Thursday, December 30, 2010

Judges 17 -21

Map of region according to the Bible, showing ...Image via Wikipedia
Although God declares the end from the beginning (Isa. 46:10),  sometimes the end is really the beginning.

 Initially, under Joshua's leadership, Israel heeded God's direction.  After those who knew Joshua and Caleb died, Israel began to uncomfortably co-exist with the denizens of the land.  The earlier chapters of Judges depicted the pattern of  rebellion, penitence, and then God's deliverance through a judge/military leader.  Finally Samson, a lone ranger type Judge who readily indulged his sexual appetite, perished in his last attack against the Philistines.  Sadly, Israel's last Judge didn't really lead the nation as much as he allowed God to use him in a limited capacity to deliver some Israelites from the tyranny of  Philistines.

Immediately following the account of Samson's death, the author of Judges, redirects the reader to the spiritual climate of Israel before God raised Judges to lead the people.  God's people floundered; God's Law was compromised and corrupted; Israel didn't seem to remember or know what Moses taught them.

The author of Judges summarized the situation by writing:

"In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit." Judges 17: 6

Since Israel no longer looked to God for direction on how to live, each person did whatever he thought was right or appropriate.  Unfortunately, this statement rings true of contemporary Western society.  Many people familiar with  Judeo-Christian teachings, with the Bible, have drifted away from the immediacy of God's Word.  God, the self-proclaimed true King and Creator of the Universe, has been marginalized and regarded as irrelevant, inappropriate, and even embarrassing.

When God is not perceived to be King and Creator, people appoint themselves as kings over their own lives forgetting that neither birth nor death are within their control.  People then proceed to live their lives indulging every desire without considering the spiritual ramifications of their decisions.  God gave man the Law which is the measuring rod against which we are to evaluate ourselves.   Of course mankind can only always fall short of satisfying God's requirement for Holiness, but that is where God's Grace is so amazing. When Israel repented of sin, God delivered Israel from the oppression of the Philistines.  In the same way, when a believer sees that he is in trouble, that he has sinned against God, and then repents, God will deliver him from the oppression of sin by forgiving the penitent sinner.

People who don't know God, can easily believe themselves to be gods.  Unfortunately, when the oppression of sin becomes unbearable, these people won't be able to deliver themselves from its power.  Only God, the creator and King of this Universe, can deliver us so that we can rest in His Peace.

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Monday, November 22, 2010

Judges 14, 15, 16 Samson: God's Choice

Samson in Dagon TempleImage via Wikipedia
Samson's very existence was a miracle.  He was born to a childless couple; to a woman the Lord called barren and sterile.  From the very beginning, he was a Nazirite, living a life dedicated to God.  And, before he was even conceived, the Lord told Manoah's wife, Samson's mother, that he would begin to deliver Israel from the Philistines.

Decisions were made made for Samson before his life ever began.  As a child he observed the Nazirite vow and no doubt heard the prophecy about his future.  But did Samson ever make a decision to accept God's choices for him? Did Samson ever chose God?

One of Samson's first adult decisions, to marry a Philistine woman, was not only a violation of God's Law but also a rejection of his parents' wishes.  Later, on his way to arrange the wedding, he walked through vineyards.  In and of itself, that is not bad but it showed a desire to explore the grey areas of God's Law for him.  As a Nazirite, he was not permitted to drink wine or to have his hair cut.  True, the vineyard is not an alcoholic beverage, but there is a strong association with wine.  On this initial trip, when a lion attacked him in this vineyard, the Spirit of the Lord came upon him with power so that he was easily able to kill it.  God communicated to Samson that he would protect him against hostile forces.

Through this lion attack, God also revealed himself to Samson in a personal and in an intimate way.  God saved Samson's life and also gave him the opportunity to evaluate what he was doing in the vineyard.  Scripture states that he didn't tell his parents about the lion; maybe he didn't want them to ponder this sign from God; maybe Samson didn't want to meet God yet.

On the way to the wedding, Samson went out of his way, again through the vineyard, to look at the lion's carcass.  Samson found a beehive inside the carcass and scooped honey out of it.  By touching a corpse, Samson again rejected God's Law for the Nazirite  and became ceremonially unclean.  Not only did he eat some of this honey himself, but he also brought some to his parents, who ate not knowing its source.

Leading up to this ill-fated wedding, Samson had made numerous, conscious decisions to violate God's Law.   Normally a joyous occasion, this wedding feast was a tortured event because the Philistines blackmailed Samson's bride into aiding them to solve the riddle.  Anger and massacre consummated the celebration.

Samson stormed away from his bride and wedding feast, not to return for several months.  When he returned during the wheat harvest, to visit his bride, he was informed that she was now someone else's wife.  Enraged, Samson exacted revenge on the Philistines by using three hundred foxes to torch their fields and vineyards.  After the Philistines burned down the house of his bride's family, Samson fought them even more viciously.

Until now,  while Samson did fight the Philistines, it was more of a reactionary skirmish rather than a planned military feat.  Rather than turning to God for wisdom or direction, Samson trusted in his own strength, which was supernatural but confined to the way in which he saw fit to use it.

An escalating exchange of hostilities between Samson and the Philistines resulted in Judah's alignment with vengeful Philistine forces.   Judah turned Samson over to the Philistines, a thousand of whom Samson slaughtered with a donkey's jawbone.  After this battle,  Samson's first prayer was recorded.  Dehydrated from the battle, Samson realized that in his power, he could not satisfy his thirst.  He called out to God to provide water.

When faced with his weakness, Samson recognized his need for God.  Perhaps it was at this moment that Samson made a decision to have a relationship with God; to call the God of Israel his own.  Nevertheless, I also wonder if, during the ensuing twenty year  period of peace, Samson drifted away from his need for God, from his relationship with God.  Immediately following  the peaceful interlude, is recorded the notorious story about Samson and his love with another Philistine woman named Delilah.

Again spurning God's Law, Samson entered into an adulterous relationship with Delilah.  Because she agreed to betray Samson into the hands of the Philistine, Delilah persistently prodded Samson each  night that he spent with her to reveal the source of his strength to her.  Samson fibbed; Delilah acted on his information and then called in the Philistines; Samson was always able to break the bonds.

