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Stopping the sun
Joshua 10: The sun stopped in its tracks in mid sky; just sat there all day.
Because of the significant military victories of the Israelite army, word of their success has spread like wildfire through the area. These residents of Canaan are cruel, child sacrificing, warring peoples, but some unite in an effort to stop the advance of Joshua and his army. The battle that ensues is a momentous one. In one fight they’ll either gain a decisive advantage or be beaten back. It’s during this battle that Joshua asks for an unbelievable favor from God. He asks that the sun stand still so that they can continue to fight while they have the advantage. God answers and the sun stops in the sky as the battle rages. Of course, the impossibility of that actually happening is clearer to me than it is to Joshua, who doesn’t understand anything at all about the solar system. I’m no scientist, but I know that if the sun stood still that it would mean the earth quit rotating, and if the earth stopped turning…well, it would be the end of the world. Needless to say, I would never pray the prayer Joshua prayed — I’m too educated to do that. But here we have poor, ignorant Joshua asking for something that couldn’t possibly happen. What’s that? You say that the Bible says it did happen? Listen, I have no idea of how God could stop the sun in the sky without the entire solar system crashing. It’s such a big miracle that I, even with my limited knowledge, could never pray for it. Joshua doesn’t know that the earth is round and is spinning and is orbiting around the sun. All he knows is that he needs a miracle from God. And that, my friend, is the whole point. Sometimes I need to throw out all the facts and hold on to the only real Fact, God, Himself. I need to be careful that I’m not so “smart” that God can’t do for me what he wants to do. Take Away: God specializes in doing the impossible and he doesn’t need for me to explain to him what he can or can’t do.
Joshua 9: The men of Israel looked them over and accepted the evidence. But they didn’t ask God about it.
Word of the impressive victories of the Israelite army has spread far and wide. Waves of fear sweep across Canaan when the powerful armies of the kings west of the Jordan fall. Now, with Jericho and Ai both destroyed the region is in the grip of dismay. Some are gearing up for war but one group desperately tries a different approach. The people of Gibeon send emissaries to the Israelites. They’re made up to look as though they’ve been on a long journey but actually they’re local. They tell Joshua’s people that they’ve heard of the might of God and their exploits and that, from a distance, they want to make a peace treaty with them. Apparently, the Israelites are somewhat flattered that their fame has spread far and wide, so, without giving it much thought, they seal the deal with Gibeon. To the surprise of the Israelites, they find that they’ve made a deal with one of the groups they’re supposed to purge from Canaan! What a blunder on the side of the Israelites and what resourcefulness on the side of Gibeon! The problem, of course, for Israel is that, while they were examining the dried, moldy bread from the saddlebags of the emissaries they forgot to “ask God about it.” They relied on their own wisdom rather than on the guidance of the Lord. I’d like to be very critical of the Israelites at this point, but I’d better tread carefully here. How many times have I, in my so called wisdom, checked out all the facts, made up a “pros and cons” list, researched the issue and moved on it. Only after the fact I may have tossed an “and, by the way Lord, please bless what I’m about to do” prayer. As I see Israel making an un-prayed over deal with Gibeon I’m sorry to say I see myself all too often doing the same sort of thing.
Take Away: You’ll never be sorry you prayed first.
It makes sense
Joshua 8: There wasn’t a word of all that Moses commanded that Joshua didn’t read to the entire congregation.
There’s both good news and bad news. The good news is that the Israelites have just won their second major victory. The bad news is that because of Achan’s sin, that victory was preceded by their first defeat. In spite of the clear statement of the Law Achan’s greed led to the deaths of several. Now, Achan, and those close to him, have paid for his sin with his own lives and the humiliation dealt the army of Israel has been erased by the total destruction of Ai. Joshua wisely calls for a time out. The people gather at the twin Mounts of Ebal and Gerisim and Joshua has half the people turn their backs on one of the mountains and the other half turn their backs on its twin. Then Joshua gives them a refresher course on God’s Law. The blessing of the Law is represented by Gerisim and the curse of the Law is represented by Ebal. Clearly, Joshua wants the people to remember that what they’re doing in Canaan isn’t all about combat and conquest. If they don’t remain firmly connected to the Lord God their future is bleak. Their only hope is to remain on the “blessing” side of things. This isn’t magic. In fact, it’s quite practical. Life works better for those who live in a consistent relationship with God than it does for those who reject him and live by some other standard. I realize that there’s more in play here, but I can’t help but note that the bottom line is based on plain good sense.
