All Because of Good Intentions

And Samuel said,
“Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices,
   as in obeying the voice of the Lord?
Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice,
   and to listen than the fat of rams.
23 For rebellion is as the sin of divination,
   and presumption is as iniquity and idolatry.
Because you have rejected the word of the Lord,
   he has also rejected you from being king.”
1 Samuel 15:22-23

I feel really sorry for Saul.  He was handsome and strong and a head taller than everyone.  He looked good. In the eyes of the world he was the perfect leader, and yet he was an utter failure.  I think that’s why God chose him. Had Saul submitted to God when he made his decisions, he would have been blessed by the Lord.  But Saul had a lot more confidence in worldly strength than he did in God.

It’s sad, because on the surface it appears as though Saul did inquire of God.  He constantly inquired of the Lord after he made a decision to do something, he had the Arc of the Covenant with them, and he even had a priest traveling with him, ephod and all.  “…The people who were with him were about six hundred men, 3 including Ahijah the son of Ahitub, Ichabod’s brother, son of Phinehas, son of Eli, the priest of the Lord in Shiloh, wearing an ephod…” 1 Samuel 14:2-3 But appearances and tradition are never what God wants from us.   Saul never looked to God until after he’d made up his mind what he wanted to do. He decided his plans were great (probably because he’d been chosen by God, so who needs to ask God again, right?) and then asked God for a blessing after he’d made up his own mind. He did it when he performed the sacrifice to God, instead of waiting on Samuel.  And he did it before going into battle with the Philistines.

Saul’s son Jonathan, on the other hand, boldly moved forward to defeat his enemies by trusting in the power of God to provide the victory even against all odds.  We know this because Jonathan sees an oportunity to attack the Philistines in a really strategic way, and moves forward to act with only his armor bearer to help him!  But where Jonathan differed from Saul is in this: Jonathan inquired of the Lord before He asked. He felt confident that his plan was solid, but he still asked God to make it clear by asking for a sign, and didn’t move until he’d gotten the clear sign of God’s promised victory.  (See 1 Samuel 14 for all the details.)

And so we go back to poor Saul.  This earthly king, chosen by God, who looked the part well and surrounded himself with all kinds of powerful heroes in order to ensure his military victories.  He made sacrifices. He had the Arc. He had his priest. He even had a prophet. The people loved him! After all, they constantly deferred to him, saying, “Do what seems good to you!” (1 Samuel 14:41)  He had everything he needed to look and act like the best darn victorious king who ever lived. And that was his downfall. It became all about him and not about God.

Justifying our bad behavior for the sake of serving God is a terrible crime!  How many times have I justified an act of my own choosing because I had decided it was best without looking to God for wisdom and permission first?  Seriously! If I’m being honest with myself, I do it all the time! Even though the Lord has told me that I need to limit nutritionless food to honor him with my body, I justify dessert because I’m celebrating or I crave it, or I’m free in Christ.  I go on fad diets, justifying the extremes in order to get quick results. I make plans for vacation because I need a break instead of needing sabbath rest, or I read a book instead of read my Bible because I’m tired, or I don’t have time.  If I think about it too hard, I think I could quickly fall into shame over it all!

But that’s not why I’m here.  That’s not why God put me on this planet.  He put me here to worship Him, to partner with me in love and friendship, and to have us be together in all things.  He wants me to be unified with Him and with His Church. I make presumptions that I know what God wants from me, so I don’t need to inquire of Him, and that only leads to rebellion. Rebellion to my solitary purpose in Christ is a stepping stone for sin and more rebellion.  And that disobedience from good intentions leads me further and further away from my King, which is definitely not God’s good plan for me!

I look again to Samuel’s words to Saul after yet another huge failure with good intentions that would lead to God’s rejection of him as King:

And Samuel said,
“Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices,
   as in obeying the voice of the Lord?
Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice,
   and to listen than the fat of rams.
23 For rebellion is as the sin of divination,
   and presumption is as iniquity and idolatry.
Because you have rejected the word of the Lord,
   he has also rejected you from being king.”
1 Samuel 15:22-23

Sadly, Saul’s response to this fall from grace is to blame the people he was leading.  

