April 30, 2015

Scripture and Commentary, April 29-May2

April 29

Ruth 1,  John 10:1-21
Ruth 2,  1 John 5

Commentary, Ruth 1

The book of Ruth is beloved for its literary beauty, but few understand its theology.  It begins in the turbulent time of the Judges; the time of people like Deborah and Samson, during which the Hebrews, deep in sin and unbelief, were being attacked by the Canaanite tribes, and starved by famine.  It was a famine in Israel that caused Elimelech and Naomi to leave Israel and travel to Moab.

Remember that Israel was called by God to be His people and to love and serve Him in the land He gave unto them. It was sin for Israelites to desert their homes and people to live among the Gentiles, and it was sin for them to marry their sons to Gentile women.  It is the sin of unbelief, of not trusting God to keep His promises, of not trusting Him enough to keep the Covenant and leave the rest to Him.  As in so many things, the names and places have changed, but the story remains the same.

We see here a gradual and intentional move away from the Covenant of God toward the pagan views and lifestyle of the Gentiles.  Elimelech and Naomi may not have rejected God entirely, but they were comfortable being part of an idolatrous people and having idolatry in their home and family.  In spite of their move, Elimelech and his sons died in the famine, leaving the three women to cope alone.

When Naomi hears there is food in Israel she determines to go home.  This is not a return to God, against whom she is very angry (13).  It is simply a move to find food.  Knowing her Moabite sojourn would be a hindrance to some of the Israelites, Naomi conveniently becomes a Hebrew again and tells her daughters in law to leave her.  This is difficult, for there is obviously great love between them.  It is partly due to her love that Naomi tells the wives to return to their own people.  They are young and will be able to find husbands in Moab, but taking financial obligations to support a wife and her mother in law might not be the first choice of a young Moabite man.

So the story of Ruth begins with sin and its complications in the lives of these people.  It also begins with Naomi's decision to return to Israel, but we need to understand this is not a desire to return to God and His Covenant, merely a decision to go where she might find food.

Naomi's homecoming is not a happy one.  She says to those who greet her that she "went out full."  She means she left Israel with a husband and children, and, most likely enough money to buy property and start life over again in Moab. In Moab she found two loving daughters in law.  She had family, love, and hope.  Now that is all gone.  She has returned hungry, widowed, grieving the loss of her sons, and so poor she has to beg and glean the fields for food.  She laments, "I went out full, and the Lord hath brought me home again empty" (1:21) Thus she tells the people not to call her Naomi, meaning, "happy" or "pleasant", but Mara, meaning "bitter" or "angry" (1:20).  Why is she angry? Because the Lord has dealt very bitterly with her (1:20).  Or has He?  It was Elimelech and Naomi who left the Covenant people to dwell among the heathen.  It was they who left the benefits of the sacrifices, the Covenant, and the worship of God.  It was they who married their sons to Moabite women.  It was they who turned away from God, not God who turned away from them.  God simply allowed them to have what they wanted. He often does the same with us today.  "Christians" want to live like pagans, so God gives us what we want.  Only, like Elimelech and Naomi, we find Moab isn't so great after all. We go out full, but come back empty.  What else should we expect?  How can we expect to be at peace with God when our hearts are set on the world?

What Naomi does not see is that the hand of God is heavy upon her in grace.  It is heavy upon her because it is calling her back God.  It is calling her back to the Covenant.  God is saying to her, "I will be your God and you will be my beloved daughter. I will bless you and protect you, and I will give you better things than you can even imagine (see Eph. 3:20).  Come back to Me. Let Me love you. Let Me bless you."  It is as though God is saying to her;

"Draw nigh to God, and He will draw nigh to you.  Cleanse your hands ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded, be afflicted and mourn and weep, let your laughter [your desire for selfish pleasures] be turned to mourning [repentance] and your joy [pleasure in sin] to heaviness [grief in the soul over sin].  Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He shall lift you up."
                                James 4:8-10

Both Ruth and James call for the same kind of faith, a faith that turns from sin to God; a faith that removes us from the throne of our lives and enthrones God as King and God.  This kind of faith is not a single event; it is a pattern of life.  It is a habit of the mind and soul.  It is a call to continuously draw nigh to God, cleanse your hands, purify your heart, and live in the spirit of James 4:8-10.  Make it your habitual way of life.  This is the call of God to Naomi, and to us.

