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?
A confession: I struggle with personal debt. It’s just a fact. At one point a few years ago, I was given the opportunity to basically take out more money than I should on credit, and through a combination of poor financial management and a few personal circumstances, it got out of hand. It’s a long way from good; but it’s been a lesson – the question is whether that lesson has sunk in or not.
What I can say, though, from personal experience is that having debt that’s outside your realm of ability to pay is perhaps one of the most oppressive and difficult things I’ve ever dealt with. You have creditors and collectors calling, not only yourself, but people you know, your family and others – and it just becomes that you end up scared to pick up the phone because you’ve got no answers.
I was unemployed for over a year, on Centrelink payments, barely able to survive on the meagre amount that comes from welfare; and every time one of those calls came, I still had no answers. Here these people are calling every third or fourth day trying to squeeze blood out of the stone that is your own personal financial situation. It doesn’t get better, it just seems to get worse.
God does not want us to be in this situation. He does not want us to be suffering from debt – so much so that he actually told the Israelites that they were to regularly cancel debts owed to one another.
When you think about the society that God was creating in the Israelites, it’s a wonder why we’ve had to develop any other system of civilisation – let alone actually continue to use them. As I read Leviticus and now read Deuteronomy, I see this picture of a society where they’re encouraged to work hard, to continue to grow, where they each own their own land and possessions, but not to the detriment of the community. He makes it very clear, both in talking about the year of Jubilee, and now here, that there are limits to individual accumulation.
Every seven years, they’re told here, to cancel any debts to their brothers. Interestingly, they’re entitled to ask for payment still from a foreigner, but within the nation of Israel, they are to cancel any debts. They are also told not to get selfish when it’s getting close, and withhold assistance from someone because the seventh year is near so they probably won’t get their money back.
Basically, what God’s saying is that he will bless them; but he wants to bless them as a people, not as individuals. No one should be suffering, when the favour of God is upon them. He’s giving them a mandate that says, in their financial and material prosperity, they are to look after one another. He’s placing the family and the community above wealth.
God didn’t want to have his people living with the oppression of debt hanging over their heads. He wanted them to be free. It’s unfortunate that our society is so dominated by money today; because it means that financial freedom is basically the key to most freedoms. It’s hard to feel free in any sense, if you’re feeling trapped by your financial situation.
We may not get our financial debts cancelled, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t live in freedom though. Spiritual freedom is available right now.
Our debts for sin were cancelled when Jesus hung on the cross. He hung there, paying the price of death for each and every one of us. He was without blame, and yet he carried the price for all the world.
Why? Because he loved us. Because he didn’t want us to live with debt hanging over our heads. Because he wanted us to have freedom, and true freedom comes from one source: Grace.
Wow, what a chapter.
Here we have Moses having a chat to the Israelites about going across the Jordan, and in the land on the other side of the river, are several nations: the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanaites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites.
“And when the LORD your God has delivered them over to you and you have defeated them, then you must destroy them totally. Make no treaty with them, and show them no mercy.” ~ Deuteronomy 7:2.
Destroy them totally, get rid of them completely.
Two main reasons come out in this chapter.
First: “For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession.” ~ Deuteronomy 7:6.
Second: “You must destroy all the peoples the LORD your God gives over to you. Do not look on them with pity and do not serve their gods, for that will be a snare to you.” ~ Deuteronomy 7:16.
This chapter brings an exceptional parallel to our own lives, and the way that we live our lives. A friend of mine made the statement today that they are no longer going to drink alcohol, and part of the discussion that ensued included a comment about how “compromise can sneak in so easily.” It’s true, too.
As our Father’s children, as members of the Church that Jesus came to build, as warriors in God’s army, we are called to live a holy life. We are called to be a people holy to the LORD our God. Part of that, therefore, is demonstrating holiness to those who bear witness to us. Now I’m certainly not saying that we should go killing Jebusites or Perizzites or Hivites; but we should be eliminating and destroying sin, and eliminating it especially from the places where we dwell.
Canaan was to become the Israelites home, and as a holy people, their home needed to be pure and clean. First, because they were a holy people, but secondly, so as not to become snared.
Compromise really can sneak in so easily. It may not be a sin to drink, but we are told not to be drunk. For some people, all it takes is that first drink and they just can’t stop. I know that in my life, on occasions when I’ve gone out drinking, I’ve let things get out of hand; and that’s coming from someone who does, in most situations, maintain a reasonable level of composure and sobriety when drinking. If it’s easy for me, who rarely drinks to excess, to fall into that place then how much easier is it going to be for a person to whom it’s a regular occurrence?
So therefore we must eliminate it all together.
