REFLECTIONS ON LIFE IN THE PROMISED LAND
The Promised Land “reflections” 02
J O S H U A
“After the death of Moses the servant of the LORD”. Do you wonder what the people might be thinking at this point in their journey? All those under 40 years of age, and many of the others, had never known another leader. In fact there hadn’t been a national leader before Moses. Now he was dead. They didn’t even know what happened to his body. Across the valley they could see the land of God’s promise. What sort of leader would Joshua be? Would he be trusted, respected, obeyed, as Moses was? And what about Joshua himself? As assistant to Moses, he had known him very well. He knew the source of Moses’ strength and courage. He must have wondered how he would manage in Moses’ absence. Then “it came to pass that the LORD spoke to Joshua, the son on Nun, Moses assistant, saying ….”. Please read it yourself in the first 9 verses of chapter 1 of our text. They are mighty words of great encouragement for the man chosen by God to lead the people into the land He had promised to Abram centuries earlier. They are words often appropriated by believers today for themselves. “As I was with Moses, so I will be with you I will not leave you nor forsake you”.
There appears to be no condition on those words spoken to Joshua. Moses had walked, faithfully and fearfully, before the Lord for the last 40 years. It was not that he had a trouble free life. Far from it. He had many trials to overcome. So what was it that kept him going? Just like the disciples of Yeshua centuries later, who had a personal encounter with the risen Messiah, so Moses had, not one, but many personal encounters with YHWH Elohim. Unambiguous, specific, and thoroughly clear words of direction and counsel. Moses KNEW his God through personal encounter with Him. Joshua would come to KNOW his God in the trials and experiences of his life which still lay before him. Just as we can KNOW our God as we journey through our life on this earth. That’s the God who says to those who truly KNOW Him “I will never leave you nor forsake you”.
Joshua then had his first conversation with the LORD as leader of the nation. “Arise, go over this Jordan, you and all this people, to the land which I am giving to them”. But there is more. “Only be strong and very courageous, that you may observe to do all the Torah which Moses my servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may prosper wherever you go”. Ah! So there IS a condition to success. “This Book of the Torah 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. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success”. Note that God is absolutely upfront with Joshua, and by extension with the people who had made covenant with Him. My reading of this account, which believers appropriate to themselves, taken in the context of God’s statement ‘not to leave you nor forsake you’, is rock solid truth. BUT, just like the Israelites in our text, what about the situation where the people themselves choose the ‘leaving and forsaking’ path ? Selah!
Joshua proved himself to be a good leader. In the face of trusting God to “give them the land He had promised”, he knew from experience that it would not be taken without a fight. Showing his leadership qualities, he sent two spies to survey the opposition. It seems incongruous that the spies lodged in the house of Rahab, a harlot. Yet others see unsuspicious motivation. Its location, its frequentation by motley types of people, its ‘good cover’ as a hideout. Very few would see the motive of God. Rahab was a seemingly unlikely woman of faith. She knew the history of the Israelites from their escape from Egypt to their present location just a few miles away waiting to cross the Jordan. (possibly gleaned in conversations with travellers who might also have ‘lodged’ with her over the years) “I know that the LORD has given you the land “ she said. “For the LORD your God, He is God in heaven above and on earth beneath”. By such faith, Rahab, gained a place in the genealogy of Messiah Yeshua (Matthew 1:5). Faith which God counted as righteousness, as he had with Abram centuries earlier.
Eventually, the spies returned to report their findings to Joshua. Quoting words Rahab had told them, “the terror of you has fallen on us, and that all the inhabitants of the land are fainthearted because of you”, as she tried to extract a guarantee of safety for her family from those spies. And in the goodness of God, she and her family’s lives were spared the judgement at the destruction of Jericho (Joshua 6:25). When Joshua received the report of the spies, the battle plan was finalised. The people moved from the hills to the plains adjacent to the river, and waited there three days. In plain sight of the Canaanites, no doubt increasing the levels of fear in them, Joshua explained the plan to the people. Read it with awe in chapters 3 and 4 of our text.
