The Shepherd of Hope blog is here to serve you, to help you know Jesus better and to find hope in Him. This blog relies on the Spirit of God using the word of God to build people of God. All material has been prayerfully submitted for your encouragement and spiritual edification. Your questions and comments are welcome.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Cause and Cure for Defeat

Therefore the children of Israel could not stand before their enemies, . . . . – Joshua 7:12a

What a resounding victory! Jericho, the massive walls of Jericho came tumbling down! Incredible! If these walls came down, the way they came down, then no other wall, no other enemy could stand against the conquest of Canaan. But wait, what’s this? Israel next goes up against a seeming pawn Ai and is what? Defeated? How can this be? That’s what we will examine in this study: The Cause and Cure for Defeat.

Joshua and Israel, to this point, have experienced nothing but victory: crossing the Jordan, entering the Land, Gilgal, and Jericho. There was no reason to expect anything other than complete and continuous victory. And yet, the proportionally puny Ai put a whuppin’ on God’s people. In his book Victorious Christian Living Alan Redpath comments:

“Unbroken victory for His people was certainly God’s purpose. The defeat at Ai, the account of which is contained in this seventh chapter of Joshua, was the only defeat they suffered in their conquest of the land of Canaan. Defeat in Canaan might occur, but it need not.

A life of unbroken victory over sin is the purpose of God for every child of His redeemed by the blood of Christ. However, God does not make it impossible for His children to sin: He always makes it possible for them not to sin. Defeat may happen in the life of the Christian, but it need not. [1]

“Defeat may happen in the life of the Christian, but it need not.” Joshua 7 and the defeat at Ai is a precautionary revelation from God to teach us the causes of defeat and in so doing, forewarn us showing us how defeat can be avoided.

Joshua 7

     But the children of Israel committed a trespass regarding the accursed things, for Achan the son of Carmi, the son of Zabdi, the son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, took of the accursed things; so the anger of the Lord burned against the children of Israel.

Jericho was God’s victory. It was a holy battle in that it was the first battle in the Promised Land and it was a victory won entirely by the Lord as God’s people watched. Everything therefore associated with Jericho was the Lord’s and to be offered to Him in sacrifice. What do we learn about Achan’s sin and Israel’s defeat here? We need to keep a few things in mind here.

First, that done in secret is usually sin. The phrase “committed a trespass” (Hebrew - מָעַל mâ˓al, maw-al’) means to cover up, to act treacherously, to transgress. There is always an element of covering up in a trespass or sin. Beware when you do something that you want to keep hidden. Always ask yourself, Why do I want to keep this act hidden? Unless you are blessing someone with a surprise party, you likely are crossing the line into sin.

Second, nothing done secretly escapes the view of God. Achan’s sin was to secretly take what belonged to the Lord. He thought only He knew what he did, but he didn’t factor God into that equation. He wasn’t thinking of God when he did what he did. Perhaps he didn’t believe in God at all. Maybe he didn’t appreciate the circumcision or faith in God. Wherever he was in regards to the Lord he wasn’t thinking of the Lord or how his sin would impact others when he took some of the accursed things of Jericho.

The Bible is very clear that nothing escapes the view of God. The “eyes of the LORD” see all. The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous (e.g. Psalm 33:18; 34:15). But the eyes of the LORD are also on all people, sinners included:

  • Proverbs 5:21 - For the ways of man are before the eyes of the Lord,      And He ponders all his paths.

  •  Proverbs 15:3 - The eyes of the Lord are in every place, keeping watch on the evil and the good.

  •  Amos 9:8 - “Behold, the eyes of the Lord God are on the sinful kingdom,   And I will destroy it from the face of the earth; Yet I will not utterly destroy the house of Jacob,” Says the Lord.

  • Zechariah 4:10 - For who has despised the day of small things? For these seven rejoice to see the plumb line in the hand of Zerubbabel. They are the eyes of the Lord, Which scan to and fro throughout the whole earth.”

  • 1 Peter 3:12 - For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and His ears are open to their prayers; But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”


Achan gave no thought to the fact that what he did was in the sight of the Lord. That tells us he had no regard for the Lord or any real relationship with the Lord. He would soon regret that.

Third, Israel as a whole was impacted by the sin of the individual Achan. The sin of the individual impacts the body as a whole. Israel and her individual parts are interconnected. That is a great and important lesson here. Individual sin is never isolated; it always has residual and broader effects outside the individual. You may think your secret sin only involves you, but it deadens your spiritual sensitivity to the Lord. That spreads the effect toward God. And as your sin makes you less effective in your walk with the Lord, it removes you from God’s use in the lives of others. If you persist in sin and are discovered it will tarnish your reputation and by association God’s reputation. It will bring shame to you and those closely associated with you. And very often sin has a direct impact on innocent lives around the sinner. For instance, the adulterer’s sin leads to divorce which impacts a spouse and innocent children in the relationship. Any sin involving a betrayal of relationship has broader consequences. That is the lesson we learn at the defeat at Ai.

A family is a body. When one of its members sin, it impacts the entire family. The church is a body. When one of its members sin it impacts the entire body (cf. 1 Cor. 12). We see this in Paul’s letters to the Corinthians (e.g. 1 Cor. 5). When one of its members is allowed to indulge in sin without correction it is rebuked by Paul as unacceptable and correction is ordered. The church today is defeated and ineffective to a great extent because individuals in the church think nothing of sinning outside the church paying no mind about how their personal sin impacts the church as a whole. We are ambassadors of God (2 Cor. 5). When we sin, it reflects poorly on the Lord and His church. Sin affects the sinner, but it also affects those around the sinner. Sin is like a metastasizing cancer; it spreads. And as it spreads, it leads to more and more pain and suffering. That is why God hates it. That is why God demands it be dealt with and cleansed away.

