16. Redeeming Israel – the Promised Land

Reaching into Redemption Meditations: 16. Redeeming Israel – the Promised Land

Ex 6:6-8 ‘I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians….  And I will bring you to the land I swore with uplifted hand to give to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob. I will give it to you as a possession. I am the Lord.’”

 Redemption and the Covenant: In the previous study we considered the fact of the Exodus as an act of redemption. Now we focus more tightly on the wider act of the Exodus for, in the verses above, we see the Lord revealing a two-part plan: a) to deliver Israel out of the slavery of Egypt, and b) delivering them into the freedom of the Promised Land.  He also reveals that this will come about by ‘mighty acts of judgment’ – which we come to know as the ten plagues, and then the destruction of Pharaoh and his army in the Red Sea – and then He will enter into a new relationship with them as a people: “I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God.” (6:7) At mount Sinai He speaks about that as a “covenant”, a legal binding agreement.

Awareness and Cooperation: Now the question arises, why does this word ‘covenant’ arise so many times in the Bible? For instance, it is first used with Noah (Gen 6:18 – basically you build an ark, I’ll flood the world but will save you) then Gen 9:9-17 not to flood the world again. Next came the covenant with Abram (Gen 15:18 on) and with Isaac (Gen 17:21) and at various times God referred back to His promise to Abram. Now we have ‘covenant’ arising again but this time it is with the newly constituted nation, Israel, at Mount Sinai, to be a ‘treasured possession’. Now here is my question. We know from seven New Testament references that God’s plan of salvation through Jesus was formulated by the Godhead, before the foundation of the world. Now that plan was going to be operated, if I may put it like this, through the ‘environment’ that was the nation of Israel. So if this plan was in the mind of God from the outset and all the things we are observing are a part of that big over-arching plan, why did the Lord bother to announce it; He was going to do it anyway? The answer has to be because He wanted them and us to be aware of it and in being aware, be an active part of it, cooperating with Him in it all the way along.

Land and People: It is clear from the Lord’s original declaration in Ex 6:6-8 that His plan involves a) them as a people (Ex 6:6,7) and b) Canaan as the land He had promised to the Patriarchs (Ex 6:7,8). For us today that is expressed as a) the Church, the redeemed community of God’s people, and b) the kingdom of God, wherever and whenever and however His will is expressed on the earth through us today. People and purpose. The Promised Land was to be the environment in which Israel existed and revealed their relationship with God. Today we do not have a physical land because the ‘kingdom of God’ is revealed anywhere in the world where the people of God express the reign of God.

God’s Purpose for the Taking of the Land: It is clear from the Lord’s declarations that His intent in respect of the Promised Land also included bringing judgment on the inhabitants, the Canaanites. As the other aspect of it was to give Israel a home of their own, it meant that He wanted to use Israel to bring that judgment on the Canaanites.

Understanding the Judgment on Canaan: Now there is often so much mis-information, ignorance or even confusion about this, that we need to deal with it here. First of all, when we consider God’s instructions to Israel and His statements about His own involvement, we find there are 31 references to the Canaanites being DRIVEN OUT, and only 4 references to them being DESTROYED and only 4 to them being WIPED OUT. God’s overall purpose was that the Land be cleared of the Canaanites and their pagan practices, and that achieved by driving out those pagan inhabitants, so only if they resisted in battle would they need to be overcome and destroyed.

Possibilities: Now those pagan practices could be removed (and that is the objective of the judgment that is Israel on them) by a) the people leaving the Land (hence ‘driven out’) or b) they submit to Israel and become part of Israel – and that we see happening in respect of Rahab (see Josh 2) and the Gibeonites (see Josh 9). When God said He would drive them out, it is clear He means a) using fear (e.g. Deut 2:25, 11:25, Josh 2:9,11, 5:1) and b) using Israel themselves.