Because this pattern repeated a few times, Samson knew that Delilah had conspired to cripple him.  Yet, although he finally told her what he thought might be close to the truth, he was surprised to see that his strength really left him after Delilah cut his hair.   Scripture states that he expected to shake himself free of the Philistines.  Since the hair was the outward manifestation of his relationship with God, maybe God left him because Samson abandoned even a superficial allegiance to him.

The Philistines gouged his eyes out and imprisoned him.  In this weakened, humiliated position, as Samson's hair began to grow back, perhaps he also drew closer to the God of Israel.  When he was marched out as a spectacle for the Philistines reveling in their success against the God of Israel, Samson was recorded as praying to God, the source of his unusual strength, to strengthen him once again so that he could avenge himself on the Philistines.  Samson also asked that he might die with the Philistines.

In the end, Samson, a Judge in Israel, died after he accepted the relationship that God wanted to have with him.  Unfortunately he lived his life his way: died childless and without a wife; died without brilliant military campaigns; died with a legacy of being known for his rage and unbridled sexual exploits.  Fortunately, before he died, he understood that God was the only true source of his strength.

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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Judges 11, 12, 13 Land for Peace

אזורים בארץ ישראל Holy Land regions -- Galilee...Image via Wikipedia
Whoa!  There it is again - land for peace.  Nestled in the pages of the Book of Judges, Israel's new military leader/judge, Japhthah entered into a dialog with the Ammonites who waged war against Israel.  He simply asked them why they were attacking his nation.

The Ammonites replied that three hundred years earlier Israel took their land and they wanted it back, immediately and peacefully.  In so many uncanny ways this mirrors current events in the Mid-East.  However, Japhthah did not waffle on his right to the land.  Japhthah's response to the Ammonites, recorded in Judges 11: 14 - 28, reflected his knowledge of history, his relationship with God, and his faith in God's covenant relationship with Israel.  It is so powerful that I am inserting it here:

Judges 11: 14 - 28

14 Jephthah sent back messengers to the Ammonite king, 15 saying:
   “This is what Jephthah says: Israel did not take the land of Moab or the land of the Ammonites. 16 But when they came up out of Egypt, Israel went through the wilderness to the Red Sea[a] and on to Kadesh. 17 Then Israel sent messengers to the king of Edom, saying, ‘Give us permission to go through your country,’ but the king of Edom would not listen. They sent also to the king of Moab, and he refused. So Israel stayed at Kadesh.
 18 “Next they traveled through the wilderness, skirted the lands of Edom and Moab, passed along the eastern side of the country of Moab, and camped on the other side of the Arnon. They did not enter the territory of Moab, for the Arnon was its border.
 19 “Then Israel sent messengers to Sihon king of the Amorites, who ruled in Heshbon, and said to him, ‘Let us pass through your country to our own place.’ 20Sihon, however, did not trust Israel[b] to pass through his territory. He mustered all his troops and encamped at Jahaz and fought with Israel.
 21 “Then the LORD, the God of Israel, gave Sihon and his whole army into Israel’s hands, and they defeated them. Israel took over all the land of the Amorites who lived in that country, 22 capturing all of it from the Arnon to the Jabbok and from the desert to the Jordan.
 23 “Now since the LORD, the God of Israel, has driven the Amorites out before his people Israel, what right have you to take it over? 24 Will you not take what your god Chemosh gives you? Likewise, whatever the LORD our God has given us, we will possess. 25 Are you any better than Balak son of Zippor, king of Moab? Did he ever quarrel with Israel or fight with them? 26 For three hundred years Israel occupied Heshbon, Aroer, the surrounding settlements and all the towns along the Arnon. Why didn’t you retake them during that time? 27 I have not wronged you, but you are doing me wrong by waging war against me. Let the LORD, the Judge, decide the dispute this day between the Israelites and the Ammonites.”
 28 The king of Ammon, however, paid no attention to the message Jephthah sent him.

In Judges 11:33, Scripture records that the Ammonites were completely subdued because the Lord handed them over into Japhthah's hand.

In His infinite wisdom,  the Sovereign God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob made a covenant agreement with Abraham to give him and his descendants through Sarah (Genesis 17), the land of Canaan.  Abraham did not ask for land.   In Genesis 12, God told Abraham to leave his country and to go to the land that He would show him.  What I am pointing out is that God both initiated this move and predetermined  to give this land to Abraham.  The disposition of the land had everything to do with God's Sovereign Will  and with Israel's submission to it.  

For Israel, to trade the land for peace is tantamount to rejecting God's covenant with Israel.  The Sovereign God of Israel, the Creator of the Universe, who gave the land to Abraham and his descendants, is the One with whom  the unbelieving world must contend.  The God of Israel has defended His people when they placed their trust in Him and in His Will for them.  I encourage Israel to do the same today.

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Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Judges 9, 10, 11 Jerub-Baal

Death of Abimelech.Image via Wikipedia
When God called Gideon to action, his first assignment was to tear down his father's altar to the pagan god, Baal.  Because he was so terrified of the public outcry and repercussions about destroying the altar of this popular deity, Gideon dismantled it at night.  The next day, when this deed was discovered, all of his townsmen wanted to kill Gideon for blaspheming against their god.  But, Gideon's father said, " If Baal is really a god, let him defend himself." (Judges 6:31)

That day,  the townsmen began to call Gideon, Jerub-Baal, meaning "let Baal contend with him". (Judges 6:32)  This phrase carries the expanded meaning of, if Baal is really god, let him judge Gideon for the destruction of his altar; conversely, if Baal is no god, Gideon will suffer no judgement.   So, Gideon's life was a bold statement testifying to his unswerving allegiance to the One true God of Israel, in whom he placed his trust.  Gideon's new name proclaimed to the world that he stood in opposition to faith in Baal, to whom many Israelites already succumbed.

