Day 69: Judges 1-3; The Judges Cycle

I don’t want to put anyone off by this post, but I think that the set up for the book of Judges is very important to understanding the narratives (some of them quite graphic) in the book of Judges.  There is a great deal that we can learn from these narratives, but once again I want to encourage you to remember that, in all of them, the main character, the primary mover… is God.  Stories about mighty men and heroes of old are great, but it is first and foremost important to understand that these are stories about God.

So, as we begin our journey into the book of Judges, and really the whole rest of the narratives of the Old Testament, I would like you to once again call to memory the covenant that we have been talking about.  There are different parts of the covenant… and there was a chart that looked like this:

Suzerian/Vassal Covenant Structure

 

So what we have read here in Judges 1-3 talks about how Israel did not follow the Lord.  A new generation grew up that did not know of Joshua or the Law of the Lord as Judges 2 tells us.  Remember back to Deuteronomy 6?  The Shema?

 “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.  And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.  You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.  You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.  You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”

There were very specific instructions to what?  “teach them diligently to your children…”  Clearly this got missed in the previous generation for one reason or another.  So a whole new generation of Israelites grows up not knowing the Law.  And what happens?  Exactly what God said was going to happen.  They would begin to worship other gods.  Judges 2 says,

“And the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and served the Baals.  And they abandoned theLord, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt. They went after other gods, from among the gods of the peoples who were around them, and bowed down to them. And they provoked the Lord to anger. They abandoned the Lord and served the Baals and the Ashtaroth.”

In Judges 3 we see the writer use the word “whored” or “prostituted” as a way of describing the people of Israel actions against the Lord to other gods.  We talked in the book of Numbersabout the imagery of Israel as the Bride of God and the wedding metaphor that plays in here.  The nation of Israel, that has committed itself to the Lord in a covenant relationship, forsakes that covenant and follows after other gods.  This is a direct violation of the 2nd commandment too, “You shall not make for yourself a carved image…. You shall not bow down to them or serve them…”

Interestingly, we just talked about this in my Hebrew class.  This second commandment has a very distinct implication that is used throughout the Old Testament to describe the effect that other gods would have on them.  That word “serve” is a word that we would normally use as a way of saying that we subject ourselves to something.  However, the form in the Hebrew text is a causative passive tense.  In other words, the command would read something akin to: “You shall not bow down to them or be made to serve them…”  The implication here is that the people wouldn’t just go after these gods, but that they would be acted on from outside forces… One could even say they would be enticed or seduced by these other gods.  Of course they still have to own the decision, but the warning is clear: Do not have idols because they will draw you away from God.  And this is exactly what see too isn’t it?  The Golden Calf was one example, the sin of Achan is one example, and now we’re into Judges, a book full of examples.  Just wait until we get into the kings…

Finally, I just want to take a moment to talk about the “cycle” of Judges.  Here is a graph from one of my Old Testament classes at Kuyper College with Dr. Kroeze that sums it up pretty nicely:

judges cycle

We’ll see this cycle played out over and over again in the coming days with a variety of judges, some familiar and some not.  What is important to note, as I said in the beginning, is to pay attention to what God is doing here.  Remember the covenant, at the end, where it talks about what will happen if the people disobey?  Yes… this is what is coming through in this.  The people of Israel are in a continual cycle of following God, not following God, receiving the punishment that was told in the covenant, repenting, and starting all over again.  Why does this matter?  It tells us something about God…

In all of this, God remains faithful to both ends of the covenant, upholding the whole thing despite Israel’s repeated failures.  God never leave them in their sin and disobedience, but rather empowers someone to come forward and deliver His people from their enemies.  This is true in our lives as well.  While I don’t necessarily think that God directly punishes us every time we disobey Him, this cycle does some somewhat familiar doesn’t it?

And yet even here the focus is not necessarily on sin… but how God rescues His people time after time from their sin.  Which is true, or should be true, in our lives as well… we turn our focus from the sin the we commit to the savior that washed it all away!

 



Day 68: Joshua 22-24; Choose Whom You Will Serve

“Now therefore fear the Lord and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord.  And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

These are some of the famous last words of Joshua.  Like Moses, as he is preparing to die, he calls the people of Israel together and they rehash the covenant again.  The people of Israel are reminded of all the great deeds of the Lord, of who they are and whose they are.  They are reminded that they came from one man who was called out of a distant land.  They are reminded that all that they are and all that they have become is not because of them, but because of God… only because of God.

This particular passage rings with the overtones of election, of predestination, and echos of the adoption.  It is, as you have probably guessed already, a foreshadowing… the whole covenant is a foreshadowing because it is fulfilled in Christ.  Joshua says in effect, “you are God’s people because God chose you, guided you, protected you, sustained you, walked with you, fought for you, and now has given you peace.  You have scene the work of the Lord, and you have seen the other gods around you.  So choose this day whom you will serve.”

