Tough Stuff in the Old Testament

Do you ever struggle with some of the unforgiving words of the Old Testament? I do at times. As I read through the Old Testament, I often have to pause and give what I read some thought. It's especially important that I take the context and background of what is going on into consideration. Look, for example, at what the Israelites told Joshua:

“Just as we obeyed Moses in all things, so we will obey you. Only may the Lord your God be with you, as he was with Moses! Whoever rebels against your commandment and disobeys your words, whatever you command him, shall be put to death. Only be strong and courageous.” Joshua 1:17-18 (ESV)

Such harsh words!

I tend to be an independent thinker who is very wary of following orders blindly. If I understand the reason for the order, I will do my utmost to obey it. But if it doesn’t make sense to me, I struggle. So I find the idea of giving a leader so much power frightening. Why was it so important that the Israelites pledge their unquestioning obedience to Joshua?

I have to remember that the book of Joshua is an account of how Israel would conquer and settle the land that God had given them. It’s primarily a book of battles, many of which God intervenes in on Israel’s behalf. Therefore, the passage we are looking at today is an army pledging to follow its leader. I understand that. An army can’t have anyone waffling. A person’s loyalties must be undivided, and an enlisted person must obey his leader.

But there is even more to it. I also have to remember that Joshua was God’s appointed spokesperson. He took the place of Moses and was chosen by God himself to represent him to his people. Joshua was no ordinary leader. He got his marching orders directly from God, which puts an entirely different perspective on it.

So what does that mean for us today? Are we ever to display such harshness and unforgiveness?

The difference is we now have Jesus Christ as our mediator and final authority in matters of life. Therefore, we don’t have to take unquestioning orders from anyone but him. And he had a lot to say about forgiveness when he said things such as "turn the other cheek" or "love those who persecute you." We are called to a much higher standard than simply conquering a land. We are called to establish a Kingdom that is universal and everlasting.

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