God exalted Joshua in the eyes of the whole congregation of Israelites as they too saw a miraculous event take place before them. God Himself, represented in the Ark of the Covenant, stood in the midst of the river which was ‘in flood’ at that time, as the waters temporarily dried up, so that the priests bearing the ark stood on dry ground. The people, almost 1 kilometre away, to the north, as instructed, followed. What a spectacle. Then at God’s command, one person from each tribe took a large stone from the riverbed and built a monument, at ancient Gilgal east of Jericho, as a memorial for future generations. And so it was that the Israelites arrived in the land of God’s promise to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
REFLECTIONS ON LIFE IN THE PROMISED LAND
The Promised Land “reflections” 01
Life in the promised land
God made a land promise to Abram (Genesis 15:15-21). That land was, at that time, mostly occupied by Canaanites. The specific boundaries of the land (Numbers 34:1-12) were detailed more precisely later. The land promise was also confirmed to the direct descendants of Abram. His son Isaac, and one of Isaac’s sons, Jacob, to be a perpetual beneficial inheritance to his descendants. It is land occupation which God promised, not land ownership. The land is not theirs to sell. Land ownership is His alone. Generational occupation of the land is by a specific conditional covenant.
One will search the Scriptures in vain to discover why God made such special promises to this particular people group, except that for His own purposes, He did. But, the promise of blessing is made available to ALL, subject specifically to the relationship ‘non family’ members have with those descendants of Abram (Genesis 12:3). The wise among us will note the conditions! God’s appreciation of Abram’s trust (Genesis 15:6), was counted to him as righteousness. All the Scriptures after Genesis 11 show that God has used this people, and His relationship with them (as He continues to so do) as the example of His expectation of the relationship He desires with mankind which He created. That relationship is built uniquely on faith, trust, obedience, correction, and direction. It is a relationship in which an individual may either willingly participate, under God’s conditions, or not. God has plainly, and lovingly, laid out the ‘blessings’, or the contingent ‘curses’, which accrue according to the choice made. There is nothing hidden.
It is also noteworthy that God arranged a pathway to nationhood for His chosen ones by most unusual means. Tragedy, great blessing and protection, demonstrations of mighty power, and finally discomfort through a rigorous period of many years of slavery and hardship. All this time, by shared experience, building a strong and unassimilated (to the community in which they lived) tribal people with committed allegiances to each other. They were “Stateless”, having no creed or constitution by absorption or citizenship. So God had brought His chosen people to a situation where they were ready to accept the opportunity of escape, under the leadership of Moses, into the ‘unknown’ future.
Then came the task of teaching the people the constitutional and social behaviours which were necessary for the new nation they were to be, so as to function harmoniously in their new land. It is a most fascinating story, which we have covered in other studies. But this shows how God had spent centuries bringing this protected and conditioned people to the time when He knew they would be receptive to learning. What they did not know, of course, was that the ‘teaching’ would take another 40 years of being out of touch with the influence of other nations. Furthermore, only the relatively young would survive that period of intense teaching. Apart from their leaders, Joshua and Caleb, they were to enter their new land as a nation with everyone under 60 years of age. A majority of them of an age to “bear arms” in conflict.
On their journey, under the inspired leadership of Moses and Aaron, God revealed to them His Torah (teaching in righteous living). They learned by practical experience, the joys and blessings of obedience to the teaching, and the devastating penalty which followed disobedience. This must be viewed in the light of the fact that when Moses explained this Torah to them, they all readily proclaimed their willing acceptance of the conditions. “All that the LORD has said we will do, and be obedient” they said (Exodus 24:7). That was the moment when they confirmed the covenant they made with God, the covenant which we know as the “Mosaic Covenant”. It has never been rescinded, but it has been broken many times by the people. And that is why, one future day, God has promised to make a “New Covenant” with the House of Israel and the House of Judah (Jeremiah 31:31).
The account of the Israelite occupation of the land of God’s promise, is recorded for us in the Books of Joshua, Judges, the four books of the Kings, Ezra and Nehemiah. These Books are the subject of our study in this series, and cover a time frame of approximately 900 years. In Christian theology, the whole period from the exodus out of Egypt up until the entry into the land of promise is analogous to “the salvation process” wrought by faith in Yeshua. Egypt represents the ‘old life’, and the Promised land represents the ‘new life’. If that is a true analogy, (which is a very long standing one), we will seek to understand the relationship (if there is one) of the relevance of the Israelite experience in the land, to the expectation God places on behavioural practice, for continued land occupation. Simply put, does God consider obedience to His commands a natural sequel to salvation.
In the evolution of ‘church based’ christianity, from the time of the Council of Nicaea in 324 C.E., the overwhelming view is that salvation is ‘by faith alone, through Christ alone’. An undoubted truism. By definition, the Israelites who entered the land of promise were a ‘saved people’. So the question is “Does the lifestyle of a redeemed people matter to God?” Does redemption equate to change in lifestyle?
