So the Israelites have won at Jericho, and now they go on to the next city.
Near Beth Aven.
Okay, so Beth Aven sounds like somewhere in England, rather than Israel, but anyway…
They have a look, see that there’s not much competition, and come back saying to Joshua, “Well, it’s a little town, just send a few blokes – everyone else can have a rest.” So that’s what they do – and the next thing you know, the mini-army’s being routed and sent back to camp with their tails between their legs.
Not really a good second impression.
You know what I find interesting, though? Joshua’s cry out to God in verse 7…
And Joshua said, “Ah, Sovereign LORD, why did you ever bring this people across the Jordan to deliver us into the hands of the Amorites to destroy us? If only we had been content to stay on the other side of the Jordan!” ~ Joshua 7:7
Why is it that God always gets the blame? The moment something goes, wrong, it’s like, “God, why are you doing this to me!”
Why do we never think: “Hmm… Perhaps it’s me?”
Sure enough, it’s the Israelites. Achan decided to keep a few things from Jericho for himself – and until that’s righted, they’re not going to be able to face their enemies.
“When I saw in the plunder a beautiful robe from Babylonia, two hundred shekels of silver and a wedge of gold weighing fifty shekels, I coveted them and took them. They are hidden in the ground inside my tent, with the silver underneath.” ~ Joshua 7:21
And this brings me to the point that I drew out of this particular chapter.
We’re human. We know this, but what that means is that we’re always subject in some way, shape or form to the desires of our flesh. It’s just not something we can avoid, because the flesh is, indeed, weak. The Israelites were all in God’s favour, they were walking in his plan and purpose, and then Achan’s eyes wandered and caught sight of something that made him go, “Oooh.”
That temptation can come in many forms. Whether it’s a Babylonian robe and some gold and silver; maybe it’s a new car; maybe a member of the opposite sex… Temptation is always around us, just waiting for us to take that step towards it, and away from God’s purpose and plan for our lives.
We need to be vigilant. We can never think that the work is done. We will always be tempted, and when we give in to that temptation, we lose our way in the Promised Land.
Joshua and the Battle of Jericho.
One of my favourite stories growing up – for obvious reasons.
It’s funny, though, to go back and read it now and actually think about the text and the story itself. I’ve always called it – and heard it called – the battle of Jericho; but really, was there much of a battle? They took a stroll around the city each day for a week, and then God knocked the walls down for them when they gave a big shout at the end of it.
Admittedly, then they had to charge the walls and take out the people inside.
What I wonder, though, is what the people of Jericho were doing at this stage. One simple point to bear, is that when the spies were checking the city out, Jericho was scared of the Israelites. So you would think that, having the people march around the walls, they’d perhaps try to do something. I was thinking about this as I read it, but came to a possible revelation – maybe a God inspired thought – the whole nation was marching around the city. Is it possible, therefore, that they actually were marching further out than right up against the walls like we tend to think of it? This wouldn’t really make any difference to the story. I don’t know if it’s factual or been checked out, but that was just the thought that came to mind.
This is one of those bible stories, though, that I love the idea of checking out the historicity and archaeological evidence for it.
Still, like most of the stories in the biblical history – really, there’s an essence to the story, and regardless of the historical evidence, or factual truths of the matter, what I want to establish is what God’s wanting to tell me – tell us – in telling the story.
God sometimes asks us to do some crazy things. Imagine what the reaction must have been by the Israelites, when Joshua said to them that they were going to march around the city in silence, with only the trumpets playing – they’d do that every day for a week, and then on the seventh day they’d march 7 times, shout, and that would be it. Can you imagine the looks on their faces? I’m betting there were at least a few who entertained thoughts that Joshua had lost it.
I think I’ve told the story of the guy who performed a handstand next to the coke machine – although I can’t seem to find it on a cursory glance back through the pages of this blog, but it just reminds me of that. Sometimes God’s going to ask us to do some strange things – and it’s up to us just to follow, because ultimately, when we follow with faith, that’s when God’s most able to work.
