The charge above is the words in Joshua 22:25 which motivated the tribes that settled in Gilead to build an altar to the Lord God. These tribes (Reuben, Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh) were afraid that their decedents would not be welcomed to worship God with the rest of Israel because they chose to settle outside the Land of Canaan. So, they built an altar. And the other tribes, the ones in Canaan were furious and surprised by this…and so it was time to talk it out. Charged of sinning against the Lord, the leaders of the accused tribes responded:
22:24 “The truth is, we have built this altar because we fear that in the future your descendants will say to ours, ‘What right do you have to worship the Lord, the God of Israel? 25 The Lord has placed the Jordan River as a barrier between our people and you people of Reuben and Gad. You have no claim to the Lord.’ So your descendants may prevent our descendants from worshiping the Lord.
Now, let’s look at this altar…
From the “Canaan” perspective it seems like a dumb idea, one that would anger God and cause division among the people. It wasn’t necessary at all and was considered a betrayal of God. The whole people of Israel was to gather for their offerings and sacrifices in the land of Canaan, and this action was a break in that fellowship.
From the “Gilead" perspective it seemed like a necessary reminder that God had approved these tribes and their desire to settle in this area. They were full participants in the nation of Israel and had full access to God, yet the fear of this access being severed caused them to be creative in preserving their special relationship with God. Thus, they built their own altar as a symbol of their claim to the Lord; especially if some time in the future they face disapproval.
For the tribes in Gilead, the allotment of land on the other side of the Jordan river was a distinctive part of their “witness” or story. And they acted accordingly to not just remember it, but preserve it for future generations both in and out of the tribes.
I have heard the idea that Christianity has tribes, and that we must learn to fellowship and love each other and our distinctive witness to the goodness of God. I think that some tribes in our Christian people seem to find some sort of pleasure in telling others that they “Have No Claim to the Lord.” Yet, a student of church history cannot only be aware of the ways God worked in the different tribes, but can also appreciate their distinctive witness to the Lord’s goodness.
I currently reside in the land of Churches of Christ, and I really like my tribe, but I am also aware that my tribe doesn’t make up the entirety of the people of God. We have a particular witness, and we have a contribution to make to the larger people. However, I pray that we will not be a tribe that charges others with “no claim” and we will work with each of our sister tribes to seek understanding and come to see their “strange altars” as their unique story. We might disagree with he altar, but may we never cut off people from worship of the Lord, the Lord is fully capable of doing that without our help!
For those of us who are familiar with the parable of the talents from Matthew’s gospel, reading through Luke can really get confusing in chapter 19 when we come to a familiar text used in a different, and can I say unfamiliar, way. The traditional teaching of the talents often prefers Matthew’s use of the parable and is a compelling way of urging believers to be about the master’s business. In Luke’s gospel, Jesus has just gone to Zacchaeus’s house and was turning his attention on Jerusalem. The new set up for the familiar story is found in 19:11
11 The crowd was listening to everything Jesus said. And because he was nearing Jerusalem, he told them a story to correct the impression that the Kingdom of God would begin right away.
Ok…pause…in Matthew the parable of the Talents is told between two other teachings. The story before Matthew’s account of the parable of the Ten Virgins, and right after the story is a teaching that starts, “But when the Son of Man comes in glory…” So, clearly Matthew is addressing the idea of living life in preparation for the return of the bridegroom, the master, the Son of Man.
But not so with Luke, same story used for a different purpose. It is a story of the kingdom, but this time it isn’t referencing the going and coming of Jesus, but the story is now pointing to a political reality of Jerusalem and the occupied people. Listen to the start of the story:
19:12 He said, “A nobleman was called away to a distant empire to be crowned king and then return. 13 Before he left, he called together ten of his servants and divided among them ten pounds of silver, saying, ‘Invest this for me while I am gone.’ 14 But his people hated him and sent a delegation after him to say, ‘We do not want him to be our king.’
I know, I know, this could be Jesus…but for a people who thought Jesus was going to walk into Jerusalem and overthrow it and then free the people from their oppressors, this opening would be the opposite of their plans for Jesus. Of course, then there is the ending of the story after the familiar part about the three servants presenting their money back to the master:
19:26 “‘Yes,’ the king replied, ‘and to those who use well what they are given, even more will be given. But from those who do nothing, even what little they have will be taken away. 27 And as for these enemies of mine who didn’t want me to be their king—bring them in and execute them right here in front of me.’”
