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.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Where Are All the Miracles?

Where are all the miracles? We look at the Bible and see miracles. Where are the miracles today? Miracles are happening today. Miracles can happen today. God is no different now than He was in Biblical times. God is immutable; unchanging. Miracles attest to the reality of God (e.g. Acts 2:22). But it seems the miracles that are happening today are happening in faraway places in underdeveloped parts of the world. Is there a connection? Has our science and technology, our modernity, gotten in the way of miracles? Perhaps, but I think there may be a more rudimentary explanation.

In the Old Testament a man named Gideon asked the same question. When the Angel of the Lord called on him to deliver God’s people Gideon said, “O my lord, if the Lord is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all His miracles which our fathers told us about, saying, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up from Egypt?’ But now the Lord has forsaken us and delivered us into the hands of the Midianites.” (Judges 6:13). In other words, “Where are all the miracles?”

It’s interesting that the LORD doesn’t respond to Gideon’s question. Instead it states, “Then the Lord turned to him and said, “Go in this might of yours, and you shall save Israel from the hand of the Midianites. Have I not sent you?” (Judges 6:14). The LORD put His finger on a pressure point of Gideon. The truth of the matter was that Gideon had nothing in himself that could be associate with “might.” Gideon was quick to react, “O my Lord, how can I save Israel? Indeed my clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house.” (Judges 6:15). Gideon was weak. God knew it. But God works through weakness. “And the LORD said to him, ‘Surely I will be with you, and you shall defeat the Midianites as one man.” (Judges 6:16).

God was going to teach Gideon a major life truth. All we need is God. All Gideon had was God. And all Gideon needed was God. You may not be in agreement with all that Martin Luther the Reformer did, but some words he uttered captures the sense of the Lord’s conversation with Gideon. Luther, when under persecution, said, “One with God is a majority.” That’s the truth!

But where are the miracles? Well God would deliver His people from the Midianites. He would use only 300 men led by Gideon to defeat an army described “as the sand of the seashore in multitude” (Judges 7:12). That was certainly a miracle. But Gideon’s initial response to the Angel of the LORD indicates this was a time when miracles had stopped. And today we look around us and miracles aren’t that common. Have you ever seen a miracle? Some have, but most today would probably say they have not. Why is that?

We see many miracles in scripture. But we have to understand that the Bible does not contain every detail of history. For instance the Book of Acts contains many accounts of miracles, but we need to remember that those miracles occurred over a period of about 30 years of history in the early church. In light of that duration we get a better perspective on the occurrence of miracles.

A “miracle” is defined as an extraordinary unusual event manifesting Divine intervention in human affairs. Something that is extraordinary and unusual is by definition not common. But sometimes it doesn’t seem like there are any miracles happening around us. Still we ask, “Where are the miracles?”

If we go back to Gideon and look at the context in which he asked why there weren’t any miracles happening, we see it stated, “Then the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the LORD. So the LORD delivered them into the hand of Midian for seven years” (Judges 6:1). Maybe there were no miracles happening then and maybe there are few miracles today because of the sin of God’s people. Maybe it was a way of God to get the attention of His people. Much of the world and our own nation is steeped in sin. There is a globalization of immorality. And the church is not immune to it! There is sin everywhere.

The Midianites were so oppressive of God’s people that they moved into caves for protection. Today too many Christians are isolating themselves from the world for protection. Isolation is not the answer. Jesus called His followers to be salt and light; to purify in order to preserve the world and to shine light into the sinful darkness (Matthew 5:13-16). You can’t do that by isolating yourself from the world.

The Midianites were destroying “the produce of the earth,” the crops of the people. God’s people were “greatly impoverished” by the Midianites (Judges 6:2-6). Today the Midianites take the form of deficit spending, war costs, public school indoctrination and a host of other parasitic vermin that is sapping not only our secular resources but the resources of our spiritual heritage.

Finally the people called out to God. Finally they had enough. Finally they came to the end of themselves. Finally they realized they could only turn to God. When will we get to that point? When we do finally God will answer. What did God say? What will He say?