Failure & Discipline! Now when you study what actually happened, you realise a) Israel failed to do what they were commanded to do, AND b) the Lord accommodated their failure into His overall plan! This becomes clear when we move on into the book of Judges. Their failure is first recorded in Jud 1:27-36 and He holds them to account over this (see 2:3 which echoes Num 33:55 and is seen in Josh 23:13.) The warning had been clearly given that if they failed to clear the land of its people then, those you allow to remain will become barbs in your eyes and thorns in your sides. They will give you trouble in the land where you will live,” (Num 33:55) God had fulfilled His covenant with Abram etc. (see Ex 33:1, Numb 14:23, 32:11, Deut 1:35, 10:11, 31:20,21,23. 34:4, Josh 1:6) and Israel should have trusted Him but didn’t. That was their failure which was now seen in their failure to completely clear the Land. Now He declares, “I will no longer drive out before them any of the nations Joshua left when he died. I will use them to test Israel and see whether they will keep the way of the Lord and walk in it as their ancestors did.”  (Jud 2:21.22)

God’s Persistence: We will see the outworking of this in the next study but what is amazing is that, as can be seen in the way the people grumble leaving Egypt, the way they grumble in the desert on the way to Sinai, the way they turn away so quickly at Sinai, the way they grumble on the way from Sinai to the Land, and their refusal to enter the Land, CONSTANTLY they fail to apprehend the wonder of the Lord’s presence with them and trust Him, and CONSTANTLY they fail to be obedient to Him. Now in Ex 19:5, one of our starter verses above, “if you obey me fully,” is the crucial condition required of Israel but, as we’ve just seen, they fail to do that again and again.  So what is amazing is God’s determination in working this through with Israel. One way or another His is going to redeem them and bring them through to the place where they will indeed be a light to the nations.

Lessons for Us? We must, as we’ve said before, never be casual about sin and never settle for a path that leads us away from receiving all that the Lord has on His heart for us. It is important that we do not live our lives based on our emotions that will go up and down. Growing ‘in Christ’ means we come to rely on the truths of the Gospel, the things we are considering here. However, there are in all this, two things that are really encouraging.

Redeemed from godlessness: The first is that the Lord will not give up on us just because we make a mess of life. In fact the truth is that many of us came to Christ because we realized what a mess we were making of life on our own, and we recognized our godlessness – yet on our own we were incapable of changing that. It was when we called out to Him that we found He was there for us and all of our mess didn’t matter. He died to redeem us from our mess.

Redeemed from the failures: The second thing is that although we may continue to get it wrong, and we continue to ‘trip over our feet’, the Lord is there constantly working to get us through to the end where we can come confidently face to face with Him in eternity. Yes, this account of Israel entering the Promised Land and yet not fully taking it, so often epitomizes our lives. We’ve entered the new life in the kingdom of the Son (Col 1:13) and yet how imperfectly we live it sometimes. But not only does the Lord not give up on us, He perseveres in His project which is to change us and see us through to the end, and that is where discipline comes. He will, like Israel in the imperfectly taken land, use the things we tolerate – against us – to help change us! Those things we think are OK, so we don’t get to sort them out, He will use to discipline us until we see what is going on and take steps to completely remove them from our lives. This process is life-long, and it is what theologians call sanctification.

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67. The God of Peace

Meditations in Hebrews 13:  67.  The God of Peace

Heb 13:20,21   May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

There are some things that are so fundamental to our faith that I believe we often forget them and the whole issue of peace and God being a God of peace, being one of them. Now we will look at these two verses in more depth in the next study where we will consider ‘God who equips’, but for the moment we will simply focus on ‘the God of peace’ because it is so simple, so obvious and yet so fundamental to our Faith.

