In Joshua 24, Joshua himself tells the people to choose whether they will worship their old gods, or YHWH, who had loved and saved them. As for him and his house, they would serve the LORD.
The people agree to do the same as Joshua. Joshua responds by saying they think they can, but they cannot. They will fail, because God is a jealous God.
In Sunday School I learned today something of what Joshua meant when he said those words.
No god, before that time, had ever been jealous.
The people of Israel had some history in Babylon, lots of history in Egypt, and a growing history of Canaanite religions in their toolbags. They knew the gods. They were men of the world, and they knew how things worked. What's more, Joshua knew they knew.
Today, if you want your car fixed, you go to a mechanic. If you want your back fixed, you go to a chiropractor. If you are having allergies, you go to CVS and pick up some Benadryl. In each case, you provide the same things: you describe your need, you lay down some money, you go out and do something with the guidance you receive.
In Joshua's day, if you wanted a good crop you offered a part of your dinner to the god of crops. If you wanted children you made a larger offering to the fertility god. If you were headed out to battle you offered something huge to the god of war. The gods of storms, of sun, of rivers were the CVS, the Well Fargo Bank, and the 401k's of their time. You went to the appropriate god, laid down something of value to the god, and went out to do the things the god would bless.
None of those gods was jealous. No more than CVS is mad when you put money in your 401k, or Wells Fargo hates when you visit your mechanic, did Ba'al hate when you offered good things to Astarte. Dealings with the gods were business. The gods had needs and so did the people, so one could scratch their backs and hope they would scratch happily back in the right place. Joshua told the people YHWH was like some giant amazon.com in the sky offering every service, in the midst of the great economy of gods, and if they transacted with any god but YHWH he would destroy them. YHWH was jealous.
Joshua's words were so foreign the people quickly agreed to them without even noticing they had no idea what he was talking about. The Book of Judges reveals just how short the people fell from understanding what they affirmed.
I think we find ourselves in the same situation.
The Holy Spirit has promised to guide us into all truth, but we mingle our ideologies. Confronted with a ballot, we consult the god of capitalism for guidance, the god of socialism, the gods of Wall Street and Pennsylvania Avenue. We hear the multiplied voices of those who decry abortion or gun violence screaming in our ears, and we seek out the right crowd to follow.
Jesus warns us broad is the way and many are those who travel in it.
Today, in this environment, I'm not sure yet I understand Jesus or the guidance of his Holy Spirit any better than those enthused Israelites who knew exactly the right words to shout to Joshua.