Dear Lord, I come before you today with a lot on my mind and a lot going on. I know you are in charge and I know you are working things out in ways I can’t even imagine. I don’t always know what you’re doing or why you’re doing it, but I trust you. Help me to live out this trust throughout my day and throughout my week. Help me to live out this trust in how I respond to others and how I respond to the news or things going on at work/school. Teach me and guide me to be the person you want me to be in all the places I go to and all the time I have in this life. Be with those who need to see you and I pray for those who I know who are struggling. Amen.
- Psalm 40
- Reading through Deuteronomy 21-34
Transitions are hard. Especially when there’s a change in leadership as part of a big transition. We lose consistency and rhythm. Transitions are often when divisions really begin to show, as the power structure changes, people take advantage to do their own thing, go their own way, seek something bigger or better or just different. That’s human nature. This is why transitions are important to handle. There’s good transitions and there’s bad transitions. Good transitions thrust people into a new phase. Bad transitions undermine what’s happened before.
In these chapters of Deuteronomy we read about a massive transition. Moses dies. Joshua takes over leadership of Israel. This might even be the most substantial transition in the whole Bible, until we get to the ascension of Jesus at least.
The first part continues with issues of law. Like before, these can seem tedious but make sure to see how these laws navigate justice and community. Some are surprisingly lenient. Some are surprisingly strict. There’s even rules about inclusion and exclusion, and grace given to those who are oppressed.
But oppression is not an excuse for lying or disobedience. There’s no excuses for that. As you go through these chapters (up to ch. 28), think about the reasons behind each rule. I see these as pragmatic (not idealistic) approaches to forging and continuing communty, so while not everyone will get all they want, there’s a balance of rights and responsibilities to help each person feel respected.
The kinds of exclusion that happen (for someone who has been injured, for instance) are hard to read, but it seems like these are not just punishments but ways to make sure people don’t minimize earlier mistakes thinking they can just get away with it. Or minimizing taking care of oneself as a whole person.
Like with a lot of these laws, however, the more we read the Bible the more we find very curious exceptions that actually shows the bounty of God’s grace: Ruth the Moabite becoming key in the narrative of Israel’s kings and the Messiah, or how Daniel was enslaved, almost certainly “emasculated,” and yet was a hero of the faith, a prophet, and example of serving God in the midst of oppression.
All these rules help to create a consistency of expectation and experience that radically helps weather a transition. If the community is experiencing a steady rhythm of worship, schedule, order, then leadership changes have a lot less impact. Having the Law sets up a community identity that isn’t dependent on personalities or politics.
Bad transitions create even more disruptions, emphasizing the problems, stopping the rhythm of the community in addition to changing the leadership.
The sense of consistency is lost and that means people can easily drift away or against each other. There’s no sense of cohesiveness, and that means people then tend to prioritize their own self-care and experiences.
Which means that transitions can have good timing and can have bad timing. Don’t change players in the middle of a play. Don’t change actors in the middle of a scene. The time for change is right when the rhythm of the community is good and there’s a space for one person to step out and another in smoothly.
This was a good time for transition for Israel: changes were happening but there was space for new leadership to take over. Moses had led out of Egypt and through the Wilderness, helping Israel become a people in service to God. Now they were going to enter into the land, a new kind of task and a good time for a new kind of leader. However, the task was not a surprise.
There was a longstanding narrative about what was in store, and so the transition from Moses to Joshua involved a change of leaders but not a change of mission. Changing leaders when the mission is uncertain or when the preparations for consistency haven’t been made or… that’s a lot of other things that have to be in place. Like with a relay race, the winning team is the one that handles the transition well, both the giver and the receiver of the baton running full speed at the moment of hand off, in their lane, the course set.
Moses himself helped to form Joshua, giving him guidance and empowering him as the new leader. Moses also reminded the people of who they were, their story and their mission. He led them in a renewing of their covenant with God and with each other. That makes it hard to ditch the community!
