As Ecclesiastes enters its home stretch, Solomon offers several final observations about things that we should know, and matters that we cannot know.
Thursday, December 31, 2015
Wednesday, December 30, 2015
Tuesday, December 29, 2015
As Solomon continues searching through various activities and life experiences in his quest for wisdom and understanding, he frequently issues one of two verdicts: either something is considered to be a good worth pursuing or else it is deemed a worthless vanity.
Sunday, December 27, 2015
Thursday, December 24, 2015
Solomon is known for being wise, of course. What comes through in Ecclesiastes 7 is that he is also very experienced. Many of his sayings are distilled from the years he has spent observing life. As he remarks, "In my vain life I have seen everything..." (vs. 15).
I wonder if Solomon was talking about himself in Ecclesiastes 6? Tradition tells us that Ecclesiastes is the product of his old age, whereas Proverbs was written in his middle age and the Song of Solomon in his youth. If this is the case, then perhaps we have here the observations of a man frustrated about his impending mortality and the inevitability of his leave-taking of the world.
Wednesday, December 23, 2015
Monday, December 21, 2015
Part of wisdom's benefit comes from the insight it gives us into which state of affairs may be better for us. Whenever we get a chance to make choices regarding our situation, we do well to do so with wisdom. In Ecclesiastes 4, Solomon offers his opinion on several matters about what is better.
Sunday, December 20, 2015
Twin themes emerge from Psalm 99: God is king, and He is mighty. The psalm even begins, "The Lord is king; let the peoples tremble! He sits enthroned among the cherubim; let the earth quake!" From there, we continue to hear both of God's great and awesome name, as well as His royal reign over His people Israel. Both acts of power and justice are recounted as emblematic of the Lord's nature. The psalm concludes with the imperative, "Extol the Lord our God, and worship at his holy mountain; for the Lord our God is holy" (vs. 9).
Friday, December 18, 2015
Thursday, December 17, 2015
Wednesday, December 16, 2015
Tuesday, December 15, 2015
Proverbs 30 is ascribed to Agur, son of Jakeh. Who was Agur? After researching it, I discovered that there are many theories, from Agur being a nomadic wise man who lived between Israel and Babylon to the name merely being a code word for Solomon. Basically, however, nobody has any real evidence so it all remains speculation! Whoever he is, however, Agur does have some very interesting insights to share!
Sunday, December 13, 2015
Saturday, December 12, 2015
Friday, December 11, 2015
With all the teachings against wickedness and foolishness we find in Proverbs, you may wonder why anyone would ever choose to go down that path. There are so many warnings against evil, why do people still sin? Proverbs says that even though the wicked may prosper for a time, they will find out that, in the end, crime does not pay.
Thursday, December 10, 2015
It is one thing to revere the proverbs and look upon them as the revealed Word of God. It is another to deploy them properly in the right context. After all, "a word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver" (25:11).
Beginning in chapter 25, we see a subtle shift in the tone and format of the proverbs. The chapter begins, "These are other proverbs of Solomon that the officials of King Hezekiah of Judah copied" (vs. 1). Compiled by a later king, these recorded words of Solomon have a slightly different feel than what went before. For instance, we find a lot of similes.
Wednesday, December 9, 2015
Tuesday, December 8, 2015
Monday, December 7, 2015
Sunday, December 6, 2015
Friday, December 4, 2015
One of Solomon's themes in Proverbs is the relationship between parents and their children. When the children are wise and good, the household is happy. But parents that raise a fool will find themselves filled with heartache and misery.
Thursday, December 3, 2015
Ever heard the expression, "There is a God, and you're not Him?" While not officially one of Solomon's proverbs, that saying does complement one of themes in his book. Many proverbs indicate that, although we often presume that we are the ones in charge, God has actually reserved for Himself the ability to call the shots. We call this concept "sovereignty."
Wednesday, December 2, 2015
Tuesday, December 1, 2015
My son Daniel is currently in his junior year at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. One of the campus features is a long "binary" sidewalk made up of 1s and 0s. It actually spells out a message if you know the code. In a binary language, everything is reduced to one of two possible states: off or on, yes or no, 1 or 0, black or white. The proverbs of Solomon reveal that he often viewed the world in such binary terms, divided between the righteous and the wicked.
