Wednesday, July 20, 2016

The Battles at Ai (Joshua 7-8).

Background Story: God promised to bless the world through Abraham’s descendants who multiplied in Egypt but became enslaved. God called Moses to lead Israel and delivered Israel out of Egypt through the ‘Red Sea’. The Lord led them by the pillar of cloud by day and fire by night to Mt. Sinai where Lord established His covenant with Israel. God made them to be a ‘kingdom of priests’ and a ‘holy nation’ and gave them the 10 commandments. The Lord brought that generation to the border of their ‘Promised Land’ but they refused to enter. They ended up wandering for forty years only to die in the desert but their children would enter the land. Later when that second generation grumbled for water the Lord told Moses to speak to the rock but Moses said, “Listen, you rebels, must we bring you water out of this rock”. Moses struck the rock twice and water gushed out, but the Lord told Moses and Aaron that they couldn’t enter the land because they failed to honor the Lord as holy before Israel. Aaron died and his priesthood passed on to his son, Eleazar. Moses commission Joshua as Israel’s new leader, then Moses climbed Mount Nebo where he saw the ‘promised land’ before he died. Joshua sent two scouts to spy out Canaan and they stayed in Jericho at the house of a Canaanite prostitute named Rahab. When the king of Jericho found out, Rahab hid the spies from the king and sent the king’s messengers away in another direction. The Lord caused the waters of the Jordan to be cut off so and the whole community of Israelites crossed the Jordan on dry ground into Canaan. Joshua gave all the Israelite men the sign of God’s covenant with Abraham and the whole community ate the ‘Passover’ meal together (Joshua 3-5). After an encounter with the ‘commander of the Lord’s army’, Joshua was told that Israel was to march around Jericho with seven priests blowing trumpets before the ‘Ark of the Lord’ for seven days. On the seventh day they went around the city seven times. On the seventh time around there was a loud blast and the people shouted and the walls of Jericho collapsed. They were warned not to take any of the ‘devoted things’ or they would bring trouble on Israel and bring about their own destruction. Israel burned Jericho, killed its inhabitants but they spared Rahab and her household. Joshua cursed the city so that anyone seeking to rebuild it would try at the cost of their sons. After this Joshua’s fame increased.  Now watch the story being told and then read the comments below. 
The Battles at Ai: Both battles at Ai teach us about trusting the Lord (7:1–26, 8:1–29). In the first battle Israel was defeated due to Israel’s sin (7:1) and all Israel was implicated (6:18).  When Achan, an Israelite, sinned Israel sinned and all Israel was affected.  In a similar fashion when Adam sinned all his descendants were implicated. While we may think of this as unfair but Bible teaches that death come to all men because we have all sinned in Adam. To opposed this teaching is to oppose that it is through the obedience of the one man, Christ Jesus, that we can be made acceptable to God (Rom. 5:12–19). Also in the previous battle the Lord had warned Israel that anyone taking the devoted things from Jericho would bring trouble on themselves and on Israel (6:18). The Lord took the command very seriously even if Israel did not.

Joshua sent scouts to spy out Ai as he had at Jericho (2:1). They returned saying no more than 3,000 Israelites were needed because the people of Ai were few. But the men of Ai chased the Israelites from their town and killed 36 Israelites causing the Israelites to lose their courage. Israel had evaluated the battle in mere human terms and they overestimated their own abilities and underestimated that of their opponents. Based on the mere numbers alone Joshua had reduced the size of the troops he sent to Ai. What they needed was the Lord’s presence and His continued intervention but they had failed to seek the Lord’s will (Nu. 27:21). In hind sight, the limited troop deployment without consulting the Lord was disastrous.

Having tasted defeat they tore their clothes, threw dust on their heads and fell prostrate before the ‘Ark of the Lord’ until evening. When Joshua enquired of the Lord he was immediately told the reason for their defeat. Joshua was afraid that the inhabitants of the land would hear of Israel’s defeat, surround Israel and wipe them out. Joshua’s comments actually imply that God was to blame for their defeat. According to Joshua they shouldn’t have obeyed the Lord by seeking to take possession of the land (7:7). Joshua insinuates that the Lord had been unfaithful to His covenant promise. Then Joshua goes on to suggest that God was planning to ruin them by letting the inhabitants of the land wipe out Israel. But the fault was Israel’s for keeping some of the ‘devoted things’ and transgressing God’s covenant.