Ruth 1:16-17 is one of the most beautiful and moving passages in all of Scripture, and it ought to be treasured by every child of God.  In it we see the conversion of Ruth.  She has been an idolater.  She has been an alien and a stranger to God.  Her life and values were shaped by the culture of paganism, and they were the habit of her life.  But here she lays that life down and takes up a new life as a child of God.  She joins the Covenant people. She moves to the Promised Land.  She enthrones God as her God, and she intends to make this the habit of her life.

Thus our reading for today has brought us face to face with the major themes of the Book of Ruth.  We have seen the Providence of God in His care for His people and working out His plan and purpose for this world.  We have seen the Grace of God calling Naomi back to His people and Himself.  We have seen Repentance, for God's call to Naomi is a call to return to Him and turn away from her sin.  And we have seen Conversion, as Ruth has come to God and become a child of grace.  All of these themes will be developed further in the coming chapters of Ruth.


Commentary, Ruth 2

Naomi may have returned to Israel empty, but God had much good in store for her.  By his providence He works all things to good for His people, and He will bring good to Naomi in spite of her sin and lukewarm faith. By His providence He brings Naomi into contact with her wealthy brother in law, Boaz.  It was not Naomi who made plans to glean the fields of Boaz, it was Ruth (2:2).  Ruth even dared to hope Boaz would be favourably disposed toward her.  By God's grace, he was.  It was not chance that brought him from Bethlehem.  It was not chance that caused him to see this unknown woman gleaning in his field.  It was not chance that he felt kindly toward her and gave her far more than simply the leftovers of the crop.  It was Providence.  God caused Boaz to learn of Ruth's faithfulness to Naomi, and of her leaving the land of Moab to join herself to Israel (2:11).  He desired God to bless her, and intended to be an instrument of His good will toward her (2:12-13).

There is much to learn of God's grace in this passage.  We, like Naomi have sinned and strayed from God like lost sheep.  We have dwelt among the heathen and neglected our duties to God.  Our rebellion has been costly, for we have reaped what we have sown and we have found ourselves empty in our souls.  But God is rich in mercy.  In His Providence He has brought us to our Kinsman Redeemer and into His house and home.  He has given us all that He has, as an adoring husband to his loving wife.  We came to God empty, but He has made us full.

The heart of today's reading in Ruth is found in verse 20.  Naomi is suffering through the dark night of the soul.  She seems to have had an exceptionally close and happy relationship with her family.  Now her beloved husband is dead, along with her two dear sons. The people who made her life worth living have been ripped from hear heart, and her grief at this loss must have been almost unbearable.  Added to this grief is the loss of her home and income, so that she is plunged into poverty so deep she becomes a beggar who has to rely on charity for her food.    She knows that, if her neighbors are not charitable, or if food is scarce, she and her daughter in law will face death by slow starvation in the coming winter.

It is difficult for us to imagine the deep, deep sorrow, anger, and despair that grips Naomi's heart, though we can see how it would be compounded by her nominal faith.  But a spark of Godly hope is ignited within her when she sees the food brought to her by Ruth.  Ruth has brought not only grain, but also a significant portion of the meal given to her earlier that day (2:14 & 18)-19).  She hears the good tidings that Boaz has provided an abundant supply of food for them (2:15-16, 21-23).  But verse 20 is the real turning point in Naomi's life.  Learning that Ruth has gleaned in the fields of Boaz, Naomi realises that it is the Providence and Grace of God that took Ruth to the fields this day. Her words, "Blessed be he of the Lord, who hath not left off His kindness to the living and to the dead," show that Naomi realises God intends to heal her wounded soul and restore her heritage in Israel.  Boaz is required by Covenant Law to marry Ruth and provide children to inherit the property of her husband's father.  He also has the wealth and power to redeem the property and return it to Ruth, and to Naomi.  Naomi's words express her conversion.  In these words, she confesses her faith in God, and takes her rightful place as a daughter of the Covenant. 

