Snapshots: Day 119

Snapshots: Day 119

The Snapshot: “this Book of the Law … meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it.” (Josh 1:8) He’s an army general for goodness sake! What does he want with reading the Bible?  That’s what a big bunch of people have thought down through the centuries but there are whole group of other people who have sat for half an hour or so each morning with a Bible in their lap as they imbibe the sweet presence of the author of it and somehow, in some inexplicable way, the varied writings of this book, make sense or leap at you with life-giving insights, or glimpses of another world that brings life and meaning to this one, and day by day they are gently transformed. Meanwhile the others stay bored, unfulfilled and lacking. Funny old world.

Further Consideration:  For Joshua, the Law that had been received forty years earlier at Sinai, was to be the foundation of his leadership. Next to being aware of the Lord, turning to Him, sharing with Him and listening to Him, this revelation, the Law, was to be the anchor that held him and kept him steady.

Yes, that intimate relationship with the Lord, that practice of contemplation, of waiting upon Him in silence perhaps, listening for the still small voice of the Spirit, that is to be the base experience of every Christian (if only it was!) but that, as a friend of mine warns me regularly, can be subjective and we have to avoid being led astray by our own thoughts and wishes, and so the check, the balance, is to be His Word that never changes. For us it is far more than just a few chapters of what became the Pentateuch, it is the whole Bible but with a special emphasis on the New Testament that testifies to the work of Christ, the implications of that work, and how it is to be worked out in our daily lives for however many years he allows us to have in this present life.

For Joshua there were the scrolls on which Moses had written the original Ten Commandments, then the laws found in Ex 21-23 but then many more that Moses had added that are found not only in Exodus (those of which are mostly about the Tabernacle and the Priesthood) but also in Leviticus and Numbers as well as all the reminders and confirmations of Deuteronomy. Oh yes, Moses had been busy! Probably they were not only the ones given on Mount Sinai (see Lev 1:1,26:46, 27:34) but were added by Moses (see Num 7:89),  who spent much of his time in in the Lord’s presence (as Joshua had also done) in the Tent of Meeting, the Tabernacle. See how many times in Leviticus, for example, the words arise, “And the Lord said to Moses…” Oh yes, Joshua had a lot of reading to do – and so do you and I. History tells us that the Lord has gone to great trouble to give us the book. Let’s not ignore it.

11. Joshua (1)

Meditations of Old Testament Highlights: 11.  Joshua (1)

Josh 1:5-9   I will never leave you nor forsake you…. Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. Do 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. Then you will be prosperous and successful. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.”

It would almost do a disservice to Joshua to take just one verse. In these verses three times Joshua is told by the Lord to be strong and courageous, twice he is told to carefully hold on to the Law that came through Moses, twice he is told he will be successful if he does these things, and twice the Lord has declared He will be with him and will never leave him, wherever he goes. These verses are a package of reassurance for Joshua and they follow another highlight, I will give you every place where you set your foot, as I promised Moses.” (v.3)

Moses, on the Plains of Moab before he departed had declared, “If you carefully observe all these commands I am giving you to follow–to love the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways and to hold fast to him– then the LORD will drive out all these nations before you, and you will dispossess nations larger and stronger than you. Every place where you set your foot will be yours.” (Deut 11:22-24) There were some of those same components – holding fast to the Law will mean God will be with them to drive out their enemies before them. From right back at the burning bush, nearly forty years before, the Lord had promised Moses this land: “I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey–the home of the Canaanites.” (Ex 3:8) This had been repeated in Ex 3:17, 6:4,8, 12:25, 13:5,11, 20:12, 23:23,28-31, 32:13, 33:1,2, 34:11,12,15,24.  Oh yes, the promise of the Land had been constantly there.

But how would obeying the Law help Joshua and his army as they entered the land and drove the inhabitants out? Many of the laws were surely about living out community and that had not yet been established? The answer, I suggest, is that Joshua meditating daily upon the laws meant that his heart would be turned to the Lord the whole time he advanced into the land. He would be encouraged to do this as he was made aware of two things: first, that the Lord was with him the whole time, and second, doing this would ensure success in the whole enterprise.

Why have I suggested that these are ‘highlight verses’?  It is because they show a threefold strategy that is there for bringing about success. First, they have been reminded that they are fulfilling a goal that the Lord has spoken about and promised many times over the past forty years. This activity this founded on the Lord’s promises. Second it is a strategy that is guaranteed because the Lord Himself was there in the midst of it. He had previously promised a number of times that He would drive out the inhabitants (but that was largely predicated on the corresponding activity of Israel). Third, there is a human part to be played and that requires three things: i) a firm faithfulness, holding to the Law and to the Lord, ii) a requirement to be courageous, and that involves an act of will and iii) their activity as warriors going in to clear the Land.

