God Wrestlers

Scripture: Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25

Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable to you, O Lord our Rock and our Redeemer.  Amen.

Let’s reflect for a bit on what makes Israel, Israel.  The Hebrew term, yisrael, literally means, “God-wrestler.”  Applied to all the tribes as a whole, one might call them “God wrestlers.” There are additional illuminations implicit in today’s passage that tell us more.  The Genealogical recitation of the descendants of Abraham, including the two sub-tribes of Joseph’s mixed-race descendants with his Egyptian wife, show that “Israel” is not a single ethnic people.[1]  In fact, beginning with Abraham, who came from the Chaldean region of Mesopotamia, we find that Abraham and Sarah aren’t even Israelites, either, per se.  Their forefathers and foremothers used to serve other gods, even. Beginning with Abraham, they were called apart – and indeed chose to follow – a single, monotheistic deity; today’s pericope is about making a renewed commitment: the Israelites choosing God.

Examining the overall identity of Israel, we discover that they are a people who have a constructed identity.  Telling their collective history, as we see in today’s passage and in numerous other places, such as Psalm 78, they re-live their ancestral narrative; owning their heritage.  Often, the prophet or the psalmist will bring their ancient stories to light in times of darkness, when the people have forgotten God and what God has done-always with an invitation to return to the Lord.

Pastor Maryann McKibben Dana, upon reflecting on this passage in the context of her southern encultured Presbyterian USA church, writes, “There are a few threads of inquiry in this story, each worth weaving into a sermon.”[2]  These are: The Nature of Leadership, Hypocrisy and Integrity, and the Power of Covenantal Identity and Baptism.

The Nature of Leadership: lead only as far as you have been led.  Leaders cannot demand action they are not willing to take.  Good leaders also know how to let situations ripen until just the right moment.  Push them too fast, and they resulting action will be superficial and easily forgotten.  Wait too long, and the momentum dies.[3]

Hypocrisy and Integrity.  I intimated that Pastor Maryann was encultured in her southern church – as to a certain extend any person can be contextual only within the culture in which they grew up.  This particular part of her reflection may or may not resonate as strongly with us out here in the Pacific Northwest – I will let you ruminate on it and see what you think.  She writes: “As the church becomes further disestablished in the culture, being Christian is no longer a requirement to be considered a respectable member of society. Joshua may be inviting us to let your Yes be Yes and our No be No.  Lukewarm pew sitters, who are there because ‘that’s just what you do,” are free to go their own way.”

My own personal commentary on that, growing up in the Pacific Northwest, is less tied to the view that Christianity is enculturated, at least out here.  It’s not been my personal experience that going to church is “just what you do.”  Out here it is more of a counter-cultural choice.  And that tendency was and is just getting stronger, I think, out here on the frontier; and I would like us to spend a little time with that today.

Turn to your neighbor and share a time when you first identified that being Christian might not be socially or culturally advantageous.  When was it?  Where were you?  What was at stake for you in that moment.  What did you do or say?  If anything, what would you do or say differently today?  I’ll give you about five minutes, one minute per question.


Coming back to our scripture for today, there are a couple other things we can learn from it.  Karyn Wiseman, professor of Homiletics at Lutheran Seminary in Philadelphia, gives us two points to consider.  First of all, what does this passage reveal to us about who God is? She writes,

“This passage offers an OT examination of the God many in today’s church are uncomfortable with—a God described as jealous and unforgiving (vv. 19–20). Most of us prefer the prettied-up version of the all-loving, all-forgiving God depicted in the responsive praise heard in churches around the globe: “God is good, all the time. All the time, God is good.”[4]

She goes on to pin us to our pews, so-to-speak, with the revelation that there is a Biblical witness to a jealous God.  Not in a petty, retributive sort of way, but in righteously reacting against “the people’s hatred, when what is expected of them is love and faithfulness.”  Think about parenting or teaching students. Yes, children and students need to know they are loved and supported, but they also need limitations and expectations set.[5]  God expects the best from humanity, and so we would do well to offer our best to God.

Second, this passage is about radical choices.

“Our choices impact the friends we have, the careers we enter, the spouses we marry, and the places we live, among many other things. This passage is about the ultimate choice of faith and life: determining whom we will serve and whether to submit to God.”[6]

Joshua observes the duplicity still existent within Israel and in effect pins them to their pew so-to-speak: “Whom will you serve?” he effectively asks.  “…as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”

Which leaves me to ask, as you think about your ultimate choice of faith and life, “Whom will you serve?”

May all glory be unto the One who lived, died, and rose again for us, even Him who is the Christ.  Amen?  May it be so.

[1] Wil Gafney, “Theological Perspective, Joshua 24:1-3a,14-25” in Feasting on the Word – Year A, ed. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press 2010). Accordance edition hyper-texted and formatted by OakTree Software, Inc. Version 2.0

[2] Maryann McKibben Dana, “Pastoral Perspective, Joshua 24:1-3a,14-25” in Feasting on the Word – Year A, ed. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press 2010). Accordance edition hyper-texted and formatted by OakTree Software, Inc. Version 2.0

[3] Ibid.

[4] Karyn Wiseman, “Homiletical Perspective, Joshua 24:1-3a,14-25” in Feasting on the Word – Year A, ed. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press 2010). Accordance edition hyper-texted and formatted by OakTree Software, Inc. Version 2.0

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

Question for Reflection

How would it change your life if you were to wait expectantly for the return of Christ?

Household Prayer: Morning

Creator of all, I awake to the day you have made with praise on my lips, for your Spirit gives me breath. May I live this day for the sake of Jesus, the light of the world, the apple of my eye, my beginning and end. Amen.

Household Prayer: Evening

Creator of all, you make the night for peace and rest. In the moon and stars we see the reflection of your eternal light, so whether we live or whether we die, we know that we belong to you. Keep watch over those who work through the night; give peace to those who cannot sleep. Let me surrender all anxiety and fear to your loving embrace, that I may awake to serve you with joy. Amen.

About Scottrick

Parent ~ Pastor ~ Poet ~ Author
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