In spite of all of his military conquests, Gideon, at the time of his death, was still known as Jerub-Baal. After Jerub-Baal's death, his seventy sons identified themselves with his stance against Baal, but Abimelech, his son by a concubine, despised his father's relationship with God.  Returning to Shechem where his mother's family lived, Abimelech incited the people to rebel against the leadership of Jerub-Baal's sons.  When the people of Shechem hired him to lead their military, they paid him from the coffers of Baal's city temple, which implies that Abimelech was now working for Baal.  Abimelech's first act was to massacre his seventy righteous step-brothers.

 Jotham,  Jerub-Baal's youngest son who managed to escape, climbed up Mount Gerizim and proclaimed  a curse over Abimelech.  Although, in the Books of Moses, Mount Gerizim was identified with blessings, not curses, it would appear that Jotham, by ascending Mt. Gerizim was identifying himself with God's blessings.  As a representative of Israel clinging to the true knowledge of God, he described Abimelech's sin and then placed the judgement of it into God's hands.  Where Jerub-Baal was a name that called on Baal to avenge himself, Jotham called on the living God of Israel to avenge the slaughter of his brothers, Jerub-Baal's sons.

Three years later, the curse of Jotham came upon Abimelech, the citizens of Shechem, and the citizens of Beth Millo.  In this very public arena, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob defended Himself and vanquished those who trusted in Baal, a god who couldn't defend his followers against God's judgement.

Intertwined throughout Old Testament accounts, Baal worship was something with which young Israel constantly struggled.  Baal, the supreme male deity of the Phoenecians or Canaanites, originated from the   Hebrew בַּעַל (ba`al)  meaning the adversary who is also lord or master.  Baal later became known as Beelzebub.  Eventually, this name was identified with the prince of demons.  

It is imperative to note that the struggle has always been between Absolute Good and Evil; between Light and Dark; between the One true God of Israel and Baal, in his numerous incarnations and names.

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Sunday, November 7, 2010

Judges 6, 7, 8 Gideon

Gideon is a judge appearing in the Book of Jud...Image via Wikipedia
In stark contrast to the song of Deborah, the Israel of Gideon was in the grip of paralyzing fear.  Hordes of neighboring tribes, seeking to destroy Israel, raided Israel, ravaging the land, the crops, and the livestock.  For seven years, Israel, cowering in fear, hid in caves, mountain clefts, and strongholds. 

So, where was the God of Israel?   While Israel was creatively hiding from enemy forces, there was no Biblical account of Israel seeking God.  In fact, this section began with, “Again, Israel did evil in the eyes of the Lord…” (Judges 6:1).  Israel abandoned the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob when they turned to worship the gods of the land. 

There is what is of God and what is not of God; the forces of Light and the forces of Darkness; forces of Good and forces of Evil.  These are very distinct black and white delineations – they are no shades of grey.  Right and wrong are absolutes in God’s spiritual economy. 

When Israel chose to worship pagan gods, they effectively rejected the God of Israel.  When the peace and wisdom of God’s reign ceased, fear flooded the emotional and psychological landscape of Israel.  Worship of false gods generated both false and harmful lifestyles which reflected toxic values.

Israel was so entrenched in pagan idolatry, that they couldn’t see clearly through the spiritual darkness that enveloped them.  Unable to formulate a prayer to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Israel continued to suffer at the hands of the Midianites until they couldn’t tolerate it any longer.  Then, Israel called out to God who immediately responded to them.

Scripture introduced Gideon as representative of the people of Israel.  Because of his great fear of the Midianites, he was threshing wheat, normally done in a large open area, in a winepress, a fairly confined, enclosed structure.  While Gideon saw himself to be a helpless victim, the Angel of the Lord came to him and greeted him saying “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.” 

Failing to perceive God’s ambassador, Gideon took this opportunity to voice his frustrations and fears.  As far as he understood, God had in fact abandoned Israel.

When the stranger commissioned him to fight Midian, Gideon declined, by citing his own weakness and social insignificance.  When the Angel of the lord promised to be with him in battle, Gideon, too fearful and perhaps too spiritually blinded to readily discern God, sought a sign to confirm that he was talking to God.

After Gideon received the sign he needed, he again became fearful because he saw God.
While God conferred His peace upon him, He also admonished him to cease being afraid.
Later that night, God instructed Gideon to tear down his father’s altar to Baal and an Asherah pole.  Because he was afraid of his family and of the townsmen, Gideon, with friends, tore the altar down at night. 

Although Gideon chose to obey God, it appears that he was not fully convinced of God’s power and of God’s covenant agreement with Israel.  When God appointed him to lead the military, Gideon seemed to be more concerned with Midianite destruction by his hand rather than Midianite defeat because it is God’s Sovereign will, regardless of whose hand God used.  Perhaps Gideon didn’t fully understand God’s plan for His people.  While Gideon didn’t know God that well, he still gave God a willing and obedient heart. 

Even though Gideon as always fearful, God faithfully met him at the point of his fear and gently worked with him.  With God’s help, Gideon subdued the Midianites and Israel enjoyed forty years of peace.  So towards the end of his life, Gideon was the man that God saw him to be when He first greeted him, “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.”
Gideon relied on God for the direction, strategy, and planning that went into his military campaigns against Midian. And, God was with Gideon, the mighty warrior.
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Sunday, October 31, 2010

Judges 4, 5 Deborah's Song

Yael Killing Sisera, by Palma the Younger.Image via Wikipedia
When Israel turned away from worshipping God, Jabin, a king of Canaan, oppressed them for twenty years.  When Israel cried out to God for deliverance from Jabin, God responded through the prophetess Deborah who was Israel’s leader at that time. 

While Deborah was settling disputes between people, God instructed her to send for Barak, son of Abinoam. Once he arrived, she related God’s Word to him – that God would be with him as he led ten thousand men into battle.  But Barak demonstrated a lack of faith in God when he replied that he would go into battle only if she accompanied him.  It would seem that he regarded Deborah as some sort of good luck talisman rather than as the mouthpiece of the Living God. 

As Deborah agreed to go with Barak, she also informed him that the honor of capturing General Sisera of Jabin’s army would not go to him but to a woman.  In an immediate fulfillment of this prophecy, Jael, Heber’s wife, assassinated Sisera.