So how do these things impact our lives today? How are they relevant for the way we live out our lives, day by day? Well, following the order above,

  • first, we have the confidence to be who we are and do what we do because we have the promises of God in His word, especially in the New Testament, and we can rely on those promises, e.g. that we are forgiven, we are redeemed, we are adopted as children of God, we now come under His protection and receive His provision. These are all promises of His word,
  • second, He is with us and indwells us by His own Holy Spirit. Wherever we go we have that same assurance that Joshua had which has been carried into the New Testament, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” (Heb 13:3),
  • third, as we play our part so we will observe fruitfulness, things coming about as a result of His blessing on our lives and activity.

This last part, again following what we said above, has three parts. We have three things to do as we play our part:

  1. i) We hold firmly to His word: we need to be strengthened as we read His word, study His word, meditate upon His word, being encouraged by His testimony of what He and Jesus have done, and learning the principles by which He works and the teaching He lays before us for us to follow. i.e. we constantly seek His will.
  2. ii) we determine to remain courageous, and that will involve an act of will that says, ‘I will remain faithful and true, I will persevere in the face of adversity and I will receive from Him His grace to overcome on a daily basis.

iii) we see ourselves as warriors in a spiritual battle so we resist lies and doubts and temptations from the enemy, and we fight with the weapons of truth, of righteousness, of worship and of prayer, being led at all times by the Spirit.

In these ways we walk parallel to Joshua and his army. He had a physical land to overcome, we have a spiritual ‘land’ – our lives. He had to drive out physical enemies, we have to deny spiritual enemies their hold on our lives – doubts, dismay, dejection, pride, arrogance, self-conceit, anger, bitterness, unforgiveness, the list is long and is there in the New Testament. Physical or spiritual, the strategy was essentially the same. Do read through again the things in the above paragraphs that you may be clear on the issues, clear on the goals, clear on the methods and set your compass accordingly. Be blessed warriors of God!

14. Jesus, the Ultimate Gem

Meditating on the Gems of the Bible:  14. Jesus the ultimate gem

Mat 1:20,21  “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

The name Jesus or Jeshua was fairly common and is akin to Joshua of the Old Testament and it means deliverer. The thing about this particular baby, this particular Jesus, was that he would not deliver people in a physical sense but in a spiritual sense. The claim of the angel speaking to Joseph in a dream was that this Jesus would come and do something that no other person on earth could do, he would deliver people from their sins. Now when we think about that we realise that it must mean that he will deliver them from the guilt and punishment that their sins deserve AND he will deliver them from the actual sins, from continuing to do them. That is what salvation through Christ does, and just in case you have never seen it like that before, let’s repeat it: he delivers form the guilt and punishment of sins AND from the ongoing having to continue to sin. The first is what puts us right with God and the second is the life we live out subsequently with Him. This, as briefly as possible, is what Jesus has come to achieve, and he has done it for millions and millions of people.

How, again as briefly as possible, did he go on to do it, this? There were two parts to his ministry. First of all, for three years he lived out a period of ministry from about the age of thirty, revealing his Heavenly Father’s nature. In the words of the apostle Peter on the Day of Pentecost, he was revealed as a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him,” (Acts 2:22)  Later on, to Cornelius and his Gentile family and friends Peter declared, “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.” (Acts 10:38)  Jesus himself had declared to John’s disciples, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.” (Mt 11:4,5) In the things he did he revealed Himself as a unique being.

Three times his Father testified to the wonder of who he was. First at his own baptism, “As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” (Mt 3:16,17)  The second was on the Mount of Transfiguration: “Then a cloud appeared and enveloped them, and a voice came from the cloud: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!” (Mk 9:7) The third time appears to have been on Palm Sunday, as recorded by John, “Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.” The crowd that was there and heard it said it had thundered; others said an angel had spoken to him.” (Jn 12:28,29)

The second part of his ministry was dying on the Cross to take the punishment for our sins. Jesus knew exactly what he was doing when he allowed this to happen: “From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.” (Mt 16:21) Also “We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will turn him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day he will be raised to life!” (Mt 20:18,19) He spelled out the purpose of this at the Last Supper: “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” (Mt 26:28) The apostle Peter also spelled this out: “The God of our fathers raised Jesus from the dead–whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel.” (Acts 5:30,31) God raised Jesus from the dead and then took him back to heaven with him, confirming who he was and his purpose.

