Welcome to the Promised Land!
This week we read from Deuteronomy 29 – Joshua 17.
Moses has finished his work. Joshua now takes the leadership and brings Israel into the land of Canaan. God has delivered this nation from slavery in Egypt, brought them through the wilderness where He fed and watered them for 40 years of wanderings. God gave them His laws and dwelt among them in the tabernacle all through their travels. God has punished the entire first generation for their rebellion by leaving their bodies in graves in the wilderness. God’s work on them has finally taken root in the hearts of the children of those who left Egypt. Only Joshua and Caleb, of the original adult group that left Egypt, are alive to enter the promised land. God’s purpose of building a holy nation who will fear and obey Him has finally come to fruition in this generation. This generation of Israelites have faith to follow and obey God. They will enter the land and begin the conquest and settlement of the tribes of Israel in Canaan. But clouds loom in their future. God tells Moses at the end of Deuteronomy that their faithfulness will not last. God said that in the future, Israel will turn from God to other gods and undergo all the curses of the covenant. Two generations will remain faithful, but then things change.
Look at Deuteronomy 31:16-18 (God says that Israel will turn away and follow idols)
Why? Why will they not remain faithful? God calls them to choose life, but He does not drag them along. Moses pleads and warns and begs Israel to stay faithful, but each generation must make the choice of faith, or not.
So, God tells Moses to teach them a song, a national anthem, if you will, a song that they will remember, a song that tells their story and testifies to what will happen to them. God says, (Deut. 31:20-21).
Chapter 32 is this song. It tells Israel their future. It is a witness that God is the only God and that He knows what they will do and He responds in judgment just as He promised.
At the end of teaching them this song, listen to Moses words one more time: Deut. 32:44-47. (Moses says that they will remember this song, even after they have turned away and been punished for it. This song will testify to them to call them back to God).
Finally, at the end of His life, Moses completes his ministry with words of blessing on each tribe of Israel. (Deut. 33).
The book of Joshua begins with words of challenge to be strong and courageous. Over and over Joshua is reminded, both by God and the people of Israel, to be strong and courageous, because the Lord is with him and will never leave him.
So Joshua takes the leadership. He leads Israel into Canaan somewhat like Moses led them out of Egypt. The Jordan river, which is at flood stage, stops flowing as the priests feet touch the waters, and Israel crosses into Canaan on dry ground. They carry 12 stones out of the river bed and set them up on the shore as a reminder of what God had done. After they celebrate Passover and all the men are circumcised at Gilgal, they begin the conquest of Canaan with Jericho. Rahab the Canaanite shows faith and becomes part of Israel. Ai is next, and because of Achan’s sin, God allows Israel to suffer defeat. Achan is judged and put to death, and then God’s favor returns and Israel defeats Ai.
After this Joshua does what God told him to do through Moses. Israel renews the covenant at Mount Ebal. Here is where we will park for our lesson today. Let’s look at this together. Joshua 8:30-35.
Ok, here’s the lesson:
What is our authority? What book do we give respect to as God’s word for our lives? What threats do we face that might dampen or cause us to compromise holding God’s word in this place of honor and privilege over us?
This past Thursday morning at our Men’s Bible study Kendall asked a question about how Israel educated their children in the wilderness. They didn’t even have Genesis – Deuteronomy yet and they were about 3000 years too early for Gutenberg. Israel seems to be a literate nation, even at this early point in their history. God spoke and then wrote the 10 commandments for them. Moses wrote the history, laws and travel journal of Israel. He then proclaimed one last time before His death the Laws of God and their duty to keep God’s word and love, fear, and carefully follow God’s will. Then he wrote it down and gave this to the priests and Levites so that they could teach them to the people and the parents could teach their children.
When we read about the travels of Israel, most of what is recorded that is not law is pretty high drama, complete with mutinies, murmuring and deaths. We also read of God’s glorious presence coming upon them and God’s anger at their idolatry, rebelliousness and grumblings.
What we don’t see much of is a normal day in the life of the people when nothing else was going on and they weren’t traveling. They were instructed to have several feast days a year, where they came and gathered before the Lord to celebrate. They were instructed to honor the Sabbath day and do no work on it. They were instructed specifically (over and over) to love the Lord and talk about Him and His word with their children daily. Here in this week’s readings we also see that they were to gather every seven years and hear the entire Torah read to everyone, including women and children and aliens living among them.
