Symbol of God’s Authority

“And so it was, when Moses held up his hand, that Israel prevailed; and when he let down his hand, Amalek prevailed”

Exodus 17:11

Over the years the application that I have predominantly heard concerning this passage is that this is a lesson in prayer. That if we are to defeat the enemy we need constant prayer and that it is a team effort. I doubt any true believer would argue against the necessity of prayer, both personal and corporate, but I have often wondered if that is the main theme of the passage. It has been assumed from Moses’ posture that prayer is the theme but raised hands can also be an expression of praise and worship.

This is the first mention of Joshua by name in the Bible (v 9) and he has been appointed to lead slaves, militarily untrained, against a people prepared for war. Perhaps there is something important that the Lord wants Joshua to learn. Moses told Joshua that he would stand on the top of a hill and hold up the rod of God. Ever since the burning bush Moses’ rod has been the symbol of God’s authority, power and presence. Moses, with help from Aaron and Hur would hold up this rod. This is to be a lesson to Joshua. Follow-up lessons are recorded from Joshua 5:13. He would lead the military arm of Israel for the next forty years and, later, the whole nation.

The Lord commanded Moses to make a written record of this event and “recount it in the hearing of Joshua” (v 14). In the heat of the battle Joshua may not have noticed what was happening on the hill so the Lord makes sure he found out. Joshua would have a written record that he may read over and again.

Rather than a lesson only on prayer, this was an early lesson preparing Joshua to trust the Lord in the battles he would face. We are inclined to take matters into our own hands rather than trust the Lord. The evidence that we are doing this is that we become anxious, frustrated or panic. Joshua would need further lessons on this and we will also but the Lord has laid the foundation for Joshua and us here. Prayer is an important part of trusting the Lord and an expression of trust and faith. I believe that the main lesson to Joshua and us is that we rest in the Lord, especially in the battle, and trust Him for ultimate victory.

Raising the symbol of God’s authority, power and presence denoted trust in the Lord. Amalek was resisting the will of God, not just the fledgling nation of Israel.

That’s Ridiculous!

“If only my master were with the prophet who is in Samaria! For he would heal him of his leprosy”

2 Kings 5:3

These few words from a young Jewish slave girl led to the salvation of a leprous commander of the Syrian army, Naaman. Eventually the leprosy would make it impossible for him to hold this position or he might be killed in battle.

The young girl’s words to her mistress were passed to her husband. Naaman then spoke to the king of Syria. Surprisingly each person along the line believed the words of a young slave girl. Perhaps we underestimate the power of a word spoken in or out of season. This girl apparently spoke out of compassion and may not have thought more would come of it.

It may be that we think evangelism means sharing the whole Gospel story at one time. If the opportunity affords that is great but such occasions may be rare. It may be that we sometimes say nothing because the circumstances don’t allow for a full explanation at that time. This young girl shows us that our part may be just a few words of hope at a time of perceived or real need.

Naaman was without hope regarding his leprosy. There was no known cure. He was a proud man so the Lord took him through steps that humbled him until he knew that the only God is the God of Israel (v 15). Sometimes a little nudge is all that is required to get the ball rolling. We may only have a moment to say one or two sentences but that may be enough.

These few words triggered a whole series of events that reveal so much about our God, about people and the way of salvation. Eventually, not without hesitation, Naaman humbled himself and obeyed the word of the Lord even though it seemed ridiculous in the extreme. When, in limited faith, he obeyed God’s word, God healed him. Then he glorified God.

Moses asked the people to look in faith at a serpent on a pole (Numbers 21) and Joshua asked the people to march a total of thirteen times around Jericho (Joshua 6). These also seemed ridiculous but God was, and always will be, faithful to His word.

We may make just a comment or two and then God will send it on its way. The present circumstances may stir some to seek the only effective remedy. “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23). “Ask and it will be given you” (Matthew 7:7).

Face to Face

Face to Face

“I hope to see you shortly and we shall speak face to face”

3 John 14 (see also 2 John 12)

Letters and emails are terribly impersonal and can often be misunderstood. The reader is inclined to read their own thoughts and circumstances into the letter received. It can also be difficult to convey a message clearly on the phone. John had a message for his readers that he did not want misunderstood so he wanted to speak to them face to face. There have been many times that I have gone out of my way to speak to someone face to face because I didn’t want to risk confusion that may arise from a letter.

