Thursday, September 30, 2021

The Book Of Joshua. Day 21, Renewing The Covenant At Mount Ebal

In Deuteronomy 27 the Lord commanded the Israelites to set up an altar at Mount Ebal after they arrived in the promised land. The words of the law were to be written on plaster covering the altar stones and the people were to making offerings there, eating and rejoicing together. In today's passage Joshua fulfills this commandment.

"Then Joshua built on Mount Ebal an altar to the Lord, the God of Israel, as Moses the servant of the Lord had commanded the Israelites. He built it according to what is written in the Book of the Law of Moses---an altar of uncut stones, on which no iron tool had been used. On it they offered to the Lord burnt offerings and sacrificed fellowship offerings." (Joshua 8:30-31) Moses had said no tools must be used on the stones---the stones were to be used just as the Lord made them, with no attempts by man to "improve" upon their shape. When we studied Deuteronomy we talked about how we must approach and worship the Lord in His way. He offered the First Covenant and set the terms of it; there was nothing man could do to improve upon it. Man's duty was to obey it exactly as it was written. The Lord also offered the New Covenant and set the terms of it; there is nothing we can do to improve upon what God the Son has already done for us. Our duty is to believe on Him and trust that what He did for us saves us to the uttermost.

Just as he was told, Joshua writes the words of the covenant on the altar stones which he has covered with plaster as Moses instructed in Deuteronomy 27:4. "There, in the presence of the Israelites, Joshua wrote on stones a copy of the law of Moses." (Joshua 8:32) It is important to read the word of God over and over throughout our lives. The word of God is to be so much a part of our lives that even while we're doing other things we are to think about it and talk about it. "These commandments I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates." (Deuteronomy 6:6-9) In other words, wherever we go and whatever we do, our identity is that we are the children of God. Our primary duty is to honor and serve Him. If we read and meditate upon His word, it will sink down deep into our hearts and help us to make choices that bring glory to the name of our God.

"All the Israelites, with their elders, officials and judges, were standing on both sides of the ark of the covenant of the Lord, facing the Levitical priests who carried it. Both the foreigners living among them and the native-born were there. Half the people stood in front of Mount Gerizim and half of them in front of Mount Ebal, as Moses the servant of the Lord had formerly commanded when he gave instructions to bless the people of Israel." (Joshua 8:33) Moses said the tribes of Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Joseph and Benjamin were to stand at Mount Gerizim and that the tribes of Reuben, Gad, Asher, Zebulun, Dan and Naphtali were to stand at Mount Ebal. (Deuteronomy 27:12-13) 

After the altar has been set up and the offerings made on it and the words of the law written on it, the law is read to the people. Moses had said that the blessings promised for keeping the law were to be read to the people and that the curses for breaking the law were to be read to the people. These things are done at this time. "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 foreigners who lived among them." (Joshua 8:34-35) The details for this solemn assembly were described in Deuteronomy 27 and 28 if you'd like to go back and take another look at them. Those chapters contain the blessings and the curses, and as we noted when we studied Deuteronomy, the Lord spent more time discussing the curses than the blessings in order to imprint upon their minds how important it is to obey His holy word. 

The Lord didn't promise the Israelites that life in the promised land would be perfect. Life in this fallen world isn't perfect for anyone. For proof of that we only have to take a look at the life of Jesus Christ. He lived a perfect, sinless life and kept every law of the Lord but still endured a great deal of hardship and pain on this earth. The Lord didn't promise the Israelites that if they stayed faithful to Him there would never be any difficult days. But He did promise them the power and peace of His presence. He did promise to protect their nation and cause it to prosper. He did promise to supply all their needs. 

If you and I remain faithful to the Lord, we will still have difficult days on this earth because we are living on a planet polluted by sin and we live among people who don't love the Lord and who don't follow His precepts. But to the faithful the Lord shows Himself faithful. (Psalm 18:25, 2 Samuel 22:26) He will be with us on our good days and on our bad days. As the lyrics of one of my favorite worship songs go ("Graves Into Gardens" by Elevation Worship), "The God of the mountain is the God of the valley, and there's not a place Your mercy and grace won't find me again." Whether everything is going exactly as we want and we're shouting His praises from the mountaintop or whether we're having a tough time and feel like we're down in the valley, our God is with us. He will uphold us with His righteous right hand. (Isaiah 41:10) He will supply our needs. (Philippians 4:19) He will speak peace to our hearts. (Isaiah 26:3) As long as we live on this earth we will encounter trials and tribulations, but the One who has overcome the world is with us and is for us. (John 16:33) There is nothing we cannot overcome through Him.

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

The Book Of Joshua. Day 20, Victory On The Second Try

The Israelites are going to be successful taking the city of Ai on their second try. The Lord always intended this blessing for them but not til they were all in the right spirit. As we learned earlier in our study of the book of Joshua, an Israelite soldier named Achan disobeyed the Lord and took for himself items from the idolatrous city of Jericho. With the approval of his household members, he hid the items under his tent floor. Because of this sin in the camp, the Lord allowed Israel to lose the battle on their first attempt to take Ai, but now the situation has been dealt with and everyone is of the same mind: they will not disobey the Lord. 

