SOAP Journal – 30 June 2017 (Joshua 11:21-22)

Then Joshua came at that time and cut off the Anakim from the hill country, from Hebron, from Debir, from Anab and from all the hill country of Judah and from all the hill country of Israel. Joshua utterly destroyed them with their cities. There were no Anakim left in the land of the sons of Israel; only in Gaza, in Gath, and in Ashdod some remained. 

Joshua 11:21-22

The Anakim, I know from other reading, are a lineage that produced giants. Whether this was simply genetic  or if there was something supernatural going on is up for debate, but these were people of unusual size. Goliath is mentioned as a giant (I think he was one of the Rephaim, though, and not one of the Anakim) and his given dimensions place him over 9 feet tall. These Anakim were not pushovers. This is the Israelites fighting the first string warriors. And dominating.

The key to this dominance is God fighting on behalf of the Israelites. But that was yesterday’s focal point. This morning, I find myself noting the order in which God took the Israelites through the conquest. He began them with a spectacular victory over Jericho that put the fear of God into the people in the land. Ai came next, after a hiccough involving Achan taking things that were God’s. Then it was an unbroken string of victories with God in constant communication with Joshua about when it was acceptable to step out onto the battlefield. God rounds things out with the extermination of the Anakim from the Promised Land.

I find this interesting, because I wonder if a similar pattern might be a principle in my own life. God won a spectacular victory in my life early on by bringing my anger under control and He has been making steady inroads on all the areas in my life that need to be conquered in order to conform me to the image of His Son. But there are giants. There are battles that seem so daunting that I am mot sure I have enough in the W column to be comfortable walking into that battle. I have had too many Achan times in my life when I got things all out of order and was soundly defeated (times that left me aching – yes, the pun is terrible and I love it). Too much in the L column to feel ready to face down the giants in my life. And maybe that is the pattern God works with. Maybe He works me through battling smaller challenges up to the giants in the land.

Father, thank You for winning victories in my life and for continuing to conform me to the image of Your Son. I know that there is still much to be done and I trust that You will complete the work so hat I can stand blameless in Your presence one day. Please continue to conquer more of my life and bring it into obedience to Christ.

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SOAP Journal – 29 July 2017 (Joshua 10:42)

Joshua captured all these kings and their lands at one time, because the LORD, the God of Israel, fought for Israel.

Joshua 10:42

When I read this verse, I had a bit of a Dirty Harry moment — in all the excitement, I lost count. So I went back and read over the chapter again and found myself with a count of 12 kings and their armies utterly obliterated. And this verse gives the reason for such an extensive run of victory: because the LORD, the God of Israel, fought for Israel.

I find myself wanting to write at length about this, but the truth is that the concept is simple and its application straightforward. The concept is this: when God fights on my behalf, I win. That is all.

And this generalizes out to every circumstance in life. If I am trying to overcome some entangling sin, I will win free when God fights for me. If I am trying to cultivate a virtue in my life and the battle is against my baser nature, I will win and the virtue be cultivated when God is the One Who fights. When I fight alone, defeat is imminent. When God fights, victory is assured.

This does prompt me to ask myself some searching questions, like “Why do I ever fight unless I am sure that God has told me to?” and “If God wins when He fights, then why would I ever bother to fight at all?” And I do not have good answers for all of those questions. But the principle of certain victory when God fights for me is simple and the application as direct as me determining not to fight unless God bids me, but to invite God to contend on my behalf.

Father, thank You that You are willing to fight for Your children; that You will readily face down every foe on our behalf. Please work this truth in me so that I stand and see what You will do and only fight when You tell me to.

SOAP Journal – 28 June 2017 (Joshua 9:14-15)

So the men [of Israel] took some of their provisions, and did not ask for the counsel of the LORD. Joshua made peace with them and made a covenant with them, to let them live; and the leaders of the congregation swore [an oath] to them.

Joshua 9:14-15

While the rest of the peoples living in the Promised Land are getting together to make a combined stand against the Israelites, the Gibeonites concoct a ruse. They get together some supplies, provisions, and travel clothes that look old and worn out and go to see the leadership of the Israelites, saying that they came from a distant country. The leadership, Joshua included, takes the Gibeonites at their word and makes a covenant with them which is where I find myself this morning.

The thrust of these verses is twofold.

First, there will be people who seek to deceive believers when they hear about God doing something powerful in our midst. If they hear about God doing miracles, they will come into our midst and seek to discredit those miracles or explain them away.  If they hear about God delivering people from various types of bondage — to drugs or alcohol or any other addiction, for example — they will sidle up beside us and act like they are all about it while secretly looking for any other plausible explanation than God simply delivering people. The Gibeonites had heard about what God was up to and they were trying to weasel their way around it. And they did.