As we read the Bible we observe that the Lord appeared to quite a few men face to face at times when He wanted to communicate important information. He appeared to Abraham on several occasions in the process of making and confirming the Covenant. Each time more information was given and/or affirmed. He also met with Jacob face to face before he was permitted to re-enter the Promised Land (Genesis 32:30).

Moses met the Lord face to face on several occasions beginning at the burning bush (Exodus 3:6). He was the only one who could communicate with the Lord after Israel’s rebellion and he spoke with the Lord face to face (Exodus 33:11). Before the conquest of the Promised Land Joshua met the Lord face to face (Joshua 5:14) and so did Gideon prior to battle (Judges 6:22).

The Lord promised He would speak with Israel face to face when they are restored to the Promised Land (Ezekiel 20:35). When Jesus returns and establishes His earthly kingdom He will fulfil this (Ezekiel 39:28-29). Others saw visions of the Lord that caused them to fall on their faces before Him (e.g. Daniel 10:5-6).

Job knew that one day he would see the Lord face to face (Job 19:25-26). The apostle Paul had that expectation as well (1 Corinthians 13:12) and John confirms that all believers will see Jesus face to face (Revelation 22:4). When we have an important message for someone we prefer to give it face to face. The Lord speaks to us through His word, affirmed by the indwelling Holy Spirit, but to convey the Gospel to an unsaved person the Lord’s way is (generally) to send His messenger to speak face to face. This remains the most effective way. Jesus was the first such messenger; and if we are His, we are now His messengers.

Seek His Counsel

“They did not ask counsel of the Lord”

Joshua 9:14

Like Joshua and the other leaders of Israel we may act without seeking the Lord’s counsel and, if we do, we don’t wait for a response. Following the Lord destroying the walls at Jericho Israel’s leaders urged Joshua to send what they rationally calculated to be enough men against the city of Ai. They were severely routed with the loss of thirty six lives. It might not sound like much of a loss but it meant thirty six families without a husband or a father because they did not ask counsel of the Lord. Israel was humiliated, Joshua’s leadership questioned and the Lord’s name blasphemed among the peoples of the region.

Satan is a liar and a deceiver and he has had plenty of time to hone his skills manipulating people. Once again Joshua and his leading men relied on their own rational assessment of the situation regarding the Gibeonites and did not ask counsel of the Lord. They were deceived and their leadership was again called into question by their own people (v 18). The deception meant that they could not fulfil the commandment of the Lord and they would have a constant reminder of their failure in their midst.

The presumption that the Lord is with us and will give us the victory, as we perceive victory, is all too common among professing and genuine Christians. In the current attack on Jesus Christ and His church many, but not all, Christians are trying to win a spiritual battle using the secular world’s practices. Perhaps the first point of error is the one that Joshua made; he did not ask counsel of the Lord. Proverbs 3:5-12 expresses the way we should follow.

  1. We will ask the Lord’s counsel, trusting his counsel and not our own judgment (vv 5-6)
  2. We will trust His counsel even when it seems to us to be wrong (v 7)
  3. We will trust His counsel even when we don’t appear to have sufficient resources (vv 9-10)
  4. We will trust Him when He chastises us for not previously asking His counsel (vv 11-12)

The above implies that a response is waited for and received. We cannot win the battle by secular means. Joshua and Israel discovered this and we must learn from their error. Ask the Lord’s counsel, wait for His response and, even if we don’t like His answer, trust Him.

Be Strong and Courageous

“Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go”

Joshua 1:9

After forty years of being second in command to Moses, Joshua has now been delegated the leadership position, under the Lord, to lead Israel. Four times in this chapter the Lord tells him to “to be strong and courageous” which tells us two things: 1) He was facing the humanly impossible; and 2) he was feeling the weight of responsibility. What could possibly allay his fears and uncertainty?

