Saturday, March 31, 2012
"Boaz took Ruth and she became his wife. When he was intimate with her, the Lord enabled her to conceive, and she gave birth to a son. Then the women said to Naomi, 'Praise the Lord, who has not left you without a family redeemer today. May his name become well known in Israel.' " (Ruth 4:13, 14 HCSB)
I stood before a sea of faces. They were only a blur. I was transfixed by a vision of beauty that suddenly appeared when the wooden doors were opened. Everyone stood, as the Wedding March began to play--and my heart began to pound. It was August 24, 1974, and Marilyn Crayton walked down the center aisle, holding her father's arm, then would walk out Marilyn Thurman, holding mine!
We were meant for each other. The circumstances that brought us together were engineered by the providence of God. The conviction that we should be together was evident as we developed and deepened our relationship. The commitment to stay together was sealed with our vows, the exchanging of rings and sharing of kiss. Now, after nearly 38 years, the love has matured and the romance remains.
Marriage is used throughout Scripture to symbolize God's relationship with His people. In the Old Testament, Israel was His love. In the New Testament, the church is the Bride of Christ. This is the romance of redemption.
This truth is vividly illustrated in the book of Ruth. In this story, we see a young girl who is taught through providence by the woe experienced and the word she expressed. Ruth is sought by providence as she "just happens" to come to the right place and meets Mr. Right! Then, she is bought by him and they are wed--the romance of redemption!
As we read this love story, we first observe THE WRETCHEDNESS THAT DROVE HER.
"Her sons took Moabite women as their wives: one was named Orpah and the second was named Ruth. After they lived in Moab about 10 years, both Mahlon and Chilion also died, and Naomi was left without her two children and without her husband....
'Don't call me Naomi. Call me Mara,' she answered, 'for the Almighty has made me very bitter. I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty. Why do you call me Naomi, since the Lord has pronounced [judgment] on me, and the Almighty has afflicted me?'
So Naomi came back from the land of Moab with her daughter-in-law Ruth the Moabitess. They arrived in Bethlehem at the beginning of the barley harvest." (Ruth 1:4, 5, 20-22 HCSB)
The drama is set in the dark days of the Judges. A famine was in the little town of Bethlehem. Bethlehem means, "house of bread" yet, there wasn't a crust, nor crumb! Often God brought discipline on his wayward people to bring them back to Him. Famine was such a pressure He used. But, a man named Elimelech decided, rather than submit to God, he would squirt out of the squeeze from God's hand like a bar of wet soap. Even worse, he drags his wife and two sons into a place where they ought not be--Moab. Moab was a place where demon gods were worshipped. They were a people whose origin was the incestuous relationship of the drunken Lot and his daughter. This is where he took his family.
It did not go well. He discovered that you can run but you can't hide. Disaster meets the family--Elimelech dies, his two sons, who had married Moabites die also, leaving three grieving widows. Brushing away her bitter tears, Naomi looks toward home and purposes to return to Bethlehem--now once more the "house of bread." She sees no future for her daughters-in-law there and bids them stay in Moab. But, Ruth will not! In her brief time with the covenant people of Israel--though they were backsliders--she has heard whispering hope in the midst of heartache. There is the God of Naomi that she wants to be her God. Listen to the commitment:
"Naomi said, 'Look, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her god. Follow your sister-in-law.'
But Ruth replied: "Do not persuade me to leave you or go back and not follow you. For wherever you go, I will go, and wherever you live, I will live; your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. May Yahweh punish me, and do so severely, if anything but death separates you and me." (Ruth 1:15-17 HCSB)
The providence of God is a remarkable thing. The decision of Elimelech was an act of defiance that ended in destruction. "But where sin multiplied, grace multiplied even more" (Romans 5:20 HCSB). Ruth would be redeemed from ruin. God's grace reaches us in our Moab--the demonism of the world. He orchestrates circumstances to drive us where He wants us to go. God sends a witness to bring light into our darkness. Ruth learned of Yahweh, the true and living God, from being in the presence of Naomi. That word was enough to bring conviction.
As I look back at the events leading to my conversion, I see how God brought me to desperation. In the soil of my soul, the seed of the Gospel, sown years before, germinated. Like the Prodigal Son, I would arise from the pigpen and head for home! "Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me." The wretchedness was a good thing for Ruth. It was good for me. It drives us to God.
Then we see in Ruth's story THE WINSOMENESS THAT DREW HER.
"Now Naomi had a relative on her husband's side named Boaz. He was a prominent man of noble character from Elimelech's family.
Ruth the Moabitess asked Naomi, 'Will you let me go into the fields and gather fallen grain behind someone who allows me to?'
Naomi answered her, 'Go ahead, my daughter.' So Ruth left and entered the field to gather [grain] behind the harvesters. She happened to be in the portion of land belonging to Boaz, who was from Elimelech's family.
'My lord,' she said, 'you have been so kind to me, for you have comforted and encouraged your slave, although I am not like one of your female servants.'
Then her mother-in-law said to her, 'Where did you gather [barley] today, and where did you work? May [the Lord] bless the man who noticed you.' Ruth told her mother-in-law about the men she had worked [with] and said, 'The name of the man I worked with today is Boaz.' Then Naomi said to her daughter-in-law, 'May he be blessed by the Lord, who has not forsaken his kindness to the living or the dead.' Naomi continued, 'The man is a close relative. He is one of our family redeemers.' " (Ruth 2:1-3, 13, 19, 20 HCSB)
The welfare system in Israel was, that when the harvest was gathered, the reapers were to only go over the fields once and not extend into the corners, so the poor could come and gather grain that was left over. This is what the destitute Naomi sent Ruth to do.
I love the simple words, "She happened to be in the portion of land belonging to Boaz..." as though a sheer coincidence, when it was really Divine providence! She went to gather barley, but more importantly would get Boaz! Her intent was to find the harvest, but better yet, will find a husband!
What a winsome man he was! I am sure Boaz was the most eligible bachelor in Bethlehem. The girls doubtless swooned and dreamed of marrying him. He had it all! Surely Ruth took notice when she saw him from a distance. Yet, she quickly turned back to her task, and abandoned any thoughts she might have of this nobleman. She was a peasant from a pagan land. That was that--so much for romance.
But, Boaz had other plans. He saw her--and desired her! He took the initiative and would woo her and win her. It was his grace that would draw her. Before she sought him, he sought her. God does that in the romance of our redemption. He seeks us. He reveals Himself to us. Christ is seen as altogether lovely! We come to love Him for He first loves us.
Act III brings the conclusion in THE WORTHINESS THAT DELIVERED HER.
"Boaz said to the elders and all the people, 'You are witnesses today that I am buying from Naomi everything that belonged to Elimelech, Chilion, and Mahlon. I will also acquire Ruth the Moabitess, Mahlon's widow, as my wife, to perpetuate the deceased man's name on his property, so that his name will not disappear among his relatives or from the gate of his home. You are witnesses today.'
Boaz took Ruth and she became his wife. When he was intimate with her, the Lord enabled her to conceive, and she gave birth to a son." (Ruth 4:9, 10, 13 HCSB)
There was nothing about Ruth to commend her to Boaz, save he chose to love her. She was ragged and he was rich. Ruth was a slave and Boaz had status. Neither was he compelled to redeem her. The law stated that it was the obligation of the nearest kinsman to marry the widow and perpetuate the family line (see Deuteronomy 25:5-10). Boaz did not do this because of a commandment, but because of compassion. When he sought her, he bought her. He paid the price for all the debt incurred. Love is costly. That is the romance of redemption!
Boaz and Ruth would have a son. One day, their great-grandson, David, would take the throne in Israel. Out of this line, the Son of David, Jesus Christ would be born--our family Redeemer!
Our redemption is all of grace. Ours is the poverty, His is the plenty. Ours is the wretchedness, His is the worthiness. Jesus did not have to do what He did. He chose to love us. What a price He paid to redeem us. The law demanded every debt be discharged--and what we owe for our sin is so great an eternity in hell could not fully pay it, and indeed, we are bankrupt of righteousness that would fit is for heaven anyway. What did Jesus do? He loved us--suffered as the Eternal One all our separation from God--paid the debt in full! Then, bestowing on us, the riches of His grace, He clothes us in righteousness and takes us as His bride!
How can we help but love Him who lavished such love on us!
Tomorrow at Pole Creek, we will celebrate the romance of redemption. We will observe the Lord's Supper. We will look at the elements in our hands, reminders of the price He paid--His body, His blood. Blessed Redeemer!
Friday, March 30, 2012
"In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did whatever he wanted." (Judges 21:25 HCSB)
The bluntness of the Bible is sometimes shocking. It makes no effort to hide reality. It is all true--even if it is disquieting truth. There are not graphic descriptions given to appeal to prurient interests, but enough information to paint an accurate picture--albeit, a dark one. The closing chapters of Judges contain such jaw-dropping events. We are perched on the side of an abyss--the abyss of anarchy--and are invited to look in.
We had rather not. It is more comfortable to believe that man is basically good, and with enough effort can construct a utopia. Diplomacy will bring peace on earth. Education will alleviate poverty. Medicine will find a cure for all our diseases.
You might recall the scene from the movie, "Gettysburg," portraying that epic battle of the Civil War. Yankee Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain quotes from Hamlet, "What a piece of work is man, in form and movement how express and admirable. In action how like an angel." The crusty, crude Sergeant "Buster" Kilrain, retorts, "Well, if he's an angel, all right then. But he...must be a killer angel." After seeing the slaughter of the battlefield, one might understand Kilrain's cynicism.
Scripture confronts us with the stark reality of sin--the effects of the curse upon the human heart. Our heads are full of vain imaginations, our hearts are bent toward vile passions and our hands bloody with vicious actions. Man, left to himself, plunges over the abyss and into the depraved, demonic darkness of anarchy. When he does whatever he wants, what he ever wants is evil.
As I walked out my front door on this spring morning, I saw the evidence of the season's arrival--flowers blooming, trees budding, grass turning green--but in the midst of a potentially luxurious lawn, I saw something else--noxious weeds. If anything, they seemed more stout than the blades of grass. All I need to do, is let my yard go. It will return to the wild. That is the course of nature--the downgrade of a fallen creation.
Suddenly, a dark cloud enshrouds my thoughts. This is the spiritual wilderness of our world. The days of the Judges are our days--moral anarchy--relativism, to each his own. Our culture is not teetering on the abyss, we have lost our footing and are in free fall.