Joshua also reiterates the notion of the blessings and curses of following or not following the covenant.  The people say “we will follow God.”  Joshua replies that your profession here is a witness against yourselves.  I wonder if this isn’t part of why we have the practice of profession of faith.  Does that too serve as a public witness against us, that we have publicly chosen to follow God?  I don’t necessarily know that there is a correlation there, but it seems pretty strong.

As we ended yesterday, so we will end again today.  God has been faithful.  The first 6 books of the Old Testament are, at the very least, a testament to the nature of the character of God and His abundant faithfulness and providence.  All of what has happened to the people of Israel since the very beginning has been ordained and directed by God Himself.  Whether it be sustenance during a time of famine, protection in the wilderness, the powers against the Egyptian gods, the giving of the Law, or the conquest of a people much larger and stronger than them in Canaan, all of this has happened because of God.  If there is a life lesson here, it is that nothing happens apart from the knowledge and sustaining power of the Father.  He has ordained our days from beginning to end and He will watch over us and work His will in our lives each and every day.  We have seen it and continue to see it.  So the question for us is the same:

WHOM WILL YOU SERVE?



Day 67: Joshua 19-21; Conquest of Canaan: The Inheritance (Part 2)

“Thus the Lord gave to Israel all the land that he swore to give to their fathers. And they took possession of it, and they settled there.  And the Lord gave them rest on every side just as he had sworn to their fathers. Not one of all their enemies had withstood them, for the Lord had given all their enemies into their hands.  Not one word of all the good promises that the Lord had made to the house of Israel had failed; all came to pass.”

And so it is done.  The inheritance of the land has been divided up and the people have gone to take possession of it.  Each tribe has received their lot, their cities, and their promise.  I don’t know if you caught it, but even in this there was some trouble with the natives when the tribe of Dan went to take their possession.  However, even then, God was faithful and the usurpers were wiped out and the land possessed.

We read in here too, according to the law that we had read in Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, that the people set up “cities of refuge” for people to flee to.  These were safe-havens for Hebrews and Gentiles alike, in which people that were accused of something could flee to as a way of protecting themselves.  They could stay there until the due process of law had taken its course at which time the person would either be found guilty or innocent.  If they were innocent, they could stay in the city.  If they were guilty… well… not so much.  They would be stoned in the valley outside of the city that was usually reserved for trash, waist of all sorts, and other assorted things of an unclean nature.

Also, according to the Law, the Levites who did not receive an inheritance (because God is their inheritance) were given towns to dwell in.  Remember with me that the Levites were chosen for service at the Tabernacle, service to the priests and to the worship of God.  This is a direct result of their response to Moses during the Golden Calf incident when we are told, they were the only ones that stood up for the Lord.  They, therefore, were not given land, but cities in which they could dwell and pastures in which they could graze their flocks.

This returns us again to the verse we began with.  This is not necessarily a passage of Scripture that we read and see God very clearly acting.  Yet, in the Bible, God is the primary actor, the primary character… always at work in the world, which is why this last verse is so important:

“Thus the Lord gave to Israel all the land that he swore to give to their fathers. And they took possession of it, and they settled there.  And the Lord gave them rest on every side just as he had sworn to their fathers. Not one of all their enemies had withstood them, for the Lord had given all their enemies into their hands.  Not one word of all the good promises that the Lord had made to the house of Israel had failed; all came to pass.”

It was not the people of Israel who made their own peace, it was the Lord that gave the land to them, it was the Lord that gave them what He promised, it was the Lord that gave them rest on every side and peace in their time.  It was the Lord that had given all their enemies into their hands… and it was the Lord that completely fulfilled all of His promises to the people of Israel.  It all begins, happens, and ends with God.



Day 66: Joshua 15-18; Conquest of Canaan: The Inheritance (Part 1)

Today’s reading is not necessarily a thrilling one, I know… lots of names of cities and demarcation of boarders.  Here, for the third day in a row, is a map from Visual Unit that might give you some idea as to what the allotment of the land looked like.

Plan for the Promised Land

 

This map shows some of the cities that are used in the descriptions we read in these chapters.

There are, however, multiple parts of this reading that talk about how “the Israelites did not drive them out” and “they lived among them as forced labor.”  I want to point these sections out to you today and tomorrow because these people that Israel allows to dwell among them against the expressed command of God, are the people that continue to cause trouble for them throughout the whole of Israel’s future.  From the Philistines to the Canaanites that are left among them, we will meet these people again and again in the time of the judges and in the time of the Kings as well.  Here are some notable groups still living among them:

15:63 – “the Jebusites, the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the people of Judah could not drive out, so the Jebusites dwell with the people of Judah at Jerusalem to this day.”  These will not be vanquished until the time of King David.

16:10 – “ However, they did not drive out the Canaanites who lived in Gezer, so the Canaanites have lived in the midst of Ephraim to this day but have been made to do forced labor.”  These would also remain here until the time of King David.  We also see at the end of chapter 17 that the people of Ephriam and Manasseh do not go down and take care of these peoples because they are afraid of them.  It is hard to believe that, after all they have accomplished, they are afraid of a anyone at all.

