Monthly Archives: December 2014

Joshua 3 & 4

Now it’s time to cross the Jordan, which is purposefully very similar to the Israelites crossing the Red Sea to escape the Egyptians. When the Levites with the ark step foot in the river, the water will be stopped up and they’ll be able to cross on dry land. And just for double measure, we’re told that the river was at flood stage. The Lord tells Joshua that the purpose of this miraculous act is to exalt him in the eyes of the people just as Moses was exalted, that God was with them both.

Once they cross, Joshua has 12 men, one from each tribe, pull 12 stones from the river and set them up on the other side to serve as a memorial to commemorate the event, what God did so his people could make it into the promised land. It is always about what God has done that redemptive history is revealed to us. As the last two verses of chapter 4 tell us:

The Lord your God did to the Jordan what he had done to the Red Sea when he dried it up before us until we had crossed over. 24 He did this so that all the peoples of the earth might know that the hand of the Lord is powerful and so that you might always fear the Lord your God.”

Our God is powerful and in much more important ways that controlling the water flow of a river, ways that can transform the human heart.

Joshua 2

Joshua sends two spies to take a look at the land, especially Jericho, which begins the famous story of Rahab the prostitute. All it says is that “they went and entered the house of a prostitute names Rahab and stayed there.” This is a typically biblical bare bones description of what happened. We don’t know why they chose Rahab’s house and why they chose a prostitute’s house. Did they know of her before? Did they meet her out and about while she was plying her wares, so to speak? We do know that the King of Jericho knew about the spies because he sends a message to Rahab to bring the men out.

So Rahab was likely just because she was a prostitute and it would be easy to get into her house for refuge. Jericho was obviously not a big place, so it was probably not an easy place to hide. When she was asked about the men being with her she lied, saying that they had already left and that they never told her where they’d come from. I’ve always thought of Rahab when confronted by those who say telling the absolute truth all the time is a biblical imperative. It is clearly not. Of course she lied as a figure in God’s redemptive history, but she led nonetheless. It even says in James 2 that she was justified by this lie, and in Hebrews 11 she was considered one of the heroes of the faith.

It does seem that God chose Rahab because she was well aware of the Israelites and told the spies that everyone feared them. She knew of the exploits of what God did for them in Egypt and their victories over other kings. She also knew of the Lord, and that he had given them the land, and that he was not just any old god. In verse 11 in response to hearing about these things she says:

 As soon as we heard it, our hearts failed, and there was no courage left in any of us because of you. The Lord your God is indeed God in heaven above and on earth below.

She asks the spies that Israel would spare her family when they come against the city, and they promise her just that. She showed them kindness, and they will show kindness in return. She basically was picking the right God. When the spies returned they told Joshua the people of the land were melting in fear, so they’re ready to go get the land the Lord had given them.

 

 

Joshua 1

The Lord is getting the people ready to cross the Jordan to enter the land, and he promises them success. He tells Joshua several times to be “strong and courageous,” and even “very courageous.” He also tells him not to be terrified or discouraged. This is not going to be easy, and there will be setbacks so much so that Joshua will be tempted fear and to want to give up. I know these exhortations are written in a specific historic context and not necessarily to us, but since everything points forward to Christ it is not out of line to see parallels to the Christian life.

For us, entering the promised land of eternal life in this fallen world will definitely require strength and courage. Dead fish can float downstream, but it takes a very live fish significant effort to swim against the current. As Jesus says in Matthew 7:

13 “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.

And as I heard Chuck Swindol preach on this many years ago, we are likely to think of these roads as mutually exclusive, as if the wide road was in one county and the narrow road in another. But in fact, the narrow road is right smack dab in the middle of the broad road going in the opposite direction! We attempt to live a holy life in a fallen world, where the gravity of sin and its enticements and inclinations weigh us down, where the dust of sin coats all the furniture of our lives, where weeds grow in all the gardens we try to plant, and time’s inexorable decay is felt daily in our frail bodies. Add to this the cultural hostility in the West of the 21st Century, and no, the Christian life is not for cowards.

Yet God assures us, as he promised Joshua, that he will fulfill his promises. And as we look back on God’s covenant promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, we see as I mentioned in my previous post, that God promises an “everlasting covenant.” Everything he does in the history of redemption points to forever, points to us. We can trust as can Joshua and the people of Israel, that God will pull this off. And we see in one of the famous verses from my Nav days (I was involved in a group called the Navigators in college that promoted scripture memory), verse 8:

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.

The prosperity and success promised to Israel for obedience is obviously material in nature, but to us spiritual. As Paul says in Philippians 4:7, we have the peace of God that passes all understanding. Is that not more valuable than any material blessing? But notice the position “this Book of the Law,” God’s word, should have in the life of Joshua. It is not some tangential or peripheral matter in the life of this leader of God’s people; it is the heart of it. And so ours.