There are dozens of proverbs to be found in chapter 11, but I'd like to focus on two verses that stood out to me: "Some give freely, yet grow all the richer; others withhold what is due, and only suffer want. A generous person will be enriched, and the one who gives water will get water" (vs. 24-25).
Monday, November 30, 2015
Friday, November 27, 2015
Proverbs 9 contains some fascinating parallels between wisdom and foolishness. How can you determine which is which? And, more importantly, how can you tell if you are wise or foolish? Solomon gives us the test to find the difference!
You probably already know that Solomon takes wisdom quite seriously and honors it very, very highly. His devotion comes through loud and clear in this chapter's praise of wisdom and its declarations of what has been accomplished through it.
Thursday, November 26, 2015
Wednesday, November 25, 2015
"Drink water from your own cistern, flowing water from your own well.
Should your streams be scattered abroad, streams of water in the streets?
Let them be for yourself alone, and not for sharing with strangers.
Let your fountain be blessed, and rejoice in the wife of your youth" (vs. 15-18).
Should your streams be scattered abroad, streams of water in the streets?
Let them be for yourself alone, and not for sharing with strangers.
Let your fountain be blessed, and rejoice in the wife of your youth" (vs. 15-18).
Tuesday, November 24, 2015
Monday, November 23, 2015
It would have been interesting to live in a polytheistic world. In the Old Testament, Israel was surrounded by pagan nations that worshiped other gods. I'm sure that - just like Christians get challenged about the veracity of our beliefs today - Israel found itself questioned about their commitment to the Lord above anything else. I believe Psalm 96 can be read as a response to this challenge of faith.
Friday, November 20, 2015
"Place me like a seal over your heart, like a seal on your arm; for love is as strong as death, its jealousy unyielding as the grave. It burns like a blazing fire, like a mighty flame. Many waters cannot quench love, rivers cannot wash it away. If one were to give all the wealth of his house for love, it would be utterly scorned" (vs. 6-7).
Thursday, November 19, 2015
Wednesday, November 18, 2015
The fourth chapter of the Song of Solomon contains evocative similes and metaphors that the king employed to woo his beloved, mostly describing her attractive looks and physical features. (Warning: some of these expressions may no longer be considered complimentary in the 21st century!)
Chapter 3 seems to consist of two parts: a search for the lover by the beloved, and an image of Solomon's royal wedding procession.
Tuesday, November 17, 2015
Monday, November 16, 2015
The Song of Solomon, also known as the Song of Songs, is one of the more controversial books in the Bible. The debate over its inclusion centered around its passionate tone and sexual imagery that is presumed to be more in keeping with romantic entanglements between humans than it is our relationship with the Lord.
Have you ever been filled with an overwhelming sense of worship for the Lord? Have you ever felt like you could just about burst with praise to God? If so, perhaps you can relate to the emotions of the psalmist who composed Psalm 95!
Friday, November 13, 2015
Everyone has their favorite imponderables about the Bible, questions such as "How could people live so long back in the times of the patriarchs?" or "What were Jesus' growing up years like?" Mine is - "How could the story of Solomon end so tragically when he had been given so much wisdom and had so much going for him?"
Thursday, November 12, 2015
During the reign of Solomon, Israel begins to emerge as a regional power. Up until this time, they had been preoccupied with local threats - pacifying Canaan, the challenge of the Philistines, conquering Jerusalem from the Jebusites, etc. Now they are established as the rulers of the land, subjugating the other people groups (vs. 20-21) and forming alliances by treaty and marriage with other major powers such as Tyre and Egypt. Still, this new prestige and prosperity comes with a familiar warning: as long as the people adhere to their covenant with the Lord, He will bless them (vs. 4-5). But if they turn their back to God, He will turn His back to them (vs. 6-7)!
Wednesday, November 11, 2015
Israel knew that God does not require a house to live in. In fact, even the physical universe itself cannot contain Him (vs. 27)! So why did Solomon and the nation go the trouble of building such an elaborate and costly structure as the Temple?
