Friday, February 28. 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 performed the circumcision to save Moses.

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.

Thursday, February 27. Joshua 2 – 4

Ordinarily, the Jordan River is about 100 feet wide and only 3-10 feet deep. It’s not hard to cross. But at flood stage, it becomes much wider and deeper and is extremely difficult to cross. Israel is going to need a miracle.

The priests are going to need some faith. They are the ones who, carrying the Ark, will have to step into this raging river, believing that suddenly, the water will disappear at the touch of their feet and the soft river bottom will harden to form a super highway for crossing.

The water is to be “cut off” as far north as Adam, about eighteen miles north of Jericho.

It is a miracle akin to crossing the Red Sea, but of those who experienced the Red Sea crossing (aside from Joshua and Caleb), only the children of that event are experiencing this event.

Since the dawn of biblical scholarship, students have been asking how this feat was accomplished. There are no answers, only naturalistic conjectures that are all wrong. This event cannot be explained by earthquakes or anything else. The whole purpose of it is to show Israel God is with them. Natural explanations would not make this point. God did it. He is the only one who could do it. It is the only way it could be seen as a foundation for faith.

Notice that the leaders (officers) of the people spend time going among the people, telling them what is going to happen and what they should do. I think the notion of many church leaderships is that they can rule by simply setting policy and making decrees (announcements). But leadership involves being among the people, not just “over” them. Leadership works best among leaders who practice that business principle, Management By Walking Around.

Wednesday, February 26. Deuteronomy 33 – Joshua 1

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 in 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 however, than the author, 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).

Tuesday, February 25. Deuteronomy 30 – 32

A number of years ago, a respected Bible scholar wrote a book on the theme of the Old Testament. He entitled the book with the theme it contained: “He [that is, God] Loves Forever.

Throughout Deuteronomy we have been given to understand there is no good reason for God to love Israel. She has nothing to commend her. In fact, there is much about her that is condemning. God has characterized her as stubborn and determined to go her own way rather than His.

And yet, God still loves her. His love will not exempt her from the natural consequences of her behavior, nor will it exempt her from the determined and serious consequences of His judgment. Through the worst moments of His discipline, he will never stop loving them and no matter how egregious Israel’s behavior, if she will repent, God will rescue her from his judgments and draw her to Himself.

Jesus didn’t change God’s nature. God’s nature has never changed. With the coming of Jesus, God exhibits the lengths to which He will go to provide redemption for His wayward people. As you move from chapter 30 into 31, you see that God makes the vow of chapter 30 in spite of the way He knows Israel will live. His love knows no bounds.

Monday, February 24. Deuteronomy 27 – 29

Chapter 27 begins the fourth section of Deuteronomy (chapters 27-28) which sets out the blessings for obedience to the law and curses for disobedience. It is interesting that the warnings against disobedience occupy the largest part of this section.

Chapter 29 begins the final section with one last exhortation to faithfulness and the final verse of this chapter has been invoked many times by well-meaning Christians to excuse what they don’t know: “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and our children forever.” When we don’t know an answer, we attribute it to the fact that God has not revealed it.

But entirely too often we could know the answer if we would but look for it. After all, the verse does not really end with “to our children forever,” but with the words “that we may follow all the words of this law.” You cannot follow what you do not know, and you cannot excuse what you do not know by saying “God hasn’t revealed it” when, in fact, He has.

Earlier in the chapter God makes this point: their miraculous deliverance, over a period of forty years in which not even their clothing wore out, was a sign of the surety of God’s covenant. But no one should take the sure promises of God as a certainty if obedience to His law was not present. We talk about the unforgivable sin mentioned by Jesus in the New Testament often overlooking the fact that it was present in the Old Testament too. Anyone who persisted in living as he saw fit, seemingly oblivious by his behavior to the law of God, would never be forgiven. The recalcitrant spirit is, in fact, the unforgivable sin and remains unforgivable as long as it is present.

Sunday, February 23. Deuteronomy 23 – 26

Chapter 25 continues the third section of Deuteronomy, an elaboration of the ten commandments, specifically having to do with the treatment of fellow Israelites. Other than dealing with this very broad subject, it is difficult to see the correlation between the laws mentioned in this chapter.

This is the only place in the law where you find directions for what we now call the “levirate marriage” (from the Latin levir, “brother-in-law”). Israel was not the only nation to have such a law, but the question is, “why have it?” We are not given a specific answer. We may conclude that it had to do with love for family; a brother would do what was necessary so that the name of his deceased brother would not die out. Refusal showed such a huge lack of brotherhood that it brought shame in the community upon not only the guilty brother, but upon his whole house. Connected with this would also be care for the widow involved so that she would not be bereft of support. The sensual element was somewhat mitigated. The living brother did not get another sexual partner, but was giving up what might well become his (the deceased brother’s estate) in order to preserve the line and estate of his brother.

Care for others is also illustrated in cases involving disputed matters between brethren. One is hard pressed to understand what particular dispute would merit a beating, but perhaps it was not the dispute itself, but the unwillingness to resolve a dispute. In an attempt to mediate a dispute, if the judges felt that one party was particularly intransigent, that party might well receive a beating.

But the beating could not be vicious or vindictive. Respect for the offending brother must be maintained by limiting the number of lashes he received. Jesus said that a brother unwilling to resolve a difference should be treated as someone outside the community of the faithful. It’s not just the disagreements we have that condemn us, it is that we allow disagreements to persist that also condemns.

Saturday, February 22. Deuteronomy 19 – 22

Sometimes, it is difficult to know the right thing to do.

