1. Introducing Conflict

Struggles of Israel Meditations: 1. Introducing Conflict

Prov 19:21   Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.

Goals – People & God: In this series we are going to tackle a somewhat heavy subject and consider the struggles that Israel faced with their various surrounding enemies – and from further afield. I have never covered this ground before and perhaps it’s because I’ve never seen any writing on this subject, that I want to try to cover it now. It also crosses my mind that few Christians seem to have a grasp of the Old Testament, and I always need to hone my own knowledge.

The themes behind these studies are the need to understand people, and to understand God’s interaction with people. As we examine the recorded facts we will need to ask what was happening and why, and then what lessons can be learnt from these things.  The subject of Israel fighting may not seem very thrilling, but the reality is that the struggles of Israel in this respect form the background that reveal both the workings of God as well as the failures of man. In that respect it is important that we understand these things. Very often we view mankind – and ourselves – through rose-tinted glasses. Studying the life of Israel disabuses us of any such false view, and this is necessary if we are to more fully understand our salvation.

Whose Plans Prevail? One of the primary things we will see is that the record of the Old Testament is so often the record of sinful mankind and the foolish choices, plans and ambitions that various kings had, (“the plans in a person’s heart”), and yet the Lord’s desire to preserve Israel (“the Lord’s purpose”) is what prevails and ensures that, despite the destruction of Israel, the northern kingdom in Samaria, and the Exile experienced by the southern kingdom, Judah, nevertheless centuries later the nation is still there and ready to become what I refer to as a ‘God-environment’ for the Son of God to come to from heaven.

Observing History Generally: Observe history (and I do a lot of history reading these days) and, as one commentator observed, we see that the history of the world is a history of wars. As another has commented, in the past three thousand years, there have been less than three hundred years when a war wasn’t taking place somewhere on the earth. Wars are simply one group of people being violent to another group of people, seeking to exert their will over them. Observe the two World Wars of last century and you see this feature again and again and again. It’s what they were both about in their differing ways. Never say that ‘sin’ is an outdated concept!

It is perhaps something that we take for granted in the world in general, even though we individually may revolt against it, but still in the world today, despite the existence of the United Nations, skirmishes, confrontations and wars of varying kinds exist. The apostle James spelt it out: “Where do you think all these appalling wars and quarrels come from? Do you think they just happen? Think again. They come about because you want your own way, and fight for it deep inside yourselves. You lust for what you don’t have and are willing to kill to get it. You want what isn’t yours and will risk violence to get your hands on it.” (Jas 4:1,2 Message version)

And Us? Lessons to be learned? Not to be surprised when wars occur for it is a fallen world. The way to overcome and resist fear is pray as well as fight. We need to do both in a fallen world.

Snapshots: Day 118

Snapshots: Day 118

The Snapshot: “I will give you every place where you set your foot.” (Josh 1:3) That sounds a bit obvious but it actually means when we go to take the ‘land’ that the Lord has promised us, when we take a step forward in faith and obedience, we will find the Lord is there and His blessing will accompany our progress. It is that simple. Very often life is full of apparently insoluble problems, problems we often spend much time worrying over, and we reason ways through to ‘take this land’ but everything we come up with seems to fall short and then, one day without any warning, we get a glimpse of something from heaven and we take a crazy step forward only to find that the ground is firm and stable, sanctified by His presence, and suddenly all is peace.

Further Consideration:  The art of life, a wise man said, is to realise that God is here with you in it, and let Him lead you in it. The ‘big picture’ of the Exodus was not only about being set free from the slavery of the ‘old life’, Egypt, but also about entering into the Land that God has for His people. To enter that ‘land’ it is necessary to put to death, to expel, the old inhabitants whose presence resist the receiving of a new life.

Read Paul’s letter to the Colossians and watch out for the words, “put to death therefore,” (3:5) which mirror what Israel had to do in the land, but for us Paul adds, sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed,” and later goes on, you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips.” (v.8) All of those things are contrary to God’s design for us, how to live and enjoy the good life.

