Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Joshua 22 - Navigating the Promises

Navigating can be difficult.  Figuring out where you want to go, how you will get there, what route you will take.  It used to be WAY more difficult [think: printed maps and atlases].  But even today - there are places we want to go, things we want to do, things we want to see.  People we want to see.  Getting to where we want to go isn't always easy - detours, construction, confusing signs, strange places, etc.  But isn’t it true that often the most difficult part about navigating is the people we are navigating with?  Or navigating around?  Back seat drivers, and high-maintenance riders, and small bladders - not to mention other drivers.  And traffic - THAT can be the most difficult thing of all.  Getting somewhere in a smooth and timely fashion would be a piece of cake if it weren’t for all these other folks out on the road.  Yes, navigating can be fraught with difficulties.  People can help us get there, but they can also make it more challenging.  People are messy!

As we come to Joshua chapter 22, the land of promise has been conquered (for the most part), and divided up.  If you remember, back before Israel crossed the Jordan river into Canaan, the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and half of Manasseh told Moses that they wanted to settle in that land on the east bank, that area known as Gilead [map].  And Moses said ok, but on one condition - promise to send your fighting men into Canaan and help your brothers conquer the actual land of promise [that was in Numbers 32].  Which they did.  And now here in chapter 22, the "Reubengadmanites" have stood by the other 9½ tribes for seven long years, helping their brothers go about conquering and taking possession of the actual land of promise, on the west side of the Jordan.  Seven years of faithfulness [1-3].

Finally, they’re released, free to go back home to their families/tents on the other side of the Jordan, with all their spoils [4-9].  Joshua leaves them with one last charge, a holy reminder [5].  

And on their way home, the Reubengadmanites build an [altar] [10].  Why did people build altars in those days?  Altars were for worship.  And Israel already had one [Ex 27]. Deut. 12:13-14  “Be careful that you do not offer your burnt offerings in every cultic place you see, but in the place which the LORD chooses in one of your tribes, there you shall offer your burnt offerings, and there you shall do all that I command you.” Josh. 18:1   Then the whole congregation of the sons of Israel assembled themselves at Shiloh, and set up the tent of meeting there; and the land was subdued before them.   

This new altar isn’t just any pile of stones - it’s a great altar.  And it’s an exact copy of the ONE altar at Shiloh [28].  And their brothers, hear of it.  The Reubengadmanites have built themselves a 2nd altar!  And how do the brothers respond?  [12] They gather for war, at Shiloh.  After all they’ve all been through together.  Their brothers are ready for war.

We can be so quick to rush to judgment, short fuses. Even w our own family.  At least Israel does care enough to be willing to go to war for the sake of their brothers, to help them continue to live into the promises of God.  For everyone’s sake.  ‘Cause our (dis)obedience DOES impact our brothers.  There are consequences not only to us but also to those around us [18].  Thankfully, before they lash out and attack, Israel sends a delegation.  They send Phineas, a priest [13], and 10 leaders, heads of households.  For a face-to-face meeting.  This is no place for an email.  Or even worse, a text or a social media post [thank you iPhone].  Communication is always key to any relationship, and critical conversations are best handled in person (or at least phone) [seriously, we need to be very wary of opting for the text].  

Still, the sons of Israel have jumped to a conclusion about their brothers.  NINE TIMES the Phineas delegation accuses the Reubengadmanites of wrong-doing, before they even hear their side of the story [15-20].  That’s what WE do.  We jump to conclusions, sometimes at the drop of a hat.  We criticize people, our brothers even, often behind their back.  Give people a chance.  Believe the best [1Cor. 13:7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.].  And go talk to them.  If you can, go talk to them in person.  Listen to their (side of the) story.  Yes, experience teaches us that people are messy and that they fall short.  We come to expect the worst in people.  But especially in God’s family, we need to give one another the benefit of the doubt.  Believe the best about our brothers and sisters.

