Psalm 99; Joshua 23:1–24:13; Luke 17:26–37

Originally published 8/16/2016. revised and updated 8/16/2018.

Psalm 99: Our psalmist opens with an awesome display of God’s mighty power over all the earth—both nature and nations:
The Lord reigns—peoples tremble,
enthroned upon cherubim—the earth shakes.
 (1)

Unsurprisingly, it is Israel where God’s power is centered:
The Lord is great in Zion
and exalted over all the peoples. (2)

Therefore, Israel for certain and perhaps everyone on earth are to worship:
They acclaim Your name:
Great and fearful,
He is holy.
” (3)   [The meaning of ‘holy’ here is ‘set apart.’]

Unlike the small-g gods, God does not exercise his dominion as cruel power. Instead, “with a king’s strength He loves justice.” (4a) In fact, God is the creative source of all that is good, including judgement and justice, again centered in Israel:
You firmly founded righteousness,
judgement and justice in Jacob You made.
” (4b)

As the God of all that is righteous and just, he deserves to be the focus of kingly worship, not just for Israel, but everyone on earth:
Exalt the Lord our God
and bow down to His footstool.
He is holy.
 (5)

This is a reverence we would do well to remember when we start thinking of God as our loving “Daddy.” Yes he is certainly that, but we dare not approach God casually. He is the awesome king of all creation (including us) and certainly worthy of our fear in both senses of that word.

At verse 6, the psalmist shifts his focus from the world stage more directly to Israel as he recalls the great personalities from its storied past:
Moses and Aaron among His priests
and Samuel among those who call on His name
called to the Lord and He answered them
. (6)

The clear implication here is that if they called upon God, then so should Israel and so should we.

In fact, God communicated with every Israelite who was part of the Exodus:
In a pillar of cloud did He speak to them. (7a)

As long as the people kept their side of God’s covenant with them, God was there with them:
They kept His precepts and the statute He gave them. (7b). There’s some whitewashed history here since the wandering Israelites were “a stiff-necked people” and repeatedly rebelled against their leadership and God himself. Nevertheless, when they failed, God was—and is—a God of patience. However, the consequences of sin must be borne:
Lord our God, it was You Who answered them,
a forbearing God You were to them,
yet an avenger of their misdeeds
. (8)

Once again, the implication is that as God was patience with the first Israelites, so too he will be patient with the present generation.

The conclusion to this psalm of reverent praise is yet another reminder that we are his created beings with a solemn duty to worship the God of  great and unfathomable holiness:
Exalt the Lord our God
and bow to His holy mountain,
for the Lord our God is holy.
 (9)

Joshua 23:1–24:13: Years pass and Joshua is now an old man. In the same way that Moses gave his valedictory address at the conclusion of Deuteronomy, Joshua also addresses Israel near the end of his life. He first reminds them that what has been accomplished is not of Israel’s own doing, “for it is the Lord your God who has fought for you.” (23:3). He goes on to remind them that the task of taking Canaan is not yet quite complete, but for those nations that remain, “God will push them back before you, and drive them out of your sight; and you shall possess their land, as the Lord your God promised you.” (5)

However, this can only occur if the people keep their side of the Covenant, especially the rules about idol worship: “You may not be mixed with these nations left here among you, or make mention of the names of their gods, or swear by them, or serve them, or bow yourselves down to them.” (7) Rather, “Be very careful, therefore, to love the Lord your God.” (11). The idea of “being careful” in our love for God resonates here. Our love and worship is neither a random nor casual event. Our love for God must be consciously deliberate.

A further warning about avoiding intermarriage follows: “[If you] intermarry with them, so that you marry their women and they yours, know assuredly that the Lord your God will not continue to drive out these nations before you.” (13) Inasmuch as the authors of this book are writing at a much later date when they have observed the unhappy consequences of Israel’s marital intermingling, they must have written this passage with almost despairing irony.

A second speech opens chapter 24. Here, Joshua reviews the history of Israel, speaking in God’s voice, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel.” (24:2) Joshua reviews Israel’s history even more deeply, going back further in time than Moses did, starting with Abraham’s father, “Long ago your ancestors—Terah and his sons Abraham and Nahor—lived beyond the Euphrates and served other gods.” (24:12) He traces Israel’s lineage through Isaac, Jacob and into Egypt. Joshua recounts Moses and Aaron, the plagues, and the crossing of the Red Sea [which is named specifically here].

Being a military man, Joshua recounts the various battles fought before arriving at Canaan, including the story of Balaam. Intriguingly, he tells the people that God “sent the hornet ahead of you, which drove out before you the two kings of the Amorites.” (24:12) Is this a metaphor whose meaning has been lost? Or were there actual hornets that invaded ahead of Israel and weakened the enemy, making Israel’s conquest all the more certain?

Following the rule, “tell them what you’re going to tell them; then tell them; and then tell them again what you just told them,” Joshua again reminds the people, “Now therefore revere the Lord, and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness; put away the gods that your ancestors served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord.” (24:14)

But as we know all too well, even then, Joshua’s message was ultimately lost on some number of the Israelites. Just as God’s message is lost on too many today.

Luke 17:26–37: Jesus continues his disquisition on the Kingdom of God and the coming of the Son of Man. His core message is that the coming will be unannounced and will surprise everyone as they are “eating and drinking, and marrying and being given in marriage.” (27) What happened to Noah and to Lot, who was also “eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building,” (28) will happen on “the day that the Son of Man is revealed.” (30). In short, quotidian life on earth will end unexpectedly and dramatically.

Jesus tells the disciples to “remember Lot’s wife,” whose sin was to look back at her former life. We come into the Kingdom and “must not turn back.” (31) Our human efforts to create security for ourselves are ultimately futile, as Jesus reminds us in the famous verse: “Those who try to make their life secure will lose it, but those who lose their life will keep it.” (34) This is the point of following Jesus and the point Oswald Chambers keeps coming back to: Only when we are willing to abandon our ego and our ultimately futile efforts to control our destiny and instead turn our lives over to Jesus will we find real security.

The verses that follow are frequently used as proof texts for the Parousia, Jesus’ second coming, aka the “Rapture.” That “on that night there will be two in one bed; one will be taken and the other left” (34) and “There will be two women grinding meal together; one will be taken and the other left.” (35) certainly suggests the nature  of a secret rapture popularized in Evangelical churches. However, I believe Jesus is emphasizing his point about unexpectedness and surprise and that when it comes to the theology of the Rapture, Jesus’ word pictures here have been over-interpreted.

 

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