Tuesday, April 13, 2021

April 13 - Joshua 24, Acts 1

 Key verse: Joshua 24:15

Big idea: Victory is rooted in a choice.

About thirty years before our chapter Moses had given his farewell address to the nation. He had reiterated the covenant that God had made with them at Sinai, and had told them that he was setting before them life and death, calling on them to choose life. Now, Joshua was ready to be gathered to his fathers and to Moses, and it was time to give his own farewell speech. Israel was in a drastically different situation: rather than being nomads east of Jordan, they were now settled in the land which God had promised them. The great battles of their early history were behind them, and they had finally learned what it meant to experience victory. But in another sense, they were in the same position they had been all of those years before. Every generation chooses between life and death, victory and defeat. Indeed, every individual is faced with the same challenge that Moses and Joshua presented: God has shown Himself to be faithful, how will you respond?

Joshua made it clear that the people before him were faced with a choice. Who would they serve? Would they go to the gods of the pagan nations they had displaced? Would they follow the gods that Abram's family had worshipped before God called him out? They might do those things, but he and his family would not. They would serve the LORD, who had rescued them, blessed them, and would continue to do so. 

Like Moses before him, Joshua pled that the people would choose life. In 1 Kings 18:21, Elijah would confront another generation with the same challenge. Matthew 7:24-27 revealed that a life is either built on the foundation of obedience to Jesus or is built on sand and destined to collapse. It is a choice: life or death, faith or rebellion, victory or defeat.

Discussion idea: Why does God arrange the Old Testament so that Moses and Joshua's farewells were so similar? How does this same element of choice apply to our lives? Is the command to "choose this day whom you will serve" a one time choice or a repeated one?

Prayer focus: Lord, help me to choose You. Help me to not be pulled to all of the temptations that compete for my loyalty but give my heart to you alone.

Monday, April 12, 2021

April 12 - Joshua 22, Luke 24

 Key verse: Joshua 22

Key verse: There is victory in unity. 

You have probably never heard a sermon on today's chapter. It is a little bit bizarre. It involves a misunderstanding, an altar that was never used, and a nation on the brink of Civil War. Recall that when Israel came into his land, they conquered the territory east of the Jordan River first. It was given to two and a half tribes, while the other nine and a half would inherit the land on the west side. The warriors of the  eastern tribes did not get to enjoy their territory until the work of conquering the remaining land was finished. But as we look at chapter 22, Joshua will soon die and the work is nearly complete. Reuben, Gad, and the half-tribe of Manassah were released to go home. There was joy and camraderie: they had worked together as a unified nation and were now resting in the land God had given them.

Surely, they were tired. Surely, they had no more appetite for war. Surely, they had made friends across tribal lines and did not want to see each other hurt. But when the western tribes saw that the eastern tribes had built a large altar, they were ready to go to war. They loved their brothers in arms and they loved peace, but they loved God more. There would be no idolatry in their land, and they were willing to go to war if that is what was needed to tear the altar down. 

But before acting rashly, they sent a delegation to talk. It is a model of biblical relationship: they were ready to have an uncomfortable confrontation and they were also willing to listen and be proven wrong. And they were! The eastern tribes explained that the altar they built was not for sacrifice: it was just a replica of the true altar, where God was worshipped as the tabernacle, to serve as a memorial to their kinship with the Israelites on the other side of the Jordan. They took the question with humility, and everyone went home in a unified peace. Victory without war: victory from a united desire to serve God together. 

Discussion idea: Why were the people of the OT so quick to build memorials, such as this replica altar or the pile of stones at the Jordan River? What part should reminders of our past play in our lives?

Prayer focus: Lord, help me to be willing to confront sin, willing to listen, and most of all: willing to be corrected. Give me a teachable heart, ever being made more like Yours. 

Friday, April 9, 2021

April 9 - Joshua , Luke 23

 Key verse: Joshua 14:12

Big idea: Victory is not about who we are but who God is.

It has been some time now since we read about the spies going into Canaan before the Israelites crossed the Jordan River. Perhaps you remember that there were 12 spies, 10 of whom convinced the Israelites that the land was too dangerous and thereby condemning that whole generation to die in the wilderness. The two faithful spies were the only ones over the age of forty who were allowed to enter the Promised Land. One of those spies, Joshua, has been a key figure in the narrative so far. The other has faded into the background (he is mentioned only a dozen or so places in the whole Bible) but comes back to the top here. Caleb, now eighty-five years old, comes to Joshua to request a specific city as his inheritance. Hebron, where the giants lived that had scared the nation away before, remained unconquered.

