Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Day 90: 2 Samuel 7, 8 and 9

I will make your name great, like the names of the greatest men of the earth. (2 Samuel 7:9)
Unlike Saul, who dedicated a statue in his own honor (1 Samuel 15:12), David's success doesn't cause him to covet for himself the glory and honor that belong only to God. David's heart is to build a temple for Yahweh: Here I am, living in a palace of cedar, while the ark of God remains in a tent (2 Samuel 7:2). Nearly 500 years later, God would scold the returning exiles through the prophet Haggai: Is it time for you yourselves to be living in your paneled houses, while [the Temple] remains a ruin (Haggai 1:4)?
David is becoming famous, but rather than desire the world's acclaim, he wants only to make God's name great. Because David has his priorities in the right order, God speaks over him: I will make your name great, like the names of the greatest men of the earth.
Do you remember our conversation back in January contrasting Abraham with the people of Babel? The men of the Plain of Shinar proclaimed: Let us build ourselves a city . . . that we may make a name for ourselves (Genesis 11:4). Because Abraham honored God, God said: I will make your name great (Genesis 12:2).
If you want the right kind of acclaim, don't worry so much about your own reputation. Make God's name great!
What have you done this week to bring glory to God?

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Day 89: 2 Samuel 4, 5 and 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 recognized as 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. In his classic A History of Israel, John Bright applauds David's genius in choosing neutral ground for the spiritual and political center of Israel. [1]
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. 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 what other people think? Isn't what God thinks more important?
[1] John Bright, A History of Israel (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1959, 1981), 200.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Day 88: 2 Samuel 1, 2 and 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 is not 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 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 God has told you to get rid of?

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Day 87: 1 Samuel 28, 29, 30 and 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 battle, 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 for leading men 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, when 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?

Day 86: 1 Samuel 25, 26 and 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 a 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 is a different story. He is a foolish man, who owes at least part of his success to David. David's men had protected Nabal's flocks from rustlers. 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 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 had come to disaster, and he suffered what sounds like a stroke, which led to his death ten days later.
Lesson? The whole account brings to mind the words of Paul: Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath (Romans 12:19).
Have you ever left the vengeance to God and been glad you did?

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Day 85: 1 Samuel 22, 23 and 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. Ahimelech's possession of the ephod tells us he was the High Priest. After his death, his son Abiathar takes possession of the ephod and the office. The ephod, worn by the High Priest, included the Urim and Thummim, used for discerning the will of God. It is likely these two stones specifically that are being used by David to hear God's voice.
When I read this passage where David asks the 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.
But for this time, this was God's chosen way of communicating his will to 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, there was no answer. David had a different kind of relationship with God, and when David consulted God, God was pleased to answer.
When's the last time God spoke to you?

Day 84: 1 Samuel 19, 20 and 21

The sword of Goliath the Philistine . . . is here. (1 Samuel 21:9)
Ahimelech the priest was scared when David showed up. I'm sure the tension between Saul and David was no secret. After his initial discomfort, Ahimelech provided David and his men with a meal. After eating it was time to go, but first David asked if there were any available weapons. And 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 blade that had been raised against David in the Valley of Elah, he would now wield against 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 a weapon I can use to attack him in the future. I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me (2 Corinthians 12:9).
On a sadder note, there should have been 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.
Has Satan ever had you up against the ropes? What weakness of yours could God help transform into a strength, allowing you to go on the offensive.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Day 83: 1 Samuel 16, 17 and 18

Abner, whose son is that young man? (1 Samuel 17:55)
In chapter 16, Saul is looking for a musician/therapist to ease his troubled mind. He hears about David, and Saul has the young man brought to him. David interviews with the CEO who takes a liking to him, and Saul offers David the 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 do a background check on David, whom Saul apparently does not know. Then in chapter 18, after Abner has found out about David's family and where he comes from, Saul offers David a job. Wait...
Just one more 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 (I mean how many giants named Goliath does Philistia have on tap?), although in the parallel passage from 1 Chronicles 20:5, it is reported that Goliath's brother is killed by Elhanan, and not Goliath himself.
Of course if it was Elhanan who killed Goliath and not David, that would explain why Saul needed to be introduced to the giant killer in chapter 17, even though David was already a trusted member of his court.
What do we do with difficulties like this? Must we reconcile every jot and tittle before we can sense God in the text?

Day 82: 1 Samuel 13, 14 and 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 aboslutely. Maybe that's what happened to Saul; I don't know. More than one biblical scholar has suggested that 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 Amalekites, 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?

