Monday, 11 April 2011

Looking Backwards and Forwards

The last chapters of Joshua reveal some interesting details about the history of God's people, which help us to make sense of what we'll see next in Judges and why Joshua presents such a strong ultimatum to Israel before his handover to the next generation.

You may remember that Exodus opens (Ex.1:8) with the statement that there arose a Pharaoh in Egypt who did not know (acknowledge) Joseph and what he had done for the nation. This Pharaoh had deliberately forgotten his history and so began to deal "craftily" with God's people by making them slaves.

But as highlighted here in Josh.24:14, the sad truth was, that Pharaoh's "forgetfulness" was God's judgement on Israel for forgetting him and turning to idols. God's people became slaves to Pharaoh when they gave themselves over to false gods.

How did it happen? Who knows? My guess is that they, a bunch of simple herdsmen, got beguiled by the social sophistication, prosperous ease and superior technology of the Egyptian empire, which at that time, was arguably the greatest civilisation in the known world. Instead of being God's people and giving themselves to redeeming the culture in which they lived, they became assimilated by it, sucking up it's assumptions and values. No doubt, they continued to pay lip-service to Yahweh, if for no other reason to maintain their distinct cultural and ethnic identity, but they clearly also spread their spiritual eggs over many baskets, saying to themselves these are a clever and well thought out people, how else could they have become so successful? I should learn from them and do what they do. 

That God saw this rebellion coming, (Gen.15:13) does in no way excuse their idolatry, rather it shows how incredibly patient and compassionate he is with this wayward people - people just like you and me. In faithfulness to his promise, he still saves them.

As an aside, there's no mandate for church to create culture. We are here to redeem it. Christians are not innovators, but imitators of the one great redeemer - Jesus Christ. If the culture thinks that what the church is doing is "innovative" then that's because it has desperately lost sight of the God who made it. If the church thinks it's being innovative then it's more likely being heretical. There's nothing new under the sun.

The history of the Bible is that fallen Adam and his descendants create fallen culture (Gen.4:21-22). Jesus and his descendants (John 1:12) redeem it (Eph.1:10). Joseph foreshadows this in that he did not create the Egyptian empire, he redeemed it - Gen 47:25.

Anyway, back to the point...

Joshua is thus at pains to remind the people that not one, that's right - not one, not even an intsy-wintsy-teeny-weeny little bit of all God's promises had failed to Israel, so long as they walked in obedience to the covenant he made with them (Josh.23:14). No doubt the words of Deut.8:19 are ringing in his ears as he implores them.

Had you been there it would have probably been cringe-worthy and embarrassing. No doubt, some of the tribal elders thought Joshua was patronising them. But tomorrow, when you turn over the page to Judges, you'll find that his imploring was not at all misplaced.

It seems to be a recurring theme, ever since Genesis 1-3: God sets up, Man stuffs up. Here, God had planted his people in this good land, (Ps.80:8) but they would soon return to disastrous and idolatrous ways, proving that the human heart doesn't need reformation, but transformation. Salvation must come from above, not below. (1Cor.15:47,49)

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