God wants you strong.
Here’s one of my favorite Bible passages (from The Message paraphrase): “God is strong, and he wants you strong. So take everything the Master has set out for you, well-made weapons of the best materials. And put them to use so you will be able to stand up to everything the Devil throws your way. This is no afternoon athletic contest that we’ll walk away from and forget about in a couple of hours. This is for keeps, a life-or-death fight to the finish against the Devil and all his angels.” (Eph 6:10-12)
I know, I know. We’re in Joshua, not Ephesians. But this chapter made me think of Ephesians because it had a certain mantra. Did you notice it as you read through? In four different places, there is a challenge to “be strong and courageous!” Now, since the Israelites were getting ready to go into the Promised Land, I’m sure they were going to need courage to fight against all the giants in the land. However, I think the Lord was talking about a different kind of strength.
And that’s what made me think of Ephesians 6. There, Paul said that God wants us to be strong in the same way He is strong. And then he goes on to list the different parts of the armor that makes God so strong: truth, righteousness, readiness, peace, faith, salvation, and the Word. That’s right. The very things that God says will make us strong are the very reasons why He is strong. He’s not just strong because He’s physically powerful. He has total strength of character.
God is strong, and He wants you strong. So, take the advice of Joshua 1 and Ephesians 6—take all the weapons God has laid out for you. Nothing will be able to stand against you, for God Himself is with you. Be strong and very courageous!
God is not arbitrary.
So, once God saw that He had people who were bent on fighting, He issued orders that when they had conquered a heathen town, they were not supposed to leave anyone alive. If they were going to conquer it, they were going to conquer it all the way. We’ve examined some of those passages, and I must admit, they can seem a little perplexing.
However, in this chapter of Joshua, I’m left wondering if there was anything arbitrary about those commands. By that, I mean that I wonder if God just told them to “kill the heathens” for no reason—simply because they were heathen. Here, it appears that can’t be the case, because Rahab is definitely “a heathen.” She’s a prostitute and, according to this story, she doesn’t always tell the truth. Yet, after she saves the Israelite spies, she cuts a deal with them to spare her family when they come to take Jericho. And they agree.
Now, I suppose someone could argue that this arrangement didn’t necessarily meet with God’s approval. But it must have, for this “heathen” prostitute was later mentioned in Hebrews 11—the chapter of faith heroes. Also, she later became the mother of Boaz, which meant that Jesus Himself was a direct descendent of Rahab! Talk about being honored in all of Israel!
Rahab told the spies that everyone in Jericho had heard about the Lord of heaven and all the mighty works He had done. You see, God’s marketing plan was working. They knew all about Him, and they were more than a little nervous about the Israelites. Yet, in comparison to Rahab’s gesture of faith, the king sent people to pursue the spies in order to kill him. So, it’s obvious that the knowledge of God and what He was doing produced different reactions in different people.
The point is, God is not arbitrary. It was not the fact that people were living in a heathen country that “sealed their fate.” It was about the condition of their hearts. Rahab proved to have an open and teachable heart, and for that, she was not only saved, but celebrated! The same is true for us. God does not arbitrarily decide who is saved and who is lost; we decide that by choosing how we will respond to God. Will we be teachable and open? Or will we be stubborn and closed? The choice is up to us.
God honors our heritage.
Having a past is part of what it means to be a human being. And our past life is a rich tapestry of events and experiences that has shaped the way we think about and look at the world around us. So, one of the things I really love about God is that He honors our heritage—where we have come from. He acknowledges our past and finds ways to make connections to it in order to make a connection with us.
You can see it right here in Joshua 3: “And the Lord said to Joshua, ‘Today I will begin to exalt you in the eyes of all Israel, so they may know that I am with you as I was with Moses. Tell the priests who carry the ark of the covenant: “When you reach the edge of the Jordan’s waters, go and stand in the river”‘ . . . Now the Jordan is at flood stage all during harvest. Yet as soon as the priests who carried the ark reached the Jordan and their feet touched the water’s edge, the water from upstream stopped flowing . . . The priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord stopped in the middle of the Jordan and stood on dry ground, while all Israel passed by until the whole nation had completed the crossing on dry ground.” (vs 7-8; 15-17)
Did you notice what’s going on here? God is consecrating a new leader in Israel, and He’s doing it by plucking from Israel’s history one of its most miraculous and memorable events—the crossing of the Red Sea. In effect, God has reached back into Israel’s past, seeking to make a connection with a new generation of His people by re-creating a story they all knew and loved. That day, all the Israelites who went into the Promised Land experienced a little, mini Red-Sea-crossing.
I don’t think that was a coincidence. I think that, because God loves us so much, He is as interested in our past as He is in our future. That’s true in your own relationships, isn’t it? When you meet and fall in love with someone, you don’t have the attitude that you don’t care about what’s happened in their lives before the moment you met them. No—their past has contributed to the person you fell in love with! So, if we are interested in the past lives of our loved ones, how much more is God interested in us and our histories?!
God knows where you’ve come from, and that’s a part of you that He loves and cherishes. He will find ways to celebrate it and commemorate it in your relationship with Him. And by connecting with you over the past, He will hope to strengthen your bond with Him far into the future. He remembers you yesterday, today, and forever!
God has a brag book.
