Tuesday, September 21, 2021

The Book Of Joshua. Day 13, The Battle Of Jericho, Part Two

The Israelite soldiers, along with the priests who are carrying the ark, have marched a circle around the city of Jericho once a day for six days in a row. The Lord told Joshua that on the seventh day they are to march around the city seven times, the priests are to give a loud blast on their trumpets, all the men are to raise their voices in a shout, and the wall will fall. It's time to complete the seventh day of the Lord's unusual battle plan.

Does this mean the Israelites took the city of Jericho on the Sabbath? We are not told that they took a day off from encircling Jericho, so one of the seven days had to have fallen on the Sabbath, but not necessarily the day they did the work of capturing the city and overcoming its soldiers. But even if they did take the city on the Sabbath, the Lord is Lord of the Sabbath (Matthew 12:8) and if He commanded the men to march on that day of the week then they were not sinning against Him. The rule about not working on the Sabbath was made for man's benefit, not the Lord's. (Mark 2:27) The Lord is not constrained by rules He made for man regarding the Sabbath. He rested from His work of creation on the seventh day but the Bible makes it clear that He is busy with other work every single day on behalf of mankind: When Jesus was criticized for healing on the Sabbath, He said, "My Father is always at His work to this very day, and I too am working." (John 5:17) 

By the seventh day the citizens of Jericho were getting used to the Israelites appearing just after sunup and making a circuit around their city and then going back to camp. But on the seventh day, something different happens. "On the seventh day, they got up at daybreak and marched around the city seven times in the same manner, except on that day they circled the city seven times." (Joshua 6:15) 

I think the nerves of the soldiers and guards of Jericho were already strained to the breaking point. It was a form of psychological warfare the Israelites were carrying out against them each day, but imagine how much more anxious they felt when the Israelites did not depart on the seventh day after circling the city once. Based on the estimated size of the city of Jericho, and based on the size of Israel's army, scholars think each circuit would have taken about an hour. If that's the case, on the seventh day the soldiers and priests of Israel spent seven hours going around the walls of Jericho. We were told the Israelites camped at Gilgal in the first month of the Jewish calendar (the month of Nisan) which is in the spring. Daybreak was probably around 6:30, so if it took the Israelites seven hours to encompass the city seven times, it was about 1:30 in the afternoon when the shout went up and the walls fell. After seven long, fearful hours of watching these men circle the walls, I think the hearts of the soldiers of Jericho were fainting within them. I think they lost a lot of their confidence in their ability to fight. I think they were calling out to their gods and their gods weren't answering. I think the psychological warfare accomplished its purpose and that the men of Jericho were unable to put up as good of a fight as they might have done under other circumstances.

"The seventh time around, when the priest sounded the trumpet blast, Joshua commanded the army, 'Shout! For the Lord has given you the city!'" (Joshua 6:16) They are to shout before the wall falls. They are to shout in faith. 

Joshua continues, "The city and all that is in it are to be devoted to the Lord. Only Rahab the prostitute and all who are with her in her house shall be spared, because she hid the spies we sent. But keep away from the devoted things, so that you will not bring about your own destruction by taking any of them. Otherwise you will make the camp of Israel liable to destruction and bring trouble on it. All the silver and gold and the articles of bronze and iron are sacred to the Lord and must go into His treasury." (Joshua 6:17-19) The city is full of idols and objects and substances used in idolatrous practices. They are to have nothing to do with these things. They also are not to covet the valuable items of silver and gold and bronze and iron; these belong to the Lord. In addition, they are not allowed to do on this occasion what they have been allowed (and will be allowed sometimes in the future) to do when conquering a city: they are not to kill only the men of Jericho and take the women and children captive. The entire city and everything in it will be destroyed other than the items destined for the Lord's treasury. The only exception is that the two Israelite spies are to save the life of Rahab and the lives of her family members who are in the house with her. 

"When the trumpets sounded, the army shouted, and at the sound of the trumpet, when the men gave a loud shout, the wall collapsed; so everyone charged straight in, and they took the city. They devoted the city to the Lord and destroyed with the sword every living thing in it---men and women, young and old, cattle, sheep and donkeys. Joshua said to the two men who had spied out the land, 'Go into the prostitute's house and bring her out and all who belong to her, in accordance with your oath to her.' So the young men who had done the spying went in and brought out Rahab, her father and mother, her brothers and sisters and all who belonged to her. They brought out her entire family and put them in a place outside the camp of Israel." (Joshua 6:20-23) 

