Saturday, March 13, 2021

Battle After Battle After Battle...

Yup.  The Promised Land of our walk with Christ is not a leisurely stroll towards heaven.  We will face battle after battle after battle.  We cannot afford to ignore what is really going on.  And we cannot focus on just how much faith we have.  Rustling up enough faith to overcoming adversity is not the mindset here:  Knowing our enemy is within our hearts and outside of our hearts humbles us to walk with the Commander of the Lord's Army--Jesus Christ.  

Our focus needs to be on Him and His Word.  The whole Word.  A   

So, if you are led to believe that God wants only wealth, health and prosperity for you, then you will ignore the reality of life in the Promised Land to your peril.  Victory is not the same as no challenges or a smooth path with no obstacles.  Victory is knowing we will cross the finish lines, even if we are bruised, tired and overwhelmed.  Jesus is the Author and Perfector of our faith and the One who calls us heavenward, even as the battles rage. 

The inhabitants of the Land do not doubt the reality of the warfare that comes when God sends us in to bring His light and His Word.  

Evil takes notice.  Your own heart is a battleground, and Satan makes no pretense of wanting anything else but for you to fall in battle with the flesh and lose.  It's tough out there--as 2020 has so aptly illustrated.  

It's tough in here--in our heart and mind as we seek to walk with Jesus every day.

After the episode with Achan, Joshua returned to battle and stomped Ai.  Joshua learned once again that compromise with sin is not acceptable--Achan was the case in point--and he had the king of Ai impaled as a visual reminder that if Israel is to be successful, they cannot compromise at all with sin.  

In chapter 8 of Joshua, I love how the people renew their commitment of what the Lord had said was the only basis for their society:  the very words of God.  Joshua has an altar erected according to the instructions that God had given Moses about stones unhewn with iron tools.  I am speculating that pagan temples were highly crafted and shaped--the pagans took pride in their temples and their gods.  But not so with the children of Israel:  The stones came from earth, crafted by God Himself.  The focus was to be on the words inscribed there, not on the building itself:

Then Joshua built on Mount Ebal an altar to the Lord, the God of Israel, as Moses the servant of the Lord had commanded the Israelites. He built it according to what is written in the Book of the Law of Moses—an altar of uncut stones, on which no iron tool had been used. On it they offered to the Lord burnt offerings and sacrificed fellowship offerings. There, in the presence of the Israelites, Joshua wrote on stones a copy of the law of Moses. All the Israelites, with their elders, officials and judges, were standing on both sides of the ark of the covenant of the Lord, facing the Levitical priests who carried it. Both the foreigners living among them and the native-born were there. Half of the people stood in front of Mount Gerizim and half of them in front of Mount Ebal, as Moses the servant of the Lord had formerly commanded when he gave instructions to bless the people of Israel. (Josh. 8:30-33)

Everyone was there, standing in the Promised Land the sole focus was on the Lord and His Word.  Not on the altar, not on the victorious battle (although thanks were given to the Lord for the victory) and not on Joshua as the leader of the campaign.  The focus was where it should always be:  on the Lord and on His Word.

When we take matters into our own hands, and we redefine what the Word states, or downplay the Word's preeminence in building a just society, we end up with chaos and what the Book of Judges states so succinctly:  

Everyone did what was right in his own eyes. (17:6b)

What is the standard if we judge according to what we view as "the right"?

People may be right in their own eyes, but the Lord examines their heart. (Prov. 21:2)

If it feels good, do it.  You're not hurting anyone.  It's your choice. Who are they to judge?  Follow your bliss.  Get woke.
But, what is the result of such thinking?

There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death. (Prov. 14:12)

Why is this?  Because the heart we possess is so utterly deceitful:

 The heart is deceitful above all things
    and beyond cure.
    Who can understand it?  (Jer. 17:9)

Jesus spared us no illusions as to how we will fare if we allow our hearts to be our sole guide:  

A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart. What you say flows from what is in your heart. (Luke 6:45)

For from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, all sexual immorality, theft, lying, and slander. (Matt. 15:19)

So, what to do?  The Word needs to be central.  It is God's Word to us and of course it makes us angry, offended and upset.  It's not Man's Word. 