The Lord told Joshua to get off his face because Israel who had violated God’s covenant. The claim that the Lord had brought Israel across the Jordan to let them be wiped out was unfounded. Moreover Israel would continue to flee from their enemies until they removed the ‘devoted things’. If Israel wanted their Lord to fight for them then they would need to rid themselves of these items.  In the morning the Lord told Joshua to bring the tribes of Israel before the Lord.  From among all the tribes the tribe of Judah was selected. From the tribe of Judah the clan of Zerah was selected. From the clan of Zerah the family of Zimri was selected. Then from the family of Zimri, Achan, was singled out.  Joshua told Achan to glorify God by telling Joshua the truth and Achan complied. He acknowledged taking a beautiful Babylonian robe, some silver coins, and a bar of gold that he had found in Jericho and had hidden beneath his tent.

God exposed the guilty party through a long process of elimination that singled out Achan. While he confessed it was only after a long drawn out process (7:16-19). That Achan referred to the ‘devoted things (hērem)’ as plunder may indicate that he thought of the items as a prize he deserved. But to steal what belonged to the Lord was to deny that the victory belonged to God. Ironically, if Achan had waited he would have received his share of the plunder from Ai (8:2, 27).  Joshua sent men who brought Achan, his family and everything that belonged to him to the Valley of Achor (‘disaster or trouble’).  Because of Achan all of Israel had been defeated at Ai so now all Israel was to participate in stoning Achan and his family.  They burned everything Achan had and they piled stones over them. Achan’s family may have known about the hidden items but we do know that by taking the ‘devoted things’ Achan, an Israelite, identified with the Canaanites. Consequently, Achan suffered the same fate as the Canaanites. On the other hand, Rahab, a Canaanite, identified with Israel and was treated like an Israelite (Josh 7:25). Rahab was not only incorporated into the Israelite community but she even became part of the family line of Israel’s King David as well as Messiah Jesus through David (6:25, Matthew 1).

In the first battle Israel underestimated both their opponents and their dependence upon God. Now Israel would need the Lord and their full army. Now Joshua was told to attack Ai and he was promised victory and this time Israel could keep the plunder (8:1-2).  Joshua and his army set out for Ai and a portion of Israel’s army was sent behind Ai to set up an ambush. Joshua stationed the main army in front of the town so the king of Ai and his men attacked the Israelites. The king of Ai and his men marched out for battle, and Joshua fled as they had previously so the men of Ai were drawn out of their city. At just the right time Lord commanded Joshua to raise his spear and those hiding in ambush rose up and entered Ai. The men of Ai tried to return to their city when they saw it going up in smoke. Then Joshua attacked the men of Ai who were caught between Joshua and the Israelite troops that came out of Ai.  The Israelites killed the men of Ai and brought the king of Ai alive to Joshua. The Israelites killed everyone in Ai—12,000 in all but they kept the livestock and the treasures of the town, as the Lord had commanded.  Joshua hung the king of Ai on a pole and the next day they threw the body down at the city gate. Then Israel piled a great heap of stones over the body and Ai became a permanent ruin.

After these battles Israel renewed the covenant as Moses had instructed (Dt. 11:29). Joshua built an altar on Mount Ebal, where they presented burnt offerings and peace offerings to the Lord.  Then Joshua divided all the Israelites—foreigners and native-born alike—into two groups and had one stand in front of Mount Gerizim, with the other in front of Mount Ebal. The Levitical priests stood with between them carrying the Ark of the Lord’s Covenant.  Joshua read all the blessings and curses Moses had written in the Book of the Law to all the Israelites, including the women and children and the foreigners living among them. These offerings depicted Israel’s total consecration to God and they prefigured Christ’s blood of the new covenant (Lk. 22:20).

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Jericho Falls (Joshua 5-6).

Background Story: God called Abraham and promised him multiple descendants and a homeland, Canaan, to bless the world. Abraham’s descendants went down into Egypt due to a famine. There they multiplied but they became enslaved. God called Moses and delivered Israel out of Egypt and the Lord led Israel through the ‘Red Sea’ and through the desert by the pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. They came to Mt. Sinai where the Lord established His covenant with Israel. He gave them the 10 commandments and called them to be a ‘kingdom of priests and a holy nation’. The Lord brought that generation to the border of their ‘Promised Land’ but in unbelief they refused to enter so they would wander forty years and die in the desert. Even Moses would not enter the ‘promised land’ because he had failed to honor the Lord as holy before Israel.  Before his death, Moses commissioned Joshua as Israel’s new leader before Moses died. The Lord promised to be with Joshua as He was with Moses and the Lord caused the waters of the Jordan to be cut off. Israel crossed the Jordan into Canaan were all the men received the sign of the Abrahamic Covenant and shared in the Passover meal. Joshua sent two men to spy out Canaan and stayed at the house of a Canaanite prostitute named Rahab. The king of Jericho found this out but Rahab hid the two Israelite spies and sent the king’s messengers off in another direction.  This brings us to the story of the ‘battle of Jericho’. Watch the story being told and then read the comments below. 
The Battle of Jericho: God had promised to give Israel the land of Canaan and the Lord was with Joshua. Joshua was to be ‘strong and courageous’ for the Lord was beginning the fulfillment of His long standing promise. Jericho was the first among several battles in Israel’s conquest of the land over a long time (11:18, 12:1–24). This first battle was initiated by Israel (6:1–27) but it would be fought by very unconventional means. Joshua’s preparation for Jericho included an encounter with a mysterious visitor (5:13–15). Like Joshua we can be confident that God will empower us to do His will. We can be strong and courageous knowing that God is faithful to His promises and that God uses flawed people who seek to do God’s will.