2 Now Joshua sent men from Jericho to Ai, which is beside Beth Aven, on the east side of Bethel, and spoke to them, saying, “Go up and spy out the country.” So the men went up and spied out Ai. 3 And they returned to Joshua and said to him, “Do not let all the people go up, but let about two or three thousand men go up and attack Ai. Do not weary all the people there, for the people of Ai are few.” 4 So about three thousand men went up there from the people, but they fled before the men of Ai. 5 And the men of Ai struck down about thirty-six men, for they chased them from before the gate as far as Shebarim, and struck them down on the descent; therefore the hearts of the people melted and became like water.

The sin of prayerless self-confidence. The spies assessed Ai as easy pickin’s. They saw no need to send the entire army to deal with this relatively small little city. They were self-confident. There is a subtle taking of credit for the victory of Jericho or at least presuming on God’s fighting on their behalf. They simply assumed that since they were victorious at Jericho that they would be victorious at Ai; especially since Ai was a much smaller obstacle. This was a disastrous miscalculation that led to defeat and discouragement. What was their sinful error?

Their greatest sin here was not merely being self-confident or presumptuous, but being prayerless. Victory is wonderful. But victory also carries with it a potential danger, prayerless presumption. God wants us to depend on Him all the time in every situation. There is no such thing as a “no-brainer” that doesn’t need prayer. We need to pray in every situation; pray before, in the midst of and after every situation. God wants us to take nothing for granted but to depend on Him and include Him in every situation. We should never presume an outcome. We should always pray and seek God’s guidance. God knows all things. We do not. God is able to inform us and prepare us for unforeseen dangers. It’s never a good idea to lung ahead without first prayerfully seeking the Lord’s counsel (e.g. Psalm 34:4; 77:2). David is a good example of how important it is to inquire of the Lord every step of the way because sometimes God says “Go,” and sometimes God says “No” (2 Sam. 5:17-25).

6 Then Joshua tore his clothes, and fell to the earth on his face before the ark of the Lord until evening, he and the elders of Israel; and they put dust on their heads. 7 And Joshua said, “Alas, Lord God, why have You brought this people over the Jordan at all—to deliver us into the hand of the Amorites, to destroy us? Oh, that we had been content, and dwelt on the other side of the Jordan! 8 O Lord, what shall I say when Israel turns its back before its enemies? 9 For the Canaanites and all the inhabitants of the land will hear it, and surround us, and cut off our name from the earth. Then what will You do for Your great name?”

The appropriate response to defeat is humble confession and concern for the name of the LORD. Joshua tore his clothes and prostrated himself before the ark of the LORD (i.e. the symbol of the presence of the LORD) along with the leaders of Israel until evening. Instantly Joshua was struck by this unexpected defeat. Defeat was unexpected. But defeat was the undeniably reality here and it must be addressed. Joshua didn’t try to brush defeat under the carpet. He knew this was not normal or acceptable. He instantly humbled himself before the Lord. That is always the best and should be the first response to defeat (e.g. Psalm 51).

And notice too that Joshua, while he was concerned about how this defeat would impact the people of Israel, he was more concerned for the reputation of the Lord’s name. Joshua was more concerned for how the Canaanites would perceive this defeat in terms of fearing God. When David sinned with Bathsheba one of the greatest consequences was that the enemies of the LORD reason to blaspheme the LORD (cf. 2 Sam. 12:14 in context of 2 Sam. 11-12).

When you sin, do you consider how your sin, when and if discovered would negatively impact the name of the LORD? You should. That should be a priority and a preventative measure to keep us from indulging in sin.

10 So the Lord said to Joshua: “Get up! Why do you lie thus on your face? 11 Israel has sinned, and they have also transgressed My covenant which I commanded them. For they have even taken some of the accursed things, and have both stolen and deceived; and they have also put it among their own stuff.

Sin is serious and has serious repercussions. God told Joshua to “Get up!” This was no time to lie on his face. Israel had sinned and transgressed God’s covenant. They did this by taking what belonged to the LORD. They were guilty of stealing and deceit. They were guilty of taking what belonged to God and putting it “among their own stuff.” They had disobeyed the LORD. Notice again, the individual sin of Achan reflected in a consequence and guilt of the entire body of Israel. One man sinned and the entire body was defeated.

How do you recover from defeat? We have looked at the cause of defeat. What is the cure for defeat? That is what we will learn now.

 12 Therefore the children of Israel could not stand before their enemies, but turned their backs before their enemies, because they have become doomed to destruction. Neither will I be with you anymore, unless you destroy the accursed from among you.

First, understand that God will not tolerate sin. You cannot expect God’s blessing and victory when there is sin in the camp. Sin in the camp leads to discouragement and defeat. Israel’s faith was negatively impacted; they were discouraged and “turned their backs on their enemies” because of this sin. God very clearly stated, “they have become doomed to destruction” because of this sin. God said His presence would not be with them anymore unless . . . .

13 Get up, sanctify the people, and say, ‘Sanctify yourselves for tomorrow, because thus says the Lord God of Israel: “There is an accursed thing in your midst, O Israel; you cannot stand before your enemies until you take away the accursed thing from among you.”

Second, we must be sanctified from sin. To be sanctified means to be cleansed from sin. We cannot expect to stand or be victorious if we allow sin to go unchecked in our life. Sin will always deter and diminish God’s work in and through us. We must be sanctified from sin. We must live holy.

14 In the morning therefore you shall be brought according to your tribes. And it shall be that the tribe which the Lord takes shall come according to families; and the family which the Lord takes shall come by households; and the household which the Lord takes shall come man by man. 15 Then it shall be that he who is taken with the accursed thing shall be burned with fire, he and all that he has, because he has transgressed the covenant of the Lord, and because he has done a disgraceful thing in Israel.’ ” 16 So Joshua rose early in the morning and brought Israel by their tribes, and the tribe of Judah was taken. 17 He brought the clan of Judah, and he took the family of the Zarhites; and he brought the family of the Zarhites man by man, and Zabdi was taken. 18 Then he brought his household man by man, and Achan the son of Carmi, the son of Zabdi, the son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, was taken.