Tuesday, November 10, 2015
After describing the palace that Solomon built for himself in verses 1-12, I Kings 7 goes on to give us more details about the Temple, such as its furnishings and finishing touches. A bronzeworker from Tyre named Hiram came and worked on such pieces as the two pillars of bronze, a large "sea", stands, basins and more. The Temple wasn't just a monument or museum; it was a functioning place of corporate worship for Israel. For more information and to see some visual representations of what Solomon's Temple may have looked like, check out:
Monday, November 9, 2015
Psalm 94 contains some language and imagery that is decidedly non-politically correct by today's cultural standards. "O Lord, you God of vengeance" (vs. 1) "Give to the proud what they deserve!" (vs. 2) "The Lord our God will wipe them out" (vs. 23). How are we to understand and accept these passages while also maintaining the Bible's overall teaching of a God of grace and mercy?
Friday, November 6, 2015
If you have heard nothing else about Solomon, you probably know that he is regarded as extremely wise, or the wisest man who ever lived, according to the Bible. I Kings 3 gives us the background as to how that reputation came about.
Wednesday, November 4, 2015
I Kings 2 brings us the death of David and the transition to King Solomon. He encourages his son to be strong and courageous and faithful to the Lord. In the last recorded words we have of David, he instructs Solomon to take care of some unfinished business and settle some old scores (vs. 5-9).
Turning from the books of Samuel to those of Kings reveals that we are nearing the end of David's life. He is now old and cold, and a beautiful young woman named Abishag is brought in to keep him warm. As David clings to life, a battle for succession to his throne ensues between his sons Adonijah and Solomon.
Tuesday, November 3, 2015
Sunday, November 1, 2015
David is one of the central figures in the Bible. In fact, he serves as an archetype (the original pattern, model, or prototype) of the promised Messiah. It is hard to overstate his influence in scripture and subsequent history. Likewise, we must also understand that David didn't accomplish everything he did alone. In addition to the Lord, David had significant help from other key individuals, who are credited in II Samuel 23.
Thursday, October 29, 2015
Wednesday, October 28, 2015
With the kingdom still in turmoil after lurching from David to Absalom and back to David, a "scoundrel" named Sheba takes advantage of the situation to promote a rebellion among the tribes of Israel against Judah's leadership.
Tuesday, October 27, 2015
In a book full of notable death scenes, Absalom's end is one of the more interesting. During the forest battle with David's forces in the land of Ephraim, Absalom (remember that amazing hair? II Samuel 14:26) gets his head caught in the branches of an oak tree, while the mule that he was riding kept going. As he struggled there, suspended from the tree, it might have been a comical scene, except that Joab comes along and plunges three spears into him. With such dispatch, the rebellion is put down and David's life (and kingdom) are saved.
"It's the good advice that you just didn't take." (Alanis Morissette, Ironic) Absalom himself could have written that line after he rejected the suggestions of Ahitophel, choosing instead to follow the secretly malicious plans of Hushai.
Monday, October 26, 2015
Saturday, October 24, 2015
Psalm 92 makes a case that there are basically two kinds of people in the world: the righteous and the unrighteous. Both may seem to flourish (vs. 7 and 13). But this apparent equality in their condition is deceptive. The "wicked sprout like grass" but are actually doomed to destruction forever (vs. 7). Eventually the enemies of the Lord shall perish and be scattered (vs. 9). The righteous, on the other hand, "flourish like a palm tree" and "grow like a cedar" (vs. 12). They continue to produce good fruit even in old age. Psalm 92 counsels us to consider the difference between the short run (but temporary) success of the wicked and the long term fruitfulness of the righteous. After all, what would you rather your spirit be like: grass or trees?
Friday, October 23, 2015
I may have found a new favorite Old Testament verse! "We must all die; we are like water spilled on the ground, which cannot be gathered up. But God will not take away a life; he will devise plans so as not to keep an outcast banished forever from his presence" (vs. 14). Doesn't that just have GOSPEL written all over it?
Thursday, October 22, 2015
Just as Adam and Eve introduced sin into the world through the Fall, so, too, has David introduced sin into his family through his actions against Uriah, and it begins tearing them apart. Chapter 13 skips ahead a few years, telling us that "some time passed" (vs. 1).
