Archive for March, 2011


Twelve Stones of Gilgal…Waiting To Be Found

As the Israelites are crossing the Jordan, along with the ark of the covenant being carried by the priests, an interesting thing happens.

“When the whole nation had finished crossing the Jordan, the LORD said to Joshua, “Choose twelve men from among the people, one from each tribe, and tell them to take up twelve stones from the middle of the Jordan from right where the priests stood and to carry them over with you and put them down at the place where you stay tonight.”

“So Joshua called together the twelve men he had appointed from the Israelites, one from each tribe, and said to them, “Go over before the ark of the LORD your God into the middle of the Jordan. Each of you is to take up a stone on his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the Israelites, to serve as a sign among you. In the future, when your children ask you, ‘What do these stones mean?’ tell them that the flow of the Jordan was cut off before the ark of the covenant of the LORD. When it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever.”

“So the Israelites did as Joshua commanded them. They took twelve stones from the middle of the Jordan, according to the number of the tribes of the Israelites, as the LORD had told Joshua; and they carried them over with them to their camp, where they put them down.  Joshua set up the twelve stones that had been in the middle of the Jordan at the spot where the priests who carried the ark of the covenant had stood. And they are there to this day.”Joshua 4:1-9

I read this and thought, “Hey I wonder if those twelve stones are still there?”  Then, when I re-read the passage, I pondered the words in verse 7, “These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever“.  You know what – I think those stones are still there, somewhere on the west side of the Jordan River, somewhere near the ancient city of Jericho, just waiting to be found!  That would be just like the God I read about – to hide those twelve stones forever, right under our noses.  Imagine the wonder to be had in finding them!


When Treason Is Rewarded

In the book of Joshua, the new Israelite leader sends out spies to the land of Jericho (as a side-note, you will recall that Joshua himself was one of twelve spies sent out by Moses in Numbers 13 and 14  and now he is sending out others to do the same – funny how things wrap around on themselves).  They locate a prostitute named Rahab who is willing to commit treason, as we see here:

‘The king of Jericho was told, “Look! Some of the Israelites have come here tonight to spy out the land.”  So the king of Jericho sent this message to Rahab: “Bring out the men who came to you and entered your house, because they have come to spy out the whole land.”

‘But the woman had taken the two men and hidden them. She said, “Yes, the men came to me, but I did not know where they had come from.  At dusk, when it was time to close the city gate, the men left. I don’t know which way they went. Go after them quickly. You may catch up with them.”  (But she had taken them up to the roof and hidden them under the stalks of flax she had laid out on the roof.)  So the men set out in pursuit of the spies on the road that leads to the fords of the Jordan, and as soon as the pursuers had gone out, the gate was shut.

‘Before the spies lay down for the night, she went up on the roof and said to them, “I know that the LORD has given this land to you and that a great fear of you has fallen on us, so that all who live in this country are melting in fear because of you.”‘Joshua 2:2-9

I find it very instructional that devotion to king and country does NOT overpower devotion to God in this case.  We may be called to make a similar decision in our lives one day – to choose between serving the leaders of our nation or to serve God.  When those two decisions are mutually exclusive, there is no command that tells us we should give in to the laws of men.

In this case, Rahab was not only a prostitute, but she was also a traitor to her country – and yet she is named prominently as a Biblical figure of faith in Hebrews 11:31, right next to Abraham, Isaac, and Moses.


God’s Final News For Moses

After all the warnings given to the Israelites through Moses, God gathers up Moses, tells him that will die soon, and then drops these words:

“And the LORD said to Moses: “You are going to rest with your fathers, and these people will soon prostitute themselves to the foreign gods of the land they are entering. They will forsake me and break the covenant I made with them.  On that day I will become angry with them and forsake them; I will hide my face from them, and they will be destroyed. Many disasters and difficulties will come upon them, and on that day they will ask, ‘Have not these disasters come upon us because our God is not with us?’  And I will certainly hide my face on that day because of all their wickedness in turning to other gods.”” Deuteronomy 31:16-18

How sad for Moses, who spent his life appealing for the rescue of the Israelite nation, over and over.  And in his final hours, God reveals to him that the nation will not stand with God, but will be led astray.  Do you think Moses’ heart was breaking over this news?  Even more, God weeps over it, when His children abandon Him for other gods.  He loves His people that much.


A Review of Deuteronomy

The whole book of Deuteronomy seems to be a prep course for the Israelites as they ready to enter the promised land of Canaan.  How to summarize the book?  I think this passage does it:

“See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction.  For I command you today to love the LORD your God, to walk in his ways, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess.”Deuteronomy 30:15-16

That pretty much gives a short overview of the book, and a great reminder for God’s people – then and now.  We have two choices, life or death.  If we choose life, then we should be prepared to walk in God’s ways and obey His commands.  This is exactly consistent with the New Testament model, as well (see Romans 5 and 6).  I think this verse would be just fine to hang in the family home today.