Deborah, the fourth leader and judge over Israel, led a successful military campaign against a formidable foe.  Her strength in settling small disputes as well as deciding huge concerns of national significance was entirely founded in her conviction of who God was.  Spending time with God and taking Him at His Word, Deborah grew to love God deeply.  That she probably spent a good part of her adult years politically oppressed by a hostile nation in the land that God promised to Israel, did not persuade her to look away from the God.  Even though times were tough, she clung to her knowledge of God.

After the battle account, Scripture records the Song of Deborah.  Before this, the only other song that is recorded is the Song of Moses in Exodus 15.  Defining song as a short, metrical composition intended to be vocalized, is similar to defining a brain as a series of physiological functions and interactions.  Both miss the magic and spirit behind the perceived reality.  Deborah’s composition jubilantly exploded out of her being; it welled up out of her love for God, the King of Israel; it reflected her knowledge of the Creator.

Because Deborah saw every aspect of the battle as having God’s hand in it, she was able to praise God for His love for Israel; for His relationship to Israel; for His provision for Israel.  Deborah proclaimed in song that God oversaw every minute detail of that battle to ensure Israel’s victory. Clearly, to Deborah this victory was an astounding achievement which could only have happened through God’s hand.   She composed this hymn of praise so that Israel would remember how God, yet again, acted on their behalf because He chose them and loved them.

And appropriately, her song ended with the words, “But may they who love You, be like the sun when it rises in its strength.”  Judges 5:31  In the desert, the sun is a powerful, blazing force that brings death through its scorching heat to those who aren’t protected from it.  Deborah prayed that Israel would continue to love God so that they might  prevail against enemies. 
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Thursday, October 28, 2010

Judges 1, 2, 3 בָּכָה, And They Called the Place Bakim

Territories of the 12 tribes of Israel, before...Image via Wikipedia
The brief account in Judges 2: 1 - 5 defines Israel's heart some time after Joshua's death. In Judges 2:5,  the people of Israel wept, and called the place Bakim, derived from the Hebrew בָּכָה (bakah), meaning to weep or bewail, as for someone who died.  It's such a stark contrast to the courageous and triumphant ending of the Book of Joshua, that I felt led to think about it.

From the Books of Moses and  Joshua, we read that whenever Israel trusted in God to do as He promised, i.e. to go before them in battle, they had a speedy, thorough victory over all who were hostile to God.  Obviously, the land of Canaan was populated with a people who were descendants of Noah's son Ham, upon whom God placed a generational curse which reflected the spiritual nature of Ham and all of his descendants.  (See  Genesis 9 -10, for  an account of  how Ham dishonored his father in a way which reflected his profound disrespect for God.  Canaanites, sons of Ham, were associated with the curse.)  God did not want the Canaanites to live in the land that He predetermined should go to a people that He chose ( Deut. 7:7) to live there.  So, fighting to dispossess the Canaanites was  linked to aligning oneself with God's Will,  God's Promise,  God's Sovereignty, and with God's absolute Justice.

In Judges 1, when Israel called upon the Lord, God told them that Judah should go into battle first because God had already predetermined their victory in battle. In these battles, Simeon partnered with Judah.  In Judges 1:19, there is a summary statement that Judah successfully took possession of the land because God was with them.  But, after that, begins a litany of failure to secure the land.  Benjamin failed;  Manasseh failed; Ephraim failed; Zebulun failed; Asher failed; Naphthali failed; Dan failed.  Even though not all of the tribes are specifically listed, there is a resounding sense of failure.  Though Israel entered the land that God gave them, they were not living in the victory God promised them.

So, in Judges 2, the Angel of the Lord appeared to Israel in Bakim.  The Angel reaffirmed that though the covenant with Israel would never be broken,  God would no longer go before them in battle to dislodge the denizens of the Promised  land.  As a consequence of their sin, Israel would not only have to fight the Canaanites alone but also to continuously resist the spiritual corruption that Canaan represented.  Nationally, resisting evil within your own borders is similar  to sustaining a chronic inflammation in your body which drains you of the strength and well being that you need to live successfully.

And what was the sin of Israel? At this juncture, I believe that it was Israel's failure to go forth in the land with the strength of conviction that God, Sovereign King of the Universe, had Himself given them the land.  If Israel acted in the strength of their faith in God, then no nation could stand against them because God Himself would stand along side them.  Israel's only true strength was/is their covenant relationship
with God the Creator.  The only thing really required of Israel was to rely on God to be who He said He was and to do what He said He would do.

So, after hearing the Angel's proclamation, the nation wept.  These were not simply tears of unhappiness or discomfort - but soul rendering tears of mourning, bewailing the absence of the Presence of One who fought before them in battles of the past, of the One who assured them of victory in battle.  Israel understood that without God going before them, they were to be left to their own devices which were only as good as a human being, a created being, could develop.  And rightly so, that is a cause for lament.

Blue Letter Bible. "Dictionary and Word Search for bakah (Strong's 1058)". Blue Letter Bible. 1996-2010. 28 Oct 2010. < http://
Strongs=H1058&t=KJV >
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Monday, October 25, 2010

Joshua 22, 23, 24 It's a matter of Choice

The Genealogy of Noah after the flood up to Ab...Image via Wikipedia
Initially, after I read these chapters, nothing jumped out at me in a new or fresh way.  It's a re-cap, a summary of the preceding books.  Ho-hum.  I didn't feel inspired to write at all. While I could have forced something, it would have been in the wrong spirit.  So, I waited. Everything that I have posted so far has been a reflection on what God has highlighted for me.

 As I prayed about what God wanted me to notice, the famous passage "But as for me and my and my household, we will serve the Lord", popped into my mind.  I immediately looked up Joshua 24:15.   Although this is a landmark quote, I was riveted by the first part, which I never really paid attention to before.

