Monday, March 11, 2013

Amazing Faith - Joshua

Had another post started, struggling to tie it all up. In the meantime, I finished reading the Pentateuch and was struck again by the incredible faith displayed by Joshua. I'm not talking about when he and Caleb were the only two spies who believed God about conquering Canaan, or even about his remaining in the tent of meeting even after Moses had left. No, I'm talking about the ridiculous faith he showed at the end of Deuteronomy, as he prepares to assume the reigns of leadership from Moses.

Israel has been delivered from slavery in Egypt and led to the Promised Land. After disobeying and refusing to take it as God ordered, they were punished by wandering in the desert for 40 years until everyone old enough to have participated in the rebellion was dead. Now they have come back to the banks of the Jordan, and Moses is about to die. The last few days of his life are spent declaring the glory of God, reminding Israel of all God has done on their behalf (and their faithless response), encouraging them to faithfully obey, and reciting the terms of the covenant God has made with them.

At the climax of this presentation (recorded as the book of Deuteronomy), the covenant is renewed between God and this new generation of Israelites. Moses gives a lengthy list of blessings they will receive for faithful obedience, and a more than thrice as long list of curses they will bring on themselves if they disobey. Those curses are incredibly nasty; most of us cannot fathom being so desperate for food that women would hide newborn children and afterbirth so they can eat them and not share with their families. We can't imagine the sheer horror of being in a nation where these curses are being brought to pass.

As we keep reading, we see that these curses are not just theoretical; they will come upon Israel. They do not have hearts to obey; a future generation will see the smoking remains of Israel like Sodom; Moses prophesies about how they will be restored after these curses have driven them from the land. It is beyond doubt that at some unspecified time, Israel will disobey so badly that God will bring these horrifying curses on them, and these Israelites are totally capable of bringing it about.

In the midst of this, Joshua is commissioned to lead these people. The people who are guaranteed to bring about God's wrath as surely as Sodom and Gomorrah. Even in his commissioning, God again declares that Israel will disobey and be punished!

And Joshua took the job. No hesitation. No complaints. No questioning or bargaining or begging for God to choose someone else. God said to do it, and Joshua obeyed.

Joshua had no promise that these curses wouldn't come in his lifetime. God promised success in the conquest of the land, and that's all. He had no guarantee that he would be exempt or that he would not live to see the destruction of his beloved people. For all Joshua knew, they were going to conquer the land, turn to idols, and be cursed and conquered five years later. He knew without a doubt that the people he nation he was about to lead would suffer beyond imagination, the only question was when it would all happen.

And he obeyed God without hesitation, even knowing this was in the future. That is faith.

Contrast his attitude with the purpose-driven voice of God sunstandstillsmallvoice vision casting movement so prevalent today. Obedience always leads to blessing and victory and glorious fulfillment and utopian self-actualization and blah blah blah. The idea that obeying God might lead to suffering - or that we can obey but our loved ones will still suffer - never seems to cross the minds of today's evanjellybean gurus. Much of the popular teaching sounds as if God owes us rewards here and now for good behavior, as though we would not need to obey if the outcome wasn't as good as we desired.

Obeying God is always, by definition, the best thing to do. Even if it means temporary suffering, a better course could not even be imagined. Joshua provides a great example, one we would be wise to follow.

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