This is the story about a bloke named Jephthah.
Jephthah wasn’t the most welcomed of men. The son of a prostitute, he was – maybe not justifiably, but to a point, understandably – shunned and exiled by his father’s legitimate children. They weren’t going to let Jephthah anywhere near the inheritance that their father was going to leave.
The bible calls Jephthah a mighty warrior, and after he was exiled he attracted a group of other adventurers around him.
Then come the Ammonites. Israel’s under attack, and as Judges Chapter 10 told the story, the Israelites suddenly found themselves sorry and wanting to be saved again. In the final verse of chapter 10, the people living in Gilead promise that whoever stands up against these attackers, that man will be put in charge of the region. So the elders of the region go and find Jephthah, this mighty warrior and his band of rag-tag adventurers. I tell you, here’s another great tale, really.
So Jephthah, being a bit cautious, just reminds these guys what they’re saying. He’s’ the guy they kicked out of town, and they’re now asking for him to come back, lead the charge, and therefore become the head of the people of Gilead.
Yup. They know what they are saying.
After a bit of communication between the Ammonites and Jephthah, he realizes that they’re not about to give it up. It’s time to go to war. In advance of this, though, Jephthah makes perhaps one of the most ridiculous promises in history.
And Jephthah made a vow to the LORD: “If you give the Ammonites into my hands, whatever comes out of the door of my house when I return in triumph from the Ammonites will be the LORD’s and I will sacrifice it as a burnt offering.” ~ Judges 11:30-31
Now this isn’t as stupid a statement as it originally sounds, because my understanding of the culture of these times was that often the livestock actually had a room in the house with the owners as well. I assume that Jephthah is expecting a pig or a goat or a donkey to wander out of the house when he gets home.
So he wins the battle.
When Jephthah returned to his house in Mizpah, who should come out to meet him but his daughter, dancing to the sound of tambourines! She was an only child. Except for her he had neither son nor daughter. ~ Judges 11:34
Here’s the thing. I’m not about to condone burnt sacrifice of one’s own children by any means. From the rest of the story it would sound like this sacrifice actually went ahead, because Jephthah’s daughter tells her father that he can’t go back on his vow to God, and just asks for a couple of months to weep in the desert with her friends because she’s about to die, and after the two months Jephthah does as he had vowed.
The lesson that I draw from this, though, is to be careful what you say, and be careful what you offer to God. How many songs do we sing that say something about giving all of ourselves to God? How many times do we pray that God would take all of us? I know that I’m not going to bother counting the amount of times that I’ve said to God that he can have my life, that everything I am belongs to him. Is it all belonging to him, though? Is my life really all God’s, when I think about it? Probably not.
“My father,” she replied, “you have given your word to the LORD. Do to me just as you promised, now that the LORD has avenged you of your enemies, the Ammonites.” ~ Judges 11:36
Point two: Stick to it.
This is hard, and a challenge to me even as I write this. When we’ve offered ourselves to God, we need to stick to it. There’s an element of what I was talking about yesterday in this as well, that we take God for granted. Again, I know that I’ve promised God things in my life and then when the rubber hits the road, I’ve kind of reneged on what I said I’d do. I have seen and heard multiple people use the excuse, “Well, God will forgive me,” as a cop-out for going back on things that they’ve said or promised.
Really, it goes for what you promise anyone, but especially: If you’re going to promise it to God, then stick to it.
So, I didn’t skip ahead or anything like that, I just read these chapters in bulk. I feel like I should apologize to God for skim-reading, but seriously, that was so hard to get through!
From a geographical study of Israel, sure, it’s great and very informative. A part of me did enjoy reading it – but the part of me enjoying reading it is the part that writes fantasy novels and creates entire other worlds in my head.
Even so, amongst six chapters there were a few things that actually stood out to me.
So it was Judah and the two tribes of Joseph (Ephraim and Manasseh) who got their allotment first. In this, though, there’s a consistent little tidbit at the end of each tribe’s details.
