Monday, March 30, 2009

Day 89: 2 Samuel 4 - 6

I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes. (2 Samuel 6:22)

Today's reading starts with David, already having been recognized as the King of Judah, being installed as the King of all Israel. Not everyone was united behind David – there were still those loyal to the house of Saul, who would cause trouble for Solomon in later years.

Then David conquered Jerusalem. Jerusalem became known as the City of David, and was not included in the inheritance of any tribe. Much like Washington D.C. is not part of any state, Jerusalem was David's and no one else's. I believe it is John Bright in his
A History of Israel, who applauds David's genius in choosing neutral ground for the spiritual and political center of Israel.

Finally, after battling the Philistines, David establishes Zion, the new tent of worship to house the Ark of the Covenant. Notice his undignified display of worship before the Lord. Undignified – what a fantastic title for a sermon – wish I'd thought of that. Way to go, Garth!

I can't get over David's proclamation: I will be humiliated in my own eyes. David refused to attenuate his worship to make other people comfortable. His worship was for God's pleasure – not to enhance his own status. David didn't care what other people thought. He was a worshiper.

Why do we care so much about what other people think? Isn't what God thinks more important?

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Day 88: 2 Samuel 1 - 3

"He asked me, 'Who are you?' " 'An Amalekite,' I answered." (2 Samuel 1:8)

Remember the Amalekites? Review this story of Saul's downfall. This isn't the last time we'll visit this narrative of Saul and Agag. It will come up again when we read Esther.

Yet one more tragic element of this account of Saul's last battle with the Philistines is the often overlooked detail of who ended his life.

Saul was told to destroy the Amalekites. He disobeyed.

Bottom line? What he failed to destroy, in turn destroyed him.

Is there anything in your life that God has told you to get rid of? Take a lesson from Saul.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Day 87: 1 Samuel 28 - 31

Saul fell full length on the ground, filled with fear because of Samuel's words. His strength was gone. (1 Samuel 28:20)

This is a tragic scene in which, I think, we see Saul acting more kingly than at any other time. Unfortunately, it is too little too late. Yes, Saul had a long history of disobedience, and yes, God has IM'ed him through Samuel's ghost (?) that his death is near.

What would you do if you were at war, responsible for leading your troops against a superior enemy, had been told that not only was God not supporting you in the batlle, but that you would lose the battle and be killed in the process? I think I might resign, or at least RUN AWAY!

But Saul didn't do that. Can you imagine how he felt in the hours leading up to the conflict? I cannot imagine a more forlorn feeling than being responsible to lead my troops into battle, knowing the cause was hopeless and that I would meet my doom. And yet Saul manned up, ran to the fight (so to speak), and did what he had to do. This is where, in spite of his failings, Saul earns my profound respect and my heartfelt compassion.

Reminds me of the Chronicles of Narnia, where Aslan advises Peter that a king must be the first to advance, and the last to retreat. Maybe being king isn’t what it’s cracked up to be.

Would you want the job?

Friday, March 27, 2009

Day 86: 1 Samuel 25 - 27

May you be blessed for your good judgment and for keeping me from bloodshed this day and from avenging myself with my own hands. (1 Samuel 25:33)

How many times did David have the opportunity to exact vengeance on Saul, but never did? There was the time he snuck up on Saul in the cave, and cut off the corner of his robe. There was the time he crept into Saul’s camp while everyone was asleep, and took Saul’s spear.

David refused to lay a hand on the Lord’s anointed.

But Nabal doesn't fit into that category. He is a foolish man, who owes at least part of his success to David. David’s men had protected Nabal’s flocks from thieves. When David asked Nabal for food, the wise thing would have been to comply – even if only as the cost of doing business.

When Nabal refused him, David was ready to punish him with death until Abigail inserted herself into – and defused – the situation. Thanks to Abigail, David relented from avenging himself. The next morning, she told Nabal how close he'd come to disaster, and he suffered what I would call a stroke, which led to his death ten days later.

Lesson? This whole account brings to mind the words of Paul: Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse . . . Do not repay anyone evil for evil . . . Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath. (Romans 12:14,17,19)

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Day 85: 1 Samuel 22 - 24

"Will the citizens of Keilah surrender me and my men to Saul?" And the Lord said, "They will." (1 Samuel 23:12)

David retrieved Goliath's sword from Ahimelech, which was with the ephod. The fact that Ahimelech was in possession of the ephod makes it safe to assume he was the High Priest. After Ahimelech's death, his son Abiathar takes possession of the ephod and the office. The ephod, worn by the High Priest, was associated with the Urim and Thummim, used for discerning the will of God. It is likely the Urim and Thummim specifically that are being used by David to hear God's voice.