God’s Fury Against Unfaithful Nations

In the last post, I made a point that God still desires for us to follow His ways.  We should not simply take advantage of God’s grace, and continue living on our own terms.

So, I worry about our nation when I read passages such as this:

“Your children who follow you in later generations and foreigners who come from distant lands will see the calamities that have fallen on the land and the diseases with which the LORD has afflicted it.  The whole land will be a burning waste of salt and sulfur—nothing planted, nothing sprouting, no vegetation growing on it. It will be like the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, Admah and Zeboiim, which the LORD overthrew in fierce anger.  All the nations will ask: “Why has the LORD done this to this land? Why this fierce, burning anger?”

“And the answer will be: “It is because this people abandoned the covenant of the LORD, the God of their fathers, the covenant he made with them when he brought them out of Egypt.  They went off and worshiped other gods and bowed down to them, gods they did not know, gods he had not given them.  Therefore the LORD’s anger burned against this land, so that he brought on it all the curses written in this book.  In furious anger and in great wrath the LORD uprooted them from their land and thrust them into another land, as it is now.””Deuteronomy 29:22-28

My first question is about whether these words could ever apply to a nation other than the Israel which God was speaking to at this time?  Could it pertain to the United States, a nation which was largely founded on godly principles?  I’m not sure.

But there is no doubt that the bulk of our nation has done just what is mentioned in these verses – we have left God as a nation and gone off to worship other things.  If the penalty mentioned applies still today – a variety of curses, and being uprooted as a nation – than I have a deep concern for this land.  I pray that some of us can make a difference and push back successfully against the evils that surround us.

Note:  The picture above is of a real sulfur ball, found at the site that archaeologists believe to be the ancient cities of Sodom and Gomorrah.  Inside it was found pure, unburned sulfur.  This is said to be the only place on earth where balls of pure sulfur such as this can be found.  Isn’t that consistent with the account of fire and brimstone which destroyed those wicked cities?  For more about this archaeological discover, visit here.


The Concept of Cheap Grace…and Deuteronomy 28

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, famed 20th century theologian, discussed the comparison of “cheap grace” and “costly grace” in his book The Cost of Discipleship.  With cheap grace, a person accepts the forgiveness of sin offered by Christ’s sacrifice, and then revels in the rewards of forgiveness, without ever following through with the demands of Christian discipleship.  Paul talks along these lines in his letter to the Romans:

“The law was added so that the trespass might increase.  But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.  What shall we say, then?  Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?  By no means!  We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?”Romans 5:20-6:2

I see this reminder in Deuteronomy, chapter 28.  In this passage, Moses recites two long lists – one of blessings for those who follow the Lord’s commands, and one of curses for those who do not.  The question – has God changed fundamentally on this subject since the coming of Christ?  The answer is that God does not change – it is still important for us to try to follow His commands and laws laid out in the Bible.  If we ignore this lifestyle, we are taking advantage of Christ’s gift, and making grace look “cheap”.

God still wants us to follow His commands, even though He offers forgiveness for us when we don’t.

The Old Testament model – follow God’s commands or suffer punishment.  There was no good way to be fully forgiven, except for remission of past sins through repetitive blood sacrifices.

The New Testament model – if you accept Christ as Savior, you will be forgiven for straying, because Christ made a blood sacrifice that carries to past, present and future.  But Christian discipleship requires a change of heart, mind and actions.  True love of God will demand a desire for following God’s Word.

There is not a model in place that says, “Accept Christ and receive forgiveness, then go back to living life on your own terms.”

Note:  Here is a link to the book Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas


Blessings and Curses

When entering the Promised Land at the pass at Shechem, the people were to split up between two mountains.  From one mountaintop, blessings are shouted, and from the other, curses.

“When you have crossed the Jordan, these tribes shall stand on Mount Gerizim to bless the people: Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Joseph and Benjamin.  And these tribes shall stand on Mount Ebal to pronounce curses: Reuben, Gad, Asher, Zebulun, Dan and Naphtali.” Deuteronomy 27:12-13

I keep seeing the emphasis that God places on both the positive and negative.  Our culture today tends toward reciting only the blessings, but shies away from negative warnings through pronounced curses (such as “Cursed is the man who dishonors his father or his mother”).  Both were part of God’s system with his chosen nation.

Note:  Since all twelve tribes are mentioned as having stood on the two mountains, that would imply that there were no other “people” left to receive the blessing.  Did the entire assembly stand on both mountains and shout at each other?  Or were only select people designated to go up to the mountains, while the remaining ones walked through the valley between?  It’s not clear to me.

Second Note:  Interesting to observe that Mt. Ebal, the one from which the curses were shouted, is 228 feet higher than Mt. Gerizim.

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