Judges 2 begins the sad decline by the people away from God. During the journey of taking the Promised Land, God had instructed His people to “tear down the altars” and get rid of those who might lead them away from Him later. “But you haven’t obeyed me” was what God told them because they didn’t rid the area of those influences and foreign people. God knew that “they’ll trip you up and their gods will become a trap”. If we live with fire, we will get burned. And the people have moved away from God and now “oh how they wept”. They were living in the woe is me life of losing the blessing of God. “They were helpless before their enemies….they were in a bad way”. “They angered God” and “He handed them off to plunderers”. Life had gone from being blessed and the center of God’s attention to very lonely and out of God’s eye. How can this happen?
“Another generation grew up that didn’t know anything of God or the work He had done for Israel”. Hmmm. Seems like a parenting and grand parenting problem to me. These people were not told, nor taught, about the past or the history of God’s interaction and touch on their heritage. They had not experienced God’s love first hand and their parents had not taught them why the way they live matters. So “they lost no time leaving the road walked by their parents, the road of obedience”. If we don’t teach our children well, it should come as no surprise that they take a different course and path should it? But that is exactly what happens here. The older generation did not teach the younger about God and the need to stay connected with Him and Him alone. So instead, there went “running after other gods, serving and worshiping them”. And the result was that “God’s anger blazed”. So the obvious question is – whose fault is this issue? Well it seems obvious to me that if parents and grand parents (yes I am lumping both together now because every generation has a responsibility to tell the story of God’s touch on their lives and the need to walk humbly with Him) don’t do their job, things are not going to go well for future generations. At the same time, blaming someone else for the choices that are made is not correct either. At the end of the day sin is always a personal choice and no one else can be blamed for that. But others certainly can influence the choice and provide the history and relationship and legacy that make those choices more likely to be godly rather than sinful. We need to make sure we are teaching our kids and grandkids well. They need to know God’s truth and expectations for life. They need to see how that works in our lives as grown ups. We need to be the example that leads them to Jesus. When they follow us, they should end up at the Cross and walk in obedience into God’s presence. Everyone is responsible for how life gets lived. Ultimately the one who makes the choice in their life will answer for it, but those of us in that circle of influence also need to do our part in living life as a “light” and teaching well God’s truth and story. If we don’t (and probably it looks like we haven’t), then the result is that God moves away and lets evil cause havoc until we come back. We need to do that and quickly. It starts at home. Let’s get after it today!
Judges 1 begins the transition after Joshua’s death. There are some nagging issues in the Promised Land from those who had not been completely driven out during the conquest. The Canaanites seem to be one of the bigger pains and the people begin to wonder how they will drive them out. God says “Judah will go. I’ve given the land to him”. Along the way they capture and move out a number of their enemies and take the land. Caleb is around and part of the process as are many of the tribes. They managed to capture a large portion of the land, including Jerusalem and Bethel. They used spies and leveraged intelligence from a few folks to win a number of battles. But “the Canaanites dug their heels in and wouldn’t budge”. They just couldn’t finish the job and “could not get rid of them”. It was as if they were a curse that was meant to be there. “They did though, put them to forced labor”. So they again are living alongside these people, having captured more of the land, but still not ridding themselves of the inhabitants.
So what can we learn from the continued struggle of the people. They did not rid themselves of the Canaanites when they originally entered the Promised Land, and now they continue to struggle with their presence. It reminds me of sin, and the dangerous game that many play with life. Often we tend to see how close to the line we can live and we fail to remove things that can draw us into sin and away from God. We convince ourselves that we are able to handle the temptation, that we won’t look at those magazines, we won’t look at that website, we won’t watch those things on TV or put the movie in the dvd and actually play it. We play with fire and assume we can control ourself and not be burned. How foolish that approach. When we don’t purge sin and the things that draw us to it from our lives, we are likely to have our human nature draw us into sin and cause us to fall. We are not nearly as strong as we want to believe. We will see that as the problem of the people in Judges and throughout scripture. They fail to do what God says – to rid their land of those who might lead them astray – and next thing you know they are walking away from God. We have that same issue in our lives. We need to rid our lives of the things that draw us to ungodliness. We need to get our act together and be surrounded by things that will draw us to Him. Are you free from the distractions that draw you from God? Get there and do it now!
Joshua 24 ends the life of one of scriptures great leaders. While overshadowed to some degree by Moses, he is the guy who actually finished the task and brought the people into the Promised Land. And as we wrap up his life, he works hard to set the foundation for the future. This chapter begins with a history lesson of God’s faithfulness to the people. God has led them and brought them into their new land just as He promised. “I handed you a land for which you did not work, towns you did not build”. It has been a long process, but God was there each step of the way. He defeated dozens of kings and armies and fed and led the people exactly as He promised. And now they are home. Joshua is ready to get them into the mode of living for the future. That means putting and keeping God where He belongs. “So now: Fear God. Worship Him in total commitment”. The challenge is to put and keep God first. Not just above all gods, but as the only God. He challenges the people to make that commitment. And then we hear his famous statement – one which we should all write on the walls of our home – “As for me and my family, we will worship God”. Other versions say “As for me and my house, we will serve God”. But the reality is that Joshua was taking a stand and making it plain – his clan is going to follow and worship and serve God. Period…end of story. How about you and your house? Is God the one and only One you are serving? Or have you got divided loyalty to a number of gods in your life? Money….TV….food…..sports…..fun……stuff…..another person?
