Thursday, February 21, 2013

Old Testament Overtime: Settling East

The Old Testament inspires me.  And quite often, I find it beautiful discordant with life in the 21st Century.  With OT OT (Old Testament Overtime), I'd like to explore some of those contrasts as they strike me.  Today:

Settling East.

In Deuteronomy, we read about the journey of the new generation of Israelites as they are finally able to take possession of the land God promised them.  They are just east of the Jordan River, having wiped out their enemies there, and Moses is giving instructions on how to divide the land once they cross the Jordan and enter the Promised Land.

Then a group of men pipes up.  They are the men of Gad, Reuben, and half of the tribe of Manasseh.  "This land that we are in now is good," they concluded.  "May we settle here?"

It was not an easy question.  You see, the army of the Lord depended upon the entirety of Israel's armed forces.  Their battle plan, the formations they marched in, were designed around each tribe holding a certain position.  Pull two and a half tribes out of that equation, and the army of the Lord is not at full strength.  Moses assumed that if you give a man a land to settle in, he has no motivation to help anyone else get what is theirs.  Without Gad, Reuben, and the half-tribe of Manasseh, it was going to be a tough battle.  And the Lord planned on bringing all of Israel into the land, not 9.5 twelfths of it.

Moses had to cut a deal, on behalf of the Lord, of course.  If the land these tribes wanted was the land east of the Jordan, they could have it.  But only after they not only went to battle for the Promised Land but led the charge to do so.  Their troops would be in front.  They would be storming the new path.  They would be charging in first in order to bless the other tribes with their inheritance, their own parcels of land.

Deal, they said.  Gad, Reuben, and half of Manasseh agreed to fight on the front lines.  When the others are settled, they were free to return to their chosen land and settle in peace.

This is a story I've been reading in my morning Bible study over the past couple of weeks, watching it unfold.  It's got me thinking a lot about ministry, about what it means to be a minister.  And I think it is exactly this:

Here we are, a people east of Eden.  A people looking for a place to settle this side of the Promised Land.  It's not perfect.  It's not exactly what God intended or even covenanted to give us, but here we are and we find that it's pretty good here.  Not Eden by a long stretch, but pretty good.  We'd like to have a place here to call our own.

And God's ok with that.  He is willing to let us settle in this land, to give us a place here, to give us peace.  Somewhere to stop, to rest, to build a home and live.  Most of us stop there.  Most of us are happy to have a place we feel like God has let us be.  A place of our own.  A city here.

That's not where God stops, though.  God says that when you've found your place to rest, when you've been given your place, your inheritance, your settlement here, you don't get to just stay there.  Your job is to lead the charge.  Your job is to stand on the front lines.  Your job is to cross over first and blaze into embattled territory.  Your job is to fight with all you've got to make sure the rest of God's people get their place, too.  And since you know the place you're coming back to, since you know where your rest is and where you call home, then you go first.  

You go first and take people into the land God is giving them.  That's ministry.

We find our place in the world.  That is God's grace.  To know who we are, where we are, and this place that we call home.  This place where we find rest.  It is our ministry, then, to lead others into finding that place for themselves.  Leading them into the Promised Land, the place God has covenanted to give them.  The place He has ordained them to live.  It is our job to fight for their peace, their rest, and their inheritance while we are comforted by the security of knowing where our place is.  We can't just stay where we have settled; we use that as a launching pad and hit the front lines.  Until all of God's people see His promise.

It's what we do here, east of Eden...with one eye on the Promised Land.  We are called to lead people home.

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