I find it interesting that God didn’t include many things about the lives of His people. We don’t know when they had school for all the kids. We don’t know if they had writings or books among them. They certainly were literate, but how and when did they teach these things to their children?
What God did stress over and over to them is this: Love the Lord, fear Him and obey Him. Talk to your children about Him and His word when you get up, when you lie down, when you sit at home and when you walk along the way. God also included the instructions about Sabbath keeping, sacrifices for sins, worship instructions, moral laws, dietary laws, health laws, etc. And, God instructed them to gather every seven years to hear the words of Moses read again.
I think I get it! I think I know what God is trying to tell them. God really really wants His people to hear His word in the scriptures and follow His will. He expects them to hear it at home, during travels, at feast celebrations, and at the seven year reading of the entire book. God thought that was so important that He repeated those things while leaving out a lot of things we’d like to know about. Why?
God knows that faith comes by hearing. What you hear will shape your belief system. So first, God wants us to immerse ourselves in His word and teachings: 24/7/365, share them with our families every day during all times of the day, and gather and hear the entire word every seven years. Would you agree? Is that what you see in the Bible here?
On the other hand, there are also things God clearly did NOT want His people to talk about and explore, even academically or for curiosity.
NO OTHER GODS… Don’t even go there! Don’t ask about them. Don’t talk about them. Consider them completely forbidden! Deuteronomy 12:30 Joshua 23:6-7 Jeremiah 10:2 Psalm 106:35
God told Israel not to ask about how the nations around them did their worship. I can tell you that there was no “comparative religions” class in the Jewish curriculum. They didn’t study the religious practices of the nations, why? Would it make them sympathetic toward them? Would it possibly disturb their relationship with God? It clearly would NOT help them draw closer to God. Think of it: Do we need to taste dung or poison to know it isn’t good or good for you? And, what if you decide you like it? Why subject our minds and thoughts to things that dishonor our Lord?
God didn’t let Israel go to the local Baal museum, or Asherah festivals to experience idolatry even as an educational trip. God made it a capitol offense for anyone to encourage one of His people to turn to another god. (Sounds extreme does it not?) Israel did not listen to this. They seemed to think they could handle it, I suppose. But it did not go well for them. I hate to say it but today, many Christians would think nothing of academically exploring Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Paganism and even atheism. But is this wise? Is it helpful in our relationship with God? Do we really need to be informed about those things? I suppose if someone purposefully studied other religions in order to evangelize them, that would be one thing, but that’s not what’s happening in comparative religions classes today. Christianity is treated as just one among many as if Jesus is simply another religious leader among many, and that is heresy. Isn’t that what Israel did?
Before going there, would it not be wise to prayerfully ask what God’s will is about doing so? Don’t you think? If God is our King, should we not seek His guidance? I remember a few years ago when the book, “The Da Vinci Code” came out and many people read it, including some of our own kids in high school. Some began to have problems with their Christian faith. For parents who believe exposing their children to ungodly things will somehow not impact their faith, I would advise you to take to heart what God says to His people in the Bible. I can give you names of young people several of you would know who have given up their faith after taking a comparative religions course in school. So how are we to treat people of other religions? What does God’s word teach us? Are we do despise or mistreat those that disagree with us? Of course not! Jesus taught us to love even our enemies!
Even in the Old Testament, God is clear that His people are NOT to treat the sojourner or alien among them with disrespect. But God did say that there shall be one law for you and for the alien among you. Ex. 12:49, Lev. 24:22, Numbers 15:15-16. God was very tolerant of strangers and aliens who were willing to submit to His authority, but not with those that resisted His word and laws.
