Promise and Providence: Joshua 14

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Today’s reading: Joshua 12-15.

Caleb is no ordinary eighty-five year old. When most men would be slowing down and seeking comfort, he is gearing up for battle. Caleb had been clinging to a promise for forty-five years, the promise that one day he and Joshua would receive the land that they had spied out in the early days of Israel’s wilderness journey.

“Now then, just as the LORD promised, he has kept me alive for forty-five years since the time he said this to Moses, while Israel moved about in the desert. So here I am today, eighty-five years old! I am still as strong today as the day Moses sent me out; I’m just as vigorous to go out to battle now as I was then. Now give me this hill country that the LORD promised me that day. You yourself heard then that the Anakites were there and their cities were large and fortified, but, the LORD helping me, I will drive them out just as he said.” Joshua 14:10-12

Matthew Henry says of Caleb, “those who live by faith value that which is given by God’s promise, far above what is given by his providence only.” In an earlier post I spoke of providence as God’s foreseeing care and guidance for his creatures. God’s providence consists of the circumstances he gives us. These circumstances, along with God’s word, the counsel of fellow believers, and the leading of the Holy Spirit are instrumental in determining God’s will. But how much more clear is God’s will for Caleb as shown by his promise!

I see God’s providence directing Caleb to become an Israelite. Though he was a Kenizzite, descended from Esau, he was adopted into the tribe of Judah. God’s hand led him to represent Judah among the twelve spies that went into the Promised Land. On that mission he first saw and walked through the land he would one day inherit. By providence God kept Caleb alive through the long wilderness journey, giving him strength and vigor into his final years. Moses providentially appointed Caleb as one of the twelve men who would decide how to divide the land among the twelve tribes.

But I see God’s promise to Caleb putting a fire in his belly so that he not only survives but thrives. I see God’s promise motivating Caleb to seek out that post on the council that divided the land. As the Israelite hordes turn west into Canaan Caleb’s eyes are always to the south where Kiriath Arba lies (now called Hebron). As soon as opportunity allows he goes to Joshua and makes a request for this special part of the land. Never mind that it is full of giants – it is the land personally promised to Caleb.

Providence is a huge unknown, and new each day. But the promises of God are for now and always. If I have a promise from God, I can bank on it. I can plan on it. I can build the future around it. Therefore, seek out God’s promises. The Bible is full of them. One that has always encouraged me is 2 Timothy 1:7:

For God hath  not given  us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.

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War and peace: Joshua 9-11

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Today’s reading: Joshua 9-11.

“If GOD is GOD he is not good; if GOD is good he is not GOD.” So goes the challenge from the antagonist in the play, “J.B.” So goes the thinking of many in our time. How can a good God allow evil? Since evil exists, they say, there must be no good God, only a wrathful God with whom they want nothing to do.. Or if God is loving, they argue, he must not be very powerful and therefore not very god-like.

The extermination of the Canaanites in Joshua adds much fuel to this debate. Some of the arguments include:

  • The Israelites didn’t really fight and win these battles; it’s all myth.
  • The Israelites weren’t acting on God’s orders; they were only acting out their own desires.
  • If true, these events prove that God is not good.

Believers accept that the Bible account is accurate. The Bible states clearly that God ordered the extermination of the Canaanites (meaning all the tribes living in the Promised Land). How does God justify his order?

The sins of the Canaanites were great and deserved judgment. In Leviticus 18 God details all the sins of the Canaanites for which he is condemning them: incest (which is often sexual abuse), adultery, child sacrifice (burning alive), homosexuality, sex with animals, and idolatry. He says that they have so defiled the land with their sin that the land is vomiting them out.  God says he is condemning them for their sin, not because of their race. Their destruction is not genocide but capital punishment.

God had been patient. God foretold Abraham that his descendants would inherit the land of Canaan, but that it would not happen for another 400 years because the sin of the tribes in Canaan was not yet full (Genesis 15). In other words, God did not act rashly in eliminating the Canaanites. He gave them time to repent and only condemned them when their sin became intolerable.