In a very real sense, Boaz is a picture our Redeemer-Kinsman, our Lord Christ.  He has power and the will to provide for the needs of life and to redeem us from the poverty in our souls.  As God, through the kindness and faithfulness of Boaz, healed Naomi of the wounds in her soul and made her a child of the Covenant, Christ heals our souls and makes us children of grace.  As Boaz had the power to redeem the property of Elimelech and make Naomi, Ruth, and her children heirs of land in Israel, Christ has power to redeem our souls and make us heirs of the Kingdom of Heaven.  Naomi realises God is working out the redemption of her property and her soul.  Thus she gives thanks to God for His kindness to her, the living, and to her husband and sons, the dead.  Their heritage in Israel will continue.

April 30

Ruth 3,  Jn. 10:21-42
Ruth 4,  2nd and 3rd John

Commentary, Ruth 3

The events of the third chapter of Ruth seem strange to modern Christians. To put them in chronological order we see that the harvest is over and the time to thresh the grain has come.  Boaz has dealt kindly with Naomi and Ruth, and it is due to him that the women have been able to gather enough food to keep them well supplied until the next year's harvest.  Boaz, who lives in Bethlehem, has come to one of his threshing houses to winnow the barely, meaning to separate the grain from the hull and bits of leaves and stalks, called, "chaff."  That part seems plain and normal to us, but what is this sneaking around in the dark and uncovering Boaz's feet?  It is simply this; Ruth is asking Boaz to marry her and to redeem the property of her husband, now under lease to someone else, due to Naomi's poverty (4:3).

According to Old Testament law, the brother of a man who died without children was to marry his brother's widow, and father a child who would inherit the land and property of the deceased man.  This was done so that the name of the deceased would continue in Israel, and that his family would always possess his portion of the land.  According to Old Testament law, the land of Israel was given as a heritage to the people.  Therefore, it could not be sold, but could be leased out until the year of Jubilee, when it reverted back to the original owner or his heirs.  An Israelite usually only leased his property out because of severe financial problems, so there was a provision that a near kinsman could buy back the lease and return the property to its rightful owners.  This was called "redeeming" the land.

When Ruth went to Boaz at night, she did nothing immoral.  She simply asked Boaz to marry her.  That is the meaning of verse 9.  Had Boaz spread his "skirt," or, blanket over her, he would have been asking her to lie beside him as his wife, and they would be considered married.  Boaz specifically did not invite her, but rather turned her away telling her that a nearer kinsman had the duty to marry her, but he would certainly do so if the other man consented.

It is significant that the Hebrew word for kinsman can also mean "redeemer."   To marry his brother's widow a man would also redeem his property for his heirs if it had been leased to another.  Thus, Boaz is addressed by Ruth as her near kinsman and redeemer.  We see here a picture of the love of Christ for His Church.  He is her redeemer who purchases her place in the Kingdom of God.  He is also her husband who loves her for eternity.


Commentary, Ruth 4

Boaz went to the gate of Bethlehem and found the man who was a closer kinsman than himself. This man was willing to redeem the property of Naomi until he learned he would also have to marry Ruth.   Marrying her would mean the property would not belong to him, but to Ruth's children.  He would, therefore, be buying the property for Naomi, Ruth, and Ruth's children.  This was the intent of this custom.  It served to keep widows and children out of poverty, not provide extra land to those who could afford it.  This man was willing to redeem the land when it appeared it would profit him.  When he saw it would not, he passed it on to Boaz.  Thus, Boaz received the right to marry Ruth and provide for the prosperity of Naomi and Ruth.

This is very important for it secures the place of Naomi and Ruth in the Covenant people of God.  They have a share in the heritage of Israel, which symbolises that they have a "share" in God.  They are truly now part of Israel, the redeemed of God.

We have come to the close of the book of Ruth.  It is very tempting to spend time on the details of the events in today's reading, but we will instead go right to the major points of the passage.  

First, the conversion of Ruth is complete.  In the beginning of the book she was a pagan citizen of one of the bitterest enemies of Israel, Moab.  In today's reading she is the mother of a child who inherits the property of Elimelech and Naomi, and of their sons.  In the beginning she was an alien to the people of God, and to the promises of God given to Israel.  Now she is a full citizen and participant in them.  She is fully a daughter of the Covenant.  So here is a woman, who grew up outside of the Church and without instruction in the Scriptures, who is welcomed into the Church by the grace of God.  Thus, it is faith, not background that makes one a child of God.  A person who has never yet been in Church is as welcome as those who have been raised in it.  They, like Ruth, may freely come to God.