But it isn’t just a life full of negatives for there are more positives than negatives to be found as Paul starts a little later, “clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience,” (v.12) and goes on to give us a long list of things to be found in the new land.

But it is a battle, for these old ways resist the new intent and where we have allowed some of these things to become habits – for example, using anger as a means of getting your own way – then those habits need breaking and that is the point of conflict, which is where our starter verse comes in.

“every place where you set your foot”. Joshua had to, with determination, take a step forward. Taking the next step is the expression of the determination to be obedient to the Lord’s calling and to conquer the land. Once we do that, we will find the Lord involving Himself: “I will give you,” the land. His presence, His power, His activity, is there working on our behalf because, once we have given the sign of willing obedience, He will be there doing all He can to enable us to accomplish His will for us. Hallelujah!


(Having finished another batch of ten of these Snapshots, we will pause them for the next week or so and return to them later)

Snapshots: Day 117

Snapshots: Day 117

The Snapshot: “Moses my servant is dead.” (Josh 1:2) The Lord speaks the obvious to Joshua. It’s like He is saying, “He’s gone Joshua, get over it, move on, you’ve got a calling to fulfil, let’s get going.” He’s not being heartless but is just stating the obvious, aware that Joshua will have a bunch of mixed feelings and will just need that nudge to pick up the baton and move on. The leadership responsibility rests with him now – but God is still with him. Moses’ removal is not an act of chastising Israel, it’s just life moving on and sometimes that means death. Yes, it is right to mourn but it can become an inward looking self-absorption that will prevent the ongoing blessing of God that He wishes to bring. Whatever the grief we carry, tomorrow is a new day we have to live out with God.

Further Consideration:  In the previous study we considered how the people might have felt about Moses going, but when one leader goes and another steps up to lead, there are also two other areas to consider, about what the people think about ‘the new man’ and what he is wondering about what is to come.

From the people’s perspective, Joshua was not an unknown. He had been Moses’ protégé and had gone up the mountain to God with Moses (Ex 24:13) spent much time at the tabernacle in God’s presence (Ex 33:11) and years before had led the people in battle against the Amalekites while Moses prayed (see Ex 17:10), so he was both a spiritual and a warrior leader already.

From Joshua’s point of view, he must have been feeling bereft at the loss of Moses and, having watched in the background the number of times Israel had grumbled, complained and rebelled against Moses, he must have been aware that this was no easy task he was taking on. In fact with all the encouragements we will shortly consider in this first chapter of ‘his’ book, it seems clear that the Lord is also clear in His understanding of the concerns Joshua must have had. When someone takes over from a ‘big’ leader, it is sometimes said, “You have some big shoes to fill,” implying there is a lot that went into the ‘big man’s’ reputation that the new person is having to try and uphold. Such would it have been with Joshua.

One wonders how the apostle Peter felt when Jesus commissioned him in John, chapter 21. For him the overwhelming feeling must have been of failure and inadequacy after his denying Jesus three times. Yet Jesus commissions him to lead the church. Whether Peter realized that Jesus was going to going to return to heaven and leave them to it, is unclear but after Jesus had ascended Peter must have had similar feelings to Joshua – yet both are prepared men. When God calls you, He has prepared you and, even more, He knows your capabilities!

Snapshots: Day 116

Snapshots: Day 116

The Snapshot: “Moses the servant of the Lord died there in Moab, as the Lord had said.” (Deut 34:5) What a gap in their lives there must have been when Moses went. They knew it was going to happen but that doesn’t make it easier. Although some of them had often rebelled against him, yet he was a pillar of stability who had led them for over forty years – and now he’s gone! How will we cope?  But the bigger truth is that it was the Lord who led them, He was their protector and provider, and He hasn’t left them leaderless, He has trained and raised up Joshua for them so now they have got to learn to trust him. No doubt he won’t be perfect but who is (Moses wasn’t) but he is the Lord’s man, rest in that, he is called and gifted by God. And us? Pray for our leaders.