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Day 81: 1 Samuel 10, 11 and 12

Say to the men of Jabesh Gilead, "By the time the sun is hot tomorrow, you will be delivered." (1 Samuel 11:9)
This is the second of three installments in the continuing saga 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 in 1 Samuel 31:11-13. How the mighty have fallen. Saul, in spite of his failings, was honored by many... but we're getting ahead of ourselves.
Has an episode from your past ever revisited at a later date?

Day 80: 1 Samuel 7, 8 and 9

Appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have. (1 Samuel 8:5)
Israel was unlike any other nation, enjoying a relationship with God unlike any other nation. But falling for the first rule of coveting: The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence, Israel decided it didn't want what it had. Israel wanted what everyone else had. Remember Judges 21:25? In those days Israel had no king. They wanted a king - someone they could see, hear and touch.
The truth is, Israel had a king. They had a king since their days on the Plains of Moab, waiting to cross the Jordan. Deuteronomy contained a covenant wherein Israel acknowledged God as their king. That Deuteronomic Covenant was modeled after treaties made between kings and their vassals (subject nations). But now Israel wanted out.
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?
When's the last time you were tempted to trade what you have for what your neighbors have? How'd that work out for you?

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Day 79: 1 Samuel 4, 5 and 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's response to bad news. This is how the news was broken to Israel's priest: 1) the battle was lost and Israel suffered heavy casualties; 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?

Friday, March 19, 2010

Day 78: 1 Samuel 1, 2 and 3

In those days the word of the Lord was rare. (1 Samuel 3:1)
Let's understand the climate into which Samuel was 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). Consider the harvest that came from those seeds.
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 even weaker. When Hannah was praying at the tabernacle, Eli was so spiritually thick that he mistook the cries of her heart for being drunk and disorderly.
Notice that Hannah is described as barren. In the Bible, this almost always foreshadows that something of significance is about to happen. Joseph, Samson and Samuel all share that distinction of being born of formerly barren mothers.
Also consider the transitional role that Samuel is about to play. He is the last judge and the first prophet of Israel (other than Moses). 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.
No extra charge: [God] 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 18, 2010

Day 77: Ruth

All my fellow townsmen know that you are a woman of noble character. (Ruth 3:11)
Boaz refers to Ruth as a woman of noble character. This could also be translated as a woman of valor, or a woman of excellence. This word is used many times in the biblical texts, 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 used to describe women only three times - 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, running her own retail enterprise; she does wholesale manufacturing and uses her profits to buy land. 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 a boatload of cash and mad skills to be excellent.
Do you know that you're a person of excellence? Everyone's a "10" at something.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Day 76: Judges 19, 20 and 21

Each man caught one and carried her off to be his wife. (Judges 21:23)
Chapter 19 gives the gory details of a heinous crime - the rape-murder of a Levite's wife. Chapter 20 chronicles the punishment dealt to the perpetrator - nearly a death sentence for an entire tribe of Israel. Benjamin was 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 lines.
As the gravity of the situation hit them, and they had a chance to clear their heads, they hatched a plan. Jabesh Gilead had not shown up to support their action against Benjamin, so that city became a target. Its 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. You can't make this stuff up. The Israelites realized that the young women of Shiloh were enjoying a festival in the fields near their city. They determined to look the other way, while the remaining Benjamites each captured a woman. This gives a whole different meaning to Hi ho the derry-o, the farmer takes a wife.
And the story ends: In those days Israel had no king, and everyone did as he saw fit (21:25).
Have you ever done what you thought was right only to realize later it was a bad decision?

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Day 75: Judges 16, 17 and 18

He fell in love with a woman in the Valley of Sorek whose name was Delilah. (Judges 16:4)
Just about everyone knows the story of Samson and Delilah. Samson was the strongest man on earth, a superhero of Israel. But for all his physical strength, he lacked moral strength as well as judgment.
Yes, Samson had a weakness, and it wasn't his hair. Samson's weakness was lust. If Samson were a 21st century case study, we'd surmise something was missing in his relationship with his mother. We would put the pieces together and determine his subconscious was searching for that intimacy, missing from his childhood, in the beds of other women.
The writer of Judges reports on Samson's failed marriage at an early age, his dalliances with prostitutes, and his affair with Delilah all 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, and... dare I say it?... saint and sinner.
He remembers that we are dust (Psalm 103:14).
For what weakness does God want you to ask his help today?

