Reading Through the Bible, Monday, March 7. Joshua 19-21

    It would appear that before his death, Moses had assigned land inheritance to Reuben, Gad, Judah, and part of Manasseh.  Joshua assigned land to the rest of Manasseh and Ephraim.  Levi received no land inheritance.  That left seven tribes to receive land.

    But what part of the land?  How would they divide it?

    The administrative scene shifts in chapter 18 from Gilgal to Shiloh, an area in the geographic center of the Promised Land.  Joshua sends out cartographers of sorts to map out the land, discover how much is left, and determine boundaries to divide it into seven sections.  The manner of allotment changes.  Before, it was by decree: “This is the area you will receive.”  Now, a “lot” is cast – like pulling a name out of a hat or flipping a coin.  But the point is, the results are from the Lord.  Would we be willing to entrust our future to the toss of a coin?  As long as we believed the Lord was determining the result, why not?

    What I find interesting about this section is Simeon’s portion.  Evidently, the map makers believed Judah had entirely too much land, so their suggestion is that Judah give up some of it to be shared with the seven remaining tribes.  Surprisingly, Judah agrees.  Surprising because the example we have in chapter 17 is of Ephraim and Manasseh complaining they didn’t have enough land.  When they were told they could clear more, they objected to having to make the effort.

    Some people are never satisfied with what they have.  They always want more and will not be satisfied even then.  Others are generous, knowing they serve a great God who will give them whatever they need, and they are content with God meeting their needs.  Judah seems to be of this latter stripe, and they serve as an example to us all of the attitude God wants us to have.

Reading Through the Bible, Saturday, March 5. Joshua 11-14

  

  It’s tough to understand these events without a map so you may want to consult the one in your Bible titled “The Twelve Tribes In Canaan”.

    The first city Israel conquered in the Promised Land was Jericho (Joshua 6), just north and east of the Dead Sea.  The second, Ai (chapter 8), was ten miles further to the west.

    You must imagine the panic that set in among the city-states nearby.  After all, Israel had collapsed the walls of Jericho and decimated Ai, leaving it “neither survivors nor fugitives.”  The choices for the rest were to run, or stay and fight.  If they are going to fight, they will have to work together.  But the people of Gibeon (chapter 9) concoct a fantastic ruse, saving their lives, but submitting themselves to Israel as slaves and taking themselves out of the opposition.  Gibeon was a large and powerful city. Her submission was seen as “selling out” by her neighbors.

    Chapter 10 tells of a confederation of five city-states determined to teach Gibeon a lesson.  Israel, however, comes to Gibeon’s aid and routs the city-states.  This defeat effectively gives Israel control of the southern part of the land.  It also gave her confidence to face what was to follow: a massive coalition from the north with an army “as numerous as sands on the seashore” (chapter 11).  Israel’s defeat of this army effectively gave her control of the north and the whole of Palestine.  The conquering of the land therefore occurs in just two chapters.  Peace took quite a bit longer.

    Joshua 11:18-20 is significant.  “Joshua waged war against all these kings for a long time. Except for the Hivites living in Gibeon, not one city made a treaty of peace with the Israelites, who took them all in battle. For it was the Lord himself who hardened their hearts to wage war against Israel, so that he might destroy them totally, exterminating them without mercy, as the Lord had commanded Moses.

    In other words, it might have been in their best interests to try to make peace with Israel.  Had they done so, Israel might have been reluctant to exterminate them.  But the evil of the people of Canaan was so great, God was determined that they and His people would not coexist.  And so, God helped the Canaanites to be braver than they should have been, so that Israel would be braver than she would have been, so that the Canaanites would be destroyed.

    If you think that’s not fair, remember this one point: The story underscores how God really feels about evil and the people who perpetuate it.

Reading Through the Bible, Sunday, March 6. Joshua 15-18

Having conquered the land in Joshua 10-11, the division of the land among the tribes begins in chapter 13.  More space is given to Judah’s inheritance than to the other tribes, and more space is given to the house of Caleb in Judah than any other house.

This latter fact is a bit amazing since Caleb was not an Israelite.

