The Israelites won the battle at Jericho. The city was fortified by a strong wall but the Israelites followed God’s instructions simply by marching around the wall seven times and this strong wall came tumbling down.
The next battle the Israelites had to face was to destroy the town of Ai. Joshua sent out spies to survey the land and they came back reporting that it was not necessary for the entire army to go into battle—only two or three thousand men would be needed. It was just a small town with a few people living there. No doubt, the Israelites expected a spectacular victory but unfortunately, they were badly defeated. 36 men were killed and the fighters from Ai chased them far from the city (verses 2-5). This was the only defeat recorded in the book of Joshua. This was also the report of the Israelites being slain in the battle. Joshua and the elders of Israel mourned for the defeat and suggested that God was not keeping His promise to give them victory (verses 6-9).
It was not God who was not faithful. It was the Israelites who were unfaithful (verse 1). Someone among the Israelites had hid the “devoted things” from Jericho, which God had specifically commanded them to destroy. Because of this sin, God’s anger burned against them (verse 2), they lost the battle and lives were taken. The hearts of the Israelites melted in fear and became like water (verse 5).
“11 Israel has sinned; they have violated my covenant, which I commanded them to keep. They have taken some of the devoted things; they have stolen, they have lied, they have put them with their own possessions. 12 That is why the Israelites cannot stand against their enemies; they turn their backs and run because they have been made liable to destruction. I will not be with you anymore unless you destroy whatever among you is devoted to destruction.” (Joshua 7:11-12)
Achan was caught. He only admitted that he had sinned when he was found out. May be he would have a better ending if only he had confessed his sin on his own. Joshua sent messengers to find the things which Achan had coveted. As a result of his sin, Achan and his family had to be put to death. The devoted things he had stolen had to be destroyed too. That was the only way that would pacify God’s wrath and that the Israelites would have victory over their enemies.
It may seem like a harsh consequence to Achan’s action until we realise if sin is not dealt with, it can contaminate the entire community of faith. We can’t hide from God. He is all-knowing, all-powerful, all-seeing and ever-present. The story of Achan reminds us to take personal holiness seriously. Our private sin will have an effect on others. Private sin not dealt with can mar the holiness of the church. We should always examine our hearts so that we are quick to turn from evil and turn back to God. If there are sins that we commit out of habits, we should ask for help and prayers to overcome them. Let us also encourage our church leaders to lovingly but firmly follow biblical standards of church disciplines so that sin will not destroy our community of faith.
In the previous post, we have read that the Israelites were to set themselves apart for the holy God through the act of circumcision. The whole Israelite nation was circumcised (Joshua 5:8). After the Passover, the Israelite ate some of the produce of the land: unleavened bread and roasted grain. Then, manna (which God had rained upon them from the sky as their daily staple, except for the Sabbath day, during the 40 years in the wilderness) ceased. The Israelites then ate the food from the land. All these were dramatic changes in their lives: (1) They had made a commitment to live a holy life as their God is holy, (2) they were now adjusting to a new lifestyle. They had not been eating the produces from the land for as long as they could remember. Manna, something which carried significant meaning and comfort to them had ceased. Our God is active and living. When we follow Him, there are times when we have to leave the comfortable and the familiar just so we can step into something better which God has planned for us.
In order to take possession of the Promised Land (a land flowing with milk and honey that God had promised to give them), the Israelites first had to face a battle at Jericho. On the eve of this important battle, Joshua was awake all night. He was walking in the wilderness, perhaps with a lot on his mind: would they succeed to capture the city of Jericho? What were the best tactics to use?
The Israelites were in the Promised Land. Jericho was a hurdle they had to overcome. It seemed like an impossible task. The city was fortified with a strong wall and a strong military presence.
In his hopelessness, God appeared to Joshua in a human form—as a commander of the army of the Lord, with a drawn sword in His hand. Joshua had to take off his sandals because where he was standing was holy ground. We need to consecrate ourselves (repent and refrain from behaviours, thoughts and actions) that are not pleasing to God in order to experience God at work. That night when Joshua was contemplating on the tactic for the battle, God appeared and reassured him that He is with him. Joshua was not alone; God was with him.
God is with us. There are times we have to make adjustments and changes in our lives in accordance to God’s guidance. We will be fearful, but in our fears, God holds us with His righteous right hand and gives us courage to overcome them. In our despair, God is with us. In our moment of weakness, God wants us to know that He is our strength. When we are feeling alone, He is right here beside us.
