Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Challenge To Be A Better People

Was ancient Israel monotheistic or polytheistic?  In a nutshell, the answer is "yes."  At the end of the book of Joshua, Joshua presents Israel with a challenge.  They could either serve the God who brought them out of Egypt, serve the gods of the people they now lived among, or serve the gods of their forefathers from beyond the Euphrates River.  In response they say they'll serve God, but Joshua seems to doubt it.  When Joshua hears the people say they'll serve the Lord, his response is, "You cannot serve the Lord...."  Now that sounds a little judgmental, and Israel is willing to argue the point.  "No," they say, "we will serve the Lord."  Joshua pushes back, "You are witnesses against yourselves...."  In other words, "Are you absolutely sure?  From now on, if you commit to this, you will convict or acquit yourselves based on what you do."  Israel repeats again that they are, in fact, sure that they will only serve God.  At this point Joshua's response is interesting:

"Then put away the foreign gods that are among you, and incline your hearts to the LORD, the God of Israel."

What?  Israel is, and has been, worshiping other gods?  In spite of God taking them out of Egypt, in spite of an entire idolatrous generation passing away during forty years of wandering in the wilderness, in spite of Israel finding a home in a land where their enemies far outnumbered them, they're still worshiping other gods?  Again, in a nutshell, the answer is yes.

I think the challenge Joshua presents to the Israelites is a much deeper challenge then just worshiping God.  Joshua is really presenting Israel with the challenge to be a different type of people, not just a people who worships God, but a people shaped by faithfulness and trust and commitment.  With the exception of a few individuals, faith, trust, and commitment have yet to describe Israel.  Israel has now been given another chance to change its ways.  I say another and not a second because Israel has already been given a second and a third and a forth and a fifth and a sixth...you get the point.

Idolatry was only a symptom.  Israel's illness ran much deeper.  It was an illness of character.  It was a confusion of what the relationship between God and humanity was meant to be.  In that sense, things haven't changed much.  With each generation, and for many times within each generation, humanity is given a chance to be better, to try to turn things around, to be the type of humanity we were meant to be.  At one level, is this not what God did for us in Christ?  In Ephesians Paul says:

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God--not the results of works, so that no one may boast.  For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.

Christ's death and resurrection for us, that is gift.  That is grace, just as Israel being delivered from Egypt, from starvation and dehydration was unmitigated gift.  But the next question is, "What were we delivered for?"  What now?  Joshua's and Paul's answer is the same.  God freed us to be a different type of humanity, the type of humanity we were meant to be, a type of humanity that is obsessed with doing good rather than idols and of serving God rather then serving ourselves.

Just because Joshua spoke to another people in another land at another time does not mean that we can ignore his challenge.  Who will we worship?  What type of humanity will we be?

Stopping point: Joshua 24

No comments:

Post a Comment