This week's Bible Study - August 2, 2015
Stick to God's Plan
Quotes of the Week:
I look at a stone cutter hammering away at a rock a hundred times without so much as a crack showing in it. Yet at the 101st blow it splits in two. I know it was not the one blow that did it, but all that had gone before.
Reader's Digest, Jacob Riis.
What do you do when you encounter obstacles that appear to be huge? There are some obstacles that simply impede our progress, but are easily passed with minimal effort. However, there are other obstacles that make us stop in our tracks, with no seeming passage. At times, as believers, we feel certain that God has called us to do things, but when we encounter obstacles, we can easily be deterred. In fact, you will find that most of the time that you are following what God calls you to do; you will encounter problems that are beyond your own capability to manage. God sized tasks are not meant for us to do in our own power, but to rely upon Him. Waiting for an obstacle to shrink to where you can handle it on your own may mean that it never gets handled.
I am reminded of a thought that I heard in a sermon this past week on Psalm 23. In that familiar passage, we see the Lord as our shepherd, implying that we are sheep. You can hardly think of a more simple, stupid animal that be referred to. Sheep aren't known for their talent or ability to learn new tricks. They follow the crowd and are by all accounts, helpless on their own. In verses 2 and 3, we read that the shepherd leads the sheep beside the still waters and guides them along the right paths. In many religions, there is a list of dos and don'ts, and then the people are to go out and do (or don't). People spend their lives trying to walk the moral tightrope, not doing the 'don't' and doing the 'do'! Our Lord doesn't just tell us what to do, but He leads us and He guides us - He walks with us. When we have been given direction, we are given the power and He goes along with us and through the presence of the Holy Spirit, we have God with us.
In this study from the book of Joshua, earlier we read how Moses had passed away, and God had called Joshua to be the new leader. In a remarkable miracle, the entire Israelite nation crossed the Jordan River on dry ground. The river was at flood stage, but God had told Joshua that when they did what He had commanded, God would halt the waters. When the priests took one step into the Jordan River, it dried up. As they passed, Joshua told one person from each of the twelve tribes to get a stone from the middle of the river, which was dry, so that a memorial could be created. Joshua said that when people asked what the memorial was for, he told them to say "Israel crossed the Jordan on dry ground.' For the LORD your God dried up the Jordan before you until you had crossed over. The LORD your God did to the Jordan what he had done to the Red Sea[ when he dried it up before us until we had crossed over. He did this so that all the peoples of the earth might know that the hand of the LORD is powerful and so that you might always fear the LORD your God."
Can you imagine the tremendous momentum that had to come from crossing the Jordan in such a miraculous way? Berkley and I are avid sports enthusiasts, and in just about any sport, momentum can change everything. We recently watched the 2015 Women's World Cup, as the US women scored four goals in less than 20 minutes to start the game. That is unheard of, in competitive soccer. You might see that in a kid's league, as some teams may have a couple of really good young athletes and the other team is more interested in looking for four leaf clovers during the game. The US team rode that momentum and appeared to be cruising to a victory. However, after the Japanese team scored a couple of goals in a short period of time, US fans began to get concerned. In competitive sports, it seems that you can do almost anything when you have momentum, while it seems that you can do almost nothing to get it back. Certainly, Joshua and the Israelites had momentum, but now they were in the Promised Land; a place where they had never been before. When you find yourself in unfamiliar surroundings and you find potential peril, momentum and what has happened in the past can easily start to fade.
In chapter 5 of Joshua, we read that the kings west of the Jordan, as well as the other Canaanite kings no longer had courage to face the Israelites as they crossed into their land. This was all part of God's plan, but the tendency of the Israelites, as well as you and I today, can easily become questioning God's plan and wondering if He really said what we thought He said.
Jericho was a crucial spot in the Promised Land. While not the biggest city, it was well fortified and key to the success of Israel. When the spies had been spent out to look at the new land, as can be found in Numbers 13, they said that the people living in the land were strong, and the cities were large and fortified. Perhaps the Israelites were expecting a large army of resistance ready to do battle, but instead, they found the city to be tightly secured. The people inside were frightened of the Israelites and more importantly, what their God, had done. God had control over the Red Sea and the Jordan River, so they surely were scared of what He might do to them. No one went out and no one came into the city. They did not want to be surprised, so perhaps this is a national instance of what many of us did when we went to bed as a child and were scared. Many children pull the covers up over their heads and wait. If you remember doing this, as do I, I'm not sure what we were waiting for, exactly, but maybe we thought being under the covers was going to help somehow.
Although God had assured that He would deliver Jericho and its army into Joshua's hands, he had to be wondering how it was going to happen. Have you ever been at the point where you were sure that God was going to do something, but you had no idea how it would be accomplished? On some level, you may be able to relate to Joshua's dilemma. Our lives seem to be a continuum of our own Jordan Rivers to cross and our own cities of Jericho to face. In and of ourselves, we have no ability to ensure success or at times, even to take a step forward on our own.
