Dear Lord, You have led me through a wilderness. You have met me when I was broken and encouraged me when I was overwhelmed. You have opened up doors for me and led me in the way everlasting. When things are going well, when I’m in a season of celebration, may I remember you even more, thanking you and continuing to live in bounty just as I live when I’m in need, trusting you and not getting distracted. Be with me in the highs and in the lows, because what I seek most is your presence and your life. Amen.
- Psalm 46-47
- Reading through Joshua 15-24
These are the closing chapters of the Exodus narrative. The Promise that began with Abraham, then continued in Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph. God made a people, led a people, in ways that were sometimes difficult and often not clear. There were long seasons where God seemed absent. But God was not absent. There were times in which God seemed like he was making things harder rather than easier, that he was not living up to his promises. But at every step, God was present, working, shaping, leading. Not just toward answers but to being a certain kind of people in relationship with God. This relationship resonated across their society and into every part of their lives.
In these chapters, we are told the administrative details of where each tribe will live and what cities they will have. This establishes an identity that is now connected to the Law (the pattern of life and worship they are to maintain as a people) and now the Land (where they are to live). The Land is from this point on intimately connected with their self-identity. It is a land of Promise, hope, sometimes punishment, where they experienced blessings when they lived according to the Law in the Land, and defeat when they tried to live in the Land without the Law.
God didn’t give them the Land as a prize or as a reward. God’s mission is bigger. In this sense, while this is an end of the Exodus narrative is the beginning to a much longer narrative, a telling of how a people are to live as God’s people, resonating God’s presence to the earth and to the surrounding nations.
It’s less like winning a grand prize, and a lot more like getting a particularly prestigious job. The honor and benefits are amazing, but it comes with obligation and effort.
God is faithful and now the people are challenged to hold onto their part of the covenant, to be faithful to God in return.
God has done so much and continues to bless them. Why would they do otherwise?
- Reading through James, 1 Peter, 2 Peter
James: Translations are funny. They’re always interpretations of sorts, but try to get at the original meaning. Sometimes there’s something else at work. Like with the book of James. Or rather, the title. In Greek (the original language), it’s called Jacobos. It’s the book of Jacob. As anyone who walks between the worlds of different languages, there are different ways of saying a shared name. James is the Anglo-Saxon version of Jacob, and it’s kept around because of tradition more than accuracy. Which makes sense except there’s a problem when we get too far from the original. Jacob, you see, is a very Jewish name. The name Peter is the “Greek” name for Cephas, not unlike how those from different cultures will adopt a new name that better fits where they are living. But Jacob didn’t do that. He kept Jacob. Because the testimony is he was not only Jewish, he was exceedingly devout and committed to worship of the Living God.
He simply also saw that Jesus is the Messiah, and that the fulfillment of God’s mission continued in the revelation of Christ. He also was the brother of Jesus. Not in a metaphorical–we’re all brethren in Christ–he was the son of Joseph and Mary. So, maybe half-brother at least.
He wasn’t, it seems, a follower of Jesus during his three year ministry before the cross. Like with Paul, it was the resurrected Jesus that called James/Jacob. From this calling, he became what seems to be one of the key leaders of the earliest church in Jerusalem. We can see his authority in Acts 15.
His reputation as being holy and wise went well beyond the New Testament documents. He had the nickname “the Just.” Josephus, a Jewish historian of the 1st century, also writes about him.
He was martyred (killed) for his faith in Jesus. And so this letter was written before his death, making it among the earlier New Testament writings we have. It reflects a very Jewish approach to faith. Faith that involves one’s whole life, and is committed to the calling God has given in providing salvation. We are to keep ourselves in tune with God, not falling off to the side or getting distracted. That is the way of death.
Doesn’t this sound familiar to what we read in the Old Testament readings?
1 and 2 Peter: While we don’t have nearly as many letters from Peter as we do from Paul, it is clear in the New Testament how absolutely vital Peter was in the early Church. He went out into the streets preaching in Acts 2. He has leadership roles that go beyond just administration and in many ways represent the developing scope of God’s work. While Paul argues for including Gentiles, Peter gets a dream, then a calling, to go baptize Cornelius.
Peter was a man of action, of practices, of doing. The Spirit was already at work, and Peter was called to give testimony to this work, showing it official. He was one of the inner circle of Jesus, so his teachings aren’t just his own, but certainly reflect what he had learned in his study and from Jesus himself.
He faced death many times, experiencing miracles and performing miracles.
There’s a lot of people in Christian history we can argue with, whether they got it right or if they were on the right track. Peter isn’t one of those. Peter was validated by Jesus, filled with the Spirit for leadership and ministry, and teaches with a profound authority that is right in tune with what we need to hear and what we need to focus on.
He doesn’t sugarcoat his message; it acknowledges struggles and frustrations and even persecution. The emphasis again and again is on the work of Christ, and in the power of the Spirit we are to respond in obedience. We need to avoid getting caught in the various nets life offers and keep our attitude in check, focused on Christ, staying true to our calling no matter the circumstances, because God is certainly faithful. Peter’s writings are theological, giving us a depth of understanding, and also practical, providing key guidance in day to day life.
In his second letter, Peter encourages his readers to stay focused on what Christ called us to do and who we are to be, not to get caught up in controversies, pulled aside by false teachers, or obsess with how things are going to work out. If we truly trust Christ, then we know God will work all things out. Our role is not to know all the details but to live true to who God has called us to be in our setting.
5. Psalm 48
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.