How does it feel to be misjudged?  The Reubengadmanites are being misjudged.  But look at the reason they give for building this altar [24-25].  We are concerned about what you may do.  Are they believing the best?  They’re pre-judging their brothers!

I do love their response [22-23].  They know this One in Whom they have believed.  And they know that He knows.  He knows every motive and thought of every heart.  And the Reubengadmanites are surrendered to what the Lord wants, and they are entrusting themselves to Him.  Relationships are tricky.  And people are messy.  And God will help us work it out as we trust Him and believe the best and communicate.

But people are not the problem.  They are not the enemy.  My brother, my sister, the one sitting across from you, the one who [annoys] you to death - they are [precious], made by God, made in His image, with crazy potential to reflect His goodness.  Just as much potential as you and I have.  People are not the problem.  People are the reason.  Remember the first problem in the garden?  It is not good for man to be alone.  People are not the problem.  People are the reason.  Why did Jesus Christ come to earth?  He came for the people.  You and me, and everyone else.  People are not the problem.  People HAVE problems - we all have problems.  But we are the reason, the reason He came.  They’re the reason we’re here this morning.  You might think, well I’m just here to learn to love God more. 1Jn 4:20-21 If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also.  I learn to love God as I learn to love my brother.  The two are inseparable.  Again, we're not saying it’s always easy - navigating can be difficult.  We all fall short…

Thank the Lord that we are not defined by who we don’t love.  There are things that describe me.  Some of those make it hard for me to love.  Some of those make it hard for others to love me.  But things that describe me don’t define me.  Our culture today insists that we are defined by who we love.  But no - we are defined by Who loves us.  Someday, real soon, each of us is going to meet our Maker, stand before the One Who so loves us, and all that’s going to matter is, what did I do with the [gift of God’s love, Jesus], on the cross.

I see this as a parent.  I so want my kids to know that God so loves them.  I want to protect them from the negative influences, from all the brokenness.  And while I can protect them from a lot of things, I can’t protect them from Adam.  Our cute little bundles of joy need no help living into brokenness.  MINE!  We emerge from the womb wired to choose what we want over what God wants, to love self before God, before others.  We perfect this in adolescence, as we make more and more choices to live into me first.  What I want.  But hopefully, Lord-willing, we come to the place where we come to the end of ourselves and learn to say, what YOU want Lord, thank You Lord, I love You TOO, Lord, love others thru me Lord.  Now THAT is a difficult road to navigate.  But the destination is so worth it!

In the end what we see in Joshua is that the Lord keeps His promise.  He has pulled out ALL the stops to bring the people He loves into the land He promised them, into this place of blessing, where they can pursue and enjoy a relationship w Him, pure and undistracted devotion to the God Who loves them [2Cor 11.3].  AND where they can be a family, a people known by their love, a community of uncommon unity.  In Christ.  Yeshua, the Promised Messiah.  The God Who loves & saves.   

Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Joshua 10 & 20 - The Promise of Hearing and Refuge

As we skimmed over 12 whole chapters of Joshua, there were two things we want to look at more closely.  The first one is back in ch 10 - Joshua’s Day [10.12-14].  This is the promise of [hearing]…

A day “like no other" - Joshua’s Day stands as perhaps the single most inexplicable event in all of Scripture, at least from a standpoint of physics.  Never mind that we’ve already seen two huge physics-defying events (aka miracles) just in this one book: the total flow-stoppage of a massive flooded mile-wide [river], and then the utter destruction of the fortified walls of [Jericho] simply by walking and shouting and trumpets.  No weapons whatsoever.  Of course God’s Word is chock full of miracles - but what can we say about this day?

