Saturday, 22 March 2014

(82) March 23: Joshua 7-8 & Luke 2:25-52

Ask God to open your mind, heart and will to understand, delight in and obey what you read.

To discover:­­
As you read consider how these events differed from the taking of Jericho.

To ponder:
“But” causes the heart to sink as chapter 7 begins. So soon, Israel compromise in unfaithfulness. Due to their unity as a people, in which all are responsible for one-another, God’s anger burns against the nation because of the sin of one man. Ai should have been taken easily. Only a few men would be needed. But Israel are “routed.” Having expected God to bring victory as easily as in Jericho, this left the people despairing and Joshua mourning. He reasons this will embolden other nations to destroy Israel, keeping God’s name from being honoured through them.
            Like Joshua we can despair too quickly when our plans for the mission of the church don’t go as we hoped. But this doesn’t mean the church will fall. God’s rebuke of Joshua shows he should have recognised there was a reason God didn’t bring victory. And in this case it was sin. God’s covenant had been violated as he hadn’t been loved, his specific commandment about devoting everything to the LORD hadn’t been obeyed (Deut 20v10-18), and the commandments against theft and covetousness had been broken (7v11, 21). Just as our sin can hinder our prayers, so it can hinder what God might do through us (Jam 4v3). Indeed, unless the church wears the “breastplate of righteousness” it will not stand against the devil schemes (Eph 6v11, 14).
            God’s selection of Achan’s family was probably by lot. He is urged to glorify and praise God by speaking the truth. Achan, is then stoned, followed by his children and animals. They, the booty and all else he had was then burned and buried. The destruction of the children is hard. This is as punishment on Achan not them, and so does not preclude the possibility of their ultimate salvation. As seen previously, the equivalent purification within the church is through excommunication or repentance (1 Cor 5v1-13).
            With the sin duly dealt with God now affirms he has “delivered” Ai to Joshua, who should not fear. But something fundamental has changed. Israel are now allowed to keep the plunder. Knowing their liability to unfaithfulness, this seems to be a merciful accommodation to their weakness, keeping them from future disobedience over plunder, and so from defeat. Similarly Jesus stated God permitted certain things because “their hearts were hard” (Matt 19v8). This same patience holds back God’s final judgement (Rom 2v4).
Israel are also not given as easy a victory as previously. Rather than causing the walls to collapse, they have to engage strategy to entice the people out of the city. We already see a hint then, that because of their sin, the people are not going to take the land quite in the way intended.
The space given to this event builds the tension towards victory, bringing home the point that it is only if sin is dealt with that God will enable Israel to overcome. Indeed, his commands and directions in the battle are stressed (8v8, 18). As instructed, the plunder was kept but the city destroyed. The king was hung on a tree as a sign of being under God’s curse, taken down at night to keep the land from being contaminated (Deut 21v22-23), and covered in rocks. As with Jericho, the permanent “ruin” of the city speaks of the coming everlasting destruction.
Some time later the people reach the centre of the land and fulfil Moses’ instructions in Deuteronomy 27v11-26 (8v30-33). This solemn recounting of the entire law, around the ark of God’s presence and with its blessings and curses, stressed all the more the need for absolute obedience if the land is to be wholly possessed.

Praying it home:
Thank God that although he will judge all sin, he is patient even with unbelievers. Turn from any particular sins in your life, asking God to enable you to obey so that he might use you fully.

Thinking further: The Holy Wars
Once more we are faced with God’s command to totally destroy an entire group of people. We should first acknowledge that our feelings here are not unjustified. In truth, they reflect God’s own attitude as one who takes no delight in the death of the wicked, but desires instead that they turn and live (Ezek 18v23). However, we should not let these feelings keep us from thinking biblically and with perspective about these wars. They are shocking. However the Canaanites were not just the same as any other people. We are told their sins had become particularly severe, warranting their destruction in judgement (Gen 15v16, Deut 9v4-6). Some of those sins are listed in Leviticus 18, and include extreme sexual depravity and even child sacrifice. Witnessing the destruction of the Canaanite peoples should sober us up when we see similar sins committed in our culture, but drive us to repentance too, knowing we all deserve condemnation. And we must recognise that God’s judgement on the Canaanites is still on a much smaller and milder scale than the flood or the final judgement that Christ will execute. Moreover, Rahab’s response shows it is quite possible that amongst those killed in these wars there may have been some who looked in faith to Israel’s God, and so ultimately received salvation.

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