When I read this passage where David asks the two sacred stones a question, and the stones answer, I have to admit it reminds me of the plastic 8-ball we all used to play with as kids. Q: Will I get a new bike for Christmas? A: Unclear at this time.

This was God's chosen way of communicating his will with his people, and should not be diminished by equating it with something as mundane and benign as a plastic 8-ball. God frowned on divination, but encouraged people to seek his will. Saul did not make a habit of inquiring of the Lord. He let his paranoia make his decisions. When he finally did inquire of the Lord (28:6), there was no answer. David had a different kind of relationship with God, and when David consulted God, God was pleased to answer.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Day 84: 1 Samuel 19 - 21

The sword of Goliath the Philistine . . . is here. (1 Samuel 21:9)

Why Ahimelech the priest was scared when David showed up, I don't know. After he got over being startled, he provided David with a meal - the bread that was reserved for the priests and their families. After lunch, David hit the road, but first asked if Ahimelech might possibly have a weapon. And wow! Did Ahimelech have a weapon or what? He pointed David to the sword of Goliath. There is none like it; give it to me.

The very thing that had been raised against David in the Valley of Elah, he would now wield to fight his enemies. I don't want to stretch this too far, but I'm encouraged to know the very thing that my enemy would use to destroy me, may be the weapon with which I'm attacking him in the near future.

On a sadder note, there should be suspenseful music playing at the comment: One of Saul's servants (Doeg the Edomite) was there that day. I've watched enough movies to recognize the dramatic tension present in that line.

Do you feel (or have you ever felt) near defeat? Be encouraged. Satan won't always have you against the ropes. With God's help, you might just find yourself embracing a former weakness as a strength and going on the offensive.

I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. (2 Corinthians 12:9)

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Day 83: 1 Samuel 16 - 18

Abner, whose son is that young man? (1 Samuel 17:55)

I know the expected direction for today's reading is probably to examine the statement from chapter 16: Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart. Maybe another time.

According to chapter 16, Saul was looking for a musician/therapist to ease his troubled mind. One of his servants told him about David, and Saul had the young man brought to him. Saul and David met, and Saul took a liking to him, offering him a job.

Then comes chapter 17 and a little altercation between Israel and Philistia, which is more commonly referred to as the story of David and Goliath. Once the outcome is decided, Saul asks his general to investigate the young man, whom Saul apparently does not know, to find out who he is and where he comes from. Chapter 18, verse 2 states that Saul then offered David a job.

Another one of those things that makes me say, Hmmm...

In 2 Samuel 21:19, it is Elhanan (another son of Bethlehem) who is credited with Goliath's death, although in the parallel passage from 1 Chronicles 20:5, it is reported as Goliath's brother who was killed by Elhanan, and not Goliath himself. Hmmm...

What do you think?

Monday, March 23, 2009

Day 82: 1 Samuel 13 - 15

[Saul] has set up a monument in his own honor. (1 Samuel 15:12)

You know the old saying: Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Maybe that's what happened to Saul; I don't know. More than one biblical scholar has suggested Saul was mentally unstable - probably no big surprise there.

When he was chosen, he seemed to have been God's man for the job, but over time something happened. In the beginning he was humble and even a little shy. When they looked for [Saul], he was not to be found. So they inquired further of the Lord, "Has the man come here yet?" And the Lord said, "Yes, he has hidden himself among the baggage." (1 Samuel 10:21,22)

After rescuing the people of Jabesh Gilead, and celebrating victories over the Philistines (due to Jonathan's heroic and unexpected attack) and the Amelekites, this once humble man started to believe his own press, and even dedicated a statue to himself. What is it about success that changes a person? Is it the financial reward? Is it the acclaim? Is this kind of thing always connected to power and privilege?

Could this happen to us? How can we safeguard ourselves?

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Day 81: 1 Samuel 10 – 12

Say to the men of Jabesh Gilead, “By the time the sun is hot tomorrow, you will be delivered.” (1 Samuel 11:9)

Here is the second of three installments in the story of Jabesh Gilead. You remember Jabesh in Gilead. Episode One: When the tribes of Israel united against Benjamin (Judges 19-20), Jabesh did not join the fight. After Israel realized how close it had come to losing the tribe of Benjamin altogether, Jabesh was attacked and its young women given to Benjamin as wives.