Notice that God encourages meditation on his word, which according to a dictionary is, “to focus one’s thoughts onreflect on or ponder over.” God encourages us to think about his communication to us, every single day. He wants us to see that it makes sense, that it’s rational and reasonable, that our lives can be run profitably by it. Even though we are no longer under the covenant of works, there is blessing in following God’s law, his commandments, his instructions for a holy, set apart life. And that would be set apart from sin and death, from the misery of life lived in rebellion to him, or maybe worse, just ignoring him.

Deuteronomy 33 & 34

Just prior to his death, Moses blesses each of the 12 tribes of Israel. One thing stands out to me. Pretty much everything in these first five books of the Bible take place in the realm of the temporal. You don’t really see references to the eternal and spiritual. Even those who die are gathered to their fathers, not said to be with God in eternity. One place where there is a vision of heaven and angels is Genesis 28, where Jacob dreams of a stairway to heaven, with angels ascending and descending on it. Other than that, and it was a dream, all of God’s dealings have been focused on earthly blessings and consequences.

But verse 27 of chapter 33 may be the first reference to things beyond. Moses says:

The eternal God is your refuge,
    and underneath are the everlasting arms.

The only other time the word eternal is used in the Pentateuch is in Genesis 21:33. After Abraham negotiates a treating a treaty, it says that he plants a tree and “called upon the name of the Lord, the Eternal God.” The word everlasting is found more often, but almost every reference is to “everlasting covenant.” We know what God meant by that word, literally forever, but to an ancient near eastern people everlasting probably meant a really long time. Conceiving of eternity would have been incomprehensible. That would only be revealed slowly in the course of redemptive history. Until then, it was all about the land and temporal blessings from God.

In chapter 34 we see Moses’ end. God shows him the land one last time, but he tells him again he will not “cross over into it.” Moses a type of Christ, could not take God’s people into the promised land, a type of heaven. That would require a perfect mediator, which Moses was most definitely not. He dies and is buried in an unmarked grave, and Joshua takes over. I think it not a coincidence that the one to lead Israel into the land, to cross the river (a type of death), has the same name as the one who became our eternal mediator and leads us into eternal life. But there is a ways to go before we get there.

Deuteronomy 32

We read here the song Moses is to read to the people, which is a reiteration of Israel’s future, including rebellion and restoration. There is a lot here, and I learned much from a commentary by James Burton Coffman, but I want to focus on just two verses:

I will proclaim the name of the Lord.
    Oh, praise the greatness of our God!
He is the Rock, his works are perfect,
    and all his ways are just.
A faithful God who does no wrong,
    upright and just is he.

Here you have the dividing line between those who have faith, i.e. trust, in God, and those who reject him. I think it especially important we find this in Moses’ song that tells the story of redemptive history, including judgments of God that are hard for human beings to accept because suffering comes with the territory.

When anyone is tempted to sit in judgment upon God’s doings, including me, I always go back to Genesis 3 and the very nature of the fall and sin. We want to be God, and call the shots, determine what is right and wrong. God’s revelation here tells us that God is perfect, and that he is perfectly just, that he is faithful and can do no wrong. Or our assessment will be that he is not perfect, nor just and can in fact do wrong is true. It’s an either/or, one or the other; human beings cannot hold both conceptions of God’s character in their mind at the same time. Either God is worthy of our trust, or he is not, and we will interpret everything that happens in life, ours and everyone else’s, through one of these two lenses (even those who claim to be atheists).

I simply, and logically, do not feel that I have enough information about the nature of reality to make judgments about God that differ from what scripture tells us. On the surface some of his decrees and actions appear harsh and unjust because we assume our knowledge is superior to God’s, that somehow we know more, even though by definition God’s knowledge is infinite and ours finite in every sense of the word. Bottom line, I trust God; his character is flawless, perfect in every way perfection is measured, and most important for these issues, morally and ethically. It is not possible for him to do wrong, not only because as God whatever he does is by definition is right, but that right itself is defined by the person of God himself.

Right gets it’s rightness from his character, and we see this rightness built into the nature of the reality he created. I like what Michael Ramsden said about the impossibility of breaking the moral law, and how that is analogous to the impossibility of breaking reality’s physical laws. You cannot break what is, so, for example, when we do what God has commanded that we don’t do in the Ten Commandments, the consequences will follow, in one degree or another. God’s law, the expression of his being, is built into our being, and it cannot be altered. We either benefit from it, or are harmed by disobeying it.

We see Paul in Romans do his best to explain the history of salvation and all that it means, and he was one to whom this was directly revealed by Christ himself. What is his conclusion? In Romans 11 we find the doxology that is the conclusion of everything:

33 Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and[i] knowledge of God!
    How unsearchable his judgments,
    and his paths beyond tracing out!
34 “Who has known the mind of the Lord?
    Or who has been his counselor?”[j]
35 “Who has ever given to God,
    that God should repay them?”[k]
36 For from him and through him and for him are all things.
    To him be the glory forever! Amen.

