Reading Paul’s words about Jesus, I kept thinking of Joshua and Moses.
First Corinthians is a book written after the excitement. While Paul was fashioning a Christianity that could rebuild Roman civilization, and the exponential growth of Christianity would continue for centuries, the life, death, and resurrection of Christ were now in the past. The LORD, who had made men out of clay like a potter makes pots and ate steak and milk with Abraham and Sarah (Genesis 18) had ascended into heaven.
And now things were going wrong.
But this was not the first time. Both Joshua and Paul think back to Exodus, when the glory of God was followed by immediate apostasy and decades in the wilderness
Then I sent Moses and Aaron, and I plagued Egypt with what I did in its midst; and afterwards I brought you out. When I brought your ancestors out of Egypt, you came to the sea; and the Egyptians pursued your ancestors with chariots and horsemen to the Red Sea. When they cried out to the Lord, he put darkness between you and the Egyptians, and made the sea come upon them and cover them; and your eyes saw what I did to Egypt. Afterwards you lived in the wilderness a long time.
I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ. Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them, and they were struck down in the wilderness.
1 Corinthians 10:1-5
Joshua — who had seen the how mighty governments can fail when God and “human cohesion” are against them — resorted to sarcasm in addressing the nation of Moses
But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.”
Paul’s letter is equally sharp as Joshua’s speech.
Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! Quite apart from us you have become kings! Indeed, I wish that you had become kings, so that we might be kings with you!
1 Corinthians 4:8
Joshua and Paul are not just leaders, but teachers, concerned about day-to-day affairs, and at the end of their ropes. Both had been miraculously visited. Now both had to handle these people.
Both criticize their followers. Paul, with simple (and funny) exasperation
For when the time comes to eat, each of you goes ahead with your own supper, and one goes hungry and another becomes drunk. What! Do you not have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you show contempt for the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What should I say to you? Should I commend you? In this matter I do not commend you!
1 Corinthians 11:20-22
Joshua, with stark divine threats, but the people’s response (worthy of a four-year-old) provokes its own laughter from the reader
But Joshua said to the people, “You cannot serve the LORD, for he is a holy God. He is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions or your sins. If you forsake the LORD and serve foreign gods, then he will turn and do you harm, and consume you, after having done you good.”
And the people said to Joshua, “No, we will serve the LORD!”
The moral of Joshua’s farewell address and Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians are the same: the criticism of idolatry. In ancient times Canaanites worshiped a god they knew didn’t create them, Ba’al, because he was powerful. Operand conditioning as theology. But this is hardly new, or old. Money is the answer to all things, although money did not create us. Whether Paul’s followers worshiped Zeus or money, or Joshua’s followers worshiped Ba’al or silver, there is no difference: the use of a tool and the love for a tool have profoundly different consequences
Now therefore revere the LORD, and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness; put away the gods that your ancestors served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD.
Hence, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that “no idol in the world really exists,” and that “there is no God but one.” Indeed, even though there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as in fact there are many gods and many lords— yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.
1 Corinthians 8:4-6
Fittingly, Joshua ends his talk and seals a covenant between God and Israel with a tree and a stone
So Joshua made a covenant with the people that day, and made statutes and ordinances for them at Shechem. Joshua wrote these words in the book of the law of God; and he took a large stone, and set it up there under the oak in the sanctuary of the Lord. Joshua said to all the people, “See, this stone shall be a witness against us; for it has heard all the words of the Lord that he spoke to us; therefore it shall be a witness against you, if you deal falsely with your God.” So Joshua sent the people away to their inheritances.
Paul also knew of a covenant, a tree, and a stone. And what happened next. The branch of Jesse’s tree.
A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.
The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—
the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and of might,
the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord—
And of course the stone, the empty tomb
For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.
1 Corinthians 15:3-8
For as Joshua stated, obey all the commandments
Therefore be very steadfast to observe and do all that is written in the book of the law of Moses, turning aside from it neither to the right nor to the left,
But one thing is at the heart of all things:
Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”
Or, as Paul put it:
If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing….
And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.