May it be that you are encouraged by what had happened to Joshua. He was alone, yet he was never truly alone because God was with him. The battle seemed overwhelming, but God’s presence changed everything. Trust in God. And you will see the wonders God will do in your life.
When the Israelites were entering the Promised Land, it was occupied with people who did not know the Lord. How would God mark His people out from those who were not His? He marked them as His own by the act of circumcision. He gave instructions that His people were to be circumcised.
Circumcision was an outward sign which demonstrated inward obedience. It may seem just a physical act but it has spiritual meaning that marked them as God’s people. By circumcising themselves, they were setting themselves apart for God. They would be holy people. Through the Bible, circumcising is a metaphor for holiness. Moses said that he had uncircumcised lips (Exodus 6:12, KJV). Jeremiah talked about uncircumcised ears which were not fit to hear God’s Word (Jeremiah 6:10).
When the Israelites entered the Promised Land, they were to consider the fruits of the land as uncircumcised for three years, but in the fourth year, the fruits would be holy, an offering to the Lord (Levitcus 19:24).
Just as Jeremiah called the people to circumcise themselves to God, they were to circumcise their hearts (Jeremiah 4:4). The heart is the well spring of life (Proverbs 4:23). It is the source of our life. From our hearts flow everything we think, say, do and act. Our heart reflects our spiritual, intellectual, social, emotional state. Circumcising our hearts means we are to open our hearts and follow God by forsaking our old ways of living. We choose to follow God.
In the Bible, God’s people were marked by circumcision. Today, God’s people are marked by the circumcising of our hearts. Are we giving ourselves to Christ? Are we walking in holiness? Our God is holy and He desires His people to be holy too.
What does holiness mean? The world makes fun of holy people by associating “holiness” with a halo on the head and wings on the back of a person or it is a term mockingly used to refer to hermit people living in the mountains and detached from the world.
We can still have fun and live comfortable to be holy. Holiness means living a life that represents Jesus Christ. We no longer say bad words or do things that harm our bodies and minds. We carefully guard our attitudes, thoughts and actions We think of these things: whatever that is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent or praiseworthy (Philippians 4:8, NIV).
Walking in holiness means we disagree with evil and sinful behaviour and choose not to participate in them.
Walking in holiness is a leap of faith too. We may be ridiculed or rejected for being “holy”. This brings us to the question: who will you serve? Will it be “as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15).
Before stepping into the Promised Land, Joshua needed military intelligence about Jericho. He sent 2 spies into the city to spy on the land. When the king of Jericho heard about the 2 spies, he sent men to capture them. But a prostitute in the city, Rahab, feared the Lord and decided to hide these spies in her home. Her house was located upon the city wall, and so, it was easier for them to escape with a rope through the window. (you can read the previous post by clicking here: http://eireneletters.com/devotional/joshua/god-specialises-in-using-the-flawed-people-for-his-purposes-joshua-21/)
These 2 spies escaped successfully, and brought their report back to Joshua. They told him all that had happened and said, “The Lord has surely given the whole land into our hands; all the people are melting in fear because of us.” (Joshua 2:24, NIV). Imagine the joy of the people upon hearing this. The Lord has given the whole land into their hands. This was the news Joshua was waiting for.
Their parents failed to enter the Promised Land due to their unbelief, and this generation was about to enter it. In the wilderness, they did not have permanent homes. They were always on the move. They were not able to plant vegetables or fruit trees, they were always in a state of deprivation. And now they would be moving closer to the Promised Land: a land flowing with milk and honey! There was great excitement and joy in the people!
Joshua gave orders to the people to set out and they came to the east shore of the Jordan River. Before crossing over, they set their camp there. The people must have felt confused and bewildered. Verse 15 tells us, “Now the Jordan is at flood stage all during harvest”. It was a raging river at flood stage!
The Jordan River
The Jordan River was not a shallow river that people can just cross over. It was a mighty river. The name “Jordan” means “descender”. The river bed was very steep. It was 3 to 12 feet deep. There were thick undergrowth on the bed of the river. If someone tripped over them, he would be swept away by the overwhelming current.
The length of the river was about 200 miles. What is most dangerous about the Jordan River is the swiftness of the current. There were dangerous currents and the bed of the river was muddy. The current could easily sweep a man away. In the month of April (and from this passage, it should be during this time when the Israelites had to cross over), the Jordan River would double in size, from 90-100 feet in width to 200 feet in width. It was because there were melting snows from the mountain. This river is literally the river of death.