Something really intrigued me as I read this chapter, because it’s the first time I think I’ve ever noticed this term used in the context throughout this journey through the bible to date.
Now when all the Amorite kings west of the Jordan and all the Canaanite kings along the coast heard how the LORD had dried up the Jordan before the Israelites until we had crossed over, their hearts melted and they no longer had the courage to face the Israelites. ~ Joshua 5:1
Until we had crossed over.
The Isrealites had moved about in the desert forty years until all the men who were of military age when they left Egypt had died, since they had not obeyed the LORD. For the LORD had sworn to them that they would not see the land that he had solemnly promised their fathers to give us, a land flowing with milk and honey. ~ Joshua 5:6
Promised to give us, a land flowing with milk and honey.
I don’t think I saw anywhere else, where the narrative of the history comes back to the first person, it’s all been third.
So anyway, the Israelites have crossed the Jordan, and now they’ve stepped into the promised land. A few things happen here, first of all, God tells Joshua to circumcise them all again – because while they were in the desert, it hadn’t been occurring. This is interesting: God has now fulfilled his promise to the Israelites, he has brought them to the promised land, but when he made the covenant with Abraham, that his descendants would be God’s people, circumcision was a physical sign of the covenant. God has fulfilled his part of the covenant, and now, the Israelites fulfil their side of things.
Alongside this, they eat the Passover – they go back to the beginning of the journey, and celebrate God’s bringing them out of Egypt. What they do with this, though, is that they actually eat some of the produce of the land the next day. They pick the grain of the promised land and eat it – and the manna stops from then forward.
You know what the circumcision says to me, though. It’s almost like a recommitment. It’s the Israelites and God saying that Phase 1 is complete: They’re in the promised land; but now it’s on to Phase 2. Time to actually clear the land and take it over as their own.
See, the thing is that while we’re still alive, things aren’t finished. There’s always more to do – and when we achieve one thing, one step in our destiny, it’s worth reinforcing the commitment and the relationship we have with God, and just remember where we’ve come from to get to this point.
In the last chapter, the Israelites crossed the Jordan – they finally entered the promised land. Here, we see the final part of that process.
But this entire chapter is dedicated to one final step associated with it: Remembering.
Once the people have crossed; God tells Joshua, and Joshua relays back to the Israelites for 12 men – one from each tribe – to go back into the Jordan and pick up a rock from where the priests are currently standing with the Ark of the Covenant. Once they’ve each got one, they’re going to build an altar.
He said to the Israelites, “In the future when your descendants ask their fathers, ‘What do these stones mean?’ tell them, ‘Israel crossed the Jordan on dry ground.’” ~ Joshua 4:21-22
How often do we need to be reminded of the things that God’s done for us? How often do we question, doubt or simply just forget that we actually have God, the Creator of the Universe, looking over us?
When I look back on my life, one thing’s clear: He’s been watching out for me. I am confident that God has a destiny in plan for me – because otherwise, I highly doubt that I’d be here right now. I made plenty of efforts to destroy myself during my younger years, and somehow came through them – and in truth, came through them relatively unscathed compared to what could have been.
Yet I still, to this day, have a tendency to hesitate when God asks me to do something. When he calls, I falter.
Because in that moment, I’m not thinking about all the things that God’s already done. I’m not thinking about the fact that he’s kept me safe throughout the years. I’m not thinking about the blessings that I’ve received from him.
I’m busy thinking about what could happen if things go wrong.
I think we all need to build reminder altars in our lives, to the things that God’s done and provided for us. Little landmarks that we can walk past and say, “That’s where God did this.” Little things that we can tell our children, like the Israelites were to tell their’s about crossing the Jordan on dry land.
So, growing up in Tasmania, we lived in Launceston but had family down here in Hobart. There was always one part of the journey that I liked in particular.
You see, on the way to Hobart from Launceston, you have to cross the Jordan river.
Then you go past Jericho.