This is the unique ministry of Jesus Christ, the revealed Son of God. After he ascended and returned to sit next to his Father in heaven, ruling at His side, we find there are three people who saw him there. First there was Stephen just before he was stoned to death as the first Christian martyr (see Acts 7:56). The second was Saul on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:3-6) and the third was the apostle John in his revelation on the isle of Patmos. In the first part of the vision he saw Jesus as the one holding the seven churches of Asia Minor in his hands – the Lord of the Church (Rev 1:12-18). In the next part of the vision he saw him before the throne of heaven, as the Lamb of God, the Saviour of the world (Rev 5:5-10).  In the latter part of Revelation he saw him as the returning conquering king (Rev 19:11-16).

So when Joseph gets this message from the angel in a dream, we have all this wrapped up in a short description. The wonder of the New Testament is that being opened up and revealed to us in much greater detail. Of all of the gems we might find in the Bible, this surely has to shine the brightest.

27. To Joshua

“God turned up” Meditations: 27 :  To Joshua the High Priest

Zech 3:1     Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the LORD, and Satan standing at his right side to accuse him.

We conclude this series with another of the prophets, Zechariah. This is his fourth vision and he sees the high priest, Joshua. Now Joshua is also written ‘Jeshua’ and that is how we find him named among Zerubbabel and Nehemiah (Ezra 2:2 & Neh 7:7). We need to build up the picture of who was involved and when. Haggai and Zechariah prophesied to encourage the finishing of the rebuilding of the Temple after the Exile (see Ezra 6:14). Haggai specifically mentions Zerubbabel and Joshua the high priest. (Hag 1:1,12). The role of the high priest was partly as a spiritual encourager (seen in various places on the Old Testament) but the rebuilding of the temple had received such opposition that it had come to a grinding halt. In fact Haggai’s word had specifically rebuked the people for being concerned about their own homes but now ignoring the Temple of the Lord (Hag 1:4).

Joshua the high priest must have been feeling particularly low about this state of affairs. Here he was, the overseer of the activities of the Temple, but the Temple was not being completed. Will he ever be able to perform the tasks of the priest in the Temple again? There are those who make this vision in Zechariah involving Joshua to mean that Joshua was representative of the Israel and that this was a word to Israel but, I suggest, this ignores the activity or rather the lack of activity to do with the Temple about which these two prophets, Haggai and Zechariah were prophesying. This is a word that this man desperately needs to hear!

The Lord turns up and brings this word about Joshua through Zechariah because indeed Joshua is THE person who will oversee the work within the completed Temple and if the Temple is about to be completed at the urging of these prophets, then the chief priest needs to be brought into a right place and restored in both his eyes and the eyes of the people. THIS is why this is such a wonderful vision! This is the Lord who sees His servants, understands them, and feels for them and who comes and restores them.

See the word that follows: The LORD said to Satan, “The LORD rebuke you, Satan! The LORD, who has chosen Jerusalem, rebuke you! Is not this man a burning stick snatched from the fire?” (v.2)  Joshua has been coming under immense condemnation from Satan. Not only had Satan been using the enemy to discourage the leaders and the builders, but he had been pulling down Joshua with condemnation, declaring him a failure. Have you heard similar thoughts in your mind? “You are rubbish! You are a failure! Give up! Stop pretending you are a man (or woman) of God with a calling. You’ve lost whatever calling you had; you’ve failed!”  Satan had been rebuking Joshua so the Lord rebukes him in turn. Yes, Joshua was burning with shame, burning with condemnation and with a sense of failure and Satan is trying to destroy him, but the Lord has come to come to snatch him from destruction.

See what the Lord does for Joshua: “Now Joshua was dressed in filthy clothes as he stood before the angel. The angel said to those who were standing before him, “Take off his filthy clothes.” (v.3,4) which is clearly symbolic of his guilt being taken away: “Then he said to Joshua, “See, I have taken away your sin, and I will put rich garments on you.” (v.4) Now the turban of the priest was especially significant because it had on the front of it, “Holy to the Lord.” (see Ex 28:36) so that gets a special mention in the restoration: “Then I said, “Put a clean turban on his head.” So they put a clean turban on his head and clothed him, while the angel of the LORD stood by.” (v.5) This representative of the Holy God is completely restored and the nature of his clean clothes indicates that he is reinstated in his role as high priest.

