Taking Sides: Joining Jesus When It’s Hard

As I was doing my new Bible reading plan this morning, I was reading about the time when Israel was camped below Mount Sinai and Moses returned from meeting God on the mountain. Consider this bracing passage in Exodus 31:19–29:

19 When Moses approached the camp and saw the calf and the dancing, his anger burned and he threw the tablets out of his hands, breaking them to pieces at the foot of the mountain. 20 And he took the calf the people had made and burned it in the fire; then he ground it to powder, scattered it on the water and made the Israelites drink it.

21 He said to Aaron, “What did these people do to you, that you led them into such great sin?”

22 “Do not be angry, my lord,” Aaron answered. “You know how prone these people are to evil. 23 They said to me, ‘Make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.’ 24 So I told them, ‘Whoever has any gold jewelry, take it off.’ Then they gave me the gold, and I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf!”

25 Moses saw that the people were running wild and that Aaron had let them get out of control and so become a laughingstock to their enemies. 26 So he stood at the entrance to the camp and said, “Whoever is for the LORD, come to me.” And all the Levites rallied to him.

27 Then he said to them, “This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: ‘Each man strap a sword to his side. Go back and forth through the camp from one end to the other, each killing his brother and friend and neighbor.’” 28 The Levites did as Moses commanded, and that day about three thousand of the people died. 29 Then Moses said, “You have been set apart to the LORD today, for you were against your own sons and brothers, and he has blessed you this day.” [END]

Clearly, God was not playing games! As believers, we are compelled to acknowledge that life is God-given, and he can also take that life whenever he chooses. Set that issue aside and consider that this story is about taking sides. Who is on the Lord’s side? One answer, based on this story, is that those “running wild” in defiance of God were rejected by him. Another answer is that those who were willing to serve God no matter the cost were blessed.

A more personal question is this: would you have stood with the Levites on that day? Jesus challenged the following crowd in a similar way in Luke 14:25–27:

25 Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: 26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters — yes, even their own life — such a person cannot be my disciple. 27 And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.”

Jesus challenges all to take a side! Following Jesus may cost a lot. The cross that we carry is a symbol of our death, and death severs all relationships except one.

To deal with a distraction, the word translated “hate” (Luke 14:26) by NIV2011 might better be rendered “disregard” according to the standard Greek lexicon (BDAG-3).

So, the Luke 14 passage ties to Exodus 31 in regard to taking sides. But I think Exodus 31:27 may relate to another enigmatic thing Jesus told his disciples: “But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one” (Luke 22:36, NIV2011). Both passages feature a sword. The swords in Exodus are literal, but I think the ones in Luke 22 are metaphorical. Jesus is telling his disciples to get ready to take a stand for God; the decisive hour is upon them, and they will be forced to take a side at risk of their lives.

The idea of taking sides may also explain Matthew 10:34, where Jesus  says: “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.” You may have other passages to suggest as well.

When all is done, the message is clear: Stand with Jesus, no matter what!

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide.

Do you have an opinion or a different interpretation? Let me know!