Further Consideration:  When someone dies, and especially when it is a much loved and long-established leader, it is always difficult. But there is always a danger with a strong leader: it is that the people come to trust and rely upon the leader rather than upon God.

Israel must have come to such a position with Moses. After all, as a nation, he was all they had known as a leader. Some of the younger ones might have been able to look back and remember when he first turned up in Egypt and told the elders that God had sent him to release them all from Egypt (the older generation had now all died, so it was only those who had been young at the time who would still be alive). He had been the mouthpiece of God, the one who had instigated the judgments on Egypt, the one who had led them out of Egypt and through the desert, he had been the one who had remained with them for forty more years in the desert, he had been the one who had prevailed in prayer when the Amalekites had attacked them, he had been the one who had led them against the opposing kings as they traveled up the east side of the Dead Sea as they worked their way up to the Plains of Moab where they now were – and now he was gone!

The other side of this particular coin is the man who is now left to lead them, Joshua, but we will wait until the next study to consider him. For now, the big issue is that their leader, their rock, has gone, and now there appears a vacuum. I was always struck with the point made by Isaiah, that, In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord.”  (Isa 6:1) Uzziah had been a big and powerful king. Was it coincidence that Isaiah had his vision of God the moment this pillar was removed? How must the disciples have felt when Jesus ascended and left them? Helpless. So they did the last thing he told them to do and went back to Jerusalem and waited …. and waited… until on the day of Pentecost, Jesus’ replacement arrived, his own Holy Spirit. They had waited after his death, in despair. Now they waited in anticipation. What’s coming?

Snapshots: Day 115

Snapshots: Day 115

The Snapshot: “I will certainly hide my face in that day.” (Deut 31:18) The Lord tells Moses of the future apostasy of Israel. He knows what we are like, whether we are open to correction and blessing, or stubborn and will refuse Him. The outcome is always in our hands. His word spells it out. Some people think that God is a softie who can be manipulated but that is folly. Sometimes, because He does not seem to be doing anything, we think we can get away with wrong, but the truth is that He is simply giving us time and space to repent (see 2 Pet 3:9). Often correction appears delayed but because He loves us all, He will bring it in His way and in His time, to correct us or even to take us home (see 1 Cor 11:30) if that is the best for us (see also Isa 57:1). Trust in His wisdom.

Further Consideration:  We’ve been recently talking about discipline and correction and we need to distinguish between apostasy and a minor failing. Apostasy refers to a real heart moving away from God. Thus the writer to the Hebrews says, “It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit,  who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age  and who have fallen away, to be brought back to repentance.” (Heb 6:4-6) What I have just referred to as a ‘minor falling’ is what happens when we just get it wrong as a one off, to which the apostle John declares, “I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.” (1 Jn 2:1)

Our starter verse above follows God saying, “They will forsake me and break the covenant I made with them,” (Deut 31:16) and so when He says He will turn His face away from them, He is saying He will turn from them and leave them to their own devices and it is clear that the destruction which comes on them, comes because God is not there protecting them. It’s their own fault.

Eternal destiny virtually never comes into the records of Israel so there is little point in considering it, but when it comes to the Christian, first there is always a debate on whether the believer can lose their salvation but the key word then becomes ‘believer’. The person who has completely ‘lost’ their faith or, rather, turned away from it, will have lost the reality of being in the Lord’s presence to receive His resources and blessings. It’s more about position and direction, and the Lord changes His when we change ours.

For the Christian who just occasionally trips over his or her own feet, so to speak, it is not a question of lost salvation, but of lost fellowship and that is always restored when we say sorry. Sanctification is life-long.

