East and West
Dr. Jim Denison
Thesis: We can know the love only God gives.
Goal: Receive and give the love only God can offer.
A man’s wife died, and the first night after the memorial service was hard for him and his son. The boy got into bed with his father. They lay in the dark, but the boy could not fall asleep. Finally he said, “Dad, is your face turned toward me? I think I can go to sleep, if I know your face is turned toward me.” “Yes,” his father answered, “I’m looking right at you.” Soon the boy drifted off the sleep. The father got out of bed, walked over to the window, and looked up into the heavens. “God,” he said, “is your face turned toward me?”
God not only turned his face towards us, he took ours as his own. He put on our flesh, walked our planet, breathed our air, faced our sins, felt our pain. We could not come to him, so he came to us.
Advent means “to come,” and marks the pilgrimage of God from heaven to earth, from throne room to feed trough, from the worship of angels to the wonder of shepherds. The decision made before the world began that our Creator would be named Immanuel, “God with us.” History is filled with men who would be gods, but only one God who would be man.
In this study, we will remember the fact that true love is given only by this God. Not a single one of us can predict with certainty what will happen next year, or even if we will live to see next week. When Advent began last year, who of us knew that Iraq would fall this year or the largest power outage in world history would befall us? Think of events in your own life which were beyond predicting a year ago. If we would seek that love which transcends circumstances and crises, we must go to the only One who can give it.
Our study finds the infant nation of Israel facing the gravest threat to its future it has yet known. An objective reporter standing on the sidelines of the crisis would likely have predicted disaster for this fragile union of nomadic tribes. What the Canaanites could not do to the people of God, they almost did to themselves. But at the end of the story, they found a love for each other which had its origin in their Lord. Through our encounter with their story, may we discover the same.
Where do you most need to be loved? Where can your class most profit from a study on this vital theme? Ask the One who inspired our text to guide you in sharing his love with those entrusted to your care this week.
Love God before you walk with him (22:1-9)
Finally the land had peace, for “the Lord gave them rest on every side, just as he had sworn to their forefathers” (21:44). Now it was time for the armies of the tribes settled east of the Jordan to return home.
They had done all that God had commanded them to do (v. 2), having carried out their mission “for a long time” (v. 3). At last they could return to the land given to them by the Lord (v. 4).
But they must keep his commandments and laws as they left. Here are five:
•To love the Lord your God—”love” here means to desire or breathe after, to long for someone as your first and highest love.
•To walk in all his ways—”walk” means to live, and encompasses attitudes, words, and actions.
•To obey his commands; this is still Jesus’ description of true love (John 14:15).
•To “hold fast” to him—the words describe the wedding union, and call us to the deepest and most intimate communion with our Lord.
•To “serve him with all your heart and all your soul” (v. 5). The Greeks would later divide human nature into body, soul and spirit; the Hebrews always thought of man as a unity. It is not that we “have” a body, soul and spirit, but that we “are” body, soul, and spirit. Heart and soul here refer to two different ways of seeing the one person—the “heart” is the center of the will, emotions, and actions, while the “soul” describes the spiritual dimension by which the heart is to be led.
These were the priorities assigned to them by God. Only by knowing these commandments could they truly walk with their Lord.
Now they could return with “great wealth:” large herds of livestock, silver, gold, bronze, iron, and great quantities of clothing. This they could “divide with your brothers” (v. 8). Contrast their possessions in Egypt as oppressed slaves with the blessings God bestowed on those who were faithful to receive all he intended to give. And so the eastern tribes returned home to walk in the commandments and will of the God they had agreed to follow.
We cannot walk in the will of God unless we first know that will. It is possible to be sincerely wrong, to drive east when we are certain we’re driving west, to take the wrong medicine in good faith, to think we are serving God when we are not.
Suicide bombers in Israel and America have thought they were doing the will of Allah, but Islam is almost universally agreed that they were not. The medieval Crusaders were convinced they were serving their Lord by slaughtering Muslims, but we know that they were tragically wrong. The followers of David Koresh died for a lie and a liar; the men who fought for Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan were serving a traitor to their faith; those loyal to Saddam Hussein in Iraq were followers of the man who destroyed their country and stole their freedom.
Before you try to walk with God, first renew your love for him. This is his first and greatest desire for your heart. Like any father, our Lord most wants from his children their love. How long has it been since you gave him yours?