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.

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