This is actually for real, so of course it was like it had been made for me, as a kid. Joshua crossing the Jordan and going on to Jericho.
That’s what’s going on here. Joshua first readies and announces to the people of Israel that they’re about to move out. It’s time to break camp and enter the promised land.
Tonight, I feel like I’m preparing a sermon. There’s three points that stand out to me as I was reading this chapter.
First of all, though, the overall picture. Here it is, the moment that the Israelites have been waiting for. It’s time to cross the Jordan river and enter into the Promised Land. They’ve been wandering for over forty years, through the wilderness and desert surrounding these lands, and finally it’s their time, finally they’re standing there, with one final thing to do.
Cross a river – that’s in flood for the harvest.
So three things come out of this:
1. They consecrated themselves.
To consecrate, is to make one’s self holy. If I go to my trusty source of Merriam Webster and look up Consecrate, I get these two definitions in particular:
- To make or declare sacred; especially: to devote irrevocably to the worship of God by a solemn ceremony.
- To devote to a purpose with or as if with deep solemnity or dedication.
Before stepping into the promised land, after all the journey that we’ve been through, we need to be dedicated. We need to be devoted to God.
Reading that definition is challenging for me. Especially the first one. To devote irrevocably to the worship of God – that means, there’s no going back. Once your life’s consecrated, it’s God’s, devoted, dedicated, given to him without any reservation to take it back into our own control. That’s a hard one – and one that I haven’t taken, and find it a struggle even to imagine that one day I could take it.
Irrevocable’s a pretty strong word, but that’s what God gave us. He’s not going to revoke the grace that has been provided to us through Jesus’ sacrifice.
2. It required a step of faith.
Let’s remember, this river was flooding – it was harvest time, so the Jordan would have been racing pretty heavily. Joshua sat there and told the priests to set foot in the river, and march the Ark of the Covenant out into the middle of the river.
This wasn’t just a step of faith for the priests – although it would have been a pretty big one for them – it was a big thing for everyone. The Ark of the Covenant was their physical connection to God, and here they were watching the priests just carry it into the flooding river.
And let’s not forget Joshua. Here was the real test of his leadership. Imagine how long his leadership would have lasted if those Priests had washed away with the Ark of the Covenant?
Stepping into the promised land doesn’t just take being holy and a good person, it takes a step of faith.
3. They crossed over on dry land.
Following on from the step of faith, God did the rest.
Now the Jordan is at flood stage all during harvest. Yet as soon as the priests who carried the ark reached the Jordan and their feet touched the water’s edge, the water from upstream stopped flowing. ~ Joshua 3:15-16
As soon as their feet touched the water’s edge, the water stopped flowing. They took that step of faith, and then God did the rest to let them walk into the promised land.
I wonder – what stops us from taking that step of faith ourselves? We hear so many stories, not just from the bible, but from the very people we know and trust, of God coming through when a step of faith is taken, and yet still we hesitate. I crave, I absolutely crave to one day have such faith that I would be able to step into the Jordan, with complete confidence and knowledge that God’s going to stop the flow from way upstream.
So, on a slightly non-topic note, I’m using Chrome for the first time ever to write this blog.
It’s amazing, sometimes, to see who God uses for certain things. Jacob was the younger son, who deceived his way into getting the birthright and blessing that should have gone to his youngest son. Joseph was a Hebrew sold into slavery, who managed to become Vizier over Egypt and save not only Egypt but the nations from a seven year famine. Moses had difficulty speaking, and yet faced the Pharaoh of Egypt as the spokesperson of God and his people.
Now, we see a prostitute housing two Israelite spies who are checking out the city of Jericho.
My footnotes here give the option, “Or possibly, an innkeeper.” Which paints Rahab in a much more positive light.
You know what question I wonder, though, as I read this. Why did they enter the prostitute’s house? I mean, perhaps God guided them there, perhaps it was a more subtle hiding place – or perhaps they just figured, “Hey, we’re on a mission, but let’s have some fun while we’re at it.”