Third, we must cooperate with the Lord and make every effort to find and root out sin. This must be a priority. We see that Joshua made it a priority in that the first thing in the morning he began to address this issue. It’s not a bad thing to start each day with a time of asking God to search our heart for any sin and to sanctify us from it by washing it away with the blood of Jesus (e.g. Psalm 139:23-24; 1 John 1:7,9). Here we see Joshua bring the entire camp of Israel before the Lord and the painstaking effort to root out the sin in the camp of God’s people.

We also see here that Achan was taken and exposed for his sin. God is able to identify the culprit whose sin has negatively impacted the camp of the Lord. Always remember, “Your sin will find you out” (Num. 32:23; cf. also Heb. 4:12-14).

19 Now Joshua said to Achan, “My son, I beg you, give glory to the Lord God of Israel, and make confession to Him, and tell me now what you have done; do not hide it from me.”

Fourth, it glorifies God to confess our sin. Joshua told Achan to give glory to God and confess his sin. How would this give glory to God? It would give glory to God in that the confession was also an admission of God’s sovereign position to know and call to judgment the sin of the sinner.

The heart is a deceitful thing and desperately wicked (e.g. Jer. 17:9-10). So dark and deceptive is it that we are more fearful of being found out about our sin than actually the sin against God itself. Alan Redpath comments:

“All of us are more afraid of being found out tan ashamed of the sin in our hearts. Our first reaction to the prick of conscience is always to plan that, somehow, our sin may not become known. But one day the net is drawn around us, one day the sin is exposed, and the Holy Spirit says, 'Thou art guilty.’ Then, in humility before God and often before His people, we have to say, ‘Lord Jesus, I saw, I desired, I took and I held.’ [2]

Are you more concerned with being found out about your sin than you are about your actual sin against God? If so, you have not reached the place of repentance. If so, you have not truly come to understand the depth and seriousness of your sin.

If you are indulging in some sin or some ongoing sinful habit, I would encourage you to sincerely seek the Lord to help you see your sin for its sinfulness and seriousness. Then I would pray you confess it before the Lord. To “confess” sin is to see your sin as God sees it. God is repulsed by sin (Hab. 1:13). God keeps His distance from sin (Is. 59:2). Sin cuts our communication with God (Psalm 66:18). Sin is serious and offensive to God. It must be confessed before Him and we must commit to repent and leave it if we are to be forgiven of it.

20 And Achan answered Joshua and said, “Indeed I have sinned against the Lord God of Israel, and this is what I have done: 21 When I saw among the spoils a beautiful Babylonian garment, two hundred shekels of silver, and a wedge of gold weighing fifty shekels, I coveted them and took them. And there they are, hidden in the earth in the midst of my tent, with the silver under it.”

Fifth, recognize sin is first and foremost against God. Achan now recognizes and admits his sin is an offense to God. He thought he could hide his sin. Now he is forced to come to the reality and truth that God is real and that his sinful disobedience of God’s command has a just consequence. David also expressed this reality when in confessing his adultery and murder he acknowledged his sin was against God first and foremost (Psalm 51). Confession to God is our priority in dealing with sin.

22 So Joshua sent messengers, and they ran to the tent; and there it was, hidden in his tent, with the silver under it.

Sixth, no loose ends or unverified facts are to be left in dealing with sin. When we confess our sin God forgives us through faith in Christ and application of His blood to our sin and to His glory covers our sin (e.g. Prov. 25:2; 1 John 1:9). But we should not stop short of dealing thoroughly and decisively with sin in our life. Jesus spoke of dealing thoroughly and drastically with any sin or cause of sin in our life (e.g. Mat. 5:27-30).

Joshua leaves no stone unturned in dealing with Achan’s sin here. That is a good example for us. Joshua confirmed the statement of Achan and did not assume what he said was true. He made sure the exact facts of this sinful behavior were clarified and brought to light. We need to bring our sin to light before God and see them for what they really are.

23 And they took them from the midst of the tent, brought them to Joshua and to all the children of Israel, and laid them out before the Lord. 24 Then Joshua, and all Israel with him, took Achan the son of Zerah, the silver, the garment, the wedge of gold, his sons, his daughters, his oxen, his donkeys, his sheep, his tent, and all that he had, and they brought them to the Valley of Achor. 25 And Joshua said, “Why have you troubled us? The Lord will trouble you this day.” So all Israel stoned him with stones; and they burned them with fire after they had stoned them with stones. 26 Then they raised over him a great heap of stones, still there to this day. So the Lord turned from the fierceness of His anger. Therefore the name of that place has been called the Valley of Achor to this day.

Seventh, bury and blot out sin. The Valley of Achor means Valley of trouble. Achan and his sin had caused Israel great trouble and defeat. And the only way to get back on the road to victory is to deal thoroughly with the causes of defeat. That is what Joshua did here. Sin must be buried and blotted out.

Alan Redpath comments:

The only way to deal with the evil that was bringing defeat to Israel and dishonor to the name of the Lord was to blot it out. In the light of God’s Word, to acknowledge that we have been guilty is not enough. Have you ever spent an hour asking yourself, ‘Why did it happen? What was the cause of it? Need it have happened? Why did I allow it” I didn’t pray, I was proud, I was disobedient.’ You have to go back to where you failed, where you can see the weakness in your life. When you get to the very root of it, you need to look up into the face of Jesus and acknowledge, “I saw, I coveted, I took,’ and then you can thank Him that, ‘if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness’ (1 John 1:9).

