So, growing up in the Church, the book of Judges could have really just been the book of Gideon and Samson – they’re the two main occupiers of the children’s stories that I remember from Sunday School and the like.
Here’s the beginning of Gideon’s story, and it opens in a pretty familiar fashion.
Again the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD, and for seven years he gave them into the hands of the Midianites. ~ Judges 6:1
They were oppressed, troubled, abused – and after a few years of this, once again, they cried out to God. Sounds almost identical to how the story of Deborah got started.
So this time it’s a young guy called Gideon, he’s just going about his daily duties when an angel shows up.
When the angel of the LORD appeared to Gideon, he said, “The LORD is with you, mighty warrior.” ~ Judges 6:12
And Gideon’s first response is, ‘but’.
Gideon reminds me a bit of Moses, actually. When Moses was first called by God to go back to Egypt he had every argument under the sun ready – not bad, really, for a guy who claimed he wouldn’t be able to speak to Pharaoh. Now Gideon’s being called, and his immediate reaction is basically, “Wait, you’ve got the wrong guy.”
The interaction here is interesting, actually. Gideon shakes his head, saying that if God’s with them, then why are they suffering? He brought them out of Egypt, but he’s abandoned them.
The angel’s response is what I like.
The LORD turned to him and said, “Go out in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you?” ~ Judges 6:14
When it comes to Gideon asking the why question, when it comes to him saying they’ve been abandoned, the angel doesn’t say anything. Just get on with it – you’re being sent, aren’t you? Let’s go.
Gideon’s not convinced – he asks for a sign, and gets one. After that he cuts down the Baal altar and uses the Asherah pole for firewood, but then when he’s called to go after the Midianites, he’s wanting two more signs before he’ll go.
Now here’s the big thing I noted in this chapter – it’s not actually about the signs, it’s about the few verses in the middle. Gideon sneaks in at night, not wanting to get caught, and destroys the altar to Baal and the Asherah pole alongside it, and sends up a sacrifice to God.
We go off track, and we fall into these troughs in our lives. I know I do, a lot, so I’m glad God’s as patient with me as he was with the Israelites – coming to the rescue and looking after them despite their constant fluctuations between loving him and thinking he must hate them. This little part, though, between Gideon’s signs speaks something very important.
It starts at home. Gideon’s first task was to destroy the Baal altar and the Asherah pole. Why? Because they needed to make sure that they had cleaned up things internally before they could go out and deal with the Midianites.
How often, when things are going wrong in our lives, do we blame the outside influences? How often do we say that it’s all someone else’s fault?
Maybe it is, but the fact is that the place where we can make the most peace, the place where we can do the most restoration is right in our own hearts.
Please note: I’m not necessarily saying that if things aren’t going well for you in your life right now, then it’s because of something you’ve done wrong. However what I am saying is look closer to home. Instead of blaming someone else for things not going right, what can you change in yourself to make the situation better?
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 as I started to read this chapter, my mind was worrying – it’s another history tale, of battles and defeated kings as the Israelites take over the Promised Land. Sure, it’s an exciting story for someone like me, but I was worrying more about what application there could be from this chapter.
Turns out, there’s two things. Well, three actually, but two in particular for tonight.
They came out with all their troops and a large number of horses and chariots – a huge army, as numerous as the sand on the seashore. ~ Joshua 11:4
When I think of a statement like, ‘as numerous as the sand on the seashore’, I imagine a massive army. I’m picturing standing up on a hill overlooking the enemy, and just seeing them spread from horizon to horizon, with no end in sight. Imagine standing there, looking out over an army that size, the thoughts that would run through your head.
I can’t help but to think of The Lord of the Rings - and in particular the battle at Helms’ Deep, when we see the heroes looking out from the city walls, and they can just see row after row after row after row of orcs. Right there, they struggled to have hope, because the enemy in front of them seemed invincible – there were just too many to stand against, and even with their determination; the end result seemed obvious.
This happens with us sometimes, doesn’t it? Often we’ll look at a task we’re faced with, a struggle we’re up against, and think that it just seems insurmountable. We’ll look at a mountain we have to climb, or an enemy we have to defeat, and just think it can’t be done.
The LORD said to Joshua, “Do not be afraid of them, because by this time tomorrow I will hand all of them over to Israel, slain.” ~ Joshua 11:6
This is the sort of thing that God’s saying to us when we’re staring at that mountain thinking it can’t be climbed, when we’re looking at that challenge thinking there’s no way we could possibly get past it – God says not to be afraid, because He will hand the victory to us. Our victory is not in ourselves, and yes, if we try to undertake these seemingly insurmountable challenges in our own strength, then we probably won’t succeed – but when we remember that the victory is in God, that’s when we can do like the Israelites.
So Joshua and his whole army came against them suddenly at the Waters of Merom and attacked them, and the LORD gave them into the hand of Israel. ~ Joshua 11:7-8
With God on their side, the Israelites were victorious over the whole combined armies of the people of Canaan.
So Joshua took the entire land, just as the LORD had directed Moses, and he gave it as an inheritance to Israel according to their tribal divisions.
Then the land had rest from war. ~ Joshua 11:23
I think this is as important a part as the rest of the chapter, that last line: The land had rest from war.