Rahab did just as the men instructed her; she hung a scarlet cord from her window so her house was easily discernable from all the other houses during the heat of battle. The men kept their word and rescued her and everyone in the house with her. For the time being, until purification rituals can be undertaken to make Rahab and her family ceremonially clean, they will reside outside the camp. But at some point after having joined the congregation of Israel, Rahab becomes the wife of Salmon of the tribe of Judah. She becomes the mother of Boaz and the grandmother of Obed and the great-grandmother of Jesse and the great-great-grandmother of King David. This is how the Lord redeems a person's past! Not only did He save the life of this woman who put her faith in Him, He saved her soul, redeemed her past, and gave her a place in the royal family of Israel. He put her in the lineage of His own Son, for in Matthew 1 we read the genealogy of Jesus of Nazareth and there we find the name of Rahab of Jericho. There we find the name of a woman who once was a heathen prostitute but who, by faith in the one true God, was redeemed in every way from who she used to be. If the Lord can take an immoral idolater and change her heart and give her a place in His own family, He can do the same for anyone! There is nothing in your past or mine that the Lord cannot redeem!

"Then they burned the whole city and everything in it, but they put the silver and gold and the articles of bronze and iron into the treasury of the Lord's house. But Joshua spared Rahab the prostitute, with her family and all who belonged to her, because she hid the men Joshua had sent as spies to Jericho---and she lives among the Israelites to this day." (Joshua 6:24-25) The events of the book of Joshua were written soon after they took place, for Rahab was still alive when the book was written.

"At that time Joshua pronounced this solemn oath: 'Cursed before the Lord is the one who undertakes to rebuild this city, Jericho: 'At the cost of his firstborn son he will lay its foundations; at the cost of his youngest he will set up its gates.' So the Lord was with Joshua, and his fame spread throughout the land." (Joshua 6:26-27) Jericho must have been an exceedingly wicked city. There will be times when citizens of a conquered city are to be saved and/or plunder taken from it by the Israelites. There will be other times when everything in a city must be destroyed because the risk of infection by evil is too great. The lure of whatever went on in that city is too compelling. This was the case with Jericho and, because it was such a wicked place, Joshua pronounces a curse upon anyone who undertakes to rebuild it. Unfortunately, his words won't be taken to heart. During the reign of Ahab king of Israel, a man named Hiel of Bethel will rebuild Jericho. The Bible says, "He laid its foundations at the cost of his firstborn son Abiram, and he set up its gates at the cost of his youngest son Segub, in accordance with the word of the Lord spoken by Joshua son of Nun." (1 Kings 16:34) We don't know by what manner Hiel's sons lost their lives. Since Hiel lived during the reign of one of Israel's most wicked and idolatrous kings, it could be he performed what was known as "foundation sacrifices": a heathen practice in which a man undertaking a building project would sacrifice a son to his pagan gods and place the body of his son in the foundation of the wall, gate, or house he was building. This foundation sacrifice was supposed to cause his pagan gods to grant protection and favor upon the city or house. Whatever the cause of Hiel's sons' deaths, Joshua spoke prophetically about their demise centuries earlier.

The Lord was with Joshua and caused the Israelites to esteem Joshua highly as God's chosen leader. The Lord caused the fame of Joshua and the news of the defeat of Jericho to spread far and wide throughout the land of Canaan. Long before the army of Israel engages any of the other armies of Canaan in battle, those soldiers will have heard of the success of the Israelite army and the power of Israel's God---the God before whom walls fall, the God before whom waters part, the God before whom no wickedness can stand.

Monday, September 20, 2021

The Book Of Joshua. Day 12, The Battle Of Jericho, Part One

The Lord gave Joshua an unusual battle plan in yesterday's portion of Scripture. It's unusual but it's going to be successful. 

"When Joshua had spoken to the people, the seven priests carrying the seven trumpets before the Lord went forward, blowing their trumpets, and the ark of the Lord's covenant followed them." (Joshua 6:8) The sight of the ark of the covenant is a reminder that the Lord is in their midst. He does not live inside the ark, of course, but the sight of the ark reassures the people that He is with them and that He is for them.

"The armed guard marched ahead of the priests who blew the trumpets, and the rear guard followed the ark. All this time the trumpets were sounding." (Joshua 6:9) The citizens of Jericho must have thought attack was imminent. They heard the blowing of the trumpets. The guards on the walls saw the approaching multitude. Yet no attack came. "But Joshua had commanded the army, 'Do not give a war cry, do not raise your voices, do not say a word until the day I tell you to shout. Then shout!' So he had the ark of the Lord carried around the city, circling it once. Then the army returned to camp and spent the night there." (Joshua 6:10-11)

Imagine how strange this must have seemed to the people of Jericho! They must have readied themselves for battle but no battle came. All they heard was the sound of the trumpets. All they saw was the silent marching of Israel's soldiers. We don't know how long it took the soldiers to march around the city but all during that time the men of Jericho must have been standing with their weapons ready, tense and anxious with their blood racing and the sound of their heartbeats pounding in their ears and the nervous sweat running down their faces. How do we know they were afraid? Because Rahab, the former prostitute of Jericho who hid the Israelite spies, told the spies that the hearts of the people of Jericho were melting in fear of the Israelites. Everyone in the region had heard of the power of Israel's God. Another piece of evidence regarding their great fear of Israel (and of Israel's God) is that they didn't shoot a single arrow at the Israelites as they marched around the city. The Israelites were in a vulnerable position but no one attempted to harm them. 