All that Christians are asked to do to cleanse themselves of guilt is to confess and forsake their sin. ‘Wherefore take unto you the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand’ (Eph. 6:13).

But the Word of God says, also, ‘Thou canst not stand before thine enemies, until ye take away the accursed thing from among you’ (Joshua 7:13).

My fellow believers, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ I bid you, with all the love I have in my heart for you, either get right with God or leave His house. Maybe some subtractions from the membership roll would be the first step toward victory in may a church. I pray God that, whatever it may cost you in terms of personal humiliation before Him and before men, you will search out any Achan in your own life – don’t bother about other people – and get right with God. In the presence of the Lord Jesus give up your sin and claim the cleansing of His blood.[3]

In the book of Hosea there is a wonderful promise of God. Hosea is inspired to write:

Hosea 2:14-15

14     “Therefore, behold, I will allure her,

     Will bring her into the wilderness,

     And speak comfort to her.

15     I will give her her vineyards from there,

     And the Valley of Achor as a door of hope;

     She shall sing there,

     As in the days of her youth,

     As in the day when she came up from the land of Egypt.


Notice what the Lord says here through Hosea, “I will give her vineyards from there,” from the wilderness. This speaks of restoration and refreshing; revival. Then God says, “And the Valley of Achor as a door of hope.” In other words, God will provide hope where there has been trouble. If we will but confess our sin to God, repent, and live in full surrender to the Holy Spirit God says there is hope for renewal, hope for a fresh start; hope for the future. That is what God is calling those who are Achan’s or who have an “Achan” entity in their lives. Confess, repent, and let the blood of Jesus Christ cleanse you from all your sin. Let the blood of Jesus do a deep cleanse in your heart. Then get back to victorious living in the fullness of the Spirit.

I pray we can deal with our sin and move on to victory in the Promised Land. God has made provision for us to do so in Christ. Confess, repent, apply the blood of Jesus and then let’s go on to victory!


[1] Alan Redpath, Victorious Christian Living: Studies in the Book of Joshua, (Costa Mesa, CA: Calvary Chapel Publishing, 2007) p. 104
[2] Alan Redpath, Victorious Christian Living: Studies in the Book of Joshua, (Costa Mesa, CA: Calvary Chapel Publishing, 2007) p. 109
[3] Alan Redpath, Victorious Christian Living: Studies in the Book of Joshua, (Costa Mesa, CA: Calvary Chapel Publishing, 2007) p. 1109-110

Thursday, June 20, 2013

The Walls are Coming Down!

And the Lord said to Joshua: “See! I have given Jericho into your hand, its king, and the mighty men of valor. – Joshua 6:2

Are you struggling with a stronghold of sin in your life; a sinful habit, a sinful attitude, or a sinful relationship? Something you know displeases God? Something you know just doesn’t belong in the life of one who calls themselves a “Christian”? Have you been struggling, trying to gain the victory, without success? Does your Christian life seem not too much different than your old pre-Christian life; one of defeat; ongoing defeat? Have you been seeking the Lord and feel His outstretched hand is just beyond your grasp? Are you a “wretched” Christian? (cf. Romans 7:24). If you answered “Yes” to any of these questions, if this describes you, I pray the following study encourages you and ushers you into a life of victory.

The book of Joshua is a record of the history of the conquest of the Promised Canaan Land by Israel. Joshua is the successor to Moses and the human instrument of leadership appointed and anointed by God to lead the way. But this great book also has a broader application. It is a book rich with biblical typology about the Spirit-filled life. It is a book that promises victory if we will simply take courage and trust the Lord and His word (Joshua 1). It is a book that testifies that God only needs a little bit of faith in a person to work through them (Joshua 2). Crossing the Jordan typifies stepping by faith into an impassable obstacle trusting the Lord to make a way through (Joshua 3). It is a book that beckons us to mark and remember what God does for us so as to encourage us in future ventures of faith (Joshua 4). And it is a book that prioritizes getting our heart free of fleshly self-reliance before we march out to battle; victory begins in the heart (Joshua 5).

Joshua 6 marks the beginning of the conquest of Canaan; the Promised Land historically; the Spirit-filled life typically. Joshua has been told by God, “Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given to you, as I said to Moses” (Joshua 1:3). The battle of Jericho is where the proof of this promise will start to be tested. There are lessons to learn here that will bring down strongholds that keep us from the fullness of Gods’ promises. What are these lessons?

First, there are battles to be fought against strongholds in the Promised Land. The Spirit-filled life is not a life free from battles. Actually, the fighting begins when we enter God’s Land of Promise. We shouldn’t think it strange when we encounter obstacles in the Spirit-filled life (e.g. 1 Peter 4:12f.). No, when you seek the fullness of the Spirit get ready for a fight against the world, the flesh, and the devil. Those foes are going to try and dig into the soil of your heart and life. They must be rooted out. Those walled fortresses must be brought down.

Jericho was an oasis city built around a natural spring. Water is a precious commodity. It’s a resource Israel needed. And with Jericho standing, its enemy inhabitants safe inside, Israel would always have to worry about attacks. But Jericho presented a formidable obstacle. It’s estimated the walls of Jericho were built in three tiers that from ground level would appear around ten stories tall. Leaving this city intact would be suicidal. But how could it be taken? Charging attempts to scale the walls would be a bloody endeavor. This city, the walls of Jericho must come down. But how could this be done?

