How long, O Lord?
Will you hide yourself forever?
They are poised to enter Canaan, their past and future land. They have taken possession of the land and allocated it among the tribes. They are divided into tribes, family groups, but they are one people who worship one God.
Joshua has assembled all the tribes. He reminds them of how God has led them here.
"Make up your mind today," Joshua tells them. "Decide whether you are going to follow God or choose other gods."
Each person, each family, each leader has to make a choice. Yet, the choice involves the entire community. They have shared a history, their present situation depends on each other's decision, and their future will be affected by not only what each one does but also on what is important to their neighbors. John Donne was right.
Following God's will is not always easy. We are often tempted to do things that seem more immediately rewarding. The people meeting with Joshua that day had a history of voicing allegiance then backsliding.
Scholars think now that this portion of the book of Joshua was written after exile to help Israel to understand why they had lost their nation.
We are troubled by verse 19. Can it be that God will not forgive us? One reading is that Joshua's words are to remind us that sin does have consequences. We should consider these consequences before we act.
But, as we read more and more of the Bible, we are reassured that God continues to reach out to us, and, yes, forgive us more times than we deserve.
Joshua asks them to make a commitment. A commitment is more than a single promise at a single point in time. A commitment is a change in the rest of our lives.
They are talking about the temple, how beautiful it is--beautiful to see and beautiful in purpose. Then Jesus announces to them that one day this temple will be destroyed.
Those listening to him that day would have known about the destruction of the first temple and the pain and disruption of the exile that the destruction had signaled. Those would have read the words that the prophets had used to call the people to repentance and change and the accusations and sorrow that followed when they did not.
They responded to his announcement by asking "How will we know when this is going to happen?"
Jesus cautioned them not to be misled by some who would claim to be coming in his name. Still good advice. Then he told them what signs would foretell the end: Wars and insurrections, natural disasters, and great signs from heaven.
With help from Allen & Williamson's Preaching the Gospels, here are several texts that would be useful for background reading: God destroyed the first temple because of Israel's unfaithfulness, Jeremiah 7:1-14; Signs of tribulation, 2 Chronicles 15:5-6; Daniel 11:20-44; Elements of nature--earthquakes, famines, plagues, and astrological signals, Haggai 2:6; Zechariah 14:5
After listing the portents of the end--war, earthquakes, heavenly signs, Jesus warned them that before those disruptions would come arrests and persecution for them. The first hearers of Luke's gospel would have been witnesses to the disruptions both within the synagogues and with the Romans whose government and army occupied and controlled their nation.
Jesus said, "Your arrests will give you the opportunity to testify. You don't need to worry about what you are going to say because I will give you the words and wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict."
They are not to take this as an assurance that nothing bad was going to happen to any of them. They are not exempt from suffering. Rather, some of them were going to be betrayed by relatives and friends, some of them were going to be put to death, they were going to face hatred because of their loyalty to him.
Yet, he added, "But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls." Historically, tribulation did befall the early church. And, historically, God has continued to support the community through conflict--internal and external. Sharon Ringe in her commentary on Luke writes:
Even a false assurance (21:18)--for many would indeed suffer harm--echoes an earlier word of comfort (12:7). The final promise is not that they will be spared the suffering, but rather that their hope lies in endurance (21:19)--standing firm and refusing to give in to the evil around them.
This psalm that began with praise now turns into a lament. Scholars tell us that this part of the psalm reflects Judah's reaction to Babylon's destruction of Jerusalem and consequent taking into captivity of much of the population. The nations of Israel and Judah were no more. Davidic kingship was ended. (Women's Bible Commentary, 228).
We can use these verses of Psalm 89 to voice our own reactions to loss and for permission to do so.
Prayer for Today: O Lord, we wait for your presence. We need once more to feel your love for us, for your faithfulness to us. Remember us when we are in pain, when we are insulted, when our enemies taunt us. We remember what you have done for us and ask for help during this trouble. Amen.