The Lord had the answer to that question and it is given in verse eight, “This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it.” The Book of the Law, the first five books of our Bible, includes the covenant promises that the Lord had made with Israel. The previous generation had faltered at the promises of God and failed to enter the land. Of the twelve spies who spied out the land Joshua and Caleb were the only ones who recommended going forward. Forty years later Joshua was facing the same circumstance but this time as leader and with a new generation. Each generation must face a test as to whether they will believe and act on God’s word.

Our generation is facing such a test. Satan has desired to sift the church, as he did Peter (Luke 22:31-34), but equally Jesus has prayed for His church as He did for Peter. Peter would come through strong and of good courage. The professing church is being sifted. Out of this sifting a divide will become clear between those who are faithful to the Lord and His word and those who are not. As the Lord said to Joshua, strength and courage come from trusting in the word of God and God’s faithfulness to it and His people.

Testing the professing church will reveal the true church and expose false professors. This will have the effect of removing much of the haze around the true Gospel. One cannot honestly claim to be a follower of Jesus Christ and reject His teaching.

As we face this test, and it may well become severe very soon, we will remain strong and very courageous only as we meditate on and observe to do according to God’s word (Joshua 1:7). After the testing and separation the Lord will remove His own and then judge the nations as He has done on previous occasions (e.g. Noah & Lot).

Faithful Counsel

“They did not ask counsel of the Lord” Joshua 9:14

As we read the book of Joshua and come to this episode in his life and that of the other leaders we may think that they were a little slow in learning as they had the same problem not long before when they were going against the city of Ai. But before we cast the first stone we best take a careful look at ourselves. How often do we go ahead presuming on the grace of God and Christ’s presence based on our own knowledge, wisdom or previous experience?

Joshua and his leaders were taken in by a well planned deception. On the surface everything had the appearance of being genuine and straight forward. This is the kind of deception that works best. If things don’t appear genuine the deception doesn’t usually work.

If we reflect on our own lives we may be able to identify occasions when we have proceeded on the basis that everything looked genuine and have not sought counsel from the Lord with the result that we have been deceived. We may also discover occasions when we have made some attempt at asking counsel from the Lord but not taken the time to wait for a response.

The historical accounts of episodes in Joshua’s life are recorded so that we might learn both the ways of fallen man and the ways of God. God has not changed and neither has the nature of fallen mankind. The devil is called the deceiver for good reason. He has not changed either.

The notion that we only bother God with big, important or first time decisions makes us vulnerable to the devil’s deceptions. It allows us to live apart from intimacy with Jesus Christ. It allows us to live in pride thinking we have done some service for Christ when He wants us to serve with Him. We pat ourselves on the back but we have acted independently of Christ.

What looked straightforward to Joshua and the other leaders turned out to be a nightmare for the whole nation. Joshua and the other leaders rightly bore the brunt of the people’s complaining and accusation (v 18).

Israel later enjoyed success in overcoming the cities in the land “because the Lord God of Israel fought for Israel” (10:42). The Lord fought for Israel not just because they knew the will of the Lord and were acting in obedience to that will; He fought for them because they went forward with the Lord leading and not for the Lord in His absence. Israel learned the hard way that going ahead of Him led to disaster.

Jesus reminded His disciples that they could succeed in nothing for the kingdom of God without Him being with them and at the head (John 15:4-8).

Look Ahead

“O that they were wise, that they understood this, that they should consider their latter end” Deuteronomy 32:29

It is through reading these parts of the Bible that we can learn some important principles to guide us in many areas including parenting. Before speaking the words of this song to Israel, Moses had been warned by God that Israel would depart from following His word. In this verse of Moses’ song he is grieving over this future failure and crying out for the people to respond to God’s word. If the people were wise they would consider where their choices and actions were leading them.

God is going to bless those who are with Him and He is going to curse those who oppose Him. Considering the two consequences that lead to two different destinies or “latter ends,” which one would a wise person choose? This is the choice each generation of Israel would make in the future. It is seemingly a relatively simple choice. Identify with the Lord or identify with His enemies. The consequences and outcome of each group is given – blessing or cursing – so that they can “consider their latter end.”

This is a principle that parents will find beneficial in training their children. Teach them to look ahead to the consequences and where their choice will lead. All too often we tell our children what to do or not to do without teaching them how to evaluate the choices available so as to make the best choice.