The Lord gave Joshua a plan for taking Ai and Joshua laid out these instructions for the men to follow. After telling thirty thousand men where to set up their ambush behind Ai, the Bible says, "Then Joshua sent them off, and they went to the place of ambush and lay in wait between Bethel and Ai, to the west of Ai---but Joshua spent the night with the people." (Joshua 8:9) We were told in yesterday's passage that these thirty thousand men were the best fighting men in the army. They are so fierce in body and in spirit that they don't need the visible presence of Joshua with them during the night. But the rest of the soldiers and their families need the comfort of Joshua's presence among them so he spends the night in camp with them.

"Early the next morning Joshua mustered his army, and he and the leaders of Israel marched before them to Ai. The entire force that was with him marched up and approached the city and arrived in front of it. They set up camp north of Ai, with the valley between them and the city. Joshua had taken about five thousand men and set them in ambush between Bethel and Ai, to the west of the city. So the soldiers took up their positions---with the main camp to the north of the city and the ambush to the west of tit. That night Joshua went into the valley." (Joshua 8:10-13) The majority of Joshua's troops are camped with him but he has five thousand stationed between Bethel and Ai and thirty thousand stationed behind Ai. He's setting a trap and at the proper moment he will close it upon the pursuing soldiers of Ai.

Just as the Lord said it would happen, when the men of Ai realize Joshua and his troops are coming toward the city, they all go out to fight them. "When the king of Ai saw this, he and all the men of the city hurried out early in the morning to meet Israel in battle at a certain place overlooking the Arabah. Joshua and all Israel let themselves be driven back before them, and they fled toward the wilderness. All the men of Ai were called to pursue them, and they pursued Joshua and were lured away from the city. Not a man remained in Ai or Bethel who did not go after Israel. They left the city open and went in pursuit of Israel." (Joshua 8:14-17) This is exactly what the Lord said the men of Ai would do. This is why it was so important for Israel to follow His instructions to the letter. 

"Then the Lord said to Joshua, 'Hold out toward Ai the javelin that is in your hand, for into your hand I will deliver the city.' So Joshua held out toward the city the javelin that was in his hand. As soon as he did this, the men in the ambush rose quickly from their position and rushed forward. They entered the city and captured it and quickly set it on fire." (Joshua 8:18-19) Many scholars believe the holding out of the javelin was a prearranged sign---that while giving the battle plan the Lord commanded Joshua to wait for the moment when He would tell him to hold out the javelin and that would be the sign that it was time for the men to rush into the city. From Joshua's vantage point he could tell whether all the men of Ai had rushed out of the city, but the men in ambush behind the city could not see the men of Ai pouring out of its front gates. 

When the thirty thousand men enter the unprotected city, I imagine the citizens simply surrendered. Those remaining in the city would have been women, children, and men too old or too physically infirm to fight. As soon as this takes place the Israelite soldiers set a fire. Since the Lord previously told them they would be able to plunder the city, it goes without saying that these soldiers are not burning up valuable items. They probably kindled a bonfire in the city square. The smoke rising from this fire will be the sign that the remainder of Israel's troops are to attack Ai's troops. The trap Israel set for the soldiers of Ai is about to snap shut. "The men of Ai looked back and saw the smoke of the city rising up into the sky, but they had no chance to escape in any direction; the Israelites who had been fleeing toward the wilderness had turned back against their pursuers. For when Joshua and all Israel saw that the ambush had taken the city and that smoke was going up from it, they turned around and attacked the men of Ai. Those in ambush also came out of the city against them, so that they were caught in the middle, with Israelites on both sides. Israel cut them down, leaving them neither survivors nor fugitives. But they took the king of Ai alive and brought him to Joshua." (Joshua 8:20-23)

"When Israel had finished killing all the men of Ai in the fields and in the wilderness where they had chased them, and when every one of them had been put to the sword, all the Israelites returned to Ai and killed all those who were in it. Twelve thousand men and women fell that day---all the people of Ai. For Joshua did not draw back the hand that held out his javelin until he had destroyed all who lived in Ai. But Israel did carry off for themselves the livestock and plunder of this city, as the Lord had instructed Joshua." (Joshua 8:24-27) Just as at Jericho, the Israelites kill all the citizens of Ai. But unlike with Jericho, the Israelites are allowed to carry away plunder for themselves. Earlier in the Old Testament we discussed in detail how and why the Lord commanded the destruction of the wicked, idolatrous cities of the promised land and their citizens so we will not go back over the moral/spiritual justification for the Lord's instructions again today. 

"So Joshua burned Ai and made it a permanent heap of ruins, a desolate place to this day. He impaled the body of the king of Ai on a pole and left it there until evening. At sunset, Joshua ordered them to take the body from the pole and throw it down at the entrance to the city gate. And they raised a large pile of rocks over it, which remains to this day." (Joshua 8:28-29) The king was not impaled on the pole while still alive. We know this because, for one thing, the Bible says "the body of the king of Ai" was impaled on a pole. The phrasing indicates he was already dead. When we get to Chapter 10 we'll find Joshua putting some kings to death and then hanging their bodies on poles. Displaying the body of a vanquished enemy like this was common in ancient times but it was not customary to hang a person on a pole while still alive. The Israelites weren't in the business of torturing people; they were simply making a public statement that the enemy was vanquished. It was also a sign to the other heathen nations surrounding the defeated city of Ai that the God of Israel is powerful and that the army of Israel is powerful and that no one should attempt to stand against soldiers who love and serve the Lord.

