Judges 2:6-15 – *Sigh*

After Joshua had dismissed them, the People of Israel went off to claim their allotted territories and take possession of the land. The people worshiped God throughout the lifetime of Joshua and the time of the leaders who survived him, leaders who had been in on all of God’s great work that he had done for Israel. Then Joshua son of Nun, the servant of God, died. He was 110 years old. They buried him in his allotted inheritance at Timnath Heres in the hills of Ephraim north of Mount Gaash.

Eventually that entire generation died and was buried. Then another generation grew up that didn’t know anything of God or the work he had done for Israel.

The People of Israel did evil in God’s sight: they served Baal-gods; they deserted God, the God of their parents who had led them out of Egypt; they took up with other gods, gods of the peoples around them. They actually worshiped them! And oh, how they angered God as they worshiped god Baal and goddess Astarte! God’s anger was hot against Israel: He handed them off to plunderers who stripped them; he sold them cheap to enemies on all sides. They were helpless before their enemies. Every time they walked out the door God was with them—but for evil, just as God had said, just as he had sworn he would do. They were in a bad way. (MSG)

The Old Testament book of Judges reads like a soap opera. The main characters are the ancient Israelites, fresh from coming into the Promised Land; God, the One who brought them into the land with a series of miraculous events and divine interventions; and, of course, the Judges, the men and women who led the people and ruled in the land.

Throughout the book of Judges, there are plenty of adventures and misadventures. The exploits and foibles narrate a sad downward spiral of people forsaking the worship of God; God arresting their attention; the people awakening to their dire condition and crying out to God; God sending a Judge to save them; the people slipping into a worse condition; and, the cycle starting all over again with more disastrous results and brokenness than before. *Sigh*

In today’s lesson, we get a clue as to where it all began and why it kept happening. Tucked away in the middle of these verses is the cryptic message that when Joshua’s generation died, the next generation did not know the Lord or any of the mighty acts God did on their behalf. *Sigh*

The first generation of Israelites born into the Promised Land were flat out ignorant of God because their parents and religious leaders failed to pass on values, experiences, and knowledge to their children. They were not intentional about providing the kind of education to their kids that would let them know about the person and work of God. *Sigh*

Emerging generations need present generations to grab hold of the mandate to graciously teach and develop them in the words and ways of Jesus Christ – because faith is not a magically delicious box of Lucky Charms which providentially drops from the sky. *Sigh*

It behooves us all to consider ways to pass on the grace and truth of Jesus to the next generation – and to do so in a loving and compelling way. And, if you feel a low confidence level in doing this, go on a discovery with teens, kids, and grandkids so that you are all learning together.

A few of the ways my wife and I taught our three girls when they were young included singing Scripture, even coming up with our own original tunes; dramatizing biblical stories, complete with costumes and interesting ad libs; and, prayer walking together outside.

I am more than confident younger generations will have ideas that are not boring or pedantic. In other words, take some initiative and have some fun with it. Then, neither you nor anyone else will be ending sentences with a big *Sigh*

Lord God Almighty, you have acted in the past with mighty deeds and gracious ways. Enable your people to pass on their love for Jesus to the next generation so that your kingdom breaks into the generations and your will be done here on earth as it is always done in heaven. Amen.

Joshua 20:1-9 – Asylum

A painting of Hebron, one of the cities of refuge, 1839.

The Lord said to Joshua, “Now tell the Israelites to designate the cities of refuge, as I instructed Moses. Anyone who kills another person accidentally and unintentionally can run to one of these cities; they will be places of refuge from relatives seeking revenge for the person who was killed.

“Upon reaching one of these cities, the one who caused the death will appear before the elders at the city gate and present his case. They must allow him to enter the city and give him a place to live among them. If the relatives of the victim come to avenge the killing, the leaders must not release the slayer to them, for he killed the other person unintentionally and without previous hostility. But the slayer must stay in that city and be tried by the local assembly, which will render a judgment. And he must continue to live in that city until the death of the high priest who was in office at the time of the accident. After that, he is free to return to his own home in the town from which he fled.”

