SOAP Journal – 08 August 2017 (Judges 19-21)

So the people came to Bethel and sat there before God until evening, and lifted up their voices and wept bitterly.

Judges 21:2

The book closes with the history of a Levite, his concubine, and the near-destruction of an entire tribe.

The Levite is from the hill country of Ephraim and his concubine runs back home to her father in Jerusalem. The Levite goes after her and her father persuades the Levite to stay a little extra time. When they finally do get going, it is late and they end up staying in a town belonging to Benjamites.

The scene turns sadly familiar as the men of the city surround the house where the Levite is staying wanting to sodomize him. The concubine is thrown to the wolves and they do horrible things to her until daybreak, at which time she succumbs to the trauma and dies. The Levite takes her corpse home, cuts it up in twelve pieces, and sends a piece to each of the tribes. The Israelites gather and the story is told to them and the Israelites determine that the city must be punished.  The tribe of Benjamin disagrees and a civil war ensures. The net result of this civil war is that only 600 men are left of the entire tribe of Benjamin when the dust settles.

The Israelites figure out how to get wives for those remaining men and allow the tribe to continue, but there is more than one instance of weeping and more than one cause for it.

The book wraps up with the statement that In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes (Judges 21:35).

This close of the book serves as a stark reminder of how far human depravity can go if left unchecked. If the preceding account was a reminder of how an individual’s sin can spread, then this is a cautionary tale against defending sin. Had the tribe of Benjamin allowed the guilty to be punished, then there would have been a much shorter account. Levite tells what happened, all of the Israelites go wipe out the guilty parties, everyone goes home grateful that things did not turn out worse. Instead, the entire tribe of Benjamin is nearly wiped out and thousands of Israelites along with them.

It is, perhaps, telling that the first king of Israel comes from the tribe of Benjamin. Saul is the king that the Israelites wanted. Tall, good-looking, strong, impressive in just about every way. He was also an often godless person. He is shown to frequently be ruled by his impulses. In short, he is an example that the tribe of Benjamin had not really learned all that much from what happens here.

Another notable Benjamite shows up in the New Testament. Another Saul, as it happens. This one persecutes followers of Christ, throwing them in prison and delivering them up to be beaten and killed. He thinks that he is doing God’s work, but he, like King Saul before him, is ruled by impulses and what he thinks is right. Until he meets Jesus.

If the unrepentant tribe of Benjamin in Judges and the impenitent King Saul in 1 Samuel are examples of what can happen when sin goes unchecked, then Saul of Tarsus (later Paul) is an example of how expansive the grace of God is. Paul repents and is used mightily by God — everything forgiven and remembered no more. King Saul does not repent, his life ending as he kills himself on the battlefield to avoid capture, and the throne passes to another line. The tribe of Benjamin does not repent and is almost wiped out. The difference is repentance.

And that is how this comes home to me. Repentance is the difference between a life that is squandered and a life into which God can pour His grace. Let me be searched by God and repent of whatever objectionable thing He finds in me. It is that repentance that opens the door to God’s grace and to my life being a blessing instead of a by-word.

Father, thank You for this example of how damaging sin can be. Please search me and reveal wrongs in me. I know some of them and I repent of them now, asking You to uproot them from me and lead me in the paths of righteousness. Please let my life be a testimony of what Your grace can accomplish instead of a cautionary tale about the damage that sin can do.

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 – 05 May 2017 (Deuteronomy 7:22-24)

The LORD your God will clear away these nations before you little by little; you will not be able to put an end to them quickly, for the wild beasts would grow too numerous for you. But the LORD your God will deliver them before you, and will throw them into great confusion until they are destroyed. He will deliver their kings into your hand so that you will make their name perish from under heaven; no man will be able to stand before you until you have destroyed them.

Deuteronomy 7:22-24

Moses explains to the Israelites what the conquest of the Promised Land is going to look like. He has already mentioned, and will mention again, the blessings and benefits of obedience to God’s commands. One of those blessings is that God will fight on behalf of the Israelites. And that fighting includes the conquest of the Promised Land.

Moses mentions something that I had not noticed before this morning. He says that God will clear away these nations … little by little.

I had always been under the impression that there was some disobedience when the book of Joshua ends and the Israelites had not wiped out those who had been living in the Promised Land. It seemed like a sort of oversight that should have been rectified and left me wondering how Joshua could say that he and his house would serve the LORD.

As it turns out, Joshua remembered what Moses said here and knew that the conquest of the Promised Land would be a gradual thing. Sure, there were miraculous victories and strongholds were gone, but there was still work to be done. Caleb still had giants to dispossess on his land.

This provides a principle for me. Believers often feel that we should be set free from everything instantaneously; that every sin in our lives should be wiped out the moment we invite Christ to take up residence within us. And with some things, that is precisely what happens. But driving out everything in our lives in an instant would have unforeseen (by us) consequences.

The Israelites could not drive out all the inhabitants of the Promised Land right away because the wild beasts would grow too numerous. God did not say that He would not drive out the inhabitants of the land, only that He would do so gradually, at a pace that allowed the Israelites to grow into the Promised Land.

