Summary: This text is one of multiple examples in the bible that God wants to give us a fresh start.
50In the plains of Moab by the Jordan at Jericho, the LORD spoke to Moses, saying: 51Speak to the Israelites, and say to them: When you cross over the Jordan into the land of Canaan, 52you shall drive out all the inhabitants of the land from before you, destroy all their figured stones, destroy all their cast images, and demolish all their high places. 53You shall take possession of the land and settle in it, for I have given you the land to possess. 54You shall apportion the land by lot according to your clans; to a large one you shall give a large inheritance, and to a small one you shall give a small inheritance; the inheritance shall belong to the person on whom the lot falls; according to your ancestral tribes you shall inherit. 55But if you do not drive out the inhabitants of the land from before you, then those whom you let remain shall be as barbs in your eyes and thorns in your sides; they shall trouble you in the land where you are settling. 56And I will do to you as I thought to do to them (Numbers 33:50-56)
A while back, we did an analysis of our church’s web site search engine statistics and found something peculiar. The search for our church tracked very well to Holy Week, the beginning of fall and Christmas. People tend to transition over the summer and look for places of worship at the end of vacation season; they also look for churches to attend to observe the birth and death of Christ. What surprised us was the incredibly high number of searches around New Year’s Day. Most people are still coming over the river and through the woods from grandmother’s house around that time. We surmised that these are the people who were resetting their lifestyle calendars (i.e., ‘a new you for the New Year’). Diets, gym memberships, resolutions, health care benefits, and legislation – many things start fresh with the first day of the Gregorian calendar year.
What we observed in our analyses was corroborated by the team of Hengchen Dai, Katherine L. Milkman and Jason Riis. They are the authors of a study named ‘The Fresh Start Effect: Temporal Landmarks Motivate Aspirational Behavior’. They suggested that time landmarks create mental accounting periods that relegate past imperfections to a previous period, thus motivating aspirational behavior. Hence, for those persons searching for our church, having programming available on January 1st was an issue of concern. These cyber seekers were looking for a fresh start.
Today’s text shows us that the concept of a fresh start is not a recent phenomenon. The Israelites were on a geographical and theological journey with God. They had been in Egypt for 400 years, but now God is giving them a fresh start. At this point, the adults 20 years old and above (except for Joshua and Caleb) have been condemned to die in the wilderness because they rejected the offer of a fresh start; in chapters 13 and 14, they chose to adhere to the report of the 10 spies and planned to return to Egypt. In chapter 20, Moses commits a sin that will prevent him from entering the Promised Land. A bit earlier in this 33rd chapter (verses 38-39) Aaron, the high priest and brother of Moses has died. Thus leadership-wise, Israel would have to prepare for a fresh start. Now God is asking the Israelites to remove anyone or anything that pointed back to another nation or another god. No reminders of who used to live in the land or how they worshiped. Everyone and everything of the past had to be driven out and/or destroyed.