My father-in-law is always taking pictures. I think he may have been born with a camera stitched into his hand. Whenever and wherever a few of us are gathered together, you can always count on the camera coming out for a few rounds of pictures. My husband’s life is, quite possibly, the most photo-documented life on the face of the planet. No occasion is too small for a photo.
There’s something nice about that.
Why do we take photos, anyway? It’s because we want to remember, isn’t it? And also because we want to share with others. My mother became a first-time grandma last year with the birth of my niece Phoenix. And recently, she was trying to sort through the myriad of photos to select just the best ones to put in her purse-sized photo album. These days, it’s called a brag book. Having it at her fingertips will make it convenient, at a moment’s notice, to accost anyone and everyone with the pictures of her adorable granddaughter.
God also has a brag book because He wants to remember and share. Unfortunately, in the days of Israel, there was no such thing as a digital camera or a one-hour photo center. So, what was God to do? He set up a living picture instead: “Joshua called together the twelve men he had appointed from the Israelites, one from each tribe, and said to them, ‘Go over before the ark of the Lord your God into the middle of the Jordan. Each of you is to take up a stone on his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the Israelites, to serve as a sign among you. In the future, when your children ask you, “What do these stones mean?” tell them that the flow of the Jordan was cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever.’” (vs 4-7)
God is really into remembering. He remembers, and He wants us to remember also. I think there’s something nice about that. The more we remember that He has never let us down in the past, the more we can trust Him for whatever comes up in the future. I don’t know about you, but as soon as the storms of life hit, I tend to lose my memory. I need to take more time to remember. Hey, God! How ’bout a look at that brag book?
God is on everybody's side.
Ah, I just love it when the Bible hits me upside the head like a 2×4. How is it that I know I’ve read these things before, yet when I read these verses, it was as if I was reading for the first time? “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, and asked him, ‘What message does my Lord have for his servant?’ 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.” (vs 13-15)
I hope that it hit you the same way it hit me. Just before the Israelites go into battle, Joshua is confronted by an imposing character holding a sword. It is the Lord! He identifies Himself as “the commander of the Lord’s army,” and following that, He asks Joshua to do the same thing He asked Moses when He met him at the burning bush—take off his sandals.
And that’s why Joshua’s question and the Lord’s reply struck me between the eyes. When Joshua met the Lord, he asked, “Are you for us or for our enemies?” In other words, whose side are you on? Aren’t we still asking this question? Aren’t we forever asking this question? Especially in religion, especially among different churches and denominations. We’re sure we have the truth and that God is with us—not with those “heathens” over yonder.
But—aha!—look at the Lord’s reply: “Neither!” What?! Neither?!
That’s right. God was no more for the Israelites than He was for the Canaanites. Saying that He was not for either side is the same thing as saying that He was for both sides. This is just more evidence that God’s ideal was not the proliferation of the Israelites at the expense of all other peoples on Earth. God doesn’t play favorites; He wasn’t trying to preserve the Israelites and destroy everyone else. In choosing the Israelites to be His representatives on Earth, He was out to save all people.
God is no more on my side than He is on your side. That is to say, He is for me just as much as He is for you. As one of my favorite songwriters Buddy Houghtaling put it, God says, “I love your heart; I got your back.” So, if you’re expecting God to join you in “ganging up” on someone else, you better read Joshua 5 again! The only way He’ll get involved in that is if the two of you are going to collectively “gang up” on someone with love. Otherwise, He is just as much for your enemies as He is for you. God doesn’t take sides. He’s on everybody’s side.
God knows human nature.
Is it just me, or is the story of the Fall of Jericho a little bizarre? I felt like a three-year-old as I read this chapter, as I realized I was asking why? to just about everything. Why did God want tens of thousands of people to march around the city? Why did they do it for seven days? Why not just one time? Why were the Israelites told they couldn’t make a sound—except on the final day, when they shouted? If God just wanted to get rid of everyone in the city, why did He spare Rahab and all her family? And if He wanted to get rid of the people, why did He have the Israelites kill all the animals?
Why, why, why?
Well, what I’m about to write is something that’s not written in the record, but it’s my way of trying to make sense of all these oddities. First of all, the chapter starts with this tidbit of information: “Now the gates of Jericho were securely barred because of the Israelites. No one went out and no one came in.” (vs 1) The people in Jericho were terrified of Israel, just as Rahab had told the spies. What if God had the Israelites march around the city for an entire week to give people in the city time to respond to the Spirit, as Rahab obviously had? After all, wasn’t God’s purpose to save heathen people through the Israelites?
Walls in ancient cities aren’t like the walls in our homes. You could sit or stand on them, even walk on them—sort of like the Great Wall of China. So, if the gates of the city were barred shut so that nobody could come in or go out, and you heard that your enemies (the people you were so afraid of) were going to approach your city, what would you do? You might climb up on the wall and have a look. But it must have been an awfully odd sight to see these people you’re so afraid of doing nothing but marching in circles. After the first day’s parade, do you think there would have been more or fewer people on the wall the second day? How about the third? The fourth? What if the entire city of Jericho was sitting on the wall by the seventh day, watching the Israelites, maybe laughing at them, maybe throwing things at them? Was the wall engineered to handle all that weight at once? And what would happen if there was a sudden shift in that weight—say, maybe when these tens of thousands of previously-silent soldiers suddenly let out a scream. Do you think all the people of Jericho would have jumped?
