In Zechariah 3, we have Joshua the high priest. Presumably, this is not Joshua of Jericho fame, and even though Joshua means Savior, I don’t think we’re talking about Jesus Christ here either. Rather, I think that he is religious leader, and I also think that he had challenges.
Zec 3:3 Now Joshua was clothed with filthy garments, and stood before the angel.
Zec 3:4 And he answered and spake unto those that stood before him, saying, Take away the filthy garments from him. And unto him he said, Behold, I have caused thine iniquity to pass from thee, and I will clothe thee with change of raiment.
Zec 3:5 And I said, Let them set a fair mitre upon his head. So they set a fair mitre upon his head, and clothed him with garments. And the angel of the LORD stood by.
The symbolism of the vision seems rather obvious. Even though he was a high priest, his garments were filthy. He had a privileged position, but he still needed to be cleansed by God. You would think that if he knew he was going to be standing before God he would have cleaned himself. However, it is obviously he did not do that.
I am not sure that it was for lack of trying. I think that the bottom line is that he was not able to do it himself. The cleansing could not could not come from the inside.
What is that mean for us? We can try to fix ourselves. We can try to become better people, but even people who might be highly trained in the things of God have faults. We’re not perfect, and we can never do it on our own.
As a result, we need to come before God like Joshua did and get this new clothing. God is the source of our transformation, and our minds and lives can be renewed.
This might not be the happiest post that I have ever written, but Ezra 9 is not necessarily a happy chapter.
Ezr 9:1 Now when these things were done, the princes came to me, saying, The people of Israel, and the priests, and the Levites, have not separated themselves from the people of the lands, doing according to their abominations, even of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Jebusites, the Ammonites, the Moabites, the Egyptians, and the Amorites.
Ezr 9:2 For they have taken of their daughters for themselves, and for their sons: so that the holy seed have mingled themselves with the people of those lands: yea, the hand of the princes and rulers hath been chief in this trespass.
Remember, this is something that the Israelites were never supposed to be doing. Even from way back in Joshua, they were not supposed to be taking on cultural practices from the other people around them. They were not supposed to get married to them, and they were not supposed to do what they did.
Nevertheless, here we are in the later time in history, and this was happening again. The people of Israel were giving into sin once again.
Ezra got really upset about that.
Ezr 9:6 And said, O my God, I am ashamed and blush to lift up my face to thee, my God: for our iniquities are increased over our head, and our trespass is grown up unto the heavens.
He even said that he was ashamed of all of these problems. He was morally upset by the sin that he saw around him.
Sometimes I wonder if we are losing that today. Sometimes I wonder if we just kind of sweep sin under the rug. We get comfortable and we figure that is not such a big deal. So what if it was just a little sin? It doesn’t matter that much. It was just a small lie that saved me a lot of trouble. There’s no big deal with that.
Do you see what I’m getting at here? Ezra got visibly upset that the people were living in a sinful lifestyle. He couldn’t tolerate sin because God cannot tolerate sin. I think that we have lost some of that repulsion. I don’t really know why, and I don’t really know how to fix it, but I think that we need to think about problems in our lives. Sin is not acceptable to God, so it should not be acceptable to us.
Obviously, we mess up every now and then and need forgiveness. I don’t want to discount that whatsoever. Jesus died to make that possible for us, but that doesn’t mean that we can just do whatever we want.
Heb 12:1 Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us,
We need to lay aside sin rather than embrace it.
When you were a little kid and your parents told you not to do something, it made it that much more tempting. It wasn’t necessarily that you wanted to be defiant, but sometimes you wanted to see what was so bad that it had been forbidden.
Then, when you finally went through with it, you were punished because you broke the rule. You had the freedom to break the rules, but you also had to accept the consequences.
In 1 Kings 16, we meet two of the more infamous characters in the Bible. Ahab and Jezebel were apparently the most evil dictators yet in the history of Israel, and they did a lot of things that openly challenged God.
1Ki 16:30 And Ahab the son of Omri did evil in the sight of the LORD above all that were before him.
1Ki 16:31 And it came to pass, as if it had been a light thing for him to walk in the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, that he took to wife Jezebel the daughter of Ethbaal king of the Zidonians, and went and served Baal, and worshipped him.
1Ki 16:32 And he reared up an altar for Baal in the house of Baal, which he had built in Samaria.
1Ki 16:33 And Ahab made a grove; and Ahab did more to provoke the LORD God of Israel to anger than all the kings of Israel that were before him.