While I would hesitate to condense this down into some pithy moral teaching, I think it is important to note here that the people of God did a great deal of work and followed the Lord in this whole time of conquest.  However, they didn’t finish the job.  In fact, Scripture tells us that the people of God were content to live in the hill country, which was much more like living in the wilderness, rather than going down and taking the land that God had given to them.  How sad it is that, really, the total conquest of Canaan is more than 100 years off yet.  God is faithful to His people though, even though this oversight will cost them repeatedly for many years to come.  Oh what things they could have avoided if they had just finished the task.  I wonder what this says to us though?  I think to myself right now, what things has God called me to in my life that I have only done a halfway job of?  I wonder what life would be like if I pursued them until they were finished?



Day 65: Joshua 11-14; Conquest of Canaan: The Northern Campaign

So continues the saga of the conquest of Canaan.  After defeating the southern kings, Joshua returns to Gilgal and then starts off on the northern front.  This map, from Bible Mapper shows pretty well the conquest of the northern Canaan.

ConquestOfCanaanNorthernCampaign_1_thumb

Joshua and the people of Israel, with the Lord fighting for them, are able to defeat the united armies of the North.  All the kings that joined together against the people of Israel are vanquished in one battle.  Joshua takes their cities and destroys them, and they pass into the list we read of the conquests of Moses and Joshua.  This map from glenacres.org show briefly the whole of the conquest of the Promised Land.

Conquest of Canaan

There is a troubling part in today’s reading that I am not entirely sure about.  God comes to Joshua and says that there is still land to be conquered.  Then God goes on to say that He will drive them out.  The next thing we hear is that the land is being divided up.  God’s statement is somewhat ambiguous in that He speaks like He has been speaking when the people of Israel were conquering Canaan, and they the people don’t follow and, what we’ll find out fairly soon, the rest of the Canaanites don’t get removed from the land and continue to live among the people of Israel.  This is something that was expressly forbidden.  God knew that if there were people left, they would draw the people of Israel away from Him… it confuses me as to why they are left and allowed to stay.

However, this is what happens and will be the subject of many narratives to come from Judges through the time of the Kings and beyond.  In the mean time, the land receives rest from war and the people of God receive their inheritance.  God has once again shown Himself to be faithful and true to His word, even if the fulfillment of the promise take over 400 years.  God has grown the people of Israel from 1 man and his wife to a nation easily numbering over a million men, women, and children, and given them a bountiful, plentiful land in which to dwell as His people.



Day 64: Joshua 8-10; Conquest of Canaan: The Southern Campaign

I think that, on occasion, it is helpful to use maps to help gain a perspective on what is going on in this story.  The first map, from Believer’s Magazine shows how Canaan looked prior to the Conquest by Joshua and Israel:

Canaan at the time of Conquest

Though this doesn’t give a us a really good idea of where Israel starts off, it does show fairly accurately where scholars believe the different people groups lived.

We enter back  into the story post-AI defeat.  After a time it seems, God comes to Joshua and gives him a little kick to get going.  The people of Israel have punished the offender and have stayed the wrath of God against them.  And God says “alright, time to go to work.  I’m fighting for you.”  So Joshua devises a plan and goes after AI, which is “devoted to destruction” like Jericho.  Some of the imagery used in these stories is graphic, people being hung on a tree and so on… this makes it difficult to read.  I wonder though if this imagery seems familiar to you?

Way back in Genesis 15, God is promising Abraham the land of Canaan, but is not going to deliver on this promise until now?  This is because, as God says, “for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.”  Here, now, we see the punishment they are receiving for their sins.  God is using the nation of Israel as an instrument of His justice toward the people of Canaan because of their sin and idolatry.  (This is foreshadowing as it will happen to Israel later on).  That being, as we learned in Deuteronomy 21, any man that is hanged on a tree is cursed.  Do you remember anyone else in the Bible that was “hung on a tree?”  Indeed these kings were punished for their sinfulness and cursed in their death.  Jesus Christ was guiltless and yet still died a sinner’s death, taking on that curse for us.

Another thing that is notable here today is the deception of the Gibeonites.  Scripture tells us that neither Israel nor Joshua sought the Lord in this time of questioning and, as such, the people enter into a covenant with a people they were meant to destroy.  This stand in direct violation with the task to which God has appointed them.  And, oddly enough, God remains decided silent on this whole subject.  What that means, I’m not entirely sure…

Finally, we precede to the Southern Campaign of the Conquest of Canaan.  It seems to go off without a hitch.  The people are in right standing with God and it is clear by how God blesses them in their efforts, even stopping the sun at some point for them, an act which defies the very laws of nature, yet does not defy the power of God.  The following is a map of the Southern Campaign from a website called Bible Mapper.  After defeating all of the kings of these cities, Joshua goes and takes them, sacks them, and utterly destroys them, according to the will and command of God.