The following cities were designated as cities of refuge: Kedesh of Galilee, in the hill country of Naphtali; Shechem, in the hill country of Ephraim; and Kiriath-arba (that is, Hebron), in the hill country of Judah. On the east side of the Jordan River, across from Jericho, the following cities were designated: Bezer, in the wilderness plain of the tribe of Reuben; Ramoth in Gilead, in the territory of the tribe of Gad; and Golan in Bashan, in the land of the tribe of Manasseh. These cities were set apart for all the Israelites as well as the foreigners living among them. Anyone who accidentally killed another person could take refuge in one of these cities. In this way, they could escape being killed in revenge prior to standing trial before the local assembly. (NLT)

God is concerned for justice. The Lord made sure that as soon as the Israelites got into the Promised Land that the divine rule of law would be established concerning cities of refuge. God did not take the stance of saying, “Well, these guys need to get settled in after all this military campaigning. I don’t want to overwhelm them with having to deal with this issue.” No, the Lord considered it imperative to have the cities set up. It was important enough to not put off or wait for Joshua to get around to it, even though it was on his to-do list.

The six cities of refuge in Israel.

God made it clear to Moses what was to happen in the case of involuntary manslaughter:

When the Lord your God has destroyed the nations whose land he is giving you, and when you have driven them out and settled in their towns and houses, then set aside for yourselves three cities in the land the Lord your God is giving you to possess. Determine the distances involved and divide into three parts the land the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, so that a person who kills someone may flee for refuge to one of these cities.

This is the rule concerning anyone who kills a person and flees there for safety—anyone who kills a neighbor unintentionally, without malice aforethought. For instance, a man may go into the forest with his neighbor to cut wood, and as he swings his ax to fell a tree, the head may fly off and hit his neighbor and kill him. That man may flee to one of these cities and save his life. Otherwise, the avenger of blood might pursue him in a rage, overtake him if the distance is too great, and kill him even though he is not deserving of death, since he did it to his neighbor without malice aforethought. Therefore, I command you to set aside for yourselves three cities. (Deuteronomy 19:1-7, NIV)

A city of refuge is a place of safety where someone who murdered another unintentionally could seek asylum. Safeguarding life is a premium value for God. If one person is accidentally killed, the last thing the Lord wanted was even more innocent blood to be shed out of vengeance.

Law and grace are meant to exist together for the benefit of the entire nation.

Six cities are named, three on the west side of the Jordan River and three on the east side. No place in the land of Israel was more than one day’s journey from at least one of these cities, so God graciously provided ample opportunity for preserving the life of the one who killed without malicious forethought or intent.

Although sanctuary was given, there was a full investigation of the killing to ensure the innocence of the killer. If the killer was found to be guilty, then appropriate legal action was taken. If not, the person was only protected while within the bounds of the refuge city.

Therefore, it is important to approach God’s law and God’s grace not as an either/or but as a both/and. We are to show grace while obeying the law, and we are to maintain just laws when extending grace.

The crime should fit the punishment, and actions, even unintended ones, have consequences.

We need to continually work to uphold both law and grace together without forfeiting one for the other. Simplistic answers along with cut-and-dried approaches will not do when holding them together. Instead, issues of human life and death are to be given due diligence with examining the situation in all its complexity.

There is to be public respect for the sanctity of human life.

Showing such respect will come through both law and grace. By establishing cities of refuge, God was squelching generational feuds that go on and on and on. Justice will be done, yet it will be done with grace and not by family vendettas and blood feuds, like the Hatfield’s and McCoy’s.

God’s people are to live differently, with gracious respect for all life at the forefront of civil law.

Lord God, thank you for creating human life in your image and likeness, for the inherent worth you place on human existence. Help us to uphold the sanctity of life in our communities. Give us the strength to stand up to those forces that seek to destroy the lives of those most vulnerable. Today I commit myself never to be silent, never to be passive, never to be forgetful of respecting life. I commit myself to protecting and defending the sacredness of life according to your will, through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Joshua 8:30-35 – Recall the Ancient Ways

One day, Joshua led the people of Israel to Mount Ebal, where he told some of his men, “Build an altar for offering sacrifices to the Lord. And use stones that have never been cut with iron tools, because that is what Moses taught in The Book of the Law.”

