Bible Study

Bible Study: Proper 26 (A) – 2011

October 30, 2011

Joshua 3:7-17

Throughout the Book of Joshua, we see parallels and allusions to Moses. For example, Moses sent spies to scout out the land beyond the Jordan, Joshua sent spies to scout out Jericho. Moses leads the Israelites through the Reed Sea; Joshua takes them across the Jordan. Just as Moses directed the Hebrews to hold a Passover meal before leaving Egypt, Joshua and the Israelites celebrate the Passover in the land of Canaan. Above all, however, Joshua is portrayed as an ideal leader, without flaw or hesitation. In fact, the entire Book of Joshua presents an idealized version of leadership and of the nation itself – what Israel wanted to believe it could be when truly and faithfully living the will of God. Our text today portrays a significant moment in the nation’s history – the crossing of the people into the land of Canaan. While written several centuries after the settlement of the people in the hill country, the Book of Joshua served to remind Israel that the land, and their presence there were gifts of God, and that remaining in that special place was contingent on their obedience to God’s law.

  • As we reflect on our own lives and the life of our church today, what might we call to mind as an example of God’s “exalting” us as God did Joshua and the Israelites? Where has God so generously gifted us?
  • Just as the Lord called upon Joshua and the Israelites to keep the Mosaic Law as the condition for their continued inhabitance of the land, what is God asking God’s people to do in our contemporary circumstances?
  • What are we doing and what might we still need to do as signs of our fidelity to God’s will?

Psalm 107:1-7, 33-37

Scholars think that this psalm was most likely written in Israel’s post-exilic period (i.e., after the disastrous Babylonian invasion and exile). The references to gathering from the four directions those who are scattered suggest such a date. The psalmist uses the image of the hungry and thirsty wandering in the desert to underscore God’s redeeming power. While we may not be wandering the deserts of the Middle East as our ancestors in faith were, so many of us continue to wander our interior deserts crying out for God’s help. Like the Israelites, we all carry a sense of loss, sadness and emptiness in our hearts, and like them we often dwell in this deserted place for some time before we turn to God for help, “crying to the Lord in their trouble,” and allow God to deliver us from our distress. It was the 1990’s pop icon Kurt Cobain, lead singer of the group Nirvana, who noted in his diary, shortly before his suicide, that no amount of money, or drugs, or fame could fill the void he felt inside himself. What was he longing for? Most us will also spend some time in our lives in that “desert waste,” as the psalmist says, before we realize that only God can lead us by a straight way to an inhabited town.

  • Which words or phrases from this psalm selection especially resonate with you and why?
  • How do you relate to the psalmist’s emotions and longing so beautifully expressed in this text?

1 Thessalonians 2:9-13

Throughout Paul’s career as a preacher, money was always an issue! Because of the complex dynamics of patron/client relationships characteristic of this era in the Mediterranean world, Paul generally did not accept money for his personal livelihood from the congregations to whom he was currently preaching. Rather, he worked as a tentmaker, a versatile trade that permitted him to stitch everything from ship’s sails to awnings. He reminds his Thessalonian audience that he and his companions asked nothing of his flock financially speaking. More importantly, however, Paul recognizes that the conduct of children reflects the instruction their father has given. The literal sense of the Greek here reminds the Thessalonians to “walk worthily.” This is a very Semitic statement, for it relies heavily on the Israelite sense of halaka, our walking/living in the correct way. It is for this reason the Thessalonians are admonished. Paul wants his spiritual children to be both prepared and worthy to enjoy the glory of God’s reign when it is made manifest on earth, an event which both Paul and his audience believed was to occur within their lifetime. Today’s text concludes with Paul offering a thanksgiving because the Thessalonians have accepted his preaching and have committed their whole selves to the gospel of God. For Paul’s audience at Thessalonica, hearing the message did not remain merely a matter of the intellect, but led to total personal transformation.

  • Paul was clearly concerned with correct “walking” (living) as he was correct thinking. What are the primary characteristics of “walking worthily” in our contemporary Christian context?
  • What must we do to allow the words of the gospel transform us? What might be characteristic of our experience of God’s word at work in us?

Matthew 23:1-12

In this episode Jesus pounds on one of his favorite targets for ridicule: those who think of themselves as pious and holy, those who make a show of acting pious and holy, and those who condemn others for not being, in their view, pious and holy enough. Jesus’ criticism of Pharisees and Scribes would widely be seen as ridiculous, because it was these two groups who dedicated much time and energy to the most noble and worthy of professions – the study of God’s law. It is easy to see why Jesus made enemies in the religious establishment! Even today it will raise hackles to suggest to people who already think of themselves as religious and pious that God might want something else of them. But this is what Jesus did, and continues to do. This Gospel text can be taken as a call to self-examination, for us both personally and as a church.

  • What might Jesus have to say to modern day “scribes” and “Pharisees”?
  • What “heavy burdens” do we place upon one another in the name of religion?
  • What elements of our piety and religious thinking today need to be challenged?

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Christopher Sikkema


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