All the tribes have been assigned their portion of land within the promised land. The Levites who did not receive territory as an inheritance have received their 48 cities and the surrounding land for their livestock. Six cities have been designated as cities of refuge for those who have accidently killed someone to flee to. The Lord has fulfilled all the promises He made to the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God has led Israel in defeating their enemies and they now have rest from war on every side. Finally, they are where they have been promised they would be. Now they can begin living the life they have been waiting for.
At the beginning of today’s reading Joshua has moved the camp from Gilgal to Shiloh, in the territory of Ephraim. The tabernacle is set up and will remain there until King David moves the ark to Jerusalem. We will read about that in 2 Samuel 6. Shiloh was more centrally located than Gilgal and that made it more convenient for all the tribes who wanted to cone and offer sacrifices to the Lord. At this point, there are still seven tribes who have not received their inheritance in the land. The men of these tribes had fought alongside their other brothers, but they don’t seem as zealous to claim their land. Joshua sent three men from each of the remaining tribes to map out the remaining land and when they returned, He cast lots and assigned each tribe land.
Benjamin was a full brother to Joseph, so his allotment was next to Ephraim and Manasseh. Judah had more land than they needed so Simeon was assigned land within the tribe of Judah. Interesting that the descendants of Joseph, Ephraim and Manasseh wanted more land but were unwilling to fight for it by faith, but the people of Judah had so much they willingly shared with Simeon. The tribes of Zebulun, Issachar, Asher, and Naphtali were given land north of the half tribe of Manasseh. Later in history Zebulun and Naphtali became the area known as Galilee of the Gentiles. This is where Jesus spent much of his ministry. The Sea of Galilee is also called the Sea of Kinnereth. The Hebrew word Kinnereth means harp, and the lake is harp shaped.
Dan was the last tribe to receive their allotment of land. They went to work almost immediately to expand their territory and together with the tribe of Benjamin they formed a swath of land that stretched from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea. Joshua waited until the very last to claim his own inheritance. He received the city of Timnath-Serah in the hill country of Ephraim. Both he and Caleb preferred the more mountainous land.
The cities of refuge were a big deal. There were six of them, distributed through out the land. When we think about the land of Israel perhaps, we picture a very great land. But Israel was only about 120 miles from north to south and approximately 40 miles wide. These cities of refuge were designed centers of asylum for the ‘manslayer’…the one who in our culture would be convicted of manslaughter. These were people who had killed someone without prior intent or premeditation. The cities served as sites for fair and impartial trials to determine the intentionality of a criminal/crime. Each city was to become a refuge for the innocent from the avenger of blood, the victim’s next of kin whose family obligation was to even the score for the loss of life within the clan. The city of refuge was both a safe haven and a form of exile, protecting the manslayer from blood vengeance while effectively placing him under the death penalty in the event he was to leave the city prematurely. Even though the manslayer was not guilty of premeditated murder he was still held responsible for causing the loss of life. This individual served the equivalent of house arrest today.
The tribe of Levi was not assigned a specific territory among the tribes in the land because the Lord Himself was their lot. That was made clear in both Numbers 18:20 and Deuteronomy 18:1-2. Because they were not encumbered to any land they were consecrated to the Lord and free to fulfill their priestly duties. We read in Numbers 35:1-8 that God commanded the remaining tribes to donate 48 walled cities from their various allotments, six of which were to be the cities of refuge. Each Levitical city was to have pastureland around the city so that the Levites could pasture their flocks and herds. That along with the allotments they received in their service sustained the Levites.
God has upheld His end of the covenant promise. Now it is the Israelites turn to uphold their end. As long as they have strong, faithful leaders Israel will be fine. They will worship the Lord and they will keep away from the idols and false gods of their neighbors. But the time is coming soon when the Israelites will no longer have a strong leader, and it will not go well for them.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W
The only thing more exciting than lists of names is the division of the land. Many of the names and places are no longer found on a map so today there is speculation about where the actual tribal borders were. We have read of the battles fought by the Israelites, taking land and destroying the pagans who lived there. But in today's reading we see there is still much land to be conquered. This includes the land of the Philistines and their neighbors to the south. The Israelites have yet to conquer the Phoenician coastline to the north and the northern mountainous territories of Lebanon. The five major cities of the Philistines are listed, cities that will exchange hands over the years depending which country is more powerful at the time...Israel or the Philistines. At this point Joshua is now too old to be leading military campaigns. God Himself pledged to drive out the rest of the inhabitants. Joshua only had to assign the land to the nine and a half tribes west of the Jordan River.
The Levites would not be given a territory but instead 48 towns to live in, scattered throughout the land. This would allow them to teach and guide the Israelites in the ways of the Lord. The tribe of Joseph was divided into two, Ephraim and Manasseh. As we read today, we see that even though the tribes have been assigned land, many of them could not drive out or eliminate the pagans who were living there. This would cause problems down the road as Israel moved away from worshiping the Lord only.
Joshua had successfully completed the first half of his divine commission. He had conquered the land and was in control of the land and the cities. Next up was the second part of the commission. We read the beginning of that today. He and Eleazar, the high priest, and tribal leaders were to divide up the land so that each tribe could claim their inheritance and begin to enjoy the land God had promised them. Between chapters 13 and 21 the word inheritance is used over 50 times. It is a reminder that the Israelites did not win this land. They inherited it. God gave them this land flowing with milk and honey. The ’rent’ God required of them was their obedience to His law. As long as the Israelites honored the Lord with their worship and obedience, He would bless them, make their land productive, and keep their nation at peace with their neighbors. When they agreed to the blessings and curses at Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim they accepted the conditions of what is known as the Palestinian covenant.
There were four main stages in the distribution of the land. Throughout the conquest of Canaan, Gilgal had been Israel's home base. Later Joshua moved the camp to Shiloh. By this time Caleb, one of the two scouts who believed Israel could take the promised land years earlier, was 85. He reminded Joshua and Eleazar of the promise Moses made concerning land for Caleb. He was given Hebron, as was promised in Numbers 13. It was the Anakim who frightened the spies 45 years earlier but Caleb was no more afraid of them now than he was then. Just as before, Caleb was confident that with the help of the Lord he would be able to drive them out of the land.
The tribes living east of the Jordan River were assigned by Moses before he died. The land was great for grazing their livestock but it wasn't so good for their children. Later in the book of Joshua we will see that these two and a half tribes became little more than a buffer zone between the Israelites in Canaan and the heathen nations like Moab and Ammon. They were extremely vulnerable to both military attacks and the ungodly influences of the surrounding pagan nations. Between these two things, we will
see the tribe's downfall. The tribe of Reuben had taken its territory from Moab so it is logical for the story of Balaam to be mentioned here. When Balaam saw that God was turning his curses into blessings, he advised Balak to be friendly to the Israelites and invite them to one of the Moabite feasts. This resulted in some of the Israelite men taking Moabite women for themselves and violating the law of God. And now we read Balaam was killed.
