Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The jealous, zealous God

Through the Bible in 90 days: Day 17

Read: Joshua 15:1-Judges 3:27

Verse that stood out:
Joshua said to the people, "You are not able to serve the LORD. He is a holy God; he is a jealous God. He will not forgive your rebellion and your sins. If you forsake the LORD and serve foreign gods, he will turn and bring disaster on you and make an end of you, after he has been good to you" - Joshua 24:19-20

The book of Joshua, with its bloodshed and its conquests, is a tough book to reconcile with other parts of the Bible. It is certainly a book that at times offends modern ears, including my own. A discussion about many of these offensive parts is a necessary discussion for the church but one that's a little beyond what I can accomplish in this brief post.

At least one aspect of Joshua offends us in a way we need to be offended. This part is found in the last couple of chapters, the ones that cover Joshua's final sermon to God's people. In this sermon, Joshua makes it as clear as possible that the Israelites have a choice before them - the God of Abraham or the gods of other nations. It is not a choice they should make lightly. To choose the God of Abraham will bind them to both God's promises and his warnings. The God of Abraham is a jealous God and will not tolerate half-hearted efforts at following him.

Such demands, even if they are divine, tend to chaff modern sensibilities. We want a spirituality that is more open ended than that. We want to pick and choose which parts of God we like and leave the rest. But the God of Abraham is a prickly God. We have to either take all of him or none of him. In Joshua's sermon, the old man sounds as if he's trying to talk the people out of choosing the LORD, "You don't know what your doing. You're not going to be able to do this. You don't realize what you're getting yourself into. Sign up for this and you can never be the same - God will hold you to it." Not what we're used to hearing during an altar call.

And yet, it sounds a little like the one who said, "No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God" (Luke 9:62). In the New Testament, specifically in the person of Jesus Christ, God has revealed himself in ways that rightly make us question the violence found in the book of Joshua. But God's jealousy and his demand for the total devotion of his people, these remain unchanged.

1 comment:

Patrick said...

"This is a difficult statement; who can listen to it?"

On the other hand..."To whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life."