1Ki 16:34 In his days did Hiel the Bethelite build Jericho: he laid the foundation thereof in Abiram his firstborn, and set up the gates thereof in his youngest son Segub, according to the word of the LORD, which he spake by Joshua the son of Nun.
First of all, he worshiped Baal which is obviously something that God could not stand. It directly violates the 10 Commandments, and as we have seen throughout history, God does not like it when people try to replace Him.
However, there’s one other really interesting thing in this passage that openly challenges God. Way back in Joshua, Jericho was demolished, and it was never supposed to be rebuilt.
Jos 6:26 And Joshua adjured them at that time, saying, Cursed be the man before the LORD, that riseth up and buildeth this city Jericho: he shall lay the foundation thereof in his firstborn, and in his youngest son shall he set up the gates of it.
Remember, we all can be like the little kids I’ve outlined above. God tells us not to do things, and we either ignore those laws or obey them. We rebel because we have that sin nature. There are consequences then to our actions.
Before I leave you today though, let’s end on a much happier note. We are rebellious, and we certainly do sin. However, because of the work that Jesus Christ did by dying on the cross, we can be forgiven. That is ultimately the good news of the Gospel.
2Co 5:18 And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation;
2Co 5:19 To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation.
Welcome to the final chapter of Joshua. In chapter 24, Joshua is giving his final speech to the people of Israel. He is quite candid with them and tells them exactly how their relationship with God ought to play out.
Jos 24:14 Now therefore fear the LORD, and serve him in sincerity and in truth: and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the flood, and in Egypt; and serve ye the LORD.
Jos 24:15 And if it seem evil unto you to serve the LORD, choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.
Essentially, Joshua was saying that there are ultimately two choices. Either you can trust God who did and does all of this great stuff for you and brought you out of Egypt, or you can worship the new gods that your neighbors worship. It is impossible to do both simultaneously.
Joshua said that the choice was easy for his family. They would worship God. For them, there was no room for negotiation.
I think that in popular culture today it is pretty easy to get drawn into a trap of unbridled acceptance. Many people, even Christians at times, have fallen into some type of ideology that there are many paths that all lead to one God.
In theory, I agree that that sounds nice; it sounds very politically correct. After all, we don’t want to offend or debate with anyone. However, by taking the Bible as the standard of truth, I cannot draw any other conclusion than the one that Joshua expressed.
Joh 14:6 Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.
Jesus did not say that I am just one of many possible ways. Using the word “the” implies exclusivity. This is really what the essence of Christianity comes down to. Either Jesus is everything that He says He is, and He was a perfect sacrifice with the power to atone for all of the sins of humanity for all time, or He wasn’t.
Clearly, you know where I stand on this issue. That might seem a little bit radical, but given the language that the Bible uses, it is calling us to make a choice between two absolutes. What side are you on?
If you want more information about following God, read this.
In Joshua chapter 23, we are still approaching the death of Joshua. However, he has some final words to tell the people of Israel that will hopefully guide them well into the future.
Most of what he talked about is sticking close to God because He never fails, but I am going to show you one other verse that is definitely related, but I found really interesting.
Jos 23:9 For the LORD hath driven out from before you great nations and strong: but as for you, no man hath been able to stand before you unto this day.
Jos 23:10 One man of you shall chase a thousand: for the LORD your God, he it is that fighteth for you, as he hath promised you.
This is a pretty powerful image. While it is rather unbelievable to think that one person could beat 1000, God is using this as representative of his power. If He wanted that to happen, He could make that happen.
With only human power, there is no way that that would happen. The 1000 people would beat the one person every time. However, with the power of God, all things are possible. His power is greater than the combined power of all of those 1000 people.
Mat 19:26 But Jesus beheld them, and said unto them, With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible.
Jesus said this while He was asking people if a camel could fit through the eye of a needle. Everyone said that it was impossible, but Jesus responded and said that God can do anything.
These passages fit together very well, and I think that they remind us that we have to think about God being beyond humanity and human boundaries. If we try to limit Him to what seems possible in the world, we’re obviously discounting what that is capable of, and we really should not do that.
I really liked chapter 22 in the book of Joshua. Let me get right into the story.
Jos 22:4 And now the LORD your God hath given rest unto your brethren, as he promised them: therefore now return ye, and get you unto your tents, and unto the land of your possession, which Moses the servant of the LORD gave you on the other side Jordan.
