Judges 6:36-40 and Throwing Out a Fleece

gideon-fleeceGideon gets a lot of disparagement for the throwing out of the fleece.  Perhaps it is justified, but perhaps it is not.  Here is the passage:

But then Gideon said to God, “To see if you really intend to rescue Israel through me as you have declared,  I’m now putting a wool fleece on the threshing floor. If there is dew only on the fleece but all the ground is dry, then I’ll know that you are going to rescue Israel through me, as you have declared.”  And that is what happened. When he got up early the next morning and squeezed the fleece, he wrung out enough dew from the fleece to fill a bowl with water.   Then Gideon said to God, “Don’t be angry with me, but let me speak just one more time. Please let me make just one more test with the fleece: now let only the fleece be dry and let dew be on all the ground.”   And God did so that night. Only the fleece was dry, but there was dew on all the ground.

Most people see this as a lack of faith and the need for reassurance or confirmation.  This is quite possible, because Gideon asks for a sign prior to this when the Lord first comes to him, and he seeks reassurance when he finally goes to battle the Midianites.  Yet it seems that something else is going on here.

Earlier in the story, when we first meet Gideon, he is threshing wheat in a wine press because he was hiding it from the Midianites (6:11).  At this point in the story the Lord has already commissioned Gideon, he has already been protected after destroying the altar to Baal that his father made, and the Spirit of the Lord is already upon him.  Now there are warriors from Manasseh, Asher, Zebulun, and Naphtali around him.  This is when he puts the fleece out on the threshing floor.

This is a public act for all the warriors that have come together to see.  Rather than see this as a lack of faith on the part of Gideon or the need for a sign for himself, this is probably more a sign for the rest of the army to know beyond the shadow of a doubt that the Lord has called them together through Gideon for their deliverance.  This was for the benefit of others, not Gideon.

There are times when leaders, if they are going to have people follow them on a God-given mission that seems impossible, need to allow time for God to reveal this to the people.  If Gideon had not thrown out the fleece, the people would not have been as likely to follow him, especially as the army got thinned out to only three hundred men.  When we lead we need to make time and give opportunity for God to confirm what he is calling the community of faith to do not just to the leader, but to the community itself.  If the mission and assignment is from God, it will be recognized beyond the shadow of a doubt.

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Judges 2:22-23 and Practical Testing

testThere are times in life when we need to test someone.  Driver’s licences are one good example of a practical and necessary test.  Our roads would be so much more unsafe if we did not give tests to see if someone had the basic skills necessary to safely drive a car.  In Judges we are given a description of a test God gave the Israelites:

As a test for Israel, to see whether they would carefully walk in the Lord’s ways just as their ancestors had done,  the Lord left these nations instead of driving them out immediately or handing them over to Joshua.

Much of Israel’s history with the Lord was one of disobedience.  There were a few bright spots in their history, but for the most part they were unfaithful and disobedient to the covenant God had given them.  As a result, God gave them this test.  He left some of the nations around them instead of completely destroying them.  In this way the Israelites would have to make a conscious decision whether or not to follow God and obey the covenant.

There are times in our lives when we have to make choices to obey the Lord or go along with the cultures around us.  Every time we need to make a decision such as this, we can see it as a test of our faithfulness towards the Lord.  The advantage we have over the Israelites in Judges is that we have the Holy Spirit within us.  When we are faced with temptation, or simply a decision to follow God’s leading and will or our own (or our culture’s leading and determination of right and wrong), we can pray and ask God for his power and help in making the correct decision.

Joshua 24:14-18 and the Greatest Generation

Family at the CrossTom Brokaw wrote The Greatest Generation about the World War II generation in America.  The generation that entered the Promised Land with Joshua could be called the Greatest Generation of Israelites.  They were able to conquer the Promised Land and stayed faithful to the Lord throughout their lives.  (There were a few instances of disobedience, but they were not widespread and did not last long).  At the end of Joshua’s life and their lives Joshua gives this challenge:

“So now, revere the Lord. Serve him honestly and faithfully. Put aside the gods that your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates and in Egypt and serve the Lord.   But if it seems wrong in your opinion to serve the Lord, then choose today whom you will serve. Choose the gods whom your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you live. But my family and I will serve the Lord.”   Then the people answered, “God forbid that we ever leave the Lord to serve other gods!  The Lord is our God. He is the one who brought us and our ancestors up from the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage. He has done these mighty signs in our sight. He has protected us the whole way we’ve gone and in all the nations through which we’ve passed.  The Lord has driven out all the nations before us, including the Amorites who lived in the land. We too will serve the Lord, because he is our God.”