The God of Peace: Sometimes it comes to us so simply in scripture, for example, The God of peace be with you all.” (Rom 15:33) It was also there is the message to the shepherds by the angels heralding the coming of baby Jesus: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.” (Lk 2:14) i.e. God’s desire for all mankind is peace for everyone and Jesus is His way of bringing peace to everyone.  The apostle Peter brought this same message to the first Gentile converts: “You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, telling the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all.” (Acts 10:36)

Lacking Peace in the world: But this all supposes that peace is lacking from mankind – and of course it is! Now the Hebrew word that is used for peace is ‘shalom’ which does mean peace but it is bigger than that and really means ‘wholeness’, or ‘completeness’. We are made to have a relationship with God but where that is missing, we are incomplete and we lack peace. It is simply how mankind is designed. Of course it is sin that separates us from God and keeps us from being whole. It is only the teaching of the New Testament that reveals this in the world. Nowhere else is there this realization. Various other world religions recognize that there is dysfunction in us but no other declares that it is because of our Sin and that God has provided an answer through His Son.

Jesus makes peace: The apostle Paul spoke of this: “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” (Col 1:19) God is the maker of peace by reconciliation. He reconciled us to Himself by Jesus taking our punishment for our sins, and satisfying justice.

Zechariah declared it: This message was delivered right at the beginning of the Gospel story when Zechariah was filled with the Spirit and prophesied over his son, John, later to be known as ‘the Baptist’, when he declared, “And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him, to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.” (Lk 1:76-79)

What an amazing word! John would go before his Lord to prepare the people to receive the salvation that God had planned for them, a real salvation that provided for forgiveness of their sins so that no longer need they feel guilty and apart from God. Previously it had been as if they were living in darkness, a place of fear and questions and doubts, but once this salvation came it would be like they were living in a new world, in the light where everything was visible, seen by God but no longer fearful of His judgment, death coming on them, because He had provided a salvation that included being a peace between them and Him.

Palm Sunday: One fascinating place where peace is referred to is when the crowds welcomed Jesus to Jerusalem at the beginning of his last week (Palm Sunday) before Passover (our Easter):“Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” (Lk 19:38) The crowds welcomed Jesus as their Messiah, the conquering king who had come to save them (from the Romans they thought). Their cries signified that they recognized, for a moment at least, that Jesus had been sent by heaven to bring God’s blessing to them which meant ‘peace in heaven’. Now they may not have realized what they were saying but that was exactly what he had come to do by taking the punishment for all sin and thus bringing peace in heaven, peace in God’s heart as He could receive sinful men to Himself.

The effect of Justification: The apostle Paul spoke of this work or process of putting us right with the demands of the Law and of justice as ‘justification’ which some have paraphrased as “just-as-if-I’d” never sinned; that is the effect of the work of Jesus on the Cross, and the end outworking of that work is peace for us: “since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Rom 5:1)

The outworking of Sanctification: But it isn’t just about what happens when God puts us right with Himself through Christ and we first receive it, it is also about how God views us throughout our following lives and what He intends for us, His changing us, which theologians call ‘sanctification’: “May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through,” (1 Thess5:23) and His overall intent for us: “Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way.” (2 Thes 3:16) In every aspect of our lives, God intends that we should be at peace.

From before the world: Now our writer is going on to say what is an outworking of this peace – that God equips us to live as He wants – but in so doing he summarizes all that we have been saying in a power packed verse that we saw at the beginning: “May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep….” (v.20) Note, first, He has done what He has done because as we have noted earlier in this series, the plan of salvation was decided upon by the Trinity before time-space history came into being, i.e. it was an ‘eternal covenant’  set up right back then.  Note, second, this covenant involved Jesus’ blood being shed, his life being given up, again agreed before the foundation of the world. Note, third, once he had given his life it opened the way for the Father to step in and raise up the body from the dead because it had achieved what it was sent to achieve. Note, fourth, Jesus had been sent to do what he did, and that included to act as a shepherd to collect and return to the Father, all who would hear his voice and return to him and follow him (“When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice.” Jn 10:4)

Conclusion: God wants your life to be founded on peace. Peace is to be the bedrock of your life. Know it, live in it and rejoice.