The next tribes to be settled were Judah in the south, Ephraim in the middle and the other half tribe of Manasseh in the north. Joshua and Caleb were the two spies who believed the Lord would give Israel the victory in the promised land. As a result of their faithfulness, they were still alive. They knew what their inheritance from the Lord was. They knew there was a place waiting for them, and that it was good. We have already received our inheritance from the Lord in Jesus Christ. It is a glorious inheritance. We too keep moving forward, being faithful. Keep in mind, for us the best is yet to come. Even though Caleb was 85 he was still looking for mountains to climb and giants to conquer. We are never too old to make new conquests of faith in the power of the Lord. There are still people in our lives who do not know the Lord. They may seem like giants to us and sharing the gospel message with them may feel like climbing mountains. But giant fears are really small when all you see is God. We also see Caleb preparing the next generation. Some of his faith rubbed off on his daughter and also his son in law, Othniel, who later became a judge in the land. Back to Deuteronomy we go, reminded yet again just how important it is to pass our faith on to the next generation as best as we can. In fact, Caleb’s example of faith was far more valuable to his family than the property he claimed for them.
We read that the tribe of Judah was not able to capture and defeat the city of Jebus, later known as Jerusalem. It was David who finally captured the city and made it his. This is the city God chose for the dwelling for His name. One final note. Joshua had issues with the children of Joseph...Ephraim and Manasseh. They complained they were not given enough land. You can hear pride in their voices when they recount for Joshua what great people they were. In effect Joshua says prove it. There is more territory to conquer. Whatever you conquer is all yours. But they were a special people who believed they deserved special treatment. Not only were they a problem for Joshua, but also Gideon, Jephthah, and King David. Five tribes have now been given their inheritance as Joshua, Eleazar, and the twelve tribal leaders cast lots at Gilgal. Soon all of the Israelites will be settled in their own places.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W
It has been two weeks since we have had a free day. We have covered a lot of ground in those two weeks. If fact, the last free day found us in the Book of Numbers still. We have traveled through all of Deuteronomy and into the promised land via the book of Joshua. So many things have happened. Now we can stop for a minute and catch our breath. We have read laws and more laws. A covenant has been made and renewed by the people. God will be their God and they will be His people. We have seen the Israelites, who have witnessed God do miraculous and amazing things sin, and fall short. God has reminded them He chose them but not on their own merit. He chose them simply because He loved them. They had never before experienced that love and didn’t quite know what to do with it. Sometimes I think we can’t quite grasp that God loves us either.
We have looked on as God continues to fulfill His covenant promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The people are now as numerous as the sand and the stars and they are moving closer to entering the promised land. Both Moses and Aaron learned just how demanding leading can be, and how very important obedience to the Lord is. They also learned the cost of being disobedient. God forgives but He does not remove the consequences. The same is true for us today. God gave the borders of the promised land…from the desert to Lebanon, the Mediterranean to the Euphrates River. The land would all be theirs if they were obedient to God’s laws and commands. We see that the Israelites conquered nowhere near this much land. In some cases, they couldn’t even drive out the people in the land they were assigned west of the Jordan.
God reassured His people that He would continue to provide for them but there would be a day the manna stopped. That was the day they set foot in the promised land and began to eat of the land. God promised they would live in cities, towns and houses they did not build. They would harvest grain, olives, and grapes they did not plant, and they would have abundance like they had never seen before. The land would be theirs forever if they would only be obedient and worship God and God alone. That would prove to be a tall order they would struggle to fulfill.
Through all of this God is constant. He continues to love, guide, instruct and forgive His people. God continued to work in and through Moses to reach His people. The Book of Deuteronomy is Moses’ farewell speech, a mix of history, failures, forgiveness, and instruction. Moses is trying to give the Israelites the best chance he can to be successful in the new land. But ultimately what happens will be up to the people. In these readings we have mourned the death of Miriam, Moses sister who stood on the banks of the Nile River watching over him when he was a baby. We watched as Moses, Eleazar and Aaron ascended Mount Hor. When they arrived, Moses removed the high priestly garments from Aaron and put them on his son Eleazar. Moses and Eleazar came back down the mountain and Aaron was buried by the Lord. The new generation was moving into leadership roles as Israel prepared to move into the promised land. After Moses sang the song of witness the Lord had given him, he blessed the tribes, much like a patriarch would bless his male children before he died.
Joshua was commissioned by Moses and the Lord in front of the whole assembly of Israel so they would know he was Moses successor. Joshua was reminded several times to be strong and courageous. God would go with him into the promised land.
And then it was time. Moses was 120 years old. His eyes were not weak, and his strength was not gone. He spent 40 years of his life living in Egypt as one of Pharaoh’s household. He spent the next 40 years as a shepherd for his father-in-law in the land of Midian. It was there God called him from a burning but not consumed bush. Moses was to return to Egypt with his brother Aaron to lead God’s people out of slavery and into the promised land. His last 40 years were spent leading the Israelites through the wilderness so they could learn to know the Lord and trust Him. Moses climbed from the plains of Moab up Mount Nebo. The Lord showed him the whole promised land, north to south, east to west. And then Moses, the servant of the Lord died. God buried him and no one knows to this day where.
Already we have seen plenty of action for the Israelites. They have crossed the Jordan River, much like they crossed the Red Sea, with water piled up in a heap on both sides of a dry pathway. Joshua has led the army in fighting the residents of the land, middle, south, and north. Israel has had few casualties because the Lord fought for them. Israel continues to sin, and the Lord continues to forgive and let the Israelites suffer the consequences of their sin.
Through it all we have read stories that are familiar and some that aren’t. We have noticed things we have never seen or remember reading before. And God is present. That is His promise…that He will never leave us or forsake us. Hang on to that. It is the one sure thing we have!
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W
Right off the bat we see what happens when you have a decision to make and you do not consult the Lord. Israel is on the move and the people of the land are terrified of their power. One of those groups of people were the Gibeonites. Gibeonites were also called Hivites. In an effort to keep themselves from being killed they developed a ruse to keep themselves safe. The Gibeonites went to great lengths to make it look like they had come from a far country. Israel was allowed to make peace treaties with people from places outside of Canaan. While Israel was initially suspicious of them, they did not check with the Lord. Instead, they made a peace treaty with them. They took an oath. Oath taking and swearing were solemn affairs. To take an oath was to give a sacred and unbreakable word to follow through on what was promised. So even though the oath was obtained under false pretenses the Israelites could not break it.