God is sovereign and just. Since God is God, he is the ultimate authority with the ultimate responsibility for maintaining justice. If we accept his authority, we also hold him accountable for enforcing his rules and commands. It should not surprise us then that God punishes the wicked. Rather, we should expect it. Our only surprise should be that God extends grace to us, wicked as we are, and pardons us by the blood of Jesus.

God is impartial. God warned the Israelites that he would punish them, and remove them from the land, if they did not keep his commands. They abandoned him and committed the same wickedness as the Canaanites, and God kept his word by expelling them from Palestine.

Imagine a loving father with a disobedient child. The child lives under the father’s authority, and knows what behavior the father requires, but continues to act wickedly. Some people say that God, as the father in the story, should use his power to make it impossible for the child to disobey. But that would take away the possibility of choice for the child. Some say that the father has no right to tell the child what to do. In that case the father would have no power or authority. God is just the opposite of a powerless bystander; he is the supreme LORD. Some say that a loving father should not harshly punish his child no matter how severe the crime, but that hinders justice, accountability, and responsibility.

We don’t know all that God knew about the sin of the Canaanites. Words on a page will never convey the extent of their wickedness. If God is God, we should respect his justice and trust his wisdom in handling trespasses. If we disapprove of God’s actions, it shows our standards of right and wrong are not his standards. As for me, I’ll choose his standards rather than find myself at odds with the LORD of the universe.

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Perfect timing: Joshua 6

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Today’s reading: Joshua 5-8.

The number seven was there in the beginning as God rested on the seventh day of creation. It will be there at the end when the seventh angel of Revelation pours out his judgement and the voice from heaven shouts, “it is finished.” In between it numbered the seven major festivals in the Jewish calendar. Every seventh year was a Sabbath year and after seven of the Sabbath years came the year of Jubilee. Then came Joshua’s battle of Jericho.

March around the city once with all the armed men. Do this for six days. Have seven priests carry trumpets of rams’ horns in front of the ark. On the seventh day, march around the city seven times, with the priests blowing the trumpets. When you hear them sound a long blast on the trumpets, have all the people give a loud shout; then the wall of the city will collapse and the people will go up, every man straight in. Joshua 6:3-5

Seven priests. Seven trumpets. Seven days of marching. Seven times round on the seventh day. Is the number seven the key to some cosmic harmonic convergence that crumples the walls of Jericho? Not that I know of. Maybe it’s more like the old “As I was going to St. Ives” riddle. Seven wives, seven times seven sacks, seven times seven times seven cats, and so on. But the only number that matters is one: the one going to St. Ives. In the battle of Jericho God is the one who matters.

So what’s up with all the sevens? In Hebrew seven comes from a word that means to swear or take an oath, literally “to seven oneself.” It first comes up in Genesis 21 when Abraham makes a treaty with Abimelech by giving him seven lambs. It carries the idea of satisfaction (I satisfied you by my oath) and fullness (I fully completed the terms of this oath). In the same way God rested on the seventh day because he was satisfied; his work was full and complete. Satisfaction, fullness, completion, and perfection – that’s the number seven.

In my mind God is shouting “perfect” as the seven priests complete their seventh circuit on the seventh day and the trumpets blare and all the people cry out. It’s God’s perfect time for Jericho to fall.

  • the sins of the Canaanites are full after God’s patient waiting; now his judgment will be satisfied
  • the fear of the city is complete after watching the hordes of the Israelite army for seven days
  • the faith of the Israelites is full after their testing in the wilderness
  • the time for waiting is finished

I’m sure the children of Israel wondered and grew impatient as they waited for God’s perfect timing. I have struggled while waiting for God to act. Surely now is the time! Why not today? It’s not the LORD’s time. So we wait and learn patience. What are you learning to wait for?