Next he gets his marching orders from the Lord: “The angel of the LORD gave this charge to Joshua: “This is what the LORD Almighty says: `If you will walk in my ways and keep my requirements, then you will govern my house and have charge of my courts, and I will give you a place among these standing here.” (v.6,7)

But this cleansing and reinstating of Joshua is symbolic of something so much greater that is yet to come: “Listen, O high priest Joshua and your associates seated before you, who are men symbolic of things to come: I am going to bring my servant, the Branch.” (v.8) What has happened to Joshua is what will happen when “the Branch”, the Messiah comes. Then he refers to him as a stone (v.9) and says he will remove all sin in a single day (v.9) which can only refer to the work on the Cross by the Son of God.

This is pure grace! Joshua has done nothing to deserve this. He’s simply been there to serve the Lord – if the temple is restored – and the Lord comes and restores him and removes his sin. He is now equipped to be the high priest again.  Isn’t this what the work of Jesus has achieved, a holy priesthood? (1 Pet 2:9, Rev 5:10)

In a very negative situation the Lord turns up to restore this man, Joshua. He has done nothing to deserve it; it is a pure act of God’s grace. This is what the Lord longs to do with each one of us. How wonderful!

6. To Joshua

“God turned up” Meditations: 6 :  To Joshua

Josh 5:13-14 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 asked, “Are you for us or for our enemies?” “Neither,” he replied, “but as commander of the army of the LORD I have now come.” Then Joshua fell facedown to the ground in reverence.

It is a sad thing that there is so often a ‘them-and-us’ mentality in so many Christians. It may be about ‘us’ and other churches, or it may be between ‘us’ and the non-Christian world around us. Whatever it is, there are certain obvious characteristics to it: there is a sense of division, of being different and, even worse, of ‘us’ being superior, ‘us’ being right and ‘us’ having God on our side. It is a very small minded view born out of insecurity!

There are certain things about wars and fighting that everyone knows, things you hear and pick up along the way. The particular thing I have in mind is the sentry’s challenge, “Halt, who goes there?” It always struck me as being a bit odd because if it was then enemy they would probably shoot at you. Sometimes that challenge had added to it, “Friend or foe?” But it is fundamental in a battle situation, that challenge, because you need to know if you are about to be attacked.

This little encounter that Joshua has is interesting. Israel have entered the Promised Land and next day they intend to go and take Jericho. They are there at the Lord’s bidding. The supernatural supply of manna has just stopped so they will now be living off the wonderful provision of this land. It is very much a new day. They are on the plains of Jericho and Joshua is perhaps out on reconnaissance. Suddenly he is aware of a man simply standing before him – but he has a sword in his hand, so he is a potential threat. Who is he? Is he one of his own people? Rather unlikely! Is he from Jericho? Again somewhat unlikely.  So who can he be?

Joshua challenges him: “Are you for us or for our enemies?” It is a legitimate challenge, it would seem, but the answer that comes back is startling! “Neither,” he replied, “but as commander of the army of the LORD I have now come.” Wow! Joshua is under no illusions about who it is before him: Then Joshua fell face down to the ground in reverence.” This may not be God Himself but it is the next best thing, His representative.

There was Joshua minding his own business – well God’s actually – getting ready to take Jericho, and suddenly someone from ‘head office’ turns up. When inspectors turn up at a school or business or whatever other organization it is, everyone scurries around to please them for they know they are under the microscope, but it doesn’t seem to be that sort of thing here. This ‘man’ has come to tell Joshua that God is there – or at least His powerful representative is. His brief response has got two important elements to it. Let’s take the latter one first.

As commander of the army of the LORD I have now come.” Hold on, which army?  The Lord’s army! Which army is that? Is it the fighting men of Israel or is it an angelic host. A revelation of the latter came many years later when Elisha and his servant were shut up in Dothan: “And Elisha prayed, “O LORD, open his eyes so he may see.” Then the LORD opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.” (2 Kings 6:17). What this suggests is that when God instructed Israel to fight it would be a twofold army – human and angelic, but the important issue, Joshua, is that you are not the boss! God is, and this is his representative who has come to oversee the coming conflict against Jericho. There are those who suggest that the vibration of the army marching around Jericho was what brought down Jericho’s walls, but the presence of the Lord’s army commander suggests it was the angelic host doing what Joshua’s army could not do.

But there is another important element to this man’s response. It comes in the one word, “Neither.” i.e. I’m not here on your behalf or the enemy’s behalf. Hold on, aren’t you here on our behalf?  No, you don’t understand; you’re here on God’s behalf.  Yes, you are going to have this as your land but this is God’s plan and without Him you can’t do anything meaningful and the glory is going to be all His. You are serving Him not Him serving you. So no, I’m not here on your behalf; you’re here on my behalf, let’s just get that straight.