A couple things to keep in mind: A) The big truth behind this scene in the broader context of the whole book is that God is fully vested in fighting for His people [v11,15]; remember, the Lord strongly supports those who trust Him.  2) God inspired the writers of Scripture to use figurative language over and over throughout His Word: Judg. 5:20  “The stars fought from heaven, from their courses they fought against Sisera. Hab. 3:11  Sun and moon stood in their places; they went away at the light of Your arrows, at the radiance of Your gleaming spear. Psa. 98:8  Let the rivers clap their hands, let the mountains sing together for joy. I.e. the language in Joshua 10 COULD be figurative…  But two other thoughts to consider:

C) One could suggest that these three verses perhaps add very little to the full story.  We could go right from 11 to 15 with no substantive change to the account.  Yet God included it.  To me, the inclusion of this one-of-a-kind day reinforces my conviction that ALL THIS is true.  If I was making This up, NOT being inspired by God’s Holy Spirit, I’d for sure NOT include a passage which is so seemingly inexplicable.

D) Difficult to understand ≠ untrue.  Isn't that right, professors?  Think about ALL that This Word asks us to believe: a God Who creates [everything] out of nothing, Who creates [glorious life] out of dust, Who feeds 1000s on a hillside with a [few loaves and some fish] and feeds millions in the [wilderness] for 40 years, Who [raises] to life that which is 100% dead.  God in His Word doesn’t ask us to suspend disbelief, rather He shows us a Glorious Almighty Being Who is far beyond our finite ability to fully figure out.  God can do what is beyond what WE know of the laws of physics because HE’s the one Who established those laws in the first place.  He doesn’t have to obey the laws of physics - the “laws” of physics obey Him.  Is the God of creation able to make the physics work out?  Maybe in a way that we cannot fully explain or understand?  [Look into Job 38-42, esp 38.22-23 and 42.1-6]  But This is not about the physics.  It’s never about the physics.  Even the tiniest miracle in Scripture - which one?  Jesus turning the [water into wine] - a beginner’s miracle maybe?  Simply put, we believe in a God Who does the impossible, things that we assume are impossible.  And this God asks us to simply trust Him.  That’s the real issue - it’s not about the science, it’s about the will.  Will I simply trust Him?

So, how does all this relate to "the promise of hearing"?  v14 says "the Lord heard" the voice of a man - a man who was hearing, who was listening intently to Him.  And which is the bigger miracle, which is more difficult to achieve - God hearing us, or us hearing Him?  The Hebrew for “hear” is shama [Deut. 6:4  “Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one!].  Hearing, the promise of hearing cuts both ways.  Is. 59:1-2  Behold, the LORD’S hand is not so short that it cannot save; nor is His ear so dull that it cannot hear.  But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden His face from you so that He does not hear.  God hears us when we hear Him.  And my willingness to trust Him is directly correlated to my willingness to hear Him.  The people who have the biggest problems trusting what God says are those who are less inclined to listen to Him.  Will I listen (surrender)?

I personally am inclined to trust what God says.  And so I think either the Lord did stop the earth rotating entirely, or [more likely?] that He slowed it down.  And He made all the physics - both the primary and secondary components of that - work out.  Most commentators seem to be divided between one of these two positions, all the while acknowledging that yes there are questions about the physics.

The 2nd thing we look at today is somewhat related.  The promise of refuge [Josh 20.1-6].  Life is full of storms, isn’t it?  Some storms are out of our control.  We know this first hand here in Texas!  Some storms are of our own making.  But when there’s a storm, we need shelter.  Refuge.  And here Israel as commanded by God is designating six new cities of refuge [map].  This is a special word in the Hebrew - miqlat.  These cities of miqlat are safe places where people can flee if they kill another person.  A place of asylum, of refuge from the avenger, or goel.  The goel would be a close relative/kinsman of the victim.  Num. 35:12 “The cities shall be to you as a refuge from the avenger, so that the manslayer will not die until he stands before the congregation for trial.”  This is a beautiful picture of God’s grace and compassion on behalf of His people.

