Women of Faith

Today’s reading: Judges 3-5; Luke 7:31-50

9 And she said, “I will surely go with you. Nevertheless, the road on which you are going will not lead to your glory, for the Lord will sell Sisera into the hand of a woman.”                                                                                                                        Judges 4:9

50 And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” Luke 7:50

In today’s readings, we meet two women of faith (not counting a third, Deborah) from whom we can learn much. Deborah is a prophetess and judge in Israel who recruits one Barak to lead an army against the Canaanites who have been cruelly oppressing the nation for twenty years. Barak accepts the job on the condition that Deborah accompany him to the battle. She agrees, but warns him that the glory for the victory will not go to him but to a woman. At that point, the first-time reader guesses that the glory will go to Deborah, but not so. It is Jael, a Kenite woman, who in God’s providence takes advantage of the opportunity to murder the Canaanite commander, Sisera, while he is sleeping peacefully in her tent.

During a meal at the home of a Pharisee named Simon, a notoriously sinful woman slips in and begins to wash, kiss, and anoint Jesus’ feet showing great love and respect for Him. Simon, meanwhile, judges Jesus for His acceptance of attention from such a woman. Simon’s reasoning is: “Either, Jesus doesn’t know who she is, in which case, He is not a true prophet, or He knows who she is and accepts a rank sinner, again revealing Himself to be no prophet.”  Neither of these options is true, because Jesus does know who she is and welcomes her because of her faith. She is a sinner whom God has called to Himself and whose sin is forgiven because she believes in God’s Son who would take upon Himself the punishment for sinners such as her. Jesus rebukes Simon but exonerates and reassures the woman. “Go in peace,” He says. She is saved by faith.

Faith drives both of these women: Jael, and the woman at Simon’s house. They are honored for their faith although they both go against the tide of their society in doing God’s will. The glory for the victory goes to Jael who is not even an Israelite. The peace and assurance of salvation goes to the sinful but believing woman who is roundly rejected by a Pharisee.

Barak and Simon, the men in these two stories, leave much to be desired, although  reluctant Barak did come around (Hebrews 11:32) and the outcome of Simon the Pharisee’s life, we are not told.

Learn from the two women of faith who understood that “faith apart from works is dead” (James 2:26).

The Kingdom that Cannot Fail

Today’s reading: Judges 1-2; Luke 7:1-30

13 They abandoned the Lord and served the Baals and the Ashtaroth. 14 So the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he gave them over to plunderers, who plundered them.                                                                                                Judges 2:13-14a

28 I tell you, among those born of women none is greater than John. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.”                              Luke 7:28

Jesus came announcing the arrival of the kingdom of God. He demonstrated His power by healing a Gentile servant of a Roman centurion and raising a dead man (just to take the examples in today’s reading). Word spread about Jesus, and the people were both fearful and joyful. God had visited His people.

The disciples of John the Baptist came asking for clarification. Was Jesus the Messiah? Jesus’ answer gave no doubt.

So, what are we to make of the ministry of John the Baptist?

Jesus said that John was unsurpassed among all mankind. John is often referred to as the last of the prophets.  His ministry marked the end of the era of the old covenant kingdom with its symbolic priesthood, its earthly temple, its feast days, and its sacrifices. Something new had come: the kingdom of God and the new covenant. So new and different are these that Jesus could say “the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than” the one who was greatest under the old covenant and kingdom.

Our reading in Judges underscores the failure of Israel under the old covenant with the judges and later the kings. They started badly and continued with more downs than ups. The people failed to obey God’s commands. They mixed with the pagans who had been marked for extermination. They abandoned the true and living God, Yahweh, who had delivered them from Egypt, kept them in the wilderness, and opened the Promised Land to them. They worshiped the gods of the heathen.

The old covenant and kingdom fell far short of perfection but they did fulfill their purpose to point to the need for something better, something lasting. Jesus brought the new covenant and the kingdom of God and He calls us to enter His kingdom by faith in Him. Charles Wesley’s great hymn “Rejoice, the Lord is King” says it well:

His kingdom cannot fail, He rules o’er earth and Heav’n,
The keys of death and hell are to our Jesus giv’n;
Lift up your heart, lift up your voice;
Rejoice, again I say, rejoice!

Are you in?

 

Loving God and Enemies

Today’s reading: Joshua 23-24; Luke 6:27-49

11 Be very careful, therefore, to love the Lord your God. Joshua 23:11

35 But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. 36 Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful. Luke 6:35,36

Joshua urged the Israelites to love the Lord their God and to flee marriage entanglements with their enemies, the pagan natives of Canaan. He knew that, if they intermarried with pagans,  they would be drawn away from faithful and sincere service to God. At the same time, there were notable examples of Gentiles coming into the covenant people of God. Rahab and her family were protected from destruction in Jericho and admitted into the lineage of Judah and Jesus (Matthew 1:5). So the intention of Joshua’s command was not to withhold salvation from the Gentiles but to protect the Israelites from apostasy.