For a long time now I’ve felt God building in me a warrior spirit, that he’s training me up to be a soldier in the spiritual front lines of the battles. However one thing that I tend to forget about is the rest part. Even the greatest heroes, the greatest soldiers, require rest. The land itself needs rest from war so that settling can be done and restoration can occur. We need to rest our hearts, be renewed and refreshed and restored when God provides us with the victory.
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, 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?
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.
So I’m still not back into the flow of writing these on a regular basis again, but I’m getting there. God’s been doing some uplifting – particularly over the past few days – in my life and heart.
We’ve reached a point here, where Moses is starting to sum up – although I remember as a kid, when the pastor preaching used to say that he was finishing up, or that he would close with this point, or something similar – that generally meant we were about half way through. Well, it seemed that way anyway.
The Israelites are told to build an altar on Mt Ebal – and on this, write the law that has been given to them. Then they are to offer fellowship or peace offerings.
Then it goes on, and after a brief statement that I’ll come back to, there are a series of curses that are issued basically over the land. The Levites issue curses over people – essentially those who break certain laws – casting or making idols, dishonouring one’s parents, immorality, things like this. It’s like they’re making a declaration over the land.
This is all basically meant to occur as soon as they enter the land, and I almost feel like there’s a bit missing, because we see that the tribes were meant to split up, and half on Mt Ebal were supposed to speak out curses, and the other half on Mt Gerizim were to bless the people.
So out come the curses. Like I said, it’s like they’re speaking this out over the land, they’re to enter the land, stand on the highest peak on the west bank, and look out over all they’re walking into and speak into it.
Now, I wouldn’t necessarily go with the curses option when it came to the words I spoke, but there is a lesson to be held here, about speaking into our own lives. We have a destiny in God, we have a promised land that he has been guiding us into – I know that in my life, I’m still not 100% clear what that promised land looks like, but I do know that it’s out there, waiting for me to walk into it and fulfil the plans that God has for my life.
See this is the thing – entering the promised land isn’t where the journey ends, it’s where a chapter of the journey ends, but there was still a whole lot more for the Hebrews to do when they got to this stage, and so God’s calling them to speak out over the land.
This is something we should be doing over our own destiny, too. Imagine yourself standing on a mountain, and looking out over a landscape that drifts off into the horizon. That landscape is the destiny, the promised land that God has for you – but this is only the beginning, because now that you’re in that promised land, the next job is to conquer it and be victorious over it for God’s glory.
So speak into that destiny, and that promised land. Speak victory, the glory of God, all these things – but again, while I wouldn’t necessarily go with curses, also speak behaviour and attitudes.
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.
Moses is ready to move on to the next step. After last night, pointing out to remember God and to not start thinking that the Israelites were prospering out of their own strength, now Moses moves on to the fact that it’s not because of them that they’re moving into the Promised Land.
He starts on a similar tone, reminding the Israelites that they’re not getting into the Promised Land through their righteousness. Personally, I would have thought that much was obvious – the Israelites haven’t exactly had a great track record for righteousness throughout the past forty years that they’ve been in the desert.
It is not because of your righteosness or your integrity that you are going in to take possession of their land; but on account of the wickedness of these nations, the LORD your God will drive them out before you, to accomplish what he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. ~ Deuteronomy 9:5
And just in case the Israelites put up a bit of an argument, Moses goes on to remind them of all the things they’ve done – but in particular, he recounts the scene from back at Mt Sinai, when he came down the mountain to find that they’d gotten bored and decided to make a golden calf to worship instead.
The flavour of Deuteronomy is quite different to the books preceding it. Throughout Leviticus and Numbers, I noticed regularly that even though some of the things that were said sounded harsh, when you actually look deeper into the passage, you can feel the love coming from what God’s telling the Israelites. You can see the revelation that God is a father, caring for his children, and like so many parents, he’s not telling them not to do something because he wants to take their fun away; he’s telling them not to do it because it’s not good for them.
When it comes to Deuteronomy, though, there’s a different flavour to it. It’s like this book puts the onus back on the Israelites. That they need to remember their place, and that they need to stay humble, stay meek, and remember that God’s taking care of them.
And that is how I’d link this back to our lives.
It’s all well and good to say that God’s got things in control, that he has a destiny for us, and all those kinds of things, but it’s not necessarily that simple.
If it was, then we wouldn’t have to do anything, which of course then begs the question what’s the point of living in the first place?
What we need to remember, though, is that we don’t achieve anything through ourselves. In reality, we’re pretty much like the Israelites are here. I can’t say I’ve ever forged a cow from gold and bowed down and worshiped it, but I’ve sure done enough stuff in my life, made enough complaints, committed enough crimes to put me somewhere on par with the Israelites at this stage.
Still, just like the Israelites, God opens up the doors to the Promised Land. Not because of the evil of those already there this time, but also not because of my righteousness, or anyone else’s – well, that’s not quite true. It’s because of the righteousness of one: Jesus Christ.
On an administrative note: I mentioned back in February that this blog was going to be moving to a new website. I am currently in the process of setting up the new site so it will not be far away. Midnight Quills will still be here, but that will be Josh’s place on the web. At the same time, the website for Intrepid Ministries will be being officially launched some time in the coming weeks.