Next week we begin our study of the time from entry to the land to the time when God finally expelled them from it!
A “REFLECTION” TO END THE READING CYCLE
A “REFLECTION” TO END THE READING CYCLE
A “reflection” to end the reading cycle
This week sees the end of the annual reading cycle. The final parashah for the year. Moses had just died. The faithful Joshua, son of Nun, colleague of Caleb, is appointed by God to lead the new nation of Israel into the land of Promise. God had appeared to Abraham at Elon Moreh on his journey south. There, from that mountain location, Abraham was able to see the extent of the land. It was much larger than the nation we know as Israel today. To my mind it seems symbolic. Abraham shown the extent, but not the detail, of what God had promised him. And as we begin our journey into Torah again next week, a new year of readings, and a new year of discovery of what God has in store for us. It looks like a huge undertaking. But as we look, week by week, at the detail God had in store for them, and for us, we will be blessed.
God showed immense faith in Joshua. The promises of God, given at this inauguration were unequivocal, unconditional, and plain. “Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given you (not will give you, but have given you) as I said to Moses.” It was a done deal. ‘From the Euphrates River, all the land of the Hittites, to the Mediterranean.’ The Hittites were descendants of Heth, they were an important Canaanite group, and their land was extensive. It was a Hittite, Ephron, who sold the ‘cave at Machpelah’ to Abraham as a burial place!
Now it is interesting that the Land of Promise is specified in a number of places in Scripture, (students among us, look at Genesis 15, Exodus 23, Numbers 34, Deuteronomy 11 and Ezekiel 47), so here in Joshua 1 it seems that the Lord instructed Joshua that in order to possess the land all he had to do is to set foot in it. He cannot, (i.e. will not be able to), take more than is promised. I am reminded of that injunction in the Living Bible paraphrase of Jude 20 “Stay always within the boundaries where God’s love can reach and protect you”.
However, from other Scriptures we know that the Canaanites would not simply walk off the land, they would have to be driven out, sometimes with significant loss of life. But God had not finished with His proclamation to Joshua. He went on to bolster him with many encouraging statements. They are words which are often appropriated to ourselves as a timely encouragement for the fulfilment of some perceived God given task. Perhaps we should take careful note of the relationship God had with Joshua before making overly presumptive claims for ourselves! But they are very encouraging words anyway. Just look at them. “No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life” “As I was with Moses, so shall I be to you” “I will not leave you nor forsake you”
These are immensely reassuring words from Almighty God. They are words, which, to a lesser person, might engender pride and even arrogance. But not to Joshua. Because there is an over-riding clause in this encouragement. When we presumptuously appropriate these promises to ourselves, we should, but often do not, look at the condition God made for the success which Joshua was to enjoy.
“Be strong and very courageous, that you may observe to do all the Torah which Moses My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may prosper wherever you go”. And if that was not enough, the Lord continued “This Book of the Torah 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.”
Dear friends, God is not encouraging Joshua to fight battles, to do exploits, to clear the Land of the Canaanites, to lead a great army in warfare, or even to stand before the people in judgement. This is an encouragement to Joshua to be strong and faithful to God’s Word. To have the courage to stand up to the dissenters in his midst. To put scoffers in their place, so to speak. To be strong in upholding the Torah of Moses before the people. Inevitably, that would require Joshua to be an example. Unwavering. Steadfast. Consistent. When we see such a record of God’s promises to His servants, like Joshua, are we ready to also take on board the conditions under which such promises are given?
If you doubt God’s righteous judgement in His promises, move on a few chapters and read how and why God chastised the people by defeat in the battle for Ai.
As we enter a new year of study in God’s Word, let us covenant with Him to learn the lessons which are contained therein. Let us ask God to prompt us by His Holy Spirit, to be the kind of believers, doers of His Word, that He has called us to be.
REFLECTIONS ON THE WRITING PROPHETS
‘Reflections’ on the Writing Prophets 53
J o e l
“Now therefore”. Thus begins this final ‘reflection’ on the fourteen writing prophets we have been considering this year. Those words are indicative of things which have gone before. Things which needed to be evaluated and dealt with. Last week we looked at the devastation caused by a locust plague. The prophet compared that with events which are to take place ‘in the last days’, when God will draw a mighty army of invasion against Israel. In the battle which ensues, those armies meet their own catastrophic judgment. But the “now therefore" which the prophets speaks here relates to the action the people of the land should consider for their own safety and wellbeing.