Saul said to Samuel, “I have sinned, for I have transgressed the commandment of the Lord and your words, because I feared the people and obeyed their voice. 25 Now therefore, please pardon my sin and return with me that I may bow before the Lord.” 26 And Samuel said to Saul, “I will not return with you. For you have rejected the word of the Lord, and the Lord has rejected you from being king over Israel.”

His intentions were so pure, weren’t they?! (Yes that’s sarcasm.) And yet, how many times have I been blind to my own excuses and good intentions? So. Many. Times.  I’m so thankful to have the sealed promise of the Holy Spirit within me to convict me of my wrongdoing and correct the flaws of my thinking. Our Lord is not content to leave us where we are.  When we sin against Him and go to Him for guidance through repentance, He is quick to show us what we’ve done and what we need to do differently. It hurts. It’s no fun. Frankly, it sucks. But it is so good, too! Unlike Saul, I have the glorious forgiveness of Messiah, Jesus, to pay for my failings and shortcomings, to pay for my sin, and to give me life and victory.  And He is so quick to forgive and to teach, that the mercy that flows through Him to me would spill out of me into others, and thus share the fruit and life that comes from submitting to the will of God.

 

God’s Got a Plan. Really.

There is a way that seems right to a man,
   but its end is the way to death.
Proverbs 16:25

Sometimes I feel like my life could be defined by failure after failure after failure, as I’ve turned away from God and His protection countless times in order to defend myself by my own means.  I didn’t know that’s what I was doing, but it’s the truth nonetheless. Like all people, I have a tendency to think I know best. And honestly I can’t help a bit of sardonic laughter at the thought of that because I’m acting like I know better than the Creator of the Universe.  The One who made all things. The One who made me. And everyday it seems that I can find at least one opportunity to say boldly in the face of the Lord of Hosts, “Nah, I got this one, Jesus. I can handle it.”

This isn’t a new concept for me.  I know this stuff. I know I need a Savior.  I know I’m hopelessly lost without Jesus. And then the whim hits me, and I let sin take charge, and voila: folly.

Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes,
   and shrewd in their own sight!
Isaiah 5:21

Yep, that’s me.  Everyday. I get so darn cocky about how wise I am and how smart or safe or satisfied I will be making choices for myself.  God doesn’t need to be bothered with this little stuff. God’s busy running things in the world, He doesn’t have time for this sort of thing.  And he gave me an intellect, I should use it. That’s how He helps me, right? After all, it’s my life, so it’s my choice. Right? Sure, ok. And the Lord says to me, “How’s that working out for you, Daisy?”

In a word: badly.

I find myself in a constant state of repentance with that kind of behavior.  I approach the throne of grace with hat in hand, embarrassed and ashamed, ready to sing out the Britney Spears line, “Oops I did it again!” to the Lord.  And the Lord shakes his head at me and responds with open arms and a forgiving smile. He isn’t asking for me to be ashamed. He isn’t asking me to be afraid.  He just wants me to believe Him when He says He knows best for me.

Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
Hebrews 4:16

But, God, I screwed up.  I knew the truth and I stubbornly chose to act against it.  I deserve to be punished. I need to be humbled. I need to be chastised.  I need. I need. I need.

And God responds with a solid and resounding, “Nope, nope, and nope. Look to the cross, my silly little daughter.  Punishment paid in full. Now stop whining, pick yourself up and let’s try this again. Only listen to me this time, would ya?”

And Samuel said to the people, “Do not be afraid; you have done all this evil. Yet do not turn aside from following the Lord, but serve the Lord with all your heart. 21 And do not turn aside after empty things that cannot profit or deliver, for they are empty. 22 For the Lord will not forsake his people, for his great name’s sake, because it has pleased the Lord to make you a people for himself.
1 Samuel 12:20-22

Sounds like a good plan, Jesus.  Help me trust You this time.

 

To Go From Knowing to Doing

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. 19 We love because he first loved us.
1 John 4:18-19

Lord, I’ve been afraid of a lot of things lately and I didn’t even know it.  It’s a true tragedy to realize that the enemy has convinced me so often that the fear I’m feeling is not fear especially in regard to the judgement of God.  I have spent 45 of my 49 years of life as a believer in Jesus, and I guess I thought that I had established a deep understanding of God’s love and forgiveness.  I’ve certainly asked for it enough times! Sin sneaks up on me and the next thing I know I’m calling out to You, God, asking You to please, please forgive me.

