A Lesson from Joshua and the Gibeonites About the Mercy of God

Lord, you are so merciful it baffles me at times.  Even in the midst of dishonesty, trickery, and cowardice, You are faithful and merciful.  Your compassion is boundless. Your mercy is unrelenting. Your love is a rock of salvation that cannot be moved.  You are good. You are light. And in You there is no darkness.

As I read Joshua, it would be easy to look at all the conquering and destruction and think that the God of the Universe was a terrible creature, full of hate and fury.  But instead what I have been constantly reminded of is the faithfulness of God, and His incredible mercy. We see it first with Rahab of Jericho. She was a filthy, Godless, prostitute, and the spies Joshua sent to gather intelligence found protection in her house.  She gave them shelter. She lied for them. And she trusted that God would show mercy to her for contributing to his people. Okay, maybe it’s easy to see the profound mercy of God through Rahab. She becomes part of the direct lineage of Jesus because she trusted God would protect her if she acted on behalf of His people, and trusted that He would spare her.  Cool, right? I get it.

But what really blows my mind is God’s mercy for the spies.  Rahab was a prostitute! What on earth were the spies doing with her?  I doubt they were there for conversation! And God sees them, deep in the midst of unrepentant sin, distracted from the task at hand, enjoying the pleasure of the very city God had destined for destruction because of sin, and He is still faithful to deliver Jericho into the hands of Joshua and the Israelite army.  Do you see that? And we find ourselves doubting God’s mercy?!

Later on with Joshua, the Gibeonite deception causes Joshua to make a terrible mistake.  

They said to Joshua, “We are your servants.” And Joshua said to them, “Who are you? And where do you come from?”9 They said to him, “From a very distant country your servants have come, because of the name of the Lord your God. For we have heard a report of him, and all that he did in Egypt, 10 and all that he did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon the king of Heshbon, and to Og king of Bashan, who lived in Ashtaroth. 11 So our elders and all the inhabitants of our country said to us, ‘Take provisions in your hand for the journey and go to meet them and say to them, “We are your servants. Come now, make a covenant with us.”’12 Here is our bread. It was still warm when we took it from our houses as our food for the journey on the day we set out to come to you, but now, behold, it is dry and crumbly. 13 These wineskins were new when we filled them, and behold, they have burst. And these garments and sandals of ours are worn out from the very long journey.” 14 So the men took some of their provisions, but did not ask counsel from the Lord.5 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.
Joshua 9:8-15

When the Gibeonites masqueraded as sojourners seeking after the God of Israel, Joshua accepts them with open arms.  He fell for their deception immediately because it seemed like the right thing to do. But Joshua failed to ask what God wanted.  He depended on his own judgement to discern the intent of the Gibeonites and he was wrong. He trusted himself over God, totally out of self-confidence and good intentions.  And that self-confidence and good intention turned Joshua from the Lord to himself. Sounds a little like accidental idolatry of self to me! How many times have I done that?  How many times today have I done that!? When you think about it, it’s kind of terrible.

But God is so merciful!  The Gibeonites came to Joshua in fear and enslaved themselves to the Isrealites.  How sad. And when Joshua discovers the deception he admonishes them and tells them they are cursed now to be slaves.  In other words, if they had been honest and turned from their own wickedness and trusted in God to spare them, they would have been spared and they would have been free.  But their fear enslaved them. Even though they’d enslaved themselves, God spared them from destruction.

22 Joshua summoned them, and he said to them, “Why did you deceive us, saying, ‘We are very far from you,’ when you dwell among us? 23 Now therefore you are cursed, and some of you shall never be anything but servants, cutters of wood and drawers of water for the house of my God.” 24 They answered Joshua, “Because it was told to your servants for a certainty that the Lord your God had commanded his servant Moses to give you all the land and to destroy all the inhabitants of the land from before you—so we feared greatly for our lives because of you and did this thing. 25 And now, behold, we are in your hand. Whatever seems good and right in your sight to do to us, do it.” 26 So he did this to them and delivered them out of the hand of the people of Israel, and they did not kill them. 27 But Joshua made them that day cutters of wood and drawers of water for the congregation and for the altar of the Lord, to this day, in the place that he should choose.