But we also see God’s justice.  Life - and human life in particular as that which specifically bears the image of the Creator - is indeed a sacred [miracle, Ps 139].  As such the shedding of human blood is a transgression against the Creator and Lord of human life [Gen. 9:6  “Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed, for in the image of God He made man. cf Gen 4.10].  God ordained that a man-killer had to be executed in order to purify the people from blood-guilt.  As such, at that time if you killed someone, whether on purpose or by accident, their relatives would appoint someone to avenge the death.  A goel.  A kinsman avenger.  And these peoples had learned [too well?] the sanctity of life.  An eye for an eye, a life for a life - that’s how the people of Abraham rolled.  But what if you killed that person on accident?  Now these cities become safe havens for you.  [Where you are not free but you can remain alive… But then - you know when you could go free from this living prison?  When the high priest died.  And now, Who is OUR High Priest…?]

AND - Who is our Miqlat, our place of refuge from the avenger?  Our Shelter in the storm?  This God Who speaks out of the whirlwind, Who commands the dawn and stores up the storm, Who leaps tall laws of physics in a single bound, the God of wonders beyond knowing and of declarations beyond understanding, He is our shelter in the storm.  He is our refuge.  The promise of refuge. 

Are you facing a storm?  Sometimes God allows the storm, because He’s trying to get our attention.  He wants us to realize, perhaps at a deeper level that He IS our refuge, that we need Him, that we can’t do anything apart from Him.

But He IS our Refuge.  We have a place to run to.  When life sends a storm.  When we’re guilty.  When we mess up.  When we’re in trouble.  Sadly we don’t really need much help getting into trouble - we’re born into it.  Unavoidable.  We’re born separated from the Lord.  Alienated.  Hence need to come back to Him in our hearts.  The need for a Miqlat.  Jesus.  He is the Miqlat/refuge for His people.  AND He is the High Priest - Who dies to release us from bondage.  Bondage to both the power and penalty of sin.  Yeshua.  The God Who saves.  And while the Jews had these six cities of refuge (which for some would have been at quite a distance), God our promise of Refuge is not far from any of us.  In fact, He’s knocking on the door of our hearts [Rev 3.20].  He’s standing at your door as we speak.  Trying to get your attention.  The question is not if I hear, but will I open...? 

Relevant verses from this message: 

Psa. 139:13-16  For You formed my inward parts; You wove me in my mother’s womb.  I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; wonderful are Your works, and my soul knows it very well.  My frame was not hidden from You, when I was made in secret, and skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth; Your eyes have seen my unformed substance; and in Your book were all written the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of them.  

Is. 64:8    But now, O LORD, You are our Father, we are the clay, and You our Potter; and all of us are the work of Your hand.

Is. 45:9    Will the clay say to the Potter, ‘What are you doing?’

Ex. 15:26 And He said, “aIf you will give earnest heed to the voice of the LORD your God, and do what is right in His sight, and give ear bto His commandments, and keep all His statutes, cI will put none of the diseases on you which I have put on the Egyptians; for I, dthe LORD, am your healer.”

Ex. 19:5 ‘Now then, aif you will indeed obey My voice and bkeep My covenant, then you shall be cMy 1own possession among all the peoples, for dall the earth is Mine;

Ex. 22:22aYou shall not afflict any widow or orphan. 23 “If you afflict him at all, and aif he does cry out to Me, bI will surely hear his cry

Ex. 22:26 “If you ever take your neighbor’s cloak aas a pledge, you are to return it to him before the sun sets, 27 for that is his only covering; it is his cloak for his 1body. What else shall he sleep in? And it shall come about that awhen he cries out to Me, I will hear him, for bI am gracious.

Deut. 5:28   “The LORD heard the voice of your words when you spoke to me, aand the LORD said to me, ‘I have heard the voice of the words of this people which they have spoken to you. They have done well in all that they have spoken. 29aOh that they had such a heart in them, that they would fear Me and bkeep all My commandments always, that cit may be well with them and with their sons forever!

Is. 57:13  “When you cry out, alet your collection of idols deliver you. 

But the wind will carry all of them up, 

And a breath will take them away. 