Chapter ten is one of the more fascinating chapters in the Old Testament. Joshua and the Israelites continued their March to conquer the promised land and came upon the five kings of the Amorites who were attacking the Gibeonites. Under the agreements of the treaty made with them, Israel was bound to come to their aid if they were attacked. Joshua took his entire army to fight these five kings and their combined army, and God assured Joshua He would give them over into Israel's hand. This was a miraculous day for Israel. They marched all night and ambushed the five king's army early in the morning. But it was a prolonged fight and Joshua prayed to the Lord in front of the Israelites for more time. Joshua asked that the sun stand still over Gibeon so that Israel could secure a full victory over the Amorites. Joshua's men were weary, and the task was great. They needed time to win the victory God had promised. Many ask how this could happen, but they forget that the Lord created everything and has control over it all. If He wants the earth to stop rotating on its axis for a day, He can make that happen. All of creation answers to the Lord. And once again it showed God's power and might. The other miraculous thing that happened was the hailstones. Not that they fell, because God can do whatever He wants, but that none of them hit the Israelites who were chasing the army of the Amorites. The book of Jashar, now lost, was an early account of Israel's wars.
Not only were the five Amorites kings killed, but their people were also completely destroyed. All the people were killed, leaving no survivors. The whole southern region was destroyed, and all the southern cities were captured. The Israelites had entered Canaan in the middle, at Jericho. Their campaigns went through the middle first, then moved south and finally headed north. The picture is of a complete and swift annihilation of the people throughout the entire region. But the work was not complete. A couple of notes. This is the first time Kadesh Barnea is mentioned in the book of Joshua. That was Israel's southernmost border. And the Goshen mentioned here is not the same place as in Egypt where Jacob and his family settled. This Goshen is a city located in the southern hill country of Canaan.
Once the south has been conquered Joshua moves to the northern part of Canaan. But we must remember, though Israel was doing the actual physical fighting it was the Lord who gave them the victory. Joshua was doing exactly as Moses had commanded him. He was obedient and that honored the Lord. The Gibeonites were the only exception. More than once, Joshua made a surprise attack on the enemy. He went out in battle encouraged by the promises of the Lord. Also, the geographical descriptions of the campaigns in the north are not by city but by region. Chinnerath is another name for the Sea of Galilee. The heights of Dor on the west...Dor was a seaport on the Mediterranean and there were no hills nearby. It could however be a reference to sand dunes. Also, the Jebusites were residents of a city named Jebus, later to be changed to Jerusalem.
Horses and chariots for the enemies meant Israel was very much out weaponed. They were an army of foot soldiers. But it didn’t matter because God still defeated the enemy. Only the battles of Jericho and Ai were initiated by the Israelites. In all the other battles Israel was responding to an attack of some kind. The enemy was usually well armed and in great number. God limited the size of the Israelite army so that the Israelites would not trust their own military power. Joshua struck Hazor first since it was the major city. Hazor along with Jericho and Ai were the only cities burned. Most of the other armies were destroyed in the battlefield and their cities were left alone also the Israelites had places to live once they moved into the land to settle. In Hazor as in Ai the Israelites were allowed to take spoils for themselves.
The total destruction of all these cities is a bit much for many who read this. But if we go back to Moses' instructions in Deuteronomy 7:2-11 and 20:16-18 we will find the reason for this. The Canaanites were being judged by God for their wickedness. Destruction of the Anakim was significant since their fearsome presence was part of why the spies sent from Kadesh were afraid to enter the promised land. The old generation was afraid, but the new generation had learned, had seen with their own eyes, that anything was possible with God. Joshua took the whole land. He had been obedient, and God had kept His promises. Now the people had rest from war. They would divide up the land and the people could begin to move into their new cities and towns. While war is difficult, Israel's biggest challenge lay ahead of them. Could they continue to be obedient and worship God and Him only?
In His Grip,
Pastor Matt W.
Israel has crossed the Jordan River and is now in the promised land. They have set up their camp near Gilgal, a stone’s throw from Jericho. Jericho will be their first conquest in the new land. We already know the people of Jericho are worried. Rahab told the spies they were so afraid of Israel’s God…not Israel but her God…their hearts were melting like wax, out of fear. Now we read the city is shut up tight. No one is going out or coming in. They are waiting, the fear almost palpable. God’s provision for Israel is on display here with the Lord telling Joshua He has given Jericho into the Israelites’ hands. Excavations at Jericho indicate the city was perhaps eight acres and was protected by two high parallel walls which stood about fifteen feet apart and surrounded the city. It was the sight of cities like Jericho that moved the 10 spies to believe the Israelites could never conquer the land. As you read, notice who plans the military strategy. Joshua may be leading the army, but God is making the plan, carrying it out, and leading His chosen people in their fight.
We have some choices before us just like Joshua and the Israelites did. We can make the best plans we can and hope they are successful. We can make our own plans and ask the Lord to bless them. Or we can ask God what His plans are and then do what He tells us to do. Joshua received his plans from the Lord which is why he was successful. God’s plan to defeat Jericho sounded a bit unusual. I can’t imagine any of us have seen a building taken down by marching around it and shouting. But God was once again showing His power and might…for both the Israelites and the Canaanites in the land. Both groups of people needed to be reminded of what God was capable of doing. Joshua shared the Lord’s plan first with the priests. It was vital for them to be in place and invested in the plan. Carrying the ark represented the presence of God in the midst of His people. When we accept God’s plan, we invite His presence and that guarantees victory.
Joshua instructed the soldiers next. They too needed to be invested in the plan. Much of what happened was a test of the people’s faith and patience. They had been marching through the wilderness for a long time and they were no doubt anxious to get moving…defeat the enemies and take the land that would be theirs, settle down and live the good life. Why take an entire week to defeat one city? God was teaching them patient obedience. And the command for silence until the right time was a test of their discipline. Could or would they take orders or not.
We see just how serious God is about obedience in this account. These words are wise counsel from a man named Andrew Bonar, “Let us be as watchful after the victory as before the battle.” One soldier was not obedient, and it cost Israel defeat and disgrace. It also cost this one man and his family their lives. The first battle and victory inside the promised land was dedicated to the Lord. Everything was dedicated to Him…people, houses, animals, everything. God could do with it as He pleased. But one soldier, Achan, disobeyed. We also see here how faithful God is. Once the city was breached the two spies who stayed with Rahab were dispatched to rescue her and her family. God saved her because of her faith. They were initially put outside of the city because they were Gentiles, and they were unclean.