God told Joshua that he and all of the armed men, including the priests who were to carry the ark, were supposed to march around the city once for six days. Then on the seventh day, seven priests were to carry trumpets of ram's horns in front of the ark. The people were to march around the city seven times, while the priests were blowing the trumpets. When there was a long blast on the trumpets, the army was to give a loud shout and the wall of the city would collapse and the army would go straight into the city. In my own mind, I think of the comedy skit that Bill Cosby had at one time as he portrayed Noah. Noah had never seen rain and did not live on the water, but he was called to build an ark. His response? Riiigggghhhhttt. Perhaps Joshua, Moses, Noah and other stalwarts of faith never had doubts, but I would have to believe that they were more like you and I today, having problems seeing how God was going to work in a given situation. It can get easier over time, but each trial brings new lessons for us to learn and we will always experience internal doubts, as we wrestle with handling the situation on our own. .
So, Joshua called the priests and told them to take up the ark of the covenant of the Lord and have seven priests carry trumpets in front of it. Then, he ordered the army to advance and march around the city, with an armed guard going ahead of the ark of the Lord. Joshua did not give the entire plan to the armed men or the priests - only what they needed at that time. They were to follow in obedience to what they knew, at least until Joshua said something different. Surely there were some tacticians in the army who listened to these orders and rolled their eyes. Instead of thinking what God might do, they likely thought of how this could have backfired. When the army was spread around the city, the Jericho army could have easily attacked them at multiple points, as they were dispersed - didn't Joshua think about that? Perhaps some might suggest that a better idea would be the use of battering rams or ladders or trenches. In fact, if we were honest, we probably would have wanted to hear something like this if we were the Israelites. We tend to like someone who has a tangible plan, right? Unfortunately, in many ways, it is easy for us to be more comfortable with the strategy of an advisor than that of God.
As we face issues in life, even as believers, we tend to look for somebody who can help us out. There will be times in life when it is wise to get counsel (and foolish not to), especially if you are having problems dealing with things that have happened in your life and are out of your control. When you find yourself in this situation, counselors can be very beneficial in helping you see things from an alternate perspective. In fact, many times, biblical counselors can help you understand how God might be at work in your life or in the lives of others. We need to remember that God often will speak through other people into our lives.
Apparently, the experience with the Jordan River and how God's hand was upon Joshua had set in with the people. There is no record of them asking questions, but we read that they that followed Joshua's command. Joshua told the priests that they could blow their trumpets, but there was to be no war cry or even the raising of their voices, until the day that Joshua told them to shout. The army marched along the ark, marched around the city and then came back to camp. Have you ever wondered why God didn't give them the city on the first day? What was to be learned by doing this over and over? Sometimes, in the midst of our situation, we come to realize that there are things that we can be taught that we would find in no other manner.
In 2 Kings 5, you can read about Naaman, a commander of the army of the King of Aram. Naaman was talented, successful and well thought of, but he had the beginning of leprosy. A young Israelite girl who was the servant of Naaman's wife spoke of the prophet in Samaria who could heal this disease. Naaman willing to try anything and he was able to get a leave of absence to seek out this prophet, and he finally ended up at the prophet Elisha's house. Naaman was probably looking for a wonder drug, or a human that could cast a spell to heal him. Elisha told him to go wash seven times in the Jordan and he would be clean. This was NOT what Naaman expected. Isn't it interesting that this leprous, dying man actually had the presumption to come up with the way that he was to be healed? Naaman is like many of us today, when our own pride and opinions stand between what we will agree to do, contrary to what God may ask of us. Naaman was incensed and left, believing that Elisha should have simply come out, waved his hand over the disease and called out to his God, healing him. And, if he had to go wash in a river, why couldn't he just have done it at his own place instead of this dirty Jordan River? Thankfully, for Naaman, some of his servants questioned him, asking him if he had been told to do some great thing, wouldn't he have done it? Why wouldn't he simply do what Elisha said? This must have made sense to Naaman, as he went to the Jordan and dipped himself in once, twice and so forth. Do you think he was muttering under his breath while doing it? Do you think he thought that he would be 'partially' healed after the first or second dip? If you were Naaman, don't you think you would be looking at your diseased skin after each dip, in expectation? He continued and miraculously, after the seventh dip, his skin was restored and he was clean. When we take a step back, we may be able to see how our own pride and opinions can often stand between our own issues and God's provisions.
Back at Jericho and early the next morning, the parade started once again around the city. The armed men went ahead of the priests and the rear guard followed the ark of the Lord, while trumpets kept sounding. Each day from day two to six, they walked around the city one time and then came back to camp. They were to told to walk silently each day. If you've ever been around a bunch of people, you begin to realize that, without anybody trying to be loud, there is a hum that occurs. I recall the school lunchroom as a child. And, I never recall it being quiet when it was full of kids. A lot of people tend to make a lot of noise. I feel sure that there had to be detractors, asking why they were doing this. In fact, there may have even been people in Jericho watching, gaining more confidence each day. They may have even been launching insults and making folly of the situation. Perhaps the nation of Israel's bark was worse than their bite?
