Russell and Duenes

Go To and Fro Killing Your Brothers

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They sliced up their own brothers. I was talking with someone this morning about Joshua 23, where God threatens His people that if they “transgress the covenant of the Lord [their] God, which he commanded [them], and go and serve other gods and bow down to them. Then the anger of the Lord will be kindled against [them], and [they] shall perish quickly from off the good land that he has given to [them].” (v.16).

Why the threats? Why can’t God just promise good things to us and dispense with the threats? This is an important and profound question, which in my experience, rarely gets addressed in our churches. Or it gets addressed in a platitudinous or trite way; it’s not wrestled with. It should at least bring before us questions of: (1) the kind of God we are dealing with in the Bible; and (2) the status we have as people before God. It should also cause us to consider the alternative: What if God issued no threats of punishment, nor carried through with any of them?

I don’t think one can get to helpful thoughts on these questions without assuming that God is rightfully at the center of His own affections, and that humans can only find ultimate and lasting joy when God is at the center of their affections as well. God’s threats must be considered with these underlying assumptions in place. God punishes His people not for punishment’s sake, but for the sake of sobering others of His people to worship and obey Him more carefully, for their own joy, and for the sake of others outside of His people hopefully entering into the community of His people and enjoying the blessings therein.

We like to talk about having a “God-centered” or “Christ-centered” worldview, but I think there’s a whole lot more to actually having one then we like to talk about. When God is truly at the center, God’s glory is paramount in our considerations and actions, and certain actions then become “loving” which we, in our sentimental views about love, consider mostly abhorrent. To take but one example, when the Israelites make a golden calf for themselves and start worshipping it in wild, out-of-control revelry (i.e., “the people had broken loose . . . to the derision of their enemies), Moses “stood in the gate of the camp and said, ‘Who is on the Lord‘s side? Come to me.’ And all the sons of Levi gathered around him. And he said to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God of Israel, ‘Put your sword on your side each of you, and go to and fro from gate to gate throughout the camp, and each of you kill his brother and his companion and his neighbor.’ And the sons of Levi did according to the word of Moses. And that day about three thousand men of the people fell.” 

This seems harsh, to put it mildly. Was it really necessary to kill their fellow Israelites for idolatry and wild party spirit? What benefit came from striking them down? And how could Moses bring himself to hack up His brothers? Whatever the full answer is, I believe that true God-centeredness had to be welling up in Moses’ heart. He understood what must be done if God’s reputation, glory and righteousness, indeed, if God Himself, had primacy. He also understood what was best for people, both the Israelites and the Gentiles. When God or His servants truly act on God-centered motivations and impulses, then people benefit most greatly. God-centeredness and human benefit and joy are not opposed to each other. Were God to leave us to our own devices, we could not experience this joy.

-D

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Written by Michael Duenes

May 30, 2015 at 8:59 am

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