How Quickly We Forget

The first five books of the Bible are Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. These five books together are often referred to as “the books of the Law,” “the Law of Moses,” “the Pentateuch,” or “the Torah.” Together, they lay out God’s laws for the people of Israel to carefully follow as they enter the promised land of Canaan.

Immediately following Deuteronomy is the book of Joshua. It records the efforts of Joshua to bring the people into the promised land, to divide it among the tribes of Israel, and to encourage them to be strong and courageous as they take what God has given to them.

Joshua must have been a remarkable man. He is one of the very few great leaders in the Bible for whom no serious or tragic personal mistakes are recorded. He seems to have exhibited tremendous faith throughout his days, and scripture even informs us that the people of Israel remained faithful to the LORD all the days of Joshua, and even for all of the days of the elders who had known Joshua.

But once Joshua and the other elders were gone, all of that changed.

After the book of Joshua is the book of Judges, and to put it bluntly, Judges paints a picture of an Israel that is seriously messed up. There are many examples in Judges of how rapidly and how seriously Israel fell away from God. Consider one of them, found in Joshua 17. A man has stolen his mother’s silver, and when he confesses to the theft, she celebrates by using some the silver to make idols. But what is especially disturbing, is that apparently she thought this would please the LORD!

“He then returned the eleven hundred pieces of silver to his mother, and his mother said, ‘I wholly dedicate the silver from my hand to the LORD for my son to make a graven image and a molten image; now therefore, I will return them to you.’ So when he returned the silver to his mother, his mother took two hundred pieces of silver and gave them to the silversmith who made them into a graven image and a molten image, and they were in the house of Micah. And the man Micah had a shrine and he made an ephod and household idols and consecrated one of his sons, that he might become his priest.” (Joshua 17:3-5)

But the story gets worse… Micah, in whose house are these graven images that were “dedicated to the LORD,” meets a Levite who agrees to become his personal priest.

“So Micah consecrated the Levite, and the young man became his priest and lived in the house of Micah. Then Micah said, ‘Now I know that the LORD will prosper me, seeing I have a Levite as priest.’” (Judges 17:12-13)

How could Micah possibly think that the LORD would bless him for having household idols and a personal priest for those idols in his home? How could a Levite, who ought to have known the law, not realized that this was a breach of the second of the ten commandments, among other things?

As the story continues in chapter 18, six hundred men from Dan steal the household gods and the priest for their own. “The sons of Dan set up for themselves the graven image; and Jonathan, the son of Gershom, the son of Manasseh, he and his sons were priests to the tribe of the Danites until the day of the captivity of the land. So they set up for themselves Micah’s graven image which he had made, all the time that the house of God was at Shiloh.” (Judges 18:30-31)

The Israelites so quickly turned aside to foreign God’s after entering Canaan. But what may be worse, is that they seemed to think that the LORD would be fine with this. If only they had been careful to familiarize themselves with God’s word, who knows how much better and easier life might have been for them? Let us take this as a warning. We must be careful to constantly familiarize ourselves with the teachings of scripture, lest we quickly fall away and suffer the consequences.

“Us” and “Them”

Luke’s genealogy of the Christ starts with Jesus, son of Joseph, and works its way all the way back to Adam. It ends with these words: “…son of Enosh, the son of Seth, the son of Adam, the son of God.”

In what sense was Adam the “son of God?” I do not know all of the ways in which that question cab be appropriately answered, but I know one thing: our children tend to resemble us, and Adam resembled God. Scripture says that when God made Adam He said “let us make Adam in our image,” or “in our likeness,” or, in some sense, “to look like US.”

Of course in Hebrew, Adam literally means “mankind,” and this is no coincidence. Just as Adam is a child of God, and thus “looks like” God, so all of mankind are children of God, who look like Him.

Plenty of other scriptures reaffirm this. Paul said of his prayer life: “I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name.” So in some sense, not only are we His children who resemble Him, but we also have His name, just as it is customary even to this day for a person’s children to bear their name. In His sermon on Mars Hill Paul proclaimed that God “made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth… for in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we also are His children.’”

Now when we get into trouble, who do we turn to to bail us out? Often, it is our family. This is the way it has been for millennia. In the book of Ruth, for instance, Boaz redeemed the household of Naomi because He was one of their closest relatives. In fact, in Hebrew, the word for “redeemer” and “close relative” is the exact same word.

No wonder then, that God Himself ended up being our redeemer, for ultimately there was no one else in the family who could help us with our sin problem. We were slaves to sin as Romans teaches, and slaves to the law, as we read in Galatians 4:5, and as the law in the Pentetuech lays out, a man needs one of his kinsmen to pay out the redemption money before he can go free. We might have hoped for a fellow human being to help us out, but the Revelation to John tells us that they searched through heaven, and found no one who was worthy except the Lamb. He was our closest and only kinsman who could bail us out.

Thus we are told by Matthew and Mark that the Son of Man (a title of Jesus that really emphasizes His kinship to us) came to give His life as a ransom for many.

So what do we learn from all of this? Well, we learn that there is no “us” vs. “them” when it comes to the worth of the various peoples on the earth. Yes, we have different skin colors, and we speak different dialects and different languages, and we have different customs and traditions and heritages and strengths and weaknesses. And there is no need to hide these facts. Rather, I think we should celebrate them. But when it comes to whose family is better than whose, there is only one family. We are all sons of Adam, sons of God. We all look like Him. We all carry His name.

Maybe sometimes those in power want to divide us into groups, and foster hate between us in order to make us easier to control. Or maybe sometimes it has little or nothing to do with those in power, and it starts at the bottom and works its way up because we, as humans, are distrustful of those who are not like us, or who we perceive as a threat to our own way of life. But when it comes to human worth, there is no “us” and “them.”

There is, however, a very important “us” and “them” that does need to be addressed. It is the “us” who accept Him as our redeemer and the “them” that reject His sacrifice in favor of some other god. It might sound discriminatory, but truly, there is a group that is special in His eyes. He calls them “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession.”

This special people is his church. And while many today perceive His church as being bigoted precisely because they perceive it as an elitist group who think they are better than others and exclude those who are different from them, the truth is that the requirements for entry still leave room for quite a bit of diversity.

You do not have to be any certain color. You do not have to speak any certain language or live in any certain country or belong to any certain political party. You do not have to be attracted to people of the opposite gender. You do not have to be in a certain income bracket. You do not have to meet a minimum requirement for good deeds done per week. You do not have to have a clean criminal record.

You do have to trust and obey.

Matthew 25 describes a scene in which God “separates the sheep from the goats.” There will be “sheep” and “goats.” There will be an “us” and a “them.” Both “us” and “them” will have “red,” “yellow,” “black,” “brown,” and “white,” rich and poor, old and young, men and women among our numbers. Both “us” and “them” will have those who had our own struggles with alcohol, drugs, sexual immorality, and a host of other problems. But “we” will be faithful to Him wherever He leads, while “they” will turn their backs on Him when the right idol comes along.

This is the only “us” and “them” that will matter in the end.

I will stand with you in this life. But when judgment day comes, there will be a separation. On that day, will you be one of us, or one of them?