           Joshua 24:15.  But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day  whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Ammonites, in whose land you are living.  But as for me and my household, we will serve the  Lord.
The thread of making choices has really been a dominant and consistent  color throughout these first six books.  God chose Noah; God chose Abraham; God chose Isaac not Ishmael; God chose Jacob not Esau;  God chose the Levites to administer His Law; God chose leaders from the twelves tribes while they were wandering in the desert, etc.  In Deuteronomy 7:7, God states that He, out of all of the nations on the earth, chose Israel to be His "treasured possession".  In Hebrew, choose, בָּחַר (bachar), carries the idea of selecting what is best; of examining a variety of options and then making the best choice.  The significance of choosing is that you pick something that you love, desire, and for which you yearn; it is something to which you attribute great value.

When God chose Israel, He professed His love for a people.  When Joshua exhorted Israel to choose for themselves whom they will serve, he linked serving the Lord with desire for the Lord, implying that service springs out of love and not out of obligation.   If Israel could not choose God and then express this choice through obedience to God's Law, which in itself was also an expression of love, Joshua said that they may as well serve the pagan gods and live in the land of the Ammonites.  Even though God had chosen Israel, the fulness of the relationship could not be realized until Israel reciprocated by choosing God.   A man may love a woman and propose, but there is no wedding until the woman accepts .

When Israel served God and sought His counsel in everything they did, they conquered and lived in the land of Promise, the land of Canaan.  But, should Israel choose to serve the pagan gods, they would be relegated to living in a land which is, by world consensus, not theirs.  Without God, Israel would live in the land of the Ammonites.  

The import of Joshua's words was not wasted on the people he addressed, because Israel responded that they chose to serve God.  

On a slightly different note, I think that it is interesting that Joshua assembled Israel in Shechem, a Levitical city which also doubled as a city of refuge.  Perhaps symbolically, Israel chose to serve God while meeting where the blood avenger had no authority.  Israel chose to take refuge in God's love and in His provision for mercy.  And that is indeed a good choice - the best selection.

Blue Letter Bible. "Dictionary and Word Search for bachar (Strong's 977)". Blue Letter Bible. 1996-2010. 25 Oct 2010. < http://
Strongs=H977&t=KJV >

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Thursday, October 21, 2010

Joshua 19, 20, 21 Israel Established as a Theocracy

JERUSALEM, ISRAEL - OCTOBER 5: Ultra-orthodox ...Image by Getty Images via @daylife

” Not one of all the Lord’s promises to the house of Israel failed; everyone was fulfilled.” (Joshua 21:45)

What a powerful statement to make at the end of the accounts of how the land of Canaan was allotted to each of the tribes.   But even more compelling is this forty-year segment in the history of Israel.  Around forty years earlier, God revealed Himself to Moses and called him to lead Israel out of bondage in Egypt.  Then, with unprecedented miracles, signs, and wonders, God showed His power to Israel.  Over the forty years of wandering, God took a people who were hopelessly yoked in slavery, who probably did not entertain lofty or spiritual thoughts, who did not ruminate about government structure or legal issues, and transformed them into a sophisticated, constitutional theocracy. 

During these forty years of desert wandering, God became a galvanizing Presence in the house of Israel.  He not only took care of their immediate physical needs, but also established order amongst the twelve tribes.  God appointed leaders; gave them the Law; taught them what it meant and how to implement it; executed swift judgment for blatant violations of His Word.  In one generation a group of slaves was transformed into a functioning society with a coherent legal system which realistically addressed the vicissitudes of the human experience:  how to deal with theft, adultery, dishonesty, murder, irreverence to God, etc.  

As God was helping Israel to enter the land of Canaan, He also told Joshua how to proceed. Considering that none of the Israelites who fled from Egypt were military strategists, it is a further statement of how God master-minded the conquest of Canaan.
Joshua was instructed to take Jericho, which was right in the center of Canaan.  Having occupied the central plains, Israel was then able to take the northern and southern areas in pieces. God went before them disheartening the Canaanites, so that their fear of Israel worked against them.

God promised Israel that each tribe would have land in Canaan.  And, within a few years of entering Canaan, not only did this become a reality but also, God instituted a system that would sustain a coherent, God-fearing nation.  As long as Israel would recognize God as their Sovereign King, God promised to act as a benevolent King on their behalf.  If Israel were to reject God, He, their eternal Sovereign King, would leave them to their own devices without abandoning them, per se.  So, Israel began nationhood.

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Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Judges 13, 14, 15 Caleb's Account

apportionments to the tribes of Israel, with t...Image via Wikipedia
Nestled between the accounts of battles and of land allotments, rests Caleb’s request.  In Numbers 13, Caleb is listed as one of the original twelve spies that Moses sent out to explore the land of Canaan.  While ten of the spies concentrated on the obstacles facing Israel, both Caleb and Joshua focused entirely on who God was and on what He promised the nation.  As the eighty-five year old Caleb recounted that incident, he stated that he was forty years old when Moses sent him out to spy the land and that he brought back a report according to his convictions.  In the KJV, the same passage reads, “I brought him word as it was in mine heart.” (Joshua 14:7)

No matter what difficulty may have lurked around him, Caleb clung tenaciously to God’s promise.  He didn’t falter or waffle in his belief in the absolute importance or significance of God’s promise.  Because Caleb focused entirely on God’s will for Israel, on God’s promise to Israel, God blessed him with the strength and vigor he needed to fulfill God’s vision for him.  God, through Moses, promised the hill country of Hebron to Caleb. And, as Caleb spoke to Joshua, who just completed a successful five year campaign subduing most of the land of Canaan, he was requesting permission to engage in yet another battle.
In response, Joshua blessed Caleb who then successfully took the land.

Even though Caleb and Joshua wandered with Israel through the desert as they waited for their peers to die, they kept a burning love for God’s vision for Israel alive in their hearts.
As they loved what God loved, they received from God the spiritual strength, physical strength, and mental strength to do God’s will.

The Book of Joshua could be construed as a disturbing blitzkrieg against seemingly peaceful inhabitants of Canaan.  These passages are troubling unless viewed from the standpoint of an absolutely holy God.  Because both Caleb and Joshua closely identified themselves with God and with God’s zeal for His Commandments, they were probably better able to discern the world around them through spiritual eyes.  Maybe, when they looked at the people of Canaan they saw the incarnate evil which God commanded them to eradicate.