But he who btakes refuge in Me will cinherit the land 

And will dpossess My holy mountain.”

Psa. 18:2  The LORD is amy 1rock and bmy fortress and my cdeliverer, 

My God, my rock, in whom I take refuge; 

My dshield and the ehorn of my salvation, my fstronghold.

Tuesday, April 2, 2024

Joshua 13-21 - The Promise of Inheritance

What would you do if you inherited a billion dollars?  What is an inheritance?  To inherit something means you receive that thing (money, property) - at the death of the previous holder.  In order to inherit you must be - by definition - an heir.  The word for inheritance shows up more times in Joshua than any other book in the Bible.  59x - almost all in this next section.  The Hebrew noun is nachalah - something that is a permanent possession, passed on as an inheritance to your descendants, that which is one’s rightful possession by virtue of birth, and ancient right, and that which is one’s permanently.  Stays in the family.

In the OT, the main thing passed down from one generation to the next was land.  This foundation now gets laid in Joshua.  [Josh. 11:23 So Joshua took the whole land, according to all that the LORD had spoken to Moses, and Joshua gave it for an inheritance to Israel according to their divisions by their tribes. Thus the land had rest from war.]  It took 7yrs, but Israel has taken the whole land, the war of conquest is over, and now comes the task of dividing up the land of promise.  The tribes of Israel will now take possession of the land which they will pass down as an inheritance to their children and their children’s children after them.  Most of the second half of Joshua, really the next nine chapters, are about this idea of dividing up and allotting what the Lord here calls a nachalah.  A permanent possession.  Every tribe and every family among the sons of Abraham gets a share (with one exception).  And Joshua casts lots for who will get what [Josh. 18:8   Then the men arose and went, and Joshua commanded those who went to describe the land, saying, “Go and walk through the land and describe it, and return to me; then I will cast lots for you here before the LORD in Shiloh.”].  Why lots: it's a totally objective way to do it.

Now, don’t forget, this specific promise of land came to Abraham from God Himself, >700yrs earlier [Gen. 13:14-15  The LORD said to Abram, “Now lift up your eyes and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward; for all the land which you see, I will give it to you and to your descendants forever.”].  The promise of inheritance.

When it comes to inheritance, most of us think of something material.  We all like to get stuff, don’t we (altho we’d all still choose Grandpa over his clock, wouldn’t we —> the relationship)?  In ancient times - inheritance was all about land.  Land made you wealthy.  Land fed your family.  So we do see that there is a fascinating exception here when it comes to the allotting of territory in the Promised Land.  The Levites.  The Levites receive no land [Josh. 13:33a But to the tribe of Levi, Moses did not give an inheritance.].  God has something special for them: the tithes of the people [Num. 18:21 “To the sons of Levi, behold, I have given all the tithe in Israel for an inheritance, in return for their service which they perform, the service of the tent of meeting.”].  But then there’s something even more amazing.  The Levites are the tribe of priests.  Their job was both to minister TO the Lord AND to help the people do the same.  And to them the Lord gives Himself as their inheritance:  Josh. 13:33b The LORD, the God of Israel, is their inheritance, as He had promised to them.  God is their nachalah!  Hold that thought…

