Saturday, March 31, 2012

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 the people of Babel with Abraham? The men on 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?

Friday, March 30, 2012

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 having been recognized as the King of Judah, being installed as the King of all Israel. Not everyone is united behind David – there are still those loyal to the house of Saul, who will cause trouble for Solomon in later years.

Then David conquers Jerusalem which will become 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. John Bright in his A History of Israel  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. A while back my Associate Pastor Garth Hamilton chose Undignified as his fantastic title for a sermon – wish I'd thought of that.

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.

What’s more important? What people think or what God thinks?

When did what other people think become the most important thing?

Thursday, March 29, 2012

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 pivotal narrative in Saul’s downward spiral in 1 Samuel 15. This isn't the first time we’ve encountered Amalek. Exodus 17 recounts how they attacked Israel wholly unprovoked while they marched through the wilderness. And this isn’t the last time we'll hear the name either. We’ll revisit this narrative of Saul and Agag 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. The final chapter of 1 Samuel ends where Saul has fallen on his own sword rather than be captured by the enemy. The opening chapter of 2 Samuel tells the rest of the story. A young man finds Saul mortally wounded by still alive. Saul asks him to finish the job of which he had been unable. “But first, tell me who you are.”

“An Amalekite.”

Saul was told to destroy King Aga and all the Amalekites. He disobeyed. Bottom line? What he failed to destroy, in turn destroyed him.

When God tells us to get rid of something in our lives, we cannot afford to go only half way. Either we do away with it, or it might possibly do away with us. God does not want to deprive us, but to free us.

Is there anything in your life that God has told you to get rid of?

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

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 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 empathize with 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?

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

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 the corner of his robe. Then there was the time he crept into Saul’s camp while everyone was asleep, and took Saul’s spear.

But even though most of us wouldn’t have blamed him, 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, when she told Nabal how close he'd come to disaster, he suffered what sounds like a stroke, which led to his death ten days later.

Lesson? This 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?

Monday, March 26, 2012

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, two stones used for discerning the will of God. It is likely the Urim and Thummim specifically that David is using 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.

For hundreds of years, this had been 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 encouraged his followers to seek his will, but 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?

Sunday, March 25, 2012

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, the priest 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 with God’s help 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 foreshadowing and dramatic tension present in that line.

When Satan has you up against the ropes, will you surrender, or give God everything you’ve got, including your weaknesses?

What weakness of yours could God transform into a strength, allowing you to go on the offensive?

Saturday, March 24, 2012

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’s Elhanan (another son of Bethlehem) who is credited with Goliath's death (I mean how many giants named Goliath does Philistia have anyway?), although the parallel passage from 1 Chronicles 20:5 reports that Goliath's brother is killed by Elhanan, and not Goliath himself.

Hmmm...

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?

Friday, March 23, 2012

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 absolutely. Maybe that's what happened to Saul; I don't know, but something changed. More than one biblical scholar has suggested Saul was mentally unstable – no big surprise there, but it probably doesn’t figure in our case study for today.

When he was first anointed by Samuel, 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.

How does “he has hidden himself among the baggage” become “he has set up a monument in his own honor”?

What is it about success that changes a person? Is it the financial reward? Is it the acclaim? Must accomplishment inevitably bring a sense of entitlement? Is this kind of thing always connected to power and privilege? Could this happen to us?

How will you protect yourself from the pitfalls of success?

Thursday, March 22, 2012

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 actually the second of three installments in the story of Jabesh Gilead. You remember Jabesh in Gilead. Episode One: The tribe of Benjamin was in trouble for a heinous crime perpetrated by a few of its members. When the tribes of Israel united against Benjamin, nearly bringing it to the point of extinction (Judges 19-20), Jabesh did not join the fight. After Israel realized how close it had come to losing one of its tribes 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 this story (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 up to that point 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. Saul, in spite of his failings, was honored by many.

Have you ever been blessed at a later date by a visit from your past?

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

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 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 between Israel and Yahweh was modeled after treaties made 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?

Deuteronomy 17 serves as a warning to Israel regarding the dangers of choosing a king over God and provides guidelines for kingly behavior. 1 Kings 10 and 11 paints a picture of Solomon depicting a mirror image of everything the nation had been warned against.