With these final chapters in Judges, the Great Physician takes the scalpel of Scripture and slices through our chest, laying bare our heart. The disease is beyond repair. No pacemaker, by-pass, drug or other procedure can do any good. That is the bad news. There is but one hope--a new heart--the radical transplant of the heart of God within! This is regeneration, and Jesus said that without it there is no hope of heaven.
The unbelievable depravity of mankind is meant to bring us to despair. We must tire of looking within; we must cease to look about. Vain is the help of man. We must look up! There, we can find the King who reigns in righteousness. His eternal life is ours as a gift to those who humbly bow to Him. His governing principles bring order out of the chaos, direction in our confusion, freedom from the bonds of iniquity, light to dispel the darkness. No more, do we do whatever we want, but what He wants. Our prayer is, "Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven." (Matthew 6:10 HCSB)
One day that glorious day will dawn. In an absolute sense, "Jesus shall reign, where'er the sun, doth its successive journeys run." But, until then, we will carve out a little corner of the wilderness by God's grace. There we will cultivate the soil, pull the weeds and see a little plot of paradise reclaimed. In the middle of the yard, there is a new house--my heart where Jesus makes His home.
Thursday, March 29, 2012
"Then she cried, 'Samson, the Philistines are here!' When he awoke from his sleep, he said, 'I will escape as I did before and shake myself free.' But he did not know that the Lord had left him. The Philistines seized him and gouged out his eyes. They brought him down to Gaza and bound him with bronze shackles, and he was forced to grind grain in the prison." (Judges 16:20, 21 HCSB)
Erosion--the slow, steady wearing away of a hillside, as rain runs down, cutting a channel, washing the soil away, loosening the rock, until one day the stones begin to slide down, destroying everything in the mudslide. We look at the immediate catastrophe and see it is a sudden thing, when actually it had been a long process, which one day reached critical mass.
That is the way sin works. Samson found that out. This is the erosion of evil.
It didn't happen overnight. In fact, when we are first introduced to Samson, we anticipate great things from such a young man. He was born a special child, with a sacred consecration. He was a "miracle baby" a gift from God to aged parents who had been barren all their marriage. God told them to set Samson apart as a Nazarite. They were told by the Lord that he would deliver the nation from their perennial persecutors--the Philistines. So, a new arrival comes--a bundle of joy with such great potential.
Samson had the Spirit of God resting on him--the power that shaped the mountains, scooped out the oceans and set the sun to shining, pulsed though his rippling muscles. He was the "Terminator," long before Arnold Schwarzenegger!
Samson piled up the victories, even as he piled up Philistine corpses. But, evil was working like erosion--slowly wearing away the moral fiber that was meant to bind his heart to God--the source of his strength. We see the warning signs. He takes honey from an animal's carcass, when a Nazarite was forbidden to touch a dead body. His lust for women is evident. I first heard Bible teacher, Chuck Swindoll, years ago, say of Samson, that he was "a he-man with a she-weakness!" It would be his downfall.
Samson could stare down and stand against an army and conquer, but he wilted as he gazed on the sensuous lips and shapely legs of a pagan beauty, vanquished by lust. He was fearless in responding to a lion's roar, killing the beast with his bare hands, yet was putty in the slender fingers of Delilah, whose melodic voice sang him a lullaby. Rocked to sleep in her lap, he divulges the source of his supernatural strength--and loses it. He is not the first; he would not be the last. Don't let it happen to you!
Perhaps, the saddest part of all, is that Samson doesn't realize that the Lord is no longer with him. Before the Philistines gouge out his eyes, he has already lost his spiritual vision. The pagans shackle him with bronze fetters, but he had already been chained by lust. Samson is put to grinding grain like a beast of burden, but he had already become an animal, unthinking, driven on by the whip of immorality wielded by the soft hands of a harlot--the yoke of sin resting on his thick neck.
His end is bittersweet. Samson cries out to God. That is good. His strength is restored one last time. That is good. He destroys his foes--more in this final chapter than ever in the rest of his story--and that is good. But, he dies in the process. That is sad. It was a pathetic end to such potential residing with a powerful man. For twenty years, Samson judged Israel. What might have been accomplished had he guarded against the erosion of sin?
But, his conscience became callused. The still, small voice of God was drowned out by the noise of the party. His hunger for God was dulled by his delight in the honey of the world. He gave his heart to a harlot and lost his passion for God. It didn't happen all at once. There was the erosion of evil. Suddenly, the roof caved in, the building fell--and what might have been, would never be.
Meanwhile, we may ignore the sound of the gentle rain of compromise falling upon us; take no heed to the washing away around the foundation of integrity--for it is only a trickle. So, it goes. If you don't stop it, and shore up the moral footings of your soul, one day the catastrophic consequences will sweep you away. This is the erosion of evil.
Wednesday, March 28, 2012
"So Jephthah went with the elders of Gilead. The people put him over themselves as leader and commander, and Jephthah repeated all his terms in the presence of the Lord at Mizpah." (Judges 11:11 HCSB)
Oxymorons are figures of speech that express opposites. A few examples would be: jumbo shrimp, the same difference, act naturally, seriously funny, and political promise. It's sad that we associate politicians with broken promises. Today, we consider a politician who kept his word--a man named Jephthah.
His life, however, was a big oxymoron. On the one hand, we find him listed in Hebrews 11, included in "Faith's Hall of Fame" with people like Noah, Abraham and Moses. Yet, Judges reveals a man with glaring character flaws. His is a story of triumph and tragedy. How apropos, for that is the portrait of the era of the Judges.
We see Jephthah's PAST in 11:1-3. It can be summarized in one word: bad!
He had a bad start. "Jephthah the Gileadite was a great warrior, but he was the son of a prostitute, and Gilead was his father." (Judges 11:1 HCSB) Since his mother was a prostitute, he carried the stigma of illegitimacy. It is sad that so many children suffer due to the folly of their parents. We see so much of this today.
He had bad siblings. "Gilead's wife bore him sons, and when they grew up, they drove Jephthah out and said to him, 'You will have no inheritance in our father's house, because you are the son of another woman.' " (Judges 11:2 HCSB) Not only did Jephthah have to endure taunts outside the home, but inside it! In the place where he ought to have found shelter and acceptance, he only found strife and anger. Finally, he was driven out. Talk about a dysfunctional family!
He was in bad surroundings. "So Jephthah fled from his brothers and lived in the land of Tob. Then some lawless men joined Jephthah and traveled with him." (Judges 11:3 HCSB) Despite the rejection of his family, others were drawn to his leadership qualities. A group of renegades were attracted to him and soon a group of mercenaries formed. We would call them soldiers of fortune. His environment was not a positive one. Yet, Jephthah would rise above this. Our past does not have to ruin us.
We see Jephthah's POSITION in 11:4-11. We may rest assured that when times are dark, God is still at work, accomplishing His sovereign will.
There was a call. "Some time later, the Ammonites fought against Israel. When the Ammonites made war with Israel, the elders of Gilead went to get Jephthah from the land of Tob. They said to him, 'Come, be our commander, and let's fight against the Ammonites.' " (Judges 11:4-6 HCSB) Jephthah's resume would have been cause for rejection by most organizations. But, God delights to reach into the trash dump and find an abused and discarded item, clean it up and turn it into a thing of beauty! Ponder this: "Brothers, consider your calling: Not many are wise from a human perspective, not many powerful, not many of noble birth. Instead, God has chosen what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen what is weak in the world to shame the strong. God has chosen what is insignificant and despised in the world-what is viewed as nothing-to bring to nothing what is viewed as something, so that no one can boast in His presence. But [it is] from Him that you are in Christ Jesus, who became God-given wisdom for us-[our] righteousness, sanctification, and redemption, in order that, as it is written: The one who boasts must boast in the Lord." (1 Corinthians 1:26-31 HCSB) There is hope for any of us to be used by God.
There was a condition. "Jephthah replied to the elders of Gilead, 'Didn't you hate me and drive me from my father's house? Why then have you come to me now when you're in trouble?' They answered Jephthah, 'Since that's true, we now turn to you. Come with us, fight the Ammonites, and you will become leader of all the inhabitants of Gilead.' So Jephthah said to them, 'If you are bringing me back to fight the Ammonites and the Lord gives them to me, I will be your leader.' The elders of Gilead said to Jephthah, 'The Lord is our witness if we don't do as you say.' " (Judges 11:7-10 HCSB) They were going to pay a price to get a leader. Jephthah was more interested in ruling than he was interested in those whom he would rule over. He was typical of many self-serving politicians in our day, primarily getting elected and retaining power, rather than serve people. The fact is, people often get the leaders they deserve. That's why we have the plethora of pathetic politicians governing us. David Jackman put it like this, "We cannot expect God to raise up quality leadership, at the drop of a hat, to airlift us out of the pits we have dug through our sinfulness."
Next, there was a coronation. "So Jephthah went with the elders of Gilead. The people put him over themselves as leader and commander, and Jephthah repeated all his terms in the presence of the Lord at Mizpah." (Judges 11:11 HCSB) Had you told anyone, including Jephthah, that he would one day lead his kinsmen, it would have brought a laugh. This wasn't a position he applied for, but God in His timing opened the door. We are responsible to make the most of our opportunity and it is God's responsibility to make the opportunity. Spurgeon, as a young man considered his future and education. God spoke to His heart from Scripture, "Seekest thou great things for thyself? Seek them not!" He then decided not to go to Cambridge, and resigned himself to the obscurity of preaching to a small congregation. Only six months later, Spurgeon was preaching to 2500 each Sunday, in London, as a nineteen year old! God knows where we are and can get us where we need to go.
We see Jephthah's PROBLEM in 11:12-28. Don't expect to hold a position unless you want to have some problems. It is the price of leadership.
There was rebellion. "Jephthah sent messengers to the king of the Ammonites, saying, 'What do you have against me that you have come to fight against me in my land?'
The king of the Ammonites said to Jephthah's messengers, 'When Israel came from Egypt, they seized my land from the Arnon to the Jabbok and the Jordan. Now restore it peaceably.' " (Judges 11:12, 13 HCSB) The Ammonites had declared war. Jephthah was restrained in his response to the rebellion. He chose to send messages rather than the military.