Caleb was either the eldest or second-eldest Israelite (depending on how old Joshua was). He was at an age where, even today, many people have hung up their work boots and decided that they have done their share and it is someone else's turn. Not Caleb! He told Joshua that God had maintained his strength all these long years so that he could do something. He said "Now, therefore, give me this mountain."

It is simple enough, isn't it? If God has kept the strength to breathe in your lungs and the strength to beat in your heart, it is not because He is ready for you to quit. We may be tired sometimes, we may be discouraged sometimes, we may think that others are not doing their share. But God has given us our strength as a stewardship. It does not belong to us, but has been entrusted to us for investment. Let's do it.

Discussion idea: Caleb refused to say that he couldn't serve God because he was too old, and 45 years earlier, he had refused to say he couldn't stand up for what was right because he was too young. What excuses do we give for not serving God? What should we say instead?

Prayer focus: Lord, remove my excuses. Strip away the pride that makes me think I can do things on my own or uses my condition as an excuse for why I can't. Use me for Your glory. Give me that mountain.

Thursday, April 8, 2021

April 8 - Joshua 7, Luke 22

 Key verse: Joshua 7:13

Big idea: To receive God's victory, we must follow God's Word.

The victory at Jericho was not untarnished. Although no Israelites died in the assault on the fortress, they were defeated in their very next assault on the small village of Ai (pronounced "aye" or like the letters A. I.). 36 people died and the army was chased away and forced to retreat for a staggering 16 miles.  The people's hearts "melted like water," and Joshua fell down in mourning. What had happened? How could victory turn to destruction so quickly? Remember that the conquest of Jericho was a sacred event. God had set apart all of Jericho as holy - it was exclusively His property and was to be destroyed in sacrifice. Nothing was to be taken for their own personal gain, it all belonged to God. 

One Israelite, Achan, had violated this commandment by taking a cloak, some silver, and some gold. He hid them beneath his tent (where his family surely would have known what he was doing) and thought that he had succeeded in robbing God. The parallels to the Fall in Genesis 3 are stunning: he saw, he desired, he took, and brought death on the whole community. Israel had taken the things devoted to destruction and become devoted to destruction themselves (much like those who worship useless idols would become useless themselves, as described by the later prophets). Only when Achan was found and punished would God give the Israelites victory over their enemies once again.

Unfortunately, we often want God to bless one part of our life and stay out of the others. Help me with my job or my schoolwork, Lord, but stay away from my temper. I am so stressed out God, give me some peace while letting me keep all of the relationships and behaviors that stress me. Give us victory over Ai while we cherish the things You have called to be destroyed from Jericho. Maybe the greatest tragedy is that God allowed the people to keep the spoils of Ai (Joshua 8:27), but it was too late for Achan. God will give us greater blessings than we could want in His time, but our rebellion will rob us of our blessings.

Discussion idea: Read James 1:14-15 and compare it to the cycle that Achan and Eve fell into (see - covet - take - die). What do you notice? How should this principle affect our lives?

Prayer focus: Ask God for forgiveness for any sin you are holding onto and for His strrength to serve Him.

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

April 7 - Joshua 6, Luke 21

Key verse: Joshua 6:2

Big idea: Victory comes from the Lord.

The conquest of Jericho is a story that many of us learned in Sunday School, but let me try and give it to you in some detail. You can see from the map that I have uploaded below that the Israelites had come up from Egypt, wandered in the desert for 40 years and were finally entering into the land God had promised. They had crossed the Jordan River (marked in yellow, connecting the Sea of Galilee to the Dead Sea), and the first major city they faced was the fortress of Jericho. It was called the "city of palm trees" because of a spring providing water and fertility and has been settled for all of recorded history. The old city was built on a hill 400 yards long and 200 yards wide (about 16 acres), and 70 yards high (about the height of a 20 story building). Around this was a thick wall (at least at some point in Jericho's history, they were 12 feet thick), punctuated with guard towers. 

If the Israelites could conquer this city, it would result in a huge psychological victory over the other inhabitants of the land. If they walked by it unconquered, the Canaanites would have a constant stronghold to resist them. The battle must begin at Jericho. But how could the Israelites conquer?