Wednesday, October 21, 2015
How would you like Nathan's job? Called to be a prophet of the Lord, his assignment is to go to King David and confront him about his sins of adultery and murder. There is no one more powerful than David, who has already killed men to keep his sins secret and cover his tracks. Yet Nathan went in obedience to the Lord (vs. 1).
Tuesday, October 20, 2015
II Samuel 11 may be my least favorite chapter of the Bible. It is certainly one of the saddest, describing the most vile and despicable things that David did in life. Our hero plays the part of a villain. Through these sinful events, David tragically sows the seeds of the destruction of his family.
Monday, October 19, 2015
The word comes down that the new king is looking to find any surviving heirs of the previous king. There can be only one conclusion as to reason for the search: the new king must want to execute any rivals in order to strengthen his grip on the throne!
Everything is going David's way. As this chapter testifies, "The Lord gave victory to David wherever he went" (vs. 14). Those pacified by David and his forces include the Philistines (vs. 1), the Moabites (vs. 2), the Zobahites (vs. 3-4), the Arameans (vs. 5-6), and the Edomites (vs. 13-14). It's a good day to be a Jew!
Sunday, October 18, 2015
Friday, October 16, 2015
Thursday, October 15, 2015
Wednesday, October 14, 2015
Tuesday, October 13, 2015
Monday, October 12, 2015
After the death of Saul, David did not become king over Israel immediately. The first thing that happened is that David felt led of the Lord to move his forces from the Philistine city of Ziklag to Hebron in Judah. While Judah quickly anointed David as their king, Saul's son Ishbaal reigned over the other tribes of Israel for another two years (vs. 10).
Sunday, October 11, 2015
Loyal to Saul to the end, David is grief-stricken when he hears of the death of the king and the prince. He composes a lamentation to be sung in their memory, and commands that it be taught to the people of Israel. It contains an expression which has since become famous: How the mighty have fallen! Here it refers to the champions of Israel, Saul and Jonathan, killed in battle upon Mount Gilboa. David is especially overwrought by the death of his intimate friend, Jonathan. When an Amalekite tries to take credit for killing Saul, perhaps expecting a reward from David for this service, the son of Jesse instead orders the man himself killed for daring to strike down the Lord's anointed. The death of Saul and his family is not a cause for celebration for David, but a reason to grieve deeply, in addition to mourning the overall loss of Israel's battle with the Philistines.
Thursday, October 8, 2015
Wednesday, October 7, 2015
Tuesday, October 6, 2015
Monday, October 5, 2015
Sunday, October 4, 2015
Friday, October 2, 2015
As you read the Psalms, you will find many written by David when he was on the run from Saul (Psalm 54 may have been composed during the events of this chapter.) Saul's pursuit of David never resulted in the young man's capture, but it did unleash the heart of David in worship and prayer to God for deliverance, a treasure of writings that we can still enjoy millennia later.
Thursday, October 1, 2015
Tuesday, September 29, 2015
Saul is starting to become seriously unhinged. What was at first envy and jealousy of his junior associate David has blossomed into full-fledged paranoia. He wants David dead. David is aware that Saul is out to get him, but Jonathan doesn't see the evil in his father. Jonathan and David make a pact - a covenant - to watch out for each other.
It's a good thing that David had so many friendships and relationships to draw upon - he relied numerous times upon the good will of others to save his life from Saul's murderous rage!
Monday, September 28, 2015
Sunday, September 27, 2015
The psalmist of Psalm 88 sounds like he has led a very difficult life. From his youth, he has been close to death (vs. 15) and even now, he is counted among the dying (vs. 4). His friends consider him helpless and hopeless. Rather than seeing light, he feels darkness all around him. He even blames God for this! Yet that doesn't stop him from turning to the Lord and calling out in prayer to God both day (vs. 13) and night (vs. 1). He is asking God to deliver him and preserve his life. Even though very little has gone right for him in life, he is looking in the right place now as he cries out to God for help. Have you ever been like this psalmist and called out to the Lord for help from the depths of your spirit?