Some might consider that thought almost sacrilegious, but what I think sometimes we tend to forget is that these characters in the bible were human and mortal too. They had the same vices, issues and hangups that prevent us from managing to walk in the fullness of our destiny with God.
More to the point though, does that really matter? Not really.
So I ask, therefore, what is the point of this story? Why bother telling us about Rahab at all?
Rahab wasn’t an Israelite. She was a Canaanite. She was a prostitute. She was – I would imagine – a bit of an outcast.
None of this mattered.
When the time came to make a choice, she chose God. She didn’t sit there stubbornly refusing to accept what was coming. She saw what was coming their way and realised that the Israelites? They were blessed, and being looked after by God – someone more powerful than any of the deities that they had in Canaan. So she chose, there and then, to follow him.
And in turn, she received a promise of salvation. She would be provided with freedom, because she helped the Israelites.
She and her family could be saved, but there were things that she needed to do, too. She needed to tie the scarlet rope in her window. She needed to make sure her family were present in her house – they would not be protected if they were outside the house, and she needed to keep her commitment by not saying anything about it to anyone else.
“If anyone goes outside your house into the street, his blood will be on his own head; we will not be responsible. As for anyone who is in the house with you, his blood will be on our head if a hand is laid on him.” ~ Joshua 2:19
I think this speaks to us today, too. We need to be in the house, to be saved. If we are outside in the streets, then our blood is on our own heads. To be saved, we must be in the house of God, under the protection of the scarlet cord – perhaps a metaphor for the blood of Jesus?
And so a new chapter begins.
Moses is dead, and the Israelites are provided with a new leader – they would have seen it coming, after all, Joshua was the right hand man to Moses for years leading up to this day.
Still, it must have been a bit of a nervous time. I mean, it’s one thing to actually sit there and say, “Yes, I’m now your leader,” but it takes more than just a declaration to actually really engage in the role.
So Joshua gets this repeated reminder. He received it several times in Deuteronomy, too.
“Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their forefathers to give them.” ~ Joshua 1:6
Over and over is this reminder to be strong and courageous. It’s been something that’s echoed throughout my life – perhaps, given that I’m a Joshua as well, it was just a natural fact that was going to happen, that when people wanted an encouraging verse they’d drop by this book and see what they could find, but it has helped, too. It’s a great thing, though, for all of us to remember.
What I really liked, though, as I read this chapter was actually this one:
“Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.” ~ Joshua 1:8
As I mentioned with the post in Deuteronomy 34, when I started this blog I was not walking with God. One of the other perspectives that I had with the entire thing of writing this while in that place, was the understanding that I had, that regardless of what you believe, the bible – read in proper context – is still a great life manual to pay attention to. Yes, you can pull out all sorts of individual verses that say all sorts of things – but the point I’m making is that the bible, this book, as a whole, gives a great methodology and morality to live one’s life by, even if they don’t want to know God. I believed that then, and I believe it now.
I also believe – especially since it kind of happened to me – that if you really read and take in what the bible is saying, then you will realise that God is speaking to you in each word.
Then the LORD said to him, “This is the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob when I said, ‘I will give it to your dsescendants.’ I have let you see it with your eyes, but you will not cross over into it.” ~ Deuteronomy 34:4
You know, throughout this journey of the Israelites, from Egypt to Canaan, I’ve consistently used the Promised Land as a metaphorical reference to our own individual destinies in God. The fulfilment of the plan that he has for our lives.
First of all, going to the very end of the chapter.
Since then, no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face. ~ Deuteronomy 34:10
As far as prophets go, Moses is the top of the crop, he’s the one who knew God face to face.
But even then, he wasn’t perfect. The reason he was standing on Mt Nebo and not entering the promised land was because he didn’t trust God completely. He ended up disobeying God and doing his own thing – and it was something that would seem to us, so minor, but it was a big enough thing to God that Moses was not allowed to cross over into the promised land.
