5. Go take the land

Meditations on “God of Transformation: 5:  Go take the land

Josh 1:1-3   After the death of Moses the servant of the LORD, the LORD said to Joshua son of Nun, Moses’ aide: “Moses my servant is dead. Now then, you and all these people, get ready to cross the Jordan River into the land I am about to give to them–to the Israelites. I will give you every place where you set your foot, as I promised Moses.

The taking of the land of Canaan is truly a story of transformation – but it is a messy story, because it involves sinful human beings. Yes, the people of Israel may have been called by God at Mount Sinai to be a special people for Him, but the unfolding centuries simply tell us, or perhaps reveal to us, that they were just the same as any other human beings – sinful. The call to them was twofold – to clear the land of its present occupants and to establish themselves there as God’s holy people to reveal Him to the rest of the world. If only it was that simple, but they are sinful just like any other human being and whoever you look at in the Old Testament it is a story of getting it wrong, of failing, of slipping away from God. Oh no, don’t have any romantic feelings about the people of Israel; they were then, and still are, just sinful people.

Yes, they are clearly in God’s plans and purposes but simply because He chose them, not because they were righteous. (see Deut 9:4)  This is the big lesson about Israel – they were ordinary people, yes, people called into relationship with God but still ordinary people. Yes, there have lots of good things, as the apostle Paul said, Theirs is the adoption as sons; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. Theirs are the patriarchs.” (Rom 9:4,5) Yes, all these things marked them out, but they were still sinners, as their history shows so vividly. If you wanted to check the assertion that we are all sinners, just look at the life of Israel recorded in the many books of the Old Testament.

When it comes to the Exodus, travelling to Sinai, then travelling to the Promised Land, it is characterized by grumbling and even sinful rejection of God within just a month or so of having had the most amazing revelations of God on Mount Sinai, and after having witnessed His incredible activity dealing with Pharaoh and Egypt and delivering them out of slavery. On one hand it is the most amazing record of the powerful works of God in deliverance and of His incredible grace in not destroying Israel for their constant and ongoing folly, but on the other side it is this amazing and frightening record of the folly of sinful mankind who, when handed salvation on a plate, criticize and grumble at every step along the way! That’s what we’re like.

So they approach the Promised Land, having seen all these wonderful works of God, they send in twelve spies who come back and of whom ten give a damning and negative report of what the opposition was going to be like. So they refuse to enter and take the Land so the Lord consigns the older generation to live out their lives wandering in the desert until that generation (over the age of twenty) had passed away and the younger generation could then enter.

Now the taking of Canaan, I have found over the years, is the primary account in the Bible that raises the ire of critics. Many times on my blog sites I have had people ranting about a God who could consign an entire people (well actually a collection of peoples) to death. This is genocide. Well I have even heard leaders at seminars trying to defend this and it annoys me that the detractors and, it seems, most of the defenders, show they have not bothered to read carefully the books of Exodus through to Joshua. I have researched this and if you want to see it in detail go to Chapter 19 of my book, “The Judgments of a Loving God” on http://www.readbiblealive.com where I go into this in detail – but it is a work in progress.

Here is the most damning fact against those detractors. In those books above that refer to the taking of Canaan, the Lord instructs Israel to DRIVE OUT the inhabitants of the land and the words drive, driven or drives appears 33 times. The word ‘destroy’ appears just 4 times in respect of the inhabitants and there are question marks over those because they sometimes seem linked with ‘drive out’ suggesting that the ‘destroy’ means remove their existence from the Land BY driving them out. When there was subsequent destruction it was because the inhabitants, bound by their occult practices, failed to give way to the fear of the Lord and ended up fighting Israel and deaths occurred as in any other common war at the time. According to God’s instructions the possibility was a clearing of the Land without the death of any person. We know that is not what happened but according to His instructions that was the possibility.

To consider the transformation of the land we first need to note a description of life in Canaan before Israel came from a dictionary/encyclopaedia: “Just how sinful many Canaanite religious practices were is now known from archaeological artefacts ….. their ‘worship’ was polytheistic and included child sacrifice, idolatry, religious prostitution and divination,”  i.e. it was a land riven by occult practice, fear and superstition and extreme child abuse and sexual exploitation. Life counted for little.

Now consider God’s intent: a land where the people lived under the Law of Moses which extensively worked at creating a harmonious society by laying down ways of living where the weak and the vulnerable and the alien were cared for. Furthermore there were laws recognising that people could get it wrong, and so showed ways of restoring human relationships (sometimes through restitution) and restoring relationships with God through the sacrificial system. The objective was peace and harmony, and respect for human life and for individual humans.

Before we finish we should perhaps just note how this picture of taking Canaan works as a symbolic picture of our lives when we come to Christ. (see Eph 2:1-3).  All of the old worldly and sensual practices are to be “put to death” (see Col 3:5) and the sanctification process that will continue throughout our lives on this earth is about bringing every area of ‘the land’ that is our life under the rule of King Jesus. It is a powerful picture of transformation which starts at new birth and continues throughout our lives here on earth.

