Focus on the Handoff

In the previous post, I shared how Israel’s failure to pass on the stories about God’s deliverance from bondage and His provision in the wilderness resulted in their grandchildren abandoning the faith. Here’s the sad account:

 “When Joshua dismissed the people, the people of Israel went each to his inheritance to take possession of the land. And the people served the Lord all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua, who had seen all the great work that the Lord had done for Israel. …And there arose another generation after them who did not know the Lord or the work that he had done for Israel. …And they abandoned the Lord, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt.” (Judges 2:6, 7, 10*, emphasis mine)

The obvious question is “Why?” Why did Israel fail to pass the baton of faith to the third generation? Why are children that have been reared in Christian homes and churches are abandoning the Faith in greater numbers today? Is there a correlation between the biblical account and today? Trying to “get into the biblical story,” I discovered clues as to why Israel dropped baton of Faith.

Affluence- enemy of faith

The generation that survived forty difficult years in the wilderness had to leave their camp every morning to gather their “daily bread” and every Friday gather sufficient for the Sabbath. Every time they broke camp to follow the Cloud, they had to trust God to lead them to potable water. But they were no longer pilgrims in the wilderness. They were now home enjoying the abundance of a land “flowing with milk and honey.” A land suitable for their herds and flocks and blessed with fertile fields of grain.

The survivors had personally experienced a story that was so exciting they couldn’t help but pass it on to their children. Although their children knew the story well, they failed to pass it on to the next generation. Perhaps the children, now living in houses rather than tents and enjoying fresh produce instead of boring manna, found the story irrelevant like Moses had warned:

Take care lest you forget the Lord your God by not keeping his commandments and his rules and his statutes, which I command you today, lest, when you have eaten and are full and have built good houses and live in them, and when your herds and flocks multiply and your silver and gold is multiplied and all that you have is multiplied, then your heart be lifted up, and you forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, who led you through the great and terrifying wilderness, with its fiery serpents and scorpions and thirsty ground where there was no water, who brought you water out of the flinty rock, who fed you in the wilderness with manna that your fathers did not know, that he might humble you and test you, to do you good in the end. Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’ You shall remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your fathers, as it is this day.” (Deuteronomy 8:10–18*, emphasis mine)

Before Moses died at age 120, he had passed the baton to Joshua who would lead the people into the Promised Land.

Years later, Joshua, “old and well advanced in years,” summoned the people together and rehearsed in detail the story of God’s provision during the wilderness trek and the conquest of the land. He also warned them about forgetting God while enjoying prosperity in the land. ((You can read Joshua’s challenge in Joshua 23 & 24*.) Here is an excerpt: “God gave you a land on which you had not labored and cities that you had not built, and you dwell in them. You eat the fruit of vineyards and olive orchards that you did not plant. Now therefore fear the Lord and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord.” (Joshua 24:13–14*)

Joshua also set up a memorial stone to remind the people of the covenant they had affirmed. He also “wrote these words in the Book of the Law of God. And he took a large stone and set it up there under the terebinth that was by the sanctuary of the Lord. And Joshua said to all the people, ‘Behold, this stone shall be a witness against us, for it has heard all the words of the Lord that he spoke to us. Therefore it shall be a witness against you, lest you deal falsely with your God.’ So Joshua sent the people away, every man to his inheritance.” (Joshua 24:26–28*)

The people returned to their homes with Joshua’s warnings ringing in their ears. The rest of the story is captured in these words: “And there arose another generation after them who did not know the Lord or the work that he had done for Israel. …And they abandoned the Lord, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt.” (Judges 2:10, 12*)

The third generation drifted into the trap Moses and Joshua had warned against. Life was good and the living was easy so they forgot that God was the source of all their blessings. In the midst of abundance, there was no need for faith.

Sound familiar?

Throughout history, trials such as war, drought and economic depressions have brought nations and individuals back to God. In times of peace and prosperity, we tend to drift. We divide and quarrel.  

Isolation- the enemy of faith

Perhaps another factor that resulted in Israel’s drift was they became less connected with each other. They no longer lived together as one big family. Everyone was living within the borders of their tribal land. Everyone was busy in their own pursuits. Sounds like 2023, doesn’t it?

The life of faith is meant to be lived in community, but we value individualism. Away from the corporate flame, we become embers destined to cool. We need each other, especially as our culture become more secular and hostile. Persecution removes walls and draws Christians together. The author of Hebrews encouraged a persecuted church to stir up one another by consistently gathering together. (See Hebrews 10:24, 25)

Israel dropped the baton when life was good and everyone was in pursuit of more. Are we any different? Israel also failed to pass on their stories about God’s provision. Have our children witnessed our confidence in God? Have they heard our stories about God’s provision? Have we set up memorial stones—family traditions—to remind our children and grandchildren how God has led, protected and provided?

This morning, I was reading in Leviticus and discovered another example of parents using traditions to pass the story on to their children. Every Israelites was to dwell in rustic shelters made of branches of trees for seven days during the Feast of Booths so that their children would experience the story of God bringing their ancestors out of Egypt and providing for them while they lived in tents because they needed to know that “I am the Lord your God.” (Leviticus 23:42, 43)

I believe there may be another clue in the story of Moses and Joshua to illustrate why the baton of Faith was dropped back then and continues to be dropped.

But, that’s another story for another post.

*All Scriptures are taken from the ESV.

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