Earlier, in Numbers 15, a man was discovered gathering wood on the Sabbath day – a clear violation of Sabbath law. But while the facts of the case were obvious (he was gathering wood, and it was the Sabbath day), the circumstances were not so clear. Did he know it was the Sabbath? Was there an emergency requiring this gathering of wood? The circumstances were so questionable that the man was brought to Moses to determine his proper fate. The Lord decided, and he was put to death.

In capital crimes, sometimes the circumstances are not clear. Since the Old Testament provided for quick justice, there was a need for a way to slow things down until all the facts could be ascertained. That was the purpose of the “cities of refuge.” A guilty person could not avoid justice in a city of refuge – but an innocent person could go there, marshal evidence and witnesses in his favor, tell his side of the story, and find a receptive and just hearing.

There were to be at least six cities of refuge, and Israel was to make sure good roads were available to ensure easy access.

Still, even an innocent verdict in a capital crime didn’t mean total freedom for the accused. He had to stay in the City of Refuge until the death of the High Priest.
The rules regarding the cities of refuge provided time for reflection and consideration in matters of justice. But they also were reminders that taking a life, even accidentally, was a serious matter with long term consequences. God was emphasizing the value of human life.

Friday, February 21. Deuteronomy 16 – 18

The special times of Israel’s worship are mentioned generally in Exodus 23 and 34. They are treated more fully in Leviticus 23, again in Numbers 28-29, and finally, here in Deuteronomy 16. Though it seems these treatments are but repetitions, each mention has its own emphasis.

New to the descriptions of these assemblies are the following:

* The notion these should be joyful events The worship of God has many dimensions, but one of them is joy – specifically the joy over what God has done for us.

*With the exception of the Passover, effort should be made to include everyone in the community – even those who are not Israelites. While worship is something God’s people are called to do, and have reason to do, they should be sensitive to those not God’s people who might come to know and love him.

* These celebrations should not occur just anywhere. They had to occur in the place God had specified. One of the differences between Israel and the Canaanites was that their worship had to be at a particular place and time. These assemblies brought Israel together as a community, to remember God’s work in behalf of the community, and to emphasize that they were a community and specifically the community of God. When God’s people choose a more individual approach to worship, they lose sight of the fact that God has not saved us to be individuals, but to be part of a united body. That’s impossible to see if the community never gets together.

* No one should show up empty-handed. Since the gathering is in God’s presence to worship Him, gifts and offerings should be brought.

While Christians reading these old commands can be tempted to by-pass them as having been superceeded by the cross, the commands do, however, lay down eternal principles that must not be ignored. They are just as valid now as then.

Thursday, February 20. Deuteronomy 13 – 15

“If a prophet, or one who foretells by dreams, appears among you and announces to you a miraculous sign or wonder, and if the sign or wonder of which he has spoken takes place, and he says, “Let us follow other gods and let us worship them,” you must not listen to the words of that prophet or dreamer.”

How are we to know the difference?

After all, if someone comes along and is able to perform miracles, would it not be a sign that person is from God? And how are we to know if the words from him are true or not?

Deuteronomy 13 underscores the total authority of God’s written word. The difference is seen in whether what is said corresponds to what has been written. The only God there is, the only God to be worshiped, is the God that led Israel out of Egypt. Any God that did not do that must not be worshiped. Any command, contrary to the written will of God contained in these books of Moses, must be assumed to be from another god, and should not be followed.

And any attempt by any person from among God’s people who would entice the community of faith to a way of life and worship not found in the revealed way of God written by Moses was to be treated in the harshest of ways.

Why?

Because it threatened the community’s relationship with God, and thus its very health and existence. In modern terms, such a false teacher should be treated like a bio-terrorist intent on destroying a community.

This text has often been used as justification for what has amounted to mean-spiritedness among Christians. But frankly, most of the things Christians have fought over have not been matters about which God has specifically spoken. They have been more matters of opinion and tradition. In point of fact, those who would exalt opinion and tradition to the status of revealed will have themselves called their hearers to another god and should be avoided at all costs.

Wednesday, February 19. Deuteronomy 10 – 12

Chapter 12 begins the third section of Deuteronomy, specific elaborations on the foundational laws mentioned in chapters 5 – 11. It is most appropriate then that the section begin with a pointed command to be sure that worship is distinctly according to God’s way. Specifically forbidden is any allowance of worldly influence.

Three points stand out in this chapter:

First is the previously mentioned holiness of worship. It was to be God’s way, in God’s time, at God’s appointed place. Though we have no designated singular place for worship today under Christ’s covenant, the notion that worship must never be done in a way that smacks of worldliness remains. The world has no vote – and neither should worldly people. This should not mean that because pagan temples have windows, our churches should not – or if they have air-conditioning we should swelter in the heat. Such things have nothing to do with actual worship. But in the worship itself, such should be done as God has said, to please solely Him. When our worship assemblies become vehicles to make Christianity appealing and satisfactory to the world, we’ve forgotten this lesson of Deuteronomy 12.

Second is the need for the assembly of the community. While there was a time when individual worship was the rule because corporate worship had not been established, one should recognize that corporate worship was important to God – far more so than individual worship. To worship in the place of your choice would eventually lead to the displacement of God’s choice.

This brings us to the final point. One cannot help but notice the caveat that even after the establishment of a place of worship, there was room for local and individual worship (vss. 15ff). I regard this as the weak link. As long as the choice of worshiping locally and individually was even remotely acceptable, Israel would be drawn away from corporate worship according to the dictates of God. And yet, it could not be avoided. Worship was to be done where God appointed, but that was not to be the only worship that was done.