I have been spending a lot of time in the book of Joshua this week. Joshua is a complicated book. There are some tough theological questions about genocide and the will of God in this book. But, I haven’t really been concentrating on those issues. What I have been thinking about and wrestling with is how to stop thinking like a slave.
The people of Israel spent generations as slaves in Egypt. Their whole lives were predetermined. Where they lived, what they did, when they could worship, all of these things were dictated to them. As a slave your mentality is shaped by such forces. You don’t think about self determination. You don’t learn to trust or to have faith. You simply learn how to survive in the midst of a system meant to crush your spirit and contain you.
So as they wander in the wilderness, following Moses, learning to be a people of faith and to go into the unknown, they continually long to go back to Egypt. God had just delivered them from Pharaoh, why would they want to go back? They wanted to go back because it seemed easier to go back to the life they knew as slaves than to press forward and become something different. The evil they knew was less scary than the unknown.
In Joshua we find a new generation of Israel, one that didn’t grow up as slaves, but instead grew up as wanderers. And now their leader is gone and God is calling them to settled down in the Promised Land. They are scared too. They don’t know how to live that life. They are unsure of stepping into their future.
We are all slaves. We are slaves to sin, slaves to ourselves. And like Israel, even after we have been freed from slavery to sin and set on the path of the righteous, we struggle not to long for our previous life. Life freed from sin is unquestionably better, but it isn’t necessarily easy. It is full of tests of faith, and moments of growth, and increasing levels of clarity as to our ineptitudes and brokenness. But, in order for us to reach the Promised Land we will have to leave behind this life we have known and step out in faith into the promise of God’s future for us. We have to learn to stop living as slaves.