Archive for January, 2015

Judges 2

Judges 2 describes the sad state of humanity when it comes to our relationship with God.  God said it this way: “I will never break my covenant with you….you shall make no covenant with the inhabitants of this land….you shall break down their altars”.  Pretty simple and clear.  God promises His faithfulness in their relationship as long as the people kept up their side of the covenant.  But of course, they didn’t.  “You have not obeyed my voice”.  Obedience is such a simple thing, yet it confounds humanity all the time.  They had a perfect opportunity – God’s power all over them if they would only obey.

They chose not to.  So God’s response was “I will not drive them out before you, but they shall become thorns in your sides, and their gods shall be a snare to you”.  That is quite a change from the promise of God’s power.  So the people figure out quickly they were on a bad course.  “As soon as the angel of the Lord spoke these words….the people lifted up their voices and wept”.  They knew they were toast without God’s power.  So they got things right – at least for the short term.  “And the people served the Lord all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua, who had seen all the great work that the Lord had done for Israel”.

We should have been able to write a happily ever after story.  But we can’t.  Memories are short, or even worse, generations don’t pass along the truth so the following folks can live according to the past learnings.  “And there arose another generation after them who did not know the Lord or the work that he had done for Israel”.  There is a significant leadership failure here.  The previous generation had learned a difficult lesson but didn’t bother to assure that future generations would not repeat it.  So, “the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord….served the Baals….abandoned the Lord….went after other gods….bowed down to them….provoked the Lord to anger….abandoned the Lord”.  And as you would expect, that didn’t go well.

“So the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he gave them over to plunderers, who plundered them….the hand of the Lord was against them….they were in terrible distress”.  You can’t disobey God and get a good outcome.  He told them what not to do, and they ignored the commandments and did what they wanted.  God heard their cries and “raised up judges, who saved them out of the hand of those who plundered them”. Even after their unfaithfulness, God tried to help.  “Yet they did not listen to their judges….Whenever the Lord raised up judges for them, the Lord was with the judge, and he saved them….whenever the judge died, they turned back and were more corrupt than their fathers”.

Do you see a pattern here?  Sin never ends well.  And the people were in a cycle of walking with God and then going brain dead and letting self-take over.  God was patient and tried many times to give them the opportunity to get things right.  They just didn’t get it, so God became angry and called out their disobedience and “the Lord left those nations”.  How sad – that the very chosen people of God turned their back on Him and as a result became a people who were left behind by Him.  Obedience matters!

Judges 1

Judges 1 recounts the battles that God’s people undertook as they entered the Promised Land.  One of the key battles was the victory of Judah.  “Adoni-bezek fled, but they pursued him and caught him and cut off his thumbs and his big toes”.  Seems like an interesting way to show victory until you read that this king had done the same to 70 other who “used to pick up scraps under my table”.  He was given the same punishment as he had handed out, but soon was killed.

Caleb takes another approach.  “Caleb said, He who attacks Kiriath-sepher and captures it, I will give him Achsah my daughter for a wife”.  So Caleb puts up the hand of his daughter for victory.  Her father promised her in marriage to the gallant man who was able to capture Debir.  Othniel the son of Kenaz, Caleb’s younger brother, captured it and Caleb gave him Achsah his daughter for a wife. Caleb gave to his daughter, as a dowry, a portion of the south land.  Achsah, who had not learned to be content with what she had, approached her father with a significant request, “Give me”.

She said to him, “Give me a blessing”.  It is a rather bold request, and one that indicates that she was a rather ungrateful person.  Her new husband, Othniel, did not make the request so she did it herself.  It indicates that she has a bit of discontentment in her heart.  In spite of that, Caleb gave Achsah the springs of water she desired.  The “upper springs” never run dry for they flow from the everlasting hills.  He also gave her the lower springs so more than fulfilled her request.  It reminds us that God’s love never runs dry for us either.

All the tribes conquered the land that God had prepared for them.  “When Israel grew strong, they put the Canaanites to forced labor, but did not drive them out completely”.  It is interesting that while they conquered most of their enemies, this group remained and refused to be eliminated.  So they gradually grew strong enough to make them slaves in their tribal lands and put them to work.  The key will be not to allow their habits and tendencies to draw the Israelites away from God.  We’ll see how that goes in the chapters ahead.

Joshua 24

Joshua 24 has the leader who followed Moses wrapping up his leadership by gathering all the people together for one last address.  It is a history lesson – a reminder of God’s faithfulness to His people.  “Long ago, your fathers lived beyond the Euphrates, Terah, the father of Abraham and of Nahor; and they served other gods. Then I took your father Abraham….and made his offspring many”.  God is reminding his people that He took one man and has created this nation of many and faithfully served them.  God has done this, and Joshua is calling on his people to remember.  We need to be sure we stop and do the same about our journey with a faithful God.