“Turn to Me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning”. The implication? God is eagerly awaiting that outpouring of penitence with His own longing, ready to uphold the covenant of love He had made with them and their forefathers many years earlier. He goes on “So rend your heart, and not your garments; Return to the LORD your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness; and He relents from doing harm”. This is an amazing statement. So much of it we take for granted and glory in these attributes of God, from which we all benefit. But to get those innermost feelings expressed in terms of ‘repentance’, a deep feeling of sadness on God’s part for the actions taken in correction of the people, just speaks of the boundless love of God for those who are His. Praise His name. We know that the people were slow to respond as God wished, but it did not prevent Him from making major prophetic promises to that generation, in respect of the ultimate salvation of Israel as a nation.
In the manner of a final plea, “Blow the trumpet in Zion, consecrate a fast, call a sacred assembly; gather the people, sanctify the congregation, assemble the elders, gather the children and the nursing babes; ….. Let the priests, who minister to the LORD, weep between the porch and the altar.” A direct urging from God to the people for repentance. Then comes a complete change of emphasis between verses 17 and 18 of our text. The promise of His complete forgiveness. “Then the LORD will be zealous for His land, and will pity (spare) His people. The LORD will answer and say to His people, ‘behold, I will send you grain and new wine and oil, and you will be satisfied by them; I will no longer make you a reproach among the nations’.” Please try to understand the circumstances of the nation at the time the LORD sent his servant Joel to speak to them. It was a time of complete devastation as a result of the locust invasion. All vegetation stripped bare. And here is the word of God promising complete restoration of their land and their livelihood. An offer too good to reject one would think. And, dear friend, before we harshly judge these people with our perfect 20/20 hindsight, remember they were in the midst of desperate circumstances. Try to imagine this word being spoken in one of Hitler’s concentration camps in 1942 when thousands were being slaughtered every day. It is easier to trust in God for others than it is to trust for oneself!! BUT that does not diminish God’s promise one bit. Neither does it diminish His power to perform His promises. It speaks more of the frailty of human faith, faced with the immediate evidence of one’s eyes, and satan’s power to sow doubt (a strong weapon of his against believers). I am always challenged by God when I ‘reflect’ on these historical events. “How do you think you would have responded in such circumstances?” Is the question God invariably poses to me.
But to finalise this ‘reflection’ we need to look at exactly what God has said He will do. Because some of this prophetic word is still unfulfilled."I will restore to you the years the swarming locust has eaten … you shall eat in plenty and be satisfied, and praise the name of the LORD your God … Then you shall know that I am in the midst of Israel: I am the LORD your God and there is no other. My people shall never be put to shame”. That seems to me to be a complete statement of God’s embrace of His people. But there is more blessing to come as the promise continued. “And it shall come to pass afterward that I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh”. And wonder of wonders, “and it shall come to pass that whoever calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved. For in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be deliverance, as the LORD has said, among the remnant whom the LORD calls”. I carefully note here that God is NOT an enforcer. It is always the fact that God expects that those who would to be saved need to “call on the name of the LORD”.
Joel chapter 3 has to be read carefully to absorb the totality, and finality, of God’s judgement on the nations of this earth. There is a most interesting parody there. Isaiah envisaged the end of days in terms of peace and harmony among the nations. A time when Messiah will reign. “Beat your swords into plowshares and your spears into pruning hooks” (Isaiah 2:4) But before this comes about, Joel speaks of God drawing the nations into judgment. Encouraging them to “Beat your plowshares into swords and your pruning hooks into spears” (Joel 3:10)
The very last word the LORD gave to Joel to speak in this farsighted prophecy ends our “reflection”. “But Judah shall abide forever, and Jerusalem from generation to generation. For I will acquit them of the guilt of bloodshed, whom I have not acquitted: For the LORD dwells in Zion”. Count on it.