Caleb was the son of Jephunneh, who was a descendant of Kenaz, a son of Esau.  I know that he is mentioned as being from the tribe of Judah in Numbers 13:6, but his ancestry is distinctly non-Israelite.

So what is he doing in Israel, and why is so much attention given to him in Joshua?

Of all who came out of the land of Egypt, the only ones who actually got to enter the Land of Promise were Joshua and Caleb – an Israelite, and a non-Israelite.  Both entered the land on the same terms, because both were men of faith.  They are described as following the Lord “wholeheartedly,” and that distinguishes them from the rest of Israel.

With all the extermination of the Canaanites, it would be tempting to think that their fate was because they simply weren’t “of Israel.”  But that’s not true.  Their fate is sealed because of their behavior.

Caleb and his family will not be the only ones absorbed into Israel because of faith.  Rahab and her family have the same experience and interestingly, both Rahab and Caleb are absorbed into the tribe of Judah.  Equally interesting, Jesus, also of the tribe of Judah, makes it possible for everyone, regardless of ethnic background, to be absorbed into the people of God; and it happens exactly the same way: by faith, evidenced by serving the Lord wholeheartedly.

 

Reading Through the Bible, Friday, March 4. Joshua 8-10

God must have first priority in our lives.

One of the ways this is illustrated in the Old Testament is that the first of everything belongs to God.  Jericho, the first city to be conquered when Israel entered the Promised Land, belonged entirely to God.  Nothing in Jericho was to be taken or preserved.  Achan’s sin was that he took what rightfully belonged to God.

When Israel moved against the city of Ai, the second city they conquered, the plunder of that city belonged to Israel.

At the end of the Old Testament, the Lord will ask incredulously: “Will a man rob God?”  The answer is “yes,” for God accuses Israel of robbing him.  They are not giving him first priority, and the priority they do give him is half-hearted.

Christians must ask themselves if they are really putting God first in their lives, and if they are, what is the evidence for that priority?  If there’s little evidence, honesty demands we admit we’re robbing God.  Faithfulness demands we change.

 

Reading Through the Bible, Thursday, March 3. Joshua 5-7

Circumcision seems to me to be a weird choice for the mark of God’s people, but God never undertakes to explain why he chose it.  To Abraham God had said: “Every male among you shall be circumcised. You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and you.  For the generations to come every male among you who is eight days old must be circumcised, including those born in your household or bought with money from a foreigner—those who are not your offspring. Whether born in your household or bought with your money, they must be circumcised. My covenant in your flesh is to be an everlasting covenant.  Any uncircumcised male, who has not been circumcised in the flesh, will be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant” (Genesis 17:11ff).

Was He serious?

As the story of Moses begins, there is a circumcision story.  Moses had failed to circumcise his sons, and God set about to kill Moses until Zipporah (Moses’ wife) performed the circumcision to save him.

As the story of Joshua begins, we have this circumcision story.  Before the people of promise can enter the land of promise, they must have the mark of the people of God.

It would appear God was serious.

Every covenant of God had its marks.  With Noah it was a rainbow.  With Abraham it was circumcision.  With Israel it was the Sabbath (Ezekiel 20:12).  With Christians it is the presence of the Holy Spirit, which is seen in our lives as we follow His leading into love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22).

Is God serious about the sign being there?

He always has been before.

 

Reading Through the Bible, Wednesday, March 2. Joshua 2-4

Moses died on Mt. Nebo, and God buried him in “in the valley opposite Beth Peor.”  Moses was the only leader the nation of Israel had ever known.  God allowed Israel to grieve for thirty days, and then said to them all: “Moses is dead.  It’s time to go.”

Joshua, Moses’ assistant, took his place and the book that bears his name covers his leadership of the invasion, conquest, and occupation of the land of Canaan.

The name “Joshua” means “The Lord is Salvation.” Richard Hess writes: “The book of Joshua is foremost the story of God, who works powerfully on behalf of Israel and Joshua, fulfilling His covenant promises.  It is God who leads Israel across the Jordan, defeats Israel’s enemies and presides over the apportionment of the land.  And so, in the final chapter, it is God who receives Israel’s worshipful re-commitment at Shechem.”