Jesus taught His disciples to love their enemies, demonstrating godliness reflective of the Father who is merciful and kind even to the ungrateful and evil. Jesus was not teaching a relativistic view of morality in which everything that is good to you is good. He specifically showed that there is good and evil and that these are not the same. Good and evil fruits are produced by good and evil trees. But Jesus’ disciples were sent to show mercy to their enemies, the ungrateful, and the evil.

Why does God patiently pour out blessings on those who rebel against Him? Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome: “Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?” (Romans 2:4). In due time, the evil will face the judgment of God, but, meanwhile, we who believe in Jesus show our faith by an obedient, godly life, including loving our enemies.

The prohibition of believers marrying unbelievers continues (2 Corinthians 6:14). Marriage is not one of the ways believers show love to unbelievers. This may be misunderstood by them, but that is the risk we must take to live a life of obedience. Of course, unbelievers are not prohibited from marrying one another.  In fact, they should marry if so inclined.

Love God. Love your enemies, but love them as God does by doing them good and telling them of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Hated, Excluded, Reviled, Spurned

Today’s reading: Joshua 21-22; Luke 6:1-26

24 No, but we did it from fear that in time to come your children might say to our children, ‘What have you to do with the Lord, the God of Israel?                         Joshua 22:24

22 “Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! 23 Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets.                                                                                                     Luke 6:22-23

In the book of Joshua, we come to the end of the conquest of the land. The war was over and occupation had begun. It was now time for the eastern tribes (Reuben, Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh) to return to their territories across the Jordan River. They nearly set off a civil war by building an imposing altar on the western banks of the river without explaining what they were doing or what they meant by it.

Driven by fear of future exclusion from the rest of Israel and from the worship of God, the eastern tribes erected what was suspected to be an unauthorized worship site potentially leading to apostasy and the wrath and judgment of God. The whole nation was still smarting from the wickedness of Achan that had brought God’s judgment on them (Joshua 7). Fear on both sides of the Jordan almost resulted in war. Diplomatic talks clarified the issue and reduced everyone’s fears. War was averted.

In Luke today, we find Jesus experiencing hatred and rejection by the religious authorities of His day. The plotting against Him has begun. He knows opposition will ramp up and He will soon die. So will some who follow Him, but He does not tell them how to avoid opposition that comes on His account. He tells them to welcome it “when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil” because as they experience it, they are blessed and their reward will be great in heaven.

Do not fear persecution on the account of Jesus Christ. Do not be surprised if you are accused of being evil. This is nothing new. In ancient days, the prophets were mistreated and sometimes killed for being faithful to God. Do not take extreme measures, like the eastern tribes, to attempt to avoid being misunderstood. Be faithful to the Lord and the gospel. God will bless your suffering and reward you both now and in eternity.

Note: please consult your physician before attempting to leap for joy.

Old Wine; New Wine

Today’s reading: Joshua 19-20; Luke 5:17-39

9 These were the cities designated for all the people of Israel and for the stranger sojourning among them, that anyone who killed a person without intent could flee there, so that he might not die by the hand of the avenger of blood, till he stood before the congregation. Joshua 20:9

39 And no one after drinking old wine desires new, for he says, ‘The old is good.’” Luke 5:39

Law and order in society is a good thing, as long as one knows when to be flexible and receptive to something new.

In ancient Israel, the borders of the tribal lands were carefully specified. Those borders were not to be violated but kept as an inheritance for succeeding generations within each tribe. There was law and order with regard to the territorial borders of the twelve tribes.

Cities of refuge were designated to protect a person guilty of involuntary manslaughter, the killing of another person unknowingly or unintentionally. We might say “killing by accident.” There was law and order concerning involuntary manslaughter.

The Israelites in Moses’ and Joshua’s days were well-taught about the importance of keeping the law. In Jesus’ day, the Pharisees taught and demonstrated careful adherence to the law, as they understood it. The problem was the Pharisees found it easier to stick with tradition than to consider the possibility of some new element being introduced into their world. They accused Jesus of blasphemy when He forgave a man his sins. They grumbled when Jesus ate and drank with tax collectors and sinners. They questioned the piety of Jesus’ disciples because of their failure to fast often and offer prayers.