I don’t speculate about that to diminish any miracle that occurred when the walls fell down. Let’s face it, if God wanted to topple the walls of Jericho, He could have done it on Day One. But maybe, because He’s such a master of human nature, He was using the people’s curiosity to draw them out. Maybe He hoped there would be a different outcome than the falling of the walls. Maybe He hoped there would be a few more Rahabs in the bunch. And maybe there were. Maybe all the people who died that day didn’t die because they were personally wicked. Maybe they just died because they lived in Jericho—like all the animals who were killed that day.
But regardless of what was happening on the spiritual landscape, I’m sure the people of Jericho felt secure in their city. They might have been afraid of the Israelites and their God, but with the gates shut up so tightly, I’m sure they thought there was no way the walls would ever come down. Some of us probably have areas like that in our lives. We’ve shut them up so tightly that even we can’t find the way in any longer. But God is a master of human nature, and if we have any walls that need to come down, He knows how to get through them. We can trust Him to work with us where we are and give us all the opportunities we need to respond to Him.
God wants every part of us.
There is a term in this chapter of Joshua that keeps popping up in the Old Testament—something that I have a lot of questions about. It is the Hebrew word charam. In many Bible versions, when a text includes this word, there will be a footnote at the bottom to explain that “The Hebrew term refers to the irrevocable giving over of things or persons to the Lord, often by totally destroying them.” In the Hebrew lexicon, the word can mean to consecrate, to devote, to forfeit, to utterly destroy.
For me, this raises some very serious questions. For if I want to see something or someone devoted to the Lord, I wouldn’t immediately think that destruction would be an appropriate action. So what is going on here? What did the Israelites think about this concept of devoting things to the Lord? What was their understanding?
Well, we might start by looking at the three primary Hebrew words for consecration: qadash, nazar, andcharam. Qadash means to be clean—either ceremonially or morally. It includes the idea that something can be pronounced clean. Nazar means to abstain from impurity. It tends to connote restriction—keeping something away from impurity. Charam, on the other hand, means to be specifically and wholly devoted to God. Instead of restriction, it connotes action—giving something in its entirety.
Don’t get me wrong: I still have a lot of questions about the idea of charam as it relates to Israelites killing heathens. However, even with the questions, I remain firmly convinced (through evidence we’ve examined thus far) that having the Israelites destroy whole nations was never in God’s ideal playbook. He had other methods in mind; it was the Israelites who were bent on fighting. Still, in my mind, that doesn’t dissolve all the questions.
In the meantime, however, I think there is something important that we can learn from charam. God wants every part of us. He doesn’t want to just be Lord of a little bit. He wants to be Lord of it all. He wants every part. And, in truth, it really can’t be any other way. God can’t be “a little bit” Lord just like a woman can’t be “a little bit” pregnant. You’re either pregnant or you’re not. He’s either Lord of our lives or He’s not.
That’s a sobering thought for me—a control freak in (sometimes) recovery. I want to know everything that’s going on in my life. I want to look at all the plans ahead of time and be able to put my stamp of approval on them. It’s difficult for me to just let it go and let God do His thing. It’s easy to want to hold back parts of my life just for me. But if I am going to truly be consecrated to God, I must submit to the idea of charam. Everything in me must be devoted to destruction.
I guess that’s really the irony of the whole thing. Sin wants to destroy us. If we don’t surrender to God, our sinfulness will kill us. Like the heathens (and, eventually, the Israelites who followed them down the path of idolatry), we will arrive at a very dead-end, for there is no life outside of God.
But God wants to destroy our sin! So if we will surrender to Him, if we will allow Him to be Lord of our life, if we will devote ourselves to His “destruction”, we will find ourselves free from sin’s grasp and fully alive for the first time. For as Jesus said, “Whoever has a desire to keep his life will have it taken from him, but whoever gives up his life because of me, will keep it.” (Lk 9:24)
God is unorthodox.
How would you like to take part in a two-million voice choir? How incredible would that be?! I never realized before that this is precisely what was happening at the end of Joshua 8: “All the Israelites, with their elders, officials and judges, were standing on both sides of the ark of the covenant of the Lord, facing the Levitical priests who carried it. Both the foreigners living among them and the native-born were there. Half of the people stood in front of Mount Gerizim and half of them in front of Mount Ebal, as Moses the servant of the Lord had formerly commanded when he gave instructions to bless the people of Israel.” (vs 33)
Moses had laid out the instructions for this mass choir in Deuteronomy 11, and then he actually wrote out the enormous responsive reading—the blessings and curses of the law—in Deuteronomy 27 and 28. And now, after the Israelites have made their first foray into the Land of Canaan (and have two decisive victories under their belts), they are ready to recite the words of the law.
So, there’s about a million people on Mount Ebal and about a million people on Mount Gerizim. The mountains are about a mile away from each other. And these two huge groups of people are literally shouting at the top of their lungs, back and forth, the blessings and curses of the law. Hmmm . . . why did they do this?
I think God had them do this for a few reasons. First of all, it served as a good reminder to the Israelites not to forget God as they inherited the Promised Land. As an added bonus, I think it would be very hard to forget being part of an event like that. Wouldn’t you remember the day you stood on a mountain with a million people, shouting at the top of your lungs?