Do you have a “Jericho” stronghold in your life; something that threatens to keep you from taking the Promised Land of God’s promises in your life?  Castles of addictions, rebellion, pride, negativity, or lovelessness? Or maybe you coddle but are convicted of gluttony, greed, lust, jealousy, prejudice, hatred, lovelessness, etc.? (Yes, “lovelessness.”) Do you have a high walled, seemingly impregnable something in your life that looms darkly over your walk with the Lord? God promises to form the “divine nature” in us and to help us escape “the corruption that is in the world through lust” (cf. 2 Peter 1:2-4). This world is filled with corruption and tempting allurements that when given into just once, can become near instant fortresses of sin in our life. And when that happens, when there is a foe to God’s promises present in our life, it must be brought down. If we are to be all God desires us to be and experience all God desires us to experience, these walled strongholds must come down!

Second, the walls come down by faith. As Joshua first laid eyes on fortress Jericho he may have been a bit in awe. He may have been a bit intimidated; doubting; fearful. But the first words of the Lord to him were, “See! I have given Jericho into your hand, its king, and the mighty men of valor” (Joshua 6:2). Notice, God speaks in the past tense about the demise of Jericho. This is a done deal as far as God is concerned. These walls are coming down. They were standing tall now, but they were as good as down according to God. Here is a major lesson in bringing down strongholds in our life. Joshua was at a point of decision. He could choose to be overwhelmed by what he saw, or He could take God at His word. He had to decide whether to walk strong by faith or shrink because of what he saw (cf. 2 Cor. 5:8).

The first time God’s people approached the Land they chose to cower and retreat in the shadow of the giants that lived in the Land (Num. 14). Only Joshua and Caleb demonstrated faith to take what God had promised. Now Joshua again would have to walk in such faith in God. If the walls are to come down for us as they did for them, we will have to walk in faith. The Bible says, “By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they were encircled seven days” (Heb. 11:30).

Third, the walls don’t come down by worldly means. The inhabitants of Jericho were shut up secure in their city (Joshua 6:1). The world walls itself in from contact with God. They want no part of God or His people. They don’t think they need God. They don’t want God. They oppose God. They think, We’re doing fine on our own thank you. But God was already rattling their cages. There was a fast spreading word in the land that something supernatural was approaching. Word of how God had parted the Red Sea and Jordan River had travelled to Jericho and the people were full of fear of God and His people (cf. Joshua 2:8-11; 5:1). God has a way of getting His message through to people. God has a way of bringing down pride and worldly confidence.

How sad it is when God’s people look first to worldly convention and resources to defend themselves or solve their problems or meet their needs. The Bible says when we do that we risk being cheated of God’s best (cf. Col. 2:8-10). Don’t depend on worldly walls or fortifications to protect you or solve your safety issues. Put your trust in God. By faith learn that God’s ways of warring are different than ours. “For though we walk in the flesh,  we do not war according to the flesh. 4 For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds” (2 Cor. 10:3-4). No doubt when Paul was inspired to write these words the Spirit had brought Jericho to mind. God’s ways are different; holy.

Fourth, the walls come down by unconventional means that require faith. What was God’s strategy for bringing down these towering stronghold walls?  You shall march around the city, all you men of war; you shall go all around the city once. This you shall do six days. 4 And seven priests shall bear seven trumpets of rams’ horns before the ark. But the seventh day you shall march around the city seven times, and the priests shall blow the trumpets. 5 It shall come to pass, when they make a long blast with the ram’s horn, and when you hear the sound of the trumpet,  that all the people shall shout with a great shout; then the wall of the city will fall down flat. And the people shall go up every man straight before him.” (Joshua 6:3-5). Can you imagine what Joshua’s military men were thinking when Joshua came back to them with God’s plan to bring down these great walls of this great city? You know how military men are; they want to use weapons. They want to use machines of war. But Joshua’s word from the Lord had none of that. No catapults. No siege mounds. No grappling hooks to ascend those huge walls. No battering rams. No conventional military weapons or strategy. No hail, thunder or lightening, not even a mighty rushing wind either! God could and would use such things at other times, but not here.  God does not war like men do. God requires men to put their faith in Him and then watch Him tear walls down.

It’s not likely such a God-sent plan would survive the scrutiny of many today. And yet, this is the perfect integration of God’s sovereignty and human cooperation. God wanted His people to march around that city, seeing its bastions and bulwarks, seeing its sturdiness and strength. God wanted His people to see and know this was the best the world had to offer. He also wanted it to be crystal clear that nothing they in their own strength could do would bring down such mighty walls.

God also wanted the people of Jericho to see what they were up against. This was no conventionally fighting army. It must have seemed pretty confusing to “the king and mighty men of valor” watching the march of God’s ark and His people around and around the city. They certainly didn’t know what was happening. What they did know was that no battle was ever engaged in like this. There was a uniqueness here; a holiness to what was going on.

God wanted Israel as well as those in Jericho to see that He can and will bring down the best the world can muster to oppose Him. “No weapon formed against you shall prosper” (Isaiah 54:17). “One with God is a majority” said Martin Luther. God wants us to learn that He  fights differently than the world. And as His people we should too. We are to  use spiritual not fleshly weaponry. He wants the inhabitants of Jericho to realize that the army of God is different, holy, and fights with a different strategy and different weapons; undefeatable weapons powered by God.

God wants us to learn that He has resources and ways that we know not. His capabilities are limitless. We can do all things through Him who strengthens us (Phil. 4:13). God simply wants us to trust Him. That is what He is teaching Joshua and His people at this first holy battle of Jericho.

Our flesh is repulsed by the simplicity of God’s plans. We, our flesh, want to work; to do something. God says “Trust Me.” Romans 7 is all about working and doing in the flesh. That is the wretched way. Romans 8 is all about what God the Holy Spirit does in and through us. God wants to bring us over the Jordan and into Romans 8; the Spirit-filled winning way.