Conquest of Canaan: Southern Campaign



Day 63: Joshua 5-7; Obedience and Disobedience

It’s nice to be into an area of the Bible with familiar stories again.  The battles of Jericho and AI are probably the most familiar in the conquest of Canaan.  Our reading today is a narrative that directly comes from four(ish) particular passages that we have already read this year regarding the life of Israel and their living at God commanded them.

1.  Circumcision/Passover:  Joshua 5 happens right after the Israelites have crossed the Jordan River.  Scripture tells us that the hearts of the people in the land melted because God had dried up the river.  Like the Egyptians, the people of Canaan worshiped many gods, one of which probably had something to do with water.  God’s showing of power here would have been a sign that the God of Israel was stronger than this god.  When they have crossed the river, the chapter says that they all perform the act of circumcision.  Scripture explains that none of the children were circumcised as they were wandering in the wilderness, but if we remember back to Abraham in Genesis 17, we will know that the sign of the covenant relationship between Israel and God is circumcision.  As the people have now been, in a way, baptized, they once again recommit themselves to the Lord performing a sign that they belong to God.  Scripture also tells us that rather than going up immediately and taking Jericho, they spend time (7 days) encamped across the Jordan celebrating the Passover.  If you remember back to Exodus 12, God commands the people of Israel always to remember the Passover on the 14th day of the 1st month.  Joshua 4 says that Israel crossed over on the 10th day of the first month, after which they were immediately circumcised, healed for 3 days, and the celebrated the Passover.  That’s a whole lot of remembering and being re-membered, or once again claiming their identity as God’s people in one week.

2. Obedience (Jericho):  The Battle of Jericho, apart from being a miraculous victory that is attributable to none other that God, is a narrative about the blessings and victory that are found when the people of Israel obey God.  You see in this story that there is no disobedience, the people do as they are told, and everything goes right.  If we remember back to Leviticus 26 or Deuteronomy 28 we see that there are specific blessings that the Lord lays out for the people of Israel when they obey him.  The Battle of Jericho is a narrative that remembers all the good that comes from obedience as well as the faithfulness and power of God.

3. Disobedience (AI):  The Battle of AI is, in stark contrast to Jericho, a narrative about what happens when the people are disobedient.  Remembering once again Leviticus 26 or Deuteronomy 28 there are also lists of specific curses that will come with disobedience.  Where the people found victory in the Lord at Jericho, they met with the defeat of themselves at AI.  Sad as it may be, the sin of one person reflects on the whole community, which may not seem fair to us, but is none-the-less true in this situation.  The anger of the Lord “burns against the people of Israel” because of Achan. and until he is punished for his sin there will be no blessing for obedience.  Again, this is one more way that God is teach the people of Israel about the need for obedience, and showing them what it truly means to have their identity in Him as His people.  They are to be holy ans He is Holy, which cannot be accomplished or realized if even one has sinned and disobeyed the command of God.



Day 62: Joshua 1-4; Crossing the Jordan

I can’t believe that it’s already been two months since we began this journey!  We’ve made it through the first 5 books of the Bible, commonly known as the “Torah” or the “Pentateuch.”  These books are classified as the books of the Law.  We are passing now into the realm of the books of history, from Joshua through Ester.  You will probably note fairly quickly that these books are marked by a rather different writing structure: Narrative… mostly.  A rather large portion of the coming books are the retelling of Israel’s history from the time after Moses through to times of the Exile.  They are not all in Chronological order, and later when we get into the prophets, we’ll jump around as far as the timeline is concerned.  We’ll do our best to make sense of all that while also allowing the Scripture to work on us and speak to us through the Holy Spirit.  Every one of these narratives is not simply a story, but tells us about God, as He is the main character in the Bible.  Be sure to pay attention to how God acts, even if it is not expressly stated.  As you read narrative, look for God… continually ask yourself, “where is God in this reading?”  The picture below is Christoph Unterberger’s depiction of the Crossing of the Jordan.  I found it on The State hermitage Museum website.  Notice where God is in this painting.  I think it is a powerful image of the power of God at work in this story.

Notice where God is in this painting.

Notice where God is in this painting.

So now we have entered into the book of Joshua.  Moses has just died and the there’s a new sheriff in town.  God waists no time in telling Joshua what to do next.  Once again He promises to be with Joshua and the people of Israel, to go before them and deliver the land and the people of Canaan into their hands.  This is quite evident in how God immediately provides for the people of Israel in two very specific ways.

