Monday, March 04, 2013

Fighting God's Battles

Recently in skimming through the book of Joshua, a particular passage really stood out to me. It was in Chapter 5, which describes the events of the Israelites preparing spiritually for the conquest of the Promised Land. They have just crossed over the Jordan River which God had rolled back, signifying His involvement and renewing the faith of the Israelite nation. In verse 1, it reads, "Now when all the Amorite kings west of the Jordan and all the Canaanite kings along the coast heard how the Lord had dried up the Jordan before the Israelites until they had crossed over, their hearts melted in fear and they no longer had the courage to face the Israelites." The other nations had realized a frightening truth (at least for them), that this new invading force had a supernatural power guiding them. 

But God had a desire for his people to not just be physically prepared for conquest of the Promised Land, He wanted their hearts to be in the right place. Verses 2-3, "At that time the Lord said to Joshua, “Make flint knives and circumcise the Israelites again.” So Joshua made flint knives and circumcised the Israelites at Gibeath Haaraloth." This was a renewal of their covenant with God through the rite of circumcision. It goes on to explain this renewal in verses 4-8, "Now this is why he did so: All those who came out of Egypt—all the men of military age—died in the wilderness on the way after leaving Egypt.  All the people that came out had been circumcised, but all the people born in the wilderness during the journey from Egypt had not.  The Israelites had moved about in the wilderness forty years until all the men who were of military age when they left Egypt had died, since they had not obeyed the Lord. For the Lord had sworn to them that they would not see the land he had solemnly promised their ancestors to give us, a land flowing with milk and honey. So he raised up their sons in their place, and these were the ones Joshua circumcised. They were still uncircumcised because they had not been circumcised on the way.  And after the whole nation had been circumcised, they remained where they were in camp until they were healed." The unfaithful and cowardly generation had been purged by their 40 year exile in the wastelands of the Middle East. A new generation had been raised up that sought God wholeheartedly and had faith in His power. 

God now brings attention to that fact in verse 9, "Then the Lord said to Joshua, “Today I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you.” So the place has been called Gilgal to this day." The Israelites have finally put their many sins of their Exodus behind them and are now prepared to see the promise of God to Abraham fulfilled. "The Lord said to Abram after Lot had parted from him, “Look around from where you are, to the north and south, to the east and west.  All the land that you see I will give to you and your offspring forever.  I will make your offspring like the dust of the earth, so that if anyone could count the dust, then your offspring could be counted. Go, walk through the length and breadth of the land, for I am giving it to you." -Genesis 13: 14-17.

In verses 10-12 it goes on to record "On the evening of the fourteenth day of the month, while camped at Gilgal on the plains of Jericho, the Israelites celebrated the Passover.  The day after the Passover, that very day, they ate some of the produce of the land: unleavened bread and roasted grain. The manna stopped the day after they ate this food from the land; there was no longer any manna for the Israelites, but that year they ate the produce of Canaan." For many years  God had provided manna, a breadlike substance, dutifully, as sustenance for His people. It had appeared on the ground every morning, and was harvested by the Israelites every morning. But now, because of the Israelites arrival in the "land of milk and honey", there was no longer a need for it, as these lands were fertile and could easily supply their agrarian needs. 

Now at this part of the chapter begins the passage that impressed me. The great and debauched city of Jericho stands in front of God's people. It is their first objective in their conquest of the Promised Land, and Joshua well recognizes this, he has already sent two spies to test out the militant strength of the city, and knows with God's help it will be possible to take it. When this next part begins I imagine him strategizing with his generals, perhaps trying to find the best way to attack the city. Verse 13 begins, "Now when Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went up to him and asked, “Are you for us or for our enemies?" The Israelites were on guard, realizing that the other nations might decide to launch an attack at them. So you can imagine when a man pops up in front of Joshua with a drawn sword, a sign of offense, that his first response was equally aggressive. Joshua desired to know if the man was a threat or an ally. Now this next verse really made me think. “Neither,” he replied, “but as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.” Then Joshua fell face down to the ground in reverence, and asked him, “What message does my Lord have for his servant?” The Israelites are about to launch their biggest offensive ever, which they know will be ulitmately successful because of God's assistance to their cause. But when the man replies "neither" Joshua (and I) realized that this was man was a representative of a third party. The third party being the Army of the Lord. The man himself, was not just an angel, he is believed by many Bible scholars to be none other than the impersonifed Son of God. The Son of God had been sent to deliver a important message with a double meaning to the Israelites. The first meaning is the plans of God's perfect plan to destroy Jericho. ("Then the Lord said to Joshua, “See, I have delivered Jericho into your hands, along with its king and its fighting men. March around the city once with all the armed men. Do this for six days. ave seven priests carry trumpets of rams’ horns in front of the ark. On the seventh day, march around the city seven times, with the priests blowing the trumpets.  When you hear them sound a long blast on the trumpets, have the whole army give a loud shout; then the wall of the city will collapse and the army will go up, everyone straight in.” Joshua 6:2-5) But the second meaning is even more powerful, and has many implications for us in this day. When the pre-personifed Christ says "neither" He is communicating the fact that the Israelites cannot claim God's allegiance with their cause, even if they believe they are fulfilling His promise to them. The Son of God is putting them in their place, making it crystal clear that they are to be following God's plan for them. Not making their own plans and expecting God to assist them in the fulfillment of them. God has His own side. We are to be on that side, not desire for God to come to our side and help us. When the Son of God says, "but as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.", He had come to take charge, not to be ordered about. We are all familiar with the verse, "For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength. -Philippians 4:13. I believe that we take this verse out of context often, in the sense that if we have a mission and desire God's help with that, we can ask to be strengthened to complete. But I believe that God wants His children in this day to follow His plans, His directives, His orders, His missions and in doing so, like the Israelites, we will be blessed and be serving God in the way He desires us to. 

The last verse (15) says, "The commander of the Lord’s army replied, “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy.” And Joshua did so." Obedience is key in following our great God. Jeremiah 29:11 proclaims, "For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." My prayer is that we all might learn to follow His perfect plans for our lives, so that we might be able to say as Jesus did, "I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do." -John 17:4 

On a side note, I apologize for the low volume of posts recently, I will be trying to remedy that.