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

The Book Of Joshua. Day 19, The Battle Plan For Taking The City Of Ai

In yesterday's study we found the Lord instructing Joshua to take the whole army of Israel to Ai this time. Previously Joshua only sent three thousand men because that should have been enough to conquer the number of soldiers Ai had at its disposal. But there was sin in the camp of Israel and the Lord allowed the Israelites to be defeated so He could deal with the problem. Now that the matter has been taken care of, the Lord gives Israel's army a do-over by sending the soldiers back to Ai. This time He wants the whole army to go. The whole army---even those who did not go up against Ai the first time---feels discouraged. The whole army is saddened by the loss of thirty-six men in the first battle. The whole army is saddened by the sin that took place at Jericho which led to defeat at Ai. The Lord is going to encourage every fighting man of Israel by allowing every one of them to take part in the assault on the city of Ai.

"So Joshua and the whole army moved out to attack Ai. He chose thirty thousand of his best fighting men and sent them out at night with these orders: 'Listen carefully. You are to set an ambush behind the city.'" (Joshua 8:3-4a) In yesterday's passage the Lord, the commander-in-chief of Israel's army, instructed Joshua to set an ambush behind the city. Joshua carries out the Lord's instructions to the letter. He takes the whole army out but he sends his fiercest warriors to set up the ambush.

Joshua continues, "Don't go very far from it. All of you be on the alert. I and all those with me will advance on the city, and when the men come out against us, as they did before, we will flee from them." (Joshua 8:4b-5) Joshua and the men with him will march toward the front gates of the city. When the soldiers of Ai see them approaching, they will arm themselves for battle and come out to face the Israelites. The Israelites are going to pretend to be afraid of them and will take off running. 

Joshua explains that Israel is setting a trap for the army of Ai. "They will pursue us until we have lured them away from the city, for they will say, 'They are running away from us as they did before.' So when we flee from them, you are to rise up from ambush and take the city. The Lord your God will give it into your hand. When you have taken the city, set it on fire. Do what the Lord has commanded. See to it; you have my orders." (Joshua 8:6-8)

The soldiers of Ai will be overconfident because they routed Israel the first time. The men of Ai also don't know exactly how many soldiers Israel has. Joshua only sent three thousand men the first time, and although Ai's soldiers can see that more than three thousand men are approaching their front gates on this second excursion, they don't suspect that thirty thousand more Israelite soldiers are stationed behind the city. All the armed men of Ai will take off after the fleeing Israelites and will leave their city open to invasion. In tomorrow's account of the battle we'll be told that "not a man remained in Ai" who did not go out in pursuit of Israel.

The Lord knows this is how the men of Ai will behave and that's why His battle plan will work. It's always best to follow the Lord's plans because He knows exactly how everyone involved is going to think or behave. He knows exactly how every detail of every circumstance is going to go. The plans we make for ourselves often look perfect to our eyes but they may lead to disaster. An opportunity that looks great today can reveal itself to be a huge mistake later on. That's why the wise King Solomon tells us to make all our decisions by this method: "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to Him, and He will make your paths straight." (Proverbs 3:5-6) We must trust the Lord's instructions even when they don't make sense to us. We must trust the Lord's instructions even when we like our own idea more than we like His. Solomon was the wisest man on earth, according to the Bible, but he was just a man---just a human being like everyone else. That's why he understood the human mind and the human tendency to "lean on your own understanding". But human understanding isn't perfect. The human mind isn't capable of seeing many years into the future. The Lord's understanding is perfect and He knows everything that will ever happen. That's why we must submit to His authority when He says, "Don't go that way!," even when that's the very way we want to go. We must submit to His authority when He says, "Go this way!", when it's a way that doesn't make sense to us. 

Joshua received the battle plan for taking the city of Ai from the Lord. That's why, when he passed the orders along to his soldiers, he said in verse 8 of our text today, "Do what the Lord has commanded. See to it; you have my orders." If the men will do what the Lord says to do, victory is guaranteed. The only way they can lose this battle is if they disobey the Lord. In tomorrow's study we'll find them following the Lord's instructions and taking the city.

Monday, September 27, 2021

The Book Of Joshua. Day 18, The Israelites Told To Attack Ai Again

Israel experienced defeat the first time they went up against the city of Ai because Achan stole some of the devoted things from Jericho. But now that incident has been dealt with and the Lord gives the Israelites a do-over.

We've all messed up from time to time but the Lord doesn't want us mired in the past. If we've repented to Him, He wants us to move on. The Lord knows the people are discouraged by their previous defeat, and because He does not want them mired in the past, He encourages them before the battle. "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. You shall do to Ai and its king as you did to Jericho and its king, except that you may carry off their plunder and livestock for yourselves. Set an ambush behind the city.'" (Joshua 8:1-2) 

The people were not allowed to plunder anything from Jericho when they destroyed it; only the items intended for the Lord's treasury were removed from the city. We might say that the city of Jericho was something like a firstfruits offering to the Lord. It was the first city in the promised land that the Lord gave over to Israel's army. He made the wall fall down so they could rush into the city and He deserved the credit for their victory. Allowing the soldiers to plunder the first city they destroyed on this side of the Jordan might have resulted in a self-congratulatory spirit. Burning all the items except the precious metals for the Lord's treasury resulted in a thankful spirit. It was like saying, "Lord, we owe it all to You." It was also like saying, "I ask nothing for myself. I want all the glory and honor to go to the Lord." It made the statement, "I'd rather have the Lord in my life than anything this world can offer me." 