First, the ordeal with the two spies and Rahab.  This is likely a familiar story to most people, especially if you ever heard the story of the Battle of Jericho before.  Yet I think that there are a few lesser known parts of this story that perhaps need to be brought to light.  Do you find it interesting that the only action taken by the spies that is recorded for us is that they go right to the house of a prostitute?  Men from the people of God, the holy ones set apart to be a “kingdom of priests” go right to a prostitute.  Well, giving them the benefit of the doubt, in many pagan cultures of that time, these prostitutes worked as a sort of ‘welcoming party’ to visitors.  They also often ran ‘inns,’ or more appropriately, had places for travelers to sleep.  It is very interesting to me though to look at how God chose to use this prostitute, working through her to protect the spies.  I doubt that anyone from Israel would be overly thrilled to enter into the promised land if their two spies were killed right off the bat.  God uses this woman, and later on, because of her obedience to Him, incorporates her into the people of God and, get this… into the lineage of King David and thus Jesus Christ as well!  What a wonder that God would use such a lowly, sinful person we might say… but then again God always upholds the least, last, and lost in the world.  So, for anyone who is keeping track, the lineage of David, and Jesus now includes Tamar, the tricky daughter-in-law of Judah turned prostitute of Genesis 38, and now Rahab the Prostitute as well.  God clearly can use anyone which shows us that we shouldn’t be looking down on anyone for any reason.  For more information on this, you can see Matthew 1 for Jesus’ genealogy.

The other thing about this particular reading that might seem vaguely familiar is the narrative of Israel crossing into the land of Canaan.  Like their escape from Egypt, crossing the Red Sea, God once again has stopped up the waters of a route that couldn’t be crossed so that His people can cross on dry ground.  If you remember reading the crossing of the Red Sea post, the crossing of a body of water is very symbolic and carries a great deal of meaning and foreshadowing in it.  We liken this event to Baptism, the going down into the water and rising up as a new individual, washed of the old self and rejuvenated, with a new identity.  From Slaves to Free, from Wanderers to a Nation.  And this time they do something a bit different.  Remember that, when Israel passed through the Red Sea, they were told to remember this event and they were reminded of it time and again in the last 40 years.  Here they set up 12 standing stones, a memorial reminder for all who see it.  As chapter 4 says,

“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 before the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it passed over the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off.”

Do you remember your Baptism?  If you were baptized as an infant it is likely that you don’t.  But I’d be willing to bet that you’ve seen others baptized since then.  At Overisel, we practice infant baptism.  It is a sign and seal of the covenant relationship between God and His people.  It is a sign that we are included into this covenant through no merit of our own, even before we know anything about it.  People say that it is a shame that we don’t remember our own Baptism.  While I would agree that it would be nice to remember the event of my baptism, I also would say that we have the opportunity to remember our own baptism every time we worship.  We keep the Baptismal font in a visible place every Sunday to remind us of our Baptism.  We publicly Baptize new babies and new believers, not just because its a nice ceremony, but so that we can remember our own Baptism.  These are our standing stones, our physical way of remembering that we have gone through the waters and are included in the Covenant, made new in Jesus Christ.  And it is to this that we can attest when our children ask ‘what does baptism mean?’

For more on the meaning of Baptism and the RCA’s stance on this sacrament, please visit the RCA webpage: what is baptism?  I’d love to interact around this topic too if anyone has any questions!



Day 61: Deuteronomy 32-34; It is No Empty Word for You…

When we read the song of Chapter 32, we are tempted to think of all the things that we know about Israel, all the things that they will do and all the disobedience that is to come in their story.  Upon their hearing this though, none of that (except for the wilderness happenings) would have taken place yet.  They didn’t know how bad they were going to be, but God was giving them this song to remember as a way so saying “I know you have sinned, I know you have done evil, but I am faithful and will forgive if you will turn from your wickedness and love me once again.”  Like much of the music that we sing in worship today, this song gains meaning based on the amount of sin they had committed.  Some days I can sing songs like “Amazing Grace” and have little reaction to it… but there are others, when I know I have had a bad week that I cannot help be stand in awe at God’s marvelous grace.  I imagine many in Israel would have had a similar reaction in hearing this song.

Some of my favorite words in the entirety of the Old Testament appear at the end of the book of Deuteronomy.  As we talked about yesterday, it is abundantly clear that these words are inextricably linked to the reading of the Law, and specifically the Shema of Deuteronomy 6.  The end of Deuteronomy makes so little sense without the beginning.  Moses is, in his final words to Israel, impressing on them how important these words are.  They are not just empty, they are the very lifeblood of the Children of God.  These are the words that find fulfillment in this command:

“And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.  You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.  You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.  You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”  Deuteronomy 6:6-9

Neither are these words empty for us.  The word of God is our very life, that which roots us to God and teaches us how to love Him.  The people of Israel couldn’t take these words lightly, neither can we take these words lightly.  They are the lifeblood of our faith:

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.”

Finally, we see again an example of the significance of blessings.  Moses has called Joshua forward and laid his hands on him.  Moses gave Joshua a blessing and we read at the end of Deuteronomy that Joshua is filled with “the spirit of wisdom” and also has the ability to lead the people.  This is, in essence, what it meant to receive a blessing to the Hebrew people; power transferred from one to another.  I wonder what it would be like if we began to bless one another, or viewed the final blessing of a worship service in this manner?  I wonder what would happen if we truly believed that we were being sent out in the power of God given to us in the Holy Spirit to live and to love as God has called us to?  Would we be changed?  I hope so!