Judah could not dislodge the Jebusites, who were living in Jerusalem; to this day the Jebusites live there with the people of Judah. ~ Joshua 15:63
They did not dislodge the Canaanites living in Gezer; to this day the Canaanites live among the people of Ephraim but are required to do forced labor ~ Joshua 16:10
Yet the Manassites were not able to occupy these towns, for the Canaanites were determined to live in that region. ~ Joshua 17:12
There’s a sense of the journey being incomplete that has been there for a little while now; on several occasions there’s a detailed list as to just how much of the Promised Land that God wanted the Israelites to conquer; they just don’t seem to get there.
I remember thinking back in Deuteronomy 34 about reaching our destiny in God, and about Moses, standing there at the end of his life, realizing that even though he’d done so much and come so far, and yet still was not reaching the final step. One of the things that I took from that particular line of thinking, though, was that it’s never complete; that there’s always going to be something else that needs doing.
Does that mean, though, that we should not try?
See, what I want to know, is how is it that they were unable to dislodge these people? I mean, for Jerusalem at least, we’ve got a nice clear story that the Israelites killed the king of Jerusalem, so even if they didn’t destroy the entire population of the city, it’s probably pretty heavily weakened. Then we have Judah, who are a tribe big enough to fill dozens of cities as they spread out, and they can’t dislodge the remnant of the city’s previous population?
I wonder: We sometimes choose to use the word “can’t” when what we actually mean is “won’t” do something, don’t we?
So I’d offer the challenge: What things in our lives are we saying we can’t dislodge, when what we actually mean is that we won’t dislodge them?
So, we’re back to one of those exciting chapters where it’s just names and numbers. This list goes through the kings defeated by the Israelites – there were 31 in total. Not a bad effort, really, when you think about it. They took the land of thirty one nations and made it all into their own. If it was in a more modern setting, they’d be British!
I was already preparing, in a way, last night as to what I could write for this chapter – because I could see it coming and was just shaking my head in wonderment, but then God pointed something out to me.
For a lot of the time that I’ve been going through this journey of Israel from Egypt to the Promised Land, I’ve used the Promised Land as a metaphor, essentially, for the destiny that God has for us in our lives – a place that we are to step into in our lives. As the Israelites stepped into the Promised Land, though, God told them to clear it out completely. There wasn’t meant to be anyone left.
Now they already screwed that up with the Gibeonites, being tricked into a treaty, but that’s not my point here.
See all these other nations would have been influential upon the new fledgling nation of Israel; and God wanted to be Israel’s sole inspiration and focus.
We need to, also, be clearing out the ‘kings’ of our Promised Land as we enter it. There are things in our lives, not all good, which influence us away from God.
So as I read this chapter tonight, I began thinking, this is a record of the things that God’s done for the Israelites, all the kings who have been defeated in the Promised Land, making it a land where the Israelites can live peacefully with God as their influence.
A thought, therefore: Have you ever considered listing the things that God’s defeated in your life? Imagine writing a list like this, of the things God has provided victory over in your life. Is it maybe worth doing? If we sat down and actually looked at the amount God has done for us, would we be astonished? I already am just thinking about it…
I have to admit, whenever I look at one of these chapters like this one and see that it drags on for several columns, a part of me sinks a little. At times it’s a real struggle to read the scriptures, and I don’t really understand why… In a way, it’s kind of like exercising when I first started going back to the gym. See, I’d dread it, because I knew how hard it would be and that it involved some work and some struggle – but I always feel fantastic at the end of a workout, and the same goes for reading the word – I always feel better at the end of reading it, so I don’t know why I struggle to start!
Anyway, though; we’re totally in campaign mode now. Joshua and the Israelites have defeated Jericho and Ai, and they’ve gone and made peace (however inadvertently) with Gibeon.
So enter Adoni-Zedek, King of Jerusalem.
A lot of the things that I wonder from reading this chapter come back to my knowledge mind rather than anything really spiritual. It comes back to that part of me that wants to know the history, the story behind everything. For example: What was Jerusalem at this stage in history? Who was Adoni-Zedek?
What I mean, is that ever since the Israelites had a king, pretty much, it’s been one of the most important places in Judaism, Islam and Christianity. So the question is, was there anything special about the city at this point in history? I’m sure there’s some archaeological studies that have been done to shed some light on the situation, but I haven’t read them.