Now that the people (with the exception of the sinful Achan) have offered the firstfruits to the Lord, they are allowed to plunder Ai when they conquer it. If only Achan had exercised some self-control at Jericho he could have had much plunder at Ai! But he had no desire to deny himself for a season in order to give glory to God. He put himself ahead of God and when we put ourselves ahead of God we start doing carnal things. We start going our own way, ignoring the guidance of the Holy Spirit and allowing ourselves to be led by sinful desires.

"So Joshua and the whole army moved out to attack Ai." (Joshua 8:3a) As I said when studying our previous chapter, some have criticized Joshua for only sending a small portion of the army against Ai the first time. But based on the number of Ai's soldiers according to the Israelite spies, the three thousand men Joshua sent should have been enough. And they would have been enough had there not been sin in the camp of Israel. I don't think Joshua did wrong in only sending three thousand men the first time; that is not the reason Israel was defeated. But the Lord instructs Joshua to send the whole army the second time Israel goes against Ai and I feel the reason for this is so all the soldiers of Israel can regain their confidence. They've suffered a shocking and discouraging defeat. They feel a sense of national shame for what their fellow citizen Achan did. They're mourning the deaths of thirty-six soldiers who were struck down in the first battle. It's important for them all to participate in the successful taking of Ai. They could have conquered Ai with fewer men, militarily speaking, but from a spiritual and emotional standpoint they all need to participate in this fight so they can all participate in the victory. 

When we fall into sin and realize our mistake and repent of it, what's to be gained by continuing to lie there in the dust? Nothing. The Lord wants to pick us up, dust us off, and send us forward with encouraging words. If we are feeling ashamed and beaten down by the things in our past---things we've already repented of---it's because we are putting ourselves down. The Lord isn't bringing our past up to us. He doesn't keep pointing at it and saying, "Remember what you did back there?" He does for us what He does for Israel in our passage today: He puts us back on the right path and points us toward the future. It doesn't honor the One who forgave us for our sins when we don't allow ourselves to get past our past. We can't be effective soldiers for the Lord if we can't stop thinking about defeats we experienced way back yonder somewhere. The Lord doesn't dwell on the past and neither should we. The Israelites are going to be successful on their second foray to Ai and that's because they are going to put the past behind them and move forward with the Lord.

Sunday, September 26, 2021

The Book Of Joshua. Day 17, Achan's Sin And The Defeat At Ai, Part Four

Today we conclude Chapter 7 which contains the account of Achan's sin and the defeat of Israel's soldiers at Ai.

You'll recall that the Lord specifically said that no one was to take anything from the city of Jericho except those items intended for the Lord's treasury (the silver, gold, bronze, and iron). But an Israelite soldier named Achan took for himself some of the items of precious metals along with a robe. In taking the metal items he was stealing from the Lord. In taking the robe he committed a sin of covetousness and possibly also a sin of idolatry since we will see in a moment that upon sight of the robe he instantly knew it was manufactured in Babylonia (Shinar, the location of the Tower of Babel where mankind carried out the first organized rebellion against God). Something about the robe told Achan its origin and it's likely because whatever was embroidered on it clearly marked its origin: perhaps images of the gods the Babylonians believed in. Above all, what Achan did was deliberately and with malice aforethought disobey a direct order from Almighty God, putting Israel in jeopardy as they engaged the nations of the promised land in battle and causing the death of thirty-six of his fellow Israelite soldiers. 

In our last study session the Lord provided a way to reveal the identity of the wrongdoer in the sight of the entire congregation. Achan did not intend to come forward and admit his sin. The entire congregation deserved to know who caused their defeat at Ai and who caused thirty-six men to lose their lives. The entire congregation deserved to know who caused a number of Israelite women to become widows and who caused a number of Israelite children to become fatherless. When Achan's identity was revealed, Joshua urged him to confess his sin. That's where we pick up today.

"Achan replied, 'It is true! I have sinned against the Lord, the God of Israel. This is what I have done: When I saw in the plunder a beautiful robe from Babylonia, two hundred shekels of silver and a bar 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 7:20-21) To put this into perspective, at today's prices he took $1838 worth of silver and $35,860 worth of gold! Silver and gold weren't worth as much in Achan's day but things didn't cost as much in Achan's day either. So we see he took a lot of money that was intended to go into the Lord's treasury. The priests and their families relied on offerings brought to the Lord's house; the priests made their living from their work, as it should be, just like our church pastors today are paid a salary for full time ministry. The poor were helped out of the Lord's treasury. Widows orphans, and foreigners had their needs supplied out of the Lord's treasury. When Achan took the silver and gold he not only stole from the Lord but he stole from his fellow man. It could legitimately be said that he took food out of people's mouths and clothing from people's backs and shelter from over people's heads.

The Lord told Joshua that He would not go out with Israel's army until this situation was corrected, so as soon as Joshua learns the location of the loot he sends men to retrieve it. "So Joshua sent messengers, and they ran to the tent, and there it was, hidden in his tent, with the silver underneath. They took the things from the tent, brought them to Joshua and all the Israelites and spread them out before the Lord." (Joshua 7:22-23) The items speak for themselves. They testify against Achan at his trial. They are displayed in the sight of all Israel and in the sight of the Lord so that no one can ever claim the evidence was not presented at Achan's trial. No one related to Achan, who might be offended by his fate, can ever say that the Lord passed sentence on him without proof. 