The command to destroy everything is somewhat troubling for many people. But the people of Canaan were incredibly wicked, and the Lord didn’t want His holy people contaminated by their neighbors. It is well to remember that God put His people in the world to be the channel for His blessing. God is a jealous God, and He will not permit them to divide their love between Him and the false gods of the world.
Israel’s victory over Jericho was easy thanks to God. But…that is how chapter 7 begins, with the word, “but.” Things are about to change for Joshua and the Israelites. One man, Achan, was disobedient and it affected all of Israel. The Israelites moved on from Jericho and spied out Ai. It didn’t seem like Ai was much of an opponent for fighting but the Israelites were soundly defeated. The man’s name was Achan, which means “trouble.” It was because of his disobedience that Israel was defeated by the army of Ai. Thirty-six Israelite soldiers were killed. It was Israel’s first and only military defeat in Canaan, one that is forever associated with Achan’s name. One person’s disobedience can do a great amount of damage when they are outside the will of God. God said it was Israel’s sin, not Achan’s. All of Israel was blamed because Israel was one people in the Lord. They may have looked like a collection of people and tribes, families, and clans but they were one in the Lord.
What we see in Achan is a warning to us today. He heard the command of the Lord. All the spoils were to be devoted to the Lord. His first mistake was to look at the spoils a second time. It was probably unavoidable to look at them the first time. But a second look included the temptation to want and to take. We face the same temptations. We look once and then look away. But when we look a second time the temptation sometimes gets the better of us and we sin. His second mistake was to call them spoils. In some cases that would be correct but not this time. These things were part of the treasury of God and wholly dedicated to Him. They didn’t belong to Achan or even Israel. They belonged to the Lord. Achan’s third mistake was to covet these “spoils.” James warns about being drawn away by our own desires, (1:14). And finally, Achan’s fourth mistake was thinking he could get away with what he had done…as though God couldn’t see what he had done. Achan had wealth he couldn’t even enjoy because it was hidden in the bottom of his tent. He couldn’t show it to anyone because they would know where it came from. If Achan had waited a couple of days, he could have had all the spoils he wanted from Ai. He was greedy, impatient, and disobedient. His sin was stealing from God and lying about it.
When Joshua tells Achan to give glory to God that was a form of an official oath in Israel. Achan had sinned against his people and against God and he had to confess his sins. But before Joshua could execute the Lord’s judgement, he had to present the evidence that substantiated Achan’s sin. The items were brought and rolled out before the people and the Lord. The law in Israel prohibited family members from being punished for the sins of their relatives so Achan’s family must have in some way helped him.
We have seen and will continue to see that at the beginning of a new period in the history of God’s people sins bring on a display of God’s wrath. Think Nadab and Abihu and the unauthorized fire. Or Ananias and Sapphira, Acts 5:1-11. The death of Achan and his family was a very clear message to the people. Do not take God’s Word lightly. Israel was now free to continue their pursuit of the promised land. God would continue to lead them. Ai was up next.
God’s plan for Israel’s conquering of Ai was simple but effective. They would set an ambush and draw all the fighting men out of the city. They would then take the city and destroy the people. The city would be burned but this time the Israelites were allowed to keep any plunder they might find. God had provided a miraculous victory at Jericho and now leading His people they fought and won at Ai. After this victory Joshua led the people north about 30 miles to Shechem which lies on a plain between Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim. There the people made a new commitment to the covenant and the authority of the Lord. The law was read again. All the people faced the ark of the covenant which represented the presence of God. This time there was no smoke, fire, thunder or lightening. You will notice that Joshua was not only obedient to the Lord but to the last commands of Moses. Everyone was gathered to hear the law…men and women, children and the aliens who lived among them. There would be no excuses for the people. Everyone had heard what the Lord wanted them to hear.
In His Grip,
Pastor Matt W.
Moses has died and it is Joshua's turn to lead the Israelites. This book continues the story of the conquest from the point at which Deuteronomy left off. Israel is poised on the east bank of the Jordan River. The military superpowers who had been players in the action...Hittites, Babylonians, and Egyptians, no longer had a significant presence. Instead, the Israelites would confront a number of independent city states or grouping of states. Canaanite culture was thriving at this time. There were many temples, shrines and pagan altars that could become stumbling blocks for God’s people. Here are some things to think about as we move forward and watch God fulfill His promise to Abraham. Joshua has been empowered by God and commissioned to replace Moses. He stood ready to complete Moses' work...establishing Israel, a second generation of former slaves, in the promised land. Joshua would make many attempts to keep Israel on the straight and narrow path of worshiping God and God alone. Joshua would make every attempt to hold Israel accountable to fulfilling their part of the covenant with God. As you read watch for God's unwavering resolution and intervention in helping the Israelites defeat the idolatrous Canaanites. The consequences of disobedience are on full display in chapter seven. Chapter eight brings another chance to renew their covenant promises. God had called His people to obey Him and reflect on His character. And picture the joy of the Israelites as they finally stood on the ground of the promised land. Celebrate with them as the manna disappears and they begin to eat the produce of the land. Talk about sensory overload!
There are some themes to be aware of as you read the Book of Joshua. There is the theme of God as the great warrior. God is a warrior who rescues His people from their enemies. Think about this. God's people are still at war today, but now the war is an even more dangerous confrontation. We are at war against evil itself. When we get to the book of Ephesians, we will see the powerful spiritual weapons God has given us. But we enter this battle confident that Christ has already won the final battle. Another theme is God's faithfulness. The second half of this book highlights God's faithfulness to His promises. As Israel took possession of the land, the ancient promise to Abraham became concrete reality. God is a promise keeper and we as Christians today have been given great and precious promises, every one of which has been fulfilled in Jesus Christ.
Joshua is all about the covenant promise of land. God had repeatedly promised the land of Canaan to His people; first Abraham, then Isaac, and then Jacob. Generations of Israelites had heard the promise and now, nearly 500 years after the promise to Abraham, God was fulfilling His promise. He always keeps His promises, but as we see here it doesn’t always happen right away. The Book of Joshua emphasizes that the conquest of Canaan was a direct fulfillment of God's promise to Abraham. We also see that because God was demonstrating his faithfulness to Israel, He expected them to be faithful to Him as well. Their possession of the land was dependent on their obedience to the covenant they had made with the Lord. In fact, we see that Israel's success is because of Joshua's obedience to the Lord’s commands. Once the land was conquered God would give His people rest. There would be no more fighting, and they could be about the business of living in the land flowing with milk and honey and worshiping the Lord.
