of faithful hospitality. The widow of Zarephath fed the prophet Elijah with the little food she had remaining, and the Shunammite woman made a room in which Elisha could lodge when he was in town (1 Kings 17:8–16; 2 Kings 4:8–17). These women faithfully served God’s prophets in the “little work” of hospitality and in all of the ordinary things that go with it—making the bed, preparing a meal, and so on. Their faithfulness in the small things sustained the prophets in their vital work. Who can estimate the amount of good that the hospitality of God’s people has produced throughout church history when preachers, missionaries, and others have found the saints hospitable in times of need?
God has always expected His people to give testimony to the work and glory of the Lord of Israel. That is at least part of what it means for the children of God to be a “kingdom of priests” (Ex. 19:6; Ps. 71:17; Matt. 28:18–20; 1 Peter 2:9). This, too, can be considered a little thing. Many full-time missionaries have a specific calling to make this witness bearing their life’s work and to go to out-of-the-way places to accomplish it. Most of us, on the other hand, must bear witness in the course of everyday, ordinary life. Much as we teach our children the commandments of God during the small moments of normal life, so also we must bear witness to the Lord at those times. In the days of Elisha, when the Syrian general Naaman contracted leprosy, an unnamed Israelite servant girl in Naaman’s household bore witness to the God of Israel and His word through His prophet. This testimony during her ordinary duties, her faithfulness to bear witness to God in the little things, bore fruit in Naaman’s conversion (2 Kings 5:1–19).
Centuries later, King Josiah of Judah “did what was right in the eyes of the LORD and walked in all the way of David his father, and he did not turn aside to the right or to the left” (22:1–2). In other words, Josiah was faithful to the law in all matters, even in the little things. He did not overlook the “minor commandments.” And in his day, Judah experienced a brief revival and a reprieve from the wrath of God (22:3–23:25). After Josiah’s death, the kings of Judah returned to unfaithfulness in things both large and small, and the people of God suffered the curse of exile.
Finally, before we move on to the exile, consider Baruch, the faithful scribe who served the prophet Jeremiah. Baruch paid attention to the little things when he did his work, taking care to record every jot and tittle Jeremiah dictated to him. At times, this work seemed fruitless. For example, the wicked king Jehoiakim burned the scroll Baruch produced when he heard of the divine judgment prophesied against him. How do you think Baruch felt when he saw his careful work go up in flames? The Bible does not tell us, but Baruch was a human being just like the rest of us. No doubt he felt discouraged, perhaps even asking himself, “What is the point of all this care if my work is going to be burned up?” Yet, when Baruch was told to produce a new scroll with the same words and some additional ones, he did the job. He paid attention to the little things again, taking down every word God revealed through Jeremiah, not lifting his pen until the scroll was completed. Because Baruch was faithful in the little things and paid attention to the details in his work, we have the book of Jeremiah to edify us today (Jer. 36).