And where did Saul hail from? You got it. He was from the tribe of Benjamin.

In Episode Two, Jabesh Gilead (it must have risen from the ashes) was besieged by the Ammonites. When word of their plight reached Saul, the new king of Israel realized his first test had arrived. To make a long, confusing story short, Saul led Israel’s fighting men and rescued Jabesh. Saul’s kingship, which had been received unenthusiastically at best, was strengthened and acclaimed by everyone.

Episode Three is the tear-jerker. Rather than tell you the story, I’ll let you read it for yourself: 1 Samuel 31:11-13.

How the mighty have fallen.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Day 80: 1 Samuel 7 - 9

Appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have. (1 Samuel 8:5)

Israel was unlike other nations. They had a direct relationship with God. But Israel didn't want that. Rememer Judges 21:25? In those days Israel had no king. They wanted to be like everyone else, and be led by a king. They wanted someone they could see, hear and touch.

The truth is Israel had a king since the days on the Plains of Moab, waiting to cross the Jordan. They had made a covenant acknowledging God as their king. The Deuteronomic covenant was a covenant between a king and his vassal (subject nation). God was the king and Israel was the subject nation. In verse 7, God speaks to Samuel: They have rejected me as their king.
Did Israel have any idea what it was giving up, and what it was getting itself into?

Friday, March 20, 2009

Day 79: 1 Samuel 4 - 6

When he mentioned the ark of God, Eli fell backward off his chair by the side of the gate. His neck was broken and he died. (1 Samuel 4:18)

Today's reading details the battle of Shiloh, in which the army of Israel suffered a devastating loss, Eli's sons were killed, and the ark of the covenant was captured by the Philistines.

One thing that amazes me about this story is Eli. His response is very revealing. This is the way the news was broken to Eli: 1) the battle was lost and Israel suffered heavy losses; 2) your sons were killed; and 3) the ark was captured.

Give me some leeway as I imagine it just a little different:

Eli: Tell me; don't hold anything back.
Runner: Israel fled before the Philistines, and the army has suffered heavy losses. Also, your two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, are dead.

Eli: And the ark?

Runner: The ark of God has been captured.

I'm sure Eli loved his children, but it was the news about the ark that proved too much for him to handle. Upon hearing of its capture, he fell over and died... of course he could have died and fallen over.

For another perspective on this story, read Psalm 78:56-64.

Could there be any more devastating loss than the presence of God?

No Extra Charge: 1 Samuel 1 - 3

He revealed himself to Samuel through his word. (1 Samuel 3:21)

Know what I'm saying?

In reading God's word, what has he revealed about himself to you?

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Day 78: 1 Samuel 1 - 3

In those days the word of the Lord was rare. (1 Samuel 3:1)

Let's understand the climate into which Samuel is born. We've recently completed Judges, in which the theme was, In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit. (Judges 21:25) Whether that statement describes a good or bad state of affairs is open to debate, but consider the conditions that came of it.

Israel was experiencing a spiritual drought. Eli (the High Priest) was a decent sort of fellow, even though his spiritual discernment was weak and his parenting was weaker. Notice that when Hannah was praying at the tabernacle in Shiloh, Eli was so unaware that he mistook the cries of her heart for being drunk and disorderly.

Notice also that here again Hannah is described as barren. In the Bible, this almost always foreshadows that something important is about to happen. So far Joseph, Samson and Samuel all share that distinction of being born of barren women.

Also consider the transitional role that Samuel is about to play. He is the last judge and the first prophet of Israel. He will usher in the nation's monarchial period by anointing not only the first, but also the second king who will rule over Israel.

By the way, in the Jewish scriptures, there is no 1st and 2nd Samuel - there is only Samuel - one uninterrupted story spanning the lives of Samuel, Saul and David. The same is true of Kings and Chronicles.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Day 77: Ruth

My fellow townsmen know that you are a woman of noble character. (Ruth 3:11)

Just a short note today. Boaz refers to Ruth as a woman of noble character. This could also be translated a woman of valor, or a woman of excellence. This descriptor is used many times in the Bible, but almost exclusively of men... for instance, David's mighty men (2 Samuel 23). It's interesting how the same word can be translated differently depending on its context.