And as Christians we are called to practice hospitality, and that word means to be a lover of strangers. We are called to love our neighbor as ourselves, and Jesus shows what that means with the story of the Good Samaritan. In fact, Jesus demonstrated God’s will for us here by the way He related to everyone with God’s love. But there is another side of the story here that must not get lost. Let me give you a couple of examples. When a Syrophonecian woman came to Jesus and His disciples to beg for relief for her demon possessed daughter, Jesus said to her: “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs.” And in John 4 when Jesus was asked a religious question by the Samaritan woman at the well, Jesus plainly said to her, “You Samaritans worship what you do not know, we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews.” And, finally, to the Jewish religious leadership, Jesus spoke his strongest rebukes for their flawed religious practices and perceptions. So, while Jesus would most certainly show respect and welcome to anyone willing to listen and follow Him, it is not true that Jesus would allow His followers to treat other religions as comparative to His kingdom or to give them any semblance of an equal standing. In fact, that is actually UNCHRISTIAN, as it diminishes the authority of Jesus Christ and sympathizes with false teachings.
Jesus never compromised on the Father’s will. He never compromised with any foreign religions or false prophets. He warned us against them all they way to the last book in the New Testament. Jesus said, “I hate the teachings of the Nicolaitans.” Now, that would never go over today. With our tolerance and diversity culture, Jesus would be seen as a backward, outdated, religious bigot. But Jesus clearly demonstrated grace and kindness to those in need and to all who came to Him.
We must not fail to distinguish between showing God’s love and kindness to everyone and giving credence to false religious practice. Our love for God is first, even above our most precious earthly relationships, how much more should it be above world religions that are in competition with the souls of those Jesus died to save. (See Luke 14). Jesus decides who His people may or may not freely fellowship with, and who His people must separate themselves from among.
A few months ago I was with a local pastoral luncheon and the discussion turned to an interfaith counsel where several non-Christian leaders were gathering with local Christian leaders to get to know one another and share ways to not just get along but even join in worship with one another. I was taken back and asked, “Will we be able to share the gospel and evangelize them?” The response was awkward. I apologized for my clumsiness, but wanted to know how everyone in the group felt. One said, “Would you want them evangelizing you?” I replied, “Of course! If they truly believe in their religion, and they care about me, I would expect them to do so.” That sort of ended the discussion.
Today’s common way of thinking is expressed best by the bumper sticker “COEXIST” using various religious symbols including the cross. Jesus is simply another religious leader among the others in that icon.
Biblically, the icon of Christian faith is: Jesus, King of kings and Lord of lords. Jesus does not share His glory with competing gods, or religions. Seeking the kingdom of God first and His righteousness first, we must maintain our exclusive claim that there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.
So how do we handle those outside the Christian faith? That’s a whole other series of lessons, but here are three kinds of relationships we must maintain, if we would be God’s people.
The scriptures teach us about three kinds of relationships:
Our relationship with God. The commandment is clear. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and all you mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. God deserves ALL my praise, devotion, obedience, and life. No one and no thing comes close to the standing He holds in my heart, soul, mind and strength.
Our relationships with God’s people. The second commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” applies here this way: Jesus said, “A new command I give you: love one another as I have loved you, so you must love one another.” Paul told us to do good to all men, especially the household of faith. We are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God. We are saved by His grace through faith. We are His workmanship, created unto good works. We are the body of Christ, the bride of Christ, the children of God. Our relationship is defined by the word, fellowship. All Christians have this common relationship with one another in Christ. This is an exclusive relationship, not to be applied to those who are outside of Christ.
Finally, our relationship with everyone else in the world. Jesus put it this way: We are the salt of the earth, we are the light of the world. We are to share the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ and make disciples of ALL NATIONS. That means simply this: if someone is not a disciple of Christ. I have a singular responsibility toward them: shine the light of God’s love by sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ and make disciples of all that will follow Him. I am not extend fellowship with them or to give equal footing to their religious beliefs with the word of God. I am to love them, care for them, show them the respect they deserve as fellow men and women who are created in the image of God. But I am not to act like nor pretend that their religious views are just as valid as the Christian faith. To do so does not honor Christ, but dishonors His authority as King. Jesus is King of kings and Lord of lords. He does not share His throne with anyone but those whom He has chosen and redeemed.
Jesus told us: You are the salt of the earth, but if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again, it is then GOOD FOR….. NOTHING.
I do NOT want to be a good for nothing minister working for a good for nothing church. And I am thankful to God that we still have saltiness. May we ever use it to His glory.