Monday, November 28, 2011

Joshua 1:7-16
"Be strong and very courageous, being careful to act in accordance with all the law that my servant Moses commanded you; do not turn from it to the right hand or to-the left, so that you may be successful wherever you go."—Joshua 1:7

1: 7 "Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to act in accordance with all the law that my servant Moses commanded you; do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, so that you may be successful wherever you go. 8 This 'book of the law shall' not depart out of your mouth; you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to act in accordance with all that is written in it. For then you shall make your way prosperous, and then you shall be successful. 9 I hereby command you: Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go."
10 Then Joshua commanded the officers of the people,
11 "Pass through the camp, and command the people: 'Prepare your provisions; for in three days you are to cross over the Jordan, to go in to take possession of the land that the Lord your God gives you to possess.'"
12 To the Reubenites, the Gadites, and the half-tribe of Manasseh Joshua said, 13 "Remember the word that Moses the servant of the LORD commanded you, saying, 'The LORD your God is providing you a place of rest, and will give you this land.' 14 Your wives, your little ones, and your livestock shall remain in the land that Moses gave you beyond the Jordan. But all the warriors among you shall cross over armed before your kindred and shall help them, 15 until the LORD gives rest to your kindred as well as to you, and they too take possession of the land that the LORD your God is giving them. Then you shall return to your own land and take possession of it, the land that Moses the servant of the LORD gave you beyond the Jordan to the east."
16 They answered Joshua: "All that you have commanded us we will do, and wherever you send us we will go."

Many people think that a spiritual life is a contemplative one. After all, we are called to meditate on Scripture and abide in God. God gives us peace and rest. Sometimes we forget that God also calls us to action, right here and now. It isn't enough to contemplate the Word of God; we also must discern how God's Word commands us to move and act in the world. It isn't enough to rest in God; we are also called to stir things up from time to time.
Most of us can recall famous paintings of Jesus. There are some in which Jesus, the Good Shepherd, is holding a lamb. In others, he is eating with his disciples, sitting and talking. In others, children surround him. And in many pictures, Jesus is doing absolutely nothing at all. Perhaps the most famous of these is Head of Christ, a painting by Warner Sallman that has been reproduced over 500 million times. These images all inform our understanding of God, and one thing many of them have in common is a lack of activity. However, throughout his life, Jesus was out doing things--healing people, teaching people, walking, talking, and moving with purpose. If we think of Jesus as a still, quiet, contemplative sage, we are missing the point. Jesus was active. He shook things up.
In response to God's provision for Joshua and providence over the people, Joshua is supposed to take action. Previously, we read that God would give the land as Joshua and the people took "steps." In life, we learn that we need to trust God and never forget that we are to move.

God calls for active response from Joshua and the people that he will lead. This Scripture is the second half of a speech from God to Joshua. In the first part (1:1-5), God assured Joshua of God's presence with him. In this second part, God tells Joshua what behaviors are expected of him as a leader. These are imperatives and words of urgency; now is the time to act.
A window of opportunity has opened for Joshua. God says, "For you shall put this people in possession of the land that I swore to their ancestors to give them." Twice in this speech, God says to Joshua, "be strong and courageous"; the second time with an emphatic "very courageous." Joshua cannot be an indecisive leader. He must believe that the Lord is with him, no matter the obstacles. There is always a temptation to waver when times are tough, so God wants Joshua grounded in confidence.

God wants Joshua to remember Moses' instruction—to "act in accordance with all the law that my servant Moses commanded you." Joshua's understanding of the law is formed by the speeches that Moses gave while the Israelites were in the wilderness (Deut. 5:1, 32-33; 17:11, 19-20). The law is a gift from God mediated through Moses.
God tells Joshua to "meditate on (the book of the law) day and night," that it "shall not depart out of your mouth." Joshua is to keep this instruction on his tongue, ready to show God that he will never forget. Joshua will take great pains to follow this teaching; it will form him and determine his action.
Joshua is to be focused squarely on the law, not turning "from it to the right hand or to the left." Joshua's leadership is a gift from God to the people of Israel. If Joshua stays on a straight path focused on God, Israel will benefit. The law of God brings good for people; Israel's leaders were to bring this kind of peace to the nation. Joshua would lead the people in recognizing God as the ultimate authority. He would lead, the people not as a ruthless king, but as a servant under the law of the Lord.

Many of us do not like to move. Perhaps we have moved many times because of our jobs and are tired of it. Others may have lived in one place a long time and are comfortable there. Moving is a lot of work and it makes us get out of our comfort zone. God gives Joshua marching orders, as God had done before. Moving requires energy, strength, and courage, and that is exactly what God's charge to Joshua recognizes. It's hard to keep moving, especially when you want a place to call home. Even in this move into Canaan, into the place that the wandering Israelites will finally call home, there is anxiety and fear of the unknown. Whether we are wanderers like the Israelites or have lived in the same place our whole lives, we still face anxieties. We still face journeys into unknown territory. It can be unsettling, until we realize that God's call for us to be settled is not geographic, but spiritual.

