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Table of Contents
1 Passing the Torch
2 A Prostitute’s Faith
3 Lessons in Faith
4 Keeping Covenant
5 Give Me the Hill Country
6 Whose Side Are You On?
7 Every Man For Himself
8 Taking the Lead
9 The Least in His Family
10 Things Aren’t As They Seem
11 Beware of Millstones
12 A Daughter’s Devotion
13 Woman Trouble
14 Moral Compromise
15 Alternative Lifestyles
17 A Dose of Kindness
18 Faith Tested
19 A New Order
20 A Faithful Priest
21 By Your Help
Appendix – God of Judgment, Or God of Mercy?
About the Author
List of Illustrations
Conquest of Southern Canaan
Conquest of the North
Change comes hard. Particularly when it involves, not only different circumstances but, different ways of thinking and the way we look at the world. There are probably few people or societies who can undergo true transformation without feeling a profound sense of unease and doubt. There are always those who resist change no matter how necessary and inevitable it may be. Even those who embrace change sometimes feel nostalgia for the past.
In the context of starting churches an old preacher remarked, “You always lose the first generation in the wilderness.” While that may be somewhat cynical, there is a large element of truth in it. It is hard for people to leave their old habits, their old friends and associates and identify with the new community and new ways of thinking and living.
In the case of the Israelites, it is literally true that they lost in the wilderness the first generation of people who had entered into covenant with God at Mt. Sinai. In spite of all the miracles they had seen and all the evidence of God’s care for them, they found true transformation too hard. In spite of being rescued from slavery, they were still slaves at heart. They did not know how to use their freedom responsibly. Egypt still called though they had pleaded with God for deliverance from Egypt. Hebrews 11:16-19 says that they were unable to enter the land God promised them because of unbelief. It was their children – the next generation which finally was able to claim the land. It was the next generation which had developed the thought patterns and world-view which enabled them to receive the promise.
There is no question that the Israelites experienced wrenching change when they left Egypt. They went from a settled life in a fertile and well-watered land to a nomadic existence in an arid desert. After being driven by taskmasters who made their decisions for them, they had to learn to be responsible for their own choices. In Egypt they had enjoyed a variety of foods. During their wanderings their diet was limited and monotonous. Most importantly, they exchanged a culture and society where they were constantly exposed to and influenced by idolatry for a covenant relationship with God.
Upon entering Canaan the Israelites confronted even more change. The first several years were characterized by bloody clashes with the peoples who were already living there. Once the Israelites had killed off or displaced enough of the original inhabitants to make room for themselves, they had to change from a nomadic lifestyle to a settled one. While many still kept their flocks and herds, the majority had to learn to tend farms, orchards and vineyards. They had to learn to build and maintain houses rather than tents.
There was another change as well. Throughout the time the Israelites spent in the wilderness God miraculously preserved their shoes and clothing – their clothing did not wear out (Deuteronomy 29:5). This came to an end when they entered the Promised Land. This meant that the people had to provide these and other necessities for themselves. This would have led to the rise of a whole variety of cottage industries with which they had no prior experience.
As welcome as many of these changes no doubt were, they still must have been difficult. Many of those who entered Canaan probably had vivid memories of slavery during their teen-aged years, when they had been forced to make and carry bricks. Then came the adjustment to a relatively safe but monotonous life in tents. Next came the horrors of close-quarter combat. Finally, quite late in life, they had to learn another, very different, way of living. Along with new skills, they had to learn new responsibilities. The necessities of life were no longer handed to them.
Though the Israelites made the external changes their situation required, perhaps it is fair to say that they were not as successful in making a corresponding spiritual transition. The people had always had a bent toward idolatry. Right after entering into covenant with God at Mt. Sinai, they made a calf idol. After conquering the territory east of the Jordan River, they participated in idolatry with the Moabites. Upon entering into Canaan they had a marked tendency to assimilate and acculturate themselves to the pagan society of the peoples among whom they lived.
Perhaps the changes they had experienced were so disruptive that they sought refuge in the familiar. Whatever their motivation, the opposing pulls of idolatry and covenant is a major theme in the next period of their history. This back and forth seesaw continued throughout the time of the Judges.
