Confessing Christians and orthodox Jews agree that Moses was a real person, while secular thinkers declare him to be a mythical superhero. Secular thinkers, however, do not order their lives by the words of mythical superheroes, such as Moses and Jesus, and therein lies the origin of a serious point of conflict that is percolating in today’s culture. These two “mythical superheroes” taught that God wants every moment of the lives of his followers, and he wants their full obedience in every place at all times. In an increasingly secular culture, that worldview is a problem.
Someone who uses the name of Moses in conversation or writing does not need to explain who this man is, but if he mentions any particular event or saying that allegedly comes from the life story of Moses, it might be a good idea to name the source of the version of that story being referenced. When I talk about Moses, I refer to the Bible. If I quote him, my quotations come from the Bible.
Almost everyone agrees that Jesus was a real person, but the agreement ends there. Anything else that might be said about Jesus has probably been disassembled and analyzed repeatedly by people who believe he is the Son of God and by people who don’t. As with Moses, there are so many versions of the life story of Jesus that references to him need to be clearly cited. If I quote Jesus or refer to something he did, my source is the Bible.I go to the Bible for any information I need about God and about the way God wants people to live.
The existence of God coupled with the acceptance of God’s standards for human life are faith principles that set the stage for a major conflict in today’s culture. Most of my readers see the conflict in western culture, but the conflict exists in every culture. In the central Asian republic of Kazakhstan or in the heart of Myanmar or in the highlands of Papua New Guinea, the same conflict arises. What is it?
It is the conflict posed when Joshua gathered the children of Israel to Shechem for a declaration that the children of The Promise to Abraham could formally take ownership of the Promised Land. Joshua recognized a problem that should have ended at Sinai, but the episode of the golden calf revealed that the children of Israel had very mixed loyalties. The people left Egypt, but they brought the gods of Egypt with them. The people gathered at Shechem were the second generation of Israelites who had left Egypt, but a considerable number of them had been under the age of twenty when God decreed that the old generation must die, and many of those people were still trying to make up their minds about religion.
We often think that the Israelites who wandered for forty years and then conquered Canaan must have been much more faithful and pure than any of us living today. Wrong! Many of the people who walked through the Red Sea with water standing up on either side like fortress walls did not know or love God. They and their ancestors had lived in Egypt as part of the culture. Some worshiped God, of course, and had preserved the teachings of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, along with the story of Joseph, who had brought the family to Egypt. Some worshiped the Egyptian gods, and more than likely the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh led out in that regard. Joseph’s wife, the mother of Ephraim and Manasseh, was the daughter of an Egyptian priest, and they and their descendants almost certainly carried forward practices associated with Egyptian religion. Some of the Israelites were still clinging to the gods of ancient Chaldea, Ur and Haran. Remember, when Rachel, Leah, and Jacob fled from Laban, Rachel stole Laban’s household gods, and it is very clear in Joshua’s statement at Shechem that it was known to him that some people still worshiped those gods.
Knowing all this history, knowing the people he had led for so many years, Joshua stood ready to declare that God’s people had conquered the Promised Land except for some mopping up operations, and on that occasion he said,
Now therefore fear the Lord and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond 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
Joshua spoke to an era in which not everybody was on God’s side, not even in Israel’s family, and he said that people would need to make a choice whether to serve the Lord or not. People in contemporary culture also make a choice whether to serve the Lord—or not. In every era, in every place, in every human being, the choice must be made. Will I “serve the Lord,” or not?
When a person commits to “serve the Lord,” how exactly does he live up to that commitment?
Moses and Jesus both spoke to this issue.
These words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. – Deuteronomy 6:6-9
You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.
You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. – Matthew 5:13-16
The expectation God set, whether the words of Moses, Jesus, or Joshua, is that people would live according to the same principles of right and wrong, truth and falsehood, in every setting. They would live by the same principles every minute of every day. They would live by the same principles whether standing in a cathedral or a bar. God does not ask for an hour on Sunday morning or ten minutes a day, if you are not busy. God asks for everything.
If God asks for everything, and if there is cultural gain in making nice with the culture, why give God everything?
Watch for Part 2 next week.
By Katherine Harms, author of Oceans of Love available for Kindle at Amazon.com. Watch for the release of Thrive! Live Christian in a Hostile World, planned for release in the summer of 2016.