Thursday, September 24, 2015
Wednesday, September 23, 2015
In the midst of a fierce battle with the Philistines, Saul makes a rash oath. He calls out, "Cursed be anyone who eats food before it is evening and I have been avenged on my enemies" (vs. 24). Saul issued this oath probably thinking that it would inspire his men to fight hard and diligently. Yet little did he know the problems he would cause himself with that statement!
Tuesday, September 22, 2015
Samuel is widely regarded as a transitional figure. He is the last in a long line of Judges that ruled over the Hebrews from the time of the Conquest, and he is the anointer of the first King(s) of Israel as the nation sets up a new governmental system of a monarchy. I Samuel 12 is his valedictory address where he takes his leave of public life, giving the people a final speech filled with history lessons, warnings, and encouragements to follow the Lord.
Saul's kingship gets off to a great start in I Samuel 11. The Israelites had wanted a king, after all, to unite them and help organize their defenses against enemies. Saul does precisely this in compelling fashion.
Monday, September 21, 2015
At first blush, Saul appears to be a rather reluctant king. When talking with his uncle, he doesn't say anything about Samuel's anointing of him to be king (vs. 16), and when all Israel gathers for the choosing of the king by lot, Saul hides himself among the baggage (vs. 22).
Sunday, September 20, 2015
Psalm 87 may be short (only 7 verses), but it packs a powerful punch for those who love Jerusalem. We see credit given to God for Zion's founding (vs. 1), and His special affection for this city above all others (vs. 2). Of particular note in this psalm is the value ascribed to those who trace their beginning to Jerusalem. Whether a person's birth (vs. 5-6) or the spring of their song and dance (vs. 7), Zion's hill is a source of great blessings!
Thursday, September 17, 2015
I Samuel 8 opens with the very real possibility of history repeating itself. The previous generation saw Eli and his two corrupt sons lead to the downfall of Israel. Now Samuel is old and his two sons are also not the man their father is. They are taking bribes and perverting justice. Will Samuel repeat the neglectful mistakes of Eli?
Leave it to the Philistines to attack Israel during worship! (As a pastor, I personally find that to be a very low blow.) Fortunately, their military tactic failed and they ended up routed before God rather than victorious over His people - and all of it was thanks to the help of the Lord!
Wednesday, September 16, 2015
After seven months of reaping only disaster from their capture of the Ark, the Philistines are apparently ready to wash their hands of the whole thing. They hatch a plan to put the Ark on a cart, along with a guilt offering of five gold mice and five gold tumors. The cart is to be guided by two dairy cows who had never before been yoked and who are missing their calves penned up back home. The Philistines watch in amazement as the cows promptly set out to return the Ark to Israel. The Philistines realize that, rather than standing in opposition to God and bearing the heavy cost of a plague of tumors, they are farther ahead to let the Ark return to their enemies. In this chapter, the Ark makes its journey home from Philistia to the Israelite towns of Beth-shemesh and Kiriath-jearim.
I love the veiled message of I Samuel 5! Even when His people are defeated militarily, God is greater than any of the false gods of the surrounding nations. Here the Philistines are rejoicing at their great victory of the previous chapter in defeating the Israelites and capturing their "god" (i.e. the Ark of the Covenant). But what happens next shows that the Lord is well able to defend Himself and guard His name.
Tuesday, September 15, 2015
When you hear the name "Ichabod," chances are you think of a tale about a headless horseman and Sleepy Hollow. The name originally appears in the Bible, however, and is rooted in a story about one of the greatest disasters to ever befall Israel.
Monday, September 14, 2015
The unifying link between the Testaments and, indeed, within the entire Bible is the Person of Jesus Christ. What the Old Testament longingly looks forward to is realized in the advent of our Savior. I Samuel 2 is a prime example of an ordinary chapter buried in the historical books of the Bible that contains several prescient reference to the coming King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
How do we know what we know about God? Christians believe in the Bible as our source and authority regarding matters of faith. But it is important to keep in mind that the Bible is composed of many different types of literature, called genres, which all have their own strengths and limitations when it comes to teaching us about God.