When reading the Bible it is easy to “telescope” history. We forget that though incidents may be recorded only a few pages apart, there may be a gap of many years between them. For example, there is a roughly four-hundred year gap between the last verse of Genesis and the first verse of Exodus. The four books after Genesis (that is, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy), cover a relatively short span of about one-hundred, twenty years. However, the events they record are arguably some of the most important in the Old Testament.
In contrast, though the period of the Conquest and Judges lasted approximately four hundred and fifty years, the Bible devotes much less space to it. While from the standpoint of covenant history the period may be less important than the Exodus and the giving of the Law, it still has many important lessons to teach us. It is amazing just how relevant it is to us today.
One of the main lessons is that God can and does use imperfect people. The Judges are among some of the most flawed people in the entire Bible. However, God was able to use them in spite of their imperfections to do mighty things. For this reason, one of the messages we should take away from the time of the Conquest and Judges is hope. If God could do mighty things through them in spite of their flaws and problems, He can work in and through us as well. Our background, ancestry and circumstances don’t matter. What does matter is making ourselves available to God. We are not responsible for results, only obedience.
I have taken the following lessons from the books of Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Ruth and 1st Samuel.
Passing The Torch
(Deuteronomy 31:1-8, 34:1-12, Joshua 1:1-11)
Introduction: Forty years after leaving Egypt the people of Israel were finally ready to enter the land God had promised them. During those 40 years the people had entered into covenant relationship with God. They had become a people separate from the peoples around them. Though they had many lapses, they had learned to trust in God’s provision.
Before they could enter the Promised Land, there was one piece of unfinished business which had to be completed – the commissioning of the leader who would take the people into the land.
I. The Passing Of An Era (Deuteronomy 31:1-8)
God had forbidden Moses from entering Canaan. But even if God had allowed him to go in, his age made it essential to pick a successor. The time had come to pass the role of leadership to somebody else. However, the transition must have been extremely unsettling – both for the nation and for Joshua who was to take over. Consider:
1) Moses was 120 years old. That made him at least twice as old as everyone except Joshua and Caleb. That made him literally, the ‘Grand Old Man’ of the nation. In a very real sense, Moses was the living repository of the collected memory and wisdom of the nation. With his death the history of the nation – and particularly entering into covenant relationship with God – would remain the direct experience of only two people who had been adults at the time. For this reason, it was imperative that Moses write it all down. (See Deuteronomy 31:9.) Otherwise, the lore of the nation as well as the covenant responsibilities would have been lost.
2) Moses had led the Israelites for 40 of his 120 years. No one under the age of 40 (except Joshua and Caleb) had known the leadership of anyone else. A change of leadership always requires a period of adjustment. It’s even worse when you have never experienced change before. The familiar is gone and the future is uncertain.
3) Up to this point, Joshua had always been the understudy. He had been the subordinate. His had never been the ultimate authority. He had always had someone above him to take the responsibility – or the blame if things went wrong. (Whenever the people had rebelled, they had always taken their frustrations out on Moses and sometimes Aaron – never Joshua except when Joshua had brought them a positive report about Canaan.) But now, Joshua was going to be the one in charge. There was no one higher to pass problems and decisions up to. There is a vast difference between being an executive officer carrying out the directives of someone else and being the actual decision maker. While it can be liberating to have the authority to act with a free hand, it can also be profoundly unsettling to realize that final responsi-bility rests with you – people now look to you for direction and guidance. There is no one higher to consult. There is no one to shield you from criticism. The burden of command rests solely on your shoulders.
II. Death Of The Old Man (Deuteronomy 34:1-12)
Probably most people approach the end of life with mixed feelings. On the one hand, there is a sense of satisfaction over the things that they were able to accomplish. On the other, there is a sense of regret over opportunities missed and the tasks which will not be completed.
There is no doubt that Moses experienced both of these emotions. In one sense he had fulfilled his life’s purpose. Against all odds, he had brought the people of Israel to the border of the Promised Land. In spite of all the rebellion, all the challenges to his leadership and all external threats; in spite of the crushing disappointment of the additional 38 years of wandering because the people refused to enter the first time around, he had brought the people through. Yet, there was also overwhelming disappointment. After all Moses had gone through, he was denied the privilege of entering the land, himself. He could only look at it from a distance.
Why couldn’t Moses enter the land?
