“They entered into a covenant to seek the LORD, the God of their ancestors, with all their heart and with all their soul. Whoever would not seek the LORD, the God of Israel, should be put to death, whether young or old, man or woman. They took an oath to the LORD with a loud voice, and with shouting, and with trumpets, and with horns. All Judah rejoiced over the oath; for they had sworn with all their heart, and had sought him with their whole desire, and he was found by them, and the LORD gave them rest all around.” –2 Chr 15.12-15 NRSV
This passage makes me uncomfortable for several reasons. First, this joyous occasion is brought about by a violent victory over Zerah. Next, this joyful oath comes with a promise to put anyone to death who does not seek God with their whole heart. To be sure, this oath and the circumstances surrounding it are a bit…extreme.
But some other things in this passage struck me as being extreme in a more positive sense. First of all, the joy in this passage is contagious. Even though the people know that they are entering into a life and death commitment, they do so with such great joy— rejoicing with shouting and trumpets and horns. Seriously, when a celebration includes trumpets AND horns, you know it is a big deal.
Next, I noticed that this oath is serious business. It is certainly something to be celebrated, but it is also a very serious commitment. The people are entering into a life of seeking God— “with all their heart and with all their soul” (15.12 NRSV)—and they are putting their life on the line to make that commitment.
Here, it seems that God’s people have figured out—if only for a moment in time—how to live out both extreme celebration and extreme commitment. I think this is something we lack in our churches today. In an effort to increase our numbers, we create a watered down version of faith that is easy and convenient but lacks radical commitment. (For some reason, this phenomenon puts me in mind of TV dinners…) And because we lack the extreme commitment, we often miss out on the extreme celebration that grows from the gift of giving your whole life to God.
Now, let me go on record as saying that I am all about grace. I thank God that the very foundation of my faith tradition is the theology of grace. But this grace did not and does not excuse us from being radically committed to living undivided, consistent lives of faith. Grace is not an excuse, it is a gift.
In light of that gift, God calls us to joyfully commit with all our hearts and all our souls, just as the people did in this passage. Of course, there is one important difference: our oath comes with a promise of unconditional grace rather than a death threat. Does that mean our faith commitment is less serious? Absolutely not. If anything, it means we have more reason to celebrate.
Go be the seriously joyful people of God.