It doesn't take long after the 30 days of mourning for Moses for the Lord to begin moving His people toward Canaan. Several times God reminds Joshua that He will go with him. Joshua is to be strong and of good courage because God is leading the charge. Joshua is to be obedient...and God will be God. Things work out so much better when we let God be God. Right away we see the respect shown to Joshua. The two and a half tribes who would settle on the east side of the Jordan River were intentional in telling Joshua they would obey him like they had Moses. God has a couple of things yet for His people be ready to enter the land. The Israelite men who had left Egypt were all circumcised, but they all died in the desert wandering. The men who were born in the wilderness had not yet been circumcised. That was part of covenant obedience. The Lord instructed Joshua to make flint knives and circumcise all the sons of the men who had died.
Joshua sent spies to check out Jericho. And they went to a place where news would be available, a prostitute's house. Rahab was a Canaanite prostitute, yet her story is one of the more inspiring in the Bible. Her actions in sheltering and hiding the Israelite spies demonstrated her faith in Israel's God that is praised in the New Testament. (Hebrews 11:31, James 2:25) The word used here for prostitute was for a common prostitute and not one who was part of pagan worship. She may have been put in that role due to the death of her husband or the needs of her Impoverished family. Out of all the people in Jericho, Rahab was the only one who reached out to the one true living God. And in return, He saved her and her family. Rahab is one of four women who are named in Jesus' genealogy in Matthew 1. She was the mother of Boaz who married Ruth, the great grandmother of King David. Even though the spies' mission was to be secret, the news of their presence in Jericho traveled fast. Rahab acknowledged the residents of the city were so terrified of Israel's God their hearts were melting like wax out of fear. Yet only Rahab sought God out. While she lied to the men of Jericho who came looking for the spies, Rahab did the best she could to protect the men sent by Joshua. And she uses God's personal name, Yahweh which indicates she may well have come to faith in the living God at some point.
That she and her family lived in the city wall spoke volumes. It would have been an extremely humble dwelling...just the spot for a poor prostitute, and God's grace. The spies gave her a scarlet cord to mark her house. When the Israelites came to destroy the city that would tell these men where to find Rahab and her family so they could save them from destruction.
Now the Israelites were ready to cross the Jordan River. They were instructed to sanctify themselves. This would mean a separation from things that were unclean or common. The Book of Joshua emphasizes the idea of holiness and we see that here. God gave Joshua instructions which he passed along to the Israelites. Again, we see the power of God. The priests are instructed to take the ark of the covenant and lead the people across the River. As soon as the priests' feet touched the waters of the Jordan the water stood still, separated like the Red Sea. God was exalting Joshua as He did Moses. It would make it much easier to lead the people. This happened in the spring when the Jordan was at flood stage. And God stopped the water. Some translations say the water stopped in a heap. To help the Israelites remember this momentous occasion God instructed one representative from each tribe to take a stone out of the dry riverbed where the priests were standing and make a monument. They would be memorial stones to remind God's people of His miraculous act.
The Israelites set up camp at Gilgal which became their base of operations for the next six years as they went about the business of conquering the land God gave them. The next phase of Israel's journey was underway. As promised God would go before them, leading and paving the way. He goes before us as well, leading and guiding us. It happens when we read His word, which is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path.
In His Grip,
Pastor Matt W.
Moses has finished his farewell address to the Israelites. Soon he will die...or as scripture tells us, he will be gathered up to his people. After that Joshua will lead the Israelites into the promised land. But Moses had a couple of things left to say. God gave Moses another message, one that brings Moses a measure of sadness and perhaps a bit of anger. We read this in 31:16. The Israelites will indeed cross over into the promised land and shortly thereafter they will prostitute themselves to foreign gods and idols. What we see a prediction of is spiritual adultery and physical immorality. Israel will become entangled in the worship of the Canaanite gods Baal and Asherah. Moses has done all he can to steer the Israelites on the right path and in the right direction. But Israel has a propensity to turn away from the Lord. Despite all they have seen and experienced they are not well grounded in the Lord. Moses even gathered the elders and warned them. He had commissioned Joshua as the Lord had commanded him. He had read the book of the law to the people. He even wrote and sang for them a song of warning; one they were to learn and sing. And it is a long song. Even Martin Luther, who wrote some long songs didn't write one this long! Within this song we see praise and adoration for the Lord. There is history, a reminder of God's provision for His people, and a reminder of the blessings the Lord had given to them. But we also see in this song rejection, consequences, and mention of the evil one along with God's wrath and judgement. There is a flash of vengeance, a reminder that God is sovereign and victory for those who return to the Lord.
Moses encouraged the Israelites to learn the song and teach it to future generations. Verse 47 is a stark reminder of just how serious God is about obedience. Listen to these words. Picture yourself standing in the crowd as Moses and Joshua sing the song. “These are not just words for you...they are your life. By them you will live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to possess.” These words are your life! The Word of God is the life of God's people, just as God is our life. God's Word communicates to us the truth about God and His blessings. To receive and obey the Word is to share in the life of God. Jesus reminded us of this when He said, “It is written man shall not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” Matthew 4:4. And He was quoting Deuteronomy 8:3.
We have come to the end of an era. The time has come for Moses to leave the camp for the last time. He will go alone, no Joshua or Aaron. Only the Lord will go with him. But before he goes, he will bless the twelve tribes of Israel. Moses took on the role of the patriarch of the family, blessing each of his sons. The song Moses sang to the Israelites was a lesson in theology, history, personal and corporate obedience, and some strong warnings. But here, the blessings are filled with mercy and grace. We have already seen the “blessings” Jacob gave to his twelve sons. His blessings revealed their hidden character and exposed sins. Moses begins and ends his blessings with bookends that once again praise the Lord for all he is worth. Moses cannot help himself when he is extolling the greatness of the Lord. He named every tribe in the blessings but Simeon. They would become a part of Judah.
Moses is to be remembered for his faithfulness despite his failure. Scripture describes him as a servant of the Lord, a friend of God, and a man of God. Let's take a quick look at this blessing Moses leaves for the twelve tribes of Israel. Moses begins with a string of verbs that describe God's revelation to the Israelites. We see His awe and glory on full display. God came down to Israel and revealed His covenant to them at Mount Sinai. They saw His pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire every night, a sign that God was always with them. God continued to reveal Himself throughout their wilderness journey. And what made Israel unique and different was their receiving of God's law, meditated through Moses. God had come through a myriad of angels in heaven to meet with sinful Israel simply because He loved His people.