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
   a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
Psalm 51:8

I know you love a repentant and contrite heart. I know that You are most pleased when I choose to submit to Your will for my life instead of choosing to rebel.  I know that Your plan for me is so much better than anything I could plan for myself. Frankly I KNOW a lot of things. But knowing and doing are two very different things.  And I don’t do near as much as I know.

Lord, how else can I bridge that gap except to call upon You?  You are my Creator. You are my strong Tower. You are my bridge to salvation.  You can be my bridge between knowing and doing.

So, help.  I need help, God. I’m tired of being afraid.  I’m tired of letting fear, disguised as a million different things that seem ok, rule my choices and my life.  I want to walk in the confidence of your forgiveness so that I can walk through life without fear of judgement.  If I am going to believe that the judgement of my sins were poured out on the cross of Christ, then I’m not supposed to walk in guilt any longer.  I am forgiven so I don’t need to be afraid of You, God. Let Your perfect love cast out all fear in my life as I submit to Your sufficient and all encompassing forgiveness.  Perfect Your Love in me, Lord Jesus, so that I can help show others how to have the peace of Your forgiveness. No one who trusts You will ever need to fear the judgement of their sins.  Silence the enemy and all the lies he spreads that say we’re not worth it, or we don’t deserve it, or what we did is too horrible. Help all people to find and recieve Your free offering of life and love without judgement, by Jesus on the cross. It seems a very fair punishment for anything anyone could do.  Help me to accept it more fully. And help others to find it and be free of guilt. Amen.

But I call to God,
    and the Lord will save me.
Psalm 55:16

A Call to Repentence

And Samuel said to all the house of Israel, “If you are returning to the Lord with all your heart, then put away the foreign gods and the Ashtaroth from among you and direct your heart to the Lord and serve him only, and he will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines.” 4 So the people of Israel put away the Baals and the Ashtaroth, and they served the Lord only.
1 Samuel 7:3-4

Beloved Savior, the people are dying.  They are defeated and broken and lost and they don’t even know it.  Your Presence is so far from them, mighty Yahweh! They don’t even believe You exist anymore.  Show them, my King, show them You are real and true. Show them that Your Power will save them if only they would turn away from the false gods they serve and look to You for their salvation.  

You are asking so little of us, Lord.  You ask so very little.

if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. 11 For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” 12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. 13 For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
Romans 10:9-13

Why are they so stubborn, Lord?  Please Father, break their hardened hearts to pieces.  Show them the power of Your love against their enemies and urge them into the shelter of your Presence.  It is Your Presence, Your Salvation, Your Power that brings salvation to the lost. Not images. Not ideals.  Not even crosses. It is Your Victory over the cross that brings salvation to any who would believe it!

Even the Philistines got it eventually.  Sort of.

Why should you harden your hearts as the Egyptians and Pharaoh hardened their hearts? After he had dealt severely with them, did they not send the people away, and they departed?
1 Samuel 6:6

They finally acknowledged what they were dealing with, and tried to make amends to You with a guilt offering.  (see 1 Samuel Chapter 6) Our world now doesn’t even believe the history that has been protected for thousands of years, a history that declares Your faithfulness and Your salvation offered for all of humanity.  It took the Egyptians ten plagues that eventually led to death, just to submit to Your will. Even then they didn’t repent. And the Philistines, who finally acknowledged Your existence with terror, only wanted You to go away.

I feel like that’s the world we live in now, God.  Only it’s even worse than that. People refuse to see You.  They refuse to acknowledge You. And their time is running out.  Their hearts are so hardened and so committed to the lusts of their own desires, that breaking through that seems an impossible task.  But You are faithful, Yahweh! You can breathe life into the things of this world that are dead, even if they don’t yet know they are dead.

So breathe Your life into the world one last time before the end.  Perhaps a few will recognize their folly before it’s too late. And let Your words permeate this planet as a final warning siren of Your eminent judgement.  Lord, I know that it is your will that none should perish. Please, convince them, Jesus. Convince them that Your love and forgiveness are worth turning away from the false idols that have given the world nothing but death, war, famine, and pain.  Fleeting pleasures are nothing compared to the glorious riches that await the ones who recieve Your Life and Your Salvation.