Joshua challenges the people with this truth: “You can’t do it; you’re not able to worship God. He is a holy God. He is a jealous God. He won’t put up with your fooling around and sinning”. Did you get that? God is not content to be one of the gods you worship. He is THE One. He alone is worthy of our praise. And He expects to be our ONLY God. We have the same issue the people did then. We want to put God in the lineup – but not the only god in our lives. After all, there is room for others isn’t there. I can worship my stuff or money and still have God around when I need Him. Not how it works. Joshua tells us “say an unqualified yes to God”. He alone has to be the entire center of our life. He doesn’t share that place with things we want to put there. He insists and demands to be the ONLY God in our lives. Joshua put the exclamation point on it when he
“completed a Covenant” for the people. He “took a large stone and set it up under the oak” in order to remind the people that God alone was their God. What is your spiritual reminder? How will you keep Him where He belongs? What will remind you that God is God and He alone holds that place in your life? We need to make sure we have spiritual markers to keep us focused and on track. “After all this, Joshua….died. He was 110 years old”. Joshua finished strong. He was leading and serving God to the very end, just like Moses before him. What a great pair of examples of living for God until the last breath. Oh that we all would stay that focused and committed to serving God until we leave this earth. There are not all that many that finish strong. My prayer is that I will be one of those who do.
Joshua 23 gives us a fantastic set of guidelines for how to live. Joshua “was a venerable old man” and is preparing to die. He calls all Israel together to give them his farewell sermon. “God has given rest from all their surrounding enemies” for a long time. They have experienced His faithfulness and are living in the Promised Land. “Not one detail has failed of all the good things God….promised”. He has been absolutely true to every detail in the word that He gave Moses long ago. Joshua makes it clear why: “He did it because He’s God, your God”. The relationship with God is extremely personal. It is not a blanket thing. It is between God and you or God and me. One on one, moment by moment, He wants to be in relationship with us. Joshua warns the people that just because things have been going well doesn’t mean it is a guarantee of the future. And it is a somber and very intense warning. “God will bring to pass every bad thing….if you leave the path of the Covenant….go off and serve and worship other gods…..God’s anger will blaze”. So it is pretty simple. Keep God where He belongs – front and center in life – and things go well. Veer off and do my own things and it won’t go well. God has been faithful, but He expects the same in return from us. Scripture is full of examples of what happens when people get off the path. We need to make sure we don’t follow that and leave the safety and blessing of a deep relationship with God.
Fortunately Joshua tells us the keys to staying on track with God. He lists a number of critical factors that we all need to focus on so we walk in obedience and finish strong. Here is what Joshua tells us to do:
“1. Stay strong and steady
2. Obediently do everything written in the Book
3. Don’t miss a detail
4. Don’t get mixed up with the nations that are still around
5. Don’t so much as speak the names of other gods
6. Don’t swear by other gods
7. Don’t worship or pray to other gods
8. Hold tight to God
9. Vigilantly guard your souls
10. Love God”
Ten things that Joshua leaves with his people to assure they stay on track and with God. We would do well to learn these and live these every day. God is the same God and has the same desire for you and me. He is the only deal. We need to get focused and walk completely and obediently with Him.
Joshua 22 brings the end to the land conquest and division as they are now in the Promised Land, each with their homes in place. Joshua is sending home the people from Reuben, Gad and Manesseh who live on the other side of the Jordan but came across to help with the conquest. They fought with the rest of the tribes to take the land and provide a place for all. They have “shouldered the task laid on you by God” and done it well. God has been absolutely faithful to His word and given each tribe a place of their own. And now He has “given rest….just as He promised” and the hard work is done so it is time to head back home to their families on the other side. As Joshua sends them home, he blesses them and gives them this charge: “Be vigilant in keeping the Commandment and The Revelation that Moses the servant of GOD laid on you: Love GOD, your God, walk in all his ways, do what he’s commanded, embrace him, serve him with everything you are and have”. Joshua gives some simple yet profound instruction that we can learn much from. We need to stay vigilant in being obedience. It is not our human nature and it won’t happen naturally. It is a daily battle but one that we must win. We need to love God. He alone has to be first place in our lives. There is no other way. Our lives need to be focused on walking in God’s way – living in obedience – embracing Him – and serving Him with everything we are and have. Do you see the expectation here? God wants all of us moment by moment. Complete obedience and love. All of us – not some sliver we give Him when it fits. We get this part wrong all the time.