And Joshua understands and he falls down in reverence of the One from heaven. It doesn’t matter whether this is an angel or a theophany (human representation of God), this is the presence of God come down from heaven so, “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.” (Josh 4:15). When God comes, the place is made holy because God (or His representative from heaven) is holy. Respect that, honour him, worship and bow down before heaven’s presence.

This is all about getting a right perspective on life. If God calls you to service, He will guide you and equip you and empower you. He is the One who is working out His plan and He is the one who will give you the strength you need (see Phil 2:13 & 4:13). We are not here to glorify ourselves but to glorify Him. Being faced with a battle with the enemy confronting you? Remember, the battle is the Lord’s. Let Him direct it, equip and empower you with His grace. We’re part of His army, not Him part of ours!

38. Enemies of God

Meditations in James: 38 : Enemies of God?

Jas 4:4     You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.

Observing people taking sides is not a pleasant thing  because it is divisive, yet we accept division in society at the many different levels. At its basic level, politics is all about how is the best way to run a country, what sort of rules, what sort of laws, how to look after people. The problem is there are so many different ways, and so different ideas have, in the past century or so, created different political parties and we are encouraged every few years to vote in favour of one party and against the others. There is this natural taking of sides that takes place. In the whole realm of football, people take sides, and support one team as against all the others. It is a taking sides that demands fierce loyalty so often. Wherever there are options and alternatives and competition for one or the other, there is taking sides.

The tone of James’ letter sometimes suggests that he has heard things about the church scattered far and wide, and some of the things he has heard upset him.  The whole issue of favouritism in church was obviously one such thing. Now he speaks with a passion about the church that he has been hearing about, that sides with the world.  Now we have commented previously that when the Bible uses the world ‘world’ it can mean the physical planet on which we live, the people who live on it, or the attitudes of godless and unrighteous mankind. It is the latter meaning that he uses here.

Probably the classic passage about ‘the world’ comes in 1 John 2: Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world–the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does–comes not from the Father but from the world.” (1 Jn 2:15,16). There the world’s ‘life approach’ is defined.  First, cravings of sinful man.  It is a world that is motivated and driven by sensual desires, living according to self-centred desires, regardless of what they are. Second, lust of his eyes desire stirred on by visual impact. This is what the whole advertising industry is about. Make you ‘see’ something and then want it, because of those unrestrained desires already there that just need stirring on. Third, boasting of what he has and does, pride that exalts self. To summarise: the world means self-centred living according to desires, that are inflamed by what you can see and which go to building up the ego to exalt the individual.

How is this hatred toward God? First it is self-centred and godless.  Second it is purely materialistic – and thus godless. Third it exalts self to the exclusion of God  – and is therefore godless. In every way the ‘way of the world’ is a godless mentality, and by godless we mean it excludes or ignores or rejects God.  No wonder James says that Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. This is another case of taking sides, because there are opposites to choose and if you choose one you will be hostile to the other. If you accept a mentality that is, in reality, self-centred, materialistic and self-exalting, you cannot call yourself a child of God, because all of these expressions are in opposition to God.

Perhaps the classic instance in the Scripture of this choice came through Joshua to the people of Israel near the end of his life: 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 Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.” (Josh 24:15)  Look, he was saying, if you want you can go and serve the idols that our primitive forefathers served, but me and my family will serve the Lord.  There was a clear choice you did one or the other.  The choice is exactly the same today.  You either serve the idols of materialism, or of self-centred human endeavour, or of scientific endeavour or whatever other godless expression of modern life that you can find, or you will trust and serve the Lord.  The reality of that choice comes when you see who or what it is that you rely upon. That is why James finds it so important to think about talking to God.  Talking to God is perhaps the clearest sign of relying upon Him.

A New Testament parallel is, perhaps when Jesus had been saying difficult things:From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him. “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve. Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.” (Jn 6:66-69) Some of those who had been with Jesus now drifted away. They couldn’t cope with or understand some of the things he was saying. For Peter, there was no question. Jesus was the Messiah and was the one bringing answers and eternal life. There was no competition as far as he was concerned. That conclusion meant he gave up all rights to his life and went and followed Jesus wherever he led. I once asked a group what they would like their epitaph on their gravestone to be. One answered, “She followed the Lord wherever he said to go.” May that be true of each one of us who call ourselves Christians!

Wrong Perspective


Num 14:3 Why is the LORD bringing us to this land only to let us fall by the sword?

