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.