The Gibeonites, even in their fear and cowardice and eventual enslavement, receive mercy from God.  They had to deal with the consequences of their actions by being enslaved, but they were spared. Sounds a lot like the Israelites in Egypt! What a profound mystery is the love and mercy of God and His desire to commune with us!

25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish…32 This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.” Ephesians 5:25-27, 32

God’s love for us is so profound, so merciful, so bonding, that He uses marriage as a metaphor for what He wants with his people, His bride.  Intimacy and forgiveness. That is a mystery, indeed!

Both Joshua and the Gibeonites find mercy from the Lord.  Even though Joshua had sinned mightily. And the Gibeonites melted in cowardice and fear when faced with the potential slaughter from God’s armies.  God used it to bring potential salvation to the Gibeonites (because having been spared and enslaving themselves to the Israelites, they would be among them and see evidence of His grace by proximity.)  So in cowardice from the Gibeonites, and in self-confident, careless disobedience from Joshua, God showed His mercy to both sides.

God took the mistakes that had been made, the inevitable failings of humanity and used it for good.  In Joshua Chapter 10, the story of the mighty Gibeonites in submission to the Israelites became a warning and a trumpet call to the rest of the people in the land.  Destruction comes to the enemies of God, but mercy comes to all who will turn to God and accept His leadership. Like Rahab, one can come to God with faith that He will rescue, or one can come to God in fear.  Fear may have saved the Gibeonites from death, but it came at the cost of their own freedom. Fear brought them only temporary life and at the cost of their own freedom. Only turning to God in faith will lead to life forever in His family.

If only they had turned to God in faith instead of fear!  What a valuable lesson. Faith will bring deliverance and acceptance into the body of Christ.  Fear will only bring enslavement by your own hand. And can your own hand save you? Surely not.  Just ask the Gibeonites.

Back to the Garden

Sin and shame have ruled my life for a very long time.  Since I was a child, I tried to hide it from everyone: from God, from myself, from the world.  As a small child I had experienced a cruel type of shame from the enemy that forced a burden on me that I was not intended to bear.  But the Lord is so merciful, full of forgiveness and abounding with love. What the enemy intended to harm me, God will use for good.  And He is.

I’ve longed to go back to the Garden where I could walk in the presence of God, completely vulnerable, completely trusting, and completely unashamed.  I just didn’t know it. I kept trying to cover myself instead of relinquishing my control to let God cover me. God’s covering is perfect. It protects.  It builds up. It comforts. It surrounds me in love and peace. It is good because God is good. And in the Garden, we communed as one friendship in complete transparency with one another.  I could know Him and He knew me. And it was good.

But the devil tried to steal that from me.  He tried, but he has failed. God never gives up, and He hasn’t given up on me.  Instead, He has tenderly and lovingly guided me back to Him, though the path has been difficult.  All along the journey I have fought with Him. I’ve questioned His judgment and His direction. Can you imagine?  I questioned God! What an oxymoron! But I did it, and I’ll likely do it again. I kept insisting that He not see my nakedness.  I had too much shame. I had too much guilt. I had fear and darkness where their should have been trust and love.

“I acknowledged my sin to You,
And I did not cover my iniquity;
I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to YAHWEH,’
And You forgave the iniquity of my sin.”
Psalm 32:5

When I acknowledged my doubt and fear and shame to Him, He didn’t turn me away.  He forgave me. And again and again He will do the same. What incredible peace there is in that!  It is life changing. As I continue to strip off the layers and layers of shame and guilt and fear that I have built up around myself for so many years, the Lord faithfully and lovingly says, “I forgive you, I forgive you, I forgive you,” over and over and over again.  Seventy times seven and more. And with each confession I’m drawn closer to Him. I am more and more exposed and I am more and more free.

His presence is the only covering I need.  Shame and doubt and fear have only kept me away from Him.  But as I release control of my covering to the Lord, I am free.  His presence is my shield, my righteousness, my honor, my delight.  To be naked and unashamed in His presence is to be back in the Garden.  And that’s where I want to be.

So, Father, I’m sorry for not trusting You.  I’m sorry for trying to cover all of my guilt and shame with manufactured lies that never gave me the comfort and peace that I thought they would or needed them to.  Real peace can only be found in You. Real comfort is in Your arms. Your presence is mine for the asking when I surrender to You and confess it all. Thank You! I am saved.  Help me to continue to walk in the Garden and not try to cover myself again in anything but You.