Second, the conversion of Naomi is complete.  Naomi is back in the Covenant people, with a grandchild who will carry on the family name in Israel.  More than this, she is reconciled to God.  At the beginning of the book she was in sin and unbelief. Now her faith is as real as her place among the Covenant people.  She, too, is a true daughter of the Covenant and child of God.  Naomi was raised in Israel, with all the blessings and opportunities to know God and learn the Scriptures that the Hebrew people enjoyed.  Yet she gave only lip service to God, preferring to follow the ways of the world. Many today, having the same opportunities, throw them away as Naomi did.  Raised in the Church with countless opportunities to learn the Scripture and know Christ, they fritter away their opportunities in youth, and, in adulthood, and form the habit of neglecting the Word and House of God.  They may retain a nominal belief in God.  They may even try to live moral lives and have great respect for the Bible.  But their hearts are not in it.  When Christ commands them, "Follow Me," they draw back and ask, "How far?"  Naomi was such a person, but in today's reading she has turned to God in true faith.  All who have followed Naomi's example away from God may also follow her example back to Him.  Those who do will find God as willing to welcome them as He was to welcome Naomi.  Draw nigh unto Him and He will draw nigh unto you.

Third, God chose Ruth to be a direct ancestor of Israel's greatest king, David.  She was David's Great Grandmother.  One of the main points of the book of Ruth is to show the life of the immediate forbearers of David, and to serve as an introduction to the call and life of David as king of Israel.

Fourth, the guiding hand of God is always upon His people.  The time in which Naomi and Ruth lived was a chaotic time of rampant sin and open rejection of God.  Some Israelites, like Elimelech and Naomi, left Israel to dwell among the pagans.  Others simply incorporated pagan ideas and values into the Old Testament faith.  Both actions were wrong, and their practitioners paid dearly.  But God   did not desert Israel, nor did He allow their sins to stop His plan to bring all things together in Christ.  He brought David into the world by His providence and grace, and through David's line, the Saviour was born, in "the fulness of the time."    

May 1, Saint Philip and Saint James, Apostles

James 1:1-12
John 14:1-14

Collect

“O Almighty God, whom truly to know is everlasting life; Grant us perfectly to know thy Son Jesus Christ to be the way, the truth, and the life; that, following the footsteps of thy holy Apostles, Saint Philip and Saint James, we may steadfastly walk in the way that leadeth to eternal life; through the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen."

James, and his brother, John, were fisherman in the sea of Galilee before Christ called them to be his disciples. James, John, and Peter, comprised the inner circle of disciples.  They were with Christ on the mount of Transfiguration. They were also closest to Christ in the garden of Gethsemane. Stephen, the deacon, was the first Christian martyr, but James was the first Apostle to suffer martyrdom.  He was killed by Herod in an attempt to “vex certain of the church” (Acts 12:1).  James the Apostle is the author of the New Testament book of James.

Philip is best known for bringing his brother Nathaniel to Christ. In John 14, Philip makes the request, “Lord show us the Father, and it sufficeth us.” Christ responds with some of the clearest teaching of his divinity in the New Testament. Jesus says “he that hath seen me hath seen the Father.” He goes on to say “I am in the Father and the Father in me.”

Philip the Apostle is a different person from Philip the Deacon. It is believed that Phillip the Apostle was crucified in Asia Minor, modern Turkey.

James and Philip paid for their faith with their lives.  How different their faith is from the easy-believism, “take what you want and leave the rest,” cafeteria Christianity ideas that pass for  following Christ today.  We want following Christ to be easy and fun.  We want Him to enhance our happiness and personal security.  We don’t want Him to demand changes in our attitudes and behaviour, and we certainly don’t want to have to sacrifice our comforts and pleasures to follow Him.  We want Heaven, but not the cross.  Is it any wonder we are so easily overcome by the world?  Perhaps we would do well to give today’s Collect serious consideration, and seriously pray, “that, following the footsteps of thy holy Apostles, Saint Philip and Saint James, we may steadfastly walk in the way that leadeth to eternal life; through the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen."

