the spice box “A matter of choice”

By Sharon Robertson, Lt. Colonel

The crowd was quiet, uneasy, but awed in the presence of greatness.

Silvered hair shining in the sunlight, shriveled but still strong hands clasped around the staff that supported him, the great man let his gaze wander over the faces of those who had gathered to hear him speak. The man was nearly 110 years of age, and he had served as God’s chosen leader of the Israelite people for 25 years. He started life as “Hoshea,” but his mentor and former leader gave him a new name— Joshua. He forcefully declared its meaning, “Yahweh saves,” through both word and action.

Joshua, the great warrior and administrator commissioned by Moses at God’s  instruction, knew that his remaining days were few. His anxious eyes reflected his intense concern for the beloved, but not always wise or obedient, people before him. They had rebelled against God before; would they remain faithful now, or would they be drawn away by the subtle urging of old habits? Joshua was determined to bring them to the point of full commitment. In the most forceful language he could summon, he reminded the crowd of their history, of how God had brought them out of Egypt, preserved them through 40 years of wandering in the desert, defeated their enemies and brought them into the promised land.

“Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness,” Joshua exhorted. “Throw away the gods your forefathers worshiped beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord” (Josh. 24:14 NIV).

The crowd was confused. Why would they not serve the Lord? They knew what he had done! “We will serve the Lord,” they declared. Joshua was not convinced.

Joshua said to the people, “You are not able to serve the Lord. He is a holy God; he is a jealous God. He will not forgive your rebellion and your sins. If you forsake the Lord and serve foreign gods, he will turn and bring disaster on you and make an end of you, after he has been good to you.”

But the people said to Joshua, “No! We will serve the Lord.” (Josh. 24:19-21).

The Old Testament makes only too clear the vacillations of the Israelite people. Often we wonder how, having experienced the overwhelming graciousness of Yahweh, the protection of his mighty arms around them, they could ever drift away from him, even to the point of bowing down before false gods—yet they did, time after time.

We point at their example, and feel pity. We are committed Christians, we never falter in that commitment. Or do we?

Joshua was well aware that the pending transition in leadership could prove a challenge to God’s people. Changes are not easy, and transitions are rarely smooth. People, even staunch Christian disciples, tend to get “shook up” when confronted with a departure from familiar habits and schedules, and it is easy to make choices—moral judgments—based, not on right or wrong, but on “That isn’t how we do things around here.”

“Different” can be perceived as “bad,” not because there is any intrinsic evil in the plan, but because it takes us out of our comfort zone.

Joshua knew that setting the stage for a successful transition is almost entirely dependent on the attitudes and predispositions of the people involved. For the Christian, that attitude must find its source in one’s own commitment to God, and to the successful propagation of the message of Christ. It means preparing ourselves to make choices based on “What will be best for the Kingdom of God” rather than “How will this change accommodate my personal preferences?”

None of us want to see ourselves as stumbling blocks on the road to eternal life. We aspire to be builders, reaching out to our communities in ways that will draw men and women, boys and girls, to Jesus Christ. To achieve that aspiration, God sometimes points in new directions—and that may require drastic changes in attitudes and actions. It will require unfaltering faithfulness to Christ, and dedication to the proposition that God has the right to instigate any change he wants in order to accomplish his purposes.

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