“If you want to show your love for Me, love yourself.”

“If you want to show your love for Me, love yourself.”  

That’s what Jesus said to me a few weeks ago and I’ve been pondering it and pondering it.  A common prayer of mine has always been to ask how I could love Him more. And the words that would come to mind were, “If you love me, obey my commands.”  The only problem with that came when I overgeneralized that statement. I put the focus on me and not on Him. So I worked and worked and worked to be a good Christian, to be a good missionary, to be a good wife, to be a good mom, to be a good prayer warrior, to be good.  It overwhelmed me to the point of panic.

“If you want to show your love for Me, love yourself.”  

Isn’t that selfish? Isn’t that arrogant” Isn’t that Humanism?  Isn’t that wrong? I could talk myself out of that thinking a thousand different ways, and all in the name of obedience.  I called it humility. I called it obedience. My fear of disobedience had me hating myself for all the ways I fall short.  All the ways I fail. How could I love a person so covered in the ugliness of sin and shame?

And yet, “If you want to show your love for Me, love yourself.”  He wants me to love myself because He loves me. If I take the focus off of myself, which at the end of the day is true humility, I can see that I can love myself, not for what I’ve done, but for what He has done.  He made me lovable.

Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.
1 John 4:8

If I don’t love myself, how can I truly know God?  Not loving myself is to not love what God has done in me.  What God has made me. Because God loves me, I have love in my heart through His Spirit, and I have the power and the command to love myself, just as I love others.  That is the evidence of my relationship with God. That is the truth of who God is at His core. He is love.

So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.
1 John 4:16

I will abide in Your love, Jesus.  The love You have for me is a love that I can and will embrace by Your power.  I want to turn away from the self-loathing brought about by disobedience and imperfection, and instead embrace the powerful, cleansing flood of your forgiving love.  

I accept Your love, Jesus.

Teach Me, Oh Lord!

The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.”
Exodus 14:14

Jesus, sometimes I’m just overwhelmed.  It seems like taking my next breath is too difficult.  Depression has this way of crippling you down to the deepest part of yourself, and for so long I have scratched and clawed away at life just to find a smile.  It’s been really, really hard. I found myself crying out to You, God, with phrases like, “Lord, just take me!” or, “Lord, come back already! I can’t do this anymore!”  And then I felt frustrated, even angry that You didn’t abide to my demands.

But God, You’ve never been content to let me be swallowed up by my own self-pity or the schemes of the enemy intended to destroy me.  I was too important to You to have my life thrown away because I was weary of fighting. All along You have offered me Yourself, Your Salvation, Your strength.  I cried, “save me!” and Your response has always been, “I am.”

You truly are I am, aren’t You, God?

You’ve taught me so much through these trials, Lord: lessons You weren’t content to let me lose.  Each step of the journey, You have taught me, strengthened me, and helped me. You have made my paths straight, no matter how drunk on my own self-loathing I became.  You pulled me up out of pits of my own folly, and wiped away my tears with the tender kisses of Your breath of Life.

Out of my distress I called on the Lord;
   the Lord answered me and set me free.
6 The Lord is on my side; I will not fear.
   What can man do to me?
7 The Lord is on my side as my helper;
   I shall look in triumph on those who hate me.
Psalms 118:5-7

No matter where I am, no matter what I do, You will teach me and guide me and strengthen me.  You are God. When I am discouraged, when I am depressed, when I have given up, You remain strong within me, teaching and guiding me and building me up in Your image and molding me to be more like You.  Your Word teaches me, Lord. You are the Word made flesh, Jesus. I will submit to Your teaching.

My soul clings to the dust;
   give me life according to your word!
26 When I told of my ways, you answered me;
   teach me your statutes!
27 Make me understand the way of your precepts,
   and I will meditate on your wondrous works.
28 My soul melts away for sorrow;
   strengthen me according to your word!
Psalms 119:25-28

 

Wisdom in the Secret Heart

Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being,
and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.
Psalm 51:6

I’ve been dealing with a lot of old stuff in counseling.  Stuff that’s been hidden deep inside me for a very long time.  And I’ve been realizing how much I have lied to myself to protect myself from the truth of my past.  I’ve lied to myself to stay safe, but I haven’t been safe.  I am wounded.  And healing can only come in the revelation of the wound and the power of God to heal it in me.