It is no wonder they are able to respond like this.  They were children when they saw the plagues in Egypt culminating with the Passover and death of the firstborn in Egypt.  They saw the Red Sea parted.  They witnessed God’s presence and power descend upon Mount Sinai.  They ate manna and drank water that came from rocks.  They wandered in the wilderness and saw their parents drop dead because of their lack of faith.  They saw the Jordan dry up and crossed over it.  They saw the walls of Jericho fall.  They routed larger and stronger nations than themselves.

They had firsthand experience of the Lord and his power.  They know the Lord is with them, and because of that they are with the Lord.

What have you seen in your life to let you know beyond the shadow of a doubt that the Lord is with you?

Joshua 21:43-45 and the Faithfulness of the Lord

12 Tribes Promised Land(1)After all of the fighting that happens in Joshua after the Israelites cross the Jordan into Canaan, there is this simple summary statement:

The Lord gave to Israel all the land he had pledged to give to their ancestors. They took it over and settled there.   The Lord gave them rest from surrounding danger, exactly as he had pledged to their ancestors. Not one of all their enemies held out against them. The Lord gave all their enemies into their power.   Not one of all the good things that the Lord had promised to the house of Israel failed. Every promise was fulfilled.

This is an interesting statement after the people had fought so hard and for so long.  But this is the way the Lord works in the world.  He uses people to achieve his purposes.  Why God chooses to use us is a mystery, but he does nonetheless.  The Lord gave them the land and rest through their obedience and faithfulness in following his leading throughout the conquest.

The next time you find yourself asking why God doesn’t do something about a specific situation, see if there is anything you can do about it, following God’s leading and guidance.

Joshua 7:20-21 and How Sin Works

Disobedience_of_Achan_1403-335We all have sins we must struggle against.  Sometimes it is easier to keep up the fight if we know how the battle usually goes.  Fortunately, we have a perfect example of how sin usually affects people in the story of Achan.

As the Israelites were embarking on their conquest of the Promised Land they took Jericho (and the walls came a-tumblin’ down).  The Israelites were supposed to destroy everything in the city, and anything worth value was to be given to the Tabernacle/Temple for use there.  Later the Lord would allow the Israelites to keep what they find, but this was a test of their faithfulness and obedience.  Achan, from the tribe of Judah, failed this test.  He kept some of the valuable things.  When he was finally confronted by Joshua, this is his response:

Achan answered Joshua, “It’s true. I’ve sinned against the Lord, the God of Israel. This is what I have done:  Among the booty I saw a single beautiful robe in the Babylonian style, two hundred shekels of silver, and a single gold bar weighing fifty shekels. I desired them and took them. Now they are hidden in the ground inside my tent, with the silver on the bottom.”

This is how sin works.  Achan saw somethings he liked that were not for him.  After he saw them, he desired them.  From desire, he takes them.  Then he hid them in order to keep them.  Temptation begins with simply noticing something.  It can end there if we do not entertain the thought of pursuing something that is sinful, whatever that temptation may be.  If we begin to linger on that temptation to our senses, we begin to desire to fulfill the temptation.  At this point it has moved from our perception to our mind and we think about fulfilling the temptation.  The process may still end here if we decide not to act on the temptation.  If, however, we given in to that desire, we act on the temptation and openly sin.  At this point, we may still repent and seek forgiveness.  Finally, if we act on the sin and do not repent, we try to hide the sin and ensure we do not ever have to admit we committed it.  This is a tough place from which to repent.

All along the process, from first temptation to hiding our sins from others, there are opportunities to stop the process and turn to God.  If we stop right when we are first tempted through our senses, seeing or hearing or feeling something, then it is not even sin.  It is still just temptation, and being tempted is not a sin.  Even Jesus was tempted.  This is the easiest point from which to stop.  Each successive stage gets harder and harder to turn to God.  If the temptation moves to desire, then we have committed the sin in our hearts, whether or not we ever get the chance to actually commit the sin physically.  Yet there still can be repentance here at this stage.  Even if we act out on that desire and actually commit the sin physically, we can still turn and repent.

If there are any sins for which you have not yet repented, but are trying to hide, confess them to God out loud and ask for forgiveness.  Then, remember this process for sin and the next time you perceive a temptation, do not even entertain it with your thoughts so it cannot even become a desire.  The Lord can give you the strength to do this.  But be smart about it.  If it is a sin with which you regularly struggle, do not put yourself in a situation where you will be tempted to sin.  If it is a sin that you commit with certain people, do not associate with those people.  If it is a sin you commit when you are alone, surround yourself with others.