Monday, March 15, 2010

Day 74: Judges 13, 14 and 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 guests couldn't figure out. This made them look bad, so they became 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 discovered the answer. This made Samson look bad, and he became offended.
Samson deserted his fiancee, whose father then 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 handed over Samson to protect themselves. This understandably offended Samson, so he killed a thousand enemies with the jawbone of a donkey.
Then Samson got thirsty, and he became offended with 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, 11 and 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 Jephthah's birth, 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 into 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 initial attempts at diplomacy failed, he made a deal - a terrible deal - with God. He promised God a sacrifice in exhange for victory - whatever met him upon his return home. When he approached the house, his heart broke to see his precious daughter run out to greet him with a welcome home kiss.
The lesson? Be careful what you promise. Or is it? This was such a terrible promise, I seriously doubt God expected him to make it, let alone keep it.
In the above verse, God expresses compassion for Israel his only daughter, who has chased after foreign gods once again. God vowed, I will no longer save you (10:13). Later, however, his compassion moved him to reverse that decision. Why was Jephthah required to kill his only daughter when God spared his?
What lesson is God teaching you in this story?

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Day 72: Judges 7, 8 and 9

Israelites from Naphtali, Asher and all of Manasseh were called out, and they pursued the Midianites. (Judges 7:23)
This may seem rather incidental to the biblical account, 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 million strong - all thinking and acting as a unified body. Tradition tells us there were twelve tribes, but our tendency is to see them as Israel rather than 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 reality is that they were a little more pragmatic than that. Different tribal groups had their own leadership and when they received a call for help, they would take into account: Am I threatened? Will I be threatened if our neighboring tribe 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 they were motivated to do something about it. But what if the threat was on the extreme far end of Canaan? Fohgeddaboudit!
When asked for help, do we roll up our sleeves? Or is our first question, What's in it for us?

Friday, March 12, 2010

Day 71: Judges 4, 5 and 6

Why is his chariot so long in coming? (Judges 5:28)
This story focusing on 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 swollen the Kishon and the valley floor was marshy. The chariot wheels sank 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 house: Why is the clatter of his chariots delayed (5:28)? Do we detect a note of sympathy for even the family members of the enemy robbed by war of their brave husbands, fathers and sons?
Have you ever stopped to think that those life has set up as your enemies are also loved? They are precious not only in the eyes of their families, but in the eyes of God.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Day 70: Judges 1, 2 and 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. Theirs was a rollercoaster 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 ways and Yahweh too.
The third chapter introduces three judges. We've already met the first. Othiel is Caleb's nephew, who captures Kiriath Sepher and wins the hand of Caleb's daughter in the process (gotta love an action romance story - probably had explosions... maybe not).
Then we meet Ehud, the left-handed judge. This was 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, using subterfuge to assassinate Moab's king and free Israel from Moabite oppression.
The ongoing pattern for this book is Israel rejects God; Israel gets in trouble; they cry out to God for relief; God raises up a judge who delivers them and leads them until his death, at which time Israel once again rejects God.
Ever get yourself into trouble and then cry out to God to save you?

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Day 69: Joshua 22, 23 and 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 back to the dock? That's no time to be indecisive. If you pause too long between those two worlds - one foot on the dock and the other in the boat - disaster is almost guaranteed (or at least an embarrassing moment on America's Funniest Home Videos). You've got to make a choice and commit.
The first commandment insisted that God's people put God first. Maybe Joshua knew they couldn't have it both ways, and that vacillating betweenYahweh and foreign gods was every bit as deadly as rejecting Yahweh completely. Remember, Joshua begins the Deuteronomic History, in which Israel's failures to keep the first commandment are tallied up, very possibly to explain to an exiled people (well more than 500 years after Joshua's time) why the unthinkable has happened - why Jerusalem has been destroyed and Israel taken into captivity.
Are you on the dock or in the boat? You can't have it both ways. Have you made a commitment?

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Day 68: Joshua 19, 20 and 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 vintage 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 the frills of life become 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 also 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?

Monday, March 8, 2010

Day 67: Joshua 16, 17 and 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, the Tent of Meeting (Tabernacle) stood at Gilgal during the military campaigns for Canaan. Once the three campaigns were accomplished, the Tabernacle was moved to Shiloh, where it would remain until the early days of Samuel (probably around 150 years). 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.

Darker days were ahead. If you want to see what's coming, read Psalm 78:56-64. But for now, Shiloh was Israel's spiritual center.

Do you have a spiritual center? Some place (or maybe someone) that takes you back to your spiritual roots and your first spiritual love?

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Day 66: Joshua 13, 14 and 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 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 similarities. 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 battle 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?

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Day 65: Joshua 10, 11 and 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)

In John 14:8 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 most biblical scholars and theologians today would prefer to believe that the Old Testament understanding of God was probably immature, needing development. The biblical concept of herem is that God commanded Joshua to totally destroy the inhabitants of Canaan. Some thinkers are questioning if God would do that.

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

Does it ever bother you that the God who commanded: You shall not murder, ordered Joshua to utterly destroy the Canaanites? What do you do with that?