There IS a question of, is this promise of land-inheritance still to be taken literally for Israel?  Rom. 11:26-29  and so all Israel will be saved; just as it is written, “THE DELIVERER WILL COME FROM ZION, HE WILL REMOVE UNGODLINESS FROM JACOB.  THIS IS MY COVENANT WITH THEM, WHEN I TAKE AWAY THEIR SINS.” From the standpoint of the gospel they are enemies for your sake, but from the standpoint of God’s choice they are beloved for the sake of the fathers; for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.  Irrevocable, Paul says.  I.e. God’s still has plans and this physical land for the biological descendants of Abraham/Isaac/Jacob [many point to the significance and improbability of what happened on 5/14/48].  But see also  Gal. 3:7-9  Therefore, be sure that it is those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham.  The Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “ALL THE NATIONS WILL BE BLESSED IN YOU.” So then those who are of faith are blessed with Abraham, the believer.  In other words the true (spiritual) descendants of Abraham now are those Jews AND Gentiles who have faith in the Seed of Abraham (Yeshua)(which of course ethnic Jews insist is HERESY).  There are some insist that both of these are (still) true, others insist that only the latter spiritual descendancy is true.  Of course, in our present age, Christians seek/celebrate a different kind of kingdom, we embrace a new covenant [one of relationship/faith as opposed to religion/works].  Not one with geographic boundary lines and a flawed human monarch.  Not one which is based on compliance with the law, with this set of more than 600 commands.  Ours is a different kind of promise, involving a spiritual rebirth.  Ours is a different kingdom, with an entirely different King.

The NT writers (all Jewish!) refer to this new covenant/inheritance repeatedly: Heb. 9:15  For this reason He is the mediator of a new covenant, so that… those who have been called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance.   Eph. 3:6 to be specific, the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.  Gal. 3:18,29 For if the inheritance is based on law, it is no longer based on a promise; but God has granted it to Abraham by means of a promise…And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise.  So the real question before us today is: Do I belong to Christ?

And if I do…?  Eph. 1:18 I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints.  What exactly is this inheritance the apostles keep referring to?  What do believers in Christ, true sons/daughters of Abraham, inherit?  A [celestial mansion]?  A [gold brick] on one of those heavenly streets?   1Pet. 1:3-4 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you.  So it definitely is something glorious, unfading, eternal.  Titus 3:7 so that being justified by His grace we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.  So, we inherit Eternal life, yes - but more specifically: Eph. 1:14 [The Spirit] is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of His glory.  1Pet. 2:9 But you are A CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR God’s OWN POSSESSION, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.  Mal. 3:17 “They will be Mine,” says the LORD of hosts, “on the day that I prepare My own possession, and I will spare them as a man spares his own son who serves him.”  Let's tie this in to what we see in the last half of Joshua:

As Joshua distributes the land of promise to Israel, this nachalah, this permanent possession, we see a picture of God’s promise of inheritance to all people who would become His own people, who receive His grace, who are spiritually reborn and adopted into His family by trusting in Yeshua.  We see a chosen race.  A royal priesthood.  A new holy nation of priests.  This people for whom God pulled out all the stops and moved heaven & earth so that He could spend eternity with them.  So that He could give them the greatest gift, the greatest inheritance of all - Himself.  And so that they/we could be with Him forever.  We inherit Him - and He inherits us.  Forever.  Let's not miss the power of that word.  This is a permanent possession.  I am His, and He is mine, forever.  Psa. 73:26  My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.  David knew - in God’s presence, in Him are pleasures forever [Ps 16.11].  Best.Inheritance.Ever!  God wants you to be with Him, in HIS family.  Jesus died on the cross for you, so that you could inherit eternal life, real life that lasts forever.  So that you could inherit Him, in your heart, closer than a brother, always with you.  The promise of inheritance.  Will you say yes to Jesus today?  

For further reading:

On May 14, 1948, in Tel Aviv, Jewish Agency Chairman David Ben-Gurion proclaimed the State of Israel, establishing the first Jewish state in 2,000 years.  As the British army withdrew, the rumble of guns was heard as fighting broke out between Jews and Arabs.  That day the US became the first country to officially recognize the Jewish state.  Egypt launched an air assault that evening, and the next day, forces from Egypt, Transjordan, Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq invaded.

As long as in the heart, within,

The soul of a Jew still yearns,

And onward, towards the ends of the east,

an eye still gazes toward Zion;

Our hope is not yet lost,

The hope of two thousand years,

To be a free nation in our land,

The land of Zion and Jerusalem.

Largest inheritance?  Around his death in 1992, Sam Walton held a net worth of $8.6B —> $2.15B/child (but may have been as much$17.2B/child)