Do you have a Jericho in your life; a city or something standing between you and realizing God’s promises? God wants to tear those walls down. But He may lead you to rely on an unexpected or unconventional means of bringing the walls down.  “You mean all I have to do is pray, study God’s word and ask Him to help me live it? All I have to do is trust in the Holy Spirit to empower me and change me? All I have to do is, ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved’? (Acts 16:31). Yes! That indeed might be what God asks. Whatever means He chooses, it will always involve trusting Him. For without faith it is impossible to please God (Heb. 11:6). Without faith it is impossible to take hold of God’s promises.

Fifth, the battle belongs to the Lord. God had instructed the people that He would fight for them (Deut. 1:30; 3:22; 20:4). That is a promise that God would teach His people throughout history (e.g. 2 Chron. 20:15). At Jericho it is no accident that God has the ark prominently displayed in the battle march (Joshua 6:6). The ark of the covenant was the symbol of God’s presence. Iit was God who was the Commander in this first battle in the Promised Land (compare Joshua 5:13-15). We are to work hard and do our best, but it is God who is working in and through us (Phil. 2:12-13). Neither the one who plants or the one who waters in ministry is anything. It is God who brings growth (1 Cor. 3:5ff.). Apart from Him we can do nothing. We become fruitful by abiding in Jesus (John 15). We are who we are by God’s grace (1 Cor. 15:10).

Sixth, the faith God requires is obedient. God’s instructions were specific; only shout on the seventh day, not before (Joshua 6:7-11). Their faith was demonstrated in their obedience. Joshua and the people followed the LORD’s instructions to the letter. The inhabitants of Jericho, as well as Joshua and the people were likely perplexed at what God asked His people to do. But obeying God does not require we always understand what God requires us to do. There are times in life when we won’t have all the answers to our questions. There are times in life when we won’t know the solutions to our problems. We won’t always know why God does what He does or asks us to do what He asks us to do. But our responsibility is to simply obey. God’s ways are not our ways. But His is ways are always right and true (cf. Isaiah 55:6-10). Love Jesus and obey Him (John 14:15, 21).

Seventh, victory comes when we rest the outcome by faith with the Lord. For six days they were to march around Jericho. On the seventh day they were to march around seven times. See the emphasis? On the seventh day they were to march around the city seven times. The seventh day is the Sabbath day; a day of rest. The walls would come down on the seventh day (Joshua 6:12-16). Victory came when by faith they trusted in God’s word and entrusted the stronghold to the Lord. There’s more to this battle account than mere history. In Hebrews it states, “For if Joshua had given them rest, then He would not afterward have spoken of another day. There remains therefore a rest for the people of God. For he who has entered His rest has himself also ceased from his works as God did from His” (Heb. 4:8-10). We enter into newness of life by faith. We continue in newness of life by faith. “From faith to faith” we see the walls come down (Romans 1:17). Rest your stronghold in the strong hands of the Lord.

I want you to consider something. If you have been struggling with a stronghold in your life maybe it has been a necessary part of God’s sanctifying process. Maybe He’s allowed you to march around and around the towering stronghold to let you learn that those walls are too big for me or anyone else to bring down. Maybe, He wants you to come to a point where you release and rest the stronghold with Him. Our extremities are God’s opportunities. Maybe God wants the inhabitants of the stronghold to recognize they can’t stand against God. And maybe God wants you to learn that only He can bring those walls down. Not programs or human plans, not human strategies or efforts, not human counsel or anything human, simply and solitarily He alone can bring down the walls. Maybe God wants you to learn that before you can live a consistent life of victory in the Land of the Spirit-filled. Maybe He wants to teach you that it’s not a matter of our struggle, but rather of our surrender to Him.

Eighth, give God the glory for His victory. The Lord instructed Joshua and the people to “abstain from the accursed things” (Joshua 6:18-19; cf. also 6:24-25). The first battle in the conquest of the Promised Land was holy in that it was wholly a work of the Lord. Therefore, this city of Jericho was to be devoted to God as an offering to Him. The “accursed things” (Hebrew cherem) refer to the spoil of the battle. Joshua and Israel couldn’t take credit for what God did at Jericho. They had no claim to the spoil. It all belonged to God. Everything won in this battle was to be entirely devoted to the Lord.  This was God’s work, His victory, His glory. Give God glory in all that He does in and through you (e.g. 1 Cor. 10:31; Col. 3:23-24). “Not unto us. O LORD, not unto us, but to Your name give glory, because of Your mercy, because of Your truth” (Psalm 115:1).

Ninth, the walls are coming down! It states, “So the people shouted when the priests blew the trumpets. And it happened when the people heard the sound of the trumpet, and the people shouted with a great shout, that the wall fell down flat.(Joshua 6:20). When God says the walls are coming down, the walls are coming down. God is always faithful. He will always come through and do His part. What God says will happen, happens. At some point you will have to make a shout of faith. At some point you will have to make your faith in God known. You will have to trust the Lord. You will risk the truth of God being the truth. You will have to risk the reality of God’s faithfulness. But that is truly no risk at all because God is true and faithful. Those who trust in Him will not be ashamed (Jer. 17:7-8).

Tenth, don’t rebuild what God tears down. Finally, it states, “Then Joshua charged them at that time, saying, “Cursed be the man before the Lord who rises up and builds this city Jericho; he shall lay its foundation with his firstborn, and with his youngest he shall set up its gates.” (Joshua 6:26). This curse was fulfilled in 1 Kings 16:34 when Heil of Bethel rebuilt Jericho. “He laid its foundation with Abiram his firstborn, and with his youngest son Segub he set up its gates, according to the word of the LORD, which had been spoken through Joshua the son of Nun.” What God has torn down should remain down.

In the New Testament it states, “For if I build again those things which I destroyed, I make myself a transgressor” (Gal. 2:18). When we face our Jericho’s it’s important to devote them to God. It’s important to not hold back any part of our Jericho’s. If you have a habit or Jericho fortress in your life that is impeding God’s work and threatening the taking of God’s promises, don’t give God only a partial part of that city. Don’t offer to God that city, holding back a portion that you can go back to later to indulge in. You have to make a full and complete offering of the reprobate cities in your life. Complete, total surrender in offering the enemy city to God is what God requires for victory. Then watch Him work; watch Him bring the walls down, and give Him all the glory!