Moses doesn't have much to say about Reuben. They would have a future, but it would not be glorious. They settled to the east of the Jordan and eventually would isolate themselves from the other tribes. For Judah, Moses prayed God would give them adequate strength and military leadership that would give them success in battle. Judah was both a royal tribe...think David and ultimately Jesus...and they were a military tribe. They marched at the front of the army when Israel moved out. Moses prayed for God's guidance to rest upon the Levites who were responsible for judging cases. The Urim and Thummim were God's appointed instruments for deciding guilt or innocence and for guiding His people. The Levites had passed the test when the other tribes failed to believe in the Lord's ability to provide and care for His people. They were loyal to God's Word and covenant. They were to be responsible to teach the people and lead them in worship.
Benjamin was the beloved son of Jacob. The Lord would give him peace and safety and provide him with His own personal protection...the dwelling between His shoulders. It is a beautiful picture. Joseph's two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh would receive prowess in battle and victory in warfare. Like oxen they would push their enemies away from them. But in keeping with Jacob's blessing the younger son Ephraim would be exalted over the older, hence the numbers for Ephraim being 10,000 vs. Manasseh’s thousand. The tribe of Zebulun would be located by the seas. The sea and its shore would bring prosperity to this tribe. Moses compared Gad’s military role to the power of a ravenous lion. He predicted they would readily join the other tribes in the conquest of Canaan. The tribe of Dan was small...a lion's whelp. Their territory would be close to Judah by the coastal plains, but they would not be able to keep their inheritance because of the hostility of the Philistines. There would come a day when they would migrate to the region of Bashan, south of Mount Hermon.
Moses' blessing on Naphtali reveals they would enjoy God's blessings of abundance. They would inherit the land south and west of the Sea of Galilee. Dipping your foot in oil means the tribe of Asher would receive some of God's richest blessings. The name Asher means blessed. Moses asked that the Lord bless the tribe with many children, the favor of his brothers and great prosperity. Using precious olive oil on your feet would be a mark of wealth and Asher’s territory was blessed with many olive groves.
These are the last word of Moses and they focus on the happiness of God's people because of His blessings. No doubt Moses could picture these people and the many blessings God would give them. Their God is not some idol made of wood or stone or metal. He is the one true LIVING God. He would make His dwelling with them. He would be their God and they would be his people. If only they would be obedient. Moab was where Moses had given Israel an explanation of the law. He led them in the covenant renewal ceremony. The emphasis here isn't so much in Moses' death as it is on the fact that God would not allow Moses into the promised land. He and Aaron had sinned at Kadesh when they did not speak to the rock to get water. Instead, they beat the rock, no doubt out of frustration. But in doing so they were disobedient. Their actions were generated out of the flesh and not the Spirit and they glorified Moses and Aaron instead of God. Moses did not honor God with his actions and for that he was kept out of the promised land. He got close, standing on Mount Nebo. It is about six miles from the border of the promised land. God allowed Moses to see the whole land, north to south, east to west. But he could not enter it.
There were times Moses wanted to quit. The load of the Israelites was too much. But look at what is written about him at the end of this book. There has never been anyone close to being like Moses. The Lord knew him face to face. Normally seeing the Lord was a death sentence but Moses had a unique relationship to the Lord. Moses began his ministry among the Israelites in Egypt with signs and wonders. Jesus began His ministry performing signs and wonders. (Matthew 4:23-25, John 5:46) The mighty works Moses was able to perform came directly from the Lord. And it is with that acknowledgment Deuteronomy comes to a close. Israel is poised to enter the Land God was giving them. They would follow Joshua. His journey as a leader begins tomorrow.
In His Grip,
Pastor Matt W.
Moses is nearing the end of his farewell speech, but he saved some very important issues for the end. What we have today is an entire section about blessings and curses. With chapter 26 Moses ended his exposition of the Law. Today’s reading is his personal challenge to the Israelites regarding obedience to the Lord’s commands. The Book of Deuteronomy is patterned somewhat like an ancient treaty that would have been given to a conquered nation and its king. The Lord is King, and Israel is His chosen nation and special people. Moses has told the Israelites that over and over. God took the Israelites to Himself by defeating Egypt, setting Israel free to love and serve Him. Moses has reviewed what the Lord has done for Israel and what the Lord has said to Israel. Now he spells out the terms of the covenant. The blessings and curses that we read today are the results of Israel’s behavior regarding that covenant. If Israel is obedient great and amazing things will happen for them. They will prosper. They will be the envy of the world. They will never know want or war or struggle. If they are disobedient life will not go well for them.
If the Israelites choose to be disobedient to the Lord and His covenant, no matter what they do, they will not prosper. The world will look at them and ask what the heck happened? They will plant much and reap little to nothing. They will not have the strength to fight off enemies and will fall under someone else’s control. Eventually they will be overtaken by a mighty foreign power and they will lose everything. Worse yet, the Lord will inflict on the Israelites the same plagues and horrors He inflicted on Egypt.
In this challenge to the Israelites Moses reminded the people they had been at Mount Sinai and made promises to the Lord that they would obey all God said to them. Now, on the plains of Moab the Israelites were given the opportunity to accept this solemn commitment a second time. And, in Joshua they will be given a third chance to accept the law and the covenant requirements. That is the ceremony we see on Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal. Joshua was to build an altar at the base of Mount Ebal where the priests would offer burnt offerings to the Lord. The burnt offerings meant total dedication to the Lord. They would also offer fellowship offerings. These would lead to a joyful celebration of the Lord’s blessings. To have God’s law without having a sacrifice for sins would bring condemnation upon the Israelites.
As we look at the list of curses this was not intended to be a prediction of what would happen…although it eventually was. The priests were calling on God to send these curses if the people failed to be obedient to the Lord’s law and covenant. By saying Amen to each statement the people were saying, “yes, it shall be so.” The people were telling God they were willing to be disciplined if they disobeyed Him. Their Amen was an acceptance of the terms of the covenant. What we will discover as we continue reading in the Old Testament is that many of these curses did happen because the people were disobedient. It is as if they made these promises to be obedient with one hand, fingers crossed, behind their backs. This was a very solemn time for the Israelites.