But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. 9 The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. 10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.
2 Peter 3:8-10

 

Repentance Pays Off

Give ear to my words, O Lord;
   consider my groaning.
2 Give attention to the sound of my cry,
   my King and my God,
   for to you do I pray.
3 O Lord, in the morning you hear my voice;
   in the morning I prepare a sacrifice for you and watch.
Psalm 5:1-3

Jesus, I called out to You this morning with such longing.  But instead of despair, Lord, I laid my sins out before You in repentance.  I took a hard look at my life and my actions over the last few days and You drew me into Your lap.  I laid it all out there, God. I poured out myself to You. I shared my fear, my guilt, my love, my longing.  I gave it all to You God. And when I thought I was spent, I cried out some more. Through my tears I confessed my weakness.  I confessed my doubt. I confessed my sins.

You held me in Your arms with such sweetness, Lord.  There was no condemnation. Though I was afraid and felt guilty, You showed me no anger and gave me no punishment.  Instead, You listened to my cries. You listening and You wiped away my tears with laughter and kisses. You reminded me of Your great love.  You showed me Your renewed mercy. You gave ear to my words, Lord. You considered my groanings. You heard my voice as I sacrificed my own will to follow Your ways and obey You.

I turned to the Word, Lord, and You spoke to me.  You reminded me of Your faithfulness even in my folly.  You are so quick to teach me! You are so quick to comfort me, Jesus!  

And that would have been enough.  But You weren’t satisfied with enough.  Instead You gave me more. You had a sister text me with these verses from Psalms.  She said that You had encouraged her to share them with me this morning. Lord, You answered my groanings with concrete truth from Your Word.  In the obedience of a friend, You comforted me beyond my expectations and my requests, because that is who You are.

11 But let all who take refuge in you rejoice;
   let them ever sing for joy,
and spread your protection over them,
   that those who love your name may exult in you.
12 For you bless the righteous, O Lord;
   you cover him with favor as with a shield.
Psalm 5:11-12

Thank you, God, that You hear me, You see me, You love me, and You hold me in Your hand.  You cover me in favor as with a shield, and I will glorify Your name.

Lost in the Land of Shadows and Dirt

The people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, and the Lord gave them into the hand of Midian seven years. 2 And the hand of Midian overpowered Israel, and because of Midian the people of Israel made for themselves the dens that are in the mountains and the caves and the strongholds.
Judges 6:1-2

It’s crazy what disobedience can do to people.  Disobedience fills us with fear, shame, and guilt, and drives us out of all the good things God wants to give us.  Disobedience causes us to stop trusting in God’s provision and start trusting in fear. We let fear become our leader instead of God.  And it takes us nowhere good. For the Israelites, disobedience to God led them to do evil in the sight of God, which ultimately led to their self inflicted exile out of the Promised Land and into the mountains to hide in caves.  They went from the Land of Milk and Honey to the Land of Shadows and Dirt.

“For whenever the Israelites planted crops, the Midianites and the Amalekites and the people of the East would come up against them. 4 They would encamp against them and devour the produce of the land, as far as Gaza, and leave no sustenance in Israel and no sheep or ox or donkey. 5 For they would come up with their livestock and their tents; they would come like locusts in number—both they and their camels could not be counted—so that they laid waste the land as they came in.
Judges 6:3-5

God allowed the Israelite’s enemies to take over the land He had given to them so that they would repent and recognize that the Land and God’s protection were by His sovereign hand alone.  As the people of God walked away from the worship and trust of Yahweh, The One True God, they also walked away from His blessing and provision. The people began to worship the false idols and put their trust in those things to provide for them and it had them living in the dark in caves!  How often have I found myself living in a cave because of my own lack of trust in God. I fall into fear and doubt and worry, and then there I am: in the dark instead of the light, afraid and hungry.

And Israel was brought very low because of Midian. And the people of Israel cried out for help to the Lord.
Judges 6:6

So, what do we do when we have thrown ourselves into the dark? We cry out to God!  He is our rescuer and our salvation. If we know God, then we are all too familiar with His love and mercy and His longing to restore us into a right relationship with Him.  But God isn’t content to just save us, though that would surely be enough for us! Instead, He lovingly teaches us and guides us, so that we will understand how to avoid going into the dark again.  