  • a mate?
  • a job?
  • health?
  • children?
  • (fill in the blank here)

It’s hard to wait, but as you do remember that God will answer when the time is full, complete, and perfect. As for me, while I wait I think I’ll draw a big seven over my problem. It’s only a matter of time until that problem is finished.

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Don’t be discouraged: Joshua 1-4

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Today’s reading: Joshua 1-4.

The story is told that the devil had a yard sale in which he put all the tools of his trade out for display. He marked each with its price. Among the tools were all the familiar ones such as lies, lust, anger, and greed. But one unlabeled item held the highest price of all. Someone asked Satan what this most expensive tool was, and he replied, “I wasn’t sure if I wanted to sell this one at all. It is my most powerful weapon, and the one which people least suspect is mine. It is – discouragement.”

As the Israelites prepare to invade Canaan, God gives Joshua a double charge that is two sides of the same coin. Be strong and courageous; do not be discouraged. It’s noteworthy that God commands Joshua not to be discouraged. We tend to think of it as a state of mind over which we have no control. God says the opposite – take action to avoid discouragement.

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go. Joshua 1:9

At its root, the word for courage speaks of being strong in the feet. I picture someone who stands their ground in the face of attack, and more than that presses the battle forward. The word for discouragement sounds like something snapping and means brokenness. God tells Joshua, and all his people, to stand their ground and not break their own spirit as they face upcoming battles. They can do this because God will fight beside them. The action quickly moves from beyond the Jordan to Jericho, but look at the areas where God is fighting:

He is with us when our heroes die. Moses was gone, leaving Joshua in charge. The people were facing their biggest challenge with an untested leader. In fact, Moses was the only leader they had ever known. Perhaps you have lost a family hero, spiritual leader, or a mentor. Maybe they didn’t die but disappointed you. God says, “Don’t be discouraged.”

He is with us in enemy territory. Israelite spies enter the walled city of Jericho to examine its defenses and vulnerabilities. God goes before them and prepares someone, the prostitute Rahab, to shelter them. The spies escape with a report that the whole city trembles in fear of the Israelites, and Rahab secures a promise of protection. We all face enemies in this life. Believers live behind enemy lines. Financial strains, health issues, depression, abuse, persecution, and the list goes on. God says, “Be strong.”

He is with us in the floods. Sometimes the waters overwhelm us and nearly drown us. Joshua and his people had to cross the flooded Jordan River to get to Jericho. God stopped the river, but not until the priests carrying the ark stepped into the water. They entered the flood by faith. How deep did they get before the waters receded? I don’t know, but the water didn’t withdraw until they got wet. God allows trials in our lives to produce patient endurance (James 1) and it seems that we learn best when God delays his provision until the final moments of our crisis. While we are waiting on him, God says, “Be of good courage.”

Whenever I read God’s charge to Joshua I remember Jesus’ words to his disciples at the last supper. “Be of good cheer,” he told them, “for I have overcome the world.” He told them that when they faced tribulation they should be joyful. The word for cheer has the same root as courage. Jesus was telling them to be courageous in the face of trouble. Why? Because he had already overcome the world with its losses, enemies and floods. He didn’t mean there would be no trouble; he promised them the opposite. But just as God reassured his people that he would fight for them, Jesus promises us that he has already won our battle with the world. We can claim the victory by faith even as we continue to struggle. Assured of victory we can fight on without discouragement.

Practically speaking, what should you do when you feel discouraged? First of all, realize that it is a spiritual struggle. It’s not an unavoidable consequence of bad circumstances. God says to choose not to be discouraged. Here are some steps you can take:

  • get plenty of rest
  • instead of giving in to negative thinking that may automatically come into your mind, argue against those negative thoughts
  • do a reality check instead of believing worst-case scenarios
  • look at the problem from an eternal perspective instead of focusing only on the present. Will this problem matter 100 years from now?
  • don’t go it alone. Get encouragement from others.
  • focus on the promises rather than the problems