In the wilderness, the Israelites were called to settle in the presence of the Lord, made visible in a cloud of smoke by day and a pillar of fire by night. They were sustained by God's presence through the manna God provided. Now, as they enter into the land that would become their home, settlement was not to be defined by where they planted crops and built homes, but by abiding in the presence of the Lord. Under Joshua's leadership, the Israelites are called to meditate on the law, and to live lives centered on the Word of God.

God's call is often disruptive. God may call us to pack up everything and move to a new place, or to make bold changes in our lives, in our churches, in our mission or worship. Change of any kind scary, but God still charges us to respond with courage and strength. We can find that courage and strength only by abiding in the promises and presence of God.
God provides opportunities for us in the midst of whatever circumstances we find ourselves. God promises Joshua that he will be successful, but God's definition of success is faithfulness and justice, not fulfilling our selfish ambitions. Joshua has been given the opportunity to be the leader of Israel after the death 'of Moses, but there is a catch. To be a faithful leader, Joshua must stay on track, not departing to the left or to the right. This takes meditating on the law, which according to John Calvin is God's gifts of a "tutor" and a "mirror." Joshua is to keep God's law on his tongue, not letting it depart from his mouth. Joshua must attend to God's wisdom. He is to carry himself with a strong and courageous demeanor. God calls us to depend on God's wisdom. Joshua is a good example of someone who acted with obedience immediately. He did not miss the window of opportunity.

God has given us many promises and mandates. It's much easier to list the promises that make us feel good than to list the mandates that demand something of us. Make two columns and try listing both.
We can all follow Joshua's lead and meditate on the word, keeping it in our mouths. It is hard work, but the fulfillment of God's promise is certain if we will open the windows of opportunity before us.

What are some ways that God calls us to action today? What are our windows of opportunity?
How do we look to Scripture to help guide our steps?
In what ways can God's call to action be unsettling?

Moving, breathing Spirit, we praise you for your action in the world. We praise you for your acts of creation, for filling the void with your life-giving breath. We praise you for the incarnation, through which you emptied yourself to become human, to take on hands and feet, and to show us through the example of Jesus Christ what it means to follow you actively and obediently. Give us your strength and courage as we seek to follow you, wherever you call us to go. Amen.

Compiled from The Present Word and Congregational Ministries Publishing is not liable for for the content of this Bible Study and Blog.

From The Present Word © 2011 Congregational Ministries Publishing. Used by permission.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Joshua 1:1b-.6; 11:16-19, 21-23
“As the LORD had commanded his servant Moses, so Moses commanded Joshua, and so Joshua did; he left nothing undone of all that the LORD had commanded Moses”. —Joshua 11:15

“After the death of Moses the servant of the LORD, the LORD spoke to Joshua son of Nun, Moses' assistant, saying, "My servant Moses is dead. Now proceed to cross the Jordan, you and all this people, into the land that I am giving to them, to the Israelites. Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given to you, as I promised to Moses. From the wilderness and the Lebanon as far as the great river, the river Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites, to the Great Sea in the west shall be your territory. No one shall be able to stand against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will not fail you, or forsake you. Be strong and courageous; for you shall put this people in possession of the land that I swore to their ancestors to give them.

So Joshua took all that land: the hill country and all the Negeb and all the land of Goshen and the lowland and the Arabah and the hill country of Israel and its lowland, from Mount Halak, which rises toward Seir, as far as Baal-gad in the valley of Lebanon below Mount Hermon. He took all their kings, struck them down, and put them to death. Joshua made war a long time with all those kings. There was not a town that made peace with the Israelites, except the Hivites, the inhabitants of Gibeon; all were taken in battle....

At that time Joshua came and wiped out the Anakim from the hill country, from Hebron, from Debir, from Anab, and from all the hill country of Judah, and from all the hill country of Israel; Joshua utterly destroyed them with their towns. None of the Anakim was left in of the Israelites; some remained only in Gaza, in in Ashdod. So Joshua took the whole land, according to all that the LORD had spoken to Moses; and Joshua gave an inheritance to Israel according to their tribal allotments. And the land had rest from war.”

Even after the Israelites had land of their own, several threats remained. The Israelites were a tribal people who gathered occasionally to retell the story of God's deliverance of them from slavery. Always they wanted to remind themselves that God had been faithful to them. If you listen to the words of Joshua, you will hear a testimony to God’s faithfulness. God had promised the Israelites land, and land meant security. Several things in this scripture passage remind the gathered community that God is faithful and fulfills the promises. These stories, repeated throughout the generations, serve as reminders that God is trustworthy and always in control

Hearing the stories of their ancestors, hearing the promises that had been given and fulfilled, reminded the Israelites that God would provide for them and would not forget them. These were stories of triumph and stories of encouragement. When things got tough for the people of Israel, they could look back on these stories and be reminded of who they were and who God was—a loving provider and promise keeper.