The trouble with this series, is that it’s all about trouble, about when life doesn’t seem to be working out as we feel it should. By necessity some of the studies will have distinct similarities, the biggest of which is that things aren’t going right. Now perhaps we ought to be honest and say that sometimes things are not going right as far as we can see. Very often it is how we perceive things. The classic of this is found in James. Things go wrong and we get severely stressed but James says, Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds” (Jas 1:2). Now if the first part wasn’t bad enough, the Consider it pure joy, the thought of trials of many kinds makes it even worse. We’d much rather have a nice easy, smooth life, but life is filled with trials of many kinds! Yet James is suggesting a complete change of mind set when things go wrong. See it, he is saying, as a testing which will produce perseverance in you, and perseverance works to make you mature. Thus, be blessed when things don’t work out easily, because that will be bringing you become to mature person. Right!

Perception is all important. Do you remember in the New Testament, the classic example of this is the blind man of John 9? The disciples saw him as a butt for theological discussion; Jesus saw him as an opportunity to glorify God, do His work and bless the man. Yes, it’s all about perception and perception, in the kingdom of God, is so often about belief. It certainly is in the circumstances surrounding our verse today. There is a sequence of events leading up to this verse. The people of Israel are supposed to take the land of Canaan. It is their Promised Land. Before they actually enter it, they send in twelve spies. Two of them, Joshua and Caleb, bring back positive reports. The other ten are faint hearted and faint heartedness conveys itself to others. If you want people to step out in some new initiative that requires faith, don’t choose the faint hearted!

Listen to the report of these ten: “But the men who had gone up with him said, “We can’t attack those people; they are stronger than we are.” And they spread among the Israelites a bad report about the land they had explored. They said, “The land we explored devours those living in it. All the people we saw there are of great size. We saw the Nephilim there (the descendants of Anak come from the Nephilim). We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them.” (Num 13:31-33). What were they saying about the land? There are people already living there, they are stronger than we are, and they are bigger than we are, so we can’t deal with them.

Well the first three parts were correct but the conclusion was a conclusion of the faint hearted who lack faith. Before we see any more of this, consider the situation. The people in the land may be big, but they are likely to be disorganized, self-centred and with no objective other than survival. Israel on the other hand, are well over a million people, well organized, God-centred and very purposeful. More than that, they are being led by The Almighty God who has shown His power by delivering them out of Egypt and providing for them in the wilderness. It’s a ‘no contest’! But these ten, and then the people at large, forget all about God! “That night all the people of the community raised their voices and wept aloud.” (Num 14:1). These people have lost perspective.

How could they do that? It is only about a month since they left Sinai with all the incredible revelations of God there. How could they forget the Lord so easily. Perhaps a natural, human answer to that is to consider what took place in that period. They journeyed by foot for about a month. That is a long time to walk with your family, your tents and your sheep and all your worldly possessions. Those who have flown any distance know the experience of jet lag, which is a tiredness that leaves you feeling very other-worldish. Being fair to the Israelites, I suspect there was something of this feeling when they arrived at the Promised Land. The only problem with excusing them like that is that they had a forty day rest period (Num 13:25) while they waited for the spies to return. They are, surely, refreshed and should, surely, be full of expectancy. After all, it is the Lord who has told them to take the Land and He goes with them, so whatever report comes back, this really shouldn’t matter. But it does! They allow themselves to lose perspective and so they fear and they wonder and they think negatively.

When a difficulty occurs, how will you view it? I once came across a little poem (which I’ve lost now) which talked about finding a fallen tree across your path. Now will you see it as an obstacle to encumber you, or will you see it as an opportunity to climb up and get a better view as you go forward? This cry – Why is the LORD bringing us to this land only to let us fall by the sword? – is an inaccurate conclusion when faith has slipped. Yes, there are difficulties in the Land, but God is big enough to deal with them. Has He brought you to this point to kill you off? Of course not! He’s brought you here to bless you as you overcome with His enabling. This is a place of blessing!

Walk of Victory


Josh 6:15 On the seventh day, they got up at daybreak and marched around the city seven times

In olden days, when taking a fortified city, you would lay siege to it, pile earth against its walls and pound them with catapults until a breach was made. Even today we pound cities with rockets or bombs from aircraft until the place is just a pile of rubble. To simply walk round a city is not one of the recognised ways of bringing a city down – but that was what Joshua did!

We said in the previous meditation that something Joshua had to learn was that the Lord is the commander of the army, not him. It was the Lord’s wisdom and the Lord’s power that would subdue the land. Israel had fought and had conquered a couple of kings on the way to the land (and now no doubt feel more confident) but once in the land, the place that first confronts them as they cross the Jordan, is Jericho, a highly fortified city. They have no experience of taking such cities. So how did it happen?

The first thing to note is that the Lord declared, “I have delivered Jericho into your hands” (6:2). He had decreed it, so it was as good as done! When we are confronted by any battle we need to seek the Lord and gain assurance from Him that this is a battle that He wants us to fight and if it is, that He wills victory for us.