Before Joshua even entered the Promised land, God reminded him of the centrality of His Word:

Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go. This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful 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. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go. (Josh. 1:7-9)

The Book of Deuteronomy is a recap of the Law given in Exodus.  The generation that heard the Word died out in the desert; the new generation, the one going into the Promised Land, heard it again before entering; then God reminded Joshua of its centrality again before they crossed the River Jordan.  Now Joshua presents the Word again, as he carves it into the altar's stones after the defeat at Ai.

How come?  Heart-check time:  

For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires. (Heb. 4:12) 

It's the standard whereby we judge our motives, actions and behaviors.  Such an introspective life,  unlike the very public and rash way we live today, will allow the Lord to work through us, because we can hear Him speaking through His Word.

Our enemies know that if we keep our focus on ourselves, our wishes and our opinions, we are more likely to be deceived.  If you remember, Rahab said the surrounding area was filled with people who had heard of the great God of Israel and His miracles; their hearts had melted in fear. 

But evil will cower only so long.  Evil finds like-minded sorts and will amass, sometimes right under our very noses:

As soon as all the kings who were beyond the Jordan in the hill country and in the lowland all along the coast of the Great Sea toward Lebanon, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, heard of this, they gathered together as one to fight against Joshua and Israel. (Josh. 9:1-2)

Or, evil will engage in deception:

But when the people of Gibeon heard what Joshua had done to Jericho and to Ai, they resorted to deception to save themselves. (Josh. 9:3-4)

The wolves of Gideon pull out their sheep costumes and go to talk with Joshua. They look the part of tired dusty envoys, from a distant land, who are seeking a peace treaty with Israel.  Joshua asks pertinent questions, but instead of answering him, they point to their worn-out gear as proof positive that they really did travel far and are legitimate.  They are very convincing.  Their evidence, moldy bread and old wineskins, once new (so they claimed) and now old with arduous travel, seem to really impress the people, despite not really answering Joshua's questions.  They claim to be "servants" and retell all of the mighty deeds of Israel's God. Their elders instructed them to make peace with Israel; and here they are!

Sin is so legitimate, it seems.  Its logic makes sense, and we listen, nod our heads, and say, "Why not?"  So, Joshua and his leaders did what any self-respecting person would do when faced with overwhelming evidence of the rightness of something: 

So the men took some of their provisions, but did not ask counsel from the Lord.  And Joshua made peace with them and made a covenant with them, to let them live, and the leaders of the congregation swore to them. (Josh. 9:14-15) [emphasis mine]

Eventually evil shows its face and Joshua realizes that he was duped. The Israelites go and scout out the nearby cities from which they people came; but they would not attack them, because of the vow they  had made.  The people of Israel are now upset with their leaders, but the leaders must comply with the treaty.  They find a compromise:  These Gibeonites are to be water carriers and woodcutters.  

Hmm.  But they are still in the Land and have an influence on the people of Israel.  

Joshua calls the Gibeonites to account, and they play the fear card:  They knew that God had ordered the destruction of the people in the Land, so they did it out of self-preservation.  Hmmm.  

They ask Joshua to be merciful.

They ask Joshua to do whatever he thinks he should do.


How often do we give in to envoys from the Land, who tell tales of wary travel and a need to have us accept them, without any judgment?  We look at our history, our own failures and that of our society, and we cringe.  Then we give in.  We give these people a lower status, in some way (to show how angry we are) but we still allow them to have influence over our lives, our beliefs and our conduct in the Land.

But what was their original motivation?  Deception.

We are being deceived right and left (pun intended) about how we should act and believe in an increasingly progressive society.  We cringe at passages in the Word, fearing that such black and white thinking is unacceptable in a world where only gray prevails.

Their arguments sound reasonable; their need for acceptance warrants consideration and the history we are ashamed of swims before our eyes, making us eager not to repeat it.

And yet. 

What does Jesus say?

Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash. (Matt. 7:24-27)

Not a  house built with a few choice bricks from His Word, but completely constructed from "these words of mine."  In their fullness.  Even the uncomfortable bits.  (And boy, were Jesus' contemporaries, especially the religious leaders, because they wanted to pacify the Romans, uncomfortable with His words.  So uncomfortable, they partnered with their enemies to put Him to death.)

We may compromise out of good motives, but what are the motives of our enemies?  Deception.  

The battles will continue, whether the enemies are in full view with a battle-ready order, or are hiding under the guise of accommodation, but they will continue.

It's the nature of the Land we walk in.  

What will be our response in these ever darkening days?

The Word is a good place to start as we consult the Lord as to our response.



















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