I dare say that even after the Israelites finished circling the city and went back to their camp, the people of Jericho remained on high alert. They must have thought this unusual display was some sort of trap. They must have thought it was intended as a distraction so they could be attacked from some other direction. But what the Israelites did was go back to camp and sleep peacefully through the night. The next morning they got up and did the same thing again. "Joshua got up early the next morning and the priests took up the ark of the Lord. The seven priests carrying the seven trumpets went forward, marching before the ark of the Lord and blowing the trumpets. The armed men went ahead of them and the rear guard followed the ark of the Lord, while the trumpets kept sounding. So on the second day they marched around the city once and returned to the camp. They did this for six days." (Joshua 6:12-14)

These six days of marching around the city was a form of psychological warfare upon the citizens of Jericho. Imagine how much the anxiety of Jericho's king and soldiers grew each time they heard the loud trumpets, each time they beheld the Israelites encircling the city, each time they witnessed the Israelites leaving the city without attacking it. The fear and dread which we've been told they already felt toward Israel and towards Israel's God must have increased a thousandfold during those six days. They must have woken up each morning wondering if the Israelites would come back and whether they would simply encircle the city again or whether this would be the day they began to wage war. They may have sensed that the Israelites were expecting their God to do something huge (for the people of Jericho and many of the people of the promised land had heard how the Lord parted both the Red Sea and the Jordan River) but the people of Jericho had no idea what the Israelites expected God to do. The people of Jericho didn't know if God was really going to do something or when He would do it or how He would do it. They didn't know what direction it was going to come from or what form it was going to take. 

I'd be willing to bet that the citizens of Jericho barely slept a wink that whole week and that the strain of waiting took a very heavy toll on their nerves and on their courage and on their ability to adequately stand up to the invasion when it came. I picture the guards and soldiers standing at the ready twenty-four hours a day, trembling with fatigue and fear, with many of them wishing they could just run away. But the soldiers, along with all the citizens, were held inside the city by the gates they themselves had barred against the enemy. They were as effectively trapped as if the Israelites were laying siege to them. Even while the Israelites slept soundly in their camp, no one from Jericho stepped foot outside the city, though in reality they could have opened the gates and gone running for the hills. But their fear was too great. They were imprisoned by it far more than they are imprisoned by walls and gates.

The heathen idolaters of Jericho are shaking in their boots because, as the Bible says, evildoers are "overwhelmed with dread, for God is present in the company of the righteous". (Psalm 14:15) The Bible says that sometimes evildoers are overwhelmed with dread even when nothing actually happening to them. (Psalm 53:5) The Bible tells us that, "The wicked flee though no one pursues, but the righteous are as bold as a lion." (Proverbs 28:1) The Lord has given the nations of the land of Canaan hundreds---perhaps even a thousand or more---years to repent and turn back to Him. But they have not listened. They have not forsaken their sin and given their hearts and lives to the holy God who created them. Now judgment is at hand and it's coming from the hand of the One whose laws they've broken and it's coming from the hands of the Israelites who have given their hearts and lives to the Lord. But even in the six days before the wrath of God falls on the city of Jericho, and even while their hearts quake with fear, the people of that city do not repent. Had any of them done so, I believe the Lord would have shown them the same mercy He's shown all of us when we repent. He would still have made them subject to Israel, but He would have spared their lives. However, even in this dire situation we don't find them turning from idols to the living God. Therefore, on the seventh day, the wall will fall.

Sunday, September 19, 2021

The Book Of Joshua. Day 11, An Unusual Battle Plan

The Lord provides Joshua with the battle plan for taking over the city of Jericho. It's an unusual battle plan. It's God's plan and I believe if Joshua and the soldiers of Israel had deviated from this plan or had made up their own, they would not have had success. 