There are the sins I know about and am aware need to be driven out of my life. I will call these the inhabitants of the land. But there are also things in me that are sinful that I think are just normal behavior. I will call these the beasts of the field. God does not drive out inhabitants so that they can be replaced by wild animals. He did not, in my own life, drive out anger in an instant, but made it a gradual conquest. Anger is now under control, but other sins became apparent in me as anger was brought to heel. Sins that would have completely blindsided me had anger been driven out in a moment.

Thank You, Father, for the deliverance You have already effected in my life. Thank You for the deliverance You have yet to effect, but will in due season. You have promised to drive out the inhabitants at a pace that is appropriate. Please give me the ability to wait on Your timetable and the obedience needed to drive things out as You instruct they be.

SOAP Journal – 07 April 2017 (Numbers 32:23)

But if you will not do so, behold, you have sinned against the LORD, and be sure your sin will find you out.

Numbers 32:23

This statement is made by Moses in the context of the tribes of Gad and Reuben deciding that they want the land that the Israelites had conquered before crossing over the Jordan. Much has probably already been written and said about how Gad and Reuben were focused on the moment and how they were putting barriers — a river, in this instance — between themselves and the rest of the Israelites. I do not plan to think too much about those things this morning. Much has definitely been written about the promise this statement responds to. Gad and Reuben promise to send their fighting men across the Jordan with the rest of the Israelites and help them conquer the Promised Land before returning to the side of the Jordan they were on. And the last part of this verse — your sin will find you out — has been quoted in isolation and without full understanding of its context so often that it is absurd.

There are two parts to this statement.

Part one: you have sinned against the LORD. Much later in The Bible, David will write the words against You, You only, I have sinned (Psalm 51:4) when praying that God would forgive him of his adultery with Bathsheba. All sin, whether it involves another person or not, comes back to a violation of God’s Law and an offense against God. While people may agree with God’s Law — and many agree with some portion of it — it is not human law that has primarily been transgressed. God’s Law overrules human law. Thus more than a few conscientious objectors pointed to God’s Law — Do not murder. — as a justification for refusing to kill anyone in war while still doing their best to obey the spirit of the human law that bade them serve their country in wartime. While it is possible to sin against another person, murder being an excellent example of doing so, the offense will always come back around to sinning against God.

It is in the context of knowing that my sin is ultimately against God that the follow-on — and be sure your sin will find you out — comes into play. This is, in effect, a call out to the omniscience of God; to God’s all-knowing nature. I cannot sin in secret where God is concerned. And my sin has consequences. Like every action, there is a resultant reaction. While Isaac Newton probably did not have sin in mind when he wrote that physical law down, it is generally true. Sometimes, the reaction happens in a way that I do not anticipate. Sometimes it is immediate, while other times it seems to delay. But I should never think that the reaction; the consequence of my sin is not coming. More, I need to pay attention to the fact that what Moses is calling a sin in this verse is people not keeping their word; not making good on their promises.

The application is straightforward. All sin is, at its core, a violation of God’s Law and every sin is, first and foremost, against God. And every sin, no matter how seemingly innocuous, has consequences that come from it.

Father, thank You for this reminder of the nature of sin. Thank You for the reminder that the consequences come, regardless of how long they seem to take in so doing.

SOAP Journal – 06 March 2017 (Leviticus 26:40-42)

If they confess their iniquity and the iniquity of their forefathers, in their unfaithfulness which they committed against Me, and also in their acting with hostility against Me — I also was acting with hostility against them, to bring them into the land of their enemies — or if their uncircumcised heart becomes humbled so that they then make amends for their iniquity, then I will remember My covenant with Jacob, and I will remember also My covenant with Isaac, and My covenant with Abraham as well, and I will remember the land.

Leviticus 26:40-42

In the 26th chapter of Leviticus, God takes time to remind the Israelites of the benefits of obedience (vv 1-12) and the costs of disobedience (vv 13-39) and cap the section off with a reminder of the importance of confession.

The benefit of confession is stated as a conditional: If they confess their iniquity … then I will remember My covenant. God entered into a covenant; an agreement; a contract with the men listed — Jacob and Isaac and Abraham. Thing is, those men did not have The Law. Those men entered into an agreement of trusting in God.

Abraham was told to look up at the stars and what he saw in the heavens prompted him to believe. Later in his life, he would take his son up to a mountainside in obedience to God and tell Isaac that God would provide Himself an offering. Somewhere along the line, Isaac believed, too. Jacob had a vision and wrestled with a messenger of God and, somewhere in the midst of these things, Jacob believed.

According to the concordance, the word that is translated confess comes from a root that means “to use (hold out) the hands.” The image I get from such a root is that I do not hide my wrongs or clutch them close to me, but put them out away from me where God can see them and take them away. The word rendered iniquity indicates any perversity; any place in me where the straight has been made crooked. I am to present my crookedness openly to God and He will make it straight again.