There was recollection. "Jephthah again sent messengers to the king of the Ammonites to tell him, 'This is what Jephthah says: Israel did not take away the land of Moab or the land of the Ammonites. But when they came from Egypt, Israel traveled through the wilderness to the Red Sea and came to Kadesh. Israel sent messengers to the king of Edom, saying, 'Please let us travel through your land,' but the king of Edom would not listen. They also sent [messengers] to the king of Moab, but he refused. So Israel stayed in Kadesh. Then they traveled through the wilderness and around the lands of Edom and Moab. They came to the east side of the land of Moab and camped on the other side of the Arnon but did not enter into the territory of Moab, for the Arnon was the boundary of Moab. Then Israel sent messengers to Sihon king of the Amorites, king of Heshbon. Israel said to him, 'Please let us travel through your land to our country,' but Sihon would not trust Israel to pass through his territory. Instead, Sihon gathered all his people, camped at Jahaz, and fought with Israel. Then the Lord God of Israel handed over Sihon and all his people to Israel, and they defeated them. So Israel took possession of the entire land of the Amorites who lived in that country. They took possession of all the territory of the Amorites from the Arnon to the Jabbok and from the wilderness to the Jordan. The Lord God of Israel has now driven out the Amorites before His people Israel, and will you [now] force us out? Isn't it true that you may possess whatever your god Chemosh drives out for you, and we may possess everything the Lord our God drives out before us?' " (Judges 11:14-24 HCSB) Jephthah gives them a history lesson, showing the injustice of their actions. It was at the root a spiritual conflict. Jephthah's weapon was truth. It is the Spirit's sword--the Word of God. Do we recognize that our struggle, at its core, isn't against sinners, but spiritual forces?
There was rejection. "But the king of the Ammonites would not listen to Jephthah's message that he sent him." (Judges 11:28 HCSB) God's enemies would not make peace. They are intransigent.
We hear Jephthah's PROMISE in 11:29-40. He was a politician who kept his promise, but it was a promise that should have never been made.
It is about opportunity. "The Spirit of the Lord came on Jephthah, who traveled through Gilead and Manasseh, and then through Mizpah of Gilead. He crossed over to the Ammonites from Mizpah of Gilead." (Judges 11:29 HCSB) Who knows what Jephthah might have accomplished by the might of the Lord? That same Spirit indwells us and gives us the opportunity to make an impact for God.
It is about impetuosity. "Jephthah made this vow to the Lord: 'If You will hand over the Ammonites to me, whatever comes out of the doors of my house to greet me when I return in peace from the Ammonites will belong to the Lord, and I will offer it as a burnt offering.' " (Judges 11:30, 31 HCSB) How foolhardy! Why would he make such a rash vow? Jephthah had a faulty view of God. He did not trust the Lord, but sought to manipulate Him. You can't bargain with God! But, Jephthah tried.
This is about victory. "Jephthah crossed over to the Ammonites to fight against them, and the Lord handed them over to him. He defeated 20 of their cities with a great slaughter from Aroer all the way to the entrance of Minnith and to Abel-keramim. So the Ammonites were subdued before the Israelites." (Judges 11:32, 33 HCSB) Despite all his flaws, Jehovah rewards Jephthah's faith. It wasn't a great faith, but it was genuine faith in a great God! That God uses wretches, like Jephthah--and like us--is grace!
This is about tragedy. "When Jephthah went to his home in Mizpah, there was his daughter, coming out to meet him with tambourines and dancing! She was his only child; he had no other son or daughter besides her. When he saw her, he tore his clothes and said, 'No! [Not] my daughter! You have devastated me! You have brought great misery on me. I have given my word to the Lord and cannot take [it] back.'
Then she said to him, 'My father, you have given your word to the Lord. Do to me as you have said, for the Lord brought vengeance on your enemies, the Ammonites.' She also said to her father, 'Let me do this one thing: Let me wander two months through the mountains with my friends and mourn my virginity.' 'Go,' he said. And he sent her away two months. So she left with her friends and mourned her virginity as she wandered through the mountains. At the end of two months, she returned to her father, and he kept the vow he had made about her. And she had never been intimate with a man. Now it became a custom in Israel [that] four days each year the young women of Israel would commemorate the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite." (Judges 11:34-40 HCSB)
Some have tried to explain this horror away. God did not condone it. If there was ever a politician's promise which should have been broken, it is this one. As children we sing and as adults shouldn't forget, "Oh, be careful little lips what you say." Pray this, "Lord, set up a guard for my mouth; keep watch at the door of my lips." (Psalm 141:3 HCSB)
We see Jephthah's PUNISHMENT in 12:1-7. His leadership was challenged.
It was challenged by insinuation. "The men of Ephraim were called together and crossed [the Jordan] to Zaphon. They said to Jephthah, 'Why have you crossed over to fight against the Ammonites but didn't call us to go with you? We will burn your house down with you [in it]!' " (Judges 12:1 HCSB) Victory can sometimes be harder to handle than defeat, especially when those victories belong to another. This is jealousy--plain and simple. They hadn't wanted to get involved, but they didn't mind to criticize.
His leadership challenged was confronted by indignation. "Then Jephthah said to them, 'My people and I had a serious conflict with the Ammonites. So I called for you, but you didn't deliver me from their power. When I saw that you weren't going to deliver me, I took my life in my own hands and crossed over to the Ammonites, and the Lord handed them over to me. Why then have you come today to fight against me?' Then Jephthah gathered all of the men of Gilead. They fought and defeated Ephraim, because Ephraim had said, 'You Gileadites are Ephraimite fugitives in [the territories of] Ephraim and Manasseh.' " (Judges 12:2-4 HCSB) We should be patient with problem people in the church. But, sometimes they need to be confronted for the problems they cause.
Then there is this indication. "The Gileadites captured the fords of the Jordan leading to Ephraim. Whenever a fugitive from Ephraim said, 'Let me cross over,' the Gileadites asked him, 'Are you an Ephraimite?' If he answered, 'No,' they told him, 'Please say Shibboleth.' If he said, 'Sibboleth,' because he could not pronounce it correctly, they seized him and killed him at the fords of the Jordan. At that time 42,000 from Ephraim died. Jephthah judged Israel six years, and when he died, he was buried in one of the cities of Gilead." (Judges 12:5-7 HCSB) The vengeful spirit of Jephthah indicates he was an extremist. That occurs when there is zeal without knowledge. It is the stuff of fanaticism and is wrong, even when masquerading as faith.
God wants committed people. He doesn't want crazy people. He wants people who will stand by their word, but not those who speak rash words. We do not have to be enslaved to our past, but must recognize the effect of the past. God sets before us opportunity, but we must possess it. To look at Jephthah is to see a mixed bag. Don't let your life be a living illustration of an oxymoron.
Tuesday, March 27, 2012
"Then the Angel of the Lord appeared to him and said: 'The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.' Gideon said to Him, 'Please Sir, if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened? And where are all His wonders that our fathers told us about? They said, "Hasn't the Lord brought us out of Egypt?" But now the Lord has abandoned us and handed us over to Midian.' The Lord turned to him and said, 'Go in the strength you have and deliver Israel from the power of Midian. Am I not sending you?' " (Judges 6:12-14 HCSB)
You remember the story of the ugly duckling. Here was this misfit. All the ducklings made fun of him. Of course, he wasn’t a duck at all—he was a swan. Gideon was an ugly duckling. If there were ever an unlikely hero, it was he. But God knew what He would become through His grace.
Many of us may feel the same way. We look at ourselves and think, “I’m a spiritual wreck. What could I do for God?” You can make a difference! God doesn’t see what we are, but what we can become. We look and see problems, but He sees possibilities. Gideon’s story illustrates this.
To see the context, we should first consider ISRAEL’S DECLENSION. "The Israelites did what was evil in the sight of the Lord." (Judges 6:1a HCSB)
This is the fourth cycle in a downward spiral, marking Israel’s spiritual decline. Each departure from God seems deeper, with the corresponding discipline of greater intensity or duration—or both. These are not just reruns. The fact is you can never stand still spiritually. You are advancing or declining in your walk.
The nation's spiritual declension led to ISRAEL’S DISCIPLINE. "So the Lord handed them over to Midian seven years, and they oppressed Israel. Because of Midian, the Israelites made hiding places for themselves in the mountains, caves, and strongholds. Whenever the Israelites planted crops, the Midianites, Amalekites, and the Qedemites came and attacked them. They encamped against them and destroyed the produce of the land, even as far as Gaza. They left nothing for Israel to eat, as well as no sheep, ox or donkey. For the Midianites came with their cattle and their tents like a great swarm of locusts. They and their camels were without number, and they entered the land to waste it. So Israel became poverty-stricken because of Midian..." (Judges 6:1b-6a HCSB)
When Israel turned from God, they turned to the worship of Baal, and his female consort Ashtoreth. These were Canaanite fertility gods. Their degraded worship featured all manner of sexual acts. The belief was that as the worshippers engaged in sex acts, Baal and Ashtoreth would make the land fertile, and crops abundant. So, we see it is a fitting discipline that God took their harvest away—a harvest they thought was given by Baal.
The Midianites had discovered a new weapon—the camel. Since Israel only had foot soldiers, they were easily outmaneuvered by the mounted Midianites. But, most importantly God wasn’t fighting for them, but against them.
Have you seen any "spoiled" children? They are sassy and selfish. How do they get that way? The parents basically give them whatever they want and don't correct them for their misbehavior. That's a formula for spoiling a kid. God has no “spoiled children” but disciplines those who defy Him. He loves us too much to leave us alone.
Notice how their declension brought discipline and resulted in ISRAEL’S DESPERATION "So Israel became poverty-stricken because of Midian, and the Israelites cried out to the Lord. When the Israelites cried out to Him because of Midian, the Lord sent a prophet to them. He said to them, 'This is what the Lord God of Israel says: "I brought you out of Egypt and out of the place of slavery. I delivered you from the power of Egypt and the power of all who oppressed you. I drove them out before you and gave you their land. I said to you: I am the Lord your God. Do not fear the gods of the Amorites whose land you live in. But you did not obey Me." ' " (Judges 6:6-10 HCSB)
Before, when Israel had cried unto the Lord, God would send a judge to deliver them. But, this time, He first sends a prophet. The people had regret, but God wanted repentance. They were sorry for what had happened to them, but God wanted them to recognize it was for their sins that they suffered, and their deliverance depended on their turning from sin. God isn’t a heavenly ambulance driver to be dialed when we are in trouble. He is the Lord God whom we must worship and serve!