God affirms Joshua as the one chosen to lead the beloved people into the land promised to Moses. The text begins: "After the death of Moses." There are other times in Scripture where we read similar words of transition: (Judg. 1:1, 2 Sam. 1:1). Times of transition are difficult; it would be easy for confidence in the Lord to falter. God wants to build up trust within the Israelite people. Naturally, the Israelites would be anxious after the death of Moses. God reminds Joshua that he has some big sandals to fill.

We have all known people like Joshua who have had to step up their performance when a strong leader has moved on. Joshua may have some anxiety about the weight of this responsibility, but God initiates this conversation. God's affirmation of Joshua shows how mighty and in control God is. Joshua's name means "God saves." No matter what mighty things Joshua does, God is the source of the power. Joshua's name reminds everyone that God is in control and will provide.

God has blessed Joshua's foot to "tread" and receive the land. The people cannot receive the gift that God has given them without Joshua's leadership. The weight of this leadership opportunity is bearable because God carries it. God promises to be present with Joshua: "As I was with Moses, so I will be with you." In fact, the actions required of Joshua and the people are small compared to the actions of God. The people may take steps, but God promises:
“the land shall be your territory;
no one shall be able to stand against you all the days of your life;
I will never fail you or forsake you;
you shall put this people in possession of the land that I swore to their ancestors.”

All of these promises of God make the human action seem superfluous, like the people are about to go on a cakewalk into the land. Perhaps the words of the Lord are stated this way because of how quickly the people forget God. We always face the temptations of pride and boasting. Now the people can follow the leader named "God saves" and remember that God's promise is their lifeline. God's strength is all the more evident in weakness.
For us humans, even with the best of intentions, broken promise are unavoidable. We learn that lesson at one point or another in life. God's promises to us are quite different. In the history of God's relationship with humanity, humanity always breaks its promises. God's word is beyond reproach.

Even so, the Lord recognizes our need for a promise, for more than "trust me." God's covenant with Abram was repeated several times, often in dramatic ways. Gen. 15 tells of one of the particularly dramatic instances of God’s promises to Abram. When "cutting a covenant," two parties would walk between carcasses that were cut in half, essentially saving to each other, "Let this be done to either of us if we break this covenant." God tells Abram to prepare the animal carcasses. That night, God appeared as a flaming torch and passed between the animals, saying, "To your descendants I give this land..." Abram was not asked to pass through the animals; the full burden of this covenant was borne by the Lord. This was God's ”I promise. Cross my heart and hope to die."

The band of travelers that entered the land with Joshua had heard stories of God's promise. The stories had been passed from generation to generation. Perhaps they questioned whether the promise had ever been made, if it was still good, or if God ever intended to keep it. Here and now, they were experiencing the fulfillment of God’s promise. They knew God is faithful, even when the people are not. Now, thousands of years later, we tell these stories to teach our children and to understand for ourselves that God is faithful, even when we are not. We never have to ask God; "Cross your heart and hope to die?"
A common experience for many people today is feeling stuck, unable to make move. In the years since the recession, many people have not been able to find fulfilling or sustainable work. Through our faith, we expect God to take care of us in all times. At times, it may seem that the odds are against us. This strikes fear in our hearts.

At the beginning of the book of Joshua, the people of Israel are camped in the land of Moab at a spot called Shittim, where they have been for months, seven miles east of the Jordan River. It feels like limbo. This is not a good place to live. God has promised to take care of them and give them a land, but it does not appear that God is keeping that promise. The enemies they face mean nothing to us but were more than enough to strike fear in their hearts: Canaanites, Hittites, Hivites, Perizzites, Girgashites, Amorites, and Jebusites. The enemy had chariots and superior weaponry. Israel had foot soldiers and their leader Moses had died.

Have you ever felt fear? Have you ever been overwhelmed with the enormity of what lies ahead? Many things that people face on a daily basis strike fear in our hearts. We want assurance from God in those times. God was ready to do a new thing with Joshua as leader; the Israelites could not let fear stand in the way. The tribes of Israel needed these teachings, so that they might trust God rather than fear their enemy. In reality, their biggest obstacle was fear. Threats were daunting, but God always delivers. God gives life to dry bones, as Ezekiel's story teaches. God is the God of resurrection. God is what makes the difference against all odds. These words can build us up today and remind us that God keeps God's promises against all odds.

What are some of God's promises to us today? How do we see them fulfilled?
How do you think you would have felt if you had been with the people of Isreal, on the verge of entering the land?
Are there times when it feels like God doesn't keep promises? What do we make of those times? Does it change our understanding of who God is?

Our Father, we ask you to instruct us as we study, read, and meditate. Change our lives and thinking so that we might become, through faith, all you want us to be. In Jesus' name, we pray. Amen

Compiled from The Present Word and Congregational Ministries Publishing is not liable for for the content of this Bible Study and Blog.

From The Present Word © 2011 Congregational Ministries Publishing. Used by permission.