In giving us the Bible the Lord has made available to us the opportunity to understand where our choices will lead so that we may choose wisely. That Israel has so far failed to enjoy the full blessings of the Lord is testament to the fact that they have made wrong choices and placed themselves at enmity with God. The same could be said of some Christians and certainly of the Gentiles as a whole. One has only to compare many of the choices our contemporary society is making and compare them to God’s word to see that we are placing ourselves at enmity with God.

In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus said, “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it” (Matthew 7:13-14). This is a warning for people to consider where the path they have chosen will lead and what its consequence will be. Their present living and their eternal destination depend on the choice they make.

A generation of Israel will arise that will heed the warnings and wisely choose Messiah Jesus as the way and their destiny. In the mean time anyone who will look ahead and consider where their choices will ultimately lead has the opportunity to choose Jesus Christ. Jesus said, “Come to Me, all you who are heavy laden and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28) and “the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out” (John 6:37). Joshua put it this way, “Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve” (Joshua 24:15).

A Red Sea Day

“You will arise and have mercy on Zion;

For the time to favour her,

Yes, the set time, has come”

Psalm 102:13

The writer of this Psalm follows the pattern of several other Psalms. It is a pattern from which we can learn and profit in our daily lives. We may not be in his exact situation but it is possible that we will have similar thoughts and feel the same emotions as a result of seemingly impossible situations in which we find ourselves.

In the first eleven verses we discover that he feels as though the Lord has deserted him and death looms large and imminent (v 11). His enemies clearly have the upper hand (v 8) and in great agony of heart and desperation he calls out to the Lord for speedy relief. He requests speedy relief because his end seems at hand.

His pain is revealed in that he is deeply affected emotionally (vv 3, 4). This has also caused a loss of appetite so that he is not eating properly – if at all (v 5), and is causing him to lose sleep (vv 6, 7). Out of this he cries out to the Lord for a speedy response (v 2).

The Lord’s response to the psalmist is recorded from verse twelve and commences with, “But You, O Lord …”

The response the writer receives is a guide for us when we feel that we are in an impossible situation. For truly “born from above” Christians we can expect this will happen at least several times in our walk with the Lord. It is a part of learning to trust the Lord at our “Red Sea” times. Do you remember that when Israel left Egypt the Lord wasted no time in bringing Israel to an impossible situation at the Red Sea? Read about it in Exodus 14.

As the psalmist writes his eyes are lifted to the horizon of time when Israel will rise to glory under the Lord’s hand and leadership (vv 13, 21, 22). Not only is he gazing with the eye of faith in God’s covenant promises toward the earthly reign of Messiah Jesus on King David’s throne in Jerusalem but also to the more distant horizon where he sees the new heavens and new earth (v 26). On that horizon is the New Jerusalem lit up by the glory of God 24/7 with no need of the sun (Revelation 21:22-27).

When we focus on our short term problems the Lord will provoke us to lift our eyes to see His long term outcome. This will restore a correct perspective and renew hope even when we feel despair in what appears to be a hopeless situation. When Joshua was faced with an impossible situation “he lifted his eyes and looked” (Joshua 5:13) and the answer was before him. Another Psalm (123:1) encourages us:

“Unto You, I lift my eyes,

O You who dwell in the heavens”

In Psalm 121:1 the writer lifts his eyes and sees his enemies in the hills and asks the question, “From whence comes my help?” The answer is in the next verse, “My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.”

Many of us will face impossible situations in the coming year. Perhaps you can already feel the sands of your “Red Sea” between your toes. Just as the Lord led Israel to that impossible situation He has led or will lead you to yours. Lift your eyes to the horizon of time that the Lord gives in the Bible. It is the Lord who made heaven and earth and will make a new heaven, new earth and New Jerusalem who will open the way for you.

The Pragmatic Approach

“Do not let all the people go up, but let about two or three thousand men go up and attack Ai. Do not weary all the people there, for the people of Ai are few.” Joshua 7:3

This is the counsel that Joshua received from the spies he sent to assess the strength of Ai. This is the pragmatic approach to serving the Lord. It ended with the deaths of thirty six men and the humiliation of the nation. How is it that from the glorious triumph over Jericho Israel slumps rapidly complaining that God should not have brought them across the river Jordan?