Take Away: There’s a way of life that is blessed by the Lord.
Achan lied and men died.
Joshua 7: Israel has sinned: they’ve broken the covenant I commanded them.
Jericho’s defeated and destroyed. Now their attention’s on a much smaller, less fortified place, Ai. An armed force of 3000 is sent to do battle at Ai, more than enough to win an easy victory. However, it doesn’t work that way. The people of Ai rise up and rout the larger Israelite force. How could that happen? They not only have superior numbers, but God is on their side. Right? Wrong! They go to Ai without God and are defeated there. Dismayed by what’s happened on his watch Joshua goes to the Lord. He’s told that there’s sin in the camp. As long as there’s sin there’ll be no help from God. You see, sin is always serious in the eyes of the Lord. Beyond that, my sin impacts others in unexpected ways. Achan thinks that God won’t notice and that his intentional disobedience of the Lord’s command will have no consequences. Instead, because of his sin, God withdraws his blessing and over 30 men die. In our western culture, we like to think it’s every man for himself. Had an American written this story, Achan, and maybe family, would have died for his sin in tragic poetic justice. Everyone else would have gone on with “business as usual.” Here we see a different picture. “Achan lied and men died.” Is it possible that some churches struggle because there’s hidden sin in the camp? And why stop at the church? What does this story say to me as an American? A country where babies by the millions are aborted, where immorality is the accepted mode of behavior? Am I really free to stand back from that and be dismayed, expecting the judgment of God to only fall on “them?”
Take Away: Our lives are interconnected, what I do impacts others, maybe many others.
This is no way to win a battle, still….
Joshua 6: Shout! — God has given you the city!
“Joshua fit the battle of Jericho and the walls came a-tumblin’ down.” They marched around the city each day for six days. On the seventh they marched around seven times and then with the blast of the trumpets and a shout of victory the walls fell and they charged in to win their first battle in the conquest of Canaan. Who on earth came up with such a battle plan? Well, it didn’t originate on earth at all. This is God’s plan. Actually, speaking from an earthly point of view, it’s not much of a plan at all. Yet it’s God’s way and that makes it the best way. Have you ever noticed that that the Lord likes doing things in unique ways? He uses shepherd boys to defeat giants, feeds people with bread that falls from heaven, and sets up a kingdom by going to a cross. His ways don’t always make sense to me but I’d better pay close attention to his direction. All my plans and expectations must yield before an Almighty God who enjoys doing things his own way. This is a source of frustration and delight to me. I’m frustrated when the Lord doesn’t act in the way I assume he’s going to act. I’m sure the phone is going to ring and the person I expect to call is going to offer me that job I’ve been praying about. The phone never rings, but then someone suggests a different route. When God’s in it, and if I’m not so focused on things happening my way, my life’s about to take a journey in a whole new, wonderful direction. “But Lord, those are real walls around that city; let me suggest the best way to get past them.” “That’s okay, my son, you’re going to love what I’ve got planned…listen to this….”
Take Away: The Lord loves using unexpected methods yielding spectacular results.
Are you with us or against us?
Joshua 5: “Whose side are you on — ours or our enemies’?” He said, “Neither, I’m commander of God’s army. I’ve just arrived.”
I confess that I love these mysterious passages of the Bible. As Joshua prepares for his first Canaan conquest battle he encounters a stranger who’s holding a drawn sword. Joshua asks his allegiance, and the answer is that this stranger is on neither side. He’s commander of God’s army and has only just arrived on the scene. What’s going on here? God has an army? He sends his commander to scout out the battlefield? There are more questions than answers here. Apparently, the commander of God’s army has come to give Joshua the heavenly battle plan. As I continue reading, the “March around the City” strategy is given to Joshua. In light of the abundance of unknown things in this little passage, I don’t want to go too far out in finding devotional material, but a few things come to mind. First, God’s ready to go to war on my behalf, even when I’m unaware of his presence. Second, God doesn’t claim allegiance to me; I claim allegiance to him. Third, God has a plan that may be very different than my own. Fourth, his plan is always the best one.
Take Away: It’s good to know God has an army, that he’s on my side, and that he has a sure fire, God-guaranteed plan.
Give us this day our daily bread.
Joshua 5: As soon as they started eating food grown in the land, there was no more manna for the People of Israel.