May 2

1 Samuel 1,  John 11:1-29
1 Sam. 2:1-21,  Romans 1

Commentary,

1 Samuel 1

It is about the year 1100 BC. The unity of the tribes of Israel during the conquest of Canaan has disintegrated into isolationism and inter-clan strife.  The commitment to the Covenant of God has waned, and most of the people have fallen into idolatry and moral chaos. Even the priests have deserted God for idolatry, and some use their position to gain personal wealth. For nearly four hundred years Israel has existed in such dire conditions the era has been called Israel’s “Dark Ages.” Old Testament scholar, Dr. H. I. Hester, said the era was characterised by “apostasy, decline, disorder, and demoralization. It was a time of decline in all areas of life, economic, political, social, moral and religious. It was a time of compromise and acceptance by many of God's people of the ideas and standards of their pagan neighbors. The oft-recurring statement in the book of Judges is ‘The children of Israel did that which was evil in the sight of Jehovah.’”  It sounds very much like our own time, doesn’t it?

In this time of darkness a woman is praying. Her life is vexed by the surrounding darkness, and by the circumstances within her own home, for her husband, Elkanah, has two wives. We are not told why. Perhaps one had been the wife of a deceased brother, whom  Elkanah married in obedience to the Law. Or perhaps he had taken a second wife in imitation of the practices of the polygynous Canaanites. Either way the situation brings much unhappiness into the life of this woman of prayer, whose name is Hannah. The other wife, called her adversary in verse 6, derides Hannah, and causes much unhappiness in the household. This adversary is so wicked she even provokes Hannah in the house of God, where Hannah desires to be most free from disturbances and to focus on prayer and worship.  The Reverend Mathew Henry attributes this to Satanic influence, saying, “The great adversary to our purity and peace is…  most industrious to ruffle us when we should be most composed.”

But God has not forgotten his people, nor are his ears deaf to Hannah's prayers. A child is born, and when his time is come, he is taken to Shiloh and dedicated to the service of God, as Hannah has promised.

1 Samuel 2:1-21


The song of Hannah (vss. 1-10) is a beautiful hymn of thanksgiving and faith.  It looks back to God's grace in giving Hannah a child. It also looks forward to a time when God will deliver Israel from her present troubles, especially her oppression and domination by the Philistines. This deliverance will come in part through the ministry of Hannah's son, Samuel. Hints of David and Solomon are also seen in this song. But one greater than David is foretold here. Christ the great King, the Savior, and his reign of peace will fulfill the promises of this song in a way Hannah can scarcely comprehend. But we see His work. We see His salvation. By faith we have entered His Kingdom, and by faith we see it's consummation.

April 8, 2015

Scripture and Commentary, April 5-9

April 5, Easter Sunday


Colossians 3:1-4, John. 20:1-10

Collect

Almighty God, who through thine only-begotten Son Jesus Christ hast overcome death, and opened unto us the gate of everlasting life; We humbly beseech thee that I as by thy special grace preventing us thou dost put into our minds good desires, so by thy continual help we may bring the same to good affect; through the same in Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost ever, one God, world without end. Amen.

They condemned him to death. They beat him almost to death. They nailed him to a cross. They pierced His heart with a spear. They placed his dead body in a tomb and sealed it with a boulder. They posted guards around the grave.  But when the women and disciples arrived at the grave it was empty. He was gone.

At first they did not believe He was alive.  Mary thought someone had taken His body.  Peter appears to not understand yet “that He must rise again from the dead.”  John, alone seems to “believe” at the sight of the empty tomb.  Soon they all will.

April 6,  Monday in Easter Week

Acts 10:34-43,  Luke 24:13-35

Commentary, Luke 24:13-35

When Jesus died, everything the disciples hoped for died with Him. They hoped He would free Israel from Rome. That hope died with Him. They hoped they would sit on golden thrones and live in luxury and peace in a free and independent Jewish state. That hope died with Him. And now, after His resurrection, their despair is evident. Why the despair? Because they do not believe. Though He told them many times that He would suffer and die and rise again, they do not  understand His words, nor do they believe them, even when they see the empty tomb.