Also, I think it was another outreach opportunity to the nations around them. Even before they entered the land, all the nations had heard about the Israelites and their God—and most of them were afraid. Plus, I’m sure word was beginning to get around about the fallen walls of Jericho and the smoldering ash heap of Ai. As the nations were beginning to realize that the God of Israelites was the true God (strength on the battlefield was how they measured that in those days), God decided to announce to them His way of doing things. He wanted them to know, too, how to find blessings and how to avoid curses.
When I imagine being part of a choir made up of two million people, I get goosebumps. One thing’s for sure: God never does anything in a “normal” way. Everything He does is big, bold, and unorthodox!
God lets us call the shots.
I’m continually surprised by God as we comb our way through the Old Testament. I mean, who’s calling the shots, here? Didn’t God specifically say that the Israelites were not to make treaties with the people of Canaan? (Yes, He did, in Deuteronomy 7:2.) He told them not to have anything to do with them so they wouldn’t be in danger of picking up their idolatrous practices.
So, when strange men showed up claiming to be from a faraway country, if there was any question as to where they were from, Joshua should have consulted the Lord! Alas, he did not: “The Israelites sampled their provisions but did not inquire of the Lord. Then Joshua made a treaty of peace with them to let them live, and the leaders of the assembly ratified it by oath.” (vs 14-15) And that’s how Joshua and the Israelites ended up swearing an oath to the Hivites.
In such a situation, what would God do? He had a lot of options, didn’t He? He could have told Joshua to rescind the promise—after all, it could have been considered an invalid contract since it was something God had previously forbidden. He could have punished the Israelites for not consulting Him before making such a rash promise. He could have struck all the Hivites dead and left the contract a moot point.
Instead, it’s interesting that what He chose to do was let the treaty stand. Even though the Israelites didn’t consult Him, even though their contract with the Hivites went directly against what He had commanded, and even though He was in the best position to see what would be best for the Israelites, He let them call the shots. Even though they had made a huge mistake, He treated the contract they had made as binding—so much so, in fact, that years later, Israel endured a three-year famine because King Saul had killed some of the Gibeonites in violation of the treaty. (Read all about it in 2 Samuel 21.)
God takes us seriously, and He really does give us the power to make decisions—even when those decisions are contrary to His ideal plan for us. He lets us call the shots, even when it’s not what He wants. How amazing it is that the all-powerful Creator of the Universe doesn’t hoard His own power! Whenever He can, He lets us call the shots.
God is a mighty man o' war.
I was thinking today about my old college choir days, and one of my favorite pieces that we sang was called Elijah Rock. There was a line in that song that we women sang with a valiant, chesty tone: “My God is a mighty man o’ war.” I always loved that part of the song, and reading today’s chapter from Joshua brought it right to my mind. So, I thought I would muse for a few minutes on this mighty man o’ war who is our God.
Is there anyone or anything that can really oppose God when it comes to might and power? Apparently not, at least not in this chapter. In fact, God tells Joshua outright: “Do not be afraid of them; I have given them into your hand. Not one of them will be able to withstand you.” ( vs 8 ) And, in the course of the day, God did several things to help the Israelites to several stunning victories. He rained down large hailstones on their enemies (vs 11), made the sun stand still in order to provide extra daylight (vs 13), and even fought for His people (vs 42).
And, in the end, it was God, the Israelites, and the Gibeonites who were left standing.
So, here’s what I was thinking about all this warring: God may use it as an emergency measure, but in the long run, it can’t accomplish what He really wants. In fact, maybe that very conclusion was part of the reason why He employed these tactics with Israel. Maybe He was trying to teach us that—in terms of ultimate outcomes—love cannot be won by force and might. After all, the five kings who banded together against Israel in this chapter had all heard about the mightiness of Israel’s God. They had heard about Jericho and Ai . . . and that did little to convert their hearts. It even did little to convert the hearts of Israel, as they continued to run after false gods throughout the Old Testament.
And converting our hearts is what God wants. That’s why God—this all-powerful, omnipotent, stronger-than-everyone man o’ war—doesn’t resort to the use of force to run His government. I mean, let’s face it. From the evidence recorded here, if God wanted to, He could make all of us His slaves. He could have wiped us all out and started over. In fact, He could have never created a single creature with the power to choose. He could run His government like a dictator—What God Wants Is What God Gets, 24/7. But He doesn’t do that.
God is a mighty man o’ war—yes, on the battlefield when the emergency warranted it. But He is also a mighty man o’ war on the heart. And He doesn’t wage that war with bombs and bullets. He wages it with the Spirit. For it is “‘not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty.” (Zech 4:6) What a humble position that is. For a mighty man o’ war to desire something that absolutely cannot be achieved with all the mighty power at His disposal—wow!
God chooses the best of the worst.
Choosing the best of the worst. Almost sounds like going to the polls sometimes. However, when it comes to choosing the best of the worst, God wasn’t voting; He was simply trying to maintain contact with the human race. Sometimes, I’m not even sure how He accomplished that. As I continue to read through the Old Testament, I’m awestruck at the large numbers of people who just don’t get it.