Look at this chain of events: there is declension, discipline, desperation leading at last to ISRAEL’S DELIVERANCE. The rest of the story is about God raising up a man to make a difference. He still does. God uses men and women to accomplish his kingdom purposes--people like you and me.
Look at Gideon's commission, " The Angel of the Lord came, and He sat under the oak that was in Ophrah, which belonged to Joash, the Abiezrite. His son Gideon was threshing wheat in the wine vat in order to hide it from the Midianites. Then the Angel of the Lord appeared to him and said: 'The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.' Gideon said to Him, 'Please Sir, if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened? And where are all His wonders that our fathers told us about? They said, "Hasn't the Lord brought us out of Egypt?" But now the Lord has abandoned us and handed us over to Midian.' The Lord turned to him and said, 'Go in the strength you have and deliver Israel from the power of Midian. Am I not sending you?' He said to Him, 'Please, Lord, how can I deliver Israel? Look, my family is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the youngest in my father's house.' 'But I will be with you,' the Lord said to him. 'You will strike Midian down [as if it were] one man.' " (Judges 6:11-16 HCSB)
Here is a defeated, discouraged man full of doubt and fear. He is like a fellow I heard about who went to a psychiatrist and said, “I have a terrible inferiority complex.” The doctor listened and gave his diagnosis. “I’ve got good news and bad news. The good news is that you don’t have a complex. The bad news is that you are inferior!” Gideon scoffed at the idea he was a mighty warrior, but the difference that makes the difference is, “The Lord is with you!”
God delights in doing the impossible with the improbable. He says to 99 year old childless Abram, “I’m changing your name to Abraham—father of many nations.” Jesus looks at a a shaky saint and sees a solid servant, “Simon, you are Peter, the rock!”
Gideon's commission was followed by his confirmation. In Judges 6:17-40, Gideon asks for a sign, and God accommodates his weak faith with a wondrous flame, "Then he said to Him, 'If I have found favor in Your sight, give me a sign that You are speaking with me. Please do not leave this place until I return to You. Let me bring my gift and set it before You.' And He said, 'I will stay until you return.' So Gideon went and prepared a young goat and unleavened bread from a half bushel of flour. He placed the meat in a basket and the broth in a pot. He brought them out and offered them to Him under the oak. The Angel of God said to him, 'Take the meat with the unleavened bread, put it on this stone, and pour the broth [on it].' And he did so. The Angel of the Lord extended the tip of the staff that was in His hand and touched the meat and the unleavened bread. Fire came up from the rock and consumed the meat and the unleavened bread. Then the Angel of the Lord vanished from his sight. When Gideon realized that He was the Angel of the Lord, he said, 'Oh no, Lord God! I have seen the Angel of the Lord face to face!' But the Lord said to him, 'Peace to you. Don't be afraid, for you will not die.' So Gideon built an altar to the Lord there and called it Yahweh Shalom. It is in Ophrah of the Abiezrites until today." (Judges 6:17-24 HCSB)
Next, God will prepare him for battle by leading him to a victory of faith and obedience at home, "On that very night the Lord said to him, " 'Take your father's young bull and a second bull seven years old. Then tear down the altar of Baal that belongs to your father and cut down the Asherah pole beside it. Build a well-constructed altar to the Lord your God on the top of this rock. Take the second bull and offer it as a burnt offering with the wood of the Asherah pole you cut down.' So Gideon took 10 of his male servants and did as the Lord had told him. But because he was too afraid of his father's household and the men of the city to do it in the daytime, he did it at night.
When the men of the city got up in the morning, they found Baal's altar torn down, the Asherah pole beside it cut down, and the second bull offered up on the altar that had been built. They said to each other, 'Who did this?' After they made a thorough investigation, they said, 'Gideon son of Joash did it.' Then the men of the city said to Joash, 'Bring out your son. He must die, because he tore down Baal's altar and cut down the Asherah pole beside it.' But Joash said to all who stood against him, 'Would you plead Baal's case for him? Would you save him? Whoever pleads his case will be put to death by morning! If he is a god, let him plead his own case because someone tore down his altar.' That day, Gideon's father called him Jerubbaal, saying, 'Let Baal plead his case with him,' because he tore down his altar." (Judges 6:25-32 HCSB) What we are in private determines our usefulness to God in public.
Gideon is still unsure, however, and puts out the fleece, "All the Midianites, Amalekites, and Qedemites gathered together, crossed over [the Jordan], and camped in the Valley of Jezreel. The Spirit of the Lord took control of Gideon, and he blew the ram's horn and the Abiezrites rallied behind him. He sent messengers throughout all of Manasseh, who rallied behind him. He also sent messengers throughout Asher, Zebulun, and Naphtali, who [also] came to meet him. Then Gideon said to God, 'If You will deliver Israel by my hand, as You said, I will put a fleece of wool here on the threshing floor. If dew is only on the fleece, and all the ground is dry, I will know that You will deliver Israel by my strength, as You said.' And that is what happened. When he got up early in the morning, he squeezed the fleece and wrung dew out of it, filling a bowl with water. Gideon then said to God, 'Don't be angry with me; let me speak one more time. Please allow me to make one more test with the fleece. Let it remain dry, and the dew be all over the ground.' That night God did [as Gideon requested]: only the fleece was dry, and dew was all over the ground." (Judges 6:33-40 HCSB)
This isn’t the way God wants us to find His will. We have the Word of God to show the will of God. We have the Spirit and don’t require a sign. Yet, God is long-suffering with us! A group was discussing the wonders of the world, and one was asked, “What do you consider the greatest wonder of the world?” His answer: “That God would put up with a man like me!” That God puts up with people like me is remarkable! Our faith may be small, but God’s faithfulness is substantial!
Gideon's commission led to confirmation and from there to his conquest. We see this in section 7:1-8:21. 1 John 5:4b says, “And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.” That spiritual principle is illustrated in Gideon's story. Here are a few quick, but vital lessons of faith.
The first lesson concerns the examination of faith, "Jerubbaal (that is, Gideon) and everyone who was with him, got up early and camped beside the spring of Harod. The camp of Midian was north of them, below the hill of Moreh, in the valley. The Lord said to Gideon, 'You have too many people for Me to hand the Midianites over to you, or else Israel might brag: "I did it myself." Now announce in the presence of the people: "Whoever is fearful and trembling may turn back and leave Mount Gilead." ' So 22,000 of the people turned back, but 10,000 remained. Then the Lord said to Gideon, 'There are still too many people. Take them down to the water, and I will test them for you there. If I say to you, "This one can go with you," he can go. But if I say about anyone, "This one cannot go with you," he cannot go.' So he brought the people down to the water, and the Lord said to Gideon, 'Separate everyone who laps water with his tongue like a dog. Do the same with everyone who kneels to drink.' The number of those who lapped with their hands to their mouths was 300 men, and all the rest of the people knelt to drink water. The Lord said to Gideon, 'I will deliver you with the 300 men who lapped and hand the Midianites over to you. But everyone else is to go home.' So Gideon sent all the Israelites to their tents but kept the 300, who took the people's provisions and their trumpets. The camp of Midian was below him in the valley." (Judges 7:1-8 HCSB) An examination would be given to see what soldiers were ready for battle. Only those who kept at the ready with vigilance were ready for victory. If someone threw down their shield and plunged their head into the water, they would be exposed to attack. The one who knelt, cupping water into his hand, kept his head up, looking around, ready to spring into action--only 300 did so.
It would be a minuscule militia. The fact is, you cannot be too small for God to use, but you can be too big! He will not share His glory.
Next note, the encouragement of faith, "That night the Lord said to him, 'Get up and go into the camp, for I have given it into your hand. But if you are afraid to go to the camp, go with Purah your servant. Listen to what they say, and then you will be strengthened to go to the camp.' So he went with Purah his servant to the outpost of the troops who were in the camp. Now the Midianites, Amalekites, and all the Qedemites had settled down in the valley like a swarm of locusts, and their camels were as innumerable as the sand on the seashore. When Gideon arrived, there was a man telling his friend [about] a dream. He said, 'Listen, I had a dream: a loaf of barley bread came tumbling into the Midianite camp, struck a tent, and it fell. The loaf turned the tent upside down so that it collapsed.' His friend answered: 'This is nothing less than the sword of Gideon son of Joash, the Israelite. God has handed the entire Midianite camp over to him.' When Gideon heard the account of the dream and its interpretation, he bowed in worship (Judges 7:9-15a HCSB)
Gideon had seen his army, already outnumbered, shrink from 32,000 to 10,000 to 300! God gave him encouragement in His task. We can be encouraged by the promises of God, such as, “He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.” (1 John 4:4b)
The effect of faith is witnessed in 7:15b-8:21.
We see faith charging, "He returned to Israel's camp and said, 'Get up, for the Lord has handed the Midianite camp over to you.' Then he divided the 300 men into three companies and gave each of the men a trumpet in one hand and an empty pitcher with a torch inside it [in the other]. 'Watch me,' he said, 'and do the same. When I come to the outpost of the camp, do as I do. When I and everyone with me blow our trumpets, you are also to blow your trumpets all around the camp. Then you will say, "For Yahweh and for Gideon!" ' Gideon and the 100 men who were with him went to the outpost of the camp at the beginning of the middle watch after the sentries had been stationed. They blew their trumpets and broke the pitchers that were in their hands. The three companies blew their trumpets and shattered their pitchers. They held their torches in their left hands, their trumpets in their right hands, and shouted, 'A sword for Yahweh and for Gideon!' Each Israelite took his position around the camp, and the entire [Midianite] army fled, and cried out as they ran. When Gideon's men blew their 300 trumpets, the Lord set the swords of each man in the army against each other. They fled to Beth-shittah in the direction of Zererah as far as the border of Abel-meholah near Tabbath. Then the men of Israel were called from Naphtali, Asher, and Manasseh, and they pursued the Midianites. Gideon sent messengers throughout the hill country of Ephraim with this message: 'Come down to intercept the Midianites and take control of the watercourses ahead of them as far as Beth-barah and the Jordan.' So all the men of Ephraim were called out, and they took control of the watercourses as far as Beth-barah and the Jordan. They captured Oreb and Zeeb, the two princes of Midian; they killed Oreb at the rock of Oreb and Zeeb at the winepress of Zeeb, while they were pursuing the Midianites. They brought the heads of Oreb and Zeeb to Gideon across the Jordan. (Judges 7:15b-25 HCSB)
Then, we have faith criticized, "The men of Ephraim said to him, 'Why have you done this to us, not calling us when you went to fight against the Midianites?' And they argued with him violently." (Judges 8:1 HCSB) Any time you try to do something for God, you’ll be criticized. Don't be surprised by this, nor discouraged.
