Getting out what we put in
2 Samuel 24: I’m not going to offer God, my God, sacrifices that are no sacrifice.
The final story in 2 Samuel is difficult, if not impossible, to understand. It seems that David, fearful that God wouldn’t supply an army strong enough to protect Israel, decides to do a national census. The result is that the Lord moves to punish David and Israel. The king is given three choices of punishment and David picks three days of epidemic sweeping the land because he’d rather be directly in the hands of God than be punished through the actions of his enemies as is proposed in the other two alternatives. This story doesn’t work for me very well. Offhand, it sounds as though an epidemic came and someone connected it to David’s lack of faith in taking the census. However, it’s right here in the Bible, so I’ll take it at face value, while, at the same time, keep in mind that there’s certainly more going on here than I see when simply reading the story. However, what happens next is easy to understand and challenging to me in my relationship with God. The plague is sweeping across the land and thousands are dying. David is told to build an altar in a specific place. If he does so, and offers sacrifices there, the plague will stop. David goes to the owner of the land and asks to purchase it. The man, Araunah, offers to give it to him but David replies that he isn’t going to offer to God that which costs him nothing. The price is set, the purchase made, the altar built, and the sacrifice is made, thus ending the plague. While I struggle with this story, I’m reminded of the tendency to offer God that which costs us nothing. We attend church when it’s convenient, we pray when we think we have the time, and in general, we practice a low impact religion. David’s example is one we need. We get out of our relationship with God what we put into it.
Take Away: I’m going to give the Lord my best because I want to get all I can from living in a quality relationship with him.
Hearing, believing, acting
1 Samuel 17: David took off from the front line, running toward the Philistine.
I’m not sure why this phrase stands out to me but it does. It has to do with David’s confidence, his rushing to, in the eyes of common sense, disaster. There’s no trace of hesitancy here. This isn’t one of those reluctant “well, someone has to do it, it might as well be me” situations. David’s eager for this fight. The mental picture is powerful. On one hand, big old Goliath, armed to the teeth, stands there spewing out promises of death. On the other, young David armed only with a sling, proclaims God’s authority, running toward this giant of a man. Within seconds Goliath lies face down in the dirt and David stands over him, with Goliath’s own sword in hand, preparing to chop off his head. It was never about the brashness of youth, or David’s “secret weapon.” Everything here carries the mark of God at work. David acted with confidence because he had heard the voice of God in his life. Not only had he heard, he had believed. A realization of this truth is not only good for combat with giants — it’s good for everyday life too. I need to spend enough time with God that I can clearly hear him, and then, having heard, to believe, and having believed, to act with confidence.
Take Away: Once you’ve heard a certain word from the Lord you can move forward in absolute confidence.
When God says “yes”
1 Samuel 1: Crushed in soul, Hannah prayed to God and cried and cried — inconsolably.
As I begin reading the books of Samuel the first thing I hear is the prayer of a broken hearted woman named Hannah. Young women across the ages have longed for children and that desire is especially true in this age, 3000 years ago. In her society much of Hannah’s worth as a human being is dependent on her ability to have offspring. Even her good husband’s efforts to make her feel better about herself fail. On a trip to Shiloh everything comes to a head. In her misery Hannah pours out her heart to God at this place of worship. The Lord hears her prayer and answers, bringing not only relief to this good woman, but the beginning of restoration to Israel which has fallen far from God. I wish I understood why God hears and responds to Hannah’s prayer and not similar prayers prayed by people just as good and just as miserable as she. I know that God cares for hurting people and provides strength and comfort for them, and, sometimes he says “yes.” The rest of the time, we do the only thing we know to do: we trust him with that which we don’t understand.
Take Away: Thank the Lord for the times when the answer is “yes” – trust him in the times when the answer isn’t the one we want.
Generation to generation
Judges 2: Eventually that entire generation died…another generation grew up that didn’t know anything of God….
This is a pitiful situation. How foolish! Here are parents who ate manna, had ever-wear shoes, crossed through the Jordan on dry ground, saw the walls of Jericho fall, and won an amazing dominance in Canaan. Somehow, those same parents failed to instill the knowledge of God in their children. What’s wrong with these people? Years earlier Moses warned them that it would be easy to enjoy their success and forget God. Now, a generation has passed and the nightmare scenario he described has come true. Apparently, it’s easier to fail to pass faith from one generation to the next than we might think. My experience with God might be vivid to me but can mean almost nothing to my children. I must assume nothing and take nothing for granted. If those I love are to know God I must be resolutely intentional in instilling that knowledge in their lives. God help us to reach our children.
Take Away: How can I best pass my faith on to those who are dearest to me?
What can an old man do?
Joshua 14: So give me this hill country that God promised me.