 God has always waged a war against sin and against entire societies steeped in sin.  While God prefers for people to repent and to receive His forgiveness, He will not force man to accept His Forgiveness, His Sovereign Will, His Wisdom, His Commandments, His Love.  Living outside of God’s Will allows an enmity to exist between men and God.  Unfortunately for people who choose to reject God’s Commands, God effects judgment.  As Israel marched through the land of Canaan, it was God who went before Joshua and his army, assuring Israel speedy victories.  One of the most startling revelations in Joshua 14 is that all of those battles were completed in the space of five years.
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Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Joshua 10, 11, 12 Not Modern Warfare

Joshua commanding the sun to stand stillImage via Wikipedia
After suffering a humiliating defeat in the first battle against Ai and then making a foolish treaty with their neighbors, the Gibeonites, Israel understood just how important it was to look to God for direction.  Chapter 10 opens with five kings of large regions in Canaan attacking Gibeon so as to draw Israel into war.  As Joshua and his army marched toward Gibeon, to honor their treaty with them, God encouraged Joshua not to be afraid of the attacking kings because He would fight against them. 

Marching all night, the army of Israelites made a resounding statement about how much they trusted God to fight on their behalf.  I think that it took an enormous step of faith for Joshua to exhaust his troops before getting to the battle scene.  At that point, Israel’s faith in God had to be the only strength they had. 

In the King James translation, Joshua 10:10 reads:

And the Lord discomfited them before Israel and slew them with a great slaughter at Gibeon, and chased them along the way that goeth to Beth-horon, and smote them to Azekah, and unto Makkedah.

The archaic sounding word discomfited, in Hebrew הָמַם (hamam), implies to put into commotion with noise.  Imagine, hundreds of thousands of exhausted men of Israel entering the region to defend Gibeon against five large armies.  When they arrive, God generated a terrifying sound which threw the hostile armies into a state of confusion.  And then, God Himself pursued and slaughtered the five armies. As these armies fled, God hurled so many large hailstones onto them that more of them perished from hail than by the sword.

During this battle, Joshua prayed in the presence of all Israel, that the sun would remain in a fixed position in the sky until Israel avenged itself on its enemies.  And, the sun was parked at noon for a full day.  While the men of Israel were probably sleep deprived, God pulled all the stops and showed His strength and empowered the Israelite army with God-given strength.

When God fought for Israel, He brought in a supernatural arsenal of which men knew nothing.  It seems that Joshua understood that he just had to set the rudder of his boat in God’s direction so that God Himself would provide the wind.  

Blue Letter Bible. "Dictionary and Word Search for hamam (Strong's 2000)". Blue Letter Bible. 1996-2010. 13 Oct 2010. < http://
Strongs=H2000&t=KJV >
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Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Joshua 7, 8, 9 God's Campaign

The ramp leading up to the altar on Mount EbalImage via Wikipedia
Even after God miraculously brought down the walls of Jericho and handed the city over to Israel, the nation quickly forgot to pray for God’s will and direction.  In a striking contrast to the campaign against Jericho, Joshua relied on his own perceptions to determine how to fight against the next city of Ai.  After Israel suffered a humiliating defeat, Joshua turned to God.  In this recorded prayer, Joshua actually whined, effectively asking God why He brought Israel into Canaan to be destroyed.

God’s response was to get to the heart of the matter.  Israel sinned and “That is why the Israelites cannot stand against their enemies; they turn their backs and run because they have been made liable to destruction.” (Joshua 7:12).  God showed Joshua that Israel had disobeyed His explicit instructions in how the battle of Jericho was to be conducted and that until they addressed the sin, He couldn’t be with them.

After Israel removed the source of sin from their camp, God is recorded as giving counsel to Joshua on how to proceed with the battle against Ai.  After a decided victory over Ai, Israel turned to worship God.  They built an altar on Mount Ebal, offered burnt offerings and fellowship offerings, and then listened to the entire Book of the Law as Moses had commanded them to do.

Yet, after these intense, close encounters with God, Joshua lapsed again into trusting his own perceptions of circumstances rather than seeking God for wisdom and discernment.
A delegation of men, disguised to look as though they traveled from a great distance, came to Joshua and asked that he sign a treaty with them.  They ingratiated themselves into Joshua’s notice by flattering the nation, saying that they were sent here because Israel was considered so mighty and powerful.  Joshua listened to their speech, trusted his eyes in evaluating their appearance, tasted their provisions, and then entered into a treaty with them.   Unfortunately, this delegation was actually from a neighboring city which was supposed to be destroyed. 

In these chapters, Joshua is portrayed as someone who had a heart for God, loved God, and yet desired to trust in his own senses rather than to seek God’s wisdom.  I wonder if he thought that God just shouldn’t be bothered with seemingly insignificant decisions. God showed him that there are no small decisions – all decisions should be brought before Him so that He, who is Sovereign, can direct His Children to make the best decision.
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Friday, October 8, 2010

Joshua 4, 5, 6 Jericho: and the walls came tumbling down ...

Relief, Auch Cathedral, France: the Ark of the...Image via Wikipedia

A new leader and a new generation stood apprehensively and excitedly along the Jordan River waiting for Joshua to set the date.  After three days of waiting, the tribal leaders were told to instruct the people to sanctify themselves, because the next day the Lord was going to do amazing things in their midst.  In Hebrew קָדַשׁ (qadash), sanctify,  means to set yourself apart (from sin), to be consecrated, to be dedicated, hallowed.  Maybe, sanctifying themselves in this context meant to seek forgiveness for all sin, intentional or not.  They were to prepare their hearts to see the Lord working in their midst.  For nearly forty years, they heard stories or accounts of the miraculous exodus from Egypt.  Even though God provided Israel with water, manna, direction, successful battles, these became commonplace expectations.  God’s mercies were the same every morning and every night.  Israel was looking forward to witnessing a big miracle; a new miracle; something different.