"Now the gates of Jericho were securely barred because of the Israelites. No one went out and no one came in." (Joshua 6:1) Earlier in the book of Joshua we found two Israelite spies being able to enter the city through the main gates which were kept open in the daytime. The king and his soldiers know there were two spies in their midst and they know the spies got away. They know the spies wouldn't have been there in the first place if the soldiers of Israel weren't planning to attack. To prevent anyone from sneaking in and beginning the attack from inside the city walls, the gates are now shut. Breaking through the gates or scaling the walls is the only way the people of Jericho can fathom the Israelites being able to enter. But the Lord isn't going to use typical battle strategy. He isn't going to order the Israelites to lay siege to the city until the people surrender due to lack of food and supplies. He isn't going to order the Israelites to beat the gates down or build an earthen ramp against one of the walls so the entire army can rush into the city and overwhelm its soldiers. No, the Lord is going to take down the wall

When the Lord laid out the battle plan, which we'll study in a moment, it must have seemed very unusual to Joshua. Joshua is a man with a talent for military strategy and I'm sure he expected something completely different when the Lord got ready to outline the steps to taking the city of Jericho. But whether or not Joshua clearly understood why the Lord wanted him to do things this way, he obeyed the Lord. He didn't waste time asking why the Lord wanted him to do it this way; he just did it. I wonder how often we've wasted time on the road to victory by asking the Lord why He wants things done a certain way. I don't know about you, but I was a willful and stubborn child who often asked my parents why when they gave me instructions. I didn't always immediately do what they told me to do; I wanted an explanation first. I'm ashamed to have to admit that but it's the truth. I admit I've sometimes been a willful and stubborn child of God too. I've wasted time asking for explanations as to why the Lord wants a particular method used instead of just getting on with doing what the Lord told me to do. Joshua sets a wonderful example of faith for us by immediately getting on with obeying the Lord, no questions asked.

"Then the Lord said to Joshua, 'See, I have delivered Jericho into your hands, along with its king and its fighting men. March around the city once with all the armed men. Do this for six days. Have seven priests carry trumpets of rams' horns in front of the ark. On the seventh day, march around the city seven times, with the priests blowing the trumpets. When you hear them sound a long blast on the trumpets, have the whole army give a loud shout; then the wall of the city will collapse and the army will go up, everyone straight in.'" (Joshua 6:2-5) The wall will fall not by human strength but by the Lord's strength. 

This is the first battle for the promised land and I think if the Lord had given Israel a military strategy only---and not a spiritual strategy also---some of the men may have believed they took the city by their own human strength, by their own human weapons, and by their own human ingenuity. Faith in God is what it's going to take to face and defeat all the armies of the promised land. If the Israelites place their trust in themselves, they will fail. The Israelites are not battle-hardened soldiers with many years of experience like many of the soldiers they'll have to fight. The Israelites have not been trained how to lay siege to fortified cities or how to knock down walls with battering rams; they are primarily an agricultural society. They are going to be outmanned and outgunned, so to speak, when facing down those they must defeat in the promised land. They must not begin thinking they are strong enough to face these enemies alone. They will be defeated if they do. Their trust must be in the power of the Lord their God and this is why the Lord gives them such an unusual battle plan. When the wall falls down before them, they will have to acknowledge that God caused the wall to fall, and they will not be able to take credit for it. 

Joshua gets straight to work carrying out the Lord's instructions. "So Joshua son of Nun called the priests and said to them, 'Take up the ark of the covenant of the Lord and have seven priests carry trumpets in front of it.' And he ordered the army, 'Advance! March around the city, with an armed guard going ahead of the ark of the Lord.'" (Joshua 6:6-7) Did the priests and the soldiers understand this unusual battle plan? Perhaps not, but in tomorrow's study we'll find them doing exactly what Joshua told them to do. They will obey Joshua's orders because they know he's giving these orders on authority of the Lord. They, like Joshua, set a beautiful example of faith for us to follow. And as I said earlier, if the Lord's instructions had not been followed to the letter, I don't believe they would have had the victory. Their victory depends on their trust in Him, and how can a person best demonstrate his or her trust in the Lord? By doing what He says to do, even when the reasons for it are not clear.

Saturday, September 18, 2021

The Book Of Joshua. Day 10, Preparing For The Battle Of Jericho, Part Two

Today we'll be looking at the remainder of Joshua 5. Several major things take place in the rest of this short chapter.

You'll recall from yesterday's study that while the people were still in the first place they camped after crossing the Jordan River, the Lord told Joshua to circumcise all the males who had been born during the wilderness years. Though they're on the west side of the Jordan now (and officially in "enemy" territory), and though they have a battle ahead of them, the Lord didn't tell them to rush in and begin fighting for the promised land. A spiritual matter had to be taken care of first, and this spiritual matter involved the carrying out of the covenant sign the Lord gave to Abraham and all his male descendants. After the men have recovered from their procedure, we are told: "Then the Lord said to Joshua, 'Today I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you.' So the place has been called Gilgal to this day." (Joshua 5:9) 

The word "Gilgal" sounds like the Hebrew word for "roll". What does the Lord mean when He says the reproach of Egypt---of slavery---has been rolled away from the people? I love the way the late Matthew Henry, British author of a six-volume commentary on the Bible, interprets verse 9. "Their circumcision rolled away the reproach of Egypt; they were hereby owned to be the free-born children of God, having the seal of the covenant in their flesh, and so the reproach of their bondage in Egypt was removed." 