“I gave you a land on which you had not labored and cities that you had not built, and you dwell in them”.  God has provided.  He has done all that He promised Abraham in the covenant they agreed upon.  And Joshua is now reminding his people that they have to do their part to keep the blessing flowing.  “Now therefore fear the Lord and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord”.  The temptation facing the people of Joshua’s time is exactly the same as for us.  There is a tendency to allow other things to take the place of God in our life.

Joshua challenges them to “choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord”.  These are famous words that call us to be intentional about how we live.  It is a choice we face day by day, hour by hour.  Who will we serve?  Who will be the Lord of our life?  Will we let something other than God take that place in our heart?  Of course the people replied “Far be it from us that we should forsake the Lord to serve other gods” but Joshua knew better.

So he warns them.  “If you forsake the Lord and serve foreign gods, then he will turn and do you harm and consume you, after having done you good”.  God has faithfully been blessing these people for generations, and yet temptation still pulls them away.  Joshua says “put away the foreign gods that are among you, and incline your heart to the Lord, the God of Israel”.  We have to separate ourselves from those things that pull us from God.  And that means we make intentional choices to put off the old.  Joshua leaves them with these words – he dies at the ripe old age of 110.  And his life is summarized with these words: “Israel served the Lord all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua and had known all the work that the Lord did for Israel”.  That is the sign of a great leader.  He kept the people on course and walking with God.  Well done Joshua!  Are there false gods you have allowed to get in the way of walking with God?  If so, time to get rid of them and get back on course!

Joshua 23

Joshua 23 has this leader “old and well advanced in years” and he is giving his people some last instructions before he dies.  He begins by reminding them “you have seen all that the Lord your God has done to all these nations for your sake, for it is the Lord your God who has fought for you”.  The children of God have had an amazing transition.  They were camped in the wilderness for 40 years waiting for God’s timing to enter the Promised Land.  And when that time came, Joshua led them to victory and “allotted to you as an inheritance” which he reminds them of here.

He challenges them along with the reminder.  “You shall possess their land, just as the Lord your God promised you”.  Let’s face it.  They are set up for life if they just do what God demands.  “Therefore, be very strong to keep and to do all that is written in the Book of the Law of Moses, turning aside from it neither to the right hand nor to the left….you shall cling to the Lord your God”.  It is pretty simple.  God has blessed them with a land of their own.  Joshua has apportioned it out and everyone has a place just as God promised.  Now they simply have to walk with Him in obedience.

The plan is pretty simple.  “Be very careful, therefore, to love the Lord your God….if you turn back and cling to the remnant of these nations….so that you associate with them and they with you, know for certain that the Lord your God will no longer drive out these nations before you”.  Joshua warns the people.  They have to stay focused on making God the center of their lives.  They can’t allow the false gods and idols of those around them to take them off course.  God made a covenant but it has requirements – they have to be faithful to Him and Him alone.

God demands His people be holy.  He has been faithful to them, and expects the same in return.  “Not one word has failed of all the good things that the Lord your God promised concerning you. All have come to pass for you; not one of them has failed….if you transgress the covenant….you shall perish quickly”.  There is a requirement to keep what God has given them.   It is not optional nor can it be something that is hit or miss.  God expects it from us constantly. It is obedience!

Joshua 22

Joshua 22 has a showdown occurring between the people on the east and west sides of the Jordan.  “Joshua summoned the Reubenites and the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh….You have kept all that Moses the servant of the Lord commanded you and have obeyed my voice in all that I have commanded you….Therefore turn and go to your tents in the land where your possession lies, which Moses the servant of the Lord gave you on the other side of the Jordan”.  The move into the Promised Land has happened as planned.  The 2.5 tribes that were given land on the other side of the Jordan have faithfully helped their brethren take the rest of the land, and now Joshua is releasing them to go home.

He leaves them with this command: “be very careful to observe the commandment and the law that Moses the servant of the Lord commanded you, to love the Lord your God, and to walk in all his ways and to keep his commandments and to cling to him and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul”.  There is a pretty simple summary of how we need to live as Christ Followers.  We need to walk closely with God and obey His word.  It was their charge and “Joshua blessed them and sent them away” to go home to their tents across the Jordan.