With the battles ending, the country is being divided up among the people of Israel. An old friend comes to the leader, Joshua, with an insistent request. Caleb was a mature 40 years old when he was named one of the 12 to scout out the Promised Land. Now of the 12, only he and Joshua are left, with Caleb at 85 years of age. All of his contemporaries are dead and he’s in the twilight of life. But he doesn’t come to Joshua to reminisce about the good old days. A generation ago, when the people were revolting against God this man stood firmly for God. The Lord was pleased with Caleb and promised that a portion of Canaan would be his. Now, Caleb is reminding Joshua of that. For over 40 years Caleb has remembered that land and now he wants it as his inheritance. The thing is this section of Canaan is still unconquered. In fact, there’s a fortress there. What is an 85-year-old man going to do in the face of such opposition? Caleb says, “Just give it to me and see what I am going to do!” You have to like old Caleb! This guy trusts God to keep his word, and not just in some vague theoretical sense. He trusts God in a blood and dirt, “let’s get to it” kind of way. Tell you what, I want to be more like that — more ready to take God at his word and start claiming that which he’s promised me.
Take Away: The Lord can do amazing things through a person who takes him at his word.
Sometimes God is a stranger to me
Joshua 11: It was God’s idea that they all would stubbornly fight the Israelites so he could put them under the holy curse without mercy.
It’s bloody with lots of death and destruction. Individual tribes and cities and also coalitions of previous enemies resist the onslaught of Joshua’s army. Now victory has come and war is over. I know that the book of Joshua gives a “marching to victory” view of the Canaan Conquest while Judges paints a less pretty picture, but frankly, even the positive view of Joshua makes me cringe. All the slaughter of entire peoples: men, women, and children — even, in some cases, animals. The Scriptures explain that it isn’t that God wants to give Canaan to the Israelites so he helps them exterminate those who live there. Rather, it’s that those who live there are so degenerate, so unholy, that God doesn’t want them or anything about them to contaminate the people he’s chosen. Still, I struggle with this because it seems so distant from “God is love.” I confess that sometimes God is a stranger to me. Still, that which is wrong humanly speaking isn’t necessarily wrong for the Creator. The “Giver of Life” has full authority to be the “Taker of Life.” Sometimes devotional lessons are hard to come by in passages like this, but here’s what I get today: there is an “other-ness,” a sobering, even a fear-generating side of the Lord. I love him and I trust his character but I definitely don’t always understand who he is and why he does what he does. I am glad God Almighty doesn’t need me to be his defender.
Take Away: Sometimes we simply have to trust and believe even as we struggle to understand.
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 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.
The water’s fine, come on in
Deuteronomy 20: Don’t waver in resolve. Don’t fear. Don’t hesitate. Don’t panic. God, your God, is right there with you.
A dad is teaching his son to swim and his approach is quite reasonable. Dad doesn’t relax on the lounge chair and tell his son, “If you need me, I’ll be right here.” Instead, Dad gets into the pool and then beckons his son, “Come on in, I’m right here and I’ll help you.” Moses is instructing the spiritual leaders of the people of Israel. Soon these people will cross the Jordan River and engage the armies of the nations of Canaan. They’ll be outnumbered and will face experienced armies in numerous battles. Moses instructs the spiritual leaders of the land to prepare God’s people for battle by encouraging them to be strong and courageous. The reason for confidence is that God is going into the battle with them. Moses is about to depart but the Lord isn’t going anywhere. Instead, thick or thin, he’ll be with them all the way. God is never a sideline spectator to our lives. Of course he’s near when things are going well. He’s also near in the darkness of night. As my spirit trembles he reaches out to me, reassuring me that it’ll be okay because he’s right here and he’ll help me through it all.
Take Away: Everything in life changes, but God remains faithful.
When you’ve seen one giant you’ve seen them all
Deuteronomy 3: God is going to do the same thing to all the kingdoms over there across the river.
Moses reminds his people of the victories they’ve already experienced. By God’s help they defeated the army of Sihon. Then they took on Og of Bashan. Before we ever meet the giant Goliath we meet Og. He’s huge. In fact, after he’s defeated his bed is put on display. It’s over thirteen feet long! As they say, “the bigger they come the harder they fall.” The Lord supercharges the Israelites and down comes Og and his army. Before long it will be time for this current generation of Israelites to do what their parents refused to do. They’re to cross the Jordan and take the land of Canaan as their own. This time, rather than cower in fear they’re to think of Sihon and his army and how, by the strength of the Lord, that army was crushed. When they see the big guys of Canaan they’re to picture the fallen Og and his big, iron bed that is on display. The victories of the past are to give them courage and faith to move forward to even greater victories. That’s how it’s supposed to be for me too. God has been good to me. By his grace I’ve come a long way. I don’t know what the future holds, but I wouldn’t be surprised at all if the biggest challenges of life lie ahead. I’m to let the work of God in my life in days gone by be a source of strength in my life in the events yet to come.
Take Away: As we remember what the Lord has done for us in the past we’re encouraged to trust in in current and future situations.