The Lord bless you and keep you;
The Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;
The Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.  Amen!



Day 60: Deuteronomy 30-31; A Matter of Life and Death

“For this commandment that I command you today is not too hard for you, neither is it far off.  It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will ascend to heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’  Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’  But the word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it.”

There is so much that is said in these last 5 chapters of Deuteronomy.  This really is Moses farewell address; his last effort to impress upon the people of Israel the importance of the Law and of following God.  Reading this, it doesn’t take long to realize either that this section of Scripture, Deuteronomy 30-34, is inextricably linked to the reading of the Law, and specifically the Shema of Deuteronomy 6.  It is about loving the Lord with all of your heart, soul, mind, and strength!  God is impressing upon the people what will happen to them if they don’t, but also reassuring them that when they return to Him, His blessing will again be with them.

Again, the distinction is made between the life that comes from following the Lord and the death that comes from not.  These words, spoken some 3000 years ago have held their meaning throughout the ages.  I think of my own life, when I am following God, loving Him as best I can, and trying to stay in tune with Him in my life, I see myself being happier, joyful, and prospering (not necessarily in a monetary sense but within my soul).  When I become disconnected from God, life seems empty and messed up.  Other things try to fill the void that is left to no avail.

God also impresses one more thing on to this command, the point that these things are not too lofty or difficult to do.  He points out that they are not difficult to understand, with some hidden knowledge that people might not be able to comprehend.  It is made clear too that the things being asked of them are not too difficult that some might be unable to accomplish them.  The life that God calls us to live is made abundantly available to us in a manner that is easy and understandable, attainable for all people.  And yet, even this is not enough to get us to God or to get us in right standing with God.  The physical actions must be accompanied by inward transformation (circumcision of the heart).

These people have just come from the wilderness, a place that is often barren and desolate.  The wilderness is a powerful image in Hebrew Scripture.  “Wilderness signals the reversal of creation, a land that moves from the centered, ordered, predictable, secure places of home and city to the de-centered, chaotic, unpredictable, fragile, and sometimes hostile regions beyond the borders of cities and outside the purview of home.  Wilderness features a transition from that which is familiar to that which is unfamiliar, from safety to fragility, from known to unknown, from structured to unstructured, from close cloistered spaces to wide open spaces. The wilderness strips you of everything superfluous and reduces you to that which is most essential, most necessary, most vital for life. In this way the wilderness plays an indispensable role in shaping and forming identity.”  -Travis West

God intentionally led the people of Israel into the wilderness and kept them there for a time, intentionally stripping them of their identity of being slaves to Egypt.  In that time they were re-identified as the people of God, given new purpose through the Laws set down for them.  It is only after this process is “complete” that they were allowed to enter into the promise land… allowed to become what they were intended to be.

In many ways we too face the wilderness in our lives.  In the year of this writing, we are currently in the time of Lent.  This is a time in which we are invited to enter into the wilderness of life, as Israel and Jesus did, to be stripped bare of all those things we don’t need.  We are to be un-identified with all the things that we would use to find our identity in, and then re-identified and re-centered on Christ.  In a way, we choose to be “dis-membered” so that as we approach the time of Easter and remember the Lord’s Supper on Maundy Thursday, we can come and be “re-membered” in Christ as we remember Christ’s death.  And even in this time we hear the words of God through Moses echo in our ears, “See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil.”

May it be that we choose Life!



Day 59: Deuteronomy 28-29; Covenant Renewal

The first thing that we come upon today is a section of blessings and curses for following and ignoring the law respectively.  Deuteronomy 28 is very similar to the Leviticus 26, we we talked about roughly 3 weeks ago.

Chapter 29 of Deuteronomy begins the final section of the book, or ends the middle section, depending on how you look at it I suppose.  In any case, it is an occasion when the people of Israel got together and renewed the covenant.  This happens many times in the Bible, either after some big event, or in a time when it hasn’t been done in a while and the people have fallen away.  Here, as they prepare to enter into the promised land to take it over, they are coming out of 40 years of wandering in the wilderness.  For them it is a time to come together and say, “we’re in!”  and proclaim together that they will follow the Lord’s commands.  They’ve heard the stipulations and the rewards/punishment for their subsequent attempt to follow the covenant, they know what they are getting themselves into… all there is to do is to say YES!!

A favorite author of mine once said that “all Christian worship is an occasion for covenant renewal.”  It is a time when we can come together and hear God’s word for us; a time when we can collectively say once again, “We’re in!”  The Israelites would have had a sign to signify their obedience.  Usually this would have been a sacrifice, or sometimes a ceremonial meal… we have this too in the Lord’s supper.  It is a sign and a seal of the New Covenant in Jesus blood, and we take it into ourselves and it becomes a part of us.  As St. Augustine said, “be what you see, receive what you are.”