They would not be able to do it in their own strength, but God did not expect them to. He turned the conquest of Jericho into a religious ceremony and even decreed Jericho as a holy place. The priests led the "assault." Six days of silence, walking around the city once a day for each day. Not doing anything themselves, but waiting on God. On the seventh day, the seventh time around, the priests blew their sacred trumpets and shouted in triumph, then the walls collapsed. The residents of Jericho were confused, weakened, and the Israelites needed only to march in and overcome them. The victory was not theirs, but God's! I wonder how different our lives would be if we saw conflict and challenges as worship. We are being given a chance to put God's grace and glory on display, if we will let Him. 

Map source: Faithlife Corporation. “Biblical World — The Conquest.” Logos Bible Software, Computer software. Logos Bible Software Atlas. Bellingham, WA: Faithlife Corporation, April 7, 2021. https://ref.ly/logos4/Atlas?IsLegendExpanded=false&IsMediaCollectionExpanded=false&MapId=BIBLICALWORLDTHECONQUEST-EN&MapStyleKind=Terrain. 

Discussion idea: What is a modern equivalent of the priests leading out in a conflict in your life? How can you let your spiritual priorities take the lead, instead of the backseat?

Prayer focus: Ask God to help you turn to Him first, not last.

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

April 6 - Joshua 5, Luke 20

 Key verse: Joshua 5:14

Big idea: God determines what victory means. 

In our hyper-divided age, it seems that we cannot have an opinion without finding out whose side someone is on. If we hear a political speech, we need to know if the person has an R or a D next to their name to decide if we agree with them or not. When watching a baseball game, our opinion of the umpire's calls has a lot to do with which team is affected. When someone does not fit neatly into our categories, we are suspicious: are they on our side, or the enemy's? We often try to put God into the same kind of box, as if He would be neatly on the side of our culture, our nation, and our preferences, and against those who disagree with us. But it is a deep error.

Before entering Jericho, Joshua saw a man with a drawn sword and started to interrogate him. "Are you on our side or our enemies' side?" The man answered: "No." He rejected the whole setup, and announced instead that He was the captain of God's angel army. He was neither an Israelite not a Canaanite, but was above their conflicts: the King of all the Earth. "Take off your shoes," He told Joshua as He had told Moses almost a century earlier. The same God was with him, and would protect and defend him, but should never be mistaken for Joshua's employee. God is His own master, and we should not be concerned about getting Him on our side but about getting on His. Victory is not our team winning, but God's triumph.

Discussion idea: Why do you think Jesus appeared to Joshua in this way before they conquered Jericho? How does God reassure of us His constancy and presence?

Prayer focus: Lord, help me to see that you transcend my categories and conflicts. Help me to find Your plans and Your ways to walk in them, not to try and have you bless my own ingenuity. Bring me on Your side, where I will find Your victory.

Monday, April 5, 2021

April 5 - Joshua 4, Luke 19

 Key verse: Joshua 4:23

Big idea: The same God gives us the victory in the mountains and the valleys.

The ancients believed that there were many gods, who each had narrowly specified domains. There might be a sea god, a sky god, a harvest god, and so on. The authority of the god might be tied to a specific city or place, and outside of that realm they were impotent. God had brought the Israelites out of Egypt, but was His power tied to that place? Was it tied to Moses, now dead and buried? Or could He still lead the Israelites into the future? 

At the Jordan River, the boundary of the Promised Land, the Living God revealed that no Canaanite idols could keep His people out. The same God who had parted the Red Sea under the time of Moses went before His people with the Ark of the Covenant, and stopped the Jordan River. Their parents had walked on dry ground out of their old home, and now they walked on dry ground into their new one. The same God was Lord of all the Earth, and was with them. 

Yesterday, we celebrated Easter. The same God who raised Jesus from the dead works powerfully in your life and mine, so that we can live for Him. You may be a long way from Egypt and Jericho but God is still in control wherever and whenever you are. He proved Himself to be faithful, and capable of delivering His people over and over again, and He can do the same for us.

Discussion idea: Where/when have you felt God the most clearly? Where/when have you felt Him the least? What does it mean that God was equally present in both?

Prayer focus: Lord, help restore my wonder at your infinity. Teach me to worship You as King of Kings and Lord of Lords, who reigns over every place and every moment.