On the seventh day, they got up as they had on the previous six days. However, on this day they marched around the city seven times and Joshua commanded the army to "Shout! For the Lord has given you the city". He explained that the city and all that was in it was to be devoted to the Lord. He also gave instructions saying that Rahab and her household were to be spared, because she had hid the spies that had been sent. They were told clearly to not bring anything back for themselves, or the camp of Israel would be liable to destruction. All the silver and gold or articles of bronze and iron were sacred to the Lord and had to go into His treasury.
Some of the people likely were unsure about what shouting would do. This doesn't seem to a modern warfare tactic, although in movies you probably can recall different armies shouting as they ran towards each other. Perhaps the people had heard shouting in the past, but it did nothing but hurt their ears. There are some modern football stadiums that are so loud that the other team cannot clearly communicate with one another, which gives a benefit to the home team, but does not guarantee success. While this might seem to be a good way to impact a sporting event, it would not seem to be the thing to do to win a war against an army. Once again, we realize that God's ways are not ways - they are far higher than our own.
At the appropriate time, the trumpets sounded, the army shouted and at the sound of the trumpet, when the men gave a loud shout, the walls collapsed. Was it an earthquake? It may have been some form of an earthquake, but even if so, it was on cue. The walls, which once seemed impenetrable, were now collapsed. There previously seemed to be no solution, but now the city of Jericho was wide open. The Israelites charged straight in and took the city. They devoted the city to the Lord and killed every living thing - men and women, young and old, cattle, sheep and donkeys.
While the Israelite army was not likely expecting this to happen, they were much more so at the ready than the Jericho army. In fact, those who had been watching guard and others around the wall were probably killed instantly. The Israelite army, circled around the city, was ready to attack from every position, leaving no possibility of escape. Surely, some of those who may have been 'private' detractors were now willing to follow Joshua. God tends to work around His people, and if we are wise today, we will surround ourselves with those who God speaks to.
The Israelite army did exactly as God had commanded, although in later chapters, you will learn that one person gave in to the temptation to take a little for himself. It must have seemed too easy and he must have thought that nobody would know. The destruction of the city was complete, with the exception of Rahab and her household. This event even added more to the support of Joshua and to news about what Israel's God could do. In verse 27, we read that the Lord was with Joshua, and his fame spread throughout the land.
We realize that none of what happened in this story was possible without the presence of the Lord. While it may have been a natural occurrence, such as an earthquake, it happened at precisely the time that God planned. The exact same steps could have been taken, as more of a process oriented flow, and without God, it would have only resulted in a lot of noise, and likely laughing from within the walls of Jericho. We tend to want the cure, the process, the flow chart of if I do this, then that happens. In your own life, what needs to change so that you rely upon the presence and power of the Lord, as opposed to trying to handle your problems by yourself or by some rote process?
The Israelites faced an impossible situation in dealing with the secure walls of Jericho. What is your Jericho? What is your impossible situation? What have you come up against that has caused you to realize the end of what you can do? At times in life, we will each face different types of cities of Jericho in our lives.
Some will meet obstacles and continue to rely upon God, and find that God will see them through. It doesn't mean that their lives end up worry free, but they grow in their reliance upon Him through that struggle. When God has worked in our lives, it is a great testimony to others, who may be dealing with similar issues. When has God worked in your life and how might you be an inspiration to somebody else who is dealing with very similar problems today?
Some will meet obstacles that will change the course of their lives and rather than face it, they end up retreating from where God might have them be. We need to realize that, even when that happens and even if we were to retreat at one time or another, God does not quit working. Retreat may cause us to miss out on some of what God might have been doing in our lives and on potential blessings that would have come. When we have failed, our future may be different, but our God is a God who continues to work in our lives and is a giver of multiple second chances.
Throughout life, we all will overcome obstacles, relying upon God and we all will at times be thwarted by obstacles that we tried to manage or control in our own power and wisdom. It's too bad that after God works in our lives, it doesn't automatically get easier and easier as we go through our lives. Part of facing these battles in life is to promote maturity. We tend to think that a mark of success is to avoid the struggle, but maturity and success to a believer are all about struggling well. Have you ever considered how much more you have learned in your own struggling?
At times, we may face that obstacle where there truly appears to be little, if any hope. No cure for your disease. At this point, if you've been following these lessons, you know that I, Don, have been diagnosed with ALS. Needless to say, it was quite a shock and blow for Berkley and I to hear the diagnosis and to even think of what may be coming in our future. Short of a miracle drug that appears on the scene in my lifetime, my only hope is to place it all on God. During this time, we have felt His presence and our prayer is for healing or for at least a long extension to life. In finding healing or not, ultimately we want to show the power of God at work in our lives. As you prepare to deal with your Jericho, we ask for your prayers as we deal with ours.