Still, Adoni-Zedek is one of the Amorite kings; and he sends out messages to his fellow Amorites.
So Adoni-Zedek king of Jerusalem appealed to Hoham king of Hebron, Piram king of Jarmuth, Japhia king of Lachish and Debir king of Eglon. “Come up and help me attack Gibeon,” he said, “because it has made peace with Joshua and the Israelites.” ~ Joshua 10:3-4
Again, back to the history, I’m really fascinated to learn about the politics of the time. The Israelites have come out of the nation of Egypt and made their way to the Promised Land, which isn’t that. The way I read all these stories of Joshua having to take out so many kings of so many different cities seems to represent this tribal warlord sort of political system. There were a whole group of city/states at a sort of tribal level, each watched over by its own king – but with family ties as well. All of these five were kings over their own land, but they came from the same heritage, it would seem. Suddenly, you have Joshua and the Israelites coming into the land deciding they’re going to make it a nation – kind of like how Egypt was run.
It just fascinates me.
So the kings march on Gibeon, who in turn send word to Joshua.
After an all-night march from Gilgal, Joshua took them by surprise. The LORD threw them into confusion before Israel, who defeated them in a great victory at Gibeon. Israel pursued them along the road going up to Beth Horon and cut them down all the way to Azekah and Makkedah. ~ Joshua 10:9-10
This is another one of my favourite stories in the bible. The sun stands still for another full day or thereabouts, to give the Israelites time to defeat the Amorites in one go – and this is after an all-night march already. Effectively, these guys were probably up for about three days straight, and doing hard physical work – they were probably exhausted by the end of it.
The tale continues, they kill the kings and then lay waste to each of the cities involved.
The sun stood still.
I actually find it amusing that this is a concept that blows my mind perhaps even more than trying to conceive of eternity does. See, I just think about the idea of the sun standing still, and can’t really conceive of it. Our world’s very gravitational force is caused by the fact that the Earth is spinning as it journeys around the sun. Now what we’re saying is that the Earth, effectively, stopped spinning for a day which allowed the sun to therefore hang in the sky.
So my question for God: Did he move the sun to keep it aligned with the Earth’s position? Or did he stop the Earth spinning and give them an artificial gravity source for that 24 hours or so?
Also, just to finish, the other thing that frustrates me about these sorts of passages is when they refer to other books that I”m not allowed to read.
So the sun stood still,and the moon stopped,
till the nation avenged itself on its enemies,
as it is written in the book of Jashar. The sun stopped in the middle of the sky and delayed going down about a full day. Joshua 10:13.
I so would love to know what else the book of Jashar says. It makes me wonder – in line with how much I’d love to know what the society and politics and everything were like in these cultures at the time, how much knowledge has been lost over the millenia?
That’s all – probably nothing really spiritually deep tonight, unfortunately, but it’s all fascinating stuff to me!
So, the Israelites are now gaining a bit of a reputation as they make their way deeper into the promised land. First Jericho, then Ai. Word’s spreading throughout the landscape, to the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites.
Man I love the names of the biblical nations, and I really actually want to learn more about who they all were. I’m not sure how possible it would be, but one day I’ll get into studying all of that.
Anyway, though, all these people are hearing the word spread that the Israelites are on the warpath, and basically taking out everyone who stands in their way.
So all the other ‘…ites,’ they came together to make war against Joshua and Israel. ~ Joshua 9:2
But one group had a better idea – the Gibeonites. They decide to come up to Joshua and pretend to be from a long way off, somewhere in the distance, asking for a treaty. They pack their bags with stale, mouldy bread and old wineskins, they dress up in tattered, patched clothes and shoes, and come wandering up asking for peace.
The men of Israel sampled their provisions but did not inquire of the LORD. ~ Joshua 9:14
You know, I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my life – and many of them, I’m sure, could have been avoided if I’d spent some time inquiring of God as to what I should do with a certain situation. Many of them, well, I didn’t even need to inquire of him, all I really needed to do was listen to things he’s made very clear throughout his word, and I would have made some very different decisions.
