The journey of another school year is upon us. Already, teachers and administrators are engaged in preparations, and on Tuesday morning they will welcome students and parents with great excitement. As we embark on the 2016-2017 school year, I’d like to share a story from the book of Joshua.
Joshua 22:5 says, “Be very careful to…love the LORD your God, to walk in all His ways, to obey His commands, to hold fast to Him and to serve Him with all your heart and all your soul.”
This Biblical text takes place toward the end of the conquest of the promised land by the Israelites. The people are about to embark on a new era in the life of their nation, and Joshua is preparing them for this.
The conquest of Canaan had taken place in three phases. First, they took Jericho and the Hebron Valley, except for Jerusalem itself. In the next phase, they took the hill country north of Jerusalem and the coastal plain of Joppa. Finally, they moved north and took over the great trading center of Hazor on the road to Damascus and Mesopotamia. The Israelites, through battle and infiltration, began to control the entire area.
Prior to all of this, some of the tribes had already settled in on the eastern side of the Jordan. The tribes of Reuben, Gad and half of Manasseh were well established in Moab and Aram. About half of the fighting forces of those tribes accompanied the rest of Israel on its conquest of Canaan. The verse in Joshua 22 is a part of Joshua’s address to the fighting forces of those three tribes, as they prepare to return home after battle.
Joshua commends them for their obedient service, and then releases them to return home to the land the Lord their God had given them on the other side of the Jordan. This is significant because they will be very much separate from the other tribes of Israel. They will be on their own—the Jordan River forming a divide that will keep them distant and apart.
In his departure speech, Joshua instructs the tribes to love God, to walk in His ways, to obey His commandments, to hold fast to Him and serve Him. The King James version of this text uses the word “cleave” in place of “hold fast”. It is the Hebrew word dabaq (dawbak) which is also defined in my Hebrew lexicon as “to adhere to”. Dabaq is used in a number of passages throughout the Old Testament and is interpreted as, “united, drawn to, held fast, clung to, stayed, frozen, stuck or bound”.
I’m reminded of a scene from the Tolkien inspired movie, The Return of the King. In this third part of the trilogy, Frodo and Sam are nearing the end of their epic journey. The ring has become an unbearable burden for Frodo—the weight of it heavy around his neck. The image on the screen is unmistakable; he is hunched over, barely crawling forward. He cannot escape the weight of the burden he is carrying. Frodo and Sam have crossed the land inhabited by the Orcs, fought off the Spider Shelob, and now are approaching the entrance to the fires of Mordor. The scene is incredible as they climb the fiery volcano. Suddenly, Frodo collapses. Sam turns around to see his friend, his traveling companion, lying prostrate on the lava-like rock, unable to go further. He extends his hand and says repeatedly, “Hold on Frodo, just a little more.” Then finally, he reaches out and carries him.
Many of us carry similar burdens from day to day. We struggle when the task seems overwhelming. We fall prey to temptation and habits, to the deep abyss of the seductions of life. We all have those things that fill us with guilt. At other times, the ordinary routines of life just overtake us. Through no fault of our own, just due to the fact that we live in a broken and hurting world, we are overcome by the burden of our lives.
God, in His infinite mercy, reaches out His hand to us and calls us, saying, “Hold fast to me, cleave to me, and I will give you the strength to complete the journey.” We do not have to complete the journey on our own. He takes us by the hand and leads us forward.
Ultimately, we need to look to the image of Christ—to His sacrifice which lifts the guilt and the weight of our sin away. But we have also been given a beautiful picture of Christ reaching out His hand—to the beggar to get up and walk—to Peter when he began to sink below the waves—and to the little children, inviting them to come to Him.
Our God makes that offer to each of us as we begin this new school year—the offer to reach out and grab His hand and to cleave to Him. He will walk with us. And in the really rough places, He will just carry us through. I invite you today to grab on to His hand, to get a tight grip on our God, our loving heavenly Father, who will gently lead us through the journey of this school year.