The disciples on the road to Emmaus are some of those who “went away again unto their own home.” The location of Emmaus is unknown today.  Luke says it was about threescore furlongs from Jerusalem.  A score is “twenty” and a furlong equals 220 yards.  So Emmaus was about 4,400 yards, or,  two and a half miles from Jerusalem.  Jesus’ words, “O fools and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken,” indicate that they are not convinced of the truth of the resurrection. Only after He "opens their eyes" do they understand that He is truly risen from the dead. What a time they must have hearing the Lord open the meaning of the Bible to them. They leave for Jerusalem with far more than joy over the fact that Jesus is alive. They leave with an accurate understanding of the Person and Ministry of Christ.  They understand who He is, and why He suffered and rose again.  These disciples are not the eleven Apostles.  They are other followers of Christ.  We even know the name of one, Cleopas. They are among the very first to know and understand the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the New Testament era.

April 7, Tuesday in Easter Week

Acts 13:26-41,  Lk. 25:36-48

Commentary, Luke 25:36-48

Cleopas and several other disciples are gathered with the Apostles in Upper Room in Jerusalem when Christ appears in the room.  He doesn’t enter through the door. He doesn’t climb in through a window.  He just appears.  Luke says He “stood in the midst of them.”  Closed doors and solid walls are no obstacles to Him.  Even the solid rock of the tomb could not keep Him in.  He passed through it more easily than we pass through air.  The stone was not rolled away to let Him out.  It was rolled away to let the disciples in, so they would see that He is not there. 

Now, as He had done for the others on the Emmaus road, the Lord opens “their understanding, that they might understand the Scriptures.”  He goes beyond what He said on the road, for here He says that “repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.”  The global scope of His Kingdom is clearly stated here.  It is not just for Israel.  It is for all who will believe.  The nature of His Kingdom is also stated.  It is not political.  It is spiritual.  It is comprised of all believers, wherever they may live, whatever their race, or gender, or age.  Finally, the means of its accomplishment is given.   It does not come through politics.  It does not come through military conquest, or violence. It comes by preaching repentance and forgiveness of sins in His name.

April 8, Wednesday in Easter Week

Joshua 10:28-43,  Lk 19:23-48
Josh 22:1-20,  Hebrews 10

Commentary,

Joshua 10:28-43

After crossing the Jordan by a miracle as stunning as the parting of the Red Sea (see Joshua 4), Joshua and the children of Israel camp near the city of Jericho in an area called Gilgal (Josh, 4:20). The fall of Jericho is recorded in chapter 6.  About 7 miles north of the Dead Sea, and 4 miles west of the Jordan River, Jericho is a walled city. It is the first obstacle Israel encountered in the Promised Land, and its existence would be a continual threat to the security of the children of Israel. Thus, they can not simply bypass the city: they must conquer it. 10 miles north west of Jericho is the city of Ai. Here Israel suffers a crushing defeat, but, after discerning the cause, the Hebrews are enabled to conquer the city.

A coalition of armies from Jerusalem and four neighboring cities advances toward the city of Gibeon, which, along with four other cities, has made a treaty with Israel. The coalition intends to punish Gibeon, and probably hopes to convince other Canaanite tribes to unite with the coalition and defeat the advancing Israelite army. Receiving a desperate call for help from the Gibeonites, the army of Israel makes a forced night march from Gilgal to defeat the coalition at Gibeon. It is during this battle that the famous miracle occurs when “the sun stood still in the midst of heaven, and hasted not to go down about a whole day” (Josh 10:13).

Now Joshua marches southwest for about 23 miles to the city of Libnah, conquering Makkeda on the way. After subduing Libnah, he travels south about 6 miles to conquer Lachish. The army of Horam, king of Gezer, who has come to help Lachish is also defeated.  Eglon is a few miles southwest of Lachish, on a main road that leads to Gaza.

Hebron is about 20 miles due east of Lachish. But Joshua probably took the road northeast to Maresha and went south east from there to Hebron, a journey of about 23 miles.  Now he turns south west again to conquer Debir.  As chapter 10 closes, Israel is in control of southern Canaan.  It has not conquered every city or area.  Gath, future home of the famous warrior, Goliath,  still remains a Cannanitie stronghold, and will become a continuous threat to Israel.  But it is no exageration for verse 41 to claim Hebrew ownership of the land from Kadesh barnea south of the Dead Sea, to Gibeon, north of Jerusalem, to the Gaza coast on the west.