The appropriate response to criticism is by faith calming, "So he said to them, 'What have I done now compared to you? Is not the gleaning of Ephraim better than the vintage of Abiezer? God handed over to you Oreb and Zeeb, the two princes of Midian. What was I able to do compared to you?' When he said this, their anger against him subsided." (Judges 8:2, 3 HCSB) (8:2-3). “A soft answer turns away wrath.” (Proverbs 15:1a).
Then, there is faith completing, "Gideon and the 300 men came to the Jordan and crossed it. They were exhausted but still in pursuit. He said to the men of Succoth, 'Please give some loaves of bread to the people who are following me, because they are exhausted, for I am pursuing Zebah and Zalmunna, the kings of Midian.' But the princes of Succoth asked, 'Are Zebah and Zalmunna now in your hands that we should give bread to your army?' Gideon replied, 'Very well, when the Lord has handed Zebah and Zalmunna over to me, I will trample your flesh on thorns and briers from the wilderness!' He went from there to Penuel and asked the same thing from them. The men of Penuel answered just as the men of Succoth had answered. He also told the men of Penuel, 'When I return in peace, I will tear down this tower!' Now Zebah and Zalmunna were in Karkor, and with them was their army of about 15,000 men, who were all those left of the entire army of the Qedemites. Those who had been killed were 120,000 warriors. Gideon traveled on the caravan route east of Nobah and Jogbehah and attacked their army while the army was unsuspecting. Zebah and Zalmunna fled, and he pursued them. He captured these two kings of Midian and routed the entire army. Gideon son of Joash returned from the battle by the Ascent of Heres. He captured a youth from the men of Succoth and interrogated him. The youth wrote down for him the [names of the] 77 princes and elders of Succoth. Then he went to the men of Succoth and said, 'Here are Zebah and Zalmunna. You taunted me about them, saying, "Are Zebah and Zalmunna now in your power that we should give bread to your exhausted men?" ' So he took the elders of the city, as well as some thorns and briers from the wilderness, and he disciplined the men of Succoth with them. He also tore down the tower of Penuel and killed the men of the city. He asked Zebah and Zalmunna, 'What kind of men did you kill at Tabor?' 'They were like you,' they said. 'Each resembled the son of a king.' So he said, 'They were my brothers, the sons of my mother! As the Lord lives, if you had let them live, I would not kill you.' Then he said to Jether, his firstborn, 'Get up and kill them.' The youth did not draw his sword, for he was afraid because he was still a youth. Zebah and Zalmunna said, 'Get up and kill us yourself, for a man is judged by his strength.' So Gideon got up, killed Zebah and Zalmunna, and took the crescent ornaments that were on the necks of their camels." (Judges 8:4-21 HCSB) Faith finishes the job.
Alas, the story has a sad, final chapter. It doesn't end as we wish it would. The Bible is honest--sometimes brutally so, disclosing not only the champion's victories, but their vices, as well Gideon's commission, confirmation and conquest was followed by his compromise.
This is what we read:
"Then the Israelites said to Gideon, 'Rule over us, you as well as your sons and your grandsons, for you delivered us from the power of Midian.'
But Gideon said to them, 'I will not rule over you, and my son will not rule over you; the Lord will rule over you.' Then he said to them, 'Let me make a request of you: Everyone give me an earring from his plunder.' Now the enemy had gold earrings because they were Ishmaelites.
They said, 'We agree to give them.' So they spread out a mantle, and everyone threw an earring from his plunder on it. The weight of the gold earrings he requested was about 43 pounds of gold, in addition to the crescent ornaments and ear pendants, the purple garments on the kings of Midian, and the chains on the necks of their camels. Gideon made an ephod from all this and put it in Ophrah, his hometown. Then all Israel prostituted themselves with it there, and it became a snare to Gideon and his household.
So Midian was subdued before the Israelites, and they were no longer a threat. The land was peaceful 40 years during the days of Gideon. Jerubbaal [(that is, Gideon)] son of Joash went back to live at his house.
Gideon had 70 sons, his own offspring, since he had many wives. His concubine who was in Shechem also bore him a son, and he named him Abimelech. Then Gideon son of Joash died at a ripe old age and was buried in the tomb of his father Joash in Ophrah of the Abiezrites.
When Gideon died, the Israelites turned and prostituted themselves with the Baals and made Baal-berith their god. The Israelites did not remember the Lord their God who had delivered them from the power of the enemies around them. They did not show kindness to the house of Jerubbaal ([that is,] Gideon) for all the good he had done for Israel." (Judges 8:22-35 HCSB)
Gideon refused to accept the position as king, but then started to act like one. He didn’t finish well. He became enamored with the blessings of victory rather than the Blessed One who brought the victory. Gideon is guilty of materialism--covetousness---which is idolatry. This not only led to his downfall, but paved the way to the nation plunging back into sin. There are no spiritual heights so great from which we may not fall. Here is the sobering warning, "So, whoever thinks he stands must be careful not to fall. No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to humanity. God is faithful, and He will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation He will also provide a way of escape so that you are able to bear it. Therefore, my dear friends, flee from idolatry." (1 Corinthians 10:12-14 HCSB)
If Gideon could have such experiences with God and become ensnared by the Devil, I can--and so can you. Trust in the Lord and not your own strength.
Monday, March 26, 2012
"The Israelites cried out to the Lord. So the Lord raised up Othniel son of Kenaz, Caleb's youngest brother as a deliverer to save the Israelites. ...Then the Israelites cried out to the Lord, and He raised up Ehud son of Gera, a left-handed Benjaminite, as a deliverer for them. The Israelites sent him to Eglon king of Moab with tribute [money]. ...After Ehud, Shamgar son of Anath [became judge]. He delivered Israel by striking down 600 Philistines with an oxgoad. ... Deborah, a woman who was a prophetess and the wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel at that time. ...She summoned Barak son of Abinoam from Kedesh in Naphtali and said to him, 'Hasn't the Lord, the God of Israel, commanded [you]: 'Go, deploy [the troops] on Mount Tabor, and take with you 10,000 men from the Naphtalites and Zebulunites? ...Barak said to her, 'If you will go with me, I will go. But if you will not go with me, I will not go.' 'I will go with you,' she said, 'but you will receive no honor on the road you are about to take, because the Lord will sell Sisera into a woman's hand.' So Deborah got up and went with Barak to Kedesh. ...While he was sleeping from exhaustion, Heber's wife Jael took a tent peg, grabbed a hammer, and went silently to Sisera. She hammered the peg into his temple and drove it into the ground, and he died.' " (Judges 3:9, 15, 31; 4:4, 6, 8, 9, 21 HCSB)
The British philosopher Edmund Burke, astutely observed, "Those who don't know history are destined to repeat it." It is obvious that Israel did not learn their history lessons during the era of the Judges. Departure, discipline, desperation, and deliverance--this is the cycle we find repeated in the Sacred History. Almost as soon as Israel was delivered by God the nation turned back to sin, and God sent suffering to turn them back to Him. The suffering did its work and the people came seeking rescue, and God sent a judge to do the saving--but then the downward spiral would resume, each time deeper and more painful.
After the death of Joshua, the great hero of faith, the people plunged into the mire of sin and this brought the misery of suffering. When the people cried out for mercy, God was so good to forgive them and raised up the first judge to aid them. He was AN IN-LAW. His name was Othniel. We are first introduced to him as Caleb's son-in-law, in Joshua 15:16-17. He was a man who was up to a fight, and the reward for his victory was Caleb's daughter's hand in marriage. When we find him years later, we find him with courage still to lead Israel to victory. Someone asked, "Do you know the difference between out-laws and in-laws?" The answer, "Out-laws are wanted!" Well, I guess we have know some in-laws like that. It wasn't true of this in-law, however. He was wanted. He was not just wanted, Othniel was desperately needed. God is still looking for courageous warriors today. Will you be one?
But when a period of rest concluded and Othniel died, Israel rejected the Lord. God brought retribution and suddenly the nation remembered Him! They cried out to God for relief. God sent another judge, A SOUTH-PAW, named Ehud. He was a left-hander, which was out of the ordinary. Because the oppressive King of Moab was not expecting it, Ehud was able to conceal a small sword, under his robe, strapped to his right thigh, and catch King Eglon off-guard. Eglon was a fat fellow and the sword was plunged with such force, all the way into his big belly, that Ehud couldn't extract his weapon. Ehud lost his sword, but Eglon lost his life. Because Ehud had "guts" the obese ruler lost his! God can use those with the cunning of a serpent and the courage of a lion--even if you are different from most. Will you make excuses because you are different or will you make a difference?
Not much is said about the next judge, Shamgar--just one verse where we are introduced to him as A HIT-MAN. He walked softly and carried a big stick! Shamgar's weapon of choice was an ox-goad with which he could club his foes and stab them. He had a lot of "hits"--six hundred during his career--and so made the hall of fame in the Biblical narrative. The Lord will take whatever is in our hand and use it--if surrendered to Him--a staff in Moses' hand or a slingshot in David's. Have you yielded what you have to God's purposes?
Then, there are two WORKING WOMEN the Lord works through. Deborah was the next judge in Israel. She led the people of God and fed them the Word of God. When she summons Barak to do what men ought to do, and direct the army in battle, his reluctance causes her to accompany him on the military campaign, with the consequence of his loss of backbone being a loss of blessing. Another working woman, by the name of Jael would defeat the opposing general. She did that by taking him into her tent and "taking him in!" She killed Sisera with kindness! He was worn out, and so Jael gave him some warm milk and tucked him into bed. Then she took a tent peg, placed it at his temple, and with a hammer drove the spike through his skull! She was not someone to mess with! Thank God for working women who are willing to serve the Lord and standing for Him. Perhaps you are one--or know one. We should commend their efforts--Scripture does. As a woman, will you roll up your sleeves and get to work?
We can learn the lessons of this divinely inspired history or we will be destined to repeat it. If we as a nation embrace sin and exclude God, He will send suffering to scourge us--even a foreign power to subjugate us. May God give us a few brave men and women like those we read about in Judges. More than ability, God desires availability. Are you available to be used by Him?