How would you feel if you were an Israelite, watching the condition of the mighty river?
You had come so far, and now, when you are looking at the river, it seems that your dreams and hopes of reaching the Promised Land is impossible— again. All your excitement and joy must have been swept away by the sounds of the gigantic waves.
Think about your life and the circumstances in your life. Each of us has our own Jordan River—an impossible task that makes us so afraid and helpless. We may feel it will lead to nowhere and that we are stuck where we are. We may be angry at God for playing such a joke on us.
We want to make it into the Promised Land but this promise is too far away and not within our grasp. There are just so many things standing in the way and too many scary hurdles to overcome and strong waves beating against us.
But Joshua decided to walk by faith and not by sight. The waves in the river might be roaring but he was confident that God was with them and would carry them through. Here are some things that we can learn from Joshua and the Israelites:
Follow the guidance of God (Joshua 3:2-4)
“2 After three days the officers went throughout the camp, 3 giving orders to the people: “When you see the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God, and the Levitical priests carrying it, you are to move out from your positions and follow it.”
This was the sign that they were ready to cross over: when the priests carrying the ark of the covenant of the Lord led the way.
Why was this Ark so special? If you remember during the days of Moses, when the Israelites were in the wilderness, God had given instructions to build this ark of the covenant. There were a few items inside the Ark which were holy:
*The stone tablets which God inscribed the Ten Commandments on with His own fingers. The 10 Commandments shows us that God desires a relationship with us.
*A pot of manna to remind the Israelites of God’s gracious provision during the past 40 years in the wilderness (Exodus 16:33, 34).
*Aaron’s rod. It was a stick that grew leaves and almonds to demonstrate God has the power to do anything, even to the smallest details (Numbers 17). This stick was a dead stick, and God could even bring life out of the dead stick.
All these items in the Ark were symbols that God had been with the Israelites and He was faithful. He is still with them. You see, apart from these items in the Ark, on top of the Ark was the Mercy Seat which was made of pure gold. There were two statues of cherubim, one on each side and they were kneeling down (Exodus 25:18-19). God was enthroned upon the cherubim (Psalm 80:1; 99:1). He was there with His people. He dwells with His people. The Ark was a symbol of His presence.
Today, we have the Holy Spirit who teaches us God’s commandments (Ephesians 6:17). God has also provided for our daily needs (Psalm 23:1). And we know God cares for the little details in our lives through His provision (Luke 12:7).
The Ark of the Covenant, carried by the priests, was to move into the Jordan River first, and then followed by the Israelites, it meant that God was leading the way. The Israelites only needed to see where He is going and follow Him.
Verse 4 tells us more details about the movement, “4 Then you will know which way to go, since you have never been this way before. But keep a distance of about two thousand cubits between you and the ark; do not go near it.”
The Israelites were to see where God was moving but they were not to get too close to the Ark. The purpose of God’s instruction was not really mentioned but perhaps so that everyone could see where God was going. Over 2 million Israelites were beside the terrifying Jordan River. All eyes could see the Ark and everyone knew God was with them.
In your life right now, may be you are able to cross the river but you are afraid and terrified of the waves and the river. May be in your mind, you think there is no way you can cross the river. It is too impossible. It is too difficult. It seems too terrifying.
What are you going to do about it? Will you be like the Israelites? Will you allow God to lead you? All you need to do is to follow Him. Follow His guidance. He is with you.
2.Consecrate ourselves (Joshua 3:5)
Apart from following the Ark, the second thing the Israelites have to do was to consecrate themselves.
“5 Joshua told the people, “Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do amazing things among you.” (verse 5)
Consecrate means “to be holy, to set apart”. We can’t see God at work if we are marred by sins. We can’t experience God’s presence if we choose to follow the lust of our flesh. We can not serve two masters: God and other things. We have to set ourselves apart, holy, blameless and righteous because our God is holy and righteous.
Many times in the Bible, we read how God was broken hearted at the rebellion and the sins of His people. And that God had to punish them corporately for their sins.
Before they crossed over, they had to repent and set themselves apart, not prostituting themselves with worshipping other idols or commit sins. They were to ask God for forgiveness and live in holiness.
Likewise, in our daily lives, we think thoughts, or say things that hurt God and others, intentionally or unintentionally. We need to seek God, examine our lives, confess and repent of our sins. Consecrate ourselves wholly to God and desire holy living.