Thursday, September 10, 2015
Ruth 3 escalates the relationship between Boaz and Ruth. Whereas formerly the older gentleman was charitably looking out for a young widow who was a foreigner to his country, he is now surreptitiously approached by her at night on the threshing floor with deeper intentions.
The first chapter of Ruth is bleak. It tells the story of a woman who is forced to migrate to another nation due to a famine in her home country. Over the next decade, she loses her husband to death, followed by her two sons. All she has left is her foreign daughters-in-law. It's no wonder that she changes her name from Naomi (meaning, "my joy" and "pleasant") to Mara (meaning "bitter").
Tuesday, September 8, 2015
Monday, September 7, 2015
Micah's little household god operation didn't stay little for long. As it turns out, the tribe of Dan caught wind of his personal religion and, when they felt it was worth something to them, took it for their own and made it the center of their tribal faith!
Judges 17 demonstrates the growing religious corruption taking place as the nation continues its slide away from the Law of Moses. As time passes from the Exodus and the Conquest, the Israelites forget the lessons and laws against idolatry.
Saturday, September 5, 2015
Psalm 85 is a very descriptive psalm. The psalmist is yearning for the restoration of Israel: for God's forgiveness and mercy to be poured out upon the nation. What will that look like when it happens? We receive a beautiful picture of God's love in the last four verses: "Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will kiss each other. Faithfulness will spring up from the ground, and righteousness will look down from the sky. The Lord will give what is good, and our land will yield its increase. Righteousness will go before him, and will make a path for his steps." If you, too, are yearning for God's love, may Psalm 85 encourage you with its radiant description of that reality!
Friday, September 4, 2015
Wednesday, September 2, 2015
Tuesday, September 1, 2015
As foreseen in the time of Joshua, the Israelite tribes divided by the Jordan River are susceptible to grave misunderstandings between them and sometimes fall into a civil war. Such is the case in Judges 12 when Ephraim goes to war against Gilead. This episode also became the source for a term that is used to describe the sorting out of whether one truly belongs in a group of people.
What are we to make of the strange, tragic tale of Jephthah and his daughter, who he apparently offered up as a burnt offering to the Lord?
And the cycle goes on. Israel continues to receive deliverance through judges, yet then turn their back on the Lord after they are rescued. In this chapter, God reveals that He is beginning to get a little tired of their continual faithlessness.
Monday, August 31, 2015
Sunday, August 30, 2015
Friday, August 28, 2015
Thursday, August 27, 2015
Have you ever learned anything through music? Maybe the "alphabet song" or the "nifty fifty" United States? How about "The Star-Spangled Banner" and its imagery of the Battle of Fort McHenry during the War of 1812? Songs have a unique way of impressing their lyrics upon us and embedding themselves in our memory. We may come to learn something better when it taps into our sense of hearing and rhythm.
While much of the Bible consists of the stories of men and their exploits, there are passages to be found that extol that contributions that women have made. Judges 4 is one such chapter, highlighting the surprising work of Deborah and Jael.
Wednesday, August 26, 2015
"Whenever the Lord raised up judges for them, the Lord was with the judge, and he delivered them from the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge; for the Lord would be moved to pity by their groaning because of those who persecuted and oppressed them. But whenever the judge died, they would relapse and behave worse than their ancestors, following other gods, worshiping them and bowing down to them. They would not drop any of their practices or their stubborn ways" (vs. 18-19).
Tuesday, August 25, 2015
As the torch is passed to a new generation and the settling of the Promised Land continues, Judges 1 shows us that the results are "a mixed bag." Judah, along with Simeon, appears to be the most successful in acquiring most of their territory - but it wasn't a complete victory, either. Judah could not drive out the inhabitants of the plain (vs. 19.) The other tribes fell into a wary co-existence with the people that had been living in the land, in many cases putting them to forced labor - but keeping them within their borders. Despite the repeated warnings that the non-Israelites would become a snare for them, Israel permitted them to remain. The tribe of Dan seemed to have the worst time of it. They were pushed back by the Amorites into the hill country. The stage is now set for what will follow in the Book of Judges.