This is the point: in all of Scripture, the phrase is only used three times to describe women - in Proverbs 12:4; 31:10; and here in Ruth. The Proverbs 31 woman can prove intimidating because she seems to be a cross between Martha Stewart and Super Woman. She's obviously a woman of means. Ruth, on the other hand, is a poor, widowed foreigner. She lacks the standing of the Proverbs 31 woman, yet is called by the same name, a woman of excellence.

This just proves one doesn't need money and mad skills to be excellent. We'll talk about this more at a later date.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Day 76: Judges 19 - 21 (3 of 3)

Her husband went to her to persuade her to return. (Judges 19:3)

Read the first parts of this post here and here.

Here's the question: Is this account history? or parable?

Throughout the Old Testament Israel is symbolized as the faithless (even prostitute) wife of God. When Israel chased after other men (foreign gods), her husband (God) had every right to divorce her, even to have her executed, but loved her and continued pursuing her, trying to win her love.

In real life, Israel chased after foreign gods at least one too many times, and was finally abandoned to Assyria, who destroyed the nation, divided it up, and exiled it to the far reaches of the empire. Sound familiar? In this account, the unfaithful wife was violated by other men, her body cut into pieces and distributed to the far reaches of Israel.

Could the story of the Levite and his unfaithful wife serve to tell the story of Yahweh and unfaithful Israel?

What do you think? Congratulations! You've read another Old Testament book!

Day 76: Judges 19 - 21 (2 of 3)

Each man caught one and carried her off to be his wife. (Judges 21:23)

In Part One, we read how a heinous crime was punished with an apparent death sentence for an entire tribe of Israel. When we closed, Benjamin had been reduced to 600 men, their wives and families butchered, and the rest of Israel determined they would not give those surviving men wives with which to continue their family line.

As the reality of the situation hit them, and they had a chance to think a little clearer (how much clearer, I'm not sure), they hatched a plan. Jabesh Gilead had not shown up to support their action against Benjamin, so that city became the new target. It's men, women and children were killed, and only its young unmarried women were spared. Those 400 women were given to the men of Benjamin as wives.

Problem: There were still 200 Benjamites who needed wives. No one could make this up. The Israelites realized that Shiloh was having a festival in which the young women went out to the fields. They determined to look the other way, while the remaining Benjamites captured a woman. This gives a whole different meaning to Hi ho the derry o, the farmer takes a wife.

There were a lot of death sentences handed down that day, but at least not for Benjamin as a tribe.

Day 76: Judges 19 - 21 (1 of 3)

All the Israelites from Dan to Beersheba and from the land of Gilead came out as one man. (Judges 20:1)

This is a wild and tragic story.

It begins with the rape-murder of a Levite's concubine by the men of Gibeah, a town in the tribe of Benjamin. This was such a heinous crime that the rest of Israel united to bring the offenders to justice. In fact, the above phrase, from Dan to Beersheba, is the Bible's way of saying Israel in its totality. Dan was a city in the extreme northern reaches of Israel, and Beersheba was a city to the far south. This was Israel's from sea to shining sea imagery.

The Israelites didn’t have an easy time of it, but they finally defeated Benjamin, killing all but about 600 men. While those 600 were hiding in the desert, their towns were razed and their families put to the sword. Don't look at me that way; I'm just the messenger.

In Israel's anger, the leaders agreed that no father would allow his daughter to be married to a man of Benjamin. They grieved to know they had effectively signed a death sentence for an entire tribe: no wives, no children, no future.

As Paul Harvey used to say, In a moment you'll know the rest of the story.

Day 75: Judges 16 - 18

He fell in love with a woman in the Valley of Sorek whose name was Delilah. (Judges 16:4)

Everyone knows the story of Samson and Delilah. Samson was the strongest man on earth, a super hero of Israel. For what physical strength was in great supply, he lacked moral strength as well as judgment.

Yes, Samson had a weakness, and it wasn't his long hair. Samson's weakness was lust. If Samson were a 21st century case study, we'd suspect he didn't have a loving relationship with his mother. We would put the pieces together and determine his subconscious was searching for that intimacy, lacking in the mother-son relationship, in the beds of other women.

The Bible reports on his failed marriage at an early age, his dalliances with prostitutes, and his affair with Delilah without any overt judgment. Somehow, though, between the lines we read of a strong man plagued with weakness.

Here, again, the Bible shows how well its writers know us. For we are all mixes of strength and weakness, faithfulness and faithlessness... dare I say it? Saint and sinner.