REFLECTIONS ON THE WRITING PROPHETS
‘Reflections’ on the Writing Prophets 52
J o e l
This prophecy of Joel may be ‘technically’ out of place here. Scholars are divided about the timing of this message, but there is circumstantial and textual evidence that Joel was probably an early prophet, (a contemporary of Jeremiah) functioning during the reign of the child king Joash, who was the last of the eight ‘good’ kings of Judah. Others date this prophecy as very late (which would justify its inclusion right here in this order). BUT, the timing of the prophetic message has little impact on the message itself. There had recently been a most disastrous plague of locusts in Judah. Whilst Joel has plenty to say about that, the main message is in the comparison of that disaster with the judgements of the LORD during the last days. The time still future to us. If an ‘early date’ prophecy is correct, however, then the life of Joel preceded both the capture of the northern kingdom of Israel (722 BCE) and the exile of the southern kingdom of Judah (586 BCE). That makes this prophetic message all the more remarkable. In any event I have chosen to ‘reflect’ on the prophecy of Joel here, at the end of our study of the “Minor Prophets”.
“Has anything like this happened in your days, or even in the days of your fathers?” Joel said it was a story that would be told for generations to come. It is still being told today! The ‘chewing’ locust, the ‘swarming’ locust, the ‘crawling’ locust, the ‘consuming’ locust. I didn’t know there were so many kinds of locust. But they turned up in great numbers and devastated the land. Not as bad as the plague of locusts in Moses’ day (Exodus 8:14) when God was intent on rescuing His people out of Egypt, but that was many centuries earlier. In Joel’s day, there was economic disaster on a national scale. Wine drinkers were mentioned because they would wail about the absence of grapes to produce wine. Vines and fig trees stripped bare. It was compared to the ‘raping’ of the land by a mighty enemy army, likened to the ‘teeth of a lion’. Or a young woman widowed by the loss of her husband in battle. A priest who mourns because his source of sustenance (food in the form of sacrifices and offerings) is removed. And so the prophet seeks to institute correct order into the situation.
“Consecrate a fast, call a sacred assembly; gather the elders and all the inhabitants of the land into the house of the LORD your God, and cry out to the LORD”. There are recollections here of the instructions God gave to Moses when He wanted to communicate with the people (Numbers 10:3). It was important that the people understood that their only hope was to trust in God for direction and counsel. A good lesson for us to learn right there. But rather than be an action of ‘last resort’ it should be ‘continuous dialogue’, which is exactly what God had expected of the people in the first place. (A personal recollection from my childhood. I was brought up in a small Welsh mining village. A tight knit community, where it was often the case that the villagers would congregate in the local chapel to pray for some one, or some matter of need, in the community. Even as a young child I was always struck by the ease with which such gatherings were arranged, and disappointed by the absence of any follow up to give thanks when the need was satisfied!!) God always seems so gracious and caring in His response to the heart cry from those who are His. It would not be an exaggeration to note that ‘He longs to hear our heart cry out to him’.
And then we get to the heart of the ‘burden’ of Joel for his people. “Blow the trumpet in Zion, and sound an alarm on My holy mountain! Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble; For the day of the LORD is coming, for it is at hand:” It is at this point that the comparisons are made between that which they had seen with their eyes, the devastation of the locust invasion, and the events which will unfold when that final ‘trumpet of alarm’ is sounded. It will be “a day of darkness and gloominess”, reminiscent of the blotting out of the light of the sun as those locusts swarmed in their multitudes. But this will be different! Not locusts, but “a people, great and strong”. Before them a land ‘like the Garden of Eden’. A land of abundance. Behind them, ‘a desolate wilderness’. Even as I ‘reflect’ on this scene, the closest I can actually imagine comes from pictures of devastation following air raids on cities in Europe during the last great war, but worse. Referring to that invading force the prophet says “The like of whom has never been; nor will there ever be any such after them”. And so it goes on, devastatingly descriptive.
We are not able to see it as the people of Joel’s day saw it. They were living in the aftermath of the devastation caused by the invasion of the locusts. It was real. They lived it. What to us is an imaginary situation, was very much an everyday scene as the whole country struggled to recover from the carnage. For the farmer, the widow, the priest, and the ordinary citizen referred to earlier, this was their life. Try now to imagine, if you and I had lived through that experience, would we say ‘ho hum’ and act as nothing had happened? Or would we be desperate to avoid such a situation ever happening again. The answer is obvious. BUT, that does not avoid the inevitability of the coming “day of the LORD” does it? That day which the prophet Malachi described as “the great and dreadful day of the LORD”. (Malachi 4:5)
So what should WE do? Firstly, we heed the word of the prophet and “cry out to the LORD”. Look to Him for guidance and counsel, which comes by studying His word and engaging Him in dialogue (prayer). Look for the signs which He has clearly laid out for our understanding. Signs which have already begun to be evident (like the return of His people to the land), and then TRUST HIM.