I’ve always looked at the idea of “wisdom in the secret heart” as a deep wisdom, a deep understanding or teaching of God’s Word in my inner being.  And that’s certainly true!  But I’ve been discovering just how deep the Lord is willing to go with me if I’m willing to let Him take me there.   And it’s way deeper than human knowledge can even comprehend.

It’s scary.   It’s so scary that I’m writing this blog post right now and instead of my standard “prayer format”, I’m just putting it out there stream of consciousness style.  I guess the details are fine to stay between me and God.  He is showing me the things that have been there all this time.  The things I’ve lied to myself over for many, many years.  I’d let the enemy convince me that keeping it hidden from my own mind would heal me.

But I’ve relied on myself to heal these wounds for a long, long time.  I even convinced myself that I was trusting God to heal me in the midst of my own suffering.  But God has used it.  He is faithful to teach me wisdom in the secret heart no matter how stubborn I am and no matter how many times I fall for Satan’s tricks.  He is patient with me and quick to forgive.

All this sin that others inflicted on me.  All this sin I inflicted on myself to hide with shame what happened.  All of it has been revealed and washed clean by the blood of the lamb.

Create in me a clean heart, O God,
    and renew a right spirit within me.
Psalm 56:10

God is able to clean what has been stained inside of me.  God is able to heal the wounds and restore me.  But restoration can only come once the wounds are revealed.  And the wounds couldn’t be revealed until I was willing to acknowledge them.  I can look back at so many experiences in my life and see how the Lord has been gently trying to show me the way and help me to get there.  And through it all I’ve gone deeper and deeper and deeper as I submitted to His teaching and His love for me.

I’ve confessed and cried out to God.  I’ve offered prayers of repentence and cries for mercy.  And the Lord has heard me.  And He’s taken me deeper.  He’s taken me to the deepest knowledge of my broken spirit and my broken heart.

For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it;
    you will not be pleased with a burnt offering.
17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
    a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
Psalm 51:16-17

But it wasn’t until I gave up everything–and I’m still in the midst of giving it all up–that I’ve realized the truth of this wisdom in the secret heart.  This wisdom of deep repentence, not regret, not fear, but deep and profound repentence for all the years of hiding it I’ve tried to sustain.  It was never hidden from God.  And His love for me remained.  When people stole my innocence and scarred my soul, the Lord was there, and He wanted to heal me.  As He wept for my injury, and wept for my abusers, and wept for the damage it did to all of us, He remembered the cross of Calvary and offered it to me.

And only now have I finally recieved the start of that wisdom from the secret heart.  That wisdom that brings confession, repentence, forgiveness, and restoration.  There is profound peace in that.

Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
    and uphold me with a willing spirit.

13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
 and sinners will return to you.
14 Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God,
    O God of my salvation,
    and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness.
15 O Lord, open my lips,
    and my mouth will declare your praise.
Psalm 51:12-15

Your Love Endures Forever

God, I have a really hard time understanding why people refuse to believe in Your love for them.  They refuse to follow You or trust You or listen to You, though You make yourself known so clearly!  Either that, or they’re quick to acknowledge you with their lips, but fail to acknowledge You in their hearts.  I don’t understand it, God, until I take a long look at myself and discover with horror that I do the same thing.

I want to believe in Your love for me, Jesus, but how quickly I fall into the trap of believing the lies of the enemy about You and me and our relationship.  I do something beautiful and I beam with pride in my own accomplishment, without taking the time to give credit to the one who was in charge of it all to begin with.  I want people to acknowledge my good deeds and praise my efforts, instead of pointing people to You, the author and perfecter of my faith and theirs.

I want to recognize Your authority in everything, God.  Not just when I need You, or not just when I’m thinking of You, but all the time.  I know that You forgive me. And I know that You love me. But my love and obedience are so frail, Lord.  I get caught up in the hype of my own reflection in the mirror. Increase my faith in You God and what You want to do through me.

I know that loving myself is important.  You made me. You love me. I should love me.  Everything that You make is worth loving. But I need to love myself out of a desire to show my love to You, not in order to lift myself up as worthy on my own merit.  I am beautiful because You call me beautiful. I am lovable because You have called me lovable.

