Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Bible's Main Theme

What is the main theme of the Bible? Not the sovereignty or holiness of God, as important as those are, for without the main theme of the Bible, God's sovereignty and holiness, which are important subthemes, would obliterate us. The main theme of the Bible is the unmerited favor of God in Christ toward chosen but wicked people like us.

I was reminded of that this morning as I read Joshua 7, the story of Israel's defeat at Ai following their victory at Jericho. As you will remember, when Israel sacked Jericho God commanded them to keep none of the spoils of the battle for themselves - the precious metals were to be devoted to the Tabernacle and all the rest was to be devoted to destruction. Then, against the Lord's command, a man named Achan took and hid a valuable robe, 200 shekels of silver and a bar of gold. In order to expose his crime, Joshua made each tribe pass before him until Judah was chosen. Then he made all the clans of Judah pass before him until the Zerahites were chosen. When all the Zerahites passed before Joshua, Zabdi (the head of one family) was chosen. When Zabdi's family passed by him, Achan was chosen.

If you know the story, you know that Achan was stoned to death and burned for his sin, for in keeping the contraband which was devoted to destruction, by extension all Israel had become devoted to destruction (7:12). Achan's sin was more serious than we at first realize, putting the entire nation and the future of God's glorification through them in jeopardy.

In light of the seriousness of their sin, what's amazing about this story isn't that Achan, along with his whole family, was executed (7:24-26). Far more amazing is that the entire clan of the Zerahites or the entire tribe of Judah were not executed. Think about it: since day one Judah had been a liability instead of an asset. Back in Genesis 37 it was Judah who influenced his brothers to sell Joseph into slavery bringing years of sorrow upon their father. A chapter later Judah leaves his family and takes up residence with a family of nearby pagans, marries a Canaanite and later is guilty of refusing to provide for his widowed daughter-in-law, sleeping with a prostitute who turns out to be his daughter-in-law and self-righteously attempting to execute her when her prostitution is exposed.

Now fast forward to Joshua 7 where the tribe of Judah has just been singled out for bringing God's wrath upon the entire nation. In light of this tribe's track record, one couldn't fault God for destroying them outright. After all, for hundreds of years, history had proven that Judah was no good. They deserved no mercy. Right?

Right. That's where God's amazing grace comes in. Grace defines Jacob's prophecy about Judah in Genesis 49:8-10, "Judah, your brothers shall praise you; your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies; your father's sons shall bow down before you. Judah is a lion's cub; from the prey, my son, you have gone up. He stooped down; he crouched as a lion and as a lioness; who dares rouse him? The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler's staff from between his feet, until tribute comes to him; and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples."

Grace defines God's choosing of Judah's line through which Israel's Redeemer would be born. So, Luke 3 records, "Jesus, when he began his ministry, was about thirty years of age, being the son of Joseph, the son of Heli, the son of Matthat...the son of Judah...."

And grace defines the eternal glory in our salvation which will forever be fixed to Judah's name according to Revelation 5:5, "And one of the elders said to me, 'Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals."

All of us are Achan. All of us are Judah. Only one thing sets them apart - God's grace. Our sin deserves the condemnation Achan received and worse. God's mercy in Christ gives us what Judah received: forgiveness, life and glory in spite of it. Even the lowest points in salvation-history bring us face to face with the Bible's main theme which is our hope: God's amazing grace.

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