While the people of Israel watched with great excitement and anticipation, the priests did what Joshua told them to do.  Carrying the Ark of the Covenant, the priests stepped into the raging flood level waters of the Jordan River and suddenly, the river stopped flowing.  According to Joshua, the waters piled up in Adam, a town fifteen miles north of the Israelite camp. As they crossed the Jordan on dry ground, all of Israel and their herds passed the priests holding the Ark.  While the priests were still standing in the middle of the river bed, twelve men, representative of each of the twelve tribes, took a boulder from the river and carried it into the land of Canaan, to Gilgal, where they set up memorial to commemorate how God parted the Jordan River.  This was a new monument for a new generation.  This was a big miracle.

Israel, which sanctified itself before the crossing, now sought to right itself completely before God.  Because boys were not circumcised during the desert wandering, all Israelite men agreed to be circumcised after they crossed the Jordan.  This appears to be a resounding statement of trust in God’s protection.  Just before a major battle and right after entering hostile territory, all Israelite men were weak from the pain of circumcision and therefore very vulnerable to enemy attack.  Even so,  the nation’s males had to be circumcised because that was the sign of the everlasting covenant that God established with Israel (Gen 17: 7 -14). How could they face any war in a hostile land if they did not have the sign of the covenant? While the nation chose to honor their side of the everlasting covenant, God protected them while they healed.

After all of Israel’s men submitted to the sign of the covenant in their flesh, circumcision, they were ready to heed God’s command about taking down the citadel called Jericho.  God told Joshua that He already went ahead of them generating fear among denizens; the spies told Joshua that the people of Jericho were terrified of them.  It may be that this extra information corroborated what God had said earlier. At any rate, Jericho’s morale was severely deflated.  Conversely, Israel was now confident in God.

This is a fascinating, choreographed battle.  Through Joshua, God communicated with the people of Israel.  God told them of His plan and how to implement it. An armed guard was to go before the Ark and after the Ark, while the priests carrying the Ark were to be accompanied by seven priests who sounded seven trumpets.  As the armed men marched silently around the city once each day for six days, only the trumpets could be heard.  On the seventh day, the men marched around the city six times silently as they had before.  However, during the seventh circuit, the trumpets signaled a special blast, at which time the men knew to shout, for the Lord had given them this city.   At this historic shout, all of the walls of Jericho crumbled and fell.  As per God’s command, Israel destroyed the city saving only Rahab and all of her family.  A scarlet cord was tied around her window to alert Israel that she was to be protected, not harmed.  I wonder if the Cabbala tradition of a red bracelet or red something stems from this incident.

God fought and won this battle for Israel thus setting into motion a great fear of Israel among the denizens.  I have no doubt that all of the nations understood that this was a supernatural battle fought by an omnipotent God. And, by God’s Word, Israel was different from all of the others nations. 

Blue Letter Bible. "Dictionary and Word Search for 'sanctify' in the KJV". Blue Letter Bible. 1996-2010. 8 Oct 2010. < http://
Criteria=sanctify&t=KJV >
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Joshua 1, 2, 3 Be Strong and Courageous

An interpretation of the borders of the Promis...Image via Wikipedia

Just imagine that you are about to receive a monetary award or prize, that you have desired for a very long time.  In fact, it is something that you have wanted for so long that its fulfillment began to appear unlikely.  And when it happens, you are almost afraid to believe that it is true. Sometimes people are afraid of getting the very thing they yearn for most because they fear losing it or getting hurt somehow through it.   “Can this be real?” you might ask yourself as you anxiously dare to believe the hoped for event might be happening.

Israel left Egypt forty years earlier and maybe they were afraid to believe that they were really going to enter into the land of Canaan.  Of the hundreds of millions of Israelites who wandered throughout the desert, there were probably many who didn’t really understand how God was acting on their behalf; there were probably many who were frightened to change anything about their lifestyle; there were probably many who joyfully anticipated entering into the Promised Land, the land of Canaan.  But because God admonishes Joshua to be strong and courageous four times in the first chapter, I am inclined to believe that he was told to be strong so that he could give strength to the apprehensive and frightened nation of Israel.

Strong and courageous here, as in Deuteronomy, connotes being steadfastly minded and determined; rooted in God’s Word so thoroughly that nothing you see, with your eyes, can change your mind about the certainty of the spiritual truths that God proclaims.  It seems that God was essentially telling Israel to focus on His Word and to cling to His promises; He promised to take care of the rest.

In that vein, God also admonishes Joshua in Joshua 1:8Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night so that you may be careful to do everything written in it.”  Depart is an interesting word.  It generally means to leave, to go away.  The next phrase is an admonition to continuously think about God’s Word. 
Here, Israel was given a method to discover the impact of God’s Law on life.  If Israel were to discuss God’s Law throughout the day, their intimacy with the Law would take root and grow.  If God’s Word departed from their mouth, it would indicate that it left and then vanished from their spiritual awareness. 

As Israel prepared to enter Canaan and conquer the denizens of the land, they had to be close to God, reviewing His Word; discussing His Word; thinking about His Word; acting on His Word; trusting in His Word. 
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Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Deuteronomy 32, 33, 34 Moses' Last Will and Testament

The Death of Moses, as in Deuteronomy 34:1-12,...Image via Wikipedia
In these intriguing chapters, we read Moses’ parting words to a people he both loved and shepherded for forty years.  Moses was not simply a man of God, but a man who enjoyed the intimacy of God’s friendship and counsel.  After God had revealed to him Israel’s future and fate, Moses was probably deeply grieved.  The pain that the future held for the nation after they abandoned their God, most likely grieved Moses as much as a parent would grieve foolish decisions made by an adult child, in spite of  warnings about the consequences of these decisions.  How often we, as parents, harp the refrain “don’t drink – don’t do drugs”, to a youthful generation deliberately oblivious to the consequences of alcoholism or addiction.  And the kids who get caught up in addictions become a heartache to their parents, who always only wanted happiness for them.