Joshua offered sacrifices to please the Lord and to ask his blessing. Then with the Israelites still watching, he copied parts of The Book of the Law of Moses onto stones.

Moses had said that everyone in Israel was to go to the valley between Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim, where they were to be blessed. So, everyone went there, including the foreigners, the leaders, officials, and judges. Half of the people stood on one side of the valley, and half on the other side, with the priests from the Levi tribe standing in the middle with the sacred chest. Then in a loud voice, Joshua read the blessings and curses from The Book of the Law of Moses. (CEV)

The ancient Israelites were in the Promised Land. Finally! It was quite the circuitous journey to get to this point. It might have been easy to kick back and celebrate. However, Joshua, their leader, knew there was a prerequisite to jubilation. First, the tone had to be set for how they were going to live and be as the inhabitants of this land.

So, Joshua gathered the entire nation and copied God’s Law in front of them, as given to Moses from God. Then, in the hearing of all the people, Joshua read the attitudes, activities, and attributes which would bring them ongoing blessing, as well as the behaviors which would bring a curse.

Joshua’s work is paradigmatic for us. Just as Moses received the Law from God and read it to the people; and, then, did it again just before the people started their campaign to enter the land, so Joshua followed his mentor’s lead and did the same. Reminders of God’s work and faithfulness, recollecting God’s gracious commands, and renewing our vows to God are all significant and ongoing works for every generation to emulate.

Why, pray tell, must we engage in such a ritual repeatedly? For two reasons: we tend to forget the things we are supposed to remember; and performing a practice again and again helps press it into our minds and hearts. This is precisely why I am a believer in liturgical worship and following the Christian Year. The redemptive events of Jesus become more than doctrines to believe; they are grafted into the soul by the sheer repetition of practice.

Part of the reason why so many Christian evangelicals have fled the Church is that they received no catechetical instruction again and again through time honored methods of worship and instruction. So, when they left, it was as if there was nothing to leave – it was easy. With little awareness of the great inheritance they possess in the faith, many persons have scant knowledge that what they are leaving is a rich historical tradition with the very things they are searching for but never received.

Oh, my goodness, people of God, it behooves us to pass on the faith in ways which both make sense and are true to the ancient way of the commandments, our apostolic tradition, and of Christ. It will do no good to disparage history, as if it began with Billy Graham. If folks are going to walk away, let them do it with the full cognizance of what they are walking away from. I cannot say I could blame anyone for leaving an eviscerated faith that is no faith, at all.

This very blog is partly dedicated to following the Revised Common Lectionary because it is the continual cycle of following Christ daily and yearly which patiently and profoundly constructs the soul over time.

Psychology as a discipline was established in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries largely because of a grand collective loss of memory amongst so many people. Psychological studies vigorously investigated the reason why this phenomenon was so ubiquitous.

It is also noteworthy that the great rise in secularism over the past few centuries before the 1800’s, found an apex at this same time with the introduction of psychology as a bona fide academic discipline. If humanity was meant for living in consistent rhythms of life and faith, then it makes sense that, when taken away, what remains is a massive societal memory loss with large implications for the individual.

We must reverse the curse of sacred memory loss and confusion of mind (Deuteronomy 28:28). We ought to recapture the mind, heart, and spirit for their intended purpose and design. We need metaphysicians who will do the important work of soul craft and bring blessings yet again to the world. There is some urgency to mentoring others in the faith, as the Apostle Paul did with his young protégé Timothy:

“You have heard my message, and it’s been confirmed by many witnesses. Entrust this message to faithful individuals who will be competent to teach others.” (2 Timothy 2:2, GW)

Spiritual care and connection are not optional – they are a necessity we cannot live without. A spiritual cultivation and tending of the soul have positive effects on our stress and overall well-being. Spirituality brings health and vitality to our psychosocial selves and reinforces integrity and excellence in relating to others.