Here is something else we can see in these curses. They are closely related to the ten commandments and in fact explained many of them. Here is what I mean. The first curse, verse 15, relates to the first two commandments about having one God and not worshiping idols. The second curse related to families and the home. The third curse spoke of property and the fourth brought forth God’s concern for those with disabilities. Curse number five focused on being kind and just to those who were helpless and less fortunate. This included widows, orphans, and the aliens residing in the land. Often these people were cheated, abused, and treated with contempt. Curses six through nine (27:20-23) have to do with sexual purity and relate to the seventh commandment. These sins were the norm for the pagans whose land Israel was about to enter to conquer. And the Israelites were not to follow the same practices. Curses ten and eleven (27:24-25) point to commandment number six…thou shall not kill. Accidental killing was bad enough but murdering someone was the ultimate crime. Being paid to do so took this crime to another level. And taking bribes was a perversion of justice. The twelfth curse obligated the Israelites to obey every law God gave them. This was not a small, minor commitment. This was monumental, whether the people realized it or not. Deuteronomy 28:15-68 describes the judgements and punishments God would send on the Israelites AND the land if Israel is disobedient. These could be called prophetic or predictive. They are really the opposite of the blessings but given in more detail.
These curses would affect every single area of the Israelites’ life…body, family, livestock. They would be sick in both body and mind. The necessities of life would fade away and they would not be victorious in any battle. In fact, they would run out of fear. Some translations say the Israelites would be smited. There would be disease and famine severe enough for them to eat their children. And after all of that, they would be taken into exile in a foreign land. Every blessing God had given them would be lost and they would be left with nothing.
There are 14 verses about blessings and 53 about curses. However, there is good news. Even when God disciplines His people, He does not totally abandon them. Even after they worshiped idols and gods made by the hands of men, God still offers a way back. If God’s people will repent, that is turn away from the actions that have kept them from God, and they return to Him in repentance and fear/awe, God will restore them. If God’s people have a change of heart and turn from their sins, then they will enjoy life as only God can give. They will be restored to their land. Their crops and herds will once again be fruitful and produce bounty for the blessing of God’s people. We will see some of this when the Israelites return to Judah and Jerusalem after their Babylonian exile. But there will not be complete fulfillment until Jesus returns. In scriptural terms, Israel would need a spiritual operation…the circumcision of their hearts.
The fortunes of God’s people are in their hands. Both then and now. We are free to make our own choices, but we do so at our own peril. There are always consequences to our decisions and behavior. The awesome thing is that God wants us back. He is the only God who pursues His people when they stray. Buddha doesn’t. Allah doesn’t. Mohammed doesn’t. And neither do any of the multitude of gods people worship. Only our God pursues us and waits for our return with open arms. He is the only God who loves and the only one who creates. We are beyond blessed to worship Him and know His grace, peace, comfort, joy, and love.
In His Grip,
Pastor Matt W.
More and more laws. Some of them seem peculiar and others are self-explanatory. Unsolved murder has always posed problems regarding jurisdiction. Here the city closest to the dead body was responsible for making atonement for the death, even though they did not cause it or witness the death. Breaking the heifer’s neck did not provide atonement. It was symbolic of the horrendous crime. God Himself graciously forgave. Killing an innocent person was an extremely serious offense in ancient Israel. Unless the crime was solved or the rite performed, there would be no real rest for the community. And rest here does not mean a nap. Rest in scripture often means peace, the kind associated with no fighting.
Sometimes when the Israelites went to war, they were instructed to totally destroy everything...people, livestock, houses. They were to leave nothing alive and nothing standing. Other times they could take spoils. Always they were told what they could and could not take as spoils. There are a myriad of rules concerning women, those captured in war, those who were married, those who were raped. Women had precious few rights. The list of a man’s possessions included his wife, servants, slaves, goods, and animals. Even the phrase ’to marry a woman’ was derived from a phrase that meant to become the master of a wife. Although she would address her husband in subservient terms, a wife did hold a higher status than the rest of the household. Her primary responsibility was to bear children, preferably sons. And the more sons she had, the higher her position not only in the family but the community. A captured woman’s clothes would be set aside because they often had pagan overtones that could lead the Israelites astray. It wasn't uncommon to have two wives, but the father was required to honor his firstborn son when it came time to assign his inheritance, regardless of who the oldest son's mother was.
The punishment of a rebellious son here seems harsh, but we are not talking about a one- or two-time offender here. This rebellious son was a habitual offender of immoral behavior. The parents took their son to the city gate where all business was conducted and presented the charges. It was probably a formality. If the son was a habitual offender, it is likely most people already knew what he had been doing. Charging him as a glutton and a drunkard was an expression for a good for nothing. Because all the men of the community had a responsibility to be examples and could correct another's behavior, all the men were responsible for executing the rebellious youth. They could not allow him to spread his immoral practices among others in the camp. After all, Holy God walked among His people in the camp and the camp needed to be purged from sin.
Hanging was not actually practiced in ancient Israel. Hanging was actually an impaling of the body on a large pole or skewer. And it was often done after a person had already been stoned to death as a public example and deterrent. A person was only left hanging for one day and then removed and buried. They did not want the camp defiled by the body that had been hung, and they did not want a person on display long enough that they became heroes. We also see that anyone who was hung on a tree was cursed. This act reminded people that God cursed those who committed capital crimes. In Galatians 3:13 Paul applied this truth to Jesus’ death on the cross, saying, “Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us.” So not only did Jesus bear our sins, take God's wrath and pay the ransom for our sins, He also became a curse in our place.
Chapter 22 is a hodgepodge of various laws, many of which deal with mixing two things. Because the Israelites were God's chosen people, they were to be separate from other nations. That meant they acted different than other nations. They lived different and set apart. Their customs and traditions were different, and they were to worship only one God. Mixing things here is an analogy about the Israelites intermingling and inter marrying other nations, cultures and faiths. It was not to be done and doing so would make them unclean and unacceptable to God. A good majority of us have violated these rules today, the mixing and matching. The major principle is the separation from the world and a recognition of God’s order for His people. Yoking different kinds of animals meant often yoking one clean animal and one that was unclean. The ox was a clean animal, and the donkey was not. They have different temperaments that can cause problems. Sowing different kinds of seeds together was a part of the fertility rites of pagan worship.
The beginning of chapter 23 is painful! These men were called eunuchs. This practice was done to men who were put in charge of harems to prevent any relations with the women in the harem. It was also a pagan religious practice. Being excluded from the assembly meant restriction from full participation in religious rites. Remember it was a privilege to be a member of the Jewish nation and share in the blessings of God's covenant. The prophet Isaiah looked forward to the day when eunuchs would be welcomed into the kingdom and be blessed by God. Isaiah 56:3-5. The good news today is that all are welcome before the Lord.
Both the Ammonites and Moabites were descendants of Lot, the nephew of Abraham. The Lord would not allow the Israelites to attack them, but they would forever be excluded from the blessings that Israel knew. The phrase, “cleanliness is next to godliness,” did not come directly from scripture, but we see in chapter 23 that keeping the camp clean was a must. For the Israelites, holiness was indeed identified with hygiene. Only the ritually clean person could approach the Lord in worship. And keeping the camp clean prevented the spread of disease.
