Formations 07.14.2019: Working and Praying for Change

James Pomfret, Reuters

Joshua 10:7-14

Two weeks ago, Hong Kong marked twenty-two years of Chinese rule. The milestone comes after months of protests over a proposed law that, opponents say, could have been used to seize government critics and send them for trial to the mainland, where there is a 99% conviction rate and a history of political persecution.

During the city’s annual July 1 pro-democracy march, protesters called for the bill to be formally withdrawn, not merely suspended; for Carrie Lam, the city’s leader, to resign; and for an independent investigation into police violence against protesters two weeks earlier on June 12.

As the protests wear on, some fear a coming rift among the protesters themselves. On one side are more pragmatic or conservative elements intent on protecting existing rights without rocking the boat for what many think is a lost cause. Others, mainly college-age protesters, are emboldened by partial victories to push their demands even further.

What hasn’t often been reported is how “Sing Hallelujah to the Lord,” a simple worship chorus written in the 1970s, has become for many the anthem of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement. As Kenneth Tan reports:

A hymn sung by Christian groups participating in the ongoing anti-extradition protests in Hong Kong has caught on and become the quasi anthem of the movement.

Composed in 1974, the song is sung in a minor key, and notable for its simplicity and catchiness due to its repeated harmonies of just one phrase.

Alarmed by reports of police brutality, many church groups galvanized to participate in peace protests, calling on the authorities to stop the violence.

Their presence on the front lines of the protests were helpful in making the demonstrations look more like an outdoor worship service rather than the “organized riots” the government said it had to crack down on to bring back law and order.

Thirty years after the massacre in Tiananmen Square in Beijing, the people of Hong Kong are fighting for their future. But some at least aren’t fighting so much as praying. They are bearing witness to their faith—a faith often under fire from Beijing—and calling on God to move in their midst.

In Joshua 10, the biblical writer tells us that on that day God “heeded a human voice” and fought for Israel (v. 14). Today’s passage raises questions about prayer and faith. Why did God “heed” Joshua’s voice? What might this imply about God’s willingness to listen to our petitions today?

And once we have prayed, what must we do to see those prayers answered?

James Griffiths, “Hong Kong Is Protesting a Chinese Extradition Bill, but Violence Could Open Divisions,” CNN.com, 2 Jul 2019 <https://www.cnn.com/2019/07/01/asia/hong-kong-protests-divide-intl-hnk/index.html>.

Kenneth Tan, “‘Sing Hallelujah to the Lord’ Has Become the Unofficial Anthem of the Anti-Extradition Protest Movement,” Shanghaiist.com, 19 Jun 2019 <https://shanghaiist.com/2019/06/16/sing-hallelujah-to-the-lord-has-become-the-unofficial-anthem-of-the-anti-extradition-protest-movement/>.

Discussion

• Have you been following the events in Hong Kong? If so, what are your impressions?
• Why do you think many Hong Kong protesters sing a worship song when they gather? What message does this send about their motivations and goals?
• When, if ever, is violence justified in the pursuit of justice?
• When, if ever, is it acceptable to ask God for specific things as Joshua did?
• When has God answer your prayers in a notable way?

Reference Shelf

Gibeon

Related to the Heb. Term meaning “hill.” Gibeon was a Hivite city at one time (Josh 9:7; 11:19; cf. 2 Sam 21:2), later it is counted as a town of Benjamin’s inheritance (Josh 18:25) and a Levitical city (Josh 21:17). Almost certainly it is to be identified with the modern village of el-Jib, six mi. northwest of Jerusalem.

Gibeon figures prominently in the historical books of the OT. In Josh 9 the Gibeonites send a peace envoy to meet the invading Israelites at Gilgal. Dressed shabbily and claiming to be from a far country, they succeed in making a covenant with Israel. Though Joshua soon discovers the stratagem, its effects are irreversible, and in Josh 10 Israel is obliged to rush to the aid of the Gibeonites who have been attacked by a coalition of local kings.

Lloyd R. Bailey, “Joshua,” Mercer Dictionary of the Bible, ed. Watson E. Mills et al. (Macon GA: Mercer University Press, 1990), 329.

War

The prevalence of war and war-related actions in the Joshua–Kings narratives forces the reader to reflect on some vexing questions:

• Why is there so much violence and war involved with the people of God?
• Why is Yahweh presented as a divine warrior who accomplishes major objectives by the use of war?
• How are we to relate to this kind of biblical content?
• Does the Bible give us authority to use violence and wage war?

The answers to these questions may seem easy to the Christian who remembers that God is loving; who recalls that Jesus was a person of nonviolence who was crucified without forceful resistance, praying for the forgiveness of his crucifiers, blessing the peacemakers, teaching us to love our enemies. But our knowledge of Christ’s life and teachings raises important questions when studied in the context of Old Testament history. For example, how can we reconcile the example and teachings of Christ with the Old Testament vision of Yahweh as a terrible divine warrior with arms bared against the enemy? Is the God who commanded Israel to fight and kill their enemies, who destroyed the Egyptians in the sea, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ?

War is a dreadful evil and a scourge of humanity. If a Jew or a Christian does participate in war, it ought always to be with a heavy heart and a sense of deep failure, knowing full well that the mission of the people of Yahweh should be that of peacemakers and not warriors. On the other hand, we ought not to try to banish the Divine Warrior from our theological heritage. He has used war to accomplish his purposes in history—at times against his own people—and he may do so again. We dare not make absolutes out of either violence or nonviolence, war or peace. But our mission is clear; we are to move toward the vision of justice and peace which the Divine Warrior has given to his people. For the Divine Warrior is also our loving heavenly Father, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Marvin E. Tate, From Promise to Exile, All the Bible (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 1999), 26–27, 29.

Darrell Pursiful is the editor of Formations. He is an adjunct professor at Mercer University and an active member of the First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia.

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