The prohibition stems from the incident which is recorded in Numbers 20:1-13. The people lacked water and quarreled with Moses about it. God instructed Moses to speak to a rock, which would then open and provide a water supply. Instead of speaking to the rock, Moses hit it with his staff. As a result, God told him, “…Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them.” (Numbers 20:12 NIV)
Even though Moses apparently repented of his action and pleaded with God to let him go in, God refused. “…“That is enough,” the Lord said. “Do not speak to me anymore about this matter.”” (Deuteronomy 3:26 NIV)
Lesson: In our culture we have a saying that it’s better to ask forgiveness than to ask permission. While that may have a certain validity in the context of rigid systems and unwieldy bureaucracies, it is totally the wrong approach with God. He expects an obedient faith – that we will comply with what He has told us to do even if we don’t understand the reasons. Disobedience and unbelief always carry consequences. Repentance does not do away with conse-quences.
In spite of the prohibition, Moses got the next best thing to entering the land – God allowed him to view it from a distance. Unless a miracle was involved, due to the distance and the curvature of the earth, it’s unlikely that Moses saw the entire land with his physical eyes. It’s more likely that Moses saw and was able to visualize the land through the eyes of faith. “All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance…” (Hebrews 11:13 NIV)
Why did God bury Moses and why is the grave hidden?
Though Scripture does not tell us why the grave is hidden, from knowing human nature, it’s easy to guess why. Humans are notorious for making shrines. Had God not hidden Moses’ grave, it is almost certain that the grave would have become a place of veneration. People would have started to worship the shrine and started to pray to Moses. They would have deified Moses, turning him into another of their idols. How ironic that would have been, since Moses continually brought the people back to their covenant to the One, true God!
How did Moses transfer the leadership to Joshua?
Moses transferred his authority to Joshua by laying his hands on him. As a result, Joshua was filled with the spirit of wisdom (Deuteronomy 34:9). It’s interesting to note that leadership roles in the church are still conferred by the laying on of hands. (See Acts 6:1-6, 1 Timothy 5:22.)
III. Be Strong And Courageous! (Joshua 1:1-18)
Before his death, Moses, at God’s instruction, had transferred his leadership role to Joshua. However, it is one thing to have the role and the title and quite another to know what to do with it. It must have been a great comfort to Joshua when God spoke to him and repeated the mandate that He had given to Moses (Joshua 1:1-5). At least Joshua knew that God regarded him as the legitimate successor to Moses.
Yet, when one has served under a strong, authoritarian leader it takes a while to find your own footing. Joshua must have felt inadequate. He must have felt intimidated by the task. He must have felt unsure of himself. He must have been hesitant in picking up the reigns. It’s amazing the lengths to which God went in order to build up Joshua’s confidence.
1) God told Moses to encourage and strengthen Joshua. This is mentioned at least twice (Deuteronomy 1:38, 3:28).
2) God, Himself, told Joshua to be strong and courageous at least 3 times (Joshua 1:6, 7, 9).
3) God told Joshua not to be terrified or discouraged (Joshua 1:9).
4) At least twice, God promised Joshua that He would be with him (Joshua 1:5, 9).
5) The two and a half tribes which were going to settle on the eastern side of the Jordan River told Joshua to be strong and courageous (Joshua 1:18).
Though Joshua apparently needed reassurance and to have his confidence built up, it is commendable that he did not allow his natural timidity and self-doubts to prevent him from taking decisive action. Right after God confirmed the promise to give the Israelites the land of Canaan, Joshua gave orders for the camp to get ready to move (Joshua 1:10-11).
Application: God knows our weaknesses and limitations and gives us the ability to do His will in spite of them. He supplies what is lacking in our natural makeup. We need to have the faith to move at God’s word in spite of our feelings of inadequacy. We need to trust God to supply what we lack, “For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.” (1 Timothy 1:7 NIV)
What is it that brings prosperity and success?
God told Joshua that He would give him prosperity and success if he continually meditated on the Law and obeyed it.
Question: How much do we meditate on God’s word? How careful are we to obey what God has said? Could it be that we don’t enjoy as much success and prosperity as we could because we have not made obedience to God’s word a priority in our lives? “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:33 NIV) All too often, our values are the opposite of what they ought to be.