We don't know for certain whether the Egyptians branded or tattooed their slaves; many ancient cultures (and some not-so-ancient cultures) did such things to prove their "ownership" of fellow human beings. But whether or not any of the Israelites were marked in the flesh as slaves while they were in Egypt, they certainly must have felt marked: emotionally, mentally, and perhaps spiritually as well. The generation going into the promised land is not the same generation that was under slavery, but the slavery was so recent that they still feel tainted by it. They know Egypt still regards them as escaped slaves. They know many of the cultures in the land of Canaan think of them as the former slaves of the Egyptians. The Lord doesn't want them to think of themselves as the slaves of anyone; He wants them to think of themselves as His covenant people. They need to think of themselves as His covenant people in order to do everything they'll have to do to take hold of the promised land. If they go in feeling like nobodies---like former slaves, like people who were hated, like people who were discriminated against---they will lack the confidence and self-esteem that belongs to the children of God. 

It matters what we think of ourselves. You and I were once slaves to sin but that's not who we are anymore. We have been set free! We must think of ourselves as "the free-born children of God", as Matthew Henry phrased it. The Lord doesn't want us to go through the rest of our lives beating ourselves up over what's in our past. He isn't focused on our past. If the One we sinned against isn't holding our sins against us, what right and authority do we have to hold our sins against ourselves? Are we greater than God? If He has forgiven and redeemed us, are we not utterly and forever forgiven and redeemed? There is no greater authority than Almighty God and if He has set us free from our past then we must not dwell on it. We will not achieve great things for our Lord if we remain mired in regrets over the past. 

Before the Israelites move forward to take the city of Jericho, it's the time of year to observe Passover. "On the evening of the fourteenth day of the month, while camped at Gilgal on the plains of Jericho, the Israelites celebrated the Passover. The day after Passover, that very day, they ate some of the produce of the land: unleavened bread and roasted grain. The manna stopped the day after they ate this food from the land; there was no longer any manna for the Israelites, but that year they ate the produce of Canaan." (Joshua 5:10-12) The manna stopped because it was no longer needed. The Lord provides what we need when we need it. Just as the manna came from the Lord, the produce of the land now comes from the Lord. He uses various means to give us what we need but all of it comes from Him. He is the Creator of all things and everything we have is because of Him. 

Now the battle looms ahead and Joshua begins to approach the city of Jericho. The Lord has arranged a very special meeting because, as we said above, He gives us what we need when we need it. Joshua is taking on the heavy mantle of commander of Israel's army and he needs to know there is a greater Commander than him who is in charge of all things. "Now when Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went up to him and said, 'Are you for us or for our enemies?' 'Neither,' he replied, 'but as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.'" (Joshua 5:13-14a)

Who is this man? Most mainstream Christian Bible scholars believe Joshua is experiencing what is called a "Christophany": one of several appearances of the pre-incarnate Christ in the Old Testament. Some would argue that this man is the archangel Michael, whom we find leading the armies of God in Revelation 12:7, but an argument against drawing this conclusion is that the man will allow Joshua to fall on his knees to worship him later in our text. In the Scriptures we find the angels pointing man's worship to God, not to themselves. In the book of Revelation we find the Apostle John being told not to fall down before them in reverence. John is so overwhelmed by all that he sees and hears in Revelation that his response is to fall on his knees before angels but he is told, "Don't do that!...Worship God!" (Revelation 22:9) Another argument against this man being Michael is that he is not the only one in the Scriptures whom we find leading the armies of the Lord. In Revelation we find Jesus Himself leading the armies of the Lord in the final battle of the ages. The Lord Jesus is the One who defeats Satan and the fallen angels. The Lord Jesus is the One who puts an end to all rebellion against God. 

"Then Joshua fell facedown to the ground in reverence, and asked him, 'What message does my Lord have for His servant?' The commander of the Lord's army replied, 'Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy.' And Joshua did so." (Joshua 5:14b-15) Here we have further proof that this is the Lord speaking with Joshua. The presence of an angel does not make the ground holy but the presence of the Lord does. I believe we would all agree that the One who spoke to Moses from the midst of the burning bush, telling him to remove his sandals because he was standing on holy ground, was the Lord. The One speaking to Joshua, telling him to remove his sandals because he is standing on holy ground, is also the Lord. Joshua has a monumental task ahead of him and he needs one more reassurance before he goes into battle that the One who spoke from the burning bush and commissioned Moses to bring the Israelites out of Egypt is going to help Joshua take the Israelites into the promised land. The same God who went with Moses to Egypt is going into Canaan with Joshua. The same God who performed miracles in Egypt will perform miracles in Canaan. The same God who defeated a mighty nation like Egypt will defeat the nations of Canaan. 