He remembers that we are dust. (Psalm 103:14)

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Day 74: Judges 13 - 15

This time I have a right to get even with the Philistines. (Judges 15:3)

Here we have a case study in being offended. Samson had an engagement party in which he told a riddle his friends couldn't figure out. This made them look bad, so they were offended. They threatened his fiancee into getting the secret out of Samson, which she did. She told them what they wanted to know, and they taunted Samson that they'd figured it out. This made Samson look bad, and he was offended.

Samson deserted his fiancee, whose father gave her to be married to another. Samson changed his mind, but was told she'd married one of his friends. He was offended, to say the least. In response, he set fire to the grain, vineyards, and olive groves of the Philistines. Guess what - they were offended. Since Israel was subject to the Philistines, the men of Judah agreed to hand him over to protect themselves. Samson was offended and killed a thousand enemies with the jawbone of a donkey.

Then Samson got thirsty, and he was offended at God.

One problem with being offended is that it keeps us from seeing ourselves objectively. As long as we're offended with someone else, we never have to ask if we might share any culpability for the troubles at hand. When we're offended with someone else, we never realize that maybe we need to ask forgiveness.
Is there anyone you need to get even with?

Day 73: Judges 10 - 12

He could bear Israel's misery no longer. (Judges 10:16)

The story of Jephthah would make a great action adventure movie. Because his father had an affair resulting in the birth of Jephthah, Jephthah was alienated from the rest of his family. His brothers didn't want him muddying the waters at inheritance time, so he was sent away - an exile of sorts.

That was all well and good until his brothers got in trouble with Ammon. Then they needed someone who could get things done, and who wasn't afraid to get his hands dirty doing it. They lit the bat signal, and Jephthah answered. After his attempts at diplomacy failed, he made a deal - a terrible deal - with God. He promised God a sacrifice in exchange for victory - whatever met him upon his return home. When he approached his house, who should run out to meet him but his daughter.

The lesson? Be careful what you promise. Or is it? This was such a terrible promise that I can hardly believe God would have expected him to make it, let alone keep it.

In the above verse, God expresses compassion for Israel, who has chased after foreign gods once again. God vowed to Israel his only daughter, I will no longer save you. (10:13) Later, however, his compassion moved him to overturn that decision.

So what's the deal? Why did Jephthah have to kill his only daughter? Or did he?

Maybe you have an idea.

Friday, March 13, 2009

No Extra Charge: Judges 7 - 9 (Part 2)

As [Abimelech] approached the entrance to the tower to set it on fire, a woman dropped an upper millstone on his head and cracked his skull. (Judges 9:52,53)

You may remember my teaching on David and Bathsheba late in February. In that passage, 2 Samuel 11, Joab references the story of Abimelech's death.

In today's reading, Abimelech asked his armor bearer to kill him so that no one would ever say he'd been killed by a woman. In 2 Samuel 11:21, Joab asks the question: Who killed Abimelech son of Jerub-Besheth? Didn't a woman throw an upper millstone on him from the wall, so that he died in Thebez?

Apparently Abimelech's plan to protect his reputation didn't work.

Day 72: Judges 7 - 9

Israelites from Naphtali, Asher and all Manasseh were called out, and they pursued the Midianites. (Judges 7:23)

This may seem rather incidental to the story, but I wanted to highlight a characteristic of Israeli life during the time of the judges. We think of the Israelites marching out of Egypt, a multitude of a million or more people, all thinking and acting as a unified body. We know there were twelve tribes, but our tendency is to see them as Israel rather than as individual tribal groups.

In Judges we see a glimpse of what is more likely the truth. These were scattered tribal groups, who were at least somewhat settled into their inherited land holdings. If one of them was threatened, we may like to think all the rest rallied to their assistance, but the truth is they were a little more pragmatic than that. Different tribal groups had their own leadership (even they may not have even been as unified as we might think), and when they received a request for assistance they would take into account, Am I threatened? Will I be threatened if the next tribe over falls to an enemy? If there was a direct threat to one's tribe, or if the threat was to a next-door neighbor, then there was the motivation to do something about it. If the threat was on the extreme far end of Canaan, then fohgeddaboudit.

When asked for help, do we stop to analyze how the situation affects us?

