I’m reading through the Old Testament at the moment, and I have a confession: from time to time, I skim a bit. Especially the parts about “who begat who” and where they say who got what bits of land. But last week, as I found myself in the book of Joshua, a part jumped out at me.
On this particular day, I read about the end of Joshua’s term as leader of Israel. Joshua was getting old, and he knew that his time had come. Before he died, he spoke with the Israelites to make sure they would continue to follow God. “Of course, of course,” they all said, “we will TOTALLY follow God!” “Are you sure?” he asked. And this is what it says, right in the Bible:
16 Then the people answered, “Far be it from us to forsake the Lord to serve other gods!17 It was the Lord our God himself who brought us and our parents up out of Egypt, from that land of slavery, and performed those great signs before our eyes. He protected us on our entire journey and among all the nations through which we traveled. 18 And the Lord drove out before us all the nations, including the Amorites, who lived in the land. We too will serve the Lord, because he is our God. ”
19 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. 20 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.”
21 But the people said to Joshua, “No! We will serve the Lord.”
22 Then Joshua said, “You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen to serve the Lord.”
“Yes, we are witnesses,” they replied.
23 “Now then,” said Joshua, “throw away the foreign gods that are among you and yield your hearts to the Lord, the God of Israel.”
24 And the people said to Joshua, “We will serve the Lord our God and obey him.”
25 On that day Joshua made a covenant for the people, and there at Shechem he reaffirmed for them decrees and laws. 26 And Joshua recorded these things in the Book of the Law of God. Then he took a large stone and set it up there under the oak near the holy place of the Lord.
27 “See!” he said to all the people. “This stone will be a witness against us. It has heard all the words the Lord has said to us. It will be a witness against you if you are untrue to your God.”
Joshua knew that sometimes the people of Israel could be a little… how do I put this?… unfaithful. So he actually asks them three different times if they’re SURE they want to serve the Lord. He even warns them of the consequences – “You know this God will not tolerate your philandering with other gods…” – but they INSIST – “We will SO follow the rules! We’ll do everything God says. Pinky promise!”
Well, surprise surprise, guess what happened next? Joshua died, many of his contemporaries also died, and people started to forget the promise that Israel had made. So yet again – despite their fervent promises to the contrary – the fickle Israelites broke their promise. As I continued to read about how the Israelites backslid right into their former behaviors, I found myself smirking at them a bit. Those silly Israelites! They just can’t stay away from those idols!
This past week, now that school’s out for the summer, Daniel and I have been reevaluating some lifestyle things, like time management, food, and exercise. As I was cooking a fun new recipe, I was all excited about this healthy new commitment that would get us back on track –
–and all of a sudden I had a Joshua moment. Didn’t I have another “I’m gonna eat healthy” moment in college? Where’d that go? Didn’t I promise Daniel at Christmas that I was gonna be better at getting up off the couch and exercising? And how many times do I have to think about calling my grandpa before I actually DO it?
You see, as much as we deny it, as much as we protest, we are just as fickle and unfaithful as the Israelites. To quote 1 John, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” That’s a nice way of saying that even though we PROMISE we’ll change – REALLY, we mean it this time! – we always go back to our old ways.
I’ll never forget my dad gleefully telling me one of his favorite “unusual” Proverbs over dinner one night: “As a dog returns to its vomit, so a fool repeats his folly.”
So, even though our old, idolatrous ways are like vomit, we still go back to them.
Can you imagine having the flu, vomiting in a bucket, and then having to have someone make you promise them not to go back and eat it? …And THEN you sneak back when they’re not looking and eat it anyway? That’s disgusting! …And yet, that is what Israel did, and that is what we do. We get a big ol’ spoon and we scarf down the vomit of our bad habits and unkind thoughts even though we KNOW they’re bad for us.
So what do we do about it?
First things first, let’s call a spade a spade and fess up – we are fools who return to our smelly, nasty, selfish behaviors just as mindlessly as a dog returning to its mess. Our selfishness isn’t cute, or ok, or justified because that other person made me mad – it STINKS. Let’s not cover it with false perfume.
Secondly, even though we KNOW we’re gonna return to that bucket eventually, let’s try to run toward the heavenly feast as long as we can first. We are human, yes, and we will mess up because we are fools. But always remember that God calls us not to be successful, but to be FAITHFUL. God is the ultimate example of faithfulness – giving Israel and us chance after chance after chance to do the right thing, just because of His great love for them and for us. Although we cannot meet his example, we need to keep picking ourselves up, moving on from our follies, and giving ourselves another chance to faithfully serve the Lord as best we can.