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.

Life is Not Fair

My fifth grade teacher used to tell us all that time, “the only person who gets to decide your future is YOU,” and “YOU are the one who determines whether or not you are happy and successful in life.”

Even at that age, something just did not seem exactly right about what she was saying. I knew enough about my own life and the lives of those around me to know that life is not at all fair, and a lot of the things that can hurt us deeply may not be under our control.

The Bible acknowledges this, too. Was it fair, when in 2 Samuel 11, Uriah’s death was secretly orchestrated by King David, who had his eye on Uriah’s wife? What about in Genesis 37-40 when Joseph was thrown into a pit, or sold into slavery, or framed for rape, or forgotten about to waste away in prison? What about in Joshua 7 when thirty-six men lost there lives at Ai because of a sin that Achan had committed in the previous battle at Jericho?

Yet in the midst of all of the unfairness, the Bible offers hope, and not despair.

Romans 12:19 quotes Deuteronomy 32:35 in reminding us that God is aware of everything that goes on, and He will settle all accounts in the end, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”

Exodus 22:21-23 reminds us that he sees and cares about mistreatment, “You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. You shall not afflict any widow or orphan. If you afflict him at all, and if he does cry out to Me, I will surely hear his cry.”

Psalm 68:5-6 assures us that he cares for the downtrodden: “A father of the fatherless and a judge for the widows, Is God in His holy habitation. God makes a home for the lonely; He leads out the prisoners into prosperity, Only the rebellious dwell in a parched land.”

Not only does the Bible assure us that God sees that which is unfair in our world; it also reminds us to stop using our misfortune as an excuse, but rather to get back up and take responsibility for those things that we are able to control.

In Joshua 7:7-9, Joshua was in great despair because all of Israel was suffering and he did not know why. “Alas, O Lord God, why did You ever bring this people over the Jordan, only to deliver us into the hand of the Amorites, to destroy us? If only we had been willing to dwell beyond the Jordan! O Lord, what can I say since Israel has turned their back before their enemies? For the Canaanites and all the inhabitants of the land will hear of it, and they will surround us and cut off our name from the earth. And what will You do for Your great name?”

God’s response was powerful: “Rise up! Why is it that you have fallen on your face?” He then gave Joshua specific instructions on how to take charge and be proactive about the situation, rather than whining.

Maybe that was what my teacher was trying to tell us. No, life is not at all fair. No, we cannot control what other people do. Just as people mistreated Jesus, they will mistreat us. But we can still take responsibility for our own actions, and we can go out in the strength of the LORD to do good in His name.