Here again, we have a prime example: “When Jabin king of Hazor heard of this, he sent word to Jobab king of Madon, to the kings of Shimron and Akshaph, and to the northern kings who were in the mountains, in the Arabah south of Kinnereth, in the western foothills and in Naphoth Dor on the west; to the Canaanites in the east and west; to the Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites and Jebusites in the hill country; and to the Hivites below Hermon in the region of Mizpah. They came out with all their troops and a large number of horses and chariots—a huge army, as numerous as the sand on the seashore. All these kings joined forces and made camp together at the Waters of Merom to fight against Israel.” (vs 1-5)
I couldn’t believe this. These guys had heard about Jericho, Ai, and how the Israelites had walloped all the southern kings in Canaan. Wouldn’t that at least make you stop and think? On the contrary, it only seemed to rev these northern kings up for war. (It’s almost like the effect the plagues had on Pharaoh.) I mean, after all these decisive victories, you would have to at least consider the possibility that waging war against the Israelites and their God wasn’t a great idea, wouldn’t you?
Alas, the kings in Canaan were no friend of reason. They wouldn’t or couldn’t learn, and it meant the end for them. However, lest we think the Israelites were some sort of winners in all of this, they also wouldn’t or couldn’t learn. For, in the long run, we know that they abandoned God as a nation and went a’whoring after gods that didn’t exist—such as Baal and Molech. When it comes to stubbornness and teachability, it seems the Israelites weren’t much better than the Canaanites after all. They were, in a way, simply the best of the worst.
What else did God have to work with? If Israel was the best He could do, it’s a wonder He didn’t just give up. In fact, it’s probably nothing short of a miracle that He retained some level of communication with the human race at all. Yet it makes me admire Him all the more that He didn’t give up, that He didn’t just wipe us out and start over, but that He actually did what He could with the best of the worst. He deals in reality—even when that reality is pretty awful and ugly.
God trumps all . . . if allowed.
So, I guess it’s time to write down all the Israelite victories for the history books. The score?
Canaanite kings: 0
What does this say to me? Nothing can stand in God’s way—if and when we allow Him to work. For the fate of the Canaanite kings is the same fate that every evil trait and tendency in us will suffer if we allow the Spirit of God to have free reign in our lives. There may be intense war. There may even be setbacks. But if we don’t stand in God’s way, nothing else can prevail against Him. If we allow God into our lives, we will be able to replace the title on the scoreboard as follows:
Our sin: 0
God doesn't forget His promises.
At the beginning of Joshua 13, the Lord comes to Joshua and says, “You are now very old, and there are still very large areas of land to be taken over.” (vs 1) And then, He proceeds to outline exactly what areas of land are left for the Israelites to take possession of. I was struck by the specificity of it. He didn’t just say, “There’s still some land to the east over there.” No, it was from this border over here to that border over there and everything below this mountain and so on.
So, for me, the point today is this: God remembers His promises, and He remembers them in sparkling detail. He is not a laissez-faire kinda guy when it comes to His promises. No, He has them intricately planned—in this case, right down to the very last blade of grass.
I have often heard God described as more of a “hands off” sort of God. You know, someone who set the universe in motion, but doesn’t have very much to do with our everyday lives. Sometimes He’s described this way because the person believes that He doesn’t care. Other times, He’s described this way because the person believes He can’t influence events in the lives of people on this sinful planet.
But I look at a chapter like this and think, no way is God a “hands off” guy! Just as He had the Promised Land all charted out for the Israelites—down to the very last parcel of land—so He has plans for our lives that He has fine-tuned down to the last detail. Of course, He won’t force His plans on us. We are free, as the Israelites were, to ignore Him and go our own way. But when God makes a promise to us, He never forgets it. As far as it is in His control, He will see it fulfilled down to the nitty-gritty end!
God provides evidence to confirm our faith in Him.
I am always quite saddened to hear Christians purport the idea of “blind faith.” I was recently watching a television debate between a professed Christian and an avowed atheist, and it was the atheist who was making the argument for reason and study and evidence. Unfortunately, the Christian was making the atheist’s point for him—pitting the idea of faith against the idea of reason. And I just wanted to scream. True faith is founded upon reason. If you don’t have evidence that God is trustworthy, you have no business putting your faith (trust) in Him.
That’s why I was so pleased to see the return of Caleb in Joshua 14. Back when Moses sent the spies into Canaan, he and Joshua were the two who “held out” when the other ten decided that they couldn’t really trust God to give them victory over the giants. When all the others were advocating for retreat, it was Caleb who tried to rally them to God’s cause: “Then Caleb silenced the people before Moses and said, ‘We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it.’” (Num 13:30)
Forty-five years later, it’s clear that Caleb’s view about trusting God hasn’t changed: “Now then, just as the Lord promised, he has kept me alive for forty-five years since the time he said this to Moses, while Israel moved about in the wilderness. So here I am today, eighty-five years old! I am still as strong today as the day Moses sent me out; I’m just as vigorous to go out to battle now as I was then. Now give me this hill country that the Lord promised me that day. You yourself heard then that the Anakites were there and their cities were large and fortified, but, the Lord helping me, I will drive them out just as he said.” (vs 10-12)
Think of all Caleb witnessed in those forty-five years. He watched as the entire first generation of the Israelites died off in the wilderness (as God had said they would) . . . all except for him and Joshua. They lived to see Canaan (as God said they would) because of their commitment to Him. And, after heading into the Promised Land, Caleb saw over and over again how God did the very thing he had tried to convince the Israelites of. God defeated the giants in the land, driving out the evil ahead of Israel.