When we gather to worship, do we often think in this manner?  Do we come expecting that God will speak to us?  Do we hear and respond “everything the Lord has said, we will do”?  Or is worship simply a task to be accomplished, a thing to do because we’ve always done it?

The next time you enter into worship, remember that we are renewing once again our covenant relationship with the Lord, sealed in our baptism and confirmed time and again at the Table of Our Lord.



Day 58: Deuteronomy 24-27; Keep the Whole Commandment! "Amen!"

Again we encounter a great deal of “miscellaneous laws” that deal with holy living for Israel.  However, these are followed by a very important section of the reading of these laws as they draw to a close.  Moses says to the people from Mount Ebal, “Keep the whole commandment I am giving you today.”  The Hebrew word present here represents the deepest meaning of totality.  Moses is impressing on the people of Israel the necessity of the whole commandment being kept.  He isn’t saying that they can pick and choose, or accept what they like and reject what doesn’t suit them.  I think this is a very important point that is sometimes lost on us as Christians in America, the “western church.”  We tend to avoid a lot of the Scripture that we don’t necessarily like.  These last 2 or 3 books of the Bible is an example of that.  We set them aside, struggle through them, and even sometimes deny their validity all together because we don’t want to read them, or don’t like to hear them.  Yet they are there for a reason, and as the Word of God, they are alive and active in our hearts through the revelation and work of the Holy Spirit.  I hope that you have found these books a little more palatable this time around.  Honestly, as we come to the end of Deuteronomy, I can say that this is one of two times I have honestly read the whole of these books.  I have been struck very deeply by the incredible depth and breadth of information and meaning that are contained here, and how these things really set the stage for the rest of God’s story.

The other interesting thing that I found in this passage was the continual repetition of the word “Amen.”  This word comes from the Hebrew word “אָמֵֽן” which is literally pronounced “amen.”  The meaning is deep and the impact of the word is equally as deep.  When we say “Amen” at the end of a prayer, sermon, or reading of the Word of God, we aren’t simply sticking a Christian word there as a way of some sort of Christian punctuation, we are echoing the words of the Hebrew people saying “we believe it!” or “we believe it will take place.”  It also means: verily, truly, so be it.  It is a testament, a confession that we are not simply just saying these things, but that they matter and we know that God will act.  At the end of our worship services, Pastor Scott gives a benediction or blessing.  Usually he says, “May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you… Amen.”  Traditionally, the congregation would either say “amen” with him, or respond by saying “amen.”  It is a way for us to say, “Yes!  We truly believe that the grace of Jesus Christ is with us!”    The same goes for us ending a prayer with the word “amen.”  Conversely, as the people are saying the word “amen” here in this passage, they are acknowledging that if they do the things that they are told not to do, the curse of God will be on them.  For them, they are saying “truly God will make this happen.” A startling acknowledgement?  Perhaps for us.  But from a people so shaped by the presence of God in their everyday life, it seems to be the only logical response.

The next time you say “amen,” keep in mind the confession you are making by using this abundantly common Christian word.

May the Word of God dwell in you richly, and may the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Love of God, and the fellowship and power of the Holy Spirit be with you, now and always.  Amen!  Amen!



Day 57: Deuteronomy 20-23; Warfare, and "Miscellaneous" Laws

I don’t seem to remember the rules of engagement being quite like this… but there is a purpose for them.  God knows that His people are subject to the swaying of those around them.  Like the incident with the Golden Calf in Exodus that happened in isolation from other nations, it wouldn’t take long for the people of Israel to turn from God while living in amongst people that worship other gods.  Not only is the worship of idols abominable to God, but He want to protect His chosen people from the sin He knows they will commit should they not fully remove the nations of Canaan.  One thing I did notice here is the initial offer of peace to a city prior to its attack.  While I don’t know if one would rather choose forced servitude over annihilation, I do think that it shows the compassion of God.  Why?  Because, if you have read some of the laws concerning the slaves that Hebrews own, it points very clearly to good treatment and even alludes to their inclusion in the covenant relationship with God.  All males slaves were to be circumcised, which was a sign of the covenant, and they were to be set free at certain times and festivals.

The rest of today’s reading was, again, review of what has already been said.  Remember, Deuteronomy is considered to be a summary book of the Law given by Moses as a sort of “final address” to the people of Israel that He had been leading for over forty years.  Much of what is said here today has been written in what I called the “Holiness Codes” of Leviticus or Exodus, but again points to how God’s people are to be set apart, different from the nations around them.  It is likely that many other nations would have shown such mercy in war, or treated an un-liked wife with any sort of respect.  It is also likely that many of the practices of the nations around them were unclean and sinful in the eyes of the Lord.  God wants His people to be a shining example of what it means to be God’s people.  Again, we use the term “Kingdom of Priests” and “A Holy Nation.”  Interestingly, if we were to go back throughout the whole of the Old Testament that we have read so far and reviewed all of the laws therein, we would find that indeed there is a specific way of living that is commanded by God.  However, that wouldn’t stand up to a hill of beans if there wasn’t some sort of inward transformation that was taking place as well.  Again, we return to the words of the Shema and that of Leviticus 19, on which all the law stands.  It isn’t about upholding the rules and saying that others can’t be like them, its about cultivating a community of grace in which the Love of God is shown in their living and thus extends from each person to the others.