So, I’m not going to beat myself up for the times I have failed You and I’m not going to cry over mistakes I have made in the past.  Instead, I will continue to ask You to help me point to You more, and seek Your honor above my own more. I will continue to try, Lord, knowing that my efforts are not in vain because You will help me.  You will patiently teach me and guide me. And I will try to trust and obey.

I won’t live in condemnation, but instead lift up Your righteousness and forgiveness.  I will recognize Your authority over me and praise You for blessing the works of my hands, so that Your name will be glorified.  

Psalm 136

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good,
   for his steadfast love endures forever.
2 Give thanks to the God of gods,
   for his steadfast love endures forever.
3 Give thanks to the Lord of lords,
   for his steadfast love endures forever;
4 to him who alone does great wonders,
   for his steadfast love endures forever;
5 to him who by understanding made the heavens,
   for his steadfast love endures forever;
6 to him who spread out the earth above the waters,
   for his steadfast love endures forever;
7 to him who made the great lights,
   for his steadfast love endures forever;
8 the sun to rule over the day,
   for his steadfast love endures forever;
9 the moon and stars to rule over the night,
   for his steadfast love endures forever;
10 to him who struck down the firstborn of Egypt,
   for his steadfast love endures forever;
11 and brought Israel out from among them,
   for his steadfast love endures forever;
12 with a strong hand and an outstretched arm,
   for his steadfast love endures forever;|
13 to him who divided the Red Sea in two,
   for his steadfast love endures forever;
14 and made Israel pass through the midst of it,
   for his steadfast love endures forever;
15 but overthrew[a] Pharaoh and his host in the Red Sea,
   for his steadfast love endures forever;
16 to him who led his people through the wilderness,
   for his steadfast love endures forever;
17 to him who struck down great kings,
   for his steadfast love endures forever;
18 and killed mighty kings,
   for his steadfast love endures forever;
19 Sihon, king of the Amorites,
   for his steadfast love endures forever;
20 and Og, king of Bashan,
   for his steadfast love endures forever;
21 and gave their land as a heritage,
   for his steadfast love endures forever;
22 a heritage to Israel his servant,
   for his steadfast love endures forever.
23 It is he who remembered us in our low estate,
   for his steadfast love endures forever;
24 and rescued us from our foes,
   for his steadfast love endures forever;
25 he who gives food to all flesh,
   for his steadfast love endures forever.
26 Give thanks to the God of heaven,
   for his steadfast love endures forever.

 

You, Oh God, Are Faithful

The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, 7 keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.”
Exodus 34:6-7

Why have I ever questioned Your faithfulness, God?  You define Yourself as faithful and yet I forget to trust You in that.  I want to trust You more God. The desire of my heart is to trust You in all things and be lifted up out of the pit by Your faithful hand, because You are faithful.  

The world is fallen into deep chaos, God.  Idolatry, murder, sexual immorality, and evil of all kinds commands this world in an orchestra of personal passion mixed with the screams of the innocent.  It can be pretty terrifying, God. Evil rules and evil wins all the time. We are barraged with the cannon fire of the enemy at every turn. The spiritual battle waged against us is real.  It is painful. It is discouraging. It is real.

But, You, Oh God, are faithful.

You answer evil with the victory of Jesus.  You answer hatred with the love of forgiveness.  You answer the lusts of the flesh with the intimacy of unconditional acceptance.  Why would anyone choose anything else? You abound in steadfast love and yet the world mocks what You offer and chooses to go their own way.  How it must break Your heart to see people stubbornly refuse Your love and faithfulness. How it must sadden You to watch people twist Your offer of acceptance into a license to do whatever pleases them.  

People are ruled by the desires of their own hearts.  People have chosen to decide for themselves what is “good” and what is “evil”.  From the moment Adam and Eve ate from the tree, people stopped trusting You and chose instead to trust themselves.  People will permit all sorts of evil now, God. How it must sadden You!

Trusting You is the better way.  You bring order from chaos. You offer life over death.  You bring restoration instead of decay. It’s pretty clear that Your way is the better way, because Your way brings life!  In a world that longs to live forever, why would anyone choose to go their own way? Why would anyone choose death over life?  Help me to show them, God. Help me to tell them. Help me to live so that others want life, too.

Life is found in You alone.

Here is a message from Nasser al’Qahtani regarding Exodus 34:6-7.