Jesus responded to their criticisms with explanations that showed He did not violate the law but did go beyond their traditional understanding of lawfulness. He had power to forgive sin. He came to call sinners to repentance. His presence in the world was like a wedding, not a funeral, and it changed everything.

Jesus told them that resistance to the new is natural and comfortable, but it is not always acceptable. Law and order is good, but sometimes receptivity and flexibility is needed because God was doing a new thing in sending the Son of Man. The law had only revealed the sinfulness of Man. Jesus brought the new wine of the gospel, forgiveness of sin for all who believe in Him.

Beware of the error of the Pharisees who extended faithfulness to the law beyond its limits and turned it into rigid resistance to the gospel and rejection of the Messiah, Jesus Christ.

Two Musts for Effective Leaders

Today’s reading: Joshua 16-18; Luke 5:1-16

8 So the men arose and went, and Joshua charged those who went to write the description of the land, saying, “Go up and down in the land and write a description and return to me. And I will cast lots for you here before the Lord in Shiloh.” Joshua 18:8

15 But now even more the report about him went abroad, and great crowds gathered to hear him and to be healed of their infirmities. 16 But he would withdraw to desolate places and pray. Luke 5:15-16

Both Jesus and Joshua model how effective leaders handle high stress situations and high maintenance people. There are two important guidelines here for effective leaders.

1. Effective leaders empower people to solve their own problems, as much as possible. Joshua gave the responsibility to the seven landless tribes to survey the territory, to write a description of the remaining land dividing it in seven portions, and to report back to him for allotments. Earlier, Joshua told the tribe of Joseph (Manasseh and Ephraim) to clear their land rather than asking for more territory.

2. Effective leaders take time for prayer even during high stress times. Jesus’ ministry was becoming more widely known and the crowds came with endless needs for healing and teaching. It was not a bad thing that they saw Jesus as the one who could both heal them and teach them, but there were limits to what one person, even Jesus, could do. Jesus modeled for us the need to take time alone in prayer.

In whatever leadership roles you fill, are you following these two guidelines as you face pressure and the expectations of others?  A mother recently told me how much joy she is getting from seeing her young son assume more responsibility for getting himself ready for bed. In our church, we are empowering gifted people to teach Sunday school classes and they and the class members are being encouraged.

The biggest danger is the tendency to operate purely on human wisdom and to fail to take time alone for prayer. Evaluate your life today. Make the needed changes so that you handle high stress situations and high maintenance people in wise and godly ways.

The Authority of God

Today’s reading: Joshua 14-15; Luke 4:33-44

12 So now give me this hill country of which the Lord spoke on that day, for you heard on that day how the Anakim were there, with great fortified cities. It may be that the Lord will be with me, and I shall drive them out just as the Lord said.” Joshua 14:12

36 And they were all amazed and said to one another, “What is this word? For with authority and power he commands the unclean spirits, and they come out!” Luke 4:36

God rules over all people and all events in human history. This truth comes through in today’s readings as it does on every page of the Bible.

Caleb, who along with Joshua was one of two adult survivors of the Exodus from Egypt, appeals to Joshua to grant him the hill country of Hebron as his inheritance in the land. Caleb, demonstrating, not doubt but, humility and an unassuming air, expressed his dependence on the Lord to be with him so that he could be successful in clearing the enemy Anakim out of the territory he desired. The Anakim were a tall and frightening group of warriors whom the spies had met 40 years earlier when they went in to spy out the land. Joshua granted Caleb his request and blessed him. The effort was successful because the Lord had authority over the Anakim and all the other great pretenders of this world.

Jesus had authority over every kind of disease. He healed Simon’s mother of a fever so quickly and completely that she immediately resumed her duties as hostess and homemaker as if nothing had occurred. The townspeople lined up to have Jesus heal them, too. Whatever sickness they had, he graciously healed.  But what seems to have gotten their attention was his power over unclean spirits. A demonic man made a scene in the synagogue, screaming out his fear of being destroyed by Jesus. He even said accurately that Jesus was the “Holy One of God.” The demon threw the man down, but Jesus commanded him to be silent and come out of him, which he did. The crowd was stunned at this demonstration of power.

Do you have confidence in the power and authority of God over this world? The triune God has revealed Himself, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, one God in three persons who rules over all the universe.  Through the grace of Jesus His Son, the Father gives His Spirit to live in His children.  All power and authority belongs to Him.   In Christ, you belong to Him who has power and authority over everyone and everything. Fear not. Trust Him who reigns over all.

The kingdoms vs. the Kingdom

Today’s reading: Joshua 11-13; Luke 4:1-32

10 And Joshua turned back at that time and captured Hazor and struck its king with the sword, for Hazor formerly was the head of all those kingdoms. Joshua 11:10

5 And the devil took him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, 6 and said to him, “To you I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. 7 If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.”. Luke 4:5-7

To whom belong the kingdoms of the world?