Jos 22:5 But take diligent heed to do the commandment and the law, which Moses the servant of the LORD charged you, to love the LORD your God, and to walk in all his ways, and to keep his commandments, and to cleave unto him, and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul.
The tribes of Reuben, Gad and Manasseh had been given their inheritance on the other side of the Jordan River. However, they had to help out the rest of Israel get their land before they could retire to their own. Now that had been done, so they were going home, and Joshua told them not to leave God. There is something to be said that about a relationship with God being over a lifetime rather than just one little moment, but let me continue with this story.
Jos 22:10 And when they came unto the borders of Jordan, that are in the land of Canaan, the children of Reuben and the children of Gad and the half tribe of Manasseh built there an altar by Jordan, a great altar to see to.
Jos 22:11 And the children of Israel heard say, Behold, the children of Reuben and the children of Gad and the half tribe of Manasseh have built an altar over against the land of Canaan, in the borders of Jordan, at the passage of the children of Israel.
Jos 22:12 And when the children of Israel heard of it, the whole congregation of the children of Israel gathered themselves together at Shiloh, to go up to war against them.
Now, these three tribes decided to build a giant altar. Immediately, the rest of Israel assumed the worst and were going to go to war. After all, they remembered that several times while they were in the wilderness that the sins of part of them affected the entire nation.
The three tribes were fortunately given a chance to respond before war broke out, and here is what they said.
Jos 22:22 The LORD God of gods, the LORD God of gods, he knoweth, and Israel he shall know; if it be in rebellion, or if in transgression against the LORD, (save us not this day,)
Jos 22:23 That we have built us an altar to turn from following the LORD, or if to offer thereon burnt offering or meat offering, or if to offer peace offerings thereon, let the LORD himself require it;
Jos 22:24 And if we have not rather done it for fear of this thing, saying, In time to come your children might speak unto our children, saying, What have ye to do with the LORD God of Israel?
Jos 22:25 For the LORD hath made Jordan a border between us and you, ye children of Reuben and children of Gad; ye have no part in the LORD: so shall your children make our children cease from fearing the LORD.
Jos 22:26 Therefore we said, Let us now prepare to build us an altar, not for burnt offering, nor for sacrifice:
Jos 22:27 But that it may be a witness between us, and you, and our generations after us, that we might do the service of the LORD before him with our burnt offerings, and with our sacrifices, and with our peace offerings; that your children may not say to our children in time to come, Ye have no part in the LORD.
Jos 22:28 Therefore said we, that it shall be, when they should so say to us or to our generations in time to come, that we may say again, Behold the pattern of the altar of the LORD, which our fathers made, not for burnt offerings, nor for sacrifices; but it is a witness between us and you.
Jos 22:29 God forbid that we should rebel against the LORD, and turn this day from following the LORD, to build an altar for burnt offerings, for meat offerings, or for sacrifices, beside the altar of the LORD our God that is before his tabernacle.
Basically, this altar was meant to demonstrate that there was a shared commitment to following God regardless of what side of the Jordan River the people lived on.
I think that it can also be a powerful statement about the current state of Christianity. The church in North America is different than the church in Africa which is different than the church in Asia which is different than the church in Europe which is different than the church in South America which is different than the church in Australia.
We may have different cultural practices, and it may seem that the differences are huge. However, just like the three tribes built an altar to demonstrate a shared commitment, churches around the world today have the same Bible as that shared commitment.
We have brothers and sisters around the world who are following God, and even if we don’t understand everything about their worship, kind of like the rest of Israel did not understand what the altar was for, they still can be following God.
I know that this was an incredibly long post for me, but I really like this story. Love for God is demonstrated in a variety of ways, but if they are sincere and truly honor God, that is okay.
The end of Joshua chapter 21 is not surprising whatsoever, but I think it is worth talking about for a little while today.
Jos 21:43 And the LORD gave unto Israel all the land which he sware to give unto their fathers; and they possessed it, and dwelt therein.
Jos 21:44 And the LORD gave them rest round about, according to all that he sware unto their fathers: and there stood not a man of all their enemies before them; the LORD delivered all their enemies into their hand.
Jos 21:45 There failed not ought of any good thing which the LORD had spoken unto the house of Israel; all came to pass.
It is amazing that God made everything happen just like He planned. Of course, it isn’t surprising given that we know that God is incapable of failing, but I was thinking about how all of us make a lot of plans, and I would be surprised if everything that you and I did turned out the way we wanted it.