The sentence is to be death, as we learned earlier in our chapter. Achan will lose his life and so will the family members who lived in the tent with him. He could not have dug up the ground inside the tent and buried the items without his family members knowing about it. Yet no one objected to the presence of the items. No one was appalled enough by this sin to take the items and turn them in to Joshua. It is generally believed that Achan's family members were in agreement with him or else the Lord would not have sentenced them all to death. As we read the next section we must keep in mind that whenever the Bible says "sons and daughters" or "children" it does not have to mean minor children. Just as parents still refer to their grown offspring as "my sons and daughters" or "my children", I believe the sons and daughters of Achan were of an age to be held accountable for harboring the stolen items. "Then Joshua, together with all Israel, took Achan son of Zerah, the silver, the robe, the gold bar, his sons and daughters, his cattle, donkeys and sheep, his tent and all that he had, to the Valley of Achor. Joshua said, 'Why have you brought this trouble on us? The Lord will bring trouble on you today.' Then all Israel stoned him, and after they had stoned the rest, they burned them." (Joshua 7:24-25)

No mention is made of Achan's wife and that's likely because he was a widower, which lends further credence to the theory that his children were grown. Achan was apparently younger than Joshua since Joshua took on a fatherly attitude with him earlier in our chapter (Joshua was about eighty when Israel entered the promised land), but that doesn't mean Achan was a young father with small children. His wife had probably predeceased him and their grown children were still living in the household with him and were of the same greedy mind as he was when it came to the things he plundered from Jericho. Another theory is that his wife was still living but was not complicit in his sin but that, because she lived in a patriarchal society where she was under the authority of her husband, she was not in a position to object to what he'd done or report his sin to Joshua. Whatever the case, no wife was put to death along with Achan and his adult sons and daughters. 

"Over Achan they heaped up a large pile of rocks, which remains to this day. Then the Lord turned from His fierce anger. Therefore that place has been called the Valley of Achor ever since." (Joshua 7:26) The word "Achor" means "trouble". Achan's actions brought trouble on his nation and on his own family. That's because sin doesn't affect only the one who commits it. We've all had trouble brought on us by other people's sins. We've suffered because of other people's poor decisions. We are all living in this world together and the things we do are capable of hurting other people. But on the positive side, the good things we do are capable of helping other people! Wickedness has far-reaching consequences but so does godliness. 

As the children of the living God we are commanded: "Do not be overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good." (Romans 12:21) Another way of putting this is that we are not to be conformed to the ways of this world (the covetousness, the greed, the selfishness) but are to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. (Romans 12:2) How do we keep our minds fresh and new? By reading and meditating upon the word of God. By allowing God's holy precepts to guide our lives. By remaining in close communion with God our Savior. We won't live perfect lives as long as we live in this mortal flesh but that's not a license to give in to sin and remain in it, wallowing in it and reveling in it. If we stay in close communion with our Lord, we'll learn to quickly recognize His voice telling us we've gotten off track and we'll learn to quickly repent and get back on track. As I once heard someone say, the longer we walk with the Lord, the more we should become like Him. The more we should say the things He would say and do the things He would do. The more we behave like our Lord the more our honorable behavior will affect our fellow human beings in positive ways. Then no one can refer to us as troublemakers like Achan, but as people who bless those around them.

Friday, September 24, 2021

The Book Of Joshua. Day 16, Achan's Sin And The Defeat At Ai, Part Three

The Lord told Joshua that Israel's defeat at Ai was due to sin in the camp. He said he would not go out with Israel's army until the matter was taken care of. No one in the congregation has admitted to wrongdoing so the Lord describes a method by which the guilty party will be revealed in front of the whole multitude.

"Go, consecrate the people. Tell them: 'Consecrate yourselves in preparation for tomorrow; for this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: 'There are devoted things among you, Israel. You cannot stand against your enemies until you remove them.'" (Joshua 7:13) The word translated in our chapter as "devoted" means in the original language the complete surrender of a thing to God---often by the thing's destruction. For example, when the Israelites were commanded to devote everyone and everything in the city of Jericho to the Lord, the intention was that they would destroy everyone and everything in the city. The only exception was the gold, silver, bronze, and iron which were to be brought into the Lord's treasury. These items too can be referred to as "devoted", for although they are not destroyed they are to be wholly surrendered to the Lord. The Lord staked His claim on them and anyone who took these items for himself was stealing from the Lord. So we see that Achan stole from the Lord when he kept items of precious metal and we see that he also disobeyed the Lord by not destroying a detestable thing: the beautiful robe from the heathen territory of Shinar in Babylon.

