Monday, April 23, 2007

Where Do We Really Stand

In the book of Joshua the Hebrew people under Joshua’s leadership inhabit the “Promise Land.” I know there is a great amount of debate among scholars as to how this happened, but in the end, no matter how they arrived, they did get there. At the end of the book, after all the land has been divided, Joshua makes a memorable (or what should have been) speech. In Joshua 24 we have Joshua reminding the Hebrews of all the wonderful things that God had done for them in getting them to this place in their lives. He then issues this challenge,

"Now fear the LORD and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your ancestors worshiped beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD. 15 But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD."
Then the people answered, "Far be it from us to forsake the LORD to serve other gods! 17 It was the LORD our God himself who brought us and our parents up out of Egypt, from that land of slavery, and performed those great signs before our eyes. He protected us on our entire journey and among all the nations through which we traveled. 18 And the LORD drove out before us all the nations, including the Amorites, who lived in the land. We too will serve the LORD, because he is our God."

The remarkable think about this text is that Joshua is challenging them to serve God who has done all of these things for them. The only thing they have to do is give us their foreign gods.

It may be important at this point to explain why this may be such a difficult thing for them to do. In the Ancient Near East, people really believed that when you worshipped a deity, they would directly impact the world around you and they would either help you or hurt you. They would normally worship the god who they believed would do the most for them. Sometimes, instead of choosing one over another, they would just decided to worship several for good measure. If Yahweh, the god of the Hebrews did not work out, then they may turn to Baal, a Canaanite storm god.

According to the passage above, the people had decided to worship Yahweh because Yahweh was the god who would do the most for them. He was the one who had delivered. Then, Joshua responds to them by saying,

19 Joshua said to the people, "You are not able to serve the LORD. He is a holy God; he is a jealous God. He will not forgive your rebellion and your sins. 20 If you forsake the LORD and serve foreign gods, he will turn and bring disaster on you and make an end of you, after he has been good to you."
21 But the people said to Joshua, "No! We will serve the LORD."
22 Then Joshua said, "You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen to serve the LORD." "Yes, we are witnesses," they replied.
Joshua here seems pretty certain that they are just blowing smoke. He knows they are only doing this out of selfishness. He knows they only want something from God. He knows that they will never be willing to really commit. Joshua then says this,
23 "Now then," said Joshua, "throw away the foreign gods that are among you and yield your hearts to the LORD, the God of Israel."
24 And the people said to Joshua, "We will serve the LORD our God and obey him."
Joshua asks them to yield their hearts to God. He asks them not to be half-hearted in serving God because they want something good; rather he wants them to be committed to God because of who God is!

The interesting thing is when you turn to the next book of the Bible, Judges 3, it says, “The Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD; they forgot the LORD their God and served the Baals and the Asherahs.” Just after Joshua had passed away, the same people who had said they would serve the Lord were already worshipping other gods. Why? Because they were not committed to God, they were committed to themselves.

Ironically, I find Christianity in a similar vein. Why do we become a Christian? To escape Hell, to feel forgiven for our sinfulness, to get rich, to be popular, to be intelligent, to find some kind of emotional peace, to make our spouse happy. I could go on and on with my fragmented run-on sentence. The point is that often times we only use God and Jesus as a selfish gain instead of having an honest commitment. We are too far away from the Hebrews of old. We want God because it feels good instead of loving God because of who God is.

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