The Spirit filled Joshua, and empowered him in leading the people, taking what Moses had done and furthering the cause. Joshua didn’t have to start over or go through a “rebuilding” phase. Moses left the community as strong and as cohesive as it had ever been.
Moses wasn’t going to enter into the Promised Land with the people, but he led in a way that formed a people who could enter into the land. Thus, he was with them in this and we find him finally getting to the Promised Land at a later point: his obedience to God gave him audience with the Messiah in the transfiguration.
- Reading through 1 Timothy
While it may be a stretch to call Paul the Moses of the New Testament (Jesus fills this role and expands on it), it’s interesting to read 1 Timothy alongside the Deuteronomy passages this week, because there’s a very similar kind of transition. The letter was likely written in the early to mid 60s, while Paul was in prison. If you’ve read Acts (which we haven’t yet this year, so don’t worry if you haven’t), we know that Paul traveled a lot to different cities and planted churches in many of them and ministered to churches if there were some already there. Timothy shows up throughout Acts as a companion to Paul (starting in chapter 16) and also gets mentioned in many of the other letters of the New Testament, either as a companion of Paul when he is writing or referenced by Paul as a representative of his ministry. He’s portrayed as young, but apparently very capable.
This letter to Timothy is a set of instructions and also encouragement. He is to keep hold of his responsibilities and not be dissuaded. Paul gives him some very helpful counsel about practical church ministry. It’s a letter to a particular place and a particular person, so we have to read it in light of the rest of Paul’s letters and activities, however, there is still much guidance for those of us in the church today. Indeed, a lot of the instructions about leadership and purpose use this letter as a source. In this way, it serves as a continued reference, a key letter for a moment of transition from one generation to another, that speaks into our generation.
One key debate from this letter is Paul’s comments in 2:11-15, about not letting a woman teach. This is important for our church, because as part of the Wesleyan Church we hold to a position that Scripture is inerrant, but we also assert the role of women in ordained ministry. How to reconcile? That’s a longer discussion, but it goes back to seeing this letter not as a set of rules but as an expression to a context. That’s not dismissing it, but rather seeing how what Paul says here matches what we see elsewhere. When we see Paul commending women in teaching and leading in other passages, it gives us important interpretive guidance. One way of understanding Paul’s counsel in this letter is to consider that for the most part women, especially Gentile women, were not educated, so this may give rise to a form of pop teaching that wasn’t in line with what the Apostles were saying. We don’t know for sure, but we do know that all through the Bible women are affirmed in leading and teaching and even prophesying, all of which involve speaking and authority.
As I said, this is a longer discussion but it goes to show how important it is to read the whole Bible and use isolated verses while ignoring other passages.
Meanwhile, other admonitions that Paul makes, like against false teachers or about human sin are very consistent throughout the Bible.
The letter ends with strong encouragement. Life isn’t easy, even for an apostle, and Timothy is becoming increasingly more important. While he certainly knows his business, it is so important to continue to encourage those on the front lines and remind them of their mission. Because otherwise it is easy to lose heart or become distracted. God rescues and God works, but sometimes it can be hard to see. So encourage one another as Paul encouraged Timothy.
5. Psalm 41-42
If you’ve fallen behind in the readings or having started year, don’t worry. Reading the Bible isn’t a limited time offer. Jump in this week, and catch up with what you’ve missed in future years.
Also, I highly encourage you to share your thoughts with others in your family, or immediate community. Talk about this stuff!
And, since I sometimes feel lonely, share your thoughts in the comment section.
Talking about your thoughts and questions is a very important part of the reading goal. Writing out our thoughts can help us remember what we read and keep our minds on the passage. It also is very helpful to share as we learn from each other. Even our questions or confusion can bring us together, as we highlight what others may have missed or address what a lot of us are also wondering. Don’t feel like you have to say or write a lot, or feel pressure to be profound. Respond with honesty and openness.
Just jump right in where you’re at, knowing that Christ invites you to respond without pressure or anxiety. It’s a journey not a performance.