Monday, August 24, 2015
Sunday, August 23, 2015
Friday, August 14, 2015
It is time for farewells and a parting of the ways. The occasion has arrived in Joshua 22 for those tribes that had settled east of the Jordan (Reuben, Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh) to return home. Canaan having been pacified and divided among the other tribes, these easterners had now fulfilled their vow to fight for Israel and were free to return to the region known as Gilead. Along the way, however, a major misunderstanding threatened to bring war between the tribes!
For the remaining six tribes, the long journey from slavery in Egypt through the Exodus, the Red Sea, Mount Sinai, 40 years in the wilderness, the crossing of the Jordan, and the conquest of Canaan comes to its completion here in Joshua 19 when they finally receive their inheritance. Simeon, Zebulun, Issachar, Asher, Naphtali and Dan (and, for good measure, Joshua, too!) all find out what territory will be theirs. It has been about 46 years in the making, but a nation is home at last.
I grew up in the country, but lived near a little neighborhood that was referred to as "the allotment." I didn't really understand the literal definition of that word. I just realized that if you lived in "the allotment," it meant you had close neighbors!
You may think that this section of Joshua does not make for the most scintillating reading. Old place names and boundary markers sound like rather dry and dusty stuff. Yet try to imagine this in a contemporary context. If someone were to come to you and ask where your property lines are, I would imagine you'd be able to tell them! Even today, boundary disputes are issues that can lead to conflict and skirmishes and wars (see Russia/Ukraine, North Korea/South Korea, China/Taiwan, the porous southern border of the United States, etc.) Boundary lines are always a relevant issue, even more so for the Ancient Near East where land is a central focus of life and God has staked the Promised Land to Israel. The people needed to know where the boundaries for their tribe lay, and they devoted a lot of time and attention to such matters (as we still do today.)
Joshua 15 deals with the land allotment given to the largest tribe, Judah. Judah receives the southernmost extension of the Promised Land. It includes the city of the Jebusites, unconquered for now (vs. 63). The city will eventually fall to David and become Jerusalem. Later on, when a civil war will divide the tribes, the tribes of Judah and Benjamin will form the southern kingdom known as Judah, later called Judea in the New Testament era.
"Twelve men went to spy out Canaan, ten were bad and two were good." Do you remember hearing that old Sunday School tune? One of the "good" spies was, of course, Joshua who is now leading the people in Moses' stead. The other spy who was "good" is a man named Caleb.
Thursday, August 13, 2015
Back in the 1990s when I was first starting out in ministry, there was a national movement among men called "Promise Keepers" which held stadium rallies and produced discipleship material. This organization encouraged men to be "promise keepers" in their homes, churches and communities. Our model in this was God, who has always been the ultimate "Promise Keeper." When we hear such famous phrases as the "Promised Land," we must remember that this wasn't like some empty campaign promise. It was actually a sacred promise made and realized. The keeping of this promise is what the large section of Joshua 13-21 tells us about.
Joshua 12 presents a recap of the territories and leaders that were overthrown by the Israelites, first under Moses and then under Joshua. This is part of their national history, just as American students might learn the names of Bunker Hill, Gettysburg or Normandy. In a war for their very survival, Israel emerged victorious and displaced the nations that had been living in the land. You might say that the "visiting team" won! And they didn't win just once - they won 31 times over and firmly established their presence in the land. Their descendants are still there today, over 30 centuries later. Certainly some would consider the nation of Israel and its staying power in the face of overwhelming odds through the millennia to be proof of God's activity in human history and his special interest in the Jews. I know I would.
Some people are troubled by the idea of the sun and moon standing still in Joshua 10. Others are even more troubled by God's command to wipe out entire cities like we find in Joshua 11, among other places. What are we to make of the Bible's apparent justification of genocide?
Monday, August 10, 2015
I know many people who complain about having a long day: the student taking her final examinations, the doctor performing a series of difficult surgeries, the pastor with a day loaded full of services, sessions, meetings and classes. None of them have anything on the longest day ever that the Israelites had back in Joshua 10!