On the way home, these folks stopped and “built there an altar by the Jordan, an altar of imposing size”.  They put it on the other side of the Jordan, not on their own land.  “When the people of Israel heard of it, the whole assembly of the people of Israel gathered at Shiloh to make war against them”.  Pretty strong reaction to an altar?  Just prior these folks had been fellow warriors helping the Israelites destroy their enemies and now they are threatening to wipe them out.  Seems a bit rash, doesn’t it?  They send Phinehas the priest and 10 chiefs to go find out what the meaning of this altar was.  They assumed they were “building yourselves an altar this day in rebellion against the Lord”.

But like so many things in life, they had it all wrong.  It was built “to be a witness between us and you, and between our generations after us, that we do perform the service of the Lord”.  Communication is key to understanding.  And rather than make assumptions and taking action on what seemed to be, they did the right thing and sent the team to inquire.  “When Phinehas the priest and the chiefs of the congregation, the heads of the families of Israel who were with him, heard the words that the people of Reuben and the people of Gad and the people of Manasseh spoke, it was good in their eyes”.  They had it all wrong, and once they listened and understood the intent, their fears were gone.  They knew historically that an altar built for the wrong purpose would not go well.  But the motive here was to communicate today and well into the future.  “The people of Reuben and the people of Gad called the altar Witness….it is a witness between us that the Lord is God”.

Joshua 21

Joshua 21 has Joshua finalizing the last details of the handing out of the Promised Land.  All that remained was to deal with the Levites.  They were not to be given any land but rather to be given some cities for their place to live.  “The Lord commanded through Moses that we be given cities to dwell in, along with their pasturelands for our livestock”.  God had set that up long before and the plan was for these priests to be provided a place to live among the tribes in cities that they would be provided.

So Joshua systematically works through the tribes and assigns cities that are to be provided to the Levites.  “The cities of the Levites in the midst of the possession of the people of Israel were in all forty-eight cities with their pasturelands”.  The priests weren’t isolated and pushed to the sides or marginalized in where they were to live.  They were provided these 48 cities as their homes, and “these cities each had its pasturelands around it”.  The Levites had livestock they had to care for, so not only did they get an allotment of cities but also land to be able to care for their animals.

So God’s covenant with His people is fulfilled.  “Thus the Lord gave to Israel all the land that he swore to give to their fathers”.  The truth of the matter is that God always does what He says He will.  God made a covenant with His people centuries earlier, and it has completely come to be.  “And they took possession of it, and they settled there”.  He set them up in the Promised Land – each tribe with their own area and the priests with their own cities just as He had promised.  Joshua was the leader who executed the handing out of the land.

But God’s promise was more than just a new place to live.  “And the Lord gave them rest on every side just as he had sworn to their fathers. Not one of all their enemies had withstood them, for the Lord had given all their enemies into their hands”.  This covenant was about far more than a new place to lay their heads.  God had promised protection on their journey and as they took their new homeland.  He was faithful.  He had promised them rest – that they would not continually be attacked from all sides – and He has been faithful.  “Not one word of all the good promises that the Lord had made to the house of Israel had failed; all came to pass”.  God is faithful, all the time!

Joshua 20

Joshua 20 has God direction Joshua to set up the “cities of refuge” which were commanded to Moses long before.  The purpose of these cities was to create a place where someone could flee and take refuge in the event they caused injury or death to someone accidentally.  The pattern of the day was ‘eye for eye, tooth for tooth’ so if someone caused a death, often the response was to kill them.  But there were times when someone might “strike any person without intent or unknowingly”.

In other words, if it was an accident, you could flee to these cities and be protected.  “If the avenger of blood pursues him, they shall not give up the manslayer into his hand, because he struck his neighbor unknowingly, and did not hate him in the past”.  The death had to be unintentional, but these cities were a place of safety until there was time for a trial.  It was a way to protect someone until they could come “before the congregation for judgment” and determine guilt or innocence.

If innocent, this person could return home to his own town and place.  There were a handful of cities that were designated as cities of refuge:

  • Kedesh in Galilee
  • Shechem in Ephraim
  • Kiriath-arba in Judah
  • Bezer in Reuben
  • Ramoth in Gilead
  • Golan in Bashan

So six cities across the Promised Land to assure justice was handled fairly.

It is a short chapter which defines God’s heart here for justice for His people.  “These were the cities designated for all the people of Israel and for the stranger sojourning among them, that anyone who killed a person without intent could flee there, so that he might not die by the hand of the avenger of blood, till he stood before the congregation”.  The intent is not to let people off the hook, but to be sure that justice is handled correctly and not based on vengeance.  God loves us all and wants the best for each of us.

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