How awesome it must have been for Caleb to inherit Hebron—even though he knew that, with the Lord’s help, the Anakites would still have to be driven out. Forty-five years before, he had relied upon his conviction to trust in the Lord, and not only was he rewarded for that, but God had provided ample evidence to confirm Caleb’s faith in Him. If he had been convinced that God would help them take the land way back at the beginning, how much more must he have trusted in God to help him settle Hebron after more than four decades of further evidence?!
God always does this, by the way. He never intended for faith to be something that’s done in the dark. Our faith, our trust in Him is not to be based on supposition or guessing; it’s to be based on evidence. And it’s God Himself who provides this evidence. So, the next time you hear a Christian promoting the idea that faith is blind, shout no! For God has paid a dear price all down through the ages in order to provide us with the evidence necessary to trust Him. Reason isn’t the triumph over religion; it should be its foundation.
God has a lot of plans.
One of my all-time favorite Bible verses has always been Jeremiah 29:11—”For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” I always thought that the “plans” meant a whole series of sequenced events, intended to make my life into a sweeping, glorious tapestry from start to finish. And perhaps that’s exactly what it means.
But I saw it in a different light today as I read the end of Joshua 15: “Judah could not dislodge the Jebusites, who were living in Jerusalem; to this day the Jebusites live there with the people of Judah.” (vs 63) I thought I remembered who the Jebusites were (although there are a lot of “ites” in the Bible!), but I was curious so I went back to do a little study to refresh my memory.
Ah, yes. The Jebusites were indeed just one of the “ites” listed with all the other people of Canaan, whom God promised time and again would have to relinquish their land to the Israelites. In fact, a very quick concordance study yielded at least three different things that were supposed to happen to these Jebusites.
Exodus 23:23. My angel will go ahead of you and bring you into the land of the Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Canaanites, Hivites and Jebusites, and I will wipe them out.
Exodus 34:11. Obey what I command you today. I will drive out before you the Amorites, Canaanites, Hittites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites.
Deuteronomy 20:17. Completely destroy them—the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites—as the Lord your God has commanded you.
However, in the end, none of those things happened to the Jebusites. In fact, Judges 3:5 says “The Israelites lived among the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites.” It seems like many of the Canaanite peoples didn’t end up facing the annihilation we so frequently associate with the Israelite conquest of Canaan. Instead, the Jebusites continued to live (and rule) in Jerusalem until King David managed to take over the city. Even then, the Jebusites weren’t killed or driven out. In fact, David ended up buying the land for the temple in Jerusalem from a Jebusite.
So, what are those “plans” that God has for us? In light of this, I’m almost inclined to think of that verse as meaning something more like, “I know the plans I have for you—Plan A, Plan B, Plan C, Plan D, and however many plans we need!” The Bible doesn’t say why the Israelites were unable to dislodge the Jebusites. Perhaps it was due to a lack of trust in God; or perhaps, when the time came, conditions were such between the two nations that God knew the Jebusites could benefit from staying in Jerusalem.
Regardless of why, I am so glad that God is so flexible and that He has so many different plans for us. If we choose not to take His Plan A, He doesn’t get disgusted with us and stomp off in frustration. Instead, with infinite patience, He moves us on to Plan B. If we reject that, He’ll have something else up His sleeve. Indeed, He knows the plans He has for us—and He has a lot!
God likes it when we consult Him.
Did you think the lottery was a modern invention? Well, it isn’t. At least not according to the Bible. It dawned on me today, as I was reading Joshua 16, that the parcels of land in Canaan were being doled out to the various tribes via a lottery (or, the casting of lots). It seems that the Israelites did this quite a bit, and it was a practice still in use when the Roman soldiers famously cast lots for Jesus’ clothing as He hung on the cross.
Solomon (and, perhaps, the entire nation of Israel) saw casting lots as something more than just a game of chance, however. In Proverbs 16:33, he wrote, “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord.” So, with that in mind, it seems that casting lots wasn’t just a way of making decisions at random; rather, it was a way that the Israelites allowed the Lord to have a hand in matters.
That may be harder to swallow in the case of land allotments in Canaan, but consider that casting lots was also used to identify Achan, who had stolen from the Lord (Josh 7). And the same process was used to select Israel’s first king, Saul (1 Sam 10). God later said He had personally chosen Saul to be king.
To me, the fact that God worked through this method to convey His will (or the truth about things) to the Israelites suggests that God likes it when we consult Him about things. When we ask Him a question, He will answer. He is eager to give us insight and understanding into the problems we encounter in life. As for my track record with consulting God, I could certainly do a lot better! Often, I’m so busy making my own plans and working out the details myself that I simply forget to ask God what He thinks.
But God is eager to speak. That’s why Jesus said, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” (Lk 11:9) God likes it when we consult Him!
Ask. Seek. Knock. A.S.K.
God's ideas are best.
