This week's worth of reading covers the end of Joshua and the beginning of Judges. I'm sure the more action-packed portions of Judges helped this section to fly by. Though the first day's reading is more land allotments and lists of cities in each territory, and I skimmed unashamedly.
But then we come to Joshua's farewell address. I told you back in week seven that I'm a fan of the farewell address concept. And I think that Joshua gives us a fine one here. He knows how difficult it will be for these Hebrews to live as a holy people, and he reminds them of how it is they came to be set apart and all that God has done for them along the way. And then he gives them a choice. I know (though I think I sometimes forget) that they've always had a choice, that everyone has a choice, but I think often in God's covenant relationship with the Israelites, they're dragged reluctantly into place. Maybe I'm misrepresenting them and God here. Feel free to ignore me.
But this seems different to me. This is not the "He's your God. Keep His commandments" instruction we've gotten from Moses and Aaron and Joshua in the past. With that, the people still had to decide whether or not to follow the commands (because the choice was always there), but not following carries a stigma and the promise of swift justice. But here in Joshua 24, he seems to be asking instead of telling: "Is He your God?" Like maybe they could choose something else and live, like maybe God doesn't want a reluctant, obligatory commitment. He wants to be chosen in their hearts and committed to willfully and not because the axe of his judgment and wrath is hanging over them. I'm sure that's what he always wanted, but I think this is the moment in the story where I really see them making this decision rather than following some man who makes the decision. And maybe I'm ready way, way, way too much into these couple of verses.
With the death of Joshua (and Eleazar, the high priest), the young nation is really left to make those choices on their own much more than before. Sometimes they do okay. They did continue to make some conquests of the land, but none of the tribes is completely successful in ridding the Promised Land of its original inhabitants. And that's going to come back and bite them.
Judges 2:10 is a terribly sad verse:
"After that whole generation had been gathered to their fathers, another generation grew up, who knew neither the Lord nor what He had done for Israel."How quickly they forget. And I think it breaks my heart for them because it flies in the face of one of my favorite passages: Deuteronomy 6:6-9:
"These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Writ them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates."Clearly a generation couldn't arise not knowing the Lord unless that previous generation dropped the ball. Oh, Israel. I'm really glad cousin, theologian, scholar, and number one blog fan reminded me of something about you last week. You're the one writing this story down. When you have those colossal screw-up moments, you don't sweep them under the rug or creatively recreate history on your blog. Instead you record for posterity all of your blemishes and hiccups and failures, right along with your more glorious moments of faithfulness. Israel, you keep it real, and I have to appreciate that about you. (And I have to appreciate Mac for the reminder. Thanks, buddy.)
Kind of like forgetting the crossing of the Jordan, sometimes I forget about all the really odd things that happen in the book of Judges. Oh, I get the gist of it. The Jews are bad, God punishes them through some other nation of people, the Jews cry out to Him, and he raises up a judge to save them. Lather, rinse, repeat. But many of the stories have some hook, a gruesome twist or a miraculous defeat, and that's the part I really love. Like Ehud and the sword-swallowing fat of King Eglon. That is just a morbidly fascinating story--as is Jael driving a tent peg through the temple of Sisera.
(Let me interrupt myself to inquire if I should be offended as a woman that Barak's punishment for not following God's command on the first try is that God allows a woman to be the one to kill Barak's enemy? I'm not exactly, but . . .)
The story of Gideon is also in the readings for week 11, and in him we find another reluctant hero. Anyone notice a pattern here? God always seems to be calling some person who doesn't want to be called. Is he drawn to their humility? Perhaps we're just supposed to learn the lesson that God uses the ordinary to accomplish His purposes. Or maybe His power is best showcased in their weakness. God will tell us in a few weeks that He judges by the heart, so perhaps the real common denominator is something we can't even detect. Clearly His method is sound because He always seems to find the right person for the job.
I'd like to be able now (as is my occasional custom) to make a Veggie Tales reference about Gideon, Tuba Warrior, but instead I must admit that I've never seen this one, which is a real tragedy considering my affinity for the tuba and the very real way that being a tuba player is going to change my life.
So God calls the reluctant Gideon and then patiently proves Himself through a couple of miracles. I love moments like that, when some human acts human and decides to test God, but obviously does it with a decent heart because God plays along instead of striking him dead. I like it when God is patient. It gives my hard, rebellious heart hope. Jerks like me need God's patience. I also think these fleece miracles contrast nicely with the lack of response from Baal when Gideon destroys his altar a few verses previous. Gideon essentially gives a slap in the face to Baal, and as Joash says, "if Baal really is a god, he can defend himself," and nothing happens. No punishment for Gideon. But in the same chapter, Gideon sees the true God setting fire to a sacrifice, alternately letting a fleece get wet and stay dry, and using a tiny fraction of an army to defeat the Midianites. God controls each of those situations, proving His God-ness, and Baal doesn't so much as peep.
The last day's reading finishes out the life of Gideon, who kept enough humility after his military victories to refuse kingship, but who obviously didn't spend enough time raising his seventy sons to honor God. Someone who knows the Judges song needs to tell me if Abimelech is considered a judge because a more worthless individual I'm not sure I can find in Scripture. His story of deceit and slaughter at least ends with his just punishment, but it's also a fairly depressing note on which to end my week of reading. Here's hoping week twelve will lighten up.