While approaching Jericho Joshua saw a man with a sword in his hand. Joshua needed to know whose side the man was on, but the man said, “Neither”.  The visitor had come as the ‘Commander of the Lord’s Army’. Joshua fell facedown and he was told to remove his shoes because the land was holy. This is what Moses was told at the ‘burning bush’ where the Lord called Moses to lead Israel from Egypt to the land Joshua was getting ready to fight for (Exodus 3:5–10). This visitor was no enemy or mere ally; he was the ‘Commander of the Army of the Lord’. Joshua was to lead the conquest but in submission to the Lord. It was Israel’s God who would fight these battles and give Israel their land. Above all else, Joshua needed to reverently worship and to realize the land was holy to the Lord.

Jericho was closed off so no one could go in or out because of the Israelites. The Lord assured Joshua that he would be given Jericho, its king and fighting men. Yet, the battle would require the Lord’s miraculous intervention (6:1–7). The Lord’s instructions made it clear that the land was God’s gift to Israel. By faith Israel would need to march around the city each day for seven days marking out the city as the Lord (Heb. 11:30). The priests were to carry God’s mobile sanctuary, the ‘Ark of the Covenant’, and seven priests with seven trumpets were to go before the Ark. Joshua sent armed guards ahead of the priests with the trumpets. A rear guard followed behind the ark (6:9) so that the Lord was in the middle. On the seventh day they were to go around the city seven times and on the seventh time around the horns would blast and the people would shout. Then Jericho’s walls would collapse and the soldiers could go straight in and attack the city (6:17–20).

Joshua was to devote (Heb. ḥērem) the city to destruction. The harsh reality was that the Israelites would have to kill all the people or later they would entice Israel to worship their gods and follow their detestable practices (Dt. 20:16–18). Everyone and everything in Jericho was to be devoted to the Lord. All the silver and gold and the articles of bronze and iron were to go into the Lord’s treasury. They were warned that if anyone took any of the devoted things they would bring trouble on Israel and they would bring about their own destruction (6:18). This was the Lord’s battle so Israel was not to take any plunder from the battle at Jericho since the victory was from the Lord (6:19, 21).

So when the trumpets or ram’s horn (shofar) sounded, the people shouted and the wall collapsed and the Israelites took the city. They destroyed every living thing in it—men and women, young and old, and livestock as well. Only Rahab the prostitute and her household was spared, because Rahab had hidden the Israelite scouts who had spied out Jericho. Israel burned the city and put the silver, gold and the articles of bronze and iron into the Lord’s treasury. They brought Rahab and her household safely outside the Israelite camp. Then Joshua swore this oath: “Cursed before the Lord is the man who tries to rebuild Jericho”. The Lord was with Joshua, and Joshua’s fame spread throughout the land (6:27).  

The story concludes with Rahab not only being rescued (6:22–23) but in time being assimilated into the community of Israel (6:25). The repentant Rahab ends up living permanently as one of God’s people while the rest of Jericho was ‘devoted to destruction’. While this is may be difficult for us to understand, we should remember that the Lord had promised Abraham the land of Canaan over 400 years earlier. The Lord patiently tolerated the sin of the highly idolatrous and wicked inhabitants of Canaan for over 400 years (Genesis 15:16, Deut. 9:4). So the story depicts the long-suffering of our gracious God towards even those who will never repent.

The severity of God’s judgment may shock us but God was zealous for the holiness of His people. We should also realize that from the beginning the devil has tempted man to doubt the reality and severity of God’s judgment (Genesis 3:4).  Moreover, that God would be so gracious to the stubborn and rebellious Israelites should equally shock us. In fact we have all sinned against the Lord in many ways so that all of us have merited God’s just judgement. The Lord’s acceptance of the repentant Canaanite, Rahab, highlights that though we have all sinned against a holy God the repentant who turn to the Lord Jesus will receive God’s favor and only by grace.