“So the Lord was with Joshua, and his fame spread throughout all the country.” (Joshua 6:27). The Lord said the walls of Jericho would come down. They came down; just as He said they would. Do you have any walled strongholds in your life that are blocking the way to God’s promises? Why not bring them to Him in faith, totally surrendering them to Him. Then in faith obey His instruction, and watch the walls come down! The walls are coming down! Believe it!


Friday, June 14, 2013

Circumcised Priorities

At that time the Lord said to Joshua, “Make flint knives for yourself, and circumcise the sons of Israel again the second time.” – Joshua 5:2

Joshua and the army of Israel must have thought they had the enemy right where they wanted them. The kings of Canaan and their people had heard of the exploits of Israel’s God. They knew what God had done in Egypt and the Red Sea crossing (Joshua 2:9-11). They knew of God drying up the Jordan. Their hearts melted. It states, “there was no spirit in them any longer because of the children of Israel” (Joshua 5:1). For Joshua and the army of God everything shouted, “CHARGE!”  Their enemy was weak as Jell-O, wobbly as wet noodles, ready to retreat; ready for defeat. They were already defeated in heart. From a purely military outlook when your enemy is defeated in heart, they will soon be defeated in reality. Wouldn’t you too have been ready to charge ahead?

If you charged ahead you would have been ill prepared and out of sync with the LORD. Later in Joshua we see the walls of mighty Jericho fall (Joshua 6). But after that we see a humiliating defeat at the much smaller city of Ai (Joshua 7). The difference between victory and defeat rests in God’s Circumcised Priorities.

Standing before a heart defeated foe, chomping at the bit to lay into them and secure the victory, I’ll bet circumcising your army wouldn’t be at the top of your list of military tactics and strategy. But the account states, “At that time the Lord said to Joshua, “Make flint knives for yourself, and circumcise the sons of Israel again the second time.” Such a command was likely met with questions. In their shoes we may have sarcastically thought - Yeah, right. Let’s disrobe and get naked before our enemy and perform surgery with homemade flint knives on our private parts. Yup, let’s cut ourselves so that we can’t walk let alone run into battle.  Let’s put ourselves in as extreme a precarious position as possible. Yup, that’s what we should do.   

But God works in unexpected and often unconventional ways. His ways are always measured and purposeful; efficient; effective. His ways are not our ways (Is. 55:8-9). His ways are heavenly. Our ways are earthy. His ways have eternal perspective. Our ways are short sighted. God works in ways to build faith and prepare us for victory. 

God prioritizes the spiritual eternal before the material temporal. He is more concerned with the inward heart condition of His people than any hurried rush to victory. That is because God knows victory starts IN THE HEART. Victory begins in heart trust then faith thrust. Gideon and his army defeated the Midianites not by strength of force but by strength of faith (Judges 6-7). David defeated Goliath not by the size of his armor but by a heart-faith cry of  “You come to me with a sword, with a spear, and with a javelin, But I come to you in the name of the LORD of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied” (1 Sam.17:45). God always prioritizes heart preparation before battle. He does this by requiring we trust Him.

Inner preparation precedes outward readiness. Before we can wield the sword of the Spirit on an enemy, before we can make healing incisions with the scalpel of God’s word, the first cut must be inward on ourselves. Circumcision is not merely a physical cut in our body. Circumcision speaks of heart surgery. “And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live” (Deut. 30:6). The New Testament comment is, “circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit” (Rom. 2:29). Before we go to minister in battle we have to invite God to cut with the knife of His word in our most secret and sensitive places. We have to love Him enough to trust Him to cut. We have to love Him enough to trust that His cuts are for our good.

Present yourself a living sacrifice laid bare on the altar of the cross (Rom 12:1-2; Gal. 2:20). Submit to the Surgeon-God’s transforming spiritual surgery. Come to King Jesus in full surrender vulnerable and obedient to His rule. Lay out completely, openly before Him. No reservations; hold nothing back from His search and surgery. Anesthetized to personal resistance; fully obedient to Him.  Our heart has to be right with God before we go out to battle; before we are ready for victory. Victory begins in the heart.

God builds faith through the unconventional. God asks us to do things that make us vulnerable. He requires we trust Him. It takes faith to cross the Jordan. It takes faith to be circumcised with your enemies nearby. It takes faith to live in the Promised Land. It takes faith to repent and trust Jesus as Savior. It takes faith to live with Him as Lord. It takes faith to stand for Him. It takes faith to trust in the leading and work of the Holy Spirit both in and through us. We live “from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘the just shall live by faith.’” (Rom. 1:17).

Circumcision symbolizes cutting away the flesh of the sinful nature. That is why we are instructed to circumcise our heart; the place of the will. We aren’t ready for battle until we are freed by God from any self-reliance that might cause us to disregard His orders. Charging into battle without heart circumcision leads to defeat. King Saul proudly disregarded God’s command and lost the kingdom (1 Samuel 15). Samuel’s assessment of Saul’s imprudent incomplete obedience was, “When you were little in your own eyes, were you not head of the tribes of Israel? And did not the LORD anoint you king over Israel?” (1 Samuel 15:17). Circumcision of the heart cuts us down to size. It makes us useable to God. God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble (James 4:6; 1 Pet. 5:5). “For thus says the High and Lofty One Who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: I dwell in the high and holy place, with him who has a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones” (Isaiah 57:15).

We need revival. Revival will only come when our priorities are circumcised by God. When you go out to battle, you want God with you. He is with the humble whose hearts have been subjected to His circumcision. He does not accompany the self-reliant, self-serving, selfish warrior on his own mission. So what must we do?   We need to follow God’s circumcised priorities.