The same God who did great things for the men and women on the pages of the Bible is the same God who will do great things for you and for me. He has not changed. The people in the Bible were ordinary human beings like us but they experienced extraordinary things because they placed their faith in God. They believed He could do what He said He could do. The same power that was at work on their behalf is at work on behalf of all of us today who believe in the Lord God of Israel. He has not lost one ounce of His power. He still makes a way even when it looks like there is no way. He still provides our needs. He still gives victories when to human eyes the situation looks hopeless. He still performs miracles. 

Friday, September 17, 2021

The Book Of Joshua. Day 9, Preparing For The Battle Of Jericho, Part One

Several things must take place before the Israelites make their assault on the city of Jericho.

First the Lord ensures that the Amorites and Canaanites don't come against the Israelites at this time. He strikes them with fear when they hear of how He made a way for the Israelites through the Jordan River. "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 they had crossed over, their hearts melted in fear and they no longer had the courage to face the Israelites." (Joshua 5:1) 

The Israelites already defeated two Amorite kings east of the Jordan but the Amorite kings west of the Jordan were evidently gearing up to fight against them, as were the Canaanite kings. Had they all joined forces and marched out together as the Israelites were getting ready to attack Jericho, they would have formed a very formidable army. But now, having heard how the Lord held the waters of the Jordan back during flood stage so His people could cross over, they're shaking in their boots. They decide to stay home and not march out against the army of Israel. 

Having taken care of this matter, the Lord prepares His people to move forward. During the wilderness years, the male children born to the Israelites had not undergone the ritual of circumcision which the Lord gave to Abraham as a sign of being consecrated to the Lord. This sign reminded Israelite males that they were in covenant with the Lord and that they must honor Him with obedience to His laws and commandments. All the males born during the forty years in the wilderness must be consecrated to the Lord before they begin taking over the promised land. This consecrating of the body aids in the consecrating of the mind and heart. They are going forward as the Lord's people---as people who are different from all the other nations---and this is something they must keep in mind at all times. "At that time the Lord said to Joshua: 'Make flint knives and circumcise the Israelites again.' So Joshua made flint knives and circumcised the Israelites at Gibeath Haaraloth." (Joshua 5:2-3) 

The following verses are where we receive the information that the ritual of circumcision had not been carried out during the forty years since Israel left Egypt. "Now this is why he did so: All those who came out of Egypt---all the men of military age---died in the wilderness on the way after leaving Egypt. All the people that came out had been circumcised, but all the people born in the wilderness during the journey from Egypt had not. The Israelites had moved about in the wilderness 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 He had solemnly promised their ancestors to give us, a land flowing with milk and honey. So He raised up their sons in their place, and these were the ones Joshua circumcised. They were still uncircumcised because they had not been circumcised on the way. And after the whole nation had been circumcised, they remained where they were in camp until they were healed." (Joshua 5:4-8) 

The need to heal in the camp is probably another reason why the Lord struck the Amorites and Canaanites with such fear right after the Israelites crossed the Jordan: the men of Israel are at a disadvantage at the moment. Should their enemies take advantage of this situation, the Israelite soldiers would not be as fierce in the fight as they would normally be. The Lord made certain no one would bother them while they heal from their procedures.

The Lord knows when we are too weak to stand up to an enemy. He is able to hold the enemy back while we regain our physical, emotional, or spiritual strength. Sometimes He allows trials and temptations to come our way in order to build our spiritual muscle, but He carefully orchestrates these experiences at the right times and in the right ways. He knows how much is too much for us to deal with. He doesn't want us buckling under the strain. This is why the Apostle Paul said, "God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can endure it." (1 Corinthians 10:13b) The Lord won't allow any situation to go on one second longer than it needs to go on in order to accomplish His purpose for it. 

Tomorrow we'll study the second half of Joshua 5 in which two more things take place prior to the battle of Jericho. The Israelites will observe Passover and then Joshua will encounter a person who declares himself to be the commander of the Lord's army. We will discuss why this is considered one of several appearances of the pre-incarnate Christ in the Old Testament.  

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

The Book Of Joshua. Day 8, The River Crossing Completed

In yesterday's passage Joshua directed twelve of the men to remove twelve stones from the middle of the Jordan after all the people but the priests had crossed over. The priests have been standing in the middle of the riverbed, holding the ark of the covenant, while the entire congregation went through on dry ground. Today the priests are told to come out of the water and the Jordan begins to flow again.