And it’s not easy, I know that – and so did God.
“You may say to yourselves, ‘These nations are stronger than we are. How can we drive them out?’ But do not be afraid of them; remember well what the LORD your God did to Pharaoh and to all Egypt.” ~ Deuteronomy 7:17-18.
Remember what the LORD did. This was the reminder to the Israelites, and it is the reminder to us today, too. When we’re struggling, when we don’t think we can defeat a temptation, when we feel like we’re too weak, too small, too much of a failure to succeed in defeating sin, that’s when we need to remember what Jesus did. He defeated death, and he paid the price for sin. We are no longer bound by it, we are no longer subject to its power, because Jesus has bought us and set us free from that bondage.
We can’t defeat it. We can’t resist it. We are too weak – but we are bought by someone who can, and he will give us the power and strength to survive. Just as through God’s strength and power the Israelites knew they could defeat the Canaanites and Hittites and Girgashites and so on, so through God’s strength, we can defeat the temptation to sin.
So, there’s a small part of me that’s wanting to just get on with it as I read this chapter, I remember going through the variety of different feasts and offerings before – although there do seem to be some differences; and now we see God goes into greater details about the offerings that are to be given during these feasts.
What really clicked with me tonight, though, was the feast side of things.
Here we have a passage that, on the surface, looks like another big series of tasks of how to present offerings to God; look at the Feast of Tabernacles section, 13 bulls, then 12, then 11, then ten, and so on. It’s almost as difficult to read as the census chapters.
But if we scratch the surface, and look at the actual basis for this, it’s still a feast. It’s a celebration.
And its a celebration in which the Israelites are meant to come before God in the form of an offering.
It’s almost like God’s telling them that he wants to party with them. He wants them to celebrate, to have a good time, to feast – but he doesn’t want to just watch from his throne room, he wants to be involved too.
You know, sometimes I think we get caught up by the restrictions, the laws, the boundaries that are placed on the Israelites in the old testament, and it’s almost like we start to forget that God’s still the same. Because we get taught so much about ‘the Law’ and how that relates through to us, we sometimes forget that God’s still here in this part of the bible too.
Here’s God, still wanting to have a relationship with his children; here he is, wanting them to come into his presence and share the day of feasting with him. This passage is more than just a list of things that people need to do, this is God planning a party.
I love it.
So, we started Numbers with a census, and now it’s time for another one.
There’s a lot more detail in this census, which makes it great for geeks like me who get amazed and intrigued wondering just who everyone was, and how the nation all fit together and crazy things like that. Here we get the names of the clans broken down inside each tribe, rather than just a broad number of descendants of each of Jacob’s sons.
The first thing that stands out to me as I’m reading this chapter, is that the number’s actually gone down. I guess it’s to be expected; they’re wandering in the desert, but more importantly, they’ve angered God so many times, it’s probably a miracle that their numbers aren’t even less by this point than they are! Through plagues, earthquakes, fire, snakes and other things, it wouldn’t have been a great surprise if the number had been halved.
God goes on to speak about the inheritance that he has for each of them in the land of Canaan; and how it shall be divvied up by lots between them. Throughout the history of what’s been happening, I wonder whether there were some tribes who caused more grief than others. I wonder if there was reason for God to suggest that one tribe had been better behaved, therefore could have more land, or better land. Still, he makes sure that it’s divvied up evenly and fairly between those who received the inheritance.
I can’t help feeling something standing out to me now as I’m writing this, and reach the passage about the Levites.
All the male Levites a month old or more numbered 23,000. They were not counted along with the other Israelites because they received no inheritance among them.” ~ Numbers 26:62
See, there’s something that I’ve felt God laying on my heart over the past few months, and something I’ve become more comfortable with as those months have gone by. That’s the idea or concept that I might never actually own a home, I might never have the settled life that a lot of people crave; and it doesn’t worry me so much any more. I have to say I’ve struggled, at times, with the idea that some people do live off the generosity of others, and it comes down to the culture that we live in, one that says you can’t get something for nothing, I think.
Still, the best gift we ever received was for nothing.
The Levites were the ones dedicating their lives to the service of God; and in return, they gave up their rights to own property, or have an ordinary job or source of income. They lived on the generosity of the people, through what the Israelites brought to God.
Ultimately, and honestly, I believe that would be the next best freedom we can receive, after the gift of Grace through Jesus. The freedom to live totally in dedication to God; where materialism is not a driving factor.
Finally in this chapter, we see that it’s now at a point where all of the Israelites who came out of Egypt have died, save for Joshua and Caleb. It’s starting to get to the exciting point; it’s almost time to step into their promised land.