First, obey the Lord.So Joshua made flint knives for himself, and circumcised the sons of Israel at the hill of the foreskins” (Joshua 5:3). Obedience is God’s means of removing the flesh. As we obey God in faith, adhering to His word, the flesh/sinful nature/carnality is removed. The Spirit helps us throw off the flesh (Rom. 8:12-14; cf. also Gal. 5:16-25). By submitting obediently to the Lord’s command to be circumcised, Joshua and his men were putting themselves in the hands of the Lord. They put their trust in the Lord rather than the conventional wisdom of military strategy. Choosing to trust God is always the path to victory.

Second, roll away the flesh. The passage goes on to announce, “This day I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you.’ Therefore the name of the place is called Gilgal to this day.” “Gilgal” means the place of rolling. Egypt is a type of the world; the fleshly life. This circumcision speaks of rolling away the flesh; literally cutting it off and discarding it. Circumcision is known only to God and the circumcised. But the fruit of spiritual surgery is noticed by all. The purity of heart, faith in God, fruit of the Spirit and power to serve are all evidence of such spiritual surgery.

Third, rely on His blood. It continues, “Now the children of Israel camped in Gilgal, and kept the Passover . . . (Joshua 5:10-11). In the wilderness the people didn’t keep the Passover. In the wilderness they were distracted from Passover. But now having crossed the Jordan and in the Promised Land one of the first things they did was celebrate the Passover. Passover is the recognition that deliverance and victory come from God; from the shed blood of His sacrifice; from the blood of Jesus. When we cross our Jordan into the Promised Land of fullness of the Spirit coming to the Lord’s Table becomes even more meaningful to us. We are more sensitive to what God has done and provided for us in Christ. It is Jesus who pours out the gift of the Spirit (Acts 2:33). It is the blood of Jesus which saves and sanctifies us (1 Pet. 1:18-19; 1 John 1:7; Eph. 2:13; Heb. 10:19). Remember that. Worship Jesus. Come to Jesus. Eat and drink of Him.

Fourth, be ready to lose anything but Jesus. God removes our crutches so we have to walk by faith with Him (2 Cor. 5:7). That is what happened upon entering the Land. “Then the manna ceased on the day after they had eaten the produce of the land; and the children of Israel no longer had manna, but they ate the food of the land of Canaan that year.” (Joshua 5:12). To be filled we need to be emptied. If we want all of Jesus, we must be prepared to set aside everything but Jesus. When we enter the Promised Land of fullness in the Spirit God removes what we had previously trusted in or depended upon. God shakes us, even destabilizes us, and reduces us to teach us to lean all the more on Him.  For Joshua it meant circumcision in a time of conquest. It meant no more easy manna meals. What might it mean for you?

Israel experienced all kinds of miracles in her deliverance from Egypt and wilderness wanderings. But they were still chronic complainers too fearful to enter the Promised Land! (Num. 14; Heb. 3:19). This proves, faith doesn’t come by seeing miracles – faith comes from hearing God’s word (Rom. 10:17). In this new Promised Land the Israelites would learn to live by faith in the Father and His word. “This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth” was just as true for God’s people as for Joshua (Joshua 1:8).

Fifth, follow Jesus. After Joshua had obediently circumcised his men he looked up and saw the massively walled city of Jericho. That city and those huge walls must have been intimidating. God had exhorted Joshua to be courageous over and over again perhaps because He knew the fear that was in Joshua’s heart (e.g. Joshua 1). What was God’s solution to Joshua’s fear or lack of courage? He Himself was the solution. “And it came to pass, when Joshua was by Jericho, that he lifted his eyes and looked, and behold, a Man stood opposite him with His sword drawn in His hand” (Joshua 5:13a). This figure was impressive and intimidating like Jericho. Was this a Warrior of this city or something else? Joshua inquired, Are You for us or for our adversaries?” (Joshua 5:13b).

So He said, “No, but as Commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.” (Joshua 5:14a). “No,” interesting response. “No” what? “No, I’m not on your side I’m on their side” or “No, I’m not on their side, but on your side”? “No,” neither, simply “No.” Why such an open ended response? Because the issue was not whose side this Man, the Commander of the Lord’s army was on. The issue was whose side Joshua was on. This was King Jesus. Jesus doesn’t come to be on our side. He isn’t Republican or Democrat. He isn’t Conservative or Liberal. He simply is. He is the Commander. He comes to lead. We take our marching orders from Him. “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).

Sixth, worship Jesus. Lastly, the only proper response to Commander Jesus is what Joshua did. “And Joshua fell on his face to the earth and worshiped, and said to Him, “What does my Lord say to His servant?” (Joshua 5:14b). If this was merely an angel, the angel would have stopped Joshua from worshipping him (e.g. Rev. 19:10; 22:8). This is Jesus and He should be worshipped. “Then the Commander of the Lord’s army said to Joshua, “Take your sandal off your foot, for the place where you stand is holy.” And Joshua did so.” (Joshua 5:15). Just like Moses’ encounter with God at the burning bush (Exodus 3:5), here Jesus says, “Take your sandal off your foot, for the place where you stand is holy.” In telling Joshua to remove his sandal, He is again telling Joshua “as I was with Moses, I will be with you” (cf. Joshua 1:5; 3:7). That was a good in-couraging word to Joshua.

Circumcised priorities of God are meant to bring us on our face humbled in His presence. Only then, with spiritually circumcised hearts, are we ready for battle. Only then are we willing and able to completely follow our Commander’s marching orders. Only then are we ready for victory. Are you ready for Him to cut in the secret and sensitive areas of your heart? If you want to be used by God, if you want revival, it is His circumcised priority for you.