The Lord continues His instructions to Joshua. "In the morning, present yourselves tribe by tribe. The tribe the Lord chooses shall come forward clan by clan; the clan the Lord chooses shall come forward family by family; and the family the Lord chooses shall come forward man by man. Whoever is caught with the devoted things shall be destroyed by fire, along with all that belongs to him. He has violated the covenant of the Lord and has done an outrageous thing in Israel!" (Joshua 7:14-15) Of course the Lord knew all along that Achan was the guilty party and He could have revealed this to Joshua. But Achan's secret sin was affecting the entire congregation and the congregation had a right to have the secret brought into the open. The Lord could have revealed Achan's name to Joshua and then Joshua could have gone ahead and taken action but this would not have had the same effect on the people. Not only do they need to see a public revealing of the one who brought such defeat upon them, and not only do the widows and fatherless children of the thirty-six dead soldiers have a right to see the guilty man executed, but the whole nation needs to have the seriousness of such sin imprinted upon their minds and hearts. The suspense of the bringing forward of each group and the casting of lots is intended, in my opinion, to create a solemn and reverent atmosphere. This God is not a God to be trifled with. The Lord is the best friend anyone can have, but when a person makes himself God's enemy as Achan did with his deliberate covetous disobedience, "it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God". (Hebrews 10:31)

Achan caused a major defeat for Israel. Defeat has a way of bringing discouragement and doubt, which are emotions the Lord wants to spare His covenant people. This defeat has brought the scorn of the nations of the promised land, emboldening them enough to blaspheme the name of the Lord and declare that He either isn't strong enough to defend His people or that He has broken His promise to His people. The safety of Israel is at stake. The holy name of the Lord is at stake too, which means the souls of the heathen tribes of the land of Canaan are at stake, for if the Lord's name is not lifted up, who will turn to Him? We've already seen one heathen woman (Rahab of Jericho) turn to the Lord because she has heard of His power and glory. Who's to say many others won't turn to Him from idols if His name is lifted up and glorified as it should be? But if the pagan tribes of Canaan can find it in their hearts to laugh at Him due to Israel's defeat, there's no hope for any of these lost people to give their hearts to the Lord. They will not regard Him as holy. They will not regard Him as Lord of lords and King of kings. They may still believe He exists but they will consider Him one of many gods, and not necessarily the most powerful of all the gods.

Joshua undertakes the process the Lord prescribed for him to find the guilty party. "Early the next morning Joshua had Israel come forward by tribes, and Judah was chosen. The clans of Judah came forward, and the Zerahites were chosen. He had the clan of the Zerahites come forward by families, and Zimri was chosen. Joshua had his family come forward man by man, and Achan son of Karmi, the son of Zimri, the son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, was chosen." (Joshua 7:16-18) Achan could have put a stop to this long process right away by confessing his sin. Or he could have fled the camp in fear for his life. But he does neither and I can't help wondering if that's because he doesn't believe he will be discovered. If that's the case, then he doesn't believe the Lord means what He says. He doesn't believe the Lord will do what He says He will do. But Achan is wrong and this warning, issued by Moses, is about to come true in his life: "You may be sure that your sin will find you out." (Numbers 32:23) Achan lived many centuries before Christ but the Lord Jesus said a similar thing to what Moses said in the book of Numbers. Jesus warned: "There is nothing hidden that shall not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open." (Mark 4:22, Luke 8:17)

"Then Joshua said to Achan, 'My son, give glory to the Lord, the God of Israel, and honor Him. Tell me what you have done; do not hide it from me.'" (Joshua 7:19) Joshua urges Achan to make a full confession. Though the fate of Achan's body has already been determined (the Lord said the guilty party was to be put to death), the fate of Achan's soul still hangs in the balance. Will he cling to sin or will he repent, confess, and accept the Lord as his Lord? Will he remain far from the Lord or will he give his heart to Him? Joshua feels deeply sorry for Achan and gently refers to this younger man as "my son" in order to encourage him to recognize his wrongdoing, confess it, and turn to the Lord for salvation. (Achan is not necessarily a young man but he's younger than Joshua who is about eighty at this time.) Although Achan believes the Lord exists, I think he is like many in our own day who believe there is a God who created all things but who have no desire to serve Him. I think Achan persuaded himself that his sin would not be found out and that he would not have to answer to anyone---in this life or in the next---for his actions.

Join us tomorrow as we conclude Chapter 7 with Achan's confession and the discovery of the hidden loot. Capital punishment will be carried out on Achan, for he is solely responsible for the deaths of thirty-six good men. He is solely responsible for thirty-six new widows in Israel. He is solely responsible for a number of children growing up without a father. The principle "a life for a life" will be carried out when we study the remainder of our chapter tomorrow.

Thursday, September 23, 2021

The Book Of Joshua. Day 15, Achan's Sin And The Defeat At Ai, Part Two

In yesterday's study we learned that a man named Achan did something the Lord had forbidden the Israelites to do: he took some objects from Jericho for himself. As a result, when the Israelite soldiers went up against the soldiers of Ai, they were defeated. 

Joshua is stunned when this happens. Ai is a much smaller, less heavily fortified city than Jericho. Only a small portion of Israel's army should have been required to defeat the soldiers of Ai, yet yesterday's text told us that the Israelites "were routed by the men of Ai, who killed about thirty-six of them. They chased the Israelites from the city gate as far as the stone quarries and struck them down on the slopes".