Second, there is always a need for God’s counsel. It may not seem like I need to talk with God about what is happening. Everything may look like His hand has ordained it. And it very well may be that God has opened the way before me, but I cannot be sure of that unless I ask God. My enemy is crafty and knows that the very best way to trip me up is to make it look like the way that he wants me to go is the way that God wants me to go. And sometimes the only way to tell the difference is to ask God which way to go. If I make it a habit to inquire of God every time there is a decision to be made, then it becomes second nature and the odds of making the right choice improve.

Father, thank You that You are willing and ready to weight in on any and all decisions in my life. Please work in me to make it my first impulse to seek Your counsel.

SOAP Journal – 27 June 2017 (Joshua 8:1)

Now the LORD said to Joshua, “Do not fear or be dismayed. Take all the people of war with you and arise, go up to Ai; see, I have given into your hand the king of Ai, his people, his city, and his land.”

Joshua 8:1

The Now at the beginning of this verse reminds me that this is a continuation of a longer story. In the previous chapter, the Israelites had tried and failed to conquer Ai. They had gotten cocky and thought they could handle a little town. So they did not send the whole army and they did not inquire of the LORD before heading in to battle. They were defeated. Joshua and the leadership are distressed and discouraged and God tells them to sort themselves by finding the one man who had taken plunder from Jericho when all of the plunder of that city had been dedicated to God. They find the man and stone him to death and burn the body.

Once the sin had been dealt with, God came and spoke with Joshua. That is the Now that starts this morning’s verse. And God’s words are far more encouraging and far less of a verbal slap in the face. When snapping Joshua out of his funk, God had rendered a verbal slap. Now that Joshua has done what should have been done and everything is ready to go, God speaks more gently.

God opens with telling Joshua not to fear or be dismayed. We can forgive Joshua a bit of fear and dismay when he considers going against a foe who has already beaten the Israelites once. The key difference is stated by God: I have given into your hand the king of Ai, his people, his city, and his land. It is one thing for me to face my foes in my own strength — that often ends in my defeat.  But God reminds Joshua that this battle will not be in Joshua’s strength or the strength of the Israelites, but in God’s strength. And that strength is power overwhelming.

This is the piece of the pattern outlined here in Joshua that I most often see neglected in the lives of believers today. We win some great victory and everything is amazing. We feel unstoppable and, if we rely on God, there is a time where that is quite literally true. But there may come a time when we have our Ai moment. We take what belongs to God and things fall apart. The victory ceases. We are defeated. If we, like Joshua, come to God with the situation then God will, as He did with Joshua, instruct us in how to get things right. It is here where things seem to stall for many a modern believer. We receive the instruction in how to set things right and … nothing. Or, if we do act on what we have learned, we fail to take the next critical step: Get back in the fight.

In the movie Patton, there is a scene in a hospital ward where Patton is visiting wounded soldiers and encouraging them to rest, get better, and get back into the fight and in which a soldier tells General Patton that he does not want to fight any more. The General has no soft words for that soldier. He berates him, calls him a coward, and Patton is eventually asked to leave the hospital ward. But Patton was right. Not everyone wants to get back into the fray after they have been handed a defeat. Most of those who do are those who have learned that the battle continues with or without us and we might as well get back into the thick of things.

As a believer, I need to accept that I was defeated because of my own fault, make things right with God, and get back into the thick of it. This may not mean that a pastor who fell into adultery returns to being itinerant and traveling often, but it does mean that he needs to get back to serving God in whatever capacity God calls him to. If he is still to pastor, then he should, but he should do it on the terms that God gives him and that will most likely result in victory.

I also note that the Israelites did not reject Joshua’s leadership after the initial defeat at Ai. They still followed him back into battle. As a believer, I need to be willing to get behind leaders who have repented and done what is necessary to restore things. If I skip ahead to verse 9, I find that Joshua spends the night among the people. Leaders who have fallen and been restored desperately need to be reintegrated into the camp.

I am not a leader. But I fight my Christian fight alongside some good ones. Let me be supportive of them in the battle and ready to receive them back into the camp if they mess up, but then do what is needful to restore fellowship with God and fellow believers.

Father, please give me a heart that seeks to see my brothers and sisters restored when they fall and arms that are ready to lift up those who are fallen.

SOAP Journal – 26 June 2017 (Joshua 7:8-10)

“O Lord, what can I say since Israel has turned [their] back before their enemies? For the Canaanites and all the inhabitants of the land will hear of it, and they will surround us and cut off our name from the earth. And what will You do for Your great name?”