We must be careful to let the Holy Spirit do this searching. If we try to search our own hearts, we are apt to fall into one or both of two traps. The first is the trap of morbid introspection. Introspection can easily become the tool of Satan, who is called the “accuser” (Revelation 12:10). One of his chief weapons is discouragement. He knows that if he can make us discouraged and dispirited, we will not fight the battle for holiness. The second trap is that of missing the real issues in our lives. Jerry Bridges, The Pursuit of Holiness

The Christian life is not a constant high. I have my moments of deep discouragement. I have to go to God in prayer with tears in my eyes, and say, ‘O God, forgive me,’ or ‘Help me.’ Billy Graham

Disappointment is inevitable. But to become discouraged, there’s a choice I make. God would never discourage me. He would always point me to himself to trust him. Therefore, my discouragement is from Satan. As you go through the emotions that we have, hostility is not from God, bitterness, unforgiveness, all of these are attacks from Satan. Charles Stanley

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The end of an era: Deuteronomy 34

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Today’s reading: Deuteronomy 32-34.

Three things draw to an end with this post: Deuteronomy, the first five books of the Bible known as the Torah or Pentateuch, and the life of Moses. The children of Israel move on without their faithful leader, but let’s stop and look at what made Moses so remarkable.

Since then, no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face, who did all those miraculous signs and wonders the LORD sent him to do in Egypt–to Pharaoh and to all his officials and to his whole land. For no one has ever shown the mighty power or performed the awesome deeds that Moses did in the sight of all Israel. Deut. 34:10-12

The LORD knew him face to face. This relationship sums up Moses’ character without revealing the reason why he and God were so close. The character traits below may explain this intimacy.

He overcame failure again and again. He went into exile for murder, but returned to Egypt as God’s liberator. He saw the Israelites balk at invading Canaan, but led them for forty years and raised up a new generation. When God censored him for striking the rock, he didn’t get discouraged but finished the task of bringing the people to the Promised Land.

He was teachable. The burden of overseeing the horde of Israelites would have burned him out, but he listened to his father-in-law’s advice and solved the problem.

He was humble. God said that there was no man as humble as Moses. He reluctantly took on the leadership role. His heart was always for the people and God’s glory rather than his own interest.

He was faithful. When everyone else abandoned God, he did not. When the next steps were unknown, he trusted God. When things seemed impossible, he believed God would keep his promises.

He was human. By God’s power he worked miracles. As a man, he made mistakes. He disobeyed God at times. But his human passions also fueled his devotion to God, to the people, and to the task of reaching the Promised Land.

He prayed. Moses got on his face before God for extended periods of time, especially when there was a crisis. He knew how to pray based on God’s character and promises.

He was the friend of God. That’s how God described him. What makes a good friend? Someone who spends time with you, who does life together with you, who sticks with you through good and bad, who is loyal, and who never speaks ill of you. Moses was all of those things, and as a result he developed a deep friendship. Because of that friendship and all of his other qualities Moses was able to come face to face with God.

God chose Moses when he was just a shepherd in the desert. You and I may think we could never accomplish great things like him. But God chooses us when we are lost and separated from him, and like Moses he fills us with his spirit and showers us with his grace. We can be faithful, and pray, and humble ourselves. We can learn from others and keep going even when we fail. If we do all these things, and continue to deepen our friendship with God, then God will also use us to grow his kingdom.

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Predicting the future: Deuteronomy 31

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Today’s reading: Deuteronomy 30-31.

I don’t know which is more remarkable – that God foresees the falling-away of his people, or that he remains faithful to them in spite of what he knows. Once again I am awed at what these books of the Law teach us about the character of Jehovah, the promise-keeping, the compassionate, the ever-faithful, the future-knowing God.