"Now the priests who carried the ark remained standing in the middle of the Jordan until everything the Lord had commanded Joshua was done by the people, just as Moses had directed Joshua. The people hurried over, and as soon as all of them had crossed, the ark of the Lord and the priests came to the other side while the people watched." (Joshua 4:10-11) We don't know the number of the Israelites at this time but earlier in the Old Testament it was estimated by many scholars that the congregation numbered as many as two million while they were in the wilderness. We know they had over 600,000 men of fighting age (they had to be at least twenty) who were physically qualified to be soldiers. This count doesn't include men aged 18-19 or men with physical issues that excluded them from military service. It also doesn't include women or children. I think at least two million may have crossed the Jordan, possibly more, since we don't know how many children were born during the wilderness years. 

As promised, the Reubenites, the Gadites, and the half-tribe of Manasseh who had already claimed their land on the other side of the Jordan crossed the river ahead of the other tribes to help them fight for the promised land. "The men of Reuben, Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh crossed over, ready for battle, in front of the Israelites, as Moses had directed them. About forty thousand armed for battle crossed over before the Lord to the plains of Jericho for war." (Joshua 4:12-13) 

The Lord promised Joshua that He would cause the people to esteem him greatly so they will follow his commands. He fulfills this promise on the day of the Jordan River crossing. "That day the Lord exalted Joshua in the sight of all Israel; and they stood in awe of him all the days of his life, just as they had stood in awe of Moses." (Joshua 4:14) The Lord's intention is not that the congregation would worship Joshua but that they would give him the respect and attention due him as the Lord's chosen leader. During Moses' administration the Lord performed many miracles to prove that Moses was His chosen leader. Now that same power is going to be with Joshua. In the New Testament we find the apostles performing miracles and these miracles served as signs that their testimony about Jesus Christ was true. The miracles that accompanied their words proved the validity of their testimony. The same thing is happening here in the Old Testament. The miracles are a sign that Joshua is speaking on behalf of the Lord and that the people can trust and obey his instructions.

We were told earlier in today's passage that the priests crossed over last but now this information is repeated in more detail. "Then the Lord said to Joshua, 'Command the priests carrying the ark of the covenant law to come up out of the Jordan.' So Joshua commanded the priests, 'Come up out of the Jordan.' And the priests came up out of the river carrying the ark of the covenant of the Lord. No sooner had they set their feet on the dry ground than the waters of the Jordan returned to their place and ran at flood stage as before." (Joshua 4:15-18) 

Just as the Lord caused the Red Sea to come back together after the Israelites crossed over, He allows the Jordan River to begin flowing again just as soon as the people have crossed over. There is really no logical way the people can explain either of these events without accepting that they were miracles. If the Lord had left the Red Sea open for days, or if He had left the Jordan River stopped long after the people crossed over, they might have begun to doubt later on whether the Lord's hand was in these events. But the fact that He parted the waters at the very moment they needed to start crossing, and the fact that He put the waters back into their normal state just as soon as the people took their last step through, cannot be explained away as a coincidence. I've noticed in my own life that the Lord frequently arranges for the answers to my prayers to come through in such a way that I can't explain them as coincidences. He arranges things so I can't believe I solved my problem on my own or so I can't give someone else the credit for the solution to my problems. The only thing I can say is, "God did this!" 

In yesterday's passage we were told that the twelve stones taken out of the Jordan were to be set up at the place they would camp. Today we learn that this was at a place called Gilgal. "On the tenth day of the first month the people went up from the Jordan and camped at Gilgal on the eastern border of Jericho. And Joshua set up at Gilgal the twelve stones they had taken out of the Jordan. He said to the Israelites, 'In the future when your descendants ask their parents, 'What do these stones mean?' tell them, 'Israel crossed the Jordan on dry ground.' For the Lord your God dried up the Jordan before you until you had crossed over. The Lord your God did to the Jordan what He had done to the Red Sea when He dried it up before us until we had crossed over. He did this so that all the peoples of the earth might know that the hand of the Lord is powerful and so that you might always fear the Lord your God." (Joshua 4:19-24)

It's important for our spiritual health to regularly think back on all the ways the Lord has delivered us. This helps us pray with confidence about the cares and problems of today. The same God who parted the Red Sea parted the Jordan River forty years later and the same God who turned your circumstances around in the past is still just as powerful to move on your behalf as He ever was. He hasn't lost any of His strength. His love for you has not faded. His mercies haven't run out. The God who heard your prayers at five years old or at twenty-five years old or at fifty years old is still hearing them today and will continue to hear them in the future. The Lord acts on behalf of those who love Him---on behalf of those who lay their requests before Him and wait expectantly for Him to take action. (Isaiah 64:4b, Psalm 5:3) 

I heard a new song the other day and immediately fell in love with it and have added it to the playlist on my phone. It talks about how God is still the same as He ever was. It reminds us He hasn't broken any of His promises or run out of kindness and mercy toward us. It assures us that He hasn't lost any of His power and never will. I'm including a link to the song below and I hope it will be a blessing to you like it has been to me.