21. Process

Meditations in Meaning & Values  21. Process

2 Cor 3:18    And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit

In the last meditation we spoke about reaching full potential which, we said, only comes when we fully surrender and let God work in us to bring us to become what He has on His heart for us. The problem is that when it comes to understanding the world and more specifically my part in it, we want it now and we are impatient to have understanding now. We spoke briefly about the years it took to change Abram, Joseph,  Jacob and Moses and we did use the word ‘process’, but we didn’t really think about it beyond that and yet this concept of process is vital to understand as a Christian is you are not to suffer frustration.

The truth is that the Christian life seems to come in crisis moments followed by long periods of gradual change. For instance it was a crisis when you were converted and everything seemed to change all at once – except you came to realise there was an even bigger, more long-term work beginning which would carry on for the rest of your life. That life-long process of change is called sanctification. You were sanctified when you were saved and you are being sanctified for the rest of your life.

Simply observe a human life growing up into a bigger baby and then into a toddler and then a young child, and so on. If you are a parent you will be especially aware of that. Now if it happens in the physical world, why are we surprised that it happens in the spiritual world.

Thus Solomon in Proverbs wrote, “The path of the righteous is like the first gleam of dawn, shining ever brighter till the full light of day.” (Prov 4:18) In that he was acknowledging that our live constantly change and he used the picture of the rising sun to convey a very positive change that takes place in us. The apostle Paul used a very similar picture to convey the same truth in New Testament terms as we see in our verse above: “we …. are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory.”

Now both of these pictures convey a gradual change. It doesn’t happen all at once; it take time for it is a slow and gradual process. This is what frustrates us when we don’t understand the ways of God. God takes time because He knows that for any change to take place in you in any real measure, it has to take time. An oak tree doesn’t shoot up from an acorn in the ground in one day. It doesn’t form a strong trunk and branches in once day. Leaves don’t form and come out in one day. It takes months and years. Although it flies against that ‘instant’ or ‘must have it mow’ mentality of the twenty first century, it won’t happen.

Now this is made more complex for the Christian because the Lord may have spoken a prophetic word into you early on in life – and you are still waiting for it to be fulfilled. In the previous two meditations we considered the lives of Jacob and Peter, noting the crisis they each had to go through. Often the process of change is simply worked out in the ordinary everyday events of life – learning to cope with the boring and humdrum as well as with the busy and active, learning to cope with people, learning to cope with time or money pressures, all these things work to change us. But then there are also the crisis moments when our sovereignty is challenged and we have to see it must be handed over to God.

Now for so many of these changes to be brought about in us, there are two necessary ingredients in this material existence. They are time and events. I was sitting and pondering this in respect of changes in our church life the other day and found myself asking the Lord, “Lord why aren’t the changes that I know you want coming about?” His answer was, I believe, we are waiting for circumstances of change. i.e. the circumstances were not conducive to change. When everything is going smoothly, people are content to stay as they are. It is often only as things get difficult that people cry out for God to come and bring change.

The need to wait for circumstances to change is aptly revealed in the story of David. David was a shepherd boy but one day the judge and prophet Samuel turned up and anointed him to be king. The only difficulty was that there already was a king, Saul, and he was so insecure he wouldn’t tolerate any thought of a successor. So David carried on looking after his father’s sheep – a king (in God’s eyes) looking after sheep. Who does that remind you of? Circumstances meant that David ended up at the battle front where the warrior spirit within him meant him killing a giant (Goliath) and obtaining fame. He was taken into the king’s service but after a while the king’s jealousy meant that David had to flee or be killed. This resulted in him on the run from Saul, even having to take refuge with the enemy and even feigning madness at one point to survive – but he’s still God’s anointed. It is only when Saul dies in battle that the way is open for David to come forward as his successor, and then only initially as king over the southern part of the kingdom and it took a further seven years to become king over all Israel. In the process David was changed.

Very often we want instant understanding but we are called to live by faith and not by sight (2 Cor 5:7) and understanding only comes more fully (not completely) with the passing of time and life-changing circumstances. Very often we think God is concerned with how well we perform the tasks He puts before us, but in reality He is more concerned about how we are changing into the likeness of His Son. That is the crucial issue. We need understanding but we also need patience and perseverance. The promise will come.

