We don’t tend to make decisions in a vacuum; that is to say, our knowledge and experiences guide our choices. In my government classes, we use the term precedent to explain how law-makers and the courts base many of their decisions on previous scenarios. When you think about it, there aren’t really a lot of brand-new issues, just new ways of looking at things. Take the recent hullaballoo in the news about government surveillance: Intercepting wireless transmittals is a relatively new concept, from a technology standpoint, but it relates way back to the Fourth Amendment concerning “unreasonable searches and seizures.”
If you have siblings, or if you have more than one child of your own, then I would gamble that you have seen precedents up close in some very practical ways. Complaints like, “No fair, how come he always gets to?” means that somewhere along the way, a precedent was set that one child has certain privileges, and now another kid wants the same treatment. The statement that “we’ve always done it this way” is another form of precedent. We see many examples in the Bible, as well.
There are several examples of precedent in the story of Moses as God reiterates over and over again how he wants his people to behave. Let’s look a little more closely at Joshua this week, though, because something very important takes place in Exodus 33:11, and it’s easy to miss if we don’t linger on it a bit.
Moses frequented a place called the Tent of Meeting, where he would go to seek God’s advice. God showed up to chat with him there; the Bible describes his presence as a cloud at the entryway of the tent. Moses would listen to God’s instructions and then report back to the Israelites’ camp. With all the excitement about Moses’ glowing face after these up-close-and-personal encounters with the Lord, it is easy to overlook the fact that Moses didn’t go to the Tent of Meeting alone. Joshua accompanied him. Not only that, but Joshua also stayed in the tent even after Moses returned to the camp (v. 11).
Joshua made a habit – a precedent, if you will – of being in communication with God. When we set a precedent of seeking God’s input through reading the Bible, prayer, worship, etc., then it becomes second-nature to go to God first when we have problems. He shouldn’t be our last resort.