Before Moses ascended Mount Nebo, where he would glimpse the promised land before he died, God gave him a song to teach to Israel so that over time they would understand that by giving them the Law, God gave them His Love; by giving them a system of worship, God promised to hear them; by giving them land, God promised to keep them as a separate nation; by giving them His Word, God gave them a firm foundation on which to take a stand.

Moses’ song began by exhorting all of Creation to heed God, to praise God, and to remember who they are in relation to God.  Toward the end of the song, God again made a promise to Israel.  In spite of all of the torment, sorrow, suffering, injustice, and persecution that the nation would endure after they would turn away from following God with obedient, loving hearts, God promised to judge all of the nations who hurt them.  In spite of appearances, not only did God promise that His Love for Israel would never cease but also He promised that He Himself would avenge Israel. 

God provided a song with which the nation could console itself later when God seemed to fail them.  I think that it is really significant that while God wanted Israel to take responsibility for their disobedience, He also wanted them to know that He would vindicate them because they are His portion, His people. 

After Israel learned the song, Moses again admonished Israel:

Take to heart all the words I have solemnly declared to you this day, so that you may command your children to obey carefully all the words of this law.  They are not just idle words for you – they are you life.  Deuteronomy 32: 46 – 47.

The most important thought that Moses left for Israel was that God's Word was their life, meaning that it was God's Word that would sustain them and enable them to live successfully.

Deuteronomy 29, 30, 31 Be Strong and Courageous

The Aleppo Codex is a medieval manuscript of t...Image via Wikipedia

As God was confirming His covenant with Israel, He stated up front that shortly after Israel would enter the land of Canaan, the Promised Land, they would break their covenant with Him.  Even though God knew that Israel would not/could not hold up their end of the covenant agreement they made with Him, He told Israel “ Be strong and courageous.  Do not be terrified or afraid …for the Lord your God goes with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you.” Deut. 31: 6.

One would expect that as Israel was facing war, they were being admonished to become physically stronger.  However, the Hebrew word חָזַק (chazaq), strong, implies a spiritual strength.  It envelops the sense of withstanding, enduring, and fortitude.  Differing from power, this strength is a type of determination that grows out of a long standing faith or emerges out of a deep conviction.  By frequently recounting God’s miraculous signs and wonders, by praising and thanking God for His provision, Israel was to develop an abiding trust in God which would enable them to face the battles ahead.  By keeping these memories fresh, God was to be immediate and real to the nation.

When God told Israel to be courageous, He did not advise foolish bravery.  Courage, in Hebrew אָמֵץ ('amats), is a mindset more than anything else.  It implies being steadfastly minded, established, even obstinate.  In other words, Israel was told to trust in everything that they knew of God and to trust in His covenant promise to them rather than to heed perceptions about Canaan and its denizens. 

Israel’s true strength was their knowledge of God and their relationship to the Creator of the universe.   God’s commandments to Israel sanctified them as a nation; His statutes about worship taught them that He could only be approached in a specific way and that their prayers could only be heard when they worshipped correctly.  God mandated that He reached out to Israel and that He alone set up the rules.  God meets man on His terms – man cannot dictate his own terms to God and expect to be heard.

Even though God knew that Israel would fail to keep His commandments, that they would be expelled from the land as per the curse, He again reassured them that He would remain faithful to them and that one day, He would bring them back to the land they lost.  (Deut. 30: 4 -10). 

Throughout these chapters, God lovingly reassured Israel that, in spite of appearances, he would never forsake them, that He had a plan for them.s

Blue Letter Bible. "Dictionary and Word Search for chazaq (Strong's 2388)". Blue Letter Bible. 1996-2010. 4 Oct 2010. < http://
Strongs=H2388&t=KJV >

Blue Letter Bible. "Dictionary and Word Search for 'amats (Strong's 553)". Blue Letter Bible. 1996-2010. 4 Oct 2010. < http://
Strongs=H553&t=KJV >
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Saturday, October 2, 2010

Deuteronomy 25, 26, 27, 28 Promises, Curses, and Blessings

ShalomImage via Wikipedia

As I read these chapters,  the most awful prophetic utterances against Israel that can be imagined marched through the pages.  The curses, consequences of disobedience, included plagues, famine, drought, poverty, war, cannibalism, infertility, servitude, military subjection, idolatry, and the scattering of Israel among all of the nations.  However, in the chapter before the curses were detailed, God reassured Israel that they would always be His people.

Deut. 26: 18 – 19.  And the Lord has declared this day that you are His people, His treasured possession as He promised, and that you are to keep all of His commands.  He has declared that He will set you in praise, fame, and honor above all the nations He has made and that you will be a people holy to the Lord your God, as He promised.

Here God  told Israel that they were His treasured possession which He blessed  so that they would always excel above the other nations that He made.  These  promises  were not dependent upon anything that Israel did or didn’t do.  God simply chose to bless them so that they, as a people, would always shine; would always remind others that they are recipients of God's unconditional covenant relationship.

In the following chapters, filled with blessings and curses contingent upon obedience there is, in the midst of the curses, a curious passage.

Deut. 28: 45 – 46. All these curses will come upon you.  They will pursue you and overtake you until you are destroyed, because you did not obey the Lord your God and observe the commands and decrees he gave you.  They will be a sign and a wonder to you and to your descendants forever.

Cited in the above passage, the word destroyed, in Hebrew, is shamad שָׁמַד (Strong’s Concordance H8045) which can mean total annihilation as well as to devastate by overthrowing.   However, since the sentence that follows applies to Israel’s descendants forever, destruction here does not mean total annihilation.  God clearly stated that the curses that the nation will endure will serve as a sign and a wonder to Israel’s descendants forever.  During the wilderness wandering, all that Israel saw of God’s mighty hand acting on their behalf was to serve as signs and wonders, to remind them of who their God was and with whom they had a covenant relationship.  God prophesied that in the future, when evil would befall Israel because they violated His commands, they were to remember that this too was God’s hand, turning against them to correct them. 

A few verses later, Moses stated that “God will scatter you (Israel) among the nations.” Deut. 28:64.
Clearly the nation was not destroyed, but overthrown.  Though God disciplined His people, He never ceased to love and provide for Israel. 

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