5. Walk in the Light

Meditations in 1 John : 5 :  Walk in the Light

1 John  1:6,7   If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.

In the early part of this twenty first century crusading atheists have attacked God and the Church and one of the key prongs of their attack has been based on poor examples of Christianity, people whose lives have not lived up to the call of Jesus. There is in these verses a call to a great separation and it is a call to every believer.

Now it may be that John was speaking out in these verses against those who purported to be believers in that time, yet whose lives could hardly be distinguished from the rest of the world. Some religious groups said it was all right to live how you wanted. It was the argument that Paul went against in his letter to Rome:What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? ….. Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace?” (Rom 6:1,15)

John is a great one for calling Christians to live godly lives, lives that are pure and righteous. He does it by contrasting light and darkness. We have already touched on it in the previous verse meditation. Referring to Jesus in his Gospel, John wrote, “The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.” (Jn 1:5) and “The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world.” (Jn 1:9)

John uses light and darkness to describe right and wrong living, because the analogy is so clear – light and darkness  cannot exist in the same space at the same time. If you go into a dark room and turn on the light the darkness disappears. It is as simple as that. So, says John, Jesus is light and if you claim to be united with him in fellowship, and yet carry on sinning, that is proof that Jesus’ light is not in you, you are not in fellowship with him and all you say is a lie about being a believer.

When we talk about becoming a Christian we talk about inviting Jesus into your life. Now if you do that – genuinely – then his light will prevent you from sinning. Another way we put it is to talk about the Holy Spirit coming to live in us. He is light and if He genuinely lives in us and we fellowship with Him, then darkness cannot remain in us, sin cannot remain in us. The key word is ‘fellowship’. In his Gospel, John remembered Jesus, at the Last Supper speaking of similar things: “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit.” (Jn 15:5) Remaining in, or, as the older versions had it, ‘abiding in’ simply means living in harmony with Jesus, fellowshipping with him.

Sanctification – that change of life to become more like Jesus – is both an instant and a gradual thing. It is instant and starts from the moment we come to Christ and he places his Holy Spirit within us. At that point the goal of our life, all of our aims, changes. From that moment living for God becomes the all-important thing; that’s what we mean when we talk about surrendering our lives to Him. From that moment on, His will is the all-important thing for us, but the trouble is that often there are things we haven’t realized God wants to change and, in fact, the change will take years and years. But whenever we recognize something that is not right, we must deal with it immediately – for it is darkness and it can no longer exist within us.

When we fellowship or commune with God, He lets us know when they are obvious things that need dealing with. He takes away our peace and we become aware that here is something that must change. How many Christians, I wonder, never commune or fellowship with God? I wonder how many just hold him at a distance in their lives? When you do this you can tolerate wrong things in your life – but be warned, that has spin-offs!

If we hold God at arms’ length, then we don’t fellowship with Him and if we don’t fellowship with Him it means we don’t fellowship with other believers. It is the Holy Spirit within us who enables us to fellowship heart to heart, spirit to spirit, with other believers. But on the positive side, when we do fellowship with Him and with one another, that is how His life in us is supposed to work and that is the outworking of His salvation that He wants in us. That is why John appears to ‘tack on’ this reference to the blood of Jesus, his Son, which purifies us from all sin. It is the outworking of our salvation is to be practical, not merely theoretical.

So often we seek to separate off references to our salvation and being cleansed from our sin, from practical living, but practical living is the outworking of what Jesus has achieved on the Cross. It wasn’t simply that our consciences can be cleared; it was also to enable us to live new lives and that newness involves interacting with other believers at a deep and meaningful level. If we sin and hold darkness in our lives, that prevents fellowship taking place – fellowship with God and fellowship with other believers. We will have an appearance of a Christian faith, but it will not be what God has for you, it will fall short of that. That is how significant these verses are!