Sunday, August 9, 2015
Saturday, August 8, 2015
Friday, August 7, 2015
Thursday, August 6, 2015
In a preliterate society, it would be challenging to find a way to preserve information for future generations. To mark the significance of the Israelites entering the Promised Land in a miraculous way, the Lord instructs Joshua to set up twelve stones from the Jordan River at Gilgal. (Gilgal literally means "circle of standing stones.") These stones are meant to bear testimony for coming ages. "When your children ask in time to come, 'What do those stones mean to you?' then you shall tell them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off in front of the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it crossed over the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. So these stones shall be to the Israelites a memorial forever" (vs. 6-7). Joshua relays this word from the Lord to the Israelites in verses 21 and 22. The stones thus became an enduring witness to God's power and faithfulness.
Wednesday, August 5, 2015
The time has come at last! Israel sets out from Shittim and makes camp on the banks of the Jordan. Now they are finally ready to receive their inheritance. With Joshua in command and the priests going on before carrying the Ark, God has yet one more miracle up his sleeve. When the priests get their feet wet in the Jordan, the river stops flowing upstream so that the nation may walk over on dry land (vs. 14-17). The people all pass by the Ark in the middle of the dried-up Jordan, giving them a sure sign that the Lord is with them.
I have always maintained that the Bible is not a book that anyone would think to sit down and write. There are too many twists and surprises which give it a stamp of authenticity. So it is with the ironic tale of Rahab, the heroine prostitute!
Tuesday, August 4, 2015
Transitions can be tricky. Whether it's the quadrennial Inauguration Day in the United States where one leader of the free world is succeeding another, or whether a company, church or team is simply receiving a new CEO, pastor or coach, people watch the smoothness of the hand-off for clues to the future success of the organization. Fortunately, everyone seemed to understand and support Joshua as he took on the incredibly challenging role of the leader of Israel, following Moses and charged to take the people into battle across the Jordan.
Monday, August 3, 2015
Moses occupies a central place in the pantheon of biblical heroes, and is indisputably one of the main characters within Judaism. His scriptural epitaph reads, "Never since has there arisen a prophet in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face. He was unequaled for all the signs and wonders that the Lord sent him to perform in the land of Egypt, against Pharaoh and all his servants and his entire land, and for all the mighty deeds and all the terrifying displays of power that Moses performed in the sight of all Israel" (vs. 10-12). Moses certainly left an impression, along with awfully big sandals for Joshua to fill.
Moses' last public words are recounted in Deuteronomy 33. Rather than angry invective about the people's conduct or dire warnings about their future, his valediction is sincere, benevolent and full of hope. In my mind's eye, I picture Moses preparing to ascend Mount Nebo on what he knows will be his final journey. As he leaves, he pauses before the elders of the tribes of Israel and offers a warm blessing upon (almost) each one.
Saturday, August 1, 2015
From Wikipedia: "The swan song is a metaphorical phrase for a final gesture, effort, or performance given just before death or retirement." The idea is that swans sing their most beautiful song in the moments leading up to their death. Moses' exhortation to Israel in Deuteronomy 32 qualifies in every respect as his swan song.
Thursday, July 30, 2015
For several chapters, Moses has been delivering some bleak news to the people. The Israelites are going to go into the future (and the Promised Land) without him, and they face a stark choice between blessings and curses. Moses has been doing his best to lay it all out for them impartially and dispassionately. But now, at the end of his matter-of-fact speech that has included prophecies of cannibalism and national exile, Moses makes his feelings and concerns quite clear: he comes down squarely and decisively on the side of life.
Wednesday, July 29, 2015
Sometimes when you read the Bible, it is striking to hear some of the specific details that made it in! We know, for instance, that someone in the Corinthian church was in a sexual relationship with his father's wife (I Corinthians 5:1). We read about the fat of Eglon who, when he was stabbed, covered over the knife (Judges 3:22). And we learn that Satan and Michael had an argument about Moses' body (Jude 9). Such details add a lot of color to the Bible and make us wonder about the specifics of what was going on back then.
Tuesday, July 28, 2015
There are many places in Deuteronomy where we notice seeming contrasts between the Covenants. The God of wrath in the Old Testament becomes the Lord of mercy in the New. Yet Deuteronomy 26 reminds us that there are also many linking fibers between the two Testaments, not least of which is God's manifest concern for those disenfranchised by society.