All their lives they’ve eaten manna that appears every morning. It’s God’s provision for them, meeting their needs in places and under circumstances in which that need could be met in no other way. They eat other things too but it’s manna that’s the staple in their diet. Now they have a toe hold on the land God promised to them. There’s much to be done: wars to be fought, land to be claimed, but finally they are here. Apparently, they’ve camped at Gilgal long enough to plant and harvest their first crop of grain. What a great Passover, remembering not only deliverance from Egypt but also now beginning to receive the land God promised them. With the harvest of this first Canaan crop the manna stops. The end of the manna isn’t an indication that God’s no longer going to provide for them. It’s simply a change in how he’s going to do it. Now the Lord’s providing for them in a new (only to them) way. Sometimes God does things in miraculous ways but most of the time he uses common tools for that purpose. Either way, it’s God who’s supplying the need. This concept works not only with manna and crops, but also with my health, job, and the many other concerns of life. I thank God for “the manna” but also for the ordinary, everyday provision for life.
Take Away: The Lord does, indeed, “give us this day our daily bread.”
Make a pile of stones
Joshua 4: In the days to come, when your children ask their fathers, “What are these stones doing here?” tell your children this: “Israel crossed over this Jordan on dry ground.”
Out in the middle of the Jordan River, way down at the bottom, there are stones. That’s what the people of Israel discover as God opens the way through the river. As the thousands cross over, twelve men are given the assignment of each taking one of those stones and piling them on the bank of the river as a memorial of this momentous event. Then, in future generations, when children ask about the pile of stones, the story will be told. It is the story of God’s deliverance; of how God makes a way when there is no way. It’s a story of God’s grace, patience, and mercy. It’s the story of his unfailing love. Here’s a tip right from God’s Word: build some memorials in your life. Take the kids to the old church, point to the place at the altar and tell them what happened there. Read to them the scripture that got your attention and tell them why. Show them your pile of stones from the Jordan riverbed and in so doing pass your story along to the next generation. Someday, your great-grandchildren, who never met you, will hear their grandpa talk about how his dad came to Christ. Thus, God’s grace will minister through your life from beyond your years on earth.
Take Away: Tell your story to those who are the most precious to you.
Joshua 3: Finally the whole nation was across the Jordan, and not one wet foot.
Here is an encouraging verse of Scripture. Their forbearers left Egypt by passing through the Red Sea. They were fleeing slavery and the Egyptian army that was bent on their destruction. Crossing the Red Sea was a “do or die” event for them. Then, their parents had been on the banks of the Jordan just a generation earlier. Their decision was not based on what was behind them, but on what was before them. They rebelled against God and refused to cross the river. You might want to say that in their eyes it was a “don’t or die” situation. Now, forty years later it’s their children and grandchildren’s moment of decision. What a glorious sight: hundreds of thousands of Abraham’s descendants moving forward in faith. The Lord has promised them possession of the land on the other side of the river and they’ve chosen to believe that God keeps his promises. This crossing of the Jordan is a declaration of war on all those who occupy that land. While their grandparents and parents retreated to avoid battle these people are marching, not away from, but in to battle. Why? They trust God. That’s the whole difference. People who doubt God shrink back and go it alone. People who trust the Lord move forward even if it means facing some giants along the way. As I read this account the word that comes to mind is “trust.”
Take Away: Trust advances, doubt retreats.
A practical conversion
Joshua 2: They left and arrived at the house of a harlot named Rahab and stayed there.
As the Israelites prepare to cross the Jordan two spies are sent to learn about their first target, Jericho. They slip into the walled city and take up residence in what was likely a common place of lodging. The commentators tell me that Rahab’s house was likely a tavern and inn. While some squirm around Rahab’s being called a “harlot” it’s likely that the scriptures are simply telling it as it is. We’re talking about a Canaanite women living in a Canaanite town here. When she acts to protect the spies it isn’t because she’s gotten saved in a revival meeting! She’s acting out of self-preservation. Still, her actions carry real weight. In spite of her questionable past and her lack of knowledge about the God of the Israelites she’s concluded that this God of theirs is powerful and will deliver Canaan to his people. She may not know the Ten Commandments or the Shema or the story of Abraham and Isaac, but she’s heard enough about this God that she’d rather be on his side than on the side of the people and gods of Canaan. In what might be considered a “practical conversion” she picks that God over all others. Hopefully, in the years to come her theology will mature and her relationship with God and his people will deepen. However, for all of us, our faith journey has to start somewhere. Deciding one would rather be on God’s side in the battle isn’t a bad place to start.
Take Away: All spiritual life begins with a simple decision concerning one’s relationship to the Lord.