Ah, now the failures of Israel are coming back to bite them. By turns, before going into the Promised Land, the Lord told the Israelites that they should not make any treaties with the people living there, but that they should be completely driven out. First, God promised to drive them out Himself. When the Israelites didn’t want to go along with that (but instead wanted to fight), God told them they must destroy the nations they conquered.
Neither of those things happened.
The Israelites didn’t trust God enough to do it His way . . . and now they are paying for it: ”The Manassites were not able to occupy these towns [of their inheritance], for the Canaanites were determined to live in that region. However, when the Israelites grew stronger, they subjected the Canaanites to forced labor but did not drive them out completely.” (vs 12-13) So, the Manassites came to Joshua and complained that they hadn’t been given enough of a land inheritance—even though their land allotment was huge and half the tribe of Manasseh received an inheritance on the other side of the Jordan River.
The reason the Manassites didn’t have enough room to live was because they had not followed God’s plan for settling the land of Canaan. They didn’t like His Plan A (to drive out the Canaanites ahead of the Israelites). And they didn’t follow His Plan B (to wipe out the nations they conquered). Thus, instead of receiving the Promised Land as God intended, they were left with the Canaanites as very close (and often very unwelcome) neighbors. That caused a lot of problems for them in the years that followed.
You know, God’s ideas are best. There are just no two ways about it. Of course, God is very patient and gracious with us when we don’t follow His ways. He will change His plan to suit our tastes time and time again, but inevitably, we can often look back and see how things would have been so much better if we had just done things God’s way.
God not only had the best ideas for the Israelites; He still has the best ideas for us. He knows what’s best when it comes to life, love, family relationships, health, wealth, entertainment, and personal contentment. And if you look around at the state of things in our world, it doesn’t take very long to see the absolute mess that results when we don’t take God’s ideas to heart.
So the next time you’re facing a decision or challenge in life, don’t forget to ask God for His ideas—and then do yourself a favor and follow them! This much is sure: you won’t find better ideas anywhere else!
God is rest.
Here’s how Joshua 18 begins: “The whole assembly of the Israelites gathered at Shiloh and set up the tent of meeting there.” (vs 1) Finally, the Tabernacle of the Lord was assembled in the Promised Land—at Shiloh. It remained there for more than 200 years, until the Ark of the Covenant was captured by the Philistines.
What I love about this little detail is that Shiloh means “place of rest.” It comes from the Hebrew word shalah, which means to be at rest, to prosper, to be quiet, and to be at ease. What an absolutely perfect description of what it means to be in the presence of God! It is there that we find peace and security; it is there that we can rest.
One of my favorite paintings hangs in my living room. It is the picture of a deep, quiet forest. In the foreground is one, very strong tree, and a hazy fog settles over the other trees in the background. Next to the tree in the foreground is this Scripture: “This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says: ‘In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength.’” (Isa 30:15)
In quietness and trust is your strength.
I think this is what it means to say that God’s strength is made perfect in our weakness. It is when we are calm, when we are still, and when we know that He is God that we find ourselves at peace and completely taken care of. Jesus said, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Mt 11:29-30)
It is no coincidence that the Tabernacle of God in the Promised Land was in the “place of rest.” For God is rest. And whenever we come to Him, rest is the very first thing we will find.
God turns things around.
If you’re like me, you’re probably starting to wonder, what is the big deal with all these land allotment details? It’s one thing to say that Israel inherited the Promised Land. It’s quite another thing to devote chapters and chapters to detailing every single boundary of every single tribe in Israel.
However, I think there were two things in play here that made inheriting the Promised Land something extremely special to the Israelites. First, it was their fatherland. Before Jacob took his family down to live in Egypt during the Great Famine, they lived in different parts of Canaan. Finally returning to this place was like an immigrant returning to his land of origin.
Second, after the Great Famine in Egypt, the descendants of Jacob were enslaved. They spent centuries in slavery there, until God came and liberated them from the Egyptians with the promise of taking them home. And even though that first generation of slaves was unable to enter the Promised Land, their children—the children of slaves—became landowners.
From slaves to landowners in one generation! Only God does things like this. Only God is able to turn things around in the blink of an eye. Only God specializes in these kinds of amazing U-turns. Just as He took Joseph from prison to the palace, He took the Israelites from working the land to owning the land. So, is there any situation in your life you wish was different? Look out! God can transform dismal circumstances in the blink of an eye. He knows just how to turn things around!
God is all about the evidence.
So, the cities of refuge are finally established in Israel—you know, the places a person could flee if they had accidentally caused a person’s death and were on the run from the blood avenger. In the city of refuge, they would find a haven where they would be safe; there, they would be given the opportunity for a hearing on the incident in question.
As I read this again, it occurred to me that God was the first person to ever set forth the principle of a person being innocent until proven guilty. A person who fled to a city of refuge was not considered guilty. If they were not found guilty by trial, they were always considered innocent and would not be handed over to the blood avenger.
To me, this is really in keeping with a God who places a high value on evidence. He doesn’t ask us to believe anything “just because” He said it. He takes the time, effort, sweat, blood, and tears to prove the truthfulness of His word. And He extends this way of doing things to our lives as well. He teaches us to place a high value on evidence—not to just believe something because it “sounds good,” but to test it and see if it is worthy of merit.
Hopefully we will learn to value evidence as God does, and after examining that evidence thoroughly, may we be able to say, with Paul, “God, may you win your case when you go into court!” (Rom 3:4)
God fulfills every promise.