There are many more rules and laws. Let me highlight just a couple more. Taking someone's millstone was akin to stealing their livelihood. They were used for grinding grain every day so the family could eat. To take one of the two stones would keep them from the daily essentials of life. To remove one's sandal was a sign of the loss of their rights in the community and maybe even a loss to walk on their own land in extreme cases. To spit in someone's face was an act of strong, public contempt. Such a public disgrace discouraged men from shrinking from their duty as a brother-in-law. Since the living brother refused to maintain the name of his deceased brother, he was in danger of losing the memory of his own name in the community. Two men fighting is an invitation for more trouble. It would be better to find a different way to settle disputes. It is understandable that a wife would want her husband to win but this method of assistance was shameful, unfair, and grossly offensive. Moses was prohibiting all indecent methods of combat by both men and women. And the penalty would certainly make you think twice.
Finally, Moses turns once again to tithing, returning to the Lord a portion of what He has blessed us with. Since this has been repeated several times, that means it is important. God's people are to not forget to say thank you for their many blessings. It is as true for the Israelites then as it is for us today. We may have different levels of blessing, but God has blessed each of us richly, especially if you consider the gift of forgiveness and eternal life we have in Jesus Christ. We have much to be thankful for.
In His Grip,
Pastor Matt W.
You have heard this before and you will no doubt hear it again. Idolatry was the greatest enemy of the spiritual life of the Jewish nation and the judges and Levites had to be alert enough to detect it and courageous enough to deal with it. And, they had to be careful they did not get sucked into idol worship either. The temptation was to place the things of pagan/Baal worship as close to the places the Israelites worshiped as possible. That way the Israelites could be enticed to worship both the Lord and pagan gods too. If the judges and Levites were devoted to the Lord, they would carefully investigate such practices, get the facts, condemn the guilty, and remove the idols from the land. It also meant removing the idolators from the land by stoning them to death. The people HAD to put the Lord first at all times. We can’t emphasize enough how unspeakably dirty and immoral the pagans and their worship were. There was blind superstition mixed with gross immorality. With human nature being what it is the Jews would be attracted to gods they could see and touch and ceremonies that appealed to their sensual appetites. This is why God wanted all of the pagans wiped out from the promised land…to prevent temptation from overtaking His people so that they would worship idols instead of Him.
Another thing you see in these readings is the different set of requirements for the leaders of the Israelites vs. the rest of the people. In looking at the instructions for the king in the last half of chapter 17, the general population has been instructed to write God’s Word on their door posts and wear scripture on their foreheads and hands. And they have been called to teach God’s Word to the next generation. Kings are also to write a copy of God’s Law and keep it with them at all times, learning to revere the Lord and follow the words of the Law. If he manages to do this, and not let his head swell with importance or pride, and he keeps his focus on the Lord, then, he and his descendants will reign a long time. But woe to those who forsake the Lord, His laws, and His Word.
Moses was also worried that the people would forget the Levites and fail to provide for them with their offerings. The reality is, if the people forgot the Levites that also meant they were not bringing offerings to the Lord. And that meant they were either not worshiping at all, or they were worshiping the pagan gods and idols. Moses is even specific about what parts of an animal the Levites/priests are to receive. They receive the shoulder, the jowls, and the inner parts. They also receive the first fruits of grain, new wine, and oil. And the wool from the first shearing of the sheep. This was God’s provision for the ones He had set aside to serve Him.
As I was reading today, I had an “Aha” moment. I have read scripture many times through, but in chapter 19 of today’s reading I came upon something I don’t remember reading before. As the Israelites move into the promised land, they are to set aside six cities of refuge, three on each side of the Jordan River. When you look at the territory God has promised to give the Israelites it extends East all the way to the Euphrates River and West to the Mediterranean Sea. However, we know the Israelites did not defeat that many nations and people. In fact, they didn’t defeat any more than they needed to, to be able to settle down. They never went any farther East than the tribes of Gad, Reuben, and the half tribe of Manasseh. But in the later part of chapter 17 God gave instructions that when the Israelites conquered more of the land AND the people are obedient, they are to add three more cities of refuge. That part I don’t ever remember reading before. We know they didn’t conquer more land. And they weren’t obedient for long either.
One of God’s prohibitions for the Israelites was that they were not to return to Egypt. We also see that every single part of Israel’s life is bound up with the Lord. Notice God already knows Israel will meet armies with much better weapons, greater numbers, and more advanced technology than they have. The Israelites were not entering the promised land as sightseers. They were entering as soldiers who would fight and take over possession of the land…with the Lord’s help. But they were not to worry because they have on their side something no one else has…the Lord. The priest will remind them of God and His power and might before they go into battle. And Moses reminds them it is not in their own strength they fight, but in the strength of the Lord. The Israelites were not to fear because God would fight with and for them. But there are different kinds of fear. There is fear that sends people into action. And there is fear that paralyzes people. That was the fear Moses was worried about for the Israelites. What is interesting is all the exceptions for serving. These were temporary deferments. The first involved a new house that hadn’t been dedicated yet. The family had not yet moved into their house and at that point the family needed the man more than the army did. He was given a year deferment. The second was having a new vineyard and not yet having a harvested a crop. Leviticus 19:23-25 reminds us that the owner of an orchard or vineyard could not harvest until the fifth year, but the deferment would not be that long. The vineyard was new to the man but not a new vineyard so he would be able to have one harvest and then his deferment would end. The third was a year-long deferment so a man could get married and spend the first year of his marriage with his wife.
These three exceptions are a sign that God really does want us to enjoy the common blessings in our lives…homes, harvests, and honeymoons. The military service was not to be an excuse for neglecting their families. The Lord wanted the people to have the right priorities in their lives. What good would military victories do if things were falling apart back home? The priests asked the men to look up and trust the Lord, and the officers asked them to look back and consider any unfinished business that would hinder them from doing their best. Being scared spitless was also a reason for deferment. Fear is contagious and the officers didn’t need an army full of men too afraid to fight. (Think the Israelites shaking in their armor in front of Goliath.)
When you stop and think about it, the church today is also engaged in battle. We are fighting the evil in the world and trying to fend off the evil one who is always crouching at the door like a roach, waiting to get in. But we are also the hands and feet of Jesus, the light of the world and salt. Like the Israelites, we do not fight these fights on our own. The Lord goes with us too, wherever He sends us. We are called to rely on His strength and lean into Him when the challenges seem insurmountable. Just like the Israelites.
In His Grip,
Pastor Matt W.