The LORD then said to Moses: “Soon you will rest with your ancestors, and the people will rise up and act unfaithfully, going after strange gods of the land they are entering. They will abandon me, breaking my covenant that I made with them…  When I bring the Israelites to the land I swore to their ancestors, which is full of milk and honey, and they eat, get full, then fat, and then turn toward other gods, serving them and disrespecting me and breaking my covenant that I made with them…  Yes, I know right now what they are inclined to do, even before I’ve brought them into the land I swore.” Deut. 31:16, 20, 21

The Old Testament is full of predictions, but I’m not sure there is one more clear than this one. No symbolism or metaphors. Plain talk. Moses will die. The people will be unfaithful. They will leave the LORD for other gods. They will not keep the Law. As soon as they become self-sufficient they will forget all about God.

It won’t take long. As soon as Moses’ successor, Joshua, dies, the people fall into that long cycle of abandoning God known as the time of the judges. Samuel, Saul, David, and Solomon bring a reprieve, but then the kingdom splits. The northern kingdom of Israel never has a godly king and the Assyrians carry them into captivity after 300 years. The southern kingdom of Judah lasts another hundred years with only a handful of godly leaders.

Yet God remains faithful. He promised Abraham that his descendants would inherit the land, and Moses sees that happening. He also promised that Abraham would have as many children as stars in the sky, a promise which he renewed with Jacob. But will all the children be rebels?

God said the world would be blessed through Abraham’s children, a promise that remains unfulfilled in Moses’ time. As God started with a man, Jacob, and faithfully stayed with him as his children became a tribe and then a nation, so God will remain faithful to this rebellious nation as they become a kingdom. From that kingdom will come the family of David, and from that family God will raise up a savior who will fulfill the promise to bless the world.

God’s faithfulness paves the way for redemption whether it’s a prodigal son or nation. Perhaps there is someone you know who has tested the limits of your faithfulness. I encourage you to follow God’s example and not abandon them, but continue to remain involved in their life. With God’s help, prodigals can find their way home.

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Deeper in debt: Deuteronomy 28

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Today’s reading: Deuteronomy 28-29.

America’s debt keeps piling up so quickly that our minds can’t comprehend it. Our politicians seem powerless to address the problem. Right now the federal government owes over 17 trillion dollars, a debt of 150,000 dollars for each U.S. taxpayer. The deficit for this year alone currently stands at 642 billion dollars, which means we are not only failing to address the outstanding debt but falling behind by over a half trillion dollars each year. The yearly interest on the debt is 252 billion dollars.

The Israelites stand on two mountains to the east of Canaan as they prepare to enter the land. One mountain, Gerazim, is the mountain of blessing. From Gerazim God proclaims all the blessings that will come to pass if the people obey him. Look at the blessings related to borrowing and lending:

      The Lord will open for you His abundant storehouse, the sky, to give your land rain in its season and to bless all the work of your hands. You will lend to many nations, but you will not borrow. The Lord will make you the head and not the tail; you will only move upward and never downward if you listen to the Lord your God’s commands I am giving you today and are careful to follow [them]. Deut. 28:12-13

From Mount Ebal God proclaims all the curses that will fall on the people if they fail to keep the covenant and obey him. Again, look at the curse related to borrowing and debt:

The foreign resident among you will rise higher and higher above you, while you sink lower and lower. He will lend to you, but you won’t lend to him. He will be the head, and you will be the tail.  Deut. 28:43-44

God is not criticizing the foreigner, and I’m not either. As I read these words my focus is on God’s people. God warns them that their fortunes, financial and otherwise, will sink lower and lower if they abandon him. Now, modern Americans were not party to the covenant between the LORD and the Israelites. Neither were present-day Christians. Even so, I can’t help but look at our ever-rising mountain of debt and wonder.

Why can’t such a powerful country, full of resources, pay its bills? Why won’t our political leaders address the problem? Why are so many blind to the problem? Does the debt show that we are under God’s severe discipline if not his curse?

I’m not advocating for political action. I’m calling for believers to cry out to God, confessing our own sins and the sins of our fellow Americans. Let’s pray for mercy. Ask for revival that starts with those who know God. God is true to his word, and fortunately his word promises that he stands ready to forgive and renew.