(b) Welcome God’s intervention
In the Old Testament times, “consecrating oneself” also means, washing clothes, practicing ceremonial rites, refrain from having sexual relation with your spouse and so on. They had to put a hold on their daily routine and to pay attention to God’s presence.
Sometimes God calls us to do something which seemingly interrupts our daily routine. Taking time to pray, taking care of someone in need, all these may seem to interrupt our daily routine but to see God at work, we have to be willing to take extra efforts to allow God to change our time table.
Step Out in Faith
God spoke to Joshua, “8 Tell the priests who carry the ark of the covenant: ‘When you reach the edge of the Jordan’s waters, go and stand in the river.’” and “13 And as soon as the priests who carry the ark of the Lord—the Lord of all the earth—set foot in the Jordan, its waters flowing downstream will be cut off and stand up in a heap.”
The river was at the roughest at this time of the year but God said they had to step out in faith. They first had to get their feet wet.
As James said, faith without action is dead (James 2:26). If Joshua and the leaders did not step out in faith, they would never cross the river.
Each step that you take into the unknown, you are stepping in faith. With each step by faith, you are moving closer and closer to depend not on yourself, but on God. That is where victory comes from, from God, the Maker of Heaven and Earth.
Imagine that the priests were carrying the Ark into the raging river. All of the Israelites were watching them in amazement, wondering what God would do next. As the priests were in the river, the water in the river gradually started to recede and the river became dry. One by one, the Israelites began to cross over: the old and the young, the grandparents and the babies, the youths and the adults, all crossing over a river that was once a fierce river.
Can you imagine the excitement? They were experiencing a miracle. They experienced God working miraculously in their midst.
The God who led the Israelites from the bondage in Egypt, to the wilderness, to crossing a gigantic river is still the same God today. I don’t know what your private battle and struggles are but please know that there is nothing too difficult for God.
We must follow Him, forsake our sins, repent and set ourselves apart for Him. Whatever He is calling you to do, step out in faith. Only when we step out in faith, we can move forward in our lives and in our faith journey.
God uses the most unlikely people for His purposes.
Lesson 3: God uses flawed people for His purposes too
Have you ever met someone who had a colourful background and yet, God is using them remarkably for His glory? We can see marks from their bodies and their faces that they had experienced some very dramatic experiences in their lives. Yet, God not only called them to Himself, He redeemed them and used them as His instruments to bless others.
Before leading the people into the Promised Land, Joshua needed to find out more about the city of Jericho. He then sent two young men disguised as foreign travellers to the city.
‘Then Joshua son of Nun secretly sent two spies from Shittim. “Go, look over the land,” he said, “especially Jericho.” So they went and entered the house of a prostitute named Rahab and stayed there.’ (Joshua 2:2, NIV)
In Jericho, there was a prostitute named Rahab. She was also an innkeeper. Because of the nature of her job, as you can imagine, the other women in the city must not have liked her much. Men too, only used her to gratify their lusts and pleasures. The respectable people of the city must have avoided being in contact with her too.
Rahab’s house formed part of the outside wall of the city. Perhaps those who visited her would be able to escape quickly. Her house, used for her business, was not any holy place. However, God used her house as a hiding place for the two young men. The king of Jericho knew there were Israelite spies in the city, and he gave order to capture them. Rahab hid those two spies and therefore they were successful in their mission.
She was the last and the least, and yet, God used her in a wonderful way. God specializes in using people who are broken, flawed, rejected by society. God used Moses, a murderer. God used David, an adulterer, Samson, a philanderer, Paul, a persecutor of Christians. God used people with flaws and made them beautiful instruments for His marvellous plan.
Just like how God used Rahab, our past does not define us. Our flaws do not dictate our futures. While each of us are broken and flawed, we are still so loved by God. People may despise us but God does not despise us. We are precious in His sight. We are still worthwhile in His kingdom.
Rahab saving those two Israelite spies was not the end of the story. She survived the battle of Jericho and she became a part of the Israelite community. Later on, she married Salmon (one of the two spies), and became a respectable woman in the Israelite community. The Jewish tradition held Rahab as one of the four most beautiful women who had ever lived. She is still known as a hero of Israel today. Guess what? She was the ancestor of King David and Jesus Christ!
Her name is also recorded in the Hebrews Hall of Fame. “By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient” (Hebrews 11:31, NIV).
The Bible has many examples of ordinary people but made themselves available for God to use. Don’t be ashamed and discouraged by what had happened in your life. God holds you dearly in his hands. If you are willing, He too, can use you to bless those around you.