God has the power over the universe that is required to orchestrate everything that happens on our planet. Not only that, but He is faithful to complete everything that He promises. For some proof of that, let’s look through a few other Bible verses.
Psa 119:65 TETH. Thou hast dealt well with thy servant, O LORD, according unto thy word.
Psa 36:5 Thy mercy, O LORD, is in the heavens; and thy faithfulness reacheth unto the clouds.
2Ti 2:13 If we believe not, yet he abideth faithful: he cannot deny himself.
Whenever God has made any promise, He always has made it happen. In this particular instance, He gave Israel all of the lands that He had told them He would. When Jesus left our planet, He promised that we would receive a comforter, and the Holy Spirit was not far behind. The list could go on and on, but the point is that God’s promises are absolute, and He will never go back on His word.
I have written a few times before about the cities of refuge in Israel, and today is another time to do that. Joshua chapter 20 is a discussion between God and Joshua about these cities.
Jos 20:9 These were the cities appointed for all the children of Israel, and for the stranger that sojourneth among them, that whosoever killeth any person at unawares might flee thither, and not die by the hand of the avenger of blood, until he stood before the congregation.
I think that this clearly emphasizes that God is truly a God of justice. I see that particularly in the final part of this verse. The direct purpose of these cities was to allow people who may have unintentionally killed someone a safe place to wait until the trial.
God put this system in place to establish some type of justice. He wanted to make sure that people were not dying unnecessarily. He wanted to make sure that the punishment fit the crime rather than an overreaction by an angry relative.
Although I don’t have a lot of experience with this, I would assume that if a close family member or relative died in some type of accident, it would be incredibly easy to blame whoever was with my relative at that time. That blame can lead to anger which can lead to crimes being committed.
God decided to eliminate this problem. By providing these cities, the justice system had time to work. He wanted people to be accountable for what they did, but he also wanted to make sure that the punishment fit the crime.
This takes us right back to something I wrote a few months ago about the idea of an eye for an eye. God loves justice, and that implies fairness. The punishment cannot be exponentially greater than the crime, and that punishment needs to be done through the legal system and the congregation rather than one person taking the law into his or her own hand.
I think that there is something procedurally important that happens in Joshua chapter 19. All of the decisions are made, and they are finalized.
Jos 19:51 These are the inheritances, which Eleazar the priest, and Joshua the son of Nun, and the heads of the fathers of the tribes of the children of Israel, divided for an inheritance by lot in Shiloh before the LORD, at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation. So they made an end of dividing the country.
If only all of the people who end up suing each other over technicalities in wills would operate like this. All of the people got together, they divided the land, everything was settled and they made an end.
For me, that ending was the important part. Often times, people continue to fight forever, but Israel made sure that everything was settled in front of everyone so that there could be no complaints down the road.
I know that some people might say that this type of decision-making is too rushed, but I would argue that this is efficiency. We never hear that any opinion was suppressed, but we do find out that when the process was done, it came to an end.
As humans, we don’t like to accept that things are finished. We don’t like to let things be. However, I think that this chapter gives us a good model to follow. Obviously, do what has to be done according to the will of God. The people of Israel divided the land by lot just like God had told them to do. When they did that, they moved on.
I hope that we can work this type of behavior into our everyday lives. When things are complete, we need to accept them and move on. Dwelling on the past is never helpful.
I like the way that Joshua addresses the people at the beginning of Joshua 18.
Jos 18:3 And Joshua said unto the children of Israel, How long are ye slack to go to possess the land, which the LORD God of your fathers hath given you?
Essentially, he is asking them how long they are going to sit around and wait for the land. He knows that God has already given them the land, so all of this waiting is really not adding any value to the process. It is not like they need any more preparation. With God on their side, they were ready to move into the land.
Rom 8:31 What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us?
After making that statement, he sent men into the remaining land and had them divide it up into reasonable portions. Those sections were then assigned by lot to the various remaining tribes.
Joshua wasn’t going to waste time. Even if the tribes of Israel were going in and taking the land, Joshua made one decision for them. He told them what piece of land they were going to have so that that stage of decision-making, which could certainly be controversial, was finished.
If you think about most of history, the land has been the source of a majority of conflicts. When society was more based on agriculture, the land was power. You needed the land to build a healthy economy.
The people of Israel didn’t have the chance to complain about that at this point in history. All of the remaining land was divided by chance to the remaining seven tribes. It was fair for everyone.
These two characteristics made the division of land in Israel much more successful than it might have been otherwise. God wanting them to have the land and strong central leadership made the difference in this situation.