Friday, March 5, 2010

Day 64: Joshua 7, 8, and 9

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

Here we have 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. Had Joshua known they were Canaanites, he would have been compelled to destroy them. Only after he covenanted with them to spare their lives did he find out they had deceived him and were really neighbors.

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, 5 and 6

Today I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you. (Joshua 5:9)

Upon crossing the Jordan and before the battle of Jericho, the nation of Israel stopped to take inventory. All those who had come out of Egypt had been circumcised at Sinai, but those born in the desert remained uncircumcised. At Gilgal, the people got caught up on their obligation to the Lord by circumcising the sons of those who had perished in the wilderness.

The writer records these words as spoken to them by God: Today I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you.

Isn't it good to know that God wants to roll away our reproach? Whatever baggage we have been carrying from our past, whatever dirt we've picked up as we've walked through life - God doesn't want those things to stick. He wants to set us free so that we can walk through life unencumbered by anything that would trip us up, tie us to the past, or hold us back from moving forward into our future and his purpose for our lives.

Are you still holding on to things that God has determined to roll away?

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Day 62: Joshua 1, 2 and 3

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

In Chapter 3, Joshua admonishes the people to follow the Ark of the Covenant because they are about to go where no man had gone before... well, at least where no Israelite had gone in the last 400 years.

Following the Ark of the Covenant meant following Joshua and the nation's spiritual leadership. This is good advice. Pray for God to raise up a leader; trust Him to do so, and then follow that leader.

Our path always leads to someplace new. Even if we try to repeat decisions and events from former times, we are different, so our experience will be different. We can say with conviction, We have never been this way before.

Have you ever had to trust God to guide you into uncharted territory?

NOTE: I am out of town this week, and do not have wireless access for my laptop, so while I'm going to try to keep up my daily posts, they probably won't be adorned with pictures.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Day 61: Deuteronomy 31, 32, 33 and 34

Moses the servant of the Lord died there in Moab, as the Lord had said. (Deuteronomy 34:5)
In Chapter 31 verse 9, Moses is said to have written down the words of the law. Nowhere in the first five books of the Bible is it claimed that Moses wrote down word for word all the events from creation through his own death, but because they are traditionally referred to as the Books of Moses, many people take for granted that he wrote them.
Most scholars would agree that these books are the product of several oral traditions and, once written down, underwent several revisions before coming to their final form sometime in the sixth century B.C.
Regarding the above verse, there are 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; and 3) what I said in the preceding paragraph.
Does it make a difference? Does it affect your faith if these words came to us straight from Moses' laptop (sort of an Israel - the Prequel blog), or if they are the result of a long traditioning process? That's why I suggest we look at these stories through the eyes of that exiled person waiting to return to Jerusalem. If these words came to their final form in that setting, they must have held special significance for those who presented them.
So what do you think? After all, you've read the Pentateuch; most people have not. You're the expert now.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Day 60: Deuteronomy 28, 29 and 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 writer of Deuteronomy didn't throw the words of verse 16 onto the table like one throws dice, just letting them go and seeing where they might arbitrarily fall. He chose his words carefully and intentionally: 1) Love the Lord your God; 2) Walk in His ways; and 3) Keep his commands, decrees and laws.
Legalism reverses this order. Legalism is mustering up the strength to keep a list of rules (commands, decrees and laws), thinking that's how we walk in God's ways, and that by doing that perhaps one day we will come 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 comes naturally. We wouldn't want to do anything else!
So what sounds better: struggling to follow a list of rules and seeing where that leads? Or falling in love with God and seeing where that takes you?

Day 59: Deuteronomy 25, 26 and 27

My father was a wandering Aramean. (Deuteronomy 26:5)
In the waning days of their desert experience, the Israelites were anticipating how things would be different once they were settled in Canaan. Once they had taken the land, and moved in to houses they had not built, and harvested gardens they had not planted, they were to bring the first fruits of the harvest to the priest as a tithe belonging to God. They were to speak these words: My father was a wandering Aramean, and he went down to Egypt with a few people and lived there and became a great nation, powerful and numerous. But the Eqyptians mistreated us and made us suffer . . . So the Lord brought us out of Egypt (Deuteronomy 26:5-8).
They were being reminded that while enjoying the blessings of God they should never forget their humble beginnings and how far God had brought them.
My grandfather was a poor man working oil leases, coal mines and railroads (whatever he could find) in Western Pennsylvania. My father, brought up during the Great Depression, dropped out of high school so he could go to work and help support the family. I thank the Lord my kids are looking ahead to college and where life will take them.
May we never forget our roots and with God's help, how far we've come.
Where are your roots? How far has God brought you?