So the LORD said to Joshua, “Rise up! Why is it that you have fallen on your face?”

Joshua 7:8-10

The Israelites were victorious at Jericho, but one of them, Achan, decided to take some of the plunder when all of that had been consecrated to God.

The Israelites came to Ai and the spies checked things out and came back with the suggestion that Joshua only send up a couple thousand people, since the forces of the city were so insignificant. There is no record of Joshua consulting God on strategy or whether or not to take the advice of the spies. A couple thousand go up to fight and a few dozen die while the rest turn tail and run back to camp. Not the Israelites’ best day.

The first verse for this morning picks up midstream in that part of the story. Joshua hears about the defeat, tears his clothes, and falls to the ground in front of the Ark for the rest of the day. When Joshua starts talking, it is a lament that God ever brought them across the Jordan, since they were just going to be defeated. It seems to me that we too often forget the great things that God has done in and through us when we encounter defeat. The Israelites had just seen the walls of Jericho drop like the curtain at the end of a play. The Israelites had walked over the ruins of the walls and utterly destroyed every living thing in Jericho except Rahab and her family. That is victory writ large. But the Israelites get cocky then get cold-cocked and Joshua is on his face lamenting that God brought them across the Jordan just to destroy them. Then Joshua speaks the words of this morning’s verses.

I notice that he turns from “Why did You do this to us?” to What can I say?  He works through the initial anger and pain and loss to the realization that God was not consulted about this defeat until now. Joshua made this mess on his own.  The spies came back with good news: not much resistance in the next city. They had a recommendation: send only a few thousand. Had Joshua consulted God, then God might have told him to only send twelve people up AFTER they had removed the sin from the camp. But God was not consulted. Things looked easy, so the Israelites decided to coast on through. I see this same pattern played out in the lives of great men and women of God and in far lesser men of God like myself. God wins an amazing victory on our behalf and we get cocky. We think we can handle the little stuff on our own. But Paul wrote on this when he wrote that the one who thinks he stands should take heed lest he fall.

From What can I say?, Joshua works his way around to the real focus: What will You do for Your great name? The Israelites were not on trial in these battles. A bunch of escaped slaves from Egypt were hardly a matter of concern to battle-tested warriors in Canaan. It was God’s reputation that had struck fear into the hearts of the people in the land. It was God’s Name that had been sullied by the defeat of the Israelites.

God responds in the way that Joshua needs. It sounds, as I read it, less gentle than some might want it, but it hits Joshua right where he needs it. God tells Joshua to get up. Get up off the ground. Joshua was not even sure why he was there. He starts with lamenting God bringing them into the Promised Land then his own lapse in judgment, but he does not reach the heart of the matter: sin. God tells Joshua to get up and go deal with the sin in the camp.

It bears note that only one man took anything from Jericho. And all of the Israelites suffered for that transgression. That might seem unjust, but his family must have known that those things were not in their possession before Jericho and they were now.  So his family was in on this. There must have been other people who saw him carrying stuff away from Jericho. You cannot take a beautiful mantle from Shinar and two hundred shekels of silver and a bar of gold fifty shekels in weight and no one notices. So there were other fighters who had seen Achan’s wrong and said nothing.

I could rewind this whole story back to the spies and apply this as making sure that I involve God in all my decisions — from the Jerichos to the Ais; the overwhelming to the seemingly insignificant.

I could skip to the end and realize that sin never impacts only one person. Achan brought judgment on all the Israelites and severe judgment on the heads of his family members.

But I think that dwelling in the middle is important this morning. I need to remember that my bad decisions are not God’s fault. In point of fact, my bad decisions are most often those about which I have consulted God the least. Joshua took human counsel, but failed to bring that counsel to God and get His input. The lives of those who died attacking Ai might have been spared had Joshua gone to God for strategy BEFORE attacking the city. God would have told Joshua to purge the sin from the camp before attacking Ai and another victory would have been won. Instead, 36 men died in battle because of one man’s sin and another man’s failure to check in with God about his planned course of action.

Father, please keep in my mind the truth that You are interested in every aspect of my life and that consulting You about everything is not a waste of my time, but the best way to live a fruitful life that brings glory to Your Name. Thank You for being interested in even the minute details of my life and for being willing to step in and do good in, for, and through me.

SOAP Journal – 23 June 2017 (Joshua 6:1-2)

Now Jericho was tightly shut because of the sons of Israel; no one went out and no one came in. The LORD said to Joshua, “See, I have given Jericho into your hand, with its king [and] the valiant warriors.”