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
   his mercies never come to an end;
23 they are new every morning;
   great is your faithfulness.
Lamentations 3:22-23

For the Israelites, God’s compassion and deliverance came from a curious source.  And over and over again we see God do this. As it says in 1 Corinthians 1:27, “God chose the foolish things to confound the wise.”  That’s just how God rolls. And the Israelites needed to see that even though they were weak and afraid and living in caves, He could rescue them from their own failings and bring them back into the inheritance that He had planned for them from the beginning.

And so God chooses Gideon whom He calls “a mighty man of valor”. Gideon who hid from his enemies in a wine press to beat out his wheat. Gideon, who doubted and questioned even after the miraculous sign of the appearance of the “Angel of the Lord”.  Gideon, who even after he agreed to do as Yahweh commanded, took it upon himself to do it under cover of darkness so no one would see him do it! (reference Judges 6:11-40)

Yes, God chose Gideon, because Gideon bodily encompassed everything that the Israelites had become.  Gideon was afraid, in the dark, and doubted God. And don’t we all do the same thing? Don’t we all fall short a thousand times a day?  Don’t we all fall back on fear and hide in the dark? Thankfully, our God knows that about us, and just like Gideon, He will patiently teach us again and again that He is faithful and He will save us.  Our inheritance is ours for the taking if we will simply cry out to Him from the darkness and trust Him.

 

  

Choose Today Who You Will Serve

I gave you a land on which you had not labored and cities that you had not built, and you dwell in them. You eat the fruit of vineyards and olive orchards that you did not plant.’
14 “Now therefore fear the Lord and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. 15 And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”
Joshua 24:13-15

I have earned nothing that You have given me, Father.  Nothing but Your grace has provided for me. And when I’ve tried to provide for myself it has only led to rebellion, suffering, and pain.  Even knowing that, Lord, I still look to things besides You to find my joy and my deliverance. I have put other gods before You, Jesus. And I’ll probably do it again.  I’m pretty miserable at trusting You and following You, and in that way I’m no different than the Israelites.

But just like the Israelites, You have given me a leader.  You’ve given me someone to follow, someone to lead me in the right way.  Someone even better than Joshua. He is called Faithful and True. (Rev. 19:11) He is called Jesus, Yeshua, and he is my salvation.  When I was a very little girl I said yes to following Him. And since that time I have strayed and strayed away. But every time, He has been faithful and true to me.  He has never left me nor forsaken me.

What I have learned is that following You is a choice, Jesus.  Each moment I choose who I will serve. My heart longs to please You and follow You, but my sinful nature pulls me away time and time again.  Like Paul said, I do what I do not want to do, and do not do what I should do.

It can be easy for me to get hard on myself.  I know that You have given me Your Spirit and I look at my actions and wonder how I could ever disobey You with Your Spirit so alive and active within me!  Yet I do. I look at the Israelites and say to myself, “Well, they didn’t have the Holy Spirit. No wonder they strayed away from God all the time!” But I don’t have that excuse.  Thank you for Paul’s example and of others in scripture who had Your Spirit in them and still failed You miserably at times.

Lord, the Israelites obeyed You and trusted You when You were right there with them, guiding them and protecting them, just like the Disciples did when Jesus was with them and helping them, and teaching them what to do.  And when You weren’t tangibly present they struggled to obey and over time they abandoned You altogether, serving themselves and the idols of their own making.

“I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away.2 They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God. 3 And they will do these things because they have not known the Father, nor me. 4 But I have said these things to you, that when their hour comes you may remember that I told them to you.
“I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you. 5 But now I am going to him who sent me, and none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ 6 But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. 7 Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. 8 And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: 9 concerning sin, because they do not believe in me;10 concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; 11 concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.
12 “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14 He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15 All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.
John 16:1-15

Jesus said that it was better for Him to go so that we could have the Helper.  Thank You, Jesus, that You have made a way to be forgiven by the cross, You have made a way for life by Your resurrection, and You have made a way to obey by the gifting of Your Spirit.  So, today I choose to serve You, Lord. I choose to let Your Spirit guide me. I choose to submit to Your greater authority and be filled with your forgiveness, your life, and your obedience.

Do not be conformed to this world,[a] but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
Romans 12:2

I will no longer be conformed to this world.  I will let my mind be renewed by You and stop trying to renew it myself.  I will stop living in condemnation of my failures and strive to forgive myself and follow You. Thank You God.  Thank You for Your help, Your guidance, Your love, Your forgiveness, and Your life.