Luke is not pointing to the “end of days” or some eschatological event, nope, the story addresses an appointed ruler over the occupied people has returned to ask their allegiance to him. Jesus, in Luke’s gospel, will leave this audience and go to Jerusalem where he will be welcomed by palm branches by the people, but Jesus will be in tears over the realities of what will become of Jerusalem. The King has arrived in the city, but the King will be the only person executed. Enemies will be forgiven. The Kingdom of God stands in contrast to this nobleman made king and his Kingdom of tyranny.
So, the same story used in two different setting by two different writers; Matthew reminds believers of the responsibility we have because Jesus has invested in us and wants us to use our talents for the master’s good; Luke reminds us that the ways of earthly kings are oppressive and severe and we should long for a Kingdom that is different from what we have experienced in our world. The gospel story, meta-narrative, is one of longing for the reign and return of Christ Jesus, which both usages encourage us to pursue with everything we have!
Sometimes we come across something in the Bible that just stuns us, like the story of Achan in Joshua 6-7. This guy was an Israelite’s Israelite; from the tribe of Judah, plenty of livestock and a family. The way the Bible describes him is basically saying that he had it all. However, that didn’t really stop him from making a fatal error. You see, the Israelites were told to keep nothing from the city of Jericho…But Achan disobeyed the orders. Chapter 7 starts off by reporting:
1 But Israel violated the instructions about the things set apart for the Lord. A man named Achan had stolen some of these dedicated things, so the Lord was very angry with the Israelites. Achan was the son of Carmi, a descendant of Zimri son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah.
Israel goes to battle against another city, Ai, and they lose; in fact, they are slaughtered by this smaller and less intimidating city. The problem? Achan is the problem. So, Joshua finds out about it and calls Achan out, asking him to tell the truth:
20 Achan replied, “It is true! I have sinned against the Lord, the God of Israel. 21 Among the plunder I saw a beautiful robe from Babylon, 200 silver coins, and a bar of gold weighing more than a pound. I wanted them so much that I took them. They are hidden in the ground beneath my tent, with the silver buried deeper than the rest.”
Achan had buried them…and in a fitting but weird response, Israel is now going to bury Achan and his family to respond to the Lord’s anger…
24 Then Joshua and all the Israelites took Achan, the silver, the robe, the bar of gold, his sons, daughters, cattle, donkeys, sheep, goats, tent, and everything he had, and they brought them to the valley of Achor. 25 Then Joshua said to Achan, “Why have you brought trouble on us? The Lord will now bring trouble on you.” And all the Israelites stoned Achan and his family and burned their bodies. 26 They piled a great heap of stones over Achan, which remains to this day. That is why the place has been called the Valley of Trouble ever since. So the Lord was no longer angry.
It was simple really, don’t bring anything back from a city that was known for its corruption and injustice. God wanted nothing to do with it and God wanted his people to have nothing to do with it. The one person rescued from the fall of Jericho was Rahab, a prostitute of the city who had faith in God and hid the spies. She risked her life to be saved, but what life did she really have in Jericho anyway? She (and her family with her) was the only person or thing worth saving from that city, God had made that clear.
So often we ask why God would do such horrific things. I mean, to destroy a family like this. Why does God react harshly? Is this fair? The questions can be asked and should be asked, but what about trusting God? What about obedience, contentment, and community? Achan’s issue wasn’t a robe, some silver, and a gold bar. Achan forgot the giver of everything he had; Achan was from the tribe of Judah, a rich man, a family man, and he “wanted them so much that he took them.” WHY? What good did he think they would do buried in the ground?
Here’s the problem, I see myself in Achan. What’s the back-up plan if this all fails? Can I really trust God? I lose sight of all God has given me because my focus is on more stuff. And the truth is, if I’m honest, that in the midst of my rebellion and sin, my family, community, and friends are in one way or another “destroyed.” Maybe not by stoning like in this story, but those I love are destroyed because my discontentment breaks relationships, hinders faith development, and kills authentic community. To end in a somewhat meaningful pun: when I find that I am Achan, may the pain of my sin trigger my repentance and return to trusting God.
Jesus was talking to his disciples in Luke 12, and in verse 15 he warns them against the sin of greed. Jesus tells them that life is not measured by how much one owns and so his disciples are to guard against this. Jesus makes the claim that there are multiple kinds of greed, and then begins to uphold those different kinds for his disciples:
First, he tells a story about a man who had a good crop and builds bigger barns to store his harvest. The man is done working, and is ready to live the life of ease; but God comes to him and informs him that he will die and not get to enjoy his harvest. Then comes verse 21: “Yes, a person is a fool to store up earthly wealth but not have a rich relationship with God.”