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Day 71: Judges 4 - 6

Why is his chariot so long in coming? (Judges 5:28)

There's so much in these chapters that it was difficult to narrow the focus. The story about two of Israel's bravest women, Deborah the judge and Jael the housewife is one of my favorites. The Canaanites were doing battle with Israel in the Jezreel Valley, drained by the Kishon River. Commander Sisera's 900 chariots were of no benefit in the fight. Unseasonable rains had swelled the Kishon, and the valley floor was marshy. The chariot wheels sunk in the ankle-deep mud, and their drivers had no choice but to abandon them and flee on foot.

Running only delayed the inevitable for Sisera. When he stopped for some much needed rest, Jael gave him milk instead of water, which intensified his drowsiness. When he fell asleep Jael made her move and killed him with a tent stake through the head.

The Song of Deborah (Judges chapter 5) recounts the events of that day in a form easily passed down from generation to generation, guaranteeing Jael's exploit would be long remembered. In a tragic way, the writer imagines the conversation going on back in Sisera's household. Why is the clatter of his chariots delayed? (5:28) Do we detect a note of sympathy for those family members robbed by war of their brave husbands, fathers and sons?

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Day 70: Judges 1 - 3

The Lord raised up judges, who saved them. (Judges 2:16)

Here in the opening chapters of Judges the writer sets the stage not only for the rest of the book, but for hundreds of years of Israel chasing after foreign gods. Their's was a roller coaster ride of faith and faithlessness. Every time God raised up a judge to lead and deliver them, Israel would follow his (or her) example of faithfulness as long as he was alive, but once he died, the nation would forget his faithfulness and forget Yahweh too.

Judges three introduces three judges. We've already met the first. Othniel is Caleb's nephew, who captures Kiriath Sepher on his behalf to win his daughter in marriage (gotta love an action romance story - probably had explosions... maybe not).

Then we meet Ehud, the left-handed judge. This is a paradox - the right hand was the hand of honor; being left-handed was a euphemism for being dishonest, or at the very least crafty. To that regard, Ehud lived up to his rep; he used subterfuge to assassinate Moab's king and free Israel from Moabite oppression.

The ongoing pattern for this book is Israel rejects God; God hands them over to be punished by an enemy; they cry out to God for relief; God raises up a judge, who delivers them, and then leads them until his death, at which time Israel once again rejects God.

Ever cry out to God to get you out of trouble? Who hasn't?

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Day 69: Joshua 22 - 24

But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord. (Joshua 24:15)

Although not nearly as complete as we usually assume, this is effectively the end of the campaign for Canaan. The tribes assemble and receive from Joshua a challenge to make a commitment. Serve the Lord, or don't serve the Lord, but don't try to have it both ways.

Have you ever stepped from a dock into a rowboat, or from the boat to the dock? That's no time to be indecisive. If you pause too long between those two worlds - one foot in the boat and the other on the dock - disaster is almost guaranteed. You've got to make a choice, and commit.

The first commandment insisted that God's people should put God first. Maybe Joshua knew that they couldn't have it both ways, and that vacillating between Yahweh and foreign gods was every bit as deadly as rejecting Yahweh completely. Remember, this is the Deuteronomic history, in which Israel's failures to keep the first commandment are tallied up, very possibly to explain to an exiled people why the unthinkable has happened - why Jerusalem has been destroyed and Israel taken into captivity.

Have you made a commitment?

Monday, March 9, 2009

Day 68: Joshua 19 - 21

Not one of all the Lord's good promises to the house of Israel failed; every one was fulfilled. (Joshua 21:45)

What a testimony! And yet, could we claim any different?

Usually if I think God isn't coming through, it's because I've gotten impatient. If God doesn't do what I think he should do when I think he should do it, that doesn't mean he isn't working. It usually means I'm willing to settle for less than God's best.

Another reason I might think I've come up short with God is that sometimes I put words in his mouth. Let's face it; God didn't promise me a Jaguar XKE (although I think we all know how great I'd look driving one down the street). It's amazing as time goes by how more and more frills in life get labeled as necessities.
And other times it's because I don't recognize God's hand of mercy. Sometimes God shows his mercy by saying, "No." I'd probably get all sorts of speeding tickets in that Jaguar, although they do look really cool cruising along nice and slow - not that I've thought about it all that much.
When's the last time you looked back and were gently surprised at God's faithfulness? Tell us about it.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Day 67: Joshua 16 - 18

The whole assembly of the Israelites gathered at Shiloh and set up the Tent of Meeting there. (Joshua 18:1)

After forty years of travel, plus however long it took to accomplish the three military campaigns in Canaan, the Tent of Meeting came to rest in Shiloh. There it would remain until the early days of Samuel (I'm thinking that makes it around 150 years), but we'll get to that story in a couple weeks. In the mean time, Shiloh would serve as the spiritual capital of Israel during the years of the judges.