Joshua is grief-stricken by the loss of thirty-six men and by the loss of the battle. He knows the nations of the land of Canaan, whose hearts formerly melted in fear at the thought of the army of Israel, will now perceive the Israelite army as weak. The heathen nations will assume that the Lord is no longer with Israel and will view this as an opportune time to attack. Not only that, but he likely fears that his own people will begin to blame him for this disaster. He sent in only three thousand soldiers because that should have been more than enough, but he knows the people may second-guess his decision and say, "If only Joshua had sent four thousand men instead of three thousand! Or if only Joshua had sent the entire army! Because of his poor battle strategy we have some new widows today. We have some fatherless children today. Perhaps Joshua wasn't chosen by the Lord to replace Moses after all. Maybe we need to choose for ourselves a different leader." In deep distress Joshua throws himself prostrate on the ground before the Lord. "Then Joshua tore his clothes and fell facedown to the ground before the ark of the Lord, remaining there until the evening. The elders of Israel did the same, and sprinkled dust on their heads." (Joshua 7:6) 

"And Joshua said, 'Alas, 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! Pardon Your servant, Lord. What can I say, now that Israel has been routed by its enemies? The Canaanites and the other people of the country will hear about this and they will surround us and wipe out our name from the earth. What then will You do for Your great name?'" (Joshua 7:7-9) Joshua does what we all do when bad news comes or when unexpected problems arise: he asks the Lord why this has happened. 

He begins his prayer by acknowledging the Lord's right to handle the affairs of man however He pleases; Joshua calls Him by the title of "Sovereign Lord". The Lord is King of kings and all authority belongs to Him. He created all things and He has power over all things. Joshua acknowledges that the Lord has the right to orchestrate events to suit His purposes, even when man doesn't understand His purposes.

Next Joshua asks for understanding. He says, "Why did You bring us across the Jordan River if we aren't going to be successful? Have we come all this way and been through everything we've been through just to be defeated? Are the heathen nations of the promised land going to wipe us out? Please forgive me for asking such questions. Please pardon me for feeling disappointed and shocked and offended by this turn of events. Did we bring this defeat on ourselves? Were we too ambitious? Should we have been content to possess the land on the other side of the Jordan like the Reubenites, Gadites, and the half-tribe of Manasseh? Have You changed Your mind about giving the land on this side of the Jordan to the descendants of Abraham? Help me to understand, Lord! I am afraid the pagans of this land will band together and completely destroy us. If that happens, remember that the glory and honor of Your name is at stake. The idolatrous nations will mock Your name. They will say You lacked the power to do what You said You would do. Lord, rise up and defend Your honor! Make the nations tremble at the mention of Your name. Show them that You are the God of heaven and earth. Revive us from this crushing defeat, Lord!"

I've had to pray prayers similar to Joshua's when things have happened that I don't understand. I've had to say, "Forgive me, Lord, but I'm disappointed and shocked and offended. Why have You let this happen to me? I'm hurt. I'm angry. Why is this happening? What will unbelievers say? Will they say, "What good is it to serve the Lord if He doesn't protect you from disaster?' Don't let anyone be able to say that, Lord! Come to my rescue!" 

David prayed prayers similar to Joshua's. In times of distress He said to the Lord, "In You, Lord my God, I put my trust. I trust in You; do not let me be put to shame, nor let me enemies triumph over me...Guard my life and rescue me; do not let me be put to shame, for I take refuge in You." (Psalm 25:1-2) "In You, Lord, I have taken refuge; let me never be put to shame; deliver me in Your righteousness." (Psalm 31:5) Joshua is asking the Lord not to put Israel to shame. He doesn't want anyone to be able to say that the Lord is not able to defend Israel, or that the Lord is not able to deliver the promised land into the hands of the Israelites as He swore on oath to Abraham.

There is a time for prayer and there is a time for action. The Lord sees the humble and penitent attitudes of Joshua and the elders of Israel. He hears the cries of mourning rising up from the camp. But as often happens in the human mind, the people are beginning to catastrophize. They are imagining the worst: that all their enemies are about to rise up against them and destroy them. They are giving in to a defeated spirit. They are afraid that the Lord has abandoned them and will no longer help them. My mind becomes overtaken with such thoughts sometimes. Something upsetting happens and I start imagining the worst possible outcome. My attitude of prayer turns into a session of wallowing in pity and panic. I think that's what's happening in the Israelite camp in our text today so as soon as the mental condition of the people starts going in the wrong direction the Lord tells Joshua it's time to take action. He answers Joshua's question "why" with the answer that there is sin in the camp and that something must be done about it. "The Lord said to Joshua, 'Stand up! What are you doing down on your face? Israel has sinned; they have violated My covenant, which I commanded them to keep. They have taken some of the devoted things; they have stolen, they have lied, they have put them with their own possessions. That is why the Israelites cannot stand against their enemies; they turn their backs and run because they have been made liable to destruction. I will not be with you anymore unless you destroy whatever among you is devoted to destruction.'" (Joshua 7:10-12)

There is no such thing as a "small" sin. Granted, some sins have more widespread and more long-lasting repercussions than others, but sin is sin. No doubt Achan thought the taking of items from Jericho was a small sin. I think he said to himself, "No one will miss these items if I take them. I know the precious metals were to be devoted to the Lord, but it's not like we had an inventory of these items before we invaded the city. If I put a few things in my pockets as we plunder the houses and public buildings of the city, who will know? Who is going to miss them? Besides, does the Lord really need gold and silver? It's man who needs gold and silver! And besides that, what's the harm in taking items that are not made of precious metals? Look at this beautifully embroidered robe from Shinar! Look at the intricately detailed images on it of gods and goddesses drinking and feasting together! Why should something this gorgeous go onto the bonfire? What a waste! I'm going to stuff this into my robe and save it to wear when I receive my allotted portion in the promised land. I'll look like the king of the castle in this." 

