I’m not steeped in the old testament, or a bible student or a theologian. I approach the various books with trepidation. I know that they hold the key to the Gospel and the incarnation, but I’ve always been uncomfortable because, while the old testament God is creational and love, he is also the God of obedience, wrath, vengeance and painful revenge on those who fail to obey. The old testament books can cause me discomfort when I view my own weakness and seeming inability to listen to his word, see and acknowledge his great works or just to keep up with the simplicity, but hardness of the 10 Commandments.
I’ve often been tempted to ignore the old testament as irrelevant, and just take the New Testament in isolation as my template. After all, they were written by people who lived and worked beside Jesus in his ministry. They therefore can give a much closer portrayal of Jesus as God, who is one of gentleness and forgiveness and love (albeit he can have his moments). A much more comfortable story, and ultimately hope through the incarnational story and the New Covenant through his blood.
So, coming to the book of Joshua, brings a shudder. It’s about, war, conquest by the Israelites over people living in lands promised to them by God. It sets out how they came into their Kingdom after Moses’ death and God commissioned Joshua to lead his people forward. But just reading several verses of that commission seems to have a message for me/us in today’s troubled world.
8 This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. 9 Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:8-9)
Breaking it down:
This book of law shall now depart from your mouth – This obviously applies to the ‘Law’ spelled out to Moses and the Israelites in Exodus. These are the Commandments and the specific rules and rituals that they were to live by day to day. It seems to be urging me to always speak and to live out the Word of God, in the pattern set during Jesus’ life and ministry. Walking in his footsteps, whatever the cost.
but you shall meditate on it day and night – Something here rings true to me. I’ve tried Lectio Divina prayer and have found it a useful exercise. Particularly the part of meditation on a word or phrase, which might hold a message for me. But I know that I don’t have the sense of discipline to mediate on it all of the time. Perhaps a message to me about being more self disciplined when I read the bible to take more time and discerning carefully what I’m receiving.
so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it – Oh, Oh, we are in the warning bit!! We know that we are called to listen to God’s word and to live in accordance with the two greatest commandments But to do all that is written in it? That’s hard!
Can I literally be expected to do all that?
Should I be doing more?
Questions that challenge me! I know the answers, but they frighten me. Do I have the strength of character to live the life of discipleship even to death? It’s easy to say ‘yes, of course I can’, but how would I react in the face of persecution suffered by the Iranian Pastor Nadarkhani or Bonhoffoer. I suspect that I have to hope and pray that I’d have their courage in the face of such adversity and would continue to call on Jesus’ name in time of trouble.
For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success – Okay, there is hope. If I do it all, I’ll be rich and successful? But given that I’m retired, living on modest means, where is that prosperity? I had relative success in my working life, but not one that brought bountiful lucre, just enough to be secure. Hold on! I realise that I’m measuring success against worldly values, not those of God.
On reflection it’s obvious to me that my way has been prosperous, because I’ve been blessed with God’s grace in so many aspects of my life. I have been gifted many chances and opportunities to help bring about the Kingdom. Some I’ve not recognised or answered, others I have and I know that others have been supported or helped or lives enhanced. But, most of all, at a time when I was at my lowest, Jesus intervened in an Emmaus Road moment of revelation and gave me another chance to live for him and not my own selfish purposes. That’s success to me.
Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go – and these words are the ones that echo that revelation moment.
At the time, dealing with a traumatic death and tasked with the welfare of grieving relatives, I was at an extremely low ebb. I’d recently been bereaved losing two loved relatives – instead of helping the bereaved, I took on their grief and was on the verge of collapse emotionally and mentally. Not being a practising Christian at that time, I didn’t have the knowledge and comfort of a faith which is hope, and wasn’t in the best position to offer hope to those I was supporting. As I left the family home after a troubling, tearful and anguished meeting with the whole family, I remarked to my companion “This could make me get God!” A switch in my brain seemed to trip. All of a sudden I heard an inner voice saying “I’m here – let me in”. It was real and I knew with certainty that I wasn’t alone in this. That I needn’t rely on my own strength. I’m convinced that Jesus at that moment provided one of those ‘Godincidences’ that I could recognise and offered me his shoulder to rest on and to carry me on.
From that moment it became obvious to me that I needn’t be frightened, I needn’t be dismayed, for Jesus was with me and always would be, if I allowed him to be.
Did Jesus Commission me that day? My answer has to be yes. He called and like Samuel I heard and said ‘Send Me’. Since that day my journey has been altered to one that has transformed how I live and think, and believe. It has been the cause of great joy and sometimes anguish as I’ve faced my life story, to become reconciled and at peace with the past, while living in great hope for the future.
Suddenly the relevance of the old testament become clear. There is also a message for us in the Word of God, we just need to be receptive and open to it to be changed or inspired to be transformed. As a disciple we need that spiritual and emotional nourishment to flourish and to succeed.
http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Joshua+1&version=ESVUK accessed 7 Jun 2013.
http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew 22:37-40&version=ESVUK accessed 7 Jun 2013.