And that’s the thing that most stands out to me as I read this chapter. Mt Nebo, the mountain that Moses climbed at the end of his life, and gazed out over the promised land, over the gift that God had promised his fathers, and his nation.
It doesn’t say how Moses reacted, but I think he would have been heartbroken. Standing there, looking out over the promised land at the destiny God had, knowing that he could have gotten there if he had only trusted God that little bit more when it mattered.
When it comes to the end of my life, I don’t want to stand on Mount Nebo, looking out over the destiny that God actually had in mind for me. I want to cross the Jordan and walk into it, and look back across the river, at the journey that I’ve taken to get there.
And so comes to a close the book of Deuteronomy, and the Pentateuch.
It’s taken me just shy of twelve months to get this far. I started on 27 July, 2010 – and what a journey it’s been.
When I started, my intention was to provide a – what some might call ‘New Age Interpretation’ of the bible, reading it through as a book that had a lot of good moral teachings, but was wrong in some places, right in others, needed improving in others. That was basically the intention I had, as someone who wasn’t following or in a relationship with God.
It really is a love letter from him, though. Between studying God’s very word, and the influence of some absolutely wonderful people whom I love dearly, things changed.
So thanks: Steve, Donna, Cody, Sara, Anna and Pastor Dave – in particular, you were people who God used, each in a special way, to help bring me back into this relationship with him.
I’m so grateful, now, to know the love of my Father in a way that I never knew before.
Now, I’m just eager to keep going. That said, I’m going to take a couple of days break again now – I know I’ve had more days off than writing this blog of late, but I’ll start with Joshua on Sunday evening.
Well, I have to say – by the time the family got to Moses, the blessings over each of the tribes sounded a lot nicer than some of the things that Jacob offered as blessings to his sons.
At least, unless you’re Simeon – who at least got mentioned back in Genesis when Jacob blessed his sons. Here, he’s absent.
This is perhaps the most fond and affectionate passage that I can recall reading throughout these first five books of the bible – the Pentateuch. There have been passionate passages – such as aspects of the song in chapter 32, but here is this full flowing list of blessings.
There were promises of blessings in other areas, but they all came with conditional follow-ups. Sure, these are all the good things that can happen to you – but if you’re bad, then all this will happen. It’s all counter balanced.
This is the second last chapter of Deuteronomy, and the books of the law – basically this initial segment of the bible.
So essentially, Moses finishes on a warm note. He’s been there, telling the Israelites all that’s going on, all that can happen if they continue to do what is right – and all that can happen if they go their own way. Finally, he comes to this point of farewell, and he finishes with these warm exhortations to each of them.
Surely it is you who love the people; all the holy ones are in your hand. At your feet they all bow down, and from you receive instruction.” ~ Deuteronomy 33:3
I love this chapter, and I’m struggling to really explain why. I really love this picture of God, though, in verse 3.
I got into a little bit of a debate over the past 24 hours on Facebook – not really a surprise or new position for me to be in, but anyway. Part of the argument that has come up against God is all the things that people have done in his name. How can God be loving when so much has been done in his name?
Well, because the second part of this verse is missing. God loves all the people – and those who follow him should be receiving instruction from him. Those who are holy and in his hand are the ones bowing at his feet, and receiving his instruction. God’s instruction to us has been clear since Jesus had his final conversation with the disciples. The Great Commission, to go into all of the world, making disciples and teaching them to obey every command that he gave.
Love was the greatest commandment according to Jesus: Love God, and love those around us.
God is love. End of story. The heart of the gospel, at the heart of everything that he does, everything that is good, is love. Therefore, anything that is not of love can also not be of God.
People can say and claim all sorts of things in the name of God – but if it is not of love, then it is not of God. God doesn’t come from us; he is not made by our actions, he simply is. We are the ones who are flawed and sinful, not God. So then why hold it against God?
If we, as the holy ones of God, are not bowing at his feet and receiving his instruction, then it is on our shoulders, not God’s, as to what the consequences are of our actions. The instructions are there, it is up to us to receive them and enact them in our hearts and lives.