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?

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

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.
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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?

Monday, March 19, 2012

Day 78: 1 Samuel 1, 2 and 3


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

Let's examine 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). Consider the conditions that came from the time of the judges.

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. 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 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 monarchial period by anointing not only the first, but also the second king who will rule over the nation.

No Extra Charge: He revealed himself to Samuel through his word (1 Samuel 3:21).

In those days the word of the Lord was rare. These days most people have a Bible sitting around somewhere gathering dust? Know what I’m saying?

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

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Day 77: Ruth 1, 2, 3 and 4


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 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.

I wonder if Ruth would describe herself as a woman of noble character, or as excellent. I doubt it. She was just being faithful to her mother-in-law, whom she loved, and doing her best to deal with life as it unfolded before her. Ruth’s story proves one doesn't need a boatload of cash and mad skills to be excellent.

Everyone is a “10” at something.

How will you be a person of excellence this week?

Saturday, March 17, 2012

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?

Friday, March 16, 2012

Day 75: Judges16, 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 that something might have been missing in the 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. Admittedly, it’s probably never a good idea to psychoanalyze ancient near eastern people using contemporary psychological models. I’m just saying.

The Bible reports on Samson’s 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. Apparently the criteria God used for choosing Israel’s judges was based on something different than most pulpit committees use for picking pastors. Again, I’m just saying.

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)

For what weakness does God want you to ask his help today?

Thursday, March 15, 2012

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 friends 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 fiancée, 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. Samson was understandably offended, 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.
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Is there anyone you need to get even with?

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

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 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 initial 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 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. This was such a terrible promise; I seriously doubt God expected him to keep it, let alone make it in the first place. Maybe I'm wrong.

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?

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Day 72: Judges 7, 8 and 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 of Gideon and Israel’s fight against the Midianites, 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 tribes 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?”

Monday, March 12, 2012

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 (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 tale, 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 even the family members of the enemy robbed by war of their brave husbands, fathers and sons?

Our enemies are precious not only to their families, but also in the eyes of God.

Have you ever stopped to think that those life has set up as your enemies are also loved?

Sunday, March 11, 2012

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 faithfulness and forget Yahweh too.

The third chapter introduces three judges. We've already met the first. Othniel 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 street cred, 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 for God to save you?

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Day 69: Joshua 22, 23 and 24


But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord. (Joshua 25:15)

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. The Israelites reject their foreign gods and pledge their fealty to Yahweh.

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 in the boat and the other on the dock – disaster is almost guaranteed (or at least some airtime 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 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, 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 (500 or more 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.

Do you need to make a commitment? What’s stopping you?

Friday, March 9, 2012

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 means something else is going on.

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 how the frills of life can 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.

The bottom line is that God answers prayer in accordance with his will, and his will for me is always better than my selfish yearnings or best laid – though naïve – plans. We struggle against his will, not realizing doing so means we are settling for less than God’s best.

When's the last time you looked back and were gently surprised at God's faithfulness?

Thursday, March 8, 2012

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. Yesterday we read that even after the three campaigns, there was still work to do. In 18:2 we read that seven of twelve tribes still had not secured their inheritance. Frankly they would not until the days of King David. Once the initial campaigns were accomplished, the Tabernacle moved from Gilgal and was set up in Shiloh. There it would remain until the early days of Samuel (I'm thinking that makes it about 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.

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.

Everyone needs some sort of spiritual center, some place that takes them back to their spiritual roots. It might be the church (or river or lake) where you were baptized. It might be a passage of Scripture that has become especially meaningful to you over the years. It may be one of the names of God in which you have found your deepest need supplied. Or it could be the memory of someone special who prayed with you to receive Christ.

Where is your spiritual center?

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Day 66: Joshua 13, 14 and 15

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

Sometimes we get the idea that Israel marched into the Promised Land under Joshua’s leadership, and that all their enemies surrendered when the walls of Jericho came a-tumblin’ down. The truth is it was a little more complicated than that. 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. On the other hand, I 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?

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 14:9 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 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. Search for two specific articles that address the concept of violence in the Old Testament: 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.