As the three tribes head toward the other side of the Jordan they stop and build an altar. The other tribes get all up in arms about it and come to the conclusion that their brothers had fallen off the wagon and were already worshipping false gods. After all, this was not their land and why were they building “a huge altar” on the banks of the river. They talk about destroying and going to war with these apparent heathens who just got done helping them take their land. So they send off Phineahas the priest and some of the military leaders to go get an answer to what is going on. Of course, the interpretation was totally off. They had jumped to the wrong conclusion. “We did it because we cared. We were anxious lest someday your children should say to our children, “You’re not connected with GOD, the God of Israel”! They were trying to make sure they left a legacy that had a foundation of knowing God. Why is it we jump to conclusions before gathering the facts? These investigators found out that “this altar is a witness between us and you and our children coming after us, a witness to the Altar where we worship GOD”. What do you have in your life that will point your children to God? How will they know that He is front and center and to be worshiped? Are you leaving that legacy? The good news is “Rebelling against or turning our backs on GOD is the last thing on our minds right now”. They are on track and just want to be sure their people never forget. We need to create ways to pass our faith legacy forward. It won’t happen if we aren’t intentional about it. What will you do?
Joshua 20 and 21 contain details on the assignment of land for a couple purposes. Cities are to be set aside as “asylum cities” where people who accidentally killed someone could reside until time for their trial. The process was pretty simple. In the event someone killed another person without the intent of that action, they could approach one of these six cities and ask the city leaders to allow them to reside there until they could go to trial. It was a safe habor, if you will, for them to reside in short term. There are three cities selected on each side of the Jordan. The Levites also ask for the cities they were to be provided as a place to reside. Rmember – God forbid them from owning property and recieving their own inheritance. So “forty eight” towns are selected along with the “accompanying pastures” for their livestock to graze. These cities come from all the tribes and are designated for the Levites to live in. We are now getting down to the fine print of handing out the final directives around the Promised Land.
As things wrap up here we learn that “God gave Israel the entire land that He had solemnly vowed to give to their ancestors’. God is doing what He promised and said He would do. That is something we can always depend on. He never misses. If He says it, we can believe it and live based on it. That is why reading and knowing His Word is so critical. It is a sure thing. Reminds me of the new TV show coming this fall that gives people a glimpse of the future before it happens. We can get a picture of a lot of things just by studying His Word. God’s Word is truth, and as the people of Israel found out – He does what He says He will. “The took possession of it and made themselves at home in it”. The people moved in and not only occupied it, but they were at home. They have made the adjustment and claimed their promise. “God gave them rest on all sides….not a single one of their enemies was able to stand up to them”. Not only did God fulfill His promise to give them the land, He protected them over time and made them superior to those who would want to disrupt His plan. God equips us to be successful when we are walking in His path. He makes it so. This was not some short term gift – a teaser if you will – it was God’s long term plan for them and He orchestrates to beginning but also the ongoing ability to stay. “Not one word failed from all the good words God spoke….everything came out right”. God is faithful. He does what He says He will do when He says He will do it. We can take that to the bank. He is always faithful. He gave the people exactly what He promised, as advertised. Oh that we would learn to know His truth so we could walk with Him confidently because we understand what He promises and will deliver. There is so much we can do if we only learn to know His Word and His heart!
Joshua 19 records the final seven tribes as they “completed the dividing of the land as inheritance and the setting of its boundaries”. Eleazar the priest and Joshua dole out the last tribes inheritances and created the boundaries between them all. “They completed the dividing of the land”. Been quite a process and a lot of overcoming to take enough land for the people to all have a place. But it is done, and now everyone has a place to call home and their own. A few bumps along the way. We learn that “the people of Dan failed to get rid of the Westerners (Amorites) who pushed them back into the hills”. Every time a conquering tribe did not complete their task as ordered and remove the people, it messed up their inheritance. It is only in complete obedience that things worked out God’s way. If the people followed His instruction, it fell into place as He said it would. If they tried doing it their way, or did not complete his instruction completely as directed, there were always complications. That is true over and over in scripture, and certainly during the claiming of the Promised Land. And a lot of these issues that were left undone then, still are causing problems today. The people of Dan had to attack and capture a different place since they muffed on the original grant.
As the process winds down, we find that “the People of Israel then gave an inheritance among them to Joshua son of Nun”. Here we are, all the land handed out and tribes set up with their piece of the Promised Land, and Joshua finally is given his. Some real lessons on leadership here. Far too many leaders would have taken their choice of things first. They would have made sure that their desires were covered, and then worry about their followers. Not Joshua. He served his people first, and did it completely, before it ever came around to being given his own place. He made sure that each tribe had enough, that every person was cared for, and then looked at his own situation. Servant leadership never starts with self. It never focuses on what the leader wants but is absolutely laser focused on the needs of those who follow. Jesus led that way. Joshua and Moses led that way. They kept their eyes on God and not on self. They did what God told them to do without asking what was in it for them. God does take care of Joshua, in fact he did receive “the city which he had requested” but not until he had “completed the dividing of the land”. It happened after the fact “in obedience to God’s word”. It was not something he spent his time worrying about or positioning for. He served the people God’s way and let God handle the details of caring for him. Oh that we would all lead like this. Putting others first, keeping their needs ahead of our own. If we lived this way in our marriages and families we would revolutionize how the family works. If we led this way in the workplace we would see a lot different results. We need to figure out how to be servant leaders in every relationship. That is God’s desire for us!