Do you ever wonder how the ancient Israelites frequently managed to mess up so badly? Again and again, the Bible recounts their seeming inability to remember the basic commands repeated so many times in the early books of the Bible.
I recently read the speech that Joshua gave to the people of Israel before he died, urging them to be faithful to the Lord. He reminded the entire assembly, one last time, about the benefits of obedience and the consequences of choosing sin:
Now therefore, fear the Lord, serve Him in sincerity and in truth, and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the River and in Egypt. Serve the Lord! And if it seems evil to you to serve the Lord, choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord. (Joshua 24:14-15)
Israel as a whole responded by resolving to follow God. And, for a while, they remained faithful.
But in Judges, the next book of the Bible, God’s chosen people start to waver. Chapter 1 begins with the tribes of Reuben and Judah working together to drive their residual enemies from the Promised Land. However, this account is immediately followed by a detailed listing of how the various tribes had failed to drive out all the foreign peoples from the land, as God commanded.
When I consider this account a little more deeply, I realize I can be the same way. There are areas in which I fail to submit to God entirely in my own life, and there are basic commands I can all too easily “forget” when convenient.
As I’m sure the Israelites did, I can come up with excuses about why I shouldn’t obey. This very problem is addressed by Dietrich Bonheoffer in The Cost of Discipleship:
“When Jesus demanded voluntary poverty of the rich young man, the young man knew that his only choices were obedience or disobedience. When Levi was called from tax collecting and Peter from his nets, there was no doubt that Jesus was serious about those calls. They were supposed to leave everything and follow him. When Peter was called to step onto the stormy sea, he had to get up and risk taking the step. Only one thing was demanded in each of these cases. That was their entrusting themselves to the word of Jesus Christ, believing it to be a stronger foundation than all the securities of the world. … Simple obedience was required.”
A dose of reality, isn’t it? For the original disciples (who were literally and verbally called by Christ) and for the first generation Israelites (whom God led into the Promised Land), there was no denying the reality of God’s will for their lives. They were reminded of their God-given mission day in and day out.
In the same way, Christ followers must be reminded every day of God’s truth. If we are not intentional about allowing the Word to speak into our lives, we start sliding down the slippery slope toward disobedience.
As John Owen has often said, “Be killing sin or sin will be killing you.” Our souls must be consistently treated with heavy doses of Biblical truth — personally and in community — to remain healthy Christians. Otherwise, we are doomed to lose our fight against sin.