The second thing to note is that the Lord gives instructions as to how this city is to be taken (6:3-5). Now there is a problem with this because of the nature of the instruction: march round the city once a day for six days and on the seventh day march round it seven times. The priests were to blow trumpets as they went, the ark was to be carried, and the army was to follow the ark (the women and children were probably glad they just had to watch from a distance!) Now the problem about this is that it sounds crazy! Making so much noise meant that this was not an attack of stealth. Doing nothing to the walls meant they were unlikely to come down. Humanly speaking this was a waste of time. Now we put it like this so that we realise that this was an act of pure faith, of pure obedience. The Bible says that faith comes by hearing the word of God. They have had God’s word, so now all they have to do is obey it.

So for six days they go out and walk (march) round Jericho in silence – well, except for the priests’ trumpets blowing, and then on the seventh day, they go round seven times and on the seventh time as the trumpets blow, they shouted at Joshua’s command – and the walls fell down. All that was left was to go in and take the totally demoralised city.

Now it is very unlikely that you would be called to go and march around a city for seven days, but the overall principle is the same for you in any battle you face and, let’s face it, we do face battles day by day, against demonic powers, and against people being used by the enemy.

Principle Number One: we are the Lord’s army. We do not do what we feel like and we certainly don’t fight battles the way the enemy does, using insults, innuendos, lies etc. Our weapons are righteousness, and righteousness is simply doing what God wants.

Principle Number Two: The Lord is the commander of this army and He knows how this particular battle is to be fought. We need to keep close to Him, to seek His face and to listen for His wisdom. He knows, we don’t, and even if we don’t understand how it could possibly work, we need to do it. That was the problem that Naaman suffered when Elisha told him to go and dip in the river Jordan seven times to get healed of leprosy. How can that possibly help? I don’t know but that’s what God said, so do it. He does and he’s healed. Why? Because that’s the way the Lord set it up, so that he could express his complete reliance on the Lord!

Principle Number Three: our part is to express faith and simply be obedient to what He says in His word and by His Spirit. We are to do no more and no less than what He says. That is our part! And then we are to leave the outcome up to Him! Again, as with the Naaman example above, God simply looks for our obedience, our complete reliance upon Him, that says, ‘Yes, you are God, and I acknowledge that.’ Very often it seems that that is all He is looking for, and then He moves!

This is the walk to victory, and it is a walk of faith. It means receiving God’s word and responding to it in total submission to Him, and then watching the Lord exercise His power on our behalf. May it be so!

Walk of Assessment


Josh 5:13,14 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 asked, “Are you for us or for our enemies?” “Neither,” he replied, “but as commander of the army of the LORD I have now come.”

In a recent meditation we thought about Moses turning aside and walking over to the burning bush to investigate what was happening. This situation in our verses above is somewhat similar but with a person. Not only that though, and this is what makes it so different, the circumstances are incredibly different. Moses had been a shepherd with a history of failure, rather aimless; Joshua is now the leader of the people of Israel about to go into battle with express instructions to take the land.

The change in the circumstances of Israel couldn’t be greater. They have miraculously crossed the river Jordan and are now in the land where they freshly entered into covenant with God through the rite of circumcision (Josh 5:2-9), and then celebrated Passover (v.10) and ate the produce of the land (v.11) when the manna that had fed them for forty years had ceased (v.12). Thus the ‘feel-good factor’ for Joshua is quite high! They are in the land and they are back on a right relationship with the Lord. It’s a good time to be a General of the Lord’s army, Israel.

Thus when Joshua sees before him a figure with a sword, he boldly walks up to him and demands that he reveals who he is and whose side he is on. Here is Joshua’s mistake – he doesn’t bother to check first of all who this man is. When we’re sometimes full of the sense of the goodness of the Lord and the sense we have of the triumph and victory that is ours in His kingdom, we sometimes start speaking and acting presumptuously.

What is Joshua actually asking? Are you with us – in which case, welcome and join us – or are you against us – in which case you are an enemy and we’ll destroy you. He’s thinking in purely material terms. After all this is just a man standing here, and after all, I am The General, the commander of the Lord’s army, so who are you?

It is then that he’s given an answer that pulls him right up. OK, he’s walked up to the man full of boldness and made demands of him, but the answer given and the way it is given, rocks Joshua and he falls in reverence and acts like a servant (v.14).

Joshua has asked, ‘Are you for us or against us?’ and the answer has been given, ‘Neither!” What? Why? The continuing answer comes, “Because I am the commander of the army of the Lord and I don’t take sides (implied). I call people to my side, I don’t take sides!”