Then Jesus turns to another subject…food and clothes. Jesus reminds his disciples that they are not to worry about “everyday life.” He claims that our bodies are more clothing and that our lives are more than food. After looking at the ravens who are taken care of, Jesus asks them to consider how our anxiety adds any length to their lives. But verse 26 gives us the point: “And if worry can’t accomplish a little thing like that, what’s the use of worrying over bigger things?”
Jesus continues to talk about the lilies, they are clothed in slender and they’re flowers. Jesus asks them to consider how much God cares for them, they are more than flowers! Then, he asked then this question: “Why do you have such little faith?”
Jesus then wants to set his followers apart from those who’s preoccupation is what they need because they don’t have a Father (God) who is looking out for their needs:
29 “And don’t be concerned about what to eat and what to drink. Don’t worry about such things. 30 These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers all over the world, but your Father already knows your needs. 31 Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and he will give you everything you need. 32 “So don’t be afraid, little flock. For it gives your Father great happiness to give you the Kingdom.
So, let’s see what we have here:
I have listened to Christian people who desire a revival of faith in our culture, but I often wonder how much we are willing to let go of, relinquish, or release from our grip—so that God can truly be the source and commander of our blessings. If we want to pray for revival, by all means pray, but we might want to start with our own narcissism and materialism and self-aggrandizement. God must become more, and I must become less. <—— that is a revolution in American thought! When God has the authority to tell us how to spend our money, then God is truly on the throne of our lives, where God belongs.
I apologize for not posting on Tuesday of this week, it was moving day and I am excited to tell you that we are in our house and there are boxes everywhere! So, here is a post for you and I hope and pray it is of use in your journey of faith!
The book of Proverbs is much like opening up a toolbox, the tools are extremely useful if I know what I’m doing with it. However, I can injure myself as well as others if I don’t know how to use a tool for its purpose. So, how do we use these Proverbs? And what is their role in the larger picture of faith and life with God? These are good questions, and let’s do some exploring together.
First, we must know how to read the Proverbs. And just to be clear, I’m talking mostly about the material in chapters 10-24 of the book, there are other features that have been discussed through this blog. For the purposes of this post we are asking how to read a proverb:
The nature of proverbs combines somewhat opposed truths, as is evident to everyone as reality, but also has some element of ambiguity. If we take for example, “Absence makes the heart grow fonder,” we see the sentiment behind the thought that when we are apart from those we love, we long for them with greater enthusiasm. However, we might also know the proverb, “Out of sight, out of mind,” which can also be used for a situation when we are separated from someone we love, but in a totally different sense in which the person is free to do what he/she wants when the other is not around. Both can be used, but the occasion and the appropriateness of each one does vary…(and when not used correctly, they can cause some heartache).
When it comes to the biblical proverbs, Lawrence Boadt writes, “Proverbs was not a boring book to the original audience, but a treasure of practical wisdom which invited reflective thought and new discoveries of its meaning, especially in light of Yahweh’s revelation of his word (Reading the Old Testament, 481). As we think about the qualities of biblical proverbs, let’s think about how useable they were and still are for us. First, proverbs are packaged in memorable form (Hebrew parallelism). Second, proverbs are flexible, promote thought (riddle, parable, slogan, cliché). Third, proverbs are brief and witty (uses vomit a lot). Last, proverbs are not absolutes nor are they generalizations. (they are intended to apply to certain situations).
So, let’s take a biblical proverb and meditate on it for a moment:
12:18 Some people make cutting remarks,
but the words of the wise bring healing.
Oh, a proverb that speaks to criticism…how appropriate! We have all faced criticism and had those who sought to correct or challenge or improve us. Yes, this is a reality with which, I would think, every person can connect. There are things that are said to us that get under our skin…the words are irritating and we question the person’s motives. On the other hand, there are those who can tell you the same stuff and it is done in a different spirit, and just as the proverb says, they bring healing. Thus, we can distinguish between a WISE person and someone who wants to do harm to us (or, simply put, is not very wise).
Of course, that’s if you are the receiver of the critique, but what does this proverb say to the those of us who want to give the critique. Well, the manner in which we say what needs to be said shows whether we are wise, trying to heal and help a person; or whether we are foolish and hurtful, in that our words are cutting. If we want to be considered among the wise, then our advise, critique, and conversations need to bring healing.
So, when is the appropriate time to use this proverb? Hmmm…I think that when you receive something that you may not want to hear, ask yourself if this person is trying to cut your down or heal you up (yes, I said heal you up). And when we consider saying something to a person that might be hard for them to hear, this proverb is a great place to start meditating on how you are going to approach someone. There is a lot packed in so tiny a saying, and that is a proverb!
I want to share thoughts, insights, and scriptures that lead us in the direction of Christ.