Sometimes I just don’t get it
2 Samuel 12: The son born to you will die.
I hope this doesn’t sound disrespectful, but I really dislike this passage. I struggle with the result of David’s sin being the death of this innocent child. I wish I had some nifty, easy-to-swallow answer that fits neatly into my understanding of God, but I don’t. I can just barely reach out and grasp the concept that God is the Giver of Life and that he can take that gift by his own sovereignty. That doesn’t really solve my problem with this passage although it causes me to acknowledge that God is God and that this is all under his authority. David prays and fasts that his son might be spared, asking God to show him mercy. He knows that God is merciful, so there’s hope that it might just happen. But it doesn’t and the child dies. If you think I’m about to come up with some devotional gem here, well, I’m sorry to disappoint, but I have nothing. That doesn’t stop me from believing that “God is love” and that he’s a compassionate and merciful God. All I can do is confess my failure to understand and go on trusting in the good character of the Lord. Frankly, this isn’t as isolated a situation as I would like it to be. Still, I go on trusting in those situations too.
Take Away: Even when we don’t understand we can trust. Actually, that’s a definition of faith.
Hurry up, Lord!
1 Samuel 13: So I took things into my own hands.
As we leave Samuel’s sermon in chapter 12 and move to chapter 13 there’s a leap of several years. In fact, the first words of the next chapter tell us that Saul has now reigned for many years. Apparently, he’s doing a good job. For decades there have been no stories of failure. Life continues, securely and peacefully. Also, we see that Samuel is doing what he said he would do and is faithfully praying for them and providing spiritual guidance. Saul handles the day to day running of the country and Samuel’s the spiritual leader. Then historic things begin to happen. Saul’s son, Jonathan, attacks the Philistines at Gibeah and there’s war. Outnumbered, Saul’s army flees and things are unraveling for Israel. The call goes out to Samuel to come and offer a sacrifice. God’s help is needed here! As Saul waits on Samuel his men are deserting, slipping away one after another. Finally, Saul decides he can wait no longer. Crossing the line that has existed between his authority and Samuel’s he offers his own sacrifice. Of course, it’s all a test. Will Saul follow God’s plan for how Israel is to function or will he abandon God’s approach when it seems necessary? His failure’s obvious. I can be pretty hard on Saul if I want to. God has been with him, always on his side, now he’s messed up (royally!). The trouble is that I have to admit that I can identify with Saul here. How good am I at waiting for God to move when I’m under pressure? Do I tend to take matters into my own hands? This is a spectacular failure for Saul. Is it anything less when I fail in the same way?
Take Away: Waiting for God to move may be our greatest test of faith.
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.
God keeps his promises
Joshua 21: Not one word failed from all the good words God spoke to the house of Israel. Everything came out right.
The battles are over, the land divided, and the special cities designated. It’s a time now for reflection. Soon Joshua will call the people together and preach a “conclusive” sermon of his own, even as Moses did decades earlier. Here’s the thing: God has kept all the promises he made to them. Today, I operate under certain promises: “believe and be saved,” “I am with you to the end of the age,” “I will come back and take you to be with me.” Sometimes just the receiving of God’s promises takes an effort on my part. Beyond that it almost always calls for my patience and trust as I wait to realize it in my life. The great phrase before me today is this: “Everything came out right.” With that in mind I stay the course. God has made promises and everything will, indeed, come out right.
Take Away: Receiving God’s promises almost always takes patience.
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.
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.
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.
Taking care of business
Deuteronomy 29: God will take care of the hidden things but the revealed things are our business.
Moses has been outlining the terms of the “blessing and the curse” for his congregation. He warns them that what happens along that line is up to them. God has already laid out his intentions for them, and it’s perfectly possible for them, by God’s grace, to live up to them all. Still, there’s much they don’t know. Once they cross the Jordan River they’ll encounter new obstacles and challenges. It’s here that we find this shining gem of both a promise and a charge. If they do their part, God can be counted on to do his. Without doing too much damage to this statement, I can pull it out of context and be warmed by its promise. If I’m not careful, I’ll spend way too much energy worrying about the “hidden things.” God says, “You pay attention to the things you know are your responsibility and I’ll take care of the rest.” That, my friend, is a very good deal!
Take Away: My accountability ends with the extent of my knowledge, but I’d better remember that that accountability is real and I am responsible before God.