So, let us not jettison the important work of tending the soul through ancient practices of breathing, reading, reflecting, contemplating, praying, worshiping, and applying the work of Christ to our world’s greatest issues and needs.

Almighty and everlasting God, in Christ you have revealed your glory among the nations: Preserve the works of your mercy, that your Church throughout the world may persevere with steadfast faith in the confession of your Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Joshua 6:1-16, 20 – Seven Times

Now the gates of Jericho were securely barred because of the Israelites. No one went out and no one came in.

Then the Lord said to Joshua, “See, I have delivered Jericho into your hands, along with its king and its fighting men. March around the city once with all the armed men. Do this for six days. Have seven priests carry trumpets of rams’ horns in front of the ark. On the seventh day, march around the city seven times, with the priests blowing the trumpets. When you hear them sound a long blast on the trumpets, have the whole army give a loud shout; then the wall of the city will collapse and the army will go up, everyone straight in.”

So, Joshua son of Nun called the priests and said to them, “Take up the ark of the covenant of the Lord and have seven priests carry trumpets in front of it.” And he ordered the army, “Advance! March around the city, with an armed guard going ahead of the ark of the Lord.”

When Joshua had spoken to the people, the seven priests carrying the seven trumpets before the Lord went forward, blowing their trumpets, and the ark of the Lord’s covenant followed them. The armed guard marched ahead of the priests who blew the trumpets, and the rear guard followed the ark. All this time the trumpets were sounding. But Joshua had commanded the army, “Do not give a war cry, do not raise your voices, do not say a word until the day I tell you to shout. Then shout!” So, he had the ark of the Lord carried around the city, circling it once. Then the army returned to camp and spent the night there.

Joshua got up early the next morning and the priests took up the ark of the Lord. The seven priests carrying the seven trumpets went forward, marching before the ark of the Lord and blowing the trumpets. The armed men went ahead of them and the rear guard followed the ark of the Lord, while the trumpets kept sounding. So, on the second day they marched around the city once and returned to the camp. They did this for six days.

On the seventh day, they got up at daybreak and marched around the city seven times in the same manner, except that on that day they circled the city seven times. The seventh time around, when the priests sounded the trumpet blast, Joshua commanded the army, “Shout! For the Lord has given you the city!…

When the trumpets sounded, the army shouted, and at the sound of the trumpet, when the men gave a loud shout, the wall collapsed; so, everyone charged straight in, and they took the city. (NIV)

Today’s Old Testament lesson is the famous account of the ancient Israelites taking the city of Jericho. The Lord gave the people unusual instructions to march around the city once each day for six days. On the seventh day, they were to proceed around the city seven times and then give a loud shout and the walls would come down. The Israelites followed the command to the letter and, as a result, saw an incredible work of God.

There are two words in this story that are repeated frequently: “seven” and “shout.” Seven priests with seven trumpets march around the city seven times on the seventh day. And the people were to do more than shout on the seventh day – they were to give a great big lung-filled roar together.

The number seven shows up many times in Holy Scripture. Maybe it is God’s favorite number. Whenever we see the number seven, it points to God. For example, the psalmist said:

I will praise you seven times a day because all your regulations are just. (Psalm 119:164, NLT) 

Ancient Israel took this verse literally and seriously by instituting a daily offering every day, seven times a day, of prayer and worship, spacing it out over the course of a twenty-four-hour period. The early church continued the practice, and even today many liturgical traditions still hold to the “Daily Office” which are seven distinct times in the day (and night) of intentionally connecting with God.

In our contemporary religious milieu and fragmented world, methinks we need to re-connect with the number seven. Maybe we would see God do the miraculous if we prayed with the words “seven” and “shout” as our guiding motifs. I wonder what kind of spiritual health would result from committing to intentional times of prayer seven times a day. I am curious if we followed our prayers with a great shout together of confident faith if we would see mighty divine works in ourselves, the church, and the world.

Almighty, ever-living God help us to obey you willingly and promptly. Teach us how to serve you with sincere and upright hearts in every sphere of life through Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.