I am Yours, Jesus.  Today I choose to follow You.

 

The Lord is Faithful

Not one word of all the good promises that the Lord had made to the house of Israel had failed; all came to pass.
Joshua 21:45

Lord, You are faithful with Your promises.  The written accounts of Your faithfulness are vast.  You describe Yourself as faithful and true. You have been faithful to me and to the promises You have made me.  So, why do I always doubt? Why do I fall so short of trusting You? I look around and it seems that everyone who knows You counts on Your faithfulness.  Do they question it in their hearts the way I do? 

Why do we doubt You?

I know it is the enemy sowing his seeds of doubt.  I know he is trying to knock me out of Your lap. But You have a firm hold, Lord.  You won’t let me fall. You are faithful. I recall Your faithfulness and my heart is made light.  I get reminded of Your goodness. I remember Your work in my life: how You saved me from sin and death, how You walked with me and gave me strength, how You put courage and faith in me and held me up.  

Why do I doubt You?

You have brought me back from death so many times.  When I repent, You hear me. You have turned my failings into blessings.  You forgive me and love me and walk with me. You know everything about me.  You made me. And still You love me. Still You see me. Still You forgive me.  

Why do I doubt You?

Hold me up with Your righteous right hand.  Create in me a clean heart. Prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.  Make my paths straight. Guide me in the paths of righteousness for Your namesake. Be my strength and my shield.  Be my fortress, my shelter, my comfort, my defender. Be my everything.

Don’t let me doubt you.

Lord, You are faithful.  You are good. And Your love and forgiveness never need to be doubted.  Yet over and over again You prove Yourself to me. When I doubt, You don’t condemn, You encourage.  When I feel dead, you show me life afresh. When I doubt, You provide faith. Build my faith fresh today.  Fill me with Your power, Precious Lord. Let me feel Your Presence and be reminded of Your faithfulness.

Lord, You are faithful.

 

Devoted to Destruction

“For it was the Lord’s doing to harden their hearts that they should come against Israel in battle, in order that they should be devoted to destruction and should receive no mercy but be destroyed, just as the Lord commanded Moses.”
Joshua 11:20

It’s funny to me that the day after God shows me the mercy of His love through Joshua, I would be stirred by His dedication to the destruction of His enemies.  But here we are. Let’s face it, Joshua got asked to lead God’s people into a whole lot of destruction of other people. And it would be really, really easy to decide that God liked destroying people based on the above verse alone.  We can be so quick to decide things when we look at scripture through the lense of our own analysis, can’t we? However, if we look at the scripture through the eyes of the Holy Spirit, where we can recognize the true character of God, we can see more clearly the Lord’s intent and our faith is built up.  We learn to trust the Lord and not ourselves, for the Lord is light and we are born into shadow and destined for death without Him.

Our first clue in the book of Joshua to the Lord’s view on destruction happens with the fall of Jericho and the salvation of Rahab.  Right off the bat, at the very beginning of Joshua’s siege to claim the Holy Land, God rescues a prostitute. Ya, that doesn’t sound like a God devoted to destruction.  At least not at first. How can we reconcile the opposing points of view and not think God is a bully bent on utter annihilation? Easy. Think back to Exodus. Think about the Golden Calf and the Ten Commandments.  

7 And the Lord said to Moses, “Go down, for your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves. 8 They have turned aside quickly out of the way that I commanded them. They have made for themselves a golden calf and have worshiped it and sacrificed to it and said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!’” 9 And the Lord said to Moses, “I have seen this people, and behold, it is a stiff-necked people. 10 Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them, in order that I may make a great nation of you.”
11 But Moses implored the Lord his God and said, “O Lord, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you have brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? 12 Why should the Egyptians say, ‘With evil intent did he bring them out, to kill them in the mountains and to consume them from the face of the earth’? Turn from your burning anger and relent from this disaster against your people. 13 Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, to whom you swore by your own self, and said to them, ‘I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your offspring, and they shall inherit it forever.’” 14 And the Lord relented from the disaster that he had spoken of bringing on his people.
Exodus 32:7-14

 