Saturday, March 24, 2012
"After these things, the Lord's servant, Joshua son of Nun, died at the age of 110. They buried him in his allotted territory at Timnath-serah, in the hill country of Ephraim north of Mount Gaash. Israel worshiped Yahweh throughout Joshua's lifetime and during the lifetimes of the elders who outlived Joshua and who had experienced all the works Yahweh had done for Israel. Joseph's bones, which the Israelites had brought up from Egypt, were buried at Shechem in the parcel of land Jacob had purchased from the sons of Hamor, Shechem's father, for 100 qesitahs . It was an inheritance for Joseph's descendants. And Eleazar son of Aaron died, and they buried him at Gibeah, which had been given to his son Phinehas in the hill country of Ephraim." (Joshua 24:29-33 HCSB)
Have you visited the cemetery lately? For a period of over four years, it was impossible for me not to think about one everyday. In the morning, when I woke and looked out my window, I saw tombstones dotting the hillsides. We lived beside the church building where I pastored and on two sides of that old sanctuary, a huge graveyard came right up to the walls. You could know when springtime had come, as the mowing of all that grass began. The contrast between the tombstones and the green grass was at its peak. Then, there was summer and at times the sun baked the grass, turning it a bit brown and brittle. Thunderstorms would pop up some evenings, as torrential rain saturated the ground to refresh the withered lawn, lightning flashing, causing the monuments to have a ghostly appearance. Fall would send cool winds driving multi-colored leaves into the cemetery, making it look like an artist's palette. The beauty painted on the canvas of grass was yet a reminder of what was to come. Winter--and with that winter, the grass died. Sometimes the falling snow blanketed the graveyard and sat like a frozen crown atop each tombstone.
In every season, people would gather there for funerals. You might see a small child running around with a mother as she told him to stop and be quiet. There might stand a teenager, all sullen and restless, obviously made to wear a dress and attend a memorial service against her will. Young couples would walk hand in hand. Middle-aged folks would also, but their pace seemed a bit slower, their steps more measured. Then, comes a widow, leaning on the undertaker, struggling to get up the hill, tears flowing through the furrows of her face, plowed by the harrow of time.
In that graveyard were boxes of bones, containing the remains of people from every season of life. There were tiny markers--just small rocks without a name, where a large number of children had died in an epidemic that ravaged the community a century before. A marker recorded the name of a young man whose life spanned only into his teens. Was it a car accident that brought him to this resting place abruptly? The stone didn't tell.
Some did relay a story. One monument recorded that the man buried in the sod had been killed by his pet deer. There were those who died in battle. Soldiers' remains from every conflict were there--from the American Revolution to the Civil War to the great World Wars and conflicts in Korea and Vietnam. On Memorial Day weekend, the graves of the veterans would feature hundreds of small flags. One tombstone was a large boulder. It marked the grave of a pastor of the church. As he traveled in his wagon down the road, engaged in spiritual service, some boys atop the hill were playing, and dislodged the massive rock to watch it tumble down the mountainside. That rock crashed into Rev. Peek, killing him, and the stone became his tombstone!
Have you visited a cemetery lately? You can tell I have had many trips. Though I no longer live beside one, as a pastor, I frequently am in one, speaking words of comfort to a grieving family. I have been there when a warm breeze gently caressed our faces, the sound of birds singing in the trees, serenading the sorrowful souls under the tent. I have stood there, when the tent swayed and had to elevate my voice to be heard over the buckets of rain pouring down and the boom of thunder. I have met families under that tent, when a chill wind matched the chill in our hearts, as the grave was ready to encase a cold corpse in the frosty ground. I have walked through snow to stand and speak to shivering people, as they said their final good-byes on earth.
Have you been to a cemetery lately? You should go. There are voices that speak from those graves--oh, not audibly--that would send us running! The voices are of memory--stories engraved in marble--lessons to be learned. Those draw us. We visit such a graveyard in the Scripture today.
Joshua has died. Eleazar is buried. Even the box of bones, carrying the remains of Joseph are finally laid to rest, carried from Egypt and deposited in the soil of the Promised Land.
Why dies God want us to visit this cemetery? Why should we care about bones?
They remind us of the past. They are monuments to the work of God. We can recall lessons learned--some of them the hard way. They are testaments to the faithfulness of God.
They point us to the future. Tombstones are stark reminders of the brevity of life and the gravity of death, also, the reality of mortality and eternity. Those are matters we don't always want to consider, but which we need to weigh.
Here is what the Scripture says, "...it is appointed for people to die once-and after this, judgment..." (Hebrews 9:27 HCSB).
You may not have visited a cemetery lately, but one day your body will be carried there. Where will you be? Heaven or hell?
Prepare to meet God. Someone may be rolling a rock on a mountainside and it may have your name on it. Leave behind a testimony of your faith in Christ that will give great hope to your family.
Here is the full context of Hebrews 9:27, "Otherwise, He would have had to suffer many times since the foundation of the world. But now He has appeared one time, at the end of the ages, for the removal of sin by the sacrifice of Himself. And just as it is appointed for people to die once-and after this, judgment- so also the Messiah, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for Him." (Hebrews 9:26-28 HCSB)
Trust Him. Receive Jesus as Savior and Lord--before you visit the cemetery, too late.
Friday, March 23, 2012
"So the Lord gave Israel all the land He had sworn to give their fathers, and they took possession of it and settled there. The Lord gave them rest on every side according to all He had sworn to their fathers. None of their enemies were able to stand against them, for the Lord handed over all their enemies to them. None of the good promises the Lord had made to the house of Israel failed. Everything was fulfilled." (Joshua 21:43-45 HCSB)
Some hymns miss the message. They use the imagery of Canaan to picture heaven. In this symbolism, the Jordan River represents physical death and we cross over into the Promised Land--into glory. Here is such a hymn:
On Jordan’s stormy banks I stand,
And cast a wishful eye
To Canaan’s fair and happy land,
Where my possessions lie.
I am bound for the promised land,
I am bound for the promised land;
Oh who will come and go with me?
I am bound for the promised land.
O the transporting, rapturous scene,
That rises to my sight!
Sweet fields arrayed in living green,
And rivers of delight!
There generous fruits that never fail,
On trees immortal grow;
There rocks and hills, and brooks and vales,
With milk and honey flow.
O’er all those wide extended plains
Shines one eternal day;
There God the Son forever reigns,
And scatters night away.
No chilling winds or poisonous breath
Can reach that healthful shore;
Sickness and sorrow, pain and death,
Are felt and feared no more.
When I shall reach that happy place,
I’ll be forever blest,
For I shall see my Father’s face,
And in His bosom rest.
Filled with delight my raptured soul
Would here no longer stay;
Though Jordan’s waves around me roll,
Fearless I’d launch away.
Now, there is an application that can be made. The hymn is not altogether wrong, but not quite right. It doesn't miss the target, but neither hits the bull's eye. There is a better, more accurate meaning of living on Canaan's side.
Canaan was a place of blessing, but also a place of battles. There was goodness to find, but also giants to face. There was fruitfulness, but there was also failure. There were delights, but also death. That isn't the promise of heaven--heaven will be our final rest--a rest unbroken by struggle and sin and sorrow. We are not there yet. But, there is a possibility of a foretaste of heaven--abundant life here and now. That is what it means to live on Canaan's side.
Jesus gave the promise, "I have come so that they may have life and have it in abundance." (John 10:10 HCSB) When we are redeemed by the blood of the Lamb, we are out of Egypt--called out of the world, set free from the bondage of sin and death. God's people have new life. But, God brought them out in order to bring them in. Having life, He promises abundant life as well. Like the children of Israel, however, many stop short of the life of bountiful fruitfulness. They never attain the full measure of blessing God has for them. They come to the edge of Jordan and turn back.
Jordan represents death. But, it isn't physical death--we really don't have much of a choice about that one, do we? Rather it is death to self, death to the world and its lusts--it is about applying the cross in daily experience. That commitment is what brings us over on Canaan's side. It is resting in Jesus. Canaan is living by faith. This is the victorious Christian life. We may call it the Spirit-filled life. Some have termed it the deeper life. Whatever we may call it, the experience is God's desire for us. This is ours for the taking. Consider Paul's words in Romans 6:
"Or are you unaware that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too may walk in a new way of life....For we know that our old self was crucified with Him in order that sin's dominion over the body may be abolished, so that we may no longer be enslaved to sin...So, you too consider yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, so that you obey its desires. And do not offer any parts of it to sin as weapons for unrighteousness. But as those who are alive from the dead, offer yourselves to God, and all the parts of yourselves to God as weapons for righteousness....But now, since you have been liberated from sin and have become enslaved to God, you have your fruit, which results in sanctification-and the end is eternal life!" (Romans 6:3, 4, 6, 11-13, 22 HCSB)
The victorious life implies warfare. It is something we must seize, according to the power of God. There will be some setbacks, but we don't have to live in defeat--we ought not accept it. God has far more for us. He has abundant life now--ours for the taking! This is living on Canaan's side. There is an old Gospel song which does capture the imagery well. Here it is:
LIVING IN CANAAN
Egypt was once my home, I was a slave,
Helpless in sin, did roam; love life, did play;
But when I looked up to heaven's throne, Christ came to stay,
I'm living in Canaan now.
Living on Canaan's side, Egypt behind,
Crossed over Jordan. Why? Gladness to find;
My soul is satisfied, no longer I am blind,
Living with Jesus up in Canaan right now.
Satan may have you bound with fetters strong,
Look up to higher ground, do not be long;
'Til Christ the Saviour, your soul is found,
You'll sing this song, "I'm living in Canaan now".
Living on Canaan's side, Egypt behind,
Crossed over Jordan. Why? Gladness to find;
My soul is satisfied, no longer I am blind,
Living in Canaan now.
Die to self. Live for Christ. Rest in Him. Conquer by faith. Bear much fruit. Experience abundant life. That is living on Canaan's side--NOW!
Thursday, March 22, 2012
"But the descendants of Judah could not drive out the Jebusites who lived in Jerusalem. So the Jebusites live in Jerusalem among the descendants of Judah to this day." (Joshua 15:63 HCSB)
"But, they did not drive out the Canaanites who lived in Gezer. So the Canaanites live in Ephraim to this day, but they are forced laborers." (Joshua 16:10 HCSB)
"The descendants of Manasseh could not possess these cities, because the Canaanites were determined to stay in this land. However, when the Israelites grew stronger, they imposed forced labor on the Canaanites but did not drive them out completely." (Joshua 17:12, 13 HCSB)
"So Joshua said to the Israelites, 'How long will you delay going out to take possession of the land that the Lord, the God of your fathers, gave you?' " (Joshua 18:3 HCSB)
Obedience or disobedience? There is no middle-ground. We will be faithful in all things or fail even in a few things--but, our choice is to obey God or disobey Him.