One small sin is capable of infecting a person's character. It's also capable of infecting a whole household or an entire congregation. If Achan is allowed to get away with stealing from the Lord (taking the items meant to be devoted to Him) and if he is allowed to get away with keeping idolatrous items that were meant to be burned in the fire, this will only encourage others to disobey the Lord. If there are no consequences to disobedience, what's to stop everyone from doing what they want? The Bible tells us the Lord disciplines those He loves. (Hebrews 12:6) The Lord loves Israel and that is why He cannot turn a blind eye to the sin that took place here in Chapter 7. That's why He can't turn a blind eye to sin in your life and in my life: He loves us. Like any good father, the Lord prefers that we immediately recognize and repent of sin as soon as we've committed it. But if we cling to it---if we keep hiding it and nurturing it and reveling in it as Achan has been doing with his secret loot---He must discipline us for our own good. 

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

The Book Of Joshua. Day 14, Achan's Sin And The Defeat At Ai, Part One

Joshua told the Israelites in Chapter 6 that they must take nothing from the city of Jericho other than things destined for the Lord's treasury: the gold, silver, bronze, and iron. Everything else was to be destroyed because Jericho was an exceedingly wicked and idolatrous city. But today we'll learn that a man named Achan did not obey Joshua's orders. Joshua's orders were from the Lord; therefore Achan disobeyed the Lord when he disobeyed Joshua. As a result of Achan's sin, the nation will be defeated in its next battle.

"But the Israelites were unfaithful in regard to the devoted things; Achan son of Karmi, the son of Zimri, the son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, took some of them. So the Lord's anger burned against Israel." (Joshua 7:1) Later in our chapter we'll learn that Achan deeply coveted some of the items he saw. He took some items for himself that were made of precious metals---items that were to go into the house of the Lord---and "stole" from the Lord. He also took for himself a beautifully decorated robe from the region of Shinar (also referred to in the Bible as Babylonia, Babylon, or Chaldea). 

Shinar, if you'll recall from Genesis, was the location of the first organized rebellion against God. This is where the people built the Tower of Babel because they did not believe the Lord would keep His promise to never again send a great flood upon the earth. The tower was meant to be an escape route and a means of getting into the very heavens, for they believed God's throne was in the clouds and in their pride they thought they could ascend into the clouds and sit and fellowship with God through their own human efforts. 

The Lord indeed invites us into fellowship with Him, but as we've seen time and time again during our study of the Bible, we must come to Him in His way. We must come to Him by the avenue He paved for us. We cannot make ourselves righteous through our own efforts. We have to come to Him by faith and honor Him in the ways He has prescribed. Atonement in Old Testament times was obtained through faith, repentance, and making the prescribed sacrifices. In New Testament times (the church age), atonement is obtained through a repentant spirit and a faith which trusts that the sacrifice Christ made on our behalf saves us to the uttermost. 

Any robe made in the region of Shinar was made by hands that had been lifted up in prayer to false gods. The robe quite possibly had idolatrous images embroidered onto it. It may have depicted heathen deities engaged in immoral acts. But something about it appealed to Achan's eyes and heart, so much so that he deliberately disobeyed a direct order from the Lord. But Joshua and the remainder of the congregation of Israel do not know about Achan's sin. They will soon suspect someone did something wrong when they suffer a stunning defeat.

"Now Joshua sent men from Jericho to Ai, which is near Beth Aven to the east of Bethel, and told them, 'Go up and spy out the region.' So the men went up and spied out Ai. When they returned to Joshua, they said, 'Not all the army will have to go up against Ai. Send two or three thousand men to take it and do not weary the whole army, for only a few people live there.'" (Joshua 7:2-3) I've heard a few preachers and Bible scholars being critical of Joshua for only sending a portion of the army against Ai. They believe he was being prideful and overconfident. But I don't think that's the case. Ai was a much smaller city than Jericho. Ai was far less fortified than Jericho and Ai had fewer soldiers. There was no practical need to send an entire army of several hundred thousand men when only two or three thousand men will be enough. No, I believe the Bible makes it very clear why the Israelites are defeated at Ai, and the reason is because of Achan's sin. It wouldn't have mattered if Joshua had sent all the soldiers of Israel. At the end of the book of Numbers we learned that Israel had over 600,000 fighting men. That's a formidable force. But even if Joshua had sent all 600,000 against Ai, Israel would still have lost this battle because the Lord is going to use their defeat to deal with sin in the camp.

"So about three thousand went up; but they were routed by the men of Ai, who killed about thirty-six of them. They chased the Israelites from the city gate as far as the stone quarries and struck them down on the slopes. At this the hearts of the people melted in fear and became like water." (Joshua 7:4-5) Achan's sin didn't just affect himself; it affected his whole nation. Our sin's ability to affect others is something we should always remember when we're tempted to do wrong. The devil will say to us, "It's nobody's business what you do. If this is what you want, go ahead and have it. If it turns out to be a mistake, so what? That's your problem, not anyone else's." But this, like everything else Satan says, is a lie. I've been affected by other people's mistakes, haven't you? And other people have been affected by my mistakes. Sin is a selfish, self-serving thing and it can have very far-reaching consequences. We aren't just hurting ourselves when we sin; our sin is capable of hurting those around us---even those we love the most and would never want to hurt under any circumstances. That's what's going to happen as a result of Achan's sin. He'll hurt himself, his family, and his nation.

Join us tomorrow as Joshua falls on his knees before the Lord to ask why the battle went so wrong. The Lord will reveal to him what the problem is and what to do about it.

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.