If you want to see what's coming, read Psalm 78:56-64.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Day 66: Joshua 13 - 15

There are still very large areas of land to be taken over. (Joshua 13:1)

The previous chapters outlined the three military campaigns led by Joshua in Canaan. This passage makes it clear there was still work to be done.

Notice the division of land. God didn't say, Well, I was going to give you this land, but you didn't conquer it, so now your inheritance will have to be much smaller. No, the division of land went on as planned, even for land that hadn't yet been been conquered. God gave them the land. Next step? Take it.

Most responsible preachers try to stay away from allegorical interpretations of Scripture. So I'm not saying God orchestrated this gradual assimilation of Canaan to Israeli control to show how our spiritual life works, but I also can't overlook the obvious connection. Show me someone who has set their goals in life and achieved every single one according to a pre-planned time table, and I'll show you an anomaly - an outlier. Most of us have starts and stops in our forward progress. Israel's ongoing battles to take the land God had already given them illustrates the point.

Does your reach exceed your grasp? What victories are still ahead of you?

Friday, March 6, 2009

Day 65: Joshua 10 - 12

It was the Lord himself who hardened their hearts to wage war against Israel, so that he might destroy them totally, exterminating them without mercy. (Joshua 11:20)

There are a couple ways to interpret God's command to utterly destroy the enemy. In John 14:9 we read the words of Jesus: Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. In times past, some people believed the God of the New Testament (Jesus) must be different from and superior to the god of the Old Testament. Jesus was trying to teach us that what we saw in him was what we got in God - they were one and the same (or three in one and the same).

I think that most biblical scholars and theologians today would prefer to believe that our understanding of God (as put forth in the Old Testament) is probably faulty, at least to a certain degree. The biblical concept of herem, is that God commanded Joshua and the Israelites to totally destroy the inhabitants of Canaan. Some thinkers are questioning if God would do that.

If you want to read more about this, I would suggest Greg Boyd's blog Christus Victor. Two specific articles that address the concept of violence in the Old Testament are Shedding Light On the Dark Side of God and The Command to Utterly Destroy. Or you can go to his blog and type in herem in the search window. He dedicated a lot of print space to the subject in 2008.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Day 64: Joshua 7 - 9

Three days after they made the treaty with the Gibeonites, the Israelites heard that they were neighbors, living near them. (Joshua 9:16)

Here is the story of the Gibeonite deception. In order to spare their own lives, the Gibeonites dressed in old clothes and disguised their belongings to make them appear as if they had traveled a long distance to come and seek a peace treaty with Israel. Only after Joshua covenanted with them to spare their lives did he find out they were really neighbors, whom should have been destroyed.

When Joshua learned the truth, he refused to go back on his word, but did press the people of Gibeon into forced servitude, in which they would perform menial and difficult labor.

Have you ever committed to something without getting all the facts first?

Day 63: Joshua 4 - 6

While camped at Gilgal on the plains of Jericho, the Israelites celebrated the Passover. (Joshua 5:10)

Upon crossing the Jordan and before the battle for Jericho, the nation of Israel got caught up on some of its obligations to the Lord. Apparently no circumcisions had been performed and no Passovers had been celebrated since Sinai, one year after leaving Egypt.

What I find fascinating is God's word to his people following the males being circumcised at Gilgal: Today I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you. (5:9)
God wants to set us free from the reproach of our past. That's good news.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Day 62: Joshua 1 - 3

You have never been this way before. (Joshua 3:4)

These are some packed chapters! Be strong and courageous. (1:7)

Do everything written in it [the Book of the Law]. Then you will be prosperous and successful. (1:8) This is sometimes referred to as Deuteronomic Retribution Theology and again goes right back to Deuteronomy 30. When we get to Proverbs you might notice the same sentiments there.

Remember when the 12 men spied out the Promised Land 40 years ago?... sort of? We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them. (Numbers 13:33) The fear that overwhelmed the 10 faithless spies was not from God. Here, the tables are turned because after all their years in the wilderness, the people of Israel are finally ready to take what God has promised them. The truth is expressed by Rahab: A great fear of you has fallen on us, so that all who live in this country are melting in fear because of you. (2:9)

And in Chapter 3, Joshua's encouragement to follow the Ark of the Covenant because they were about to go where no man had gone before... well, at least where no Israelite had gone in the last 400 years. This is good advice. Trust God to raise up a leader, and then trust that leader. Truer words have seldom been spoken. You have never been this way before.
Have you ever had to trust God to guide you into unknown territory?