There is a tremendous lesson to be learnt here. God doesn’t take sides. We can’t get God on our side. In war, opposing armies have been known to assume that they had God on their side, but He doesn’t take sides! He is God! He is Supreme! He doesn’t come down to the petty affairs of ant-like humans and take sides. He calls us to come to Him, to submit to Him and follow Him.

This walk of confidence – this walk of assessment – has turned into a walk of worship. As he walks forward, Joshua realises he is encountering either the Lord God Himself, or a leading angel or, as theologians think, a theophany, a physical expression of the Son. As he goes into battle Joshua will now realise that he isn’t the commander of the Lord’s army, the Lord is! It’s a major lesson to be learnt. What he is doing is at the Lord’s instigation and it will be with the Lord’s wisdom and, as we shall shortly see, with the Lord’s power. It is a partnership but Joshua has to realise that the major partner is the Lord.

We, likewise, have to learn the same thing. If you pray for the Lord to be on your side in any battle you face, change your praying and ask the Lord to guide you to achieve what He wants you to achieve. If you haven’t read it recently, turn to the believers’ prayer of Acts 4:23-30 to see a good example of this. Ensure you are on His side!

Walk of Ownership


Josh 1:3 the LORD said to Joshua ….I will give you every place where you set your foot, as I promised Moses.

Before we can ponder the possibilities of this verse for our own lives, we need to observe why Joshua was where he was and what followed. We will also need to distinguish between him as a Jew in a physical land and us as Christians in a spiritual kingdom.

God had promised Abraham this land (Gen 12:7). He had also told Abraham that his immediate descendants would go to another country where they would be slaves and ill-treated for four hundred years (a round figure, not a specific one), and afterwards they would return to this land. Following the Exodus, and Israel‘s wilderness wanderings, the Lord led them again up to the border of the land which was inhabited by pagan worshippers who Israel is going to have to depose. The inhabitants of the land have three options: they can leave the land, they can join Israel and become God’s people, or they will die. Now the Lord promises Joshua that wherever he walks in this land will be his! So much for the past!

Briefly, to take the land, the people of Israel had to physically overcome the people of the land. From the book of Judges we see they never fully did this and so the Lord said those people would be a thorn in Israel ‘s side (Jud 2:2,3). Israel should have been able to live at peace in the land, but for a long time the remaining inhabitants spoilt that peace. So Joshua’s ‘walk’ through the land was to be a walk of occupation, taking ownership of the land.

Now how does this picture apply practically to us? We don’t have a physical land but we are part of the kingdom of God . What does that mean? It means we live under the reign of God over our lives. Physical land or physical space is not a matter of concern unless it is part of God’s will, part of His specific purpose for us, e.g. purchasing a piece of land on which to live, run a business or whatever, all under God’s guidance for our lives. Yet we can picture our lives as ‘the land’. When we came to Christ there is a new owner of ‘this land’ (my life) and a new power source has entered it – the Holy Spirit. Now for different Christians this now works in different ways, because we each come with different things to be ‘cleared out of the land’. Yes, when we receive the Holy Spirit when we become a Christian we receive this new power source and as we let Jesus guide us, he will enable us to ‘overcome’ these things that were perhaps habitual. For some people the change is instantaneous, this ‘taking the land’, and every step we take in the Christian life is a new, free walk.

For others, it seems, we have to battle with each old occupier of the land. For some it means fighting against the habit of swearing, for others against excessive alcohol use, for others the use of drugs, and so on. However, those are obvious occupants to be ousted. The less obvious ones are pride or arrogance, or thinking badly about specific people or groups, i.e. getting rid of prejudice or hostility. For some uncontrollable anger is the occupant to be ousted. For others, self reliance, or over independence are the occupants to be dealt with.

However, like Israel , we soon come to realise that we cannot do it on our own; we need God’s help. It is the work of the Holy Spirit to change us bit by bit into the likeness of Jesus (2 Cor 3:18), and our part is to set our hearts in the direction of His will, and to co-operate with Him and obey Him as He leads. As we do that He will show us the way to overcome and also give us the power to overcome. As we walk with God, each step we take is a part of the walk of ownership, as we take control of our lives.

Previously we had been swept along by our desires (Eph 2:3). Once the ‘land’ had been occupied by characteristics that were ungodly and unrighteous but now we have been given a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline (2 Tim 1:7). With this power and love flowing in us, we exercise self-discipline or self-control, the fruit of the Spirit working in us (Gal 5:23), and so with each step forward we take ownership of who God has designed us to be. Bit by bit we come more free and more fulfilled. Hallelujah!