Have you ever been on a roller coaster? If not, you are about to experience an emotional one. The book of Judges is a series of ups and downs for Israel. We go down when Israel would rebel, and God would allow an oppressor to rise up against them. Then, we go up when God would raise up a “judge” to deliver them and lead them. When the judge died, the process would start over again. We are thankful this was not how God intended to keep humanity on the straight and narrow. However, it is an essential part of the history of redemption as it will show the way of humanity when left to its own devices.
Read Judges 2:6-3:6
The first thing that jumps out is that there seems to be a breakdown in the family. Deuteronomy 6:7-9, reminds us to diligently teach ourselves and our children about God with every opportunity we are given. In our reading, we find out there came a generation that did not know the Lord (Judges 2:10). There are only two plausible reasons for this breakdown. First, they were not taught about the Lord. Still, the previous generations we are told did follow the Lord, so maybe that is not the strongest of the reasons. More likely, it means they had not personally experienced anything with God. The Biblical use of the word “knew” typically carries the nuance of experiential knowledge. Adam and Eve knew they were naked, not just mentally but by experience. When Scripture talks about that a man knew his wife, it is not talking about a sudden revelation that he was actually married. Instead, it notes the fact the couple had intimate knowledge of each by experience. The lesson we learn in this book is that it is not only essential to disciple our children in God’s Word but to help them experience God’s presence.
Another critical point of the passage is the need for godly leaders. There is indeed a dearth of leadership in both secular and religious groups. Moral failures abound among those that lead others. However, God is still able to raise up great leaders. Yes, they are not perfect and are still men and women living in a broken world. God is bigger than our imperfections and is able to lead us by His Spirit as we lead others. Also, each one of us has available that same Spirit. Before the birth of the Church at Pentecost, the Holy Spirit did not make himself readily open to anyone. Now, He fills each believer to help them fulfill God’s will in their life.
I remember working for dad at his company as a teenage and my main job was to sweep the manufacturing floor. One time, dad came out and thought that my form was not productive and “showed me” the correct form for using a push broom. When he finished he said, “Got it?” With a smirk I replied, “Nope, can you do it again?” All I can remember was him smiling back and the rest of the workers laughing because I almost got him to sweep again for me. In our reading today, God is repeating a demonstration of fighting the battles for Israel. They did not trick him into doing it or complain so much that he wanted to teach them a lesson again. He did it because He already promised them He would. I am thankful when God repeatedly demonstrates His unbroken faithfulness to us.
Read Joshua 5:13-6:27
Jericho was a formidable opponent that awaited Israel on the other side of the Jordan River. For Israel, Jericho was a death match between former slaves and trained warriors. However, God’s plan was for the very walls that pro texted Jericho to become their own destruction. When Israel obeyed God, the Lord pushed the walls of Jericho down and Israel ran up the walls that were bridges into the city and overtook the city. They destroyed everything except one family that helped Israel and wanted to follow along with them. Rahab the harlot, who helped Israel’s spies would also become a key person in the lineage of Jesus. The remainder of the book of Joshua would account for Israel’s conquest of Canaan. They would overtake the middle, the north, and final the south. God truly gave this group of untrained former slaves the land. There is no other way of approach it.
What formidable object stands between you and God’s vision for your life? What do you fear? Why are you holding back in faith? The same God who parts waters and knocks down cities is the same God that we serve today. If we will obey the Lord, He will do glorious things. Again, we may not always understand what He is doing but He will do things beyond our capability.
Sometimes we just have to get our feet wet. Joshua was tasked as the new leader of Israel, to lead the people across the Jordan river and into the promised land. Everyone needed to be reassured that the Lord was still on their side. God was going to show Israel and all the dwellers of the new land (Canaan) His favor was still on Israel. He would drive out the resistance and fight their battles. But first, they need to cross the Jordan river when it was most likely overflowing its banks.
Read Joshua 3:1-4:24
I remember the first time people came to faith under my preaching. I knew that God had called me into ministry but it was encouraging when He validated that calling by producing fruit from it. God’s blessings reminds me that there is nothing special about me, it’s all about Him. Still, to know that the Lord is on our side is strength to our soul. What impossible task did the Lord call you too, only to reinforce your faith when He performed the task? The song still rings true, “Trust and obey for there is no other way to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.”
Transitions from one part of life to another is never easy. People are resistant to change and are quick to defend against change. Israel went through such a transition. After 40 years of wandering in the wilderness, an entire generation passed away. God raised up a new leader, Joshua, to take over where Moses left off. It is intimidating to follow someone who has already been successful. Even though Joshua has proven himself already, this new challenge of leading the people of God to the Promise Land was not for the faint of heart.