In Joshua’s day, Hazor was head of several kingdoms. Joshua, with God’s leading and power, conquered Hazor and all the kingdoms of Canaan. The scripture tells us that God hardened the hearts of those kings so that they would fight against Israel and lose (Joshua 11:20). Those kingdoms came under the domination of Israel until the Assyrian captivity in 722 B.C.

Certainly the devil has some power in this world, but no more than God allows him. He tempts certain people with power and authority in exchange for allegiance to his evil causes and purposes.

Which people does he personally approach? We do not have a complete list, but in the Bible we are specifically told, the devil went after Adam and Eve, Job, Peter, and Jesus (Genesis 3:1-7; Job 1-2; Luke 22:31-34; Luke 4:1).

So Hazor had some kingdoms. Later, Israel had those lands. When Satan approached Jesus to tempt him, Satan assumed authority over all the kingdoms of the earth. In the final analysis, these earthly kingdoms rightfully belong to God the Creator and He providentially controls them. But the ultimate kingdom is not an earthly temporal one. Jesus proclaimed the coming of the kingdom of God.

What kingdom do you serve? God’s kingdom is forever. Live for that kingdom and that King, Who hardens the hearts of some kings and turns the hearts of others at His will (Proverbs 21:1). Pray that His kingdom may come in final triumph soon.

God’s Intervention in Human History

Today’s reading: Joshua 9-10; Luke 3

6 and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’” Luke 3:6

42 And Joshua captured all these kings and their land at one time, because the Lord God of Israel fought for Israel. Joshua 10:42

Luke quotes from Isaiah in introducing the ministry of John the Baptist. John was preparing the people for the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. Isaiah described one who cried in the wilderness, calling the people to prepare the way of the Lord. That prophecy was fulfilled as John, literally, preached in the wilderness proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

Crowds came to John and sought baptism. He did not soft pedal his message, but warned them of the wrath to come and the need to make changes in their lives that reflected true repentance. Two groups were specifically mentioned: the tax collectors and the soldiers. John’s ministry was blessed by God so much that people thought perhaps he was the Christ, but later he clarified that Jesus was the One whose worth was far above his own and that Jesus would take away the sins of the world (John 1:29). Isaiah’s words came true that all flesh would see the salvation of God.

In our reading in Joshua, God was at work defeating the enemies of Israel. Certainly, the twelve tribes saw the salvation of God from those who had defiled the land with pagan worship. God blessed them with much victory using even hailstones and a suspended sunset to accomplish His purposes.

God intervenes in human history for the salvation of His people. Whether we see signs of miraculous intervention or not, He has promised to save those who come to Him through Christ. None of our enemies can stand before Him. He overcomes the sinful hearts of tax collectors and soldiers. He destroys the unrepentant, but saves His own. Look for His presence as you pray to Him today.

 

 

 

Light for the Gentiles

Today’s reading: Joshua 7-8; Luke 2:25-52

34 And afterward he read all the words of the law, the blessing and the curse, according to all that is written in the Book of the Law. 35 There was not a word of all that Moses commanded that Joshua did not read before all the assembly of Israel, and the women, and the little ones, and the sojourners who lived among them. Joshua 8:34-35

29 “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace,
according to your word;
30 for my eyes have seen your salvation
31 that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and for glory to your people Israel.” Luke 2:29-32

God’s focus, as we have seen before, includes not only the Israelites or the Jews, but all the peoples of the earth.

Joshua renews the covenant of God with Israel by reading the entire Book of the Law of Moses. The congregation gathered included not only the men of Israel, but the women, the children, and the sojourners who lived among them. Those sojourners I take to be not related physically to Israel, but merely living among them, perhaps as servants. It is important that they were not excluded from the reading of the law and the renewal of the covenant.

Simeon, who had waited all his life for the coming of the Messiah, met the infant Jesus in the temple. His long-awaited moment had come; he had seen the salvation of the Lord. That salvation was prepared in the presence of all peoples and would be a light for revelation to the Gentiles as well as a glory to God’s people, Israel. Certainly, there is a clear indication that Simeon understood the universal offer of salvation that was being extended to the entire world.

Praise God for sending His Son, Jesus, to save all who believe in Him from every nation, tribe, and tongue. Thank God for granting the sojourners amongst the Israelites the privilege of hearing the Word of God. Thank God for His grace to old Simeon, whose dream of a lifetime was fulfilled and who was allowed to leave us with wise words about the work of Jesus Christ which extended to all peoples, even you and me.