Joshua 22:1-20

The conquest of the Promised Land is almost complete.  Small enclaves of Canaanites still exist, and they will become major problems for Israel in the future.  But the military/economic power in the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranan belongs to the people of Israel. The entire nation is gathered at Shiloh, about 20 miles north of Jerusalem.  Here plans are laid for the settlement of Canaan by the Hebrews, and the tribes who were granted land east of the Jordan are blessed by Joshua and released to their own lands.  

On the way they build and altar.  Modern readers are often confused at the reaction to this altar.  They are accustomed to people starting and closing churches at will, or changing churches at will, with no theological justification or ecclesiastical oversight.  But God has never intended such a system to exist, not in the Old Testament Israel; not in the New Testament Church.  The opposition to this altar is based on Deuteronomy 12:1-14.  It is very similar to the one in the Tabernacle, and the other tribes fear it means the builders plan to establish their own Tabernacle and worship system apart from the one God has established.  Such a system would be worse than counterfeit.  It would be heresy and idolatry, even if its people worship God and keep every other law of the Tabernacle.

The eastern tribes assert that they have no intention of doing such evil.  The altar is a memorial and a testimony that, though they dwell on the eastern side of the Jordan, they are one people and one faith with those on the western side.



April 9, Thursday in Easter Week

Josh. 22:21- 34 ,  Lk. 20
Josh. 23,  Heb. 11

Commentary,

Joshua 23

Chapters 23 and 24 comprise Joshua’s farewell address.   23 is primarily an encouragement to continue to conquer Canaan, and to refrain from joining the evil and idolatry of the remaining Canaanites.  Though Joshua is one hundred and ten years old now, and Israel has had rest from all their enemies for a “long time” (23:1), there are still Canaanites in the land, and the Israelites seem content to allow them to stay.  They are slow to learn.  They do not remember BaalPeor.  They do not think the remaining Canaanites pose any threat or problem to them.  Nor do they believe their lack of total obedience to God will carry any major consequences.

We are very much like them, aren’t we?  We think we can offer partial obedience to God without consequences.  We think the little bit of disobedience we allow to live within us is harmless, and we will never pay for it.  After all, Christ died to forgive us from all sin.

Let Israel serve as our example.  We will see in the book of Judges that the Canaanites became snares and traps to the Hebrews.  Their wanton indulgence of the flesh, their sexual idolatry, and spiritual adultery enticed Israel like flame draws moths.  A little compromise here, led to a bigger compromise there, until there was hardly any Godliness left in Israel.

Thus, Joshua says to Israel, “keep and do all that is written in the book of the law of Moses, that ye turn not aside therefrom to the right hand or to the left.” That's the first point. That's the most important thing. He puts it a different way in verse 8. He says, “cleave unto the Lord.” When our Lord was asked what is the great Commandment, He replied, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.” God is first. If we ever get that right everything else will naturally fall into place. If we love God first, we will not follow false gods or false doctrines. If we love God first, we will live in perfect peace and harmony with all people and with God. We will make no idols. We will not take His name in vain. We will remember the Sabbath. We will honor our fathers and our mothers. We will not murder, not commit adultery, not steal, not bear false witness, not covet. It is only because we do not love God first, that we covet and steal and murder. It is because we have made idols of our own will and our own desires that we do these things.

The second point is stated well in verse 16.  “When ye have transgressed the covenant of the Lord your God, which he commanded you, and have gone and served other gods, and bowed yourselves to them; then shall the anger of the Lord be kindled against you, and ye shall perish quickly from off the good land which he hath given unto you.” This point contains two to sub points. First, it assumes that Israel will not complete the conquest of Canaan. Rather than driving the Canaanites out of the land, Israel will allow them to remain. Second, it assumes the Hebrew people will adopt Canaanite habits, dress, and even religion. Thus, Israel will be drawn into the sins of the Canaanites. As we know, this is exactly what happened to Israel. And as we also know, Israel paid dearly for it.