Unlike his approach to Jericho Joshua did not wait before the Lord. It is possible in both our personal life and the communal life of our church that we follow Joshua’s example and wonder why we have the same result that he did. Unfortunately we nearly always end up blaming someone else. We find our “Achan” by the same means we evaluated our “Ai.” Instead we should take to look inward at our own motives and actions.

We probably have no idea how many times we have made decisions and choices and acted on them without having a thought of consulting the Lord. When we do think to consult Him we are prone to hurry on without waiting for His answer. Instead of waiting for the Lord’s response we act pragmatically. We act according to our own logic based on previous experience and hope the Lord will bless the choice made. That would not have worked against Jericho, it didn’t work against Ai and it won’t work in our walk with Jesus either.

The pragmatists in Israel complained when they were trapped between the sea and the army; they complained when they had little food and water; they refused to enter “the rest of God” because the men of Canaan were too big and the walls of the cities too strong. They could argue their case with evidence but Moses could not argue a case for looking at a bronze serpent on a staff as a remedy for a poisonous snake bite. The pragmatic person would have thought it ridiculous, not heeded the remedy and died. The woman who gave her last meal to Elijah was not a pragmatist and neither was the woman who gave her last two coins into the temple’s treasury.

The Christian who thinks in a pragmatic way will follow the examples we observe in Israel during their wilderness wanderings. They successfully debate the spiritual person because they can argue their point of view with human logic. The spiritual person thinks and acts on the plain of obedience to God derived from a close and intimate relationship. Generally there is no logical argument that will persuade the pragmatic Christian to agree with them. There is a gulf between the two and confusion in “language” comparable to that at Babel.

The reason for Israel’s defeat at Ai was not lack of numbers or wisdom in battle. Neither of these had helped against Jericho and neither would help as Israel entered the Promised Land and the “rest of God.” The pragmatic approach to Christian living and service will not succeed but will result in failure and complaint.

 “’For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,’ says the Lord. ‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts higher than your thought.’” (Isaiah 55:9).

Fear or Faith

“As soon as we heard these things, our hearts melted; neither did there remain any more courage in anyone because of you, for the Lord your god, He is God in heaven above and on earth beneath.” Joshua 2:11

When anyone hears what things God has done it will produce either fear or faith in the hearer. This is why sharing personal testimony of what God has done in our lives will always produce a response. That response may not always be expressed immediately.

The people of Jericho had known of the miraculous escape of Israel from Egypt for forty years. They knew of the judgments against the Egyptian gods and of the Red Sea crossing with its destruction of the Egyptian army. They had also heard of the victories over other kingdoms on Israel’s way to Canaan. By the time Joshua sent in the two spies the people of Jericho were very sensitive to Israel’s presence..

When they received the news that Israel had miraculously crossed the flooded river Jordan without getting their feet wet, fear rose in their hearts. All the people of Jericho received the same news but not all responded to that news in the same way. Very likely they all responded in fear but for one family that fear turned to faith.

The people of Jericho knew that the might of Egypt and its gods had not been able to withstand Israel and the Lord yet they chose to trust in the gods, walls and military power of the city. Only Rahab turned from fear to faith. She chose to abandon the former objects of trust and trust the God of Israel of whom she had been hearing all her life. It is very likely she was born many years after Israel came out of Egypt.

Making this decision was not without risk. Rahab wanted her family to be safe as well. For that to happen she would have to tell them the covenant she had made with the spies. Anyone of her family could have turned her in and she would have been killed as a traitor. Further evidence of her new faith is seen in that she was able to keep all her family in her home for at least a couple of weeks. During all this time the scarlet cord hung from her window (2:21).

Rahab and her family were saved because they demonstrated their faith by doing what was asked of them. If they had not obeyed the terms of the covenant they would not have been saved. This is an oft repeated principle in the Bible. As James writes, “faith without works is useless” (James 2:20).

We know our faith is genuine when we are willing to risk all to obey the word of the Lord. Like Rahab we will risk even our lives in order that our loved ones might be saved. When we share the Gospel of Christ along with our own testimony it will produce fear in the hearts of the hearer but, in God’s grace, for some that fear will turn to faith.