My God Is Still The Same

Monday, September 13, 2021

The Book Of Joshua. Day 7, A Monument To Commemorate The Jordan River Crossing

After the entire nation of Israel crosses the Jordan into the promised land, the Lord instructs Joshua to have twelve men remove twelve stones from the middle of the river to build a monument to commemorate this miraculous crossing. 

You'll recall that the priests stepped forward first and that the water stopped flowing as soon as their feet touched it. The Lord made a way through the Jordan River just as He made a way through the Red Sea. While the whole congregation was passing over with all their belongings and livestock, the priests stood in the middle of the riverbed holding the ark on its poles. This is the spot where the men are to gather the rocks.

"When the whole nation had finished crossing the Jordan, the Lord said to Joshua, 'Choose twelve men from among the people, one from each tribe, and tell them to take up twelve stones from the middle of the Jordan, from right where the priests are standing, and carry them over with you and put them down at the place where you will stay tonight.'" (Joshua 4:1-3) In Chapter 3 Joshua told the people to choose one man from each tribe but he didn't specify what these twelve men were going to do. We could assume that each of these men walked at the head of their tribe and led their people across the Jordan, and that may be the case, but I also think the twelve men chosen in Chapter 3 are the same twelve men who take up stones in Chapter 4. 

"So Joshua called together the twelve men he had appointed from the Israelites, one from each tribe, and said to them, 'Go over before the ark of the Lord your God into the middle of the Jordan. Each of you is to take up a stone on his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the Israelites, to serve as a sign among you.'" (Joshua 4:4-6a) The word translated into English as "sign" means in the original language: "beacon, monument, remembrance, token, proof". The Israelites have many battles ahead of them in the promised land. Even if they didn't, life isn't a bed of roses all the time for anyone living in this fallen world. The people will face challenges. They will come upon problems that to human eyes will look as impassible as the Jordan River looked at flood stage. But the Lord made a way through the Jordan River at flood stage and the Lord is able to make a way through any obstacle. The monument made of stones taken from the middle of the Jordan will serve as proof that the Lord is a miracle-working God. When facing a challenge they can look back to this monument and say, "Here is the proof that God did what is impossible for man. We could not have obtained these stones if He had not parted the waters and led us through on dry ground. He performed a miracle on our behalf and He is still the same God today that He was then."

It helps when we're facing a new problem to think back on the problems the Lord has solved for us in the past. How many times did your circumstances look impossible? Were you discouraged by them? Were you depressed over them? Did you despair of them working out in a favorable way? But then God stepped in and turned your situation around. He worked things out so you were actually better off after you'd been through the hard time than you were before you went through it. I went through a season that lasted several years where there was barely enough light on the path ahead for me to keep putting one foot in front of the other. I felt hemmed in on every side. I couldn't see a way that any of the problems that had come against me could be worked out in my favor. But at the very right moment and in the very right way, God stepped in and every obstacle in my path suddenly started falling down one after another like a row of standing dominoes. Situations that by human efforts should have taken years to clear up were solved within a matter of months. The Lord had lined up people and resources and circumstances in such a way that when the day came that He intended to part the waters for me, everything was already in place to turn my situation around so miraculously and so swiftly that there was no way on earth I could say anything except, "God did this!" 

That's what the Lord intends the Israelites to say whenever they view the monument they're setting up in Chapter 4. "In the future, when your children ask you, 'What do these mean?' tell them that the flow of the Jordan was cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever." (Joshua 4:6b-7) 

"So the Israelites did as Joshua commanded them. They took twelve stones from the middle of the Jordan, according to the number of the tribes of the Israelites, as the Lord had told Joshua; and they carried them over with them to their camp, where they put them down. Joshua set up the twelve stones that had been in the middle of the Jordan at the spot where the priests who carried the ark of the covenant had stood. And they are there to this day." (Joshua 4:8-9)

The stones of this monument are to serve as a visual reminder of the miracle the Lord did on their behalf. The monument would not be there if the Lord had not parted the Jordan River. The stones would have been forever hidden and forever inaccessible if He had not drawn the waters back from them. The power of God will be undeniable when they gaze upon these stones. They can't help but feel encouraged in the future, no matter what comes their way, when they view this monument and think about what the Lord did on their behalf on the day He led them across the Jordan. They will take heart knowing that the God who did big things in the past is still ready, willing, and able to do big things today and in the future.