That 6th Commandment sure throws a wrench in the works, doesn’t it?

Do you ever have difficulty reconciling the violence of the Old Testament with the Jesus of the New Testament?

Monday, March 5, 2012

Day 64: Joshua 7, 8 and 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. The Israelites, under Joshua’s leadership, were taking Canaan city by city. Whether it was primarily a military conquest, a simple process of assimilating into Canaanite culture, or a mixture of the two is debated by Old Testament scholars. Nevertheless, knowing it was just a matter of time before their number came up, and 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. They came before Joshua, misrepresented themselves, and negotiated 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, it was too late. He had given his word and refused to go back on it, but he did press the people of Gibeon into forced servitude, in which they would perform menial and difficult labor.

From Joshua and the Gibeonites we learn two valuable lessons: First, another’s deception does not legitimize dishonorable behavior on our part. Second, it’s never a good idea to sign a contract without reading the fine print.

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

Sunday, March 4, 2012

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 engaging the city of Jericho in battle, the Israelites renewed their covenant with Yahweh. In taking inventory, they realized the men who marched out of Egypt forty years previous had been circumcised at Sinai, but those born in the desert remained uncircumcised. At Gilgal, the people circumcised the sons of those who had perished in the wilderness.

In Genesis, to avenge their sister Dinah, Jacob’s sons tricked the men of Shechem into circumcising themselves. While they were unable to defend themselves, the brothers swooped into town and killed everyone. Joshua’s obedience in having his men circumcised is even more striking when we consider his army’s back was against the river, and they were helpless in enemy territory.

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

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 walking through life, God doesn’t want those things to stick to us. He wants to free us of those things that might 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 holding on to baggage God has determined to roll away?

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Day 62: Joshua 1, 2 and 3


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

In Chapter 3, Joshua encourages the Israelites to follow the Ark of the Covenant as they cross the Jordan, for they are about to go where no man has gone before... well, at least where no Israelite had gone in the last 400 years.

The problem was they didn’t know where they were going. This was terra incognita. With no GPS (not even a map), they were going to need some help getting where they wanted to go.

Joshua gave them good advice: When you see the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God, and the Levitical priests carrying it, you are to move out from your positions and follow it. Then you will know which way to go… (3:3-4). This was more than just good common sense. True, being carried on poles, the ark’s elevation would make it easy to see. But more to the point, God would lead the way.

In the case of Israel, the nation had followed Moses and now they were following Joshua. Joshua was following God, and they were to follow Joshua. Or as the Apostle Paul would say more than a thousand years later: Follow my example as I follow the example of Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1).

Trust God to raise up a leader, and then follow that leader.

Every day is new territory. You have never been this way before.

How are you trusting God to guide you into uncharted territory?

Friday, March 2, 2012

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)

Congratulations on reading through the Pentateuch - the Books of Moses. Although nowhere in these five books is it claimed that all these words were penned by Moses, because they are called the Books of Moses there are those who would fight anyone who suggested 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.

So how did Moses report the details of his own death? 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 scribbled these few verses at the end; or 3) what I said in the preceding paragraph.

The idea that Moses wrote these books is merely a matter of tradition, and in no way does it impact our relationship with God either way. The authoritative word of God is not threatened by asking questions. God can take it. He has big shoulders. The Bible can take it. How could I stake my life, both abundant and eternal, on it, if it couldn’t?

You’ve reached a milestone. You've read the Pentateuch; most people have not. You're the expert now, so what do you think?

Thursday, March 1, 2012

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 basic idea is that those who do right will be blessed while those who do wrong will be cursed. The rewards for compliance and the consequences for disobedience have been spelled out, and Moses asks for a decision. Choose life.

It would be easy to suppose that Moses’ words in verse 16 are ordered in an arbitrary manner. In math it would be called the commutative property: a + b = b + a. That works with addition, but not in growing a relationship with God. The sequence in which Moses’ words are delivered is by no means coincidental, but deliberate. Legalism begins with summoning 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 if we walk with him, keeping his commands, decrees and laws will come naturally.

So what sounds better: struggling to follow a list of rules and regulations and seeing how far that gets you? Or falling in love with God and seeing where that leads?

What will you choose?