When people worship idols, and claim the works of God on the idols they have made with their own hands God no longer becomes important to you. (Think of your own hypocrisy and how many times you counted God’s acts of providence upon you as “good old fashioned hard work”, or luck, or something else.)  Not really. If you know He is God, and yet worship yourself or your success, you retreat from the presence of God’s light and love, and into a darkness born of your own depravity. With Moses and the people of Israel, God called attention to the most important thing a person can do: choose to follow and trust God, or not.  (Remember Adam and Eve?) When Moses stands before the Lord in defense of the people, acknowledges their sin, and asks for God to forgive them, he mirrors the very thing that Jesus would do for mankind in the future. Moses argues for salvation for the people based on God’s own character. Repentance brings God to relent from destruction.  Sin must be destroyed. But we can choose to be healed from our sin rather than destroyed with our sin, simply by repenting and allowing God to reign in our lives.

When we look ahead a chapter or two in Exodus, we can see that the Lord defines himself as merciful and good.  

5 The Lord descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the Lord. 6 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 34:5-7

Based on this truth of who God says He is, we can discern the intent behind this business of devotion to destruction, can’t we?  It can’t mean what we think it means because God doesn’t contradict himself. What, then, has God done when the Bible says He hardened the hearts of people to make them worthy of destruction? If God is merciful and compassionate, and the stain of sin is in all mankind through Adam, what is it that God wants destroyed?  Simply put: Sin. The hardening of a man’s heart by God means that God has allowed their sin to be amplified by their own stubbornness or hardened hearts. But if we believe that we have free will (as was discovered with Adam and Eve and their submission to the temptation of Satan), then when faced with the truth of God’s mercy and desire to rescue humanity, we all the more can see that we are depraved and in need of saving.  The hardening of our hearts makes us hyper aware of the sin in our lives and becomes either conviction to fight against God or to repent and be saved. The amplification of the sin in mankind makes the need for salvation all the more real. (By the way, that is how we know it is the very Spirit of God that convicts us of our sin and leads us to salvation through Him. We can’t seem to even recognize our sin without Him.)

Through this understanding of scripture, we can reconcile the seeming contradiction of devotion to destruction and the mercy and compassion of God.  As Paul so beautifully put it:

18 Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. 19 For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. 20 Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, 21 so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Romans 5:18-21

When we see the profound failing of humanity in ourselves, by having a hardened heart or recognizing by our own conscience by failure to obey the letter of God’s law, we have an even greater opportunity to recognize our need for salvation through Jesus Christ.  Paul said that the Law of Moses came “to increase the trespass”. Does that mean God made the law so we would fail? Definitely not! Look what Paul says a little later in the book of Romans:

13 Did that which is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, producing death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure. 14 For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. 15 For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. 16 Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. 17 So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. 18 For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.
Romans 7:13-20

Joshua led God’s people into the destruction of sin but still offered mercy and adoption into the family of God for any who would repent.  The Gibeonites knew the reputation of the Law of the Isrealites: that they were to include foreigners in their practices and worship if they wanted to follow God, and thus used that loophole to finagle their way into God’s protection.  Why didn’t God devote them to destruction? Because God is full of mercy and honor. He allowed the Gibeonites to live (for a little while) in order to honor the covenant that Joshua had made with them and to show His power to save, even through the disobedience of man.  It is that same mercy that allowed Rahab and her entire family to be saved simply by turning away from the sin and community of Jericho and aligning herself with God’s people. So too, at the end of Chapter 11 of Joshua, we discover that a handful of people from the “enemy tribes” remained after the dedicated destruction was finished.  

21 And Joshua came at that time and cut off the Anakim from the hill country, from Hebron, from Debir, from Anab, and from all the hill country of Judah, and from all the hill country of Israel. Joshua devoted them to destruction with their cities. 22 There was none of the Anakim left in the land of the people of Israel. Only in Gaza, in Gath, and in Ashdod did some remain. 23 So Joshua took the whole land, according to all that the Lord had spoken to Moses. And Joshua gave it for an inheritance to Israel according to their tribal allotments. And the land had rest from war.

At the end of the day, God will do anything to show us our need for Him.  We can choose to walk in our sin and be ruled by sin that leads to death. Or we can walk away from our sin and be ruled by Christ who offers victory over sin and death and gives us life.

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? 2 By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? 3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.
Romans 6:1-4

 

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.