The book is called “Joshua,” and it says Joshua recorded the events in the “Book of the Law of God.”  But I have wondered whether Joshua actually wrote the book of Joshua (no text actually says he did – he’s just the main character).  There are things in it Joshua likely wouldn’t have written, like this passage in Joshua 24: “After these things, Joshua son of Nun, the servant of the Lord, died at the age of a hundred and ten. And they buried him in the land of his inheritance, at Timnath Serah in the hill country of Ephraim, north of Mount Gaash. Israel served the Lord throughout the lifetime of Joshua and of the elders who outlived him and who had experienced everything the Lord had done for Israel.”

Notice the last phrase.  It points us to a time after Joshua’s death and after the death of the leading men of Joshua’s day.  Additionally, the writer points to proofs confirming his story that remain to his own time (“to this day”- the phrase occurs 11 times in the book). This is an important point.  The account found in Joshua is a true account, as evidenced by the author’s references to the “proofs” of the stories that the reader could “check out” for himself.  Likely, the stories themselves were originally written by Joshua himself.  But the final form of the book would have been prepared by someone other than Joshua.

More important than the author, however, is this question: why was the book written?

Everything from Genesis to Deuteronomy points to an unrealized promise of God – that he would give the descendants of Abraham a land of their own.  This promise becomes a reality in the story of Joshua.  Four hundred years before, Joseph had reminded his family of the promise, and made them commit to burying him in Shechem when the promise came true.  Joshua ends with the story of Joseph’s burial at Shechem and with reminders that “not one of the Lord’s good promises to the house of Israel failed, every one was fulfilled” (21:45 and see 22:4; 23:14-15).  The message for Israel in Joshua was that God is with His people, and He will keep His word to them.  They, in turn, must be obedient.

It is a message every generation of God’s people would do well to hear and follow.  Joshua can be outlined as follows:

I)    Conquest of the land (Joshua 1-12)

II)    Allotment of the land (Joshua 13-22)

III)    A call to faithfulness (Joshua 23-24).

 

Reading Through the Bible, March 1. Deuteronomy 33 – Joshua 1

Just as Genesis ends with Jacob’s blessing of his sons, the story of Jacob’s death, and a mention of Israel’s new leader (Joseph), so Deuteronomy ends with Moses’ blessing of the tribes and mention of Israel’s new leader, Joshua.

The blessing of the tribes gives us a glimpse into Israel’s future.  Reuben will be in danger of ceasing to exist.  Simeon isn’t even mentioned, and that tribe was absorbed into Judah as time went on.  In his blessing Jacob had high aspiration for Judah, but Moses notes the coming days would be difficult.  Dan would take Judah’s place of prominence but strangely, Dan’s home will be in Bashan — way in the north.  And yet, the land allotted to that tribe was just north of Judah. Zebulun and Issachar’s fortunes would be tied together and both would prosper along with Naphtali and Asher but the most space is given to the people of Joseph, whose coming prosperity must have seemed astounding.

Israel, listening to Moses speak these words, and later read them, have wondered what was about to happen to them.  The description of the tribes of Israel does not reflect what they were, nor what they would have expected.  Confusing days are ahead.  Not even knowing what is to happen will bring them peace, for now they will focus on how all this could be.

And that will be a mistake.

The focus needs to be not on what will be, but on the one who controls it all: The Lord, “who rides on the heavens to help them, and on the clouds in His majesty” (33:26).

How would I feel if I knew the future?  Whether good or ill, knowing is unlikely to bring me peace.  The only true peace comes from knowing the one who holds the future in His hands and us in His arms (33:27).

 

Reading Through the Bible, Monday, February 28. Deuteronomy 30-32

Deuteronomy 28 has two sections: The first is a review of the blessings Israel would receive if she were obedient to God.  The blessings are many, but the section is small.  The second section deals with punishments for disobedience.  It is a long section.  The lengths of the sections have to do with the emphasis God places on these words.  The consequences of disobedience are dire.