God’s enemies, which would be natural fallen man, hate him for his judgments. We who are his, transformed by his mercy and grace, bow down in humble gratitude and awe, and rejoice in him.

Deuteronomy 31

We’re getting close to the end of Moses’ story. He’s made it to 120, and now it’s time to pass the baton to Joshua. He encourages him and the people by affirming that it is God who is going with them to settle them in the land and defeat their enemies. He wrote down the law and commanded the people that every seven years at the Feast of Tabernacles the law should be read so all the people could hear it. We so take it for granted that anyone can have or buy a Bible for cheap and read it every day. Reading God’s word was a rare thing in ancient Israel.

But then Moses goes all negative, and God’s presence in the pillar of cloud confirms to Moses, that the people will rebel and suffer the consequences. He tells them, if they were rebellious and stiff-necked when he was with them, imagine what they’ll do when he’s gone! So we know before they even cross the river that Israel’s history isn’t going to be all sweetness and light. You have to wonder how these people felt when they were continually told they were going to blow it. Did families and neighbors gather and ask each other, why is Moses so negative. But if past is prologue, the people certainly didn’t inspire confidence.

But the point for those of us who read such passages in light of the gospel is that salvation isn’t attainable via human obedience, that our inclination as human beings is always rebellion, and yet God has a plan to save rebellious sinners. As the cliche goes, hindsight is 20/20, and we know exactly why Israel could never live up to God’s standards; they were sinners! Over 2000 years God had to use his people as an object lesson, that our eternal salvation from sin and death comes only by his initiative and it is his accomplishment. We can rest in knowing, it is not up to us; we cannot transform our own heart. That is God’s supernatural work by his Holy Spirit. Good news indeed!

Deuteronomy 29 & 30

The blessings and curses, and exhortations for the former and warnings of the latter are getting redundant. These two chapters lay it all out again. You have to wonder if they get the message if it needs to be repeated so often. In verse four of chapter 29 we have our answer why:

But to this day the Lord has not given you a mind that understands or eyes that see or ears that hear.

So it’s the Lord’s responsibility that they get it or not? Somehow this truth of God’s sovereignty and human responsibility coexist. The last verse of The chapter, which seems out of context but which helps us deal with the mystery, says what we cannot know, we cannot know, but God has revealed what we need to know:

29 The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law.

God reveals enough that we are held accountable for our obedience or lack thereof. God’s revelation is effective. Those who claim he hasn’t revealed himself or enough for them to have faith in him, are not looking; they don’t want to find him lest they don’t like what they find, which is that they stand before him guilty as charged.

As in any relationship it ultimately comes down to trust, and thus to character. If someone lies to you or betrays you or damages you in some way it is pretty much impossible to trust them anymore (without both compelled by the mercy and grace of God). Would anyone ask such a person to watch their house while they were out of town? Of course not. Most of the people who refuse to believe in God, which only means they refuse to trust him, to affirm his fundamental goodness and justness, believe him to be not worthy of that trust based on their cursory assessment of him. Whether it’s the problem of evil generally speaking or in their own lives, i.e. some kind of suffering or loss, or what they’ve read or heard, e.g. the OT God is a mad man, a “moral monster” as some atheists assert, they cannot put their faith in such a God. They cannot trust such a God who is this way or allows what he does.

But if you take the whole revelation of God, i.e. his revelation of himself in creation, in scripture, and in Christ, we can completely buy into verse 29, we can let God have the secret things, those things he has seen fit in his wisdom not to reveal to us, and we can run with the things he has revealed, so that we may “follow all the words of this law.” But we know this is impossible. At the end of chapter 30 Moses lays it out once again but in the most succinct way possible. He lays before the people of Israel life or death, blessing or curse, the covenant of works. In verse 14 he says something we know is patently untrue:

No, the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it.

The human heart is exactly the issue because we know it “is deceitful above all things and beyond cure” (Jeremiah 17:9). But it is not beyond God’s curse, the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. He had to show us that we could never have or sustain a relationship with a holy and righteous God in a covenant of works. Only in a New Covenant of grace and mercy where God himself fulfilled the covenant of works and imputed to us that obedience, can we have a new heart, a heart that is the abode of the Holy Spirit, one that wants to obey, even if it always can’t. God’s wrath has been satisfied, the wrath we see all throughout the Pentateuch against sin. God is now our father, not our judge, and we rejoice in that acceptance, that assurance that we are his, and he is ours.

Moses gives us a hint of this in chapter 30:6. After the people have been brought back to the land by God, Moses says:

The Lord your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live.

This is amazing. God himself will do the surgery. He will cut off the foreskin of our rebellious and sinful hearts, as we now know by his Holy Spirit, so that we will no longer be his enemies. It’s a matter of the heart, not outward conformity to the law, and God will give us new hearts.