The end of Joshua 21 reads like this: “Not one of all the Lord’s good promises to Israel failed; every one was fulfilled.” (vs 45) There are two simple things I love about this verse. First, all of the Lord’s promises are good. And second, He fulfills every one.
This made me think of my father who, when facing his own terminal illness, clung tight to the belief that “God knows what He’s doing.” How often do we think that way when we look at the things in our lives that we wish were different? Can we remember that the Lord truly fulfills every one of His good promises . . . even when things aren’t working out like we want them to?
I challenge you (and myself) today to trust in God’s perspective on our lives. He can see things that we can’t see. He knows things that we can’t know. But if we know Him, we can trust that He knows what He’s doing in every situation. And if we trust Him, we can know that He will indeed fulfill every good promise He has made to us. He’s just that kind of God.
God doesn't jump to conclusions.
I have recently written on this blog about God’s penchant for evidence. He doesn’t arbitrarily make judgments, nor does He jump to conclusions. He always examines the evidence. So, it seemed fitting to bring out this point about God in contrast to how the Israelites were behaving in this chapter of Joshua.
Granted, the Israelites were now anxious to see obedience to God. They had seen the ugly consequences of disobedience, and they didn’t want to be returning back to those scenarios anytime soon! So when they heard that their fellow Israelites east of the Jordan River had built an altar, they went marching down there, ready to go to war. They were determined that all of Israel would be faithful to God—even if they had to have a civil war to ensure it!
When they arrived and began demanding an explanation about the altar from the Reubenites and Gadites, however, they must have felt a little sheepish. For they replied, “If we have built our own altar to turn away from the Lord and to offer burnt offerings and grain offerings, or to sacrifice fellowship offerings on it, may the Lord himself call us to account. No! We did it for fear that some day your descendants might say to ours, ‘What do you have to do with the Lord, the God of Israel? The Lord has made the Jordan a boundary between us and you—you Reubenites and Gadites! You have no share in the Lord.’ So your descendants might cause ours to stop fearing the LORD.” (vs 23-25)
Do you know what this made me think? How many times do I look at someone else and just assume that they are heading down a path away from God because of something they’ve said or done? Sometimes, I am so quick to jump to conclusions without even bothering to find out more about what’s going on. I suppose if the Israelites had witnessed these tribes sacrificing something foreign on this altar, the conversation would have been different. But they had simply made an assumption, jumped to a conclusion. Fortunately, the Israelites at least thought to inquire about the altar before they started lobbing bombs.
I’m glad God doesn’t jump to conclusions. He knows the condition of our hearts, and He examines the evidence. He doesn’t make assumptions. He never has to say, “Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t know the full story. Now I understand.” I want to be more like that—more eager to give people the benefit of the doubt instead of being so quick to make up my mind without all the facts. Otherwise, I might misjudge what someone intended to be a beautiful tribute to the Lord!
God travels the middle of the road.
I just love how, sometimes, the tiniest things jump out at me. Here’s one for today: “Be very strong; be careful to obey all that is written in the Book of the Law of Moses, without turning aside to the right or to the left.” (vs 6) Here’s something that’s hard for us to remember sometimes: Every road has two ditches—one on the left and one on the right. God doesn’t want us to end up in either of them. He wants us to travel the middle of the road, where He is.
But for some reason, our sinful human condition is prone to the ditch. It gravitates toward the extreme. The Israelites are a perfect example. When God first tried to take them down the middle of the road, they crashed wildly into the ditch of idolatry. They were not faithful to God with their whole hearts; they didn’t love Him and Him alone. But then it’s interesting to note that when Israel “got its act together” after the exile, they were eager to make sure they would never end up in the ditch of idolatry again! And, in their zeal, they went careening willy-nilly straight across the road and crashed wildly into the opposite ditch—the ditch of legalism. There, they might have outwardly been practicing “obedience” to God, but their hearts were still very far from Him; they didn’t love Him and Him alone.
Israel learned the hard way that there are two ditches on the side of the road. And when Jesus showed up, some hated Him for boldly and confidently walking down the middle of the road. They were determined to pull Him off into the ditch, and when that didn’t work, they killed Him.
I think that’s why Jesus said that the first and greatest commandment was to love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. (Mk 12:30) When our energy and focus is on Him first and foremost, it is impossible to be pulled into one of the ditches. He travels the middle of the road, and He wants us to walk with Him!
God wants us to choose.
Here we find Joshua’s famous words to the Israelites: “Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your ancestors worshiped beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” (vs 14-15)
This is still (and probably always will be) incredible to me. We serve a sovereign God who cares more about our freedom to choose than He does about being served. In this chapter, He took the Israelites on a litany of the past, reminiscing about all the things He had done to bless them and secure their future. After laying that out, He doesn’t demand worship. He doesn’t stipulate subservience. No, He asks for their willing cooperation. He asks for their choice. He says, in effect, Will you marry Me? And then graciously allows them the option of saying either yes or no.
So, what does God want most from us? He wants us to choose. Certainly, He wants us to choose to be with Him forever! But He won’t force that upon us. He is so committed to our freedom that He will let us have the final say about our relationship—even if that should mean that He would lose us forever. He loves us that much.