Sin does not have to succeed.  Through the power of God and his presence in our lives, we can overcome it and stop it.

Joshua 4:20-24 and Monuments to God

pile_of_rocksPeople forget.  This is why we write things down, and I am told it gets worse with age.  Our collective societies forget, as well.  This is why we create memorials and monuments and museums so we will not forget.  Sometimes these are celebratory monuments, such as the World War II memorial in Washington D.C.  Sometimes these are mournful monuments, such as the Holocaust Memorial in Israel.

Joshua is told to make a memorial, a monument, after the Israelites cross the Jordan River:

Joshua set up at Gilgal those twelve stones they had taken from the Jordan.  He said to the Israelites, “In the future your children will ask their parents, ‘What about these stones?’   Then you will let your children know: ‘Israel crossed over the Jordan here on dry ground.’   This was because the Lord your God dried up the water of the Jordan before you until you crossed over. This was exactly what the Lord your God did to the Reed Sea (Red Sea).  He dried it up before us until we crossed over.   This happened so that all the earth’s peoples might know that the Lord’s power is great and that you may always revere the Lord your God.”

This monument was to remind the Israelites of how the Lord had worked in their lives in the past.  It was also to signal to the world that the Lord is God, the Lord alone.

As Christians, we are the monument to the Lord.  As Peter writes, “You yourselves are being built like living stones into a spiritual temple” (1 Peter 2:5).  People are to see the glory of the Lord in us, and we remind others of what mighty acts God has done in the past through who we are now.  Can people look at you and see what great power the Lord has to transform us?  Are you a monument to the Lord?

Joshua 1:5-6 and Confirmation From God

be-strong-and-courageousThere are times when we need confirmation from God that we are doing what it is he wants us to do.  Graciously, God gives that confirmation.  The story of Joshua is a perfect example of this truth.  If anyone was sure of his calling, it was Joshua.  He went up the Mount Sinai with Moses alone.  He had a promise by God that he would enter the Promised Land when everyone else of his generation (except Caleb) would perish.  He was brought before the Tent of Meeting with Moses and the Lord spoke directly to him and told him he would be Moses’ successor.  Moses laid hands on him to, in essence, ordain him and pass the Spirit to him.  Joshua was exactly where he was called to be.

Then the Lord speaks to Joshua and the situation becomes very real, “My servant Moses is dead.  Now get ready to cross over the Jordan” (1:2).  Now it is real.  Now the Lord is asking Joshua to leave the comfort of the camp and the familiarity of the wilderness for the struggle of leading the people, fighting the nations, and possessing the Promised Land.  This is the reason he was called by God, yes, but it is also beyond what his experience was shadowing Moses in the wilderness.  This is the fulfillment of God working in the world, bringing the people into Canaan, and that is a lot of pressure and concern–especially when we remember that this people Joshua is leading does not have the best record of being faithful to the Lord.

It is here, right after the command to “Go,” that God confirms this calling to Joshua:

No one will be able to stand up against you during your lifetime. I will be with you in the same way I was with Moses. I won’t desert you or leave you.  Be brave and strong, because you are the one who will help this people take possession of the land, which I pledged to give to their ancestors.

These are words of comfort and confirmation that the Lord is with Joshua.  It is a reminder that because the Lord is with him, Joshua is to be brave and strong.  There is no need for fear and God’s strength will be with him.  This is such an important point that God uses those same words two more times–“Be very brave and strong,” (1:7) and “I’ve commanded you to be brave and strong, haven’t I?” (1:9).  It is easy to get the sense that Joshua needed to be reassured that God would fulfill his promises and that Joshua had no need to fear.

To make it abundantly clear, though, that this was from the Lord, God confirms it another way.  He uses other people to reaffirm the call to be brave and strong.  When Joshua approaches the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh to call them to arms and fight for the rest of Israel (since they had elected to settle on the west side of the Jordan and not in the Promised Land), they echo God’s words to Joshua.  “Be brave and strong!” (1:18).  God uses other people to deliver the same message to Joshua.

This is one way God confirms his calling and messages to us.  He prepares us in life for what we are to do (all of Joshua’s time with Moses).  He has key events in our lives to shape and direct our paths (Joshua’s commissioning at the Tent).  He speaks to us (sometimes audibly, other times to our hearts).  And he uses others to reiterate what he has told us (through the two-and-a-half tribes).

If you need confirmation from God, look over your past and see the trajectory God has taken you.  Pray and listen for his guidance.  And pray that the Lord would use others in your life to reiterate or repeat what you believe God is telling you.