Is there such a thing as being a little pregnant? Neither is there such a thing as being a little disobedient to God--it is still sin. Is there such a thing as being mostly faithful? Just make this proposition to your spouse, "Honey, you know I love you, and for 364 days out of the year I'll be yours alone, but just one day a year, I'm going to have a one night stand with someone else." I'm sure that would go over well. Yet, this is often the way we behave--or worse.
Israel found out the hard way. God commanded them to conquer all the land of Canaan, and to sterilize it completely of paganism. That was strong medicine, but the only way to be healed from a deadly bacteria. They almost did--but, not quite--and the spiritual disease would come back with a vengeance.
I recall, several years ago, coming down with a fever, feeling flu-like symptoms, and not being able to shake it. A trip to my doctor was made in short order, as I have a weak immune system, due to having had my spleen removed. So, he prescribed some oral antibiotics. I got better for a few days--and then sick again. More pills, recovery and then relapse. After a few weeks of this, it was becoming serious, so I was hospitalized and given massive amounts of strong antibiotics, intravenously, for a week, until all the germs were not just made to retreat, but fully removed! It could have been lethal. This is what Israel failed to understand. Eventually, the nation was lost.
Partial obedience is disobedience. The "but" word is prominent in Joshua 15-18. They drove out the enemy "BUT" not all. It would prove to be their undoing. Why didn't they obey? Their disobedience was rooted in difficulty. Some foes didn't put up much of a fight, while others were stubborn. There were places where the enemy was entrenched and the challenge to overcome was daunting, so since they had conquered most of the land, they were content. They were content with disobedience.
Delayed obedience is disobedience. There were others who procrastinated. Time had lapsed. Some of the promised possession had not been seized. Their intentions were to do it some day--just not this day. Why did they disobey? Often such disobedience is rooted in distraction. We tend to get busy with the things we like to do and forget about the things we ought to do. Perhaps the Israelis were enjoying the blessings so much--and they should have--that they forgot the battles needed--and they should not have.
Are we making the same excuses for our disobedience? What God expects is too difficult! Perhaps we verbally commit to do something for the Lord and then just get distracted by the cares of the world and forget. Will we fail to reach our full potential because we fail to be fully obedient?
Joshua told them that despite the difficulty, they could conquer.
"Joseph's descendants said to Joshua, 'Why did you give us only one tribal allotment as an inheritance? We have many people, because the Lord has been blessing us greatly.'
'If you have so many people,' Joshua replied to them, 'go to the forest and clear [an area] for yourselves there in the land of the Perizzites and the Rephaim, because Ephraim's hill country is too small for you.'
But the descendants of Joseph said, 'The hill country is not enough for us, and all the Canaanites who inhabit the valley area have iron chariots, both at Beth-shean with its towns and in the Jezreel Valley.'
So Joshua replied to Joseph's family (that is, Ephraim and Manasseh), 'You have many people and great strength. You will not have just one allotment, because the hill country will be yours also. It is a forest; clear it and its outlying areas will be yours. You can also drive out the Canaanites, even though they have iron chariots and are strong.' " (Joshua 17:14-18 HCSB)
Paul said it this way in the New Testament, "I am able to do all things through Him who strengthens me." (Philippians 4:13 HCSB) All of Christ is available for all I need if I make all of me available for all He wants.
Caleb and his son-in-law, Othniel, exhibited such obedience, and overcame the enemy. They fought giants and conquered them!
"He gave Caleb son of Jephunneh [the following] portion among the descendants of Judah based on the Lord's instruction to Joshua: Kiriath-arba (that is, Hebron; Arba was the father of Anak). Caleb drove out from there the three sons of Anak: Sheshai, Ahiman, and Talmai, descendants of Anak. From there he marched against the inhabitants of Debir whose name used to be Kiriath-sepher, and Caleb said, 'I will give my daughter Achsah as a wife to the one who strikes down and captures Kiriath-sepher.' So Othniel son of Caleb's brother, Kenaz, captured it, and Caleb gave his daughter Achsah to him as a wife." (Joshua 15:13-17 HCSB)
What is that stubborn sin that needs to be rooted out? Is there a giant in your life that hinders you from being all God wants you to be? Faith that looks to Jesus, leading to obedience that listens to Jesus, will bring victory in Jesus!
Obedience or disobedience? The ball is in your court.
Wednesday, March 21, 2012
"The descendants of Judah approached Joshua at Gilgal, and Caleb son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite said to him, 'You know what the Lord promised Moses the man of God at Kadesh-barnea about you and me. ...Now give me this hill country the Lord promised [me] on that day, because you heard then that the Anakim are there, as well as large fortified cities. Perhaps the Lord will be with me and I will drive them out as the Lord promised.' " (Joshua 14:6, 12 HCSB)
One day will be our last day. It might be this day. If this is our last day, what will we leave behind that lasts beyond our day?
We might leave mementoes of past achievements to be put in a box, gathering dust over time and eventually sold in a yard sale. We could leave money from past earnings to be put in a safe, eroding in value over time through inflation. We may leave memories in photo albums to be stored in a closet, fading colors as time consumes the paper. There is nothing wrong with leaving these things, unless these--or other things of temporal worth--are all we bestow to our heirs. On, the other hand, we can leave a legacy that lasts for eternity--a quality of life that is of incalculable worth--the heritage of faithfulness.
That is what Caleb did. We see him at the age of 85 still standing strong for God. From the moment we first meet him in Scripture, until the final chapter of his life, Caleb is a model of faithfulness. He is a man of faith, hope and love. That is a trinity of timeless qualities that we can pass on to future generations, which will make an indelible mark on history and bring an infinite reward for eternity!
The heritage of faithfulness is built on UNCONQUERABLE FAITH. Some forty years before the events of our text, a valiant young man with a victorious faith had gone in to spy out the Promised Land. Of the twelve who did so, only Caleb and Joshua brought back a favorable report. There were fierce giants to battle and fortified cities to besiege, but fruitful abundance to possess if they would only trust and obey God. Caleb did--and was resolute in that confidence--so that decades later, the old warrior is ready to claim the promises of God!
The heritage of faithfulness is based on UNALTERABLE HOPE. It would be a long time before Caleb would see Canaan again. Many a weary mile would be traveled, as the sun would weather his skin, and the sands of time, whipped by the winds of adversity, would carve furrows in his face. But, he was resolute. In his mind, he could ever see a vision of a land flowing with milk and honey. When he woke with the dawn of another day, he could almost taste the sweetness of Eshcol's vineyard again. He would taste it again! His hope was alterable. Caleb was faithful to press on, because he knew God would be faithful to preserve him. That hope was well-founded!
The heritage of faithfulness is born of UNQUENCHABLE LOVE. The heart of Caleb was steadfast in love for the Lord. His passion went beyond the desire for a piece of property. It was a longing for God. "Therefore, Hebron belongs to Caleb son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite as an inheritance to this day, because he remained loyal to the Lord, the God of Israel". (Joshua 14:14 HCSB) Hebron was the place where Abraham had built an altar and met with God. It was this kind of intimate, love relationship that Caleb wanted above all.
This is the legacy of faith, hope and love--the heritage of faithfulness passed on to his children. Consider these words:
"He gave Caleb son of Jephunneh [the following] portion among the descendants of Judah based on the Lord's instruction to Joshua: Kiriath-arba (that is, Hebron; Arba was the father of Anak). Caleb drove out from there the three sons of Anak: Sheshai, Ahiman, and Talmai, descendants of Anak. From there he marched against the inhabitants of Debir whose name used to be Kiriath-sepher, and Caleb said, 'I will give my daughter Achsah as a wife to the one who strikes down and captures Kiriath-sepher.' So Othniel son of Caleb's brother, Kenaz, captured it, and Caleb gave his daughter Achsah to him as a wife. When she arrived, she persuaded Othniel to ask her father for a field. As she got off her donkey, Caleb asked her, 'What do you want?' She replied, 'Give me a blessing. Since you have given me land in the Negev, give me the springs of water also.' So he gave her the upper and lower springs." (Joshua 15:13-19 HCSB)
Caleb wasn't selfish with his blessings, but shared them. It is our privilege to do the same.
Years ago, a song by Steve Green called, "Find Us Faithful," challenged my heart to be like Caleb, and leave a heritage of faithfulness. I pray that these words will stir you also.
We're pilgrims on the journey
Of the narrow road
And those who've gone before us line the way
Cheering on the faithful, encouraging the weary
Their lives a stirring testament to God's sustaining grace
Surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses
Let us run the race not only for the prize
But as those who've gone before us
Let us leave to those behind us
The heritage of faithfulness passed on through godly lives
Oh may all who come behind us find us faithful
May the fire of our devotion light their way
May the footprints that we leave
Lead them to believe
And the lives we live inspire them to obey
Oh may all who come behind us find us faithful
After all our hopes and dreams have come and gone
And our children sift through all we've left behind
May the clues that they discover and the memories they uncover
Become the light that leads them to the road we each must find
Oh may all who come behind us find us faithful
May the fire of our devotion light their way
May the footprints that we leave
Lead them to believe
And the lives we live inspire them to obey
Oh may all who come behind us find us faithful
Oh may all who come behind us find us faithful
Tuesday, March 20, 2012
"The Israelites, however, were unfaithful regarding the things set apart for destruction. Achan son of Carmi, son of Zabdi, son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, took some of what was set apart, and the Lord's anger burned against the Israelites." (Joshua 7:1 HCSB)
There are times when radical surgery is required. No one wants to have parts of their body removed by a surgeon, but if the diseased member will be the source of death, then it must be done. It is a last resort, of course, but at times, unavoidable.
Spiritually speaking, the church is the body of Christ and the members are parts of that body--each important and all having a function. One should be sorrowful at the prospect of any ever being "amputated" and all other treatment options should be exhausted before something so drastic takes place--but church discipline that may end in excommunication is biblical.
"It is widely reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and the kind of sexual immorality that is not even [tolerated] among the Gentiles-a man is living with his father's wife. And you are inflated with pride, instead of filled with grief so that he who has committed this act might be removed from your [congregation]. For though I am absent in body but present in spirit, I have already decided about the one who has done this thing as though I were present. When you are assembled in the name of our Lord Jesus with my spirit and with the power of our Lord Jesus, turn that one over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the Day of the Lord.
