Monday 29 June 2009

Word for the Week: Whole Life, Whole Bible (13/50) – On the Brink

‘Word for the Week: Whole Life, Whole Bible’, from London Institute for Contemporary Christianity, is a series of fifty emails designed to look at the main milestones of the biblical story, seeking to show how whole-life discipleship is woven through Scripture as a whole, from beginning to end. Here is the thirteenth of the fifty emails, written this week by Helen Parry.

Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their ancestors to give them. Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go.
Joshua 1:6-7

‘Guide me, O Thou great Jehovah’, we sing, ‘Pilgrim through this barren land’; and reach a climax of hope:

When I tread the verge of Jordan,
Bid my anxious fears subside:
Death of death and Hell’s destruction
Land me safe on Canaan’s side.

The Old Testament narratives have been a rich source of imagery and inspiration to the church through the ages, none more so than the account of the Exodus. Interestingly, the New Testament church didn’t spiritualise them in this way. Rather, they are referred to as historical events which lay the foundations for the Gospel, or (as in 1 Corinthians 10) serve as examples and warnings.

It may be comforting to think of Jordan as death, and Canaan as heaven, but the arrival of the Israelites in the promised land was not an end but a beginning – the beginning of the establishing of a ‘people’, God’s covenant people who, in the midst of pagan nations, were to live according to God’s law.

Moses had warned them that God’s blessing would remain with them only as long as they obeyed him. The law, with its emphasis on personal and communal holiness, was given to them for their flourishing, and to make them into a community committed to justice, generosity and stewardship, in a land where each one could live ‘under his own vine and under his own fig tree’.

Now, with Canaan in sight on the other side of the Jordan, God encourages Joshua to be strong and courageous. ‘As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you.’

Does this have any relevance for us? Surely, yes. As God’s new covenant people, playing our own part in God’s unfolding drama, the church is called to be God’s new community. Redeemed by Christ and empowered by the indwelling Spirit, in the midst of our own godless culture, with its particular temptations and dilemmas, we too are to live righteously, strong and courageous, encouraged by the promise ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you’.

Helen Parry

For further reflection and action:

1. What similarities may we see between the Canaanite culture in the promised land and the culture of our own day?

2. Even though Western culture is thoroughly – and sometimes aggressively – secular, there are many good people in it, living by many of the values of the Bible. How should we relate to them?

3. How can we, in our own circumstances, not by military might, be strong and courageous in upholding and maintaining the uniqueness and sovereign claims of God?

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