At the end of Deuteronomy, the future is still open and uncertain. Moses had died and the land, the promise, was still unclaimed. Yet the faithfulness of God shatters the fear of the unknown and again God calls. This time his call falls upon the friend and confidant of Moses, the son of Nun, Joshua. His task—very simple, “Do not be afraid, but be courageous. Lead the people into the land. Meditate on the ways of God day and night...do not turn to the right or the left...but walk straight. Then your ways will be prosperous.” Perhaps, the task wasn’t simple, but with God all things are possible. Joshua’s story is a flurry of action. Israel recounts the miraculous ways in which God goes before the people making possible their acquiring of land. Riddled with problematic and head-scratching violence, this portion of the story is one in which the Israelites come to understand God as a Warrior that fights on behalf of His people. A the end of Joshua, we find the people of Israel in possession of the land, a prosperity directly tied to their obedience to God.
But Joshua had watched the people, he knew their hearts. Just as Moses had addressed the people before he died, so now Joshua stands before the people and issues a challenge. “Choose today who you are going to follow...the God that brought us up out of Egypt, or the gods that your fathers brought up out of Egypt.” “Will you follow the one that carries you...or the ones you carry.” What an important question. Is humanity to follow the God that sustains, delivers, upholds, protects, and keeps or will humanity follow the work of their hands, the ones that require that we uphold them?” Joshua declares... “as for me and my house, we will obey the Lord.” The people also resoundingly declare their allegiance to YHWH, but Joshua doubts their ability to stay true. Such doubt isn’t unwarranted. Joshua had wandered 40 years in the desert because of their fear and disobedience. He had suffered loss because of their sinfulness. No less than 2 chapters later into the book of Judges, the people had again abandoned their allegiance to YHWH and now each did what seemed good to them. Again, such a brutally honest story. Israel reminds us that God, YHWH, is unswervingly faithful, but humanity is rebellious.
As the story moves beyond Joshua something profound is being revealed. God is a space creator. He does not coerce the actions of his people. He refuses to control every decision. He gives the kind of space to be shocked by faith and also affected by sin. God makes space for humanity to make a mess of the promise and covenant of God...but—and this is grace...God steps into the mess of humanity and works out His plans despite the mess. That’s the faithfulness, forgiveness, and grace of God at work in this world. Throughout the story of Judges we see the incessant rebelliousness of the people of Israel and how their sin constantly lands them into one mess after another. Yet, God raises up men and women, provincial governors called Judges, to execute God’s deliverance and lead the people to faithfulness. We read the amazing stories of Deborah, Gideon, Samson, and others as they, in very human and imperfect ways, attempt to follow God. It will be the last Judge however that serves as the transition to the next most determinative moment in the history of Israel.
Born to a barren mother, (it is always amazing how often God’s gift comes to us amidst the barren impossibility of the world’s nothinginess) Samuel was given to God as a special worker from the time of his birth. God laid a special calling and anointing on Samuel to lead the people, especially in the face of the perversity of the priests. But the people were tired of leaning on faith. They were tired of waiting on God’s direction. They were tired of feeling as though they were vulnerable to their enemies. They came to Samuel and demanded a King... “so that they might be like every other nation.” This is the greatest temptation. Israel surrenders their identity as the chosen nation of God and a peculiar possession and instead desires to be just like everyone else. Broken by their request Samuel seeks the direction of God. God concedes. God makes space. God gives them a king but warns them that when they accept the power of man over the direction of God they become subjects of man and find themselves once again bound to that man—and this prophecy will be fulfilled in the nation of Israel.
The stories of 1 Samuel and 2 Samuel tells us of the rise of the monarchy, first from Saul and then in the person of David. Through Saul’s disobedience, God has Samuel anoint the most unlikely candidate as King over the people, a pipsqueak shepherd boy, the runt of the litter, David. It is often vexing how God chooses the most unlikely candidates to fulfill the work of God. David will become the premier King of Israel, the one claimed by God to be a man after God’s own heart, the one with whom God would make a covenant of continued leadership within the Davidic household. David will lead them into victory in battle, establish the economy of Isreal. He will reign over the house of Israel for a total of 40 years. David will not be without sin...for pride comes before the fall. He will become an adulterer and he will ignore the provision of God. But his walk with God is virtuous because David responds with contrition and humility. Many of our Psalms are the product of David and his court. They tell poetically of the “reality” of life and the faithfulness of God. They speak of confession and brokenness, fear and trepidation and yet they continue to turn to God as the source of strength and comfort, power and hope.
Unfortunately...sometimes the apples fall farther from the tree than we would like. David’s sons are riddled and plagued with sinfulness, envy, and violence. Absalom attempts to kill his father. Adonjah takes the throne even before David is dead. Solomon, well let’s deal with Solomon. At the end of 2 Samuel and into the book of 1 Kings, David is dying and has to make the decision of who shall rule after him. He chooses—with a little help from Bathsheba and Nathan—Solomon. At first Solomon has great possibilities. God promises Solomon whatever he asks. Solomon asks for wisdom so that he might lead the people justly. God grants with abundance. But with power will come corruption. Solomon becomes an ambitious leader, constructing palaces and a temple on the backs and oppression of the people. This temple was to be the “inhabitance” for God, the place in which God would reign and be worshipped. This temple was to serve as a witness that “We are God’s People!” as if God can live in a temple made by human hands (as the prophets remind us.) By the end of his reign he had surrendered himself to the foreign gods of his wives and concubines. Solomon had set up the Kingdom of Israel for what is to come...
It is out of this story that we probably have the 2nd and 3rd chapters of Genesis emerge. It is a recounting of the Creation story...how does a people tell the story of “how things have come to be as they are.” In this story, man is nothing but dust, dependent on the forming and fashioning of God...dependent on the life-giving breath of God. But mankind is not content with his own limitation. Man has chosen to exceed the Creator/created difference and in an attempt to become like God yields to the lying voice of the enemy. Humanity sins and hides. With sin comes shame and guilt, vulnerability is shattered. Now the brokenness of relationship sets in between humankind and God, between man and woman, and between humanity and the rest of creation. God banishes humanity from the Garden. Then in act of beautiful grace, God banishes himself from paradise and enters the land East of Eden with sinful humanity. But the disruption hasn’t reached its fullest point until brother turns on brother and commits violence. The fall from grace is complete. The lengths that mankind will go to exercise this perversity is recounted in the Primeval History of the first 11 chapters of Genesis...history beyond history...a faith history...a story of “how we got into the predicament that we live in.” But these stories constantly tell of a God that is faithful in the abyss, in the darkness, in the flood and in the brokenness of humanity. The story tells of a God “that remembers” his creation, and brings order in the face of chaos.
Time for a Little Luke 15!
Are you ready to jump in. This is the famous set of passages in the book of Luke. We have lost sheep, lost coins, and a wayward son. However, before you go charging into Luke 15, I want you to slow down a bit and notices the transition between Luke 14 and 15. Pay attention to the Jesus call to “listen and hear.” Notice in Luke 15, who is listening? Who is murmuring? Who is Jesus really addressing? Why do you think it matters so much about who is listening? If Jesus is speaking everyone is hearing right? Or are they? Is it possible to be so immersed in our own stuff that we don’t listen or hear even though the Word is speaking? Dive in. Find your place. What do these passages reveal about the heart of God?