Your boasting is not good. Don't you know that a little yeast permeates the whole batch of dough? Clean out the old yeast so that you may be a new batch. You are indeed unleavened, for Christ our Passover has been sacrificed. Therefore, let us observe the feast, not with old yeast or with the yeast of malice and evil but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
I wrote to you in a letter not to associate with sexually immoral people. I did not mean the immoral people of this world or the greedy and swindlers or idolaters; otherwise you would have to leave the world. But now I am writing you not to associate with anyone who claims to be a believer who is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or verbally abusive, a drunkard or a swindler. Do not even eat with such a person. For what [business] is it of mine to judge outsiders? Don't you judge those who are inside? But God judges outsiders. Put away the evil person from among yourselves." (1 Corinthians 5:1-13 HCSB)
Scandalous sin can be a malignant cancer, which left untreated, will decimate the body, and even kill the church. Church discipline is the process that brings health. The hope is that the sin-sick member will repent when confronted--but, if not, then stronger treatment may be unavoidable.
This New Testament truth is illustrated graphically in the Old Testament story of Achan. God had given Israel a great victory in establishing a beachhead in Canaan, when He brought down the fortress of Jericho. The people had trusted and obeyed God, winning the victory. God had also warned them that they were not to take spoils of battle--all that pertained to Jericho was under God's curse. If taken, it would be like transplanting a cancerous organ in the body--a spiritual malignancy.
God warned them, but Achan didn't listen. This led Israel to defeat. It brought Joshua to despair. It ended in Achan's death. It tragically spelled destruction for his home.
When tempted to sin, Satan's enticing words are, "Just one bite--how bad can it be?" Just one nibble and the world fell under the curse of sin. Achan reasoned that this was only a small thing, "When I saw among the spoils a beautiful cloak from Babylon, 200 silver shekels, and a bar of gold weighing 50 shekels, I coveted them and took them. You can see for yourself. They are concealed in the ground inside my tent, with the money under the cloak." (Joshua 7:21 HCSB) It was a small amount, but a significant sin--covetousness, idolatry--defiance against God that led to defeat. Until the cancer was removed, the strength of the army would not be restored. When it was, then victory was regained.
How many of God's people today have bought into the devil's lie that sin doesn't matter? Just this little thing tolerated--yet, the implications can be far-reaching. How many churches fail to achieve the victories God has for them because they do not confront Achan?
There is a process, set in place by Jesus. Here is what He said the steps in confronting sin should be:
"If your brother sins against you, go and rebuke him in private. If he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he won't listen, take one or two more with you, so that by the testimony of two or three witnesses every fact may be established. If he pays no attention to them, tell the church. But if he doesn't pay attention even to the church, let him be like an unbeliever and a tax collector to you. I assure you: Whatever you bind on earth is already bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth is already loosed in heaven. Again, I assure you: If two of you on earth agree about any matter that you pray for, it will be done for you by My Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there among them." (Matthew 18:15-20 HCSB)
There are those who want to "tattle" to the preacher instead of talking to the offender in private. That amounts to glorified gossip. If you know the sin, then you should prayerfully, lovingly go to the one who has failed and seek to restore them. Paul used terms of medical treatment (setting a bone) to describe the gentle, skillful manner of reaching out to sinning saints, "Brothers, if someone is caught in any wrongdoing, you who are spiritual should restore such a person with a gentle spirit, watching out for yourselves so you also won't be tempted." (Galatians 6:1 HCSB)
If, after repeated efforts to lead them to repentance fail, then one should get one or two other believers to go with them. This increases the pressure and impresses on the offender the seriousness of their sin. Those brothers or sisters may also get through in ways that we cannot. It is better not to involve the elders--pastors and deacons--at this point, as they are leaders and representatives of the church as a whole. The intent is to bring the person to full spiritual health and a place of service in the body. The wider it is known, especially by one preaching to them each week, the more difficult it may be for them to deal with their shame. But, again--after sustained attempts to bring them to restoration--it may require the involvement of the church leadership, and ultimately disciplinary action on behalf of the church as a whole. Even, in that the motivation remains healing--and bringing them to repentance and reconciliation with the church. Sadly, it seems that many when exposed, choose to walk away. It isn't true of every church drop-out, certainly not the case of every person who moves their membership, but sometimes does happen when they do not want to confess sin themselves or be confronted by others. They "excommunicate" themselves.
We don't stone people to death under the New Covenant. But, neither in the name of tolerance should we allow open, scandalous sin like that in Corinth to be publicly practiced and not dealt with. You may know something that should be confronted. Don't pick up the phone and call me. Pick up the phone and call the backslider. Humbly, lovingly, prayerfully begin the Biblical process of bringing them back, one step at a time. But, the church must be prepared to do radical surgery, if need be. Few churches today are willing to consider the possibility. Perhaps that is one reason for our lack of impact on society. Disobedience unchallenged becomes defiance unchecked and defeat unchanged.
Monday, March 19, 2012
"When Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in His hand. Joshua approached Him and asked, 'Are You for us or for our enemies?'
'Neither,' He replied. 'I have now come as commander of the Lord's army.'
Then Joshua bowed with his face to the ground in worship and asked Him, ''What does my Lord want to say to His servant?'
The commander of the Lord's army said to Joshua, 'Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy.' And Joshua did so." (Joshua 5:13-15 HCSB)
The Civil War lasted much longer than it should have. The North had dramatic advantages in firepower and manpower. But, there was one thing they did not have--particularly in the early days when the Yankee army might have crushed the rebellion--they did not have better leaders. It was not until attrition took its toll on the South--one thinks of the death of Stonewall Jackson--that the tide turned and the Blue tide irresistibly rolled over the Confederacy. Lincoln also found some leaders who would win on the battlefield--notably Ulysses S. Grant--and victory was won. Commanders make a difference--and can make a huge difference.
In spiritual warfare, the leader makes all the difference. Jesus is our commander. So long as we follow Him, we have victory. He is undefeated, having never lost a battle, and is unconquerable, being incapable of losing a battle!
Joshua was able to lead the people of God into the conquest of Canaan because God had taken the field! He encounters Jesus in one of those dramatic, Old Testament appearances, when the second Person of the Trinity shows up with a drawn sword. Joshua, in seeing this imposing figure, wants to know, "Whose side are you on?" The answer basically was, "I didn't come to take sides; I came to take over!" So, Joshua bows to his Commander and the Lord will lead them to victory.
There are four keys to this winning warfare which are found in Joshua, chapters three through six. Following the Commander involves: consecration, commemoration, circumcision and conquest.
The Lord led them in CONSECRATION. "Joshua told the people, 'Consecrate yourselves, because the Lord will do wonders among you tomorrow.' " (Joshua 3:5 HCSB)
Being in war isn't a hobby, it is a total commitment. God expected full obedience to His orders. The Israeli men had been enlisted and equipped to engage the enemy. It was time to move out. God symbolically showed that He was leading the way in that the Ark of the Covenant would precede the army. The priests would bear this sacred chest which represented God's presence with His people. When their feet touched the Jordan, the River stopped flowing, even though it was at flood stage, and the Hebrews marched across on dry ground. As their forefathers had exited Egypt through the miracle at the Red Sea, they enter Canaan similarly. God had promised Joshua that He would be with him as He was with Moses, and here was a confirmation. Just remember that whatever obstacles are in your path today, God hasn't changed. Consecrate yourself in total commitment, move forward and He will make a way!
The Lord led them in COMMEMORATION. "After the entire nation had finished crossing the Jordan, the Lord spoke to Joshua: ''Choose 12 men from the people, one man for each tribe, and command them: Take 12 stones from this place in the middle of the Jordan where the priests are standing, carry them with you, and set them down at the place where you spend the night.'...and he said to the Israelites, 'In the future, when your children ask their fathers, "What is the meaning of these stones?" you should tell your children, "Israel crossed the Jordan on dry ground." For the Lord your God dried up the waters of the Jordan before you until you had crossed over, just as the Lord your God did to the Red Sea, which He dried up before us until we had crossed over. This is so that all the people of the earth may know that the Lord's hand is mighty, and so that you may always fear the Lord your God.' " (Joshua 4:1-3, 21-24 HCSB)
The morale of an army is a significant factor in achieving victory. What Israel had already experienced would strengthen their confidence that God was with them. These memorial stones were a monument to God's power which would be an encouragement to the enlistment of new recruits in the future. As old soldiers leave the battlefield, fresh troops would fill the ranks. It is vital to victory that when we face our fierce foe that we do so in a faith that is anchored in history--to recall what God has done in the past conflict that we might trust Him in the present crisis. Are we telling these "war stories" to challenge a younger generation? This is our commission from Christ our Commander (see Matthew 28:18-20).
The Lord led them in CIRCUMCISION. "At that time the Lord said to Joshua, 'Make flint knives and circumcise the Israelite men again.'... Though all the people who came out were circumcised, none of the people born in the wilderness along the way were circumcised after they had come out of Egypt." (Joshua 5:2, 5 HCSB)
This might seem a strange way to prepare men for battle--to wound them before the war started! Indeed, they would pause before the fight to allow the men to heal. What was the point? Circumcision was the sign of the covenant--it was a constant reminder that the Jews belonged to God. It was a symbol of being set apart for Him. This was their insignia and meant total allegiance. There was to be nothing held in reserve. D.L. Moody was challenged by the words, "The world has yet to see what God will do with and for and through and in and by the man who is fully consecrated to Him." Moody purposed to be such a man--and the evangelist's life had worldwide impact that continues to be felt today, over a century after his death. Are you all in? A half-hearted warrior will soon be a casualty!
Ultimately, the Lord led them in CONQUEST. "The Lord said to Joshua, 'Look, I have handed Jericho, its king, and its fighting men over to you.' " (Joshua 6:2 HCSB)
The outcome of the battle isn't determined by the strategy in the war room as important as that may be. It is determined by the soldiers on the battlefield. They must follow their commander, if victory is to be secured. It is evident that the conquest of Jericho was not because of the superiority of Israel's army but the superiority of Israel's God. The walls of Jericho might have withstood the assault of the Hebrew troops, but they were like a sandcastle before a tidal wave when God marched before His army! No wonder the Apostle Paul could say, "No, in all these things we are more than victorious through Him who loved us." (Romans 8:37 HCSB) It isn't even close!