The Bible—Hearing the Promise Is Not Always Easy

March 13, 2013

Monday I gave a rundown on the plot elements and poetic licenses issued for the second installment of The Bible on History Channel. Today let’s go back to a theme that was evident in the first episode and see if it carries through the second. That would be the voice of God: what God said, to whom, and how they knew it was God talking. In the first episode, you remember that Noah, Abraham, and Moses all reported hearing God give them specific instructions, which in all cases were preposterous but necessary for God’s plan to unfold. In week two, as the Israelites stand on the verge of claiming God’s promise, they contemplate the taking of Jericho. It looks like an impossible task, but the two spies who gather intelligence bring back the report that “their walls are strong, but their hearts are not.” With the confidence that their victory is sure, nevertheless, the leaders of Israel must still make a decision about how to approach the formidable structure of Jericho’s walls.

God sends “a commander of the Lord’s army,” presumably an angel, dressed for battle to tell Joshua what to do. The coming battle will be a psychological one, in which God will split the rock himself. All the warriors have to do is walk around the walls of Jericho, shouting praise to God, blowing their horns, and standing. They follow instructions to the letter, and the city falls into their hands.

Once the inroad has been made into the promised land, the twelve tribes spread out and distribute themselves throughout the region. They encounter Canaanites city-states and Philistine belligerence, and rely on the judges who emerge in leadership on an “as needed” basis. In Episode 2, Samson is highlighted (actually he is the only judge mentioned). His mother reports that God told her (through a hooded angel, as before) that God would give her a son who was to be dedicated to the Lord’s service under the Nazirite vow. He, Samson, would drive the Philistines away. God had spoken to his mother directly (verified in Judges 13), and she raised her son with the expectation of his role. He, however, is seen to ask God for guidance and then ask for specific strength, but he seems left with no verbal answer and must power forward. The viewer starts to get the impression that following the voice of God is not going to be easy any longer. Is this because the noise of battle is too loud? The distractions of life too compelling? Or sin too rampant?

A similar dynamic unfurls in King Saul and later in King David’s life. There is less certainty, more confusion. I believe the reason for this homeland insecurity is the context, which now includes significant deviation from God’s will. In Saul’s case, Samuel, speaking as the Lord’s prophet, tells him that only complete annihilation of the enemy will secure their land inheritance. But Saul’s people take prisoners of war and claim the spoils of war. Samuel sees the disobedience, added to Saul’s usurping the priestly role to offer a sacrifice, and the deal is broken. Saul has disqualified himself as leader, and it is only a matter of time before David will replace him as King of Israel.

In David’s case, adultery with Bathsheba and the conspiracy to kill her husband Uriah now bring heavy burdens upon him. The prophet Nathan certainly speaks faithfully into his life, but David resists the warnings and the rebukes in favor of doing things his own way. A heartbreaking personal mess unfolds, and the voice of God can only be discerned in the word of the prophet.

To use a metaphor, disobedience to the Lord’s will creates “chatter on the line” (for those old enough to remember the telephone party line) or “static in the air” (for our radio hams), obscuring the clear voice of God. The solution to this is to go silent and listen. I do not believe that God stops speaking, but, like a kindergarten teacher who starts whispering until her charges quiet down enough to hear her, God is looking for some discipline and focus from us.

This is why quietness of soul is so important for hearing the voice of Jesus today. This quietness is not only physical silence, which is hard enough to achieve in a world full of electronic background noise. This quietness is also the peace that comes from aligning one’s life to God’s will, if in no other way than choosing intentionally to stop sinning for the moment. This ability to calm down comes from the Holy Spirit, for the asking, and we rely on God’s gentle power to restrain our noisy impulses even as we practice the discipline of quietness.

The plot lines of The Bible: Homeland certainly cause me to wonder. If the people had not fashioned the Golden Calf in the Sinai (Exodus 32), if they had not done what seemed right only in their own eyes (throughout Judges), if they had obeyed God’s conquest strategy (in Joshua and 1 Samuel), if Saul had been patient, if David had been faithful, how might the story have turned out differently? We too must ask the parallel questions: how might our personal lives, our congregation’s life, and the direction of the PC(USA) be different if we had remained faithful to the Word of God at key moments? Having messed up, our life together has created interference to make it even harder to hear and heed the voice of Jesus in our midst. Only a radical quieting is going to get us back into a place where we can discern what God is saying to the church today.


One Response to “The Bible—Hearing the Promise Is Not Always Easy”

  1. Bill Goff Says:

    My major problem with the TV version of The Bible is the heavy emphasis on violence, much of it graphic. Yes, there is plenty of violence in the Bible, but it is not recorded for entertainment. I heard producers say that they want “The Bible” to help people understand the love of God. If I were not a Christian, I would not be attracted to a God who kills people and who encourages his people to kill. I understand the visuals of violence are attractive for television producers, but I think we would profit more from more plot and character development.

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