I don’t regret any of it. As I heard Mike Tyson say in an interview on 60 minutes – he was asked if he could go back and change one thing, what would it be – and his response was that if he changed anything, then he wouldn’t be who he is today.
What happened when the Israelites realised that their distant neighbours, with whom they’d just made a peace treaty, were actually just around the corner?
But the Israelites did not attack them, because the leaders of the assembly had sworn an oath to them by the LORD, the God of Israel. ~ Joshua 9:18
I think it’s a lesson that we need to learn in life, that when we make mistakes, there are going to be consequences, and those consequences are probably not going to be of God’s design for our lives. The thing is, though, that there’s an element of “you’ve made your bed, now lie in it,” that comes to the forefront here. The Israelites had made an oath of peace with these people, and they were bound to keep it.
Sure, there were all kinds of excuses they could have made to get out of it, but they didn’t.
Sometimes, decisions we make without hearing the voice of God can have pretty major consequences – and sometimes there may be a way out of it. Not always. Sometimes, we just have to live with what’s happened, and let it become a part of who we are, just like the Gibeonites now became a part of the nation of Israel. They might not have been a greatly honoured part, but they were a part of the nation nonetheless. Just like the consequences of our mistakes can become a part of us.
So… My last post here was over two months ago. More on that at another time, but allow me just to say: There’s a strong correlation between spending time with God and in his word, and actually having the path ahead of you become very difficult to walk.
Proverbs 3:6 says: In all your ways acknowledge him and he will make your paths straight; which also means that the paths aren’t so straight when you’re not acknowledging him.
But into Joshua 8.
This chapter yelled at me from verse 1.
Then the LORD said to Joshua, “Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Take the whole army with you, and go up and attack Ai. For I have delivered into your hands the king of Ai, his people, his city and his land.
Some back story – for those of us who stopped spending time in the word for the last two months. In the last chapter, the Israelites went up against Ai, but were defeated – no, they weren’t just defeated, they were annihilated. They didn’t walk in the plans that God had held for them, and things went very wrong – it actually sounds a bit like my life of recent months, but I digress.
So they get whipped, and come running back to God, tail between their legs, admitting that they did something wrong.
It’s such an easy thing to get caught up in the memory of what went wrong. How hard is it to restart, sometimes, after we’ve fallen away? It’s like every time we fail, it’s harder to try again.
When I was in Hawaii recently, I tried wakeboarding. I attempted three times before I decided I just wasn’t going to do it.
Three times. Then I gave up.
At least for now – I’m telling myself that come summer here in Australia, I’ll give it another go; and hopefully I will – but what if it doesn’t happen?
Imagine suffering such a defeat like the Israelites did. It would be easy to get down on themselves, to worry about what’s going to happen next time.
But God’s there, just like the Father that he is, telling Joshua not to be afraid, not to be discouraged – go up and attack Ai, because he has delivered the whole city, its people, its land, its king into their hands.
And Joshua does it. This time he follows God’s lead, and sure enough, they are victorious.
It’s a cliche statement to “get back on the horse” – but the thing about cliches is that there’s usually a reason they’ve become cliche – they’re pretty accurate. One of the many wonderful things about God, is that he may discipline us, he may chastise us, he may allow us to learn some lessons the hard way, but the thing is that when we come back to him, he’s always there to say, “Don’t be afraid, don’t be discouraged – get out there, and this time, succeed.”
There’s one other thing, though. After the success, after the victory, Joshua and the Israelites didn’t just celebrate and move on. There was one more step.
They went up Mount Ebal and renewed their covenant with God.
Afterward, Joshua read all the words of the law – the blessings and the curses – just as it is written in the Book of the Law. There was not a word of all that Moses had commanded that Joshua did not read to the whole assembly of Israel, including the women and children, and the aliens who lived among them. ~ Joshua 8:34-35
This is the other part of what we need to do – and a part that I know I sometimes forget.
Renew the covenant.
I fail – a lot. I sin. I fall. I struggle. Every time, though, God is there when I turn around, saying, “Don’t be afraid. Don’t be discouraged. You’ll get it this time.”
He always comes through, which is great, but then comes my part. Renewing the covenant. Laying my life down again and giving it back over to Him. Renewing my life with him.
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.
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.