Deuteronomic History

Consider this. For as long as you can remember, or for that matter as long as your great, great grandparents could remember, it was an accepted fact that Jerusalem could never be destroyed. After all, Judah is where Jerusalem is; Jerusalem is where the Temple is; the Temple is where God is; and God is the greatest god in the whole world. So how could Jerusalem possibly be conquered? Could a lesser god lead a foreign army to victory in the Promised Land? I don't think so! Year after year foreign armies are repelled, proving the point.

Then comes the army of Babylon led by a General (soon to be king) Nebuchadnezzar, and the unthinkable happens. The walls are breached, the Temple destroyed, and the occupants of Jerusalem deported to a foreign land. What went wrong?

Joshua to Kings is sometimes called the Deuteronomic History, and it seeks to answer that very question. Remember the premise of Deuteronomy? Do right and be blessed; do wrong and be cursed. Re-read Chapter 30 if you need a reminder. The Deuteronomic History chronicles the nation of Israel from the Moses-Joshua leadership transition through the years of the judges, on into the monarchial period, through the turmoil of the one nation dividing into two kingdoms (northern and southern - Israel and Judah), and if anything remains constant during those 600+ years, it is the tendancy to chase after other gods. One could say the Deuteronomic History is a record of Israel not obeying the first commandment.

Joshua Briefing

You've read the Pentateuch (5 books), and now you're ready to read Joshua. Some refer to the 5 books of Moses and Joshua combined as the Hexateuch (6 books), but we won't worry about that.

There are a few things to watch for as you're reading. Moses is dead and there's a new sheriff in town - Joshua. Moses spent 40 years in the wilderness tending his father-in-law's sheep before taking leadership of the Hebrew people. Joshua had a 40-year apprenticeship under Moses. Now that Joshua is in charge, does he mentor anyone to fill the gap that will exist once he's gone?

There are three military campaigns detailed in the book of Joshua. The first is for the central kingdoms, the second for the kingdoms to the south, and the final campaign for the kingdoms to the north. Notice once the military campaigns are completed, Canaan is still by no means conquered. There are still plenty of enemies to be dealt with, and the work won't be done until the time of King David... if even then.

Notice the covenant at Shechem. This is a major step when Israel and all the people groups they have assimilated join together in pledging their faithfulness to Yahweh. We'll talk more about that in a week or so.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Day 61: Deuteronomy 31 - 34

Moses the servant of the Lord died there in Moab, as the Lord had said. (Deuteronomy 34:5)

Congratulations on reading through the Pentateuch - the Books of Moses. Although nowhere in these five books is it claimed that these words were penned by Moses, because they are called the Books of Moses, there are those who would fight you for suggesting that maybe Moses didn't write them. Most scholars would agree that these books are the product of several oral traditions and, once written down, subject to several revisions before coming to their final form sometime in the 6th century B.C.

Regarding the above verse there are basically three schools of thought. 1) Moses knew he was going to die and wrote these paragraphs prophetically; 2) Moses wrote the rest of the Pentateuch and someone else added these few verses at the end; or 3) what I said in the preceding paragraph.

None of those people are going to change their minds because of what I think.

So what do you think? After all, you've read the Pentateuch; most people have not. You're the expert now.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Day 60: Deuteronomy 28 - 30

Love the Lord your God, ...walk in his ways, and . . . keep his commands, decrees and laws. (Deuteronomy 30:16)

Chapter 30 is where the Deuteronomic Covenant comes to a head. The rewards for compliance and the consequences for disobedience have been spelled out, and Moses asks for a decision. Choose life.

The sequence in which verse 16 is ordered is not coincidental. Legalism begins with grunting up the strength to keep a list of rules (commands, decrees and laws), thinking this is how we walk in God's ways, and that somehow through this we'll learn to love him. Holiness, on the other hand, begins with a heartfelt love for God, which can only be satisfied by walking with him, and in walking with him, keeping his commands, decrees and laws comes naturally.
So what sounds better: struggling to follow a list of rules and see where that leads? Or falling in love with God and seeing where that takes you?

Day 59: Deuteronomy 25 - 27

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Day 58: Deuteronomy 22 - 24

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Day 57: Deuteronomy 19 - 21

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