Too often, in the Church, we have kept outsiders out of our walls and communities because they don’t live up to our morals or the codes by which we have defined Christianity…  I wonder though, if that doesn’t make us a little bit more like the Pharisees and religious leaders of Jesus time (the ones that He criticized) and less like the community of grace that God has called us to be.  I wonder if, in our quest to uphold a moral way of living we may have forgotten the true reason for living that way… to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength AND to love your neighbor as yourself.



Day 56: Deuteronomy 16-19; Feasts, Kings, and the Future…

There are some interesting parts of our reading today.  We start off with some more information about the feasts that are to be remembered and the rules that go along with them.  I’m sure a lot of this was familiar, at least on some level, as we have read it in the past couple weeks in Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers.  God continues to impress upon His people the importance of living in right relationship with Him and keeping all of the commandments that He has established.  Each of these feasts is designed to direct the attention of the people of Israel toward God.  The Passover reminds them of God’s power, strength, and faithfulness in bringing the people out of Egypt.  The Feast of Weeks reminds them of God’s providence, sustaining work, and faithfulness in the harvest.  The Feast of Booths also reminds them of God’s providence and faithfulness, but also reminds them of how God guided them in the wilderness and kept them even in their disobedience.  This, again, is all about worship and about loving the Lord with your whole self.  Each of these events are major life events in the cycle of the year.  God has set up these times so that the people of Israel may remember always God’s faithfulness towards them.  It is, then, appropriate that this chapter ends by again impressing on the people that they not worship other Gods, ever.

The second thing I noticed in today’s reading was the part about the king.  As you may have noticed, Israel doesn’t have a king currently, and won’t for some time.  In fact, when the people of Israel finally decide that they want a king, there is considerable resistance from Samuel who points to God as their king.  It is important to remember this section, the laws that are for the kings; things like “he must not acquire many horses for himself or cause the people to return to Egypt in order to acquire many horses” and “he shall not acquire many wives for himself, lest his heart turn away, nor shall he acquire for himself excessive silver and gold” will become important later… especially with King Solomon.

Finally, and once again I suppose, there is considerable talk here about the future of Israel.  From kings to future cities, it is important to note that here and now the Lord is telling them all the things that they need to do to obey Him in this new promised land.  In some ways, it was probably easier to follow the Lord when He was right in front of them all the time, leading the way and dwelling in the Tabernacle for all to see.  However, that won’t necessarily be the case once they settle across the vastness of Canaan.  So here and now the Lord is “pre-planning” this out for them, even going so far as to tell them what can and will happen if they don’t follow all these things that He says.  Again, this is a good thing to remember… because they don’t…  However, God is and always will be faithful to His word!



Day 55: Deuteronomy 12-15; Concerning worship…

Well… I’ve never seen an Asherim pole, nor have I seen a high place like is being described today.  Nor has anyone ever claimed to be a prophet to me and told me about something amazing and then tried to get me to follow other gods.  Again, I wonder how relevant to us Scripture like this is.  We’ve talked at great lengths about the Holiness of God and how His people were to be set apart and be a kingdom of priests.  These things are quite important as they continue to set the stage for the rest of Scripture.  Many of these themes are echoed throughout the Bible, both Old and New Testaments.

We’ve also talked about the Sabbath regulations and the need to set aside time for the Lord.  There are many parts of the Law that have to do with setting aside something for the Lord.  Why do we do this?  I think that part of it has to do with the understanding that all things belong to God.  The Lord has given us all of the many blessings that we have, and asks us to be in right mind about them and to trust that the Lord will continue to provide for us.  I think it is also a part of living out the Shema that we talked about on Friday.  Jesus says that all of the laws and prophets hang on this command to Love the Lord with all your heart, soul, and strength.  As we discussed, the strength portion of that statement has to do with wealth as well.

But perhaps there is more to this section than just review.  There is a great deal of talk about worship here, especially not worshiping other gods.  Again, I don’t think that we are necessarily tearing down Asherim poles in our spare time, but there are things in our lives that do detract us from God, right?  Maybe it isn’t a profit that tells us some miraculous thing that happen but a news man that tells us of something some celebrity or political person does.  Would a story like that consume our minds… and possibly draw us into gossip about it?  Perhaps we are being warned here to stay away from such trivialities… Or maybe we have gotten really good at carving out time for that special TV show, book, exercise activity, or maybe video games, yet we aren’t so good at carving out time for God… I wonder if our idols are not made of wood and stone anymore, but of processors, screens, “reality” shows, and/or made up dramas that capture our attention and our hijack hearts…