Joshua 6:1-2

It might just be me, but a city with its walls shut tight and no one entering or leaving does not sound like easy pickings. It sounds like a city hunkering down for a siege. And the fact that people’s houses were built on the wall (like Rahab’s house) gives an idea of how thick those walls were. And yet, God tells Joshua to have a look at this city with its massive walls and its readiness to repel an attack and God says I have given Jericho into your hand. Past tense. In God’s eyes, the thing is already done.

From God’s perspective in eternity, everything already has happened. From God’s perspective, five years from now is as past tense as five years ago. So God saying I have given Jericho into your hand makes perfect sense. And Joshua knew this. Joshua knew that God had this whole thing figured out and Joshua followed orders. God said march around the city in silence for six days and Joshua did it. God said march around the city seven times on the seventh day then make a ruckus and Joshua did it. That is how Joshua lived out his faith. He believed that God’s statement — which was contradictory to available facts from a human perspective — and God’s plan — which made no sense from a human perspective —were trustworthy and he acted on them.

And that is the application for me. God is sometimes going to tell me to do things that make no logical sense from a human perspective, but I need to trust in God. I need to trust Him because that is what faith is and I need to trust Him because His perspective is perfect; complete. He sees the end from the beginning and knows how everything plays out. So His instruction is meant to guide me down the best path for me. Not the most comfortable or the most materially prosperous or any other such malarkey, but the path that will make me the most profitable to His kingdom and make me most like His Son, Jesus Christ.

Father, thank You for leading me in the paths of righteousness. Please teach me to better heed Your instructions and to walk more faithfully in the steps that You lay out for me.

SOAP Journal – 22 June 2017 (Joshua 5:13-14)

Now it came about when Joshua was by Jericho, that he lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, a man was standing opposite him with his sword drawn in his hand, and Joshua went to him and said to him, “Are you for us or for our adversaries?” He said, “No; rather I indeed come now [as] captain of the host of the LORD.” And Joshua fell on his face to the earth, and bowed down, and said to him, “What has my lord to say to his servant?”

Joshua 5:13-14

After crossing the Jordan; after circumcising all of the male Israelites who needed to be circumcised; after observing the Passover; after the manna stopped because the Israelites had eaten some of the produce of Canaan, Joshua went for a little walk near Jericho and encountered the captain of the host of the LORD. It is not the encounter itself that caught my attention — I have heard more than a few teachings on who this might have been and encountering the LORD or His messengers — but the question that Joshua asks and the answer he receives.

Joshua asks whose side the captain of the host of the LORD is on: the Israelites’ or that of their enemies. The captain’s response is fascinating to me. He does not answer the question that was asked, but the answer that should have been asked.

Joshua makes the situation into an Us vs. Them and implies that sides must be chosen. The captain, often thought to be a pre-Bethlehem appearance of Jesus Christ, gives this question and its implications a simple No. This is not an Us vs. Them situation … it almost never is.

The captain states that he has come in his role as captain of the host of the LORD. This could be understood a couple ways. First, this could refer to the angelic host and would mean that this individual came to command God’s spiritual forces in a conflict. Second, this could refer to the Israelites themselves, as they are God’s chosen people and therefore uniquely His. Either or both could be the case.

Joshua responds by submitting himself to the authority of the captain — he bows with his face on the ground and asks what the captain wants to say.

Sometimes, God has to correct my misconceptions before He can instruct me. Sometimes, God has to remind me that the battle is not against flesh and blood. The conflict is seldom, if ever, simply a matter of Me vs. Them or of Me vs. That Person. There are often other factors at play about which I am unaware if I do not stop and realize whose side I have chosen.

That is the perception adjustment that Joshua needed and it is the same adjustment that I often need. It is not whose side God is on, but who is on God’s side. The statement of Treebeard in the Lord of the Rings films (I do not remember, off the cuff, whether or not this quote was in the books) comes back, “Side? I am on no one’s side because no one is on my side.” I sometimes think God has the same response to believers who wonder whose side He is on. The right question is not “Whose side is God on?” but is, rather, “Who is on God’s side?”

Sometimes, I need to be realigned. Years ago, I had a car that would, at freeway speeds, rattle like it was trying to shake apart when it was out of alignment. It also drifted to the side when going street speeds. The only way to get that car driving straight and not shaking fillings loose was to realign it. My life experiences similar consequences when I am out of alignment with God. Things get going pretty quick and it feels like my life is going to shake itself apart. I am out of alignment. I am going along and find myself drifting to the right or the left when God tells me to go straight. I am out of alignment. I just need to ask the right question (Am I on God’s side?) and allow God to realign me, because, like that car, I cannot realign myself.

Father, I know that I have felt myself drifting and sometimes it has felt as if things were getting bumpier than the road warranted. Please realign me with You. I want to be on Your side.