A recurring word in chapter 28 is “destroy.”  God threatens Israel with destruction if she is disobedient.  But He doesn’t mean Israel will cease to exist.  The sinful will be destroyed.  Those who have ignored the sinfulness of their brethren will be destroyed.  There will be innocent casualties of the destruction.  But Israel, as a people, will remain.  The destruction and punishment will remain as long as the people are characterized by sin.

When, however, Israel finally returns from her sins (chapter 30), God will bless her once more – and even more so than ever before.

The obedience God asks of His people is neither unreasonable nor more than they can accomplish, and their future is dependent upon faithfulness to God’s calling.  In fact, their children’s future is dependent on the parents’ faithfulness.

Why?

Because as goes the parent, so goes the child.  Children will not value what their parents do not value.  As Christian parents consider their children’s future, the best thing theyu can do to ensure success is to set before them a model of faithfulness by the way they conduct their lives.

 

Reading Through the Bible, Sunday, February 27. Deuteronomy 26-29

“Thankfulness.”

That’s the word that comes to mind as I read Deuteronomy 26.

The first of everything belonged to God.  First foal.  First calf.  First child.  First harvest from a field.  All of it, in its entirety, belonged to God.  Three times a year Israel was to assemble before the Lord, and no one was to show up “empty-handed.”  Additionally, during the year, there would be a number of sacrifices people would need to offer.  At harvest time, not all the field could be harvested.  Part of it had to be left for the poor to harvest for themselves.  And if all this weren’t enough, a tenth of all income belonged to God.  That’s a tenth of gross by the way, not net.

The tithe and firstfruits offerings were God’s part by divine decree, and the procedure for making the offering involved a public vow that God had not been “shorted” in the offering, that it was indeed the “real” firstfruits, and the complete tenth.

The procedure for offering the tithe and the firstfruits also involved a formal and personal recognition of just how far each person had come under the blessing of the Lord and the procedure served to remind everyone that God was the source of every gain.

If the average Christian were to give a tenth of his gross income, it still wouldn’t match what Israel was called to give.  But the fact of the matter is, the average Christian gives only a small fraction of a tenth. And that’s “net,” not “gross.”

Perhaps the reason our blessings are not as great as we expect is that our thankfulness for what we have is not as great as it ought to be.  As you give to God this Sunday, ask yourself if you could in all good conscience pray the prayer of a giving Israelite: Each was to say: “I have obeyed the Lord my God.  Look down from heaven, your holy dwelling place and bless your people Israel.”

And along with this you might remember that the prayer for God’s blessing of the community depended on the thankfulness of the individual.

 

Reading Through the Bible, Saturday, February 26. Deuteronomy 22-25

“Finders keepers, losers weepers.”

Perhaps you’ve never heard the saying, but it’s an old one.  The point is, if I find something valuable, it’s mine.  I have no responsibility to discover the true owner.    Deuteronomy 12-26 is the longest section of the book, providing detailed elaboration on the application of the ten commandments.  One of those details is that we are responsible for one another, and to one another.

If you find something and you know who it belongs to, you are responsible for returning it.  You are responsible for the safety of others on your property, and for the protection of the property of others.  You must not take advantage of another person just because you can.  Clean up after yourself so that others do not have to, and so they don’t have to even face a mess you’ve made.  If you say you will do something, do it, on time, and not reluctantly, particularly if you make a commitment to God.  Make provisions for the care of the needy and be generous.

Among these laws is this one, which seems a bit out of place: A woman must not wear men’s clothing, nor a man wear women’s clothing, for the Lord your God detests anyone who does this.”  While the New Testament teaches that in Christ, there is “neither male nor female,” one should not take the position that God has obliterated the distinction between the sexes.  When it comes to His grace, he makes no distinction.  But in life, there is very much a distinction.  God has made a certain order in his creation.  Oxen and donkeys are not the same, so you don’t treat them the same.  Likewise, God didn’t create men and women to be “the same,” and ignoring the distinctiveness of his creation is the same as repudiating it.  God has ordered our world, and it works best when we observe that order.