There is not much to be said about this passage except, be strong and of good courage. This admonition is repeated four times. Three times by the Lord to Joshua and one by the people to him. Encouragement goes a long way in providing a safe an open environment for leaders and followers to be morally courageous. We must continually check ourself to see if our critiques provide positive reinforcement or are simply negative and hurtful to others. In our local churches, we need to create opportunities for people to lead without fear of others in the community attacking their ideas. Sharing leadership encourages others to take responsibility and to think creatively, something a lot of pastors long from a congregation.
How long has it been since you offered a word of encouragement to someone struggling with life? Have you complimented someone for doing a good job or being their for you? Taking notice of others and offering a kind word at just the right time can impact someone for a lifetime. We need to build each other up more instead of tearing down. First Corinthians 5:11 reminds us, “Wherefore comfort yourselves together, and edify one another, evan as also ye do.” Scripture tells us to do everything we can to build up the Kingdom. We do that by building each other up.
One of the greatest strengths of the Bible is that difficult passages are not hidden. Our life is filled with complexity and God’s Scripture faces it with His grace and wisdom. I am thankful for that as it gives hope and guidance. If it some of it’s teachings are hard to understand and hard to accept. Our first chapter today is a difficult passage.
Read Exodus 32:1-34:35
Moses cares for the people. That’s the big lesson I gain from chapter 32. “But wait,” you say, “what is this about the Lord repenting.” Why would the Lord need to repent? This is one of those difficult areas. The people of Israel made a molten calf. Aaron’s response in 32:24 is comical, “They made me do it and gave me their gold. When I through it in the fire, a golden calf jumped back out.” This infuriated God and went against the grace He just showed by bringing them out of Egypt. However, after Moses’ pleading, God repented of the evil He thought to do. Notice, He didn’t ask for forgiveness, which is included in our understanding of repentance. In this sense, it means to change direction, to do something different. He was going to destroy them but through Moses pleading, God changed His mind. To me, this displays Moses growing love for the people. Notice also in 32:30-35, that Moses is so passionate for Israel that he was willing to have his name blotted out in their place. Moses has changed from not wanting to defend Israel in front of Pharoah, but now will plead with God for them. That’s a pastor’s heart. One who grows in love for His people that they will pray for God’s grace and favor upon the congregation and community regardless of self-cost.
Another major point in this passage, is God’s relationship with Moses. We see clearly 33:11, “And the LORD spake unto Moses face to face, as a man speaks unto his friend.” This is wonderful to know that God, the Creator, will enter into a relationship with us beyond covenant partnership and into covenant friendship. God even rubs off onto Moses (33:18-23, 34:5-9 & 29-35). God has great love for us, and the more we are around the Lord, the more we are changed.
The Israelites and now camping with God in the wilderness. The Lord is their neighbor, and not in the sense that there is a giant idol next door. Instead, the very real presence of God is sitting outside as a pillar of smoke by day and fire by night. God is no longer seen by one but now is seen by all. He has proven to be extremely powerful, maybe all-powerful. The people need to know how to live with God. He will now share with them how they ought to live.
Read Exodus 19:1-20:21
The Old Testament is often considered a works salvation. Even in this passage, many will think it is a list of “do’s and do not’s” for earning God’s favor. However, the Lord lets the people know that they already have grace, God’s unmerited favor. Notice the grace in Exodus 19:4-6, “Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I bare you on eagles’ wings, and brought you unto myself. Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine: And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation. These are the words which thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel.” Again, in Exodus 20:2, before the Ten Commandments are given, “I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.” We are saved by grace and not by works, but we are saved to do good works. The Ten Commandments are the embodiment of those good works.
The ten commandments are summarized in the New Testament and called the two great commandments: (1) To love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and (2) love your neighbor as yourself. The first four commandments are wrapped up in the first, and the final six are found in the second. By doing those things which show our love to God and neighbor, we are living unto God as a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.
Some people just have a hard time believing. No matter what God has done before, they still lack faith. The Israelites had recently witnessed ten plagues the Lord placed on the Egyptians but still murmured and complained that God and Moses led them into the wilderness to die. God will perform another miracle before their eyes in our passage. The parting of the Red Sea.
Read Exodus 13:17-14:31
The Lord led the people out of Egypt to the Red Sea with a visible presence. Exodus 13:21 explains, “And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of a cloud, to lead them the way; and by night in a pillar of fire, to give them light; to go by day and night.” That would be an awesome sight! The beauty of this passage is that God will lead and protect His people. The Lord leads His people by going before us and showing us the direction we must go. As Psalm 23:2-3 reads, “He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.”
However, there are times we lose sight of the Shepherd but still can trust, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over” (Ps. 23:4-5). For Israel, God moved from before their face to behind them. Why? He moved from the front to back to keep the enemy from jumping on them from behind. We need to be more thankful of those times, that even when we can’t see God in front of us, to know that He is fighting our battles that are sneaking up on us.