There is another if mentioned that is a step beyond confession. In verse 41, God mentions the heart becoming humbled so that they then make amends for their iniquity. Sometimes, the best that I can do is to confess my wrongs; to hold out all my crookedness openly to God. Other times, I can do something to make the situation right. If I have stolen from someone, then it is possible that I might be able to pay it back. If I have lied to someone, then I may be able to speak truth and set the record straight. Sometimes, I can make amends for the wrongs that I have done. But not always.

The application is straightforward. I need to confess my wrongs to God and make amends wherever possible. The benefit of this is that God follows through on the promises He has made, because many of His promises are predicated on my obedience, which includes confession.

Thank You, Father, that confession is such a simple thing. There are no fancy hoops to jump through or rituals to observe, just me holding out my crookedness to You and asking You to make it straight again.

SOAP Journal – 21 February 2017 (Leviticus 16:8-10)

Aaron shall cast lots for the two goats, one lot for the LORD and the other lot for the scapegoat. Then Aaron shall offer the goat on which the lot for the LORD fell, and make it a sin offering. But the goat on which the lot for the scapegoat fell shall be presented alive before the LORD, to make atonement upon it, to send it into the wilderness as the scapegoat.

Leviticus 16:8-10

Leviticus 16 describes the annual atonement that had to be made for the high priest and for the Israelites as a whole. The offerings are straightforward — a bull for the high priest’s sin offering and a goat for the congregation — but there is this idea of the scapegoat added into the mix. And I love the picture presented by that goat.

One goat was for the LORD, that is to say that the goat was offered as a sin offering. The other goat was for the scapegoat. The scapegoat was presented alive before the LORD, to make atonement upon it. The sins of the people were confessed over the head of this goat, same as the sin offering, but this goat was then led off into the wilderness.

I love the picture this paints. On the one hand, there is the sacrifice reminding the people that iniquity — both intentional and unintentional wrongdoing — must be paid for in blood. That goat must die and its blood be sprinkled around in specific parts of the tabernacle. Every sacrifice that sprinkled the blood hither and yon in the tabernacle was a stark reminder of the cost of my wrongdoing. And the blood spattered on every article used in worship was a reminder of what it cost to restore fellowship with God when we break it by sinning.

Then there is a second goat. The priest would go through the whole litany of wrongs the congregation had committed and confess them over the head of this goat, then another man would lead that goat way off into no man’s land and let it go. And a goat was an ideal choice for this sort of thing. Goats are pretty self-sufficient, so the animal had good odds of survival. The picture here is one of forgiveness. Where the first goat reminded me of what it cost to forgive my sin, the second goat reminds me of where my sin is. And the answer to that is: Who knows? Once that goat is released, it is gone and it will never be seen again. Likewise my sins, once forgiven, are forgotten. Never to be brought up by God again. The psalmist goes so far as to say that God removes my sin as far as east is from west (Psalm 103:12).

These goats gave a more clear picture of forgiveness. Yes, the price of forgiveness was life; blood spilled. That forgiveness, once secured, removed my sins to a place that no one knows. The picture is both of how God forgives and how I should forgive.

For me, as a believer, the blood was already spilled at the cross. The price has been paid and the sin paid for. Now it remains for me, when I sin, to confess my sins to God and He will send them off into a place where they will never be seen or heard from again. Now it remains for me, when I am sinned against, to confess that sin over the head of the scapegoat and send it off into the wilderness, whence I can never bring it back. Sin, once forgiven, is to be remembered no more.

Thank You, Father, that You do not remember my sins. It is not as though You had forgotten them, but that You send them away into a place where they cannot trouble me any more. Please cultivate in me a heart that forgives as You do.

The Good I Ought to Do (James 4:17)

Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin.

James 4:17

This is yet another of those verses that is often quoted in isolation. It is used as this blanket exhortation to do the good I know that I ought to do, but quoting it without its full context robs it of some of its force, I think.

This verse ends the thought that I do not know what is going to happen. James begins the thought with a statement that sounds as though he is trying to reason with a difficult child: Come now, you who say … (v13). What is it that they say? That they will do this, that, and the other, laying out what they plan to do for years to come. James’ retort is that they do not know what [their] life will be like tomorrow (v14). He says that they should always predicate their plans on the will of God, i.e. if God wills that they should do this thing they plan to do the they will do it. James then puts a full stop to this idea with this morning’s verse.

Thinking it through, I realize that those who take this verse and remove it from its context are not usually changing what it means. We still exhort one another to do the good thing we ought to do. But we rob the verse of its immediacy when we pull it out of its larger context. It is said that deferred obedience is, to God, disobedience. And this verse, taken in context, reinforces that. This verse, situated in the larger thought, says that I not only ought to do the good thing I know to do, but that I ought to do it now. Why? Because I do not know what my life will be like tomorrow. I do not know if I will be able to do this good thing later, the circumstances might change — they often do — or the person to whom I am in a position to do good might not be in a position to receive it.

The exhortation I take away from this verse this morning is that I ought to do the good thing I know to do and to do it when I realize that it should be done.

Father, I am guilty of postponing doing the good things You place before me. Too often, I have let the opportunity to do something good pass by. Please make firm the exhortation of this verse in me and remind me, in the moment, that do not do the good You reveal to me is, to me, a sin.