Snapshots: Day 114

Snapshots: Day 114

The Snapshot: “the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Deut 31:6) It applied to Israel and it applies to us (see Heb 13:5) That is good news and bad. It is good news if our heart is turned to God and we want His help. It is bad news if we rebel against Him and thus become vulnerable to His discipline. The Lord’s intent is always to bless His children but when they are being wayward, as a loving Father He disciplines them (Heb 12:6). His hand is always held out to impart blessing but when we turn our backs on Him, He knows the only way to get our attention is to do something – often allowing us to do our own thing in our bad state – that will go wrong, pull us up and remind us that blessings go with obedience.

Further Consideration: The mix of promises, exhortations and explanations that come from the Lord through Moses on the Plains of Moab before they enter the Promised Land bring warnings on one hand, as we saw in the previous study and we will see in the next, but also encouragements as we now see in our present verse. We dealt with the discipline issue in the previous study so let’s see the other side of the coin now.

In his various psalms, David referred to the good side of knowing the Lord and referred to Him in a whole variety of ways, for example: “The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.” (Psa 18:2) The Message version spells it out even more graphically: God is bedrock under my feet, the castle in which I live, my rescuing knight. My God—the high crag where I run for dear life, hiding behind the boulders, safe in the granite hideout.” What a picture that conveys of a sense of security.

But back to our starter verse: “the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” That means He sees me, shares in what I am doing, is there to chat with me, share His heart with me, listen to me as I share my wonderings, worries, questions and so on. Is this how we see our God or have oppressive preachers (like the crusading atheists!) left us with fearful pictures of a harsh God ready to smack us down at every opportunity? I sat in a group yesterday and led them in a time thinking about our vulnerabilities, our common humanity. I shared that my own often involved physical infirmity and when we each shared honestly how we handled it, I shared that I got angry with God (which I think shocked some), but I went on to explain how the Lord so often deals with us like little children having their tantrums, leaving us to let out all the steam until we come to our senses, repent and then receive His love. Is that the God (in Jesus) you know?

Snapshots: Day 113

Snapshots: Day 113

The Snapshot: “the Lord your God will gather you and bring you back.” (Deut 30:4) A most incredible prophetic promise brought by Moses that will be fulfilled some three hundred years in the future after the Exile.  However God disciplines, He always seeks to restore us to Himself. He wants us to know that before it happens, long before it is needed so that we live in the security of that. He knows the future, He knows our propensity to get it wrong in the days ahead, but His will is declared – He will always be working to bring us back, to restore us to Himself. When we are bad-hearted, grumpy, accusative, unpleasant, silly, thoughtless, He will still be there watching and waiting and WILL still be working to redeem us from all this. How wonderful!

Further Consideration:  Within this prophecy from Moses, there are two major lessons that are as valid today as they were in Israel’s early centuries. The first is thing is the discipline thing. I’ve said it above, God disciplines. But what does that actually mean and why does He do it?  It means that He brings pressures to bear on us that are designed to bring changes in us, to correct us, restore us to Himself, and so on.

But why does He do that? Because He loves us. In our modern Western world we see many parents who opt out of their parental responsibilities because they are self-centred and uncaring about the offspring they have (sometimes carelessly) brought into the world. But God is never like that, He reaches out to us and brings discipline.

Now I don’t think He does that because, as the old-time preacher bellowed, He can’t tolerate sin, I believe it is more that in His love for us His heart yearns to bring us into a better place where we can enter into all the good things He has on His heart for us, and He knows that if we are just left to our own devices, we will never reach that place; sin blinds us, distorts our thinking and so on, and so He knows we need His interventions to turn our hearts back to Him and become open to all that He is yearning to give us.

But to do that he sometimes has to take drastic action. In the case of Israel, there was going to come a time when their intransigence meant they were set in their rebellion and despite whatever Ezekiel or Jeremiah brought, they were going to do their own thing. Eventually – and it was a long ‘eventually’ – He sent them into the Exile in Babylon. But here is the second thing which is very important, whenever He does discipline, even in drastic cases, His goal from the outset is to bring us back to Himself. In the desert a generation had to die before the younger generation could take the Land. In the Exile, they were again in exile for about forty years while, again, a generation died off so the next generation could be returned and start off again. Wow!