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5. The Providence of God

Meditations in 1 Samuel   5. The Mysterious Providence of God

1 Sam 1:25-28   they brought the boy to Eli, and she said to him, “As surely as you live, my lord, I am the woman who stood here beside you praying to the LORD. I prayed for this child, and the LORD has granted me what I asked of him. So now I give him to the LORD. For his whole life he will be given over to the LORD.”

When we speak about ‘providence’ in the context of God and the Bible, we mean God’s ‘behind-the-scenes’ activities, what He does to maintain the world and maintain His plans and purposes for the ongoing world. Often in the Bible we simply see a set of circumstances and are left wondering – how much of this was the hand of God? In our own lives and circumstances, it is again a genuine question, how much of what goes on is the hand of God on my life?

For instance I can look back at a number of things that have happened in my life, some out of my control that seemed random happenings and some that were my actions (motivated by what?) that had consequences. I am able, looking back, to see a clear chain of events that have resulted in me being the person I am today, doing the things I am doing today. A sceptic might say these things were just chance or coincidences but the fact is these ‘coincidences’ have resulted in me being where I am today. You may not be so clear in your mind and not be able to see such things in your own life, but is it simply that you haven’t thought it through before?

For instance, going right back to my school days. My birthday is in October and someone had given me a book on careers which I had browsed. The next day after my browsing (coincidence?) my headmaster (who I later hear is a Christian) came into our classroom and asked the class to tell him what we each wanted to be, what career we wanted. My mind was a blank. Months earlier I had pondered joining the army but that day I went cold with no idea, but as it came round to me I blurted out the one of the pages in the book I had perused the day before that stuck with me, “A Charted Surveyor, sir,” and so he passed on. I forgot about it but two weeks later he called me into his office: “Right if you are going to be a Surveyor, we’d better get you into a college, and he lined up three interviews in the top three colleges in London where I could study to be a surveyor. You didn’t say no to this authoritative man and so I ended up, initially living with an aged uncle and aunt in London to go to this London college.

Eventually their failing health meant they couldn’t have me any more so I moved into digs in west London, a most dismal experience. One of our subjects at college was law and we had a lecturer who was a barrister who dictated at a speed faster than I can type. The result was that at the end of the week when I looked at my law notes at least, I had this scrawl which I could hardly read and within a few weeks I would have forgotten the link. So I bought a portable typewriter and typed up my notes every day. A good way of learning and taking in.  Add to this the fact that living in a pokey bed-sit in Shepherds Bush in West London, and the college really having no social life, it meant that all my efforts went into learning with the result that after three years I came out top of my class. This opened a door from a top company in the city who head-hunted the top of the class every year and thus opened up experience at a level I could never have dreamed of.

Now that was one little block of my life but that led on to another block which was terminated by circumstances. I have changed my career (not just job) four times in my life and every time I took a third drop in salary (initially at least) but a tremendous improvement in quality of life and standard of living. In every change I look back and see the circumstances and marvel – it HAD to be the hidden hand of God working. And as for the contacts, the people and the circumstances, I look back with wonder and thankfulness!

Now I have taken this time and space to share with you because I suspect that many of us have circumstances like this which if we only looked we might discern the hand of God on our lives.

Now consider Israel. There were in a bad way. They were ruled by judges or in the present case, a priest Eli, it seems, and he’s old and on his way out. God had a way of raising up new judges to bless Israel but this next one is going to be different, he is going to be a prophet. So how are you going to get this prophet into the heart of Israel, the priesthood, when he is not of the Levitical family? How will you train him to be one who listens to God and thus speaks God’s heart to Israel?

So then we have Hannah who, it is believed, is stopped conceiving by God. She gets so desperate that she offers God her child as long as she can have one  – so He enables her to conceive.  In the fullness of time Samuel is born and she gives him into Eli’s care to serve Eli – that’s probably all she and Eli saw in it. So here we have the circumstances that result in this child being deposited with Eli where he will be brought up in the vicinity of the Tabernacle. Nothing terribly dramatic in this but we are only part way through the story. All we’ve seen so far is how Samuel ends up with Eli.

If you want another story of providential circumstances, read Ex 1-3 and see how Moses, a Hebrew, ends up as a Prince of Egypt – but then fleeing for his life he becomes a shepherd for the next forty years of his life. He too had three ‘careers’, first as Prince of Egypt, second as a shepherd in the backside of the desert and then as a champion who brings down Pharaoh and leads out of Egypt a whole nation who he oversees for the next forty years. If you want another providential story, go backwards from Moses and observe the life of Joseph. Amazing!

Again and again we find these stories of significant people chosen by God and whose circumstances are amazing. Later in this book there will be David  a shepherd boy chosen by God to be king. We never quite see the hand of God in these stories but it defies the intellect to just write them all off as coincidences.

Can we become a people who learn to discern the hand of God behind the circumstances of our personal histories or even that of the nations? Yes, the Father is working to bring people to Himself  but if that’s all you think He is doing when Jesus said, My Father is always at his work to this very day,” (Jn 5:17) then think again. In this context ponder on Paul’s words: “In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory.” (Eph 1:11,12) and link that with Rev 5 where the Lamb is given the scroll for the role of overseeing the end times. WE are people of significance because God is working blessing into our lives because we are His children (Rom 8:28). We may not be aware of it most of the time, but He is there and He is working. Hallelujah!