So we have the nation of Israel for the first time divided, it seems, into units of less than twelve. There are six tribes on one mountain and six tribes on another, one group responsible for announcing the promised blessings of God and the other responsible for His promised curses.
Although it is weird in terms of Israel's history, as we saw yesterday for a variety of reasons, it's actually pretty common in the contemporary church.
It is the classic tension between grace and truth.
This is the tension we're all feeling right now, no matter which mountain it is that we're standing on. There are Christians out there speaking the blessings of God (grace), shouting from the mountaintops ideas like forgiveness, mercy, love. And they're not wrong. These are all promises of God, given to His covenant people under the New Covenant just as much, if not more, than the old one. Were these things not true, we should have to say that the Lord our God has lied to us.
At the same time, there are Christians out there speaking the curses of God (truth), shouting from the mountaintops ideas like hell, condemnation, and the need for repentance. And they're not wrong. These are all curses of God, pronounced upon His covenant people under the New Covenant just as much, if not more, than the old one. Were these things not true, we should have to say that the Lord our God has lied to us.
The trouble for the modern church is that we have lost the Deutero-Joshua example of the two mountains. For us, there is only one mountain. Ours.
But see, this is what we're missing. When Israel did this little exercise, even though it seemed that they were divided into two, they were very much aware that they were still one whole. The two halves of the nation had one message, and as they proclaimed God's blessings or curses, they never stopped looking at each other. They were on two mountains, but they were both facing the same valley. They were keeping eye contact with one another. They were responding, in voice, to each other.
We've forgotten how to do this. For most of us, we are standing on our own mountain, wholeheartedly proclaiming either the blessing or the curse as though it is the entirety of God's story, as though it is the only covenant. We are shouting them into the sky, over the whole world, more like Leonardo DiCaprio in Titanic than like Israel on her two mountains. We're not looking at each other any more. We refuse to look one another in the eye.
Not only that, but we don't even claim any more that we're standing over the same space. We won't even look toward the same valley. Those Christians...those heretical Christians standing on the other mountain...they're wrong. They're ruining everything. We laugh at them for the way they're shouting off their mountain, unaware that we're doing the same off of ours. And at the end of the day, our mountains are where we fall.
Because unlike Israel, this is where we stay. We have no plans to come back together, no plans to meet again in the valley, no intentions of hugging our brothers and celebrating that only together do we have the heart of God's covenant, only in grace and truth do we proclaim what God has proclaimed. No. Ain't nobody got time for that any more. We'd rather die on our own mountains, shouting into the wind.
And that's exactly what's happening.
And that's exactly why this story from Israel's history is so important to us now. We're living it out all over again, but we've forgotten how the story goes. We've forgotten the very key dynamics at play here, specifically that on our mountains, we are only one-half of God's story; that it is incumbent upon us not only to look each other in the eye, but to speak into the same valley, to speak to each other; that at the end of the day, we are not two peoples of God, but one. One holy nation, one royal priesthood, one people of God. And these mountains? These are the mountains from which we speak, not the ones on which we die.