It states, “the Lord sent a prophet to the children of Israel, who said to them, “Thus says the Lord God of Israel: ‘I brought you up from Egypt and brought you out of the house of bondage; 9 and I delivered you out of the hand of the Egyptians and out of the hand of all who oppressed you, and drove them out before you and gave you their land. 10 Also I said to you, “I am the Lord your God; do not fear the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell.” But you have not obeyed My voice.’ ” (Judges 6:8-10). God points His people to the Exodus, a time of incredible miraculous manifestations. He also recalls how God had cleared out the Promised Land for them. But then He adds, “But you have not obeyed My voice.”

Miracles, even the Exodus and conquest of the Promised Land, didn’t lead God’s people to obey God. Jesus recounted the story of a rich man in hell who upon seeing the consequence of his life of luxury begs Abraham to get word to his five brothers so they won’t have to follow his eternal destiny. Abraham’s response was, “if they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded through one rise from the dead” (Luke 16:31).

The reason we don’t see miracles today is because our motive for wanting them is wrong. We think if God would just perform a miracle it would so impress people that they would fall on their knees and repent. But scriptural history tells us different. God’s own people saw Egypt, the mightiest empire of their time defeated by the miracles of God. They saw the Red Sea parted and then closed up on the Egyptian army. They saw water from the rock. They ate manna from heaven and quail dinners provided by God. God parted the Jordan River. He brought the walls of Jericho down. He made the sun stop in the sky. He defeated enemy after enemy for His people. He did countless other miracles. And still they disobeyed Him!

In the Gospels we see Jesus turn water to wine, the blind made to see, the lame to walk, lepers healed and our Savior rise from the grave. We see the disciples follow in the steps of their Master healing and delivering people from demons. We see numerous miracles and still so many stray.

Why no miracles? There are no miracles because, “You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures” (James 4:3). The hypocritical Pharisees sought a sign from Jesus and Jesus didn’t grant their request. In fact Jesus said it was an evil and adulterous generation that seeks a sign (Matthew 12:38-39). Herod was eager to see Jesus so that he might see Jesus do a miracle (Luke 23:8). Simon the sorcerer was rebuked by Peter for wanting to purchase the ability to perform miracles (Acts 8:14-25). Miracles sought with wrong motives are not granted.

But not everyone asks amiss. Who is to say our motives aren’t pure when we see a suffering child or adult and ask God for a miraculous intervention? But go deeper. What is so bad about going to be with the Lord? To live is Christ, to die is gain (Philippians 1:21). When our loved ones are hurting and we are begging the Lord for help, our emotions are so upset it’s hard to wade through and know our motives. If a miracle is to occur it must be according to God’s will and for His glory. That is the criteria we must bow to.

Why no miracles? Gideon’s weakness and lack of faith was evidently representative of the lack of faith amongst God’s people at that time. The Gospels indicate that the lack of faith hinders the manifestation of the miraculous (Mark 6:1-6)

If we follow the pattern of Gideon, he asked for a confirming sign to authenticate it was indeed the Angel of the LORD he was talking to (6:17), he prayed for the Angel of the LORD to wait for him to bring an offering to him (6:18), and we see that it was in the sacrificial offering that the Angel of the LORD confirmed who He was through a sign of igniting the sacrifice into a fire (6:19-21). Then Gideon encountered peace in the presence of the Lord (6:22-24). Gideon named the place YHWH Shalom, or The-LORD-Is-Peace.

After this Gideon was sent on a mission to overturn and destroy a pagan altar of Baal (6:25-35). This was to build Gideon’s trust in God. God mercifully further confirmed to Gideon that He would deliver Israel through him (6:36-40). And then God miraculously delivered His people from the Midianites with only three hundred men (Judges 7).

So what is the pattern? First confirm that it is the LORD that is talking to you about the miracle you seek. Second, through prayer and worship wait for the LORD to confirm His will. Third, let God’s peace guide you (cf. also Col. 3:15). Then let God direct you to strengthen your faith in preparation for the miracle He will do. Then follow the leading of the LORD and be ready for Him to do a miracle.









Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The Testing of the LORD

Now these are the nations which the Lord left, that He might test Israel by them” – Judges 3:1
Have you ever asked yourself why has this happened to me? Everyone at one time or the other asks themselves this question. Sometimes the answer is that we are suffering the consequences of our own sinful choices (e.g. Jeremiah 2:19). Difficulties and trials may be the result of spiritual warfare (e.g. Job). Nothing can happen to us that God has not allowed to happen. We may not understand why God allows certain things to happen. And we may not like what He allows to happen. But God is big enough to handle our questions and objections. God is sovereign over all.
There is another source of difficulty that we may find hard to understand or accept. Some testing and trials come from God. That is the testimony of scripture. The book of Judges is a history of God’s people in the Promised Land. In the opening portions of Judges it states: “Now these are the nations which the Lord left, that He might test Israel by them, that is, all who had not known any of the wars in Canaan 2 (this was only so that the generations of the children of Israel might be taught to know war, at least those who had not formerly known it), 3 namely, five lords of the Philistines, all the Canaanites, the Sidonians, and the Hivites who dwelt in Mount Lebanon, from Mount Baal Hermon to the entrance of Hamath. 4 And they were left, that He might test Israel by them, to know whether they would obey the commandments of the Lord, which He had commanded their fathers by the hand of Moses.” (Judges 3:1-4)
God had enabled His people to take over the Promised Land and fully occupy it (Joshua 21:43-45). But this passage in Judges tells us that God purposely allowed some of the pagan peoples to remain. These pagan peoples would be the source of trouble for God’s people. But God, fully aware of this, allowed them to remain. Why did God allow these pagan nations to remain? The answer to that question is of great value because it gives us insight into how God ministers to us. The above passage states God allowed these pagan nations to test His people. They would be tested in two ways.
First, God allowed the pagan adversarial nations to remain in order to strengthen His own people (Judges 3:1-3). There was a generation of Israel that had not lived during the conquest. They needed to learn how to fight and defend themselves. God allowed adversaries to remain to serve this purpose. Faith is like a muscle, it needs exercising. A muscle grows only when it is stretched and strained to capacity, even beyond capacity. Then the muscle is fed, nourished and rested. And when restored it will be restored larger and stronger than before the workout.
Do you have an adversary in your life? It may be a person. It may be a circumstance or situation God has allowed in your life. Have you asked God why this is happening to you? It may be that God wants to strengthen you and prepare you for a future task. Why does God allow cults to exist? Perhaps it is that the testing that comes from confrontations with cults is a means for God to strengthen our faith. Enlightenment and understanding comes when we are motivated to study to prepare for ministering to cultists. How many Christians have been motivated to study the word of God in order to be prepared for that inevitable knock on the door from a Jehovah’s Witness or Mormon? That atheist or skeptic you know and that is always trying to trip you up with questions may be a tool of God to move you deeper in His word and closer to Him. God uses adversaries to test and strengthen our faith.
Secondly, God allowed the pagan adversarial nations to remain in order to bring us through decision to obedience (Judges 3:4). It states that God allowed these nations to test them, “to know whether they would obey the commandments of the LORD.” It isn’t that God needed to know this. God is omniscient. He knows everything! What God was doing was helping His people know what was in their hearts. It’s easy to talk a good talk, but can you walk the talk?
God’s people were often quick to pay lip service to God. At the end of his life Joshua challenged the people saying, “Now therefore, fear the Lord, serve Him in sincerity and in truth, and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the River and in Egypt. Serve the Lord! 15 And if it seems evil to you to serve the Lord, choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” (Joshua 24:14-15) The people’s immediate response was, “Far be it from us that we should forsake the LORD to serve others gods.” (Joshua 24:16). Then what did the people do? They forsook the Lord! We see this in a repetitive cycle in Judges consisting of sin, suffering consequences of that sin, crying out to God, God delivering the people through a judge, rest and peace, and then the cycle happens all over again. It’s true, talk is cheap!
Why was and is obedience so important to God? Obedience leads to blessing (Deut. 28; Joshua 1:8). God gave the Law and the instruction of His word in order to protect His people from danger. God instructs His people in order to show them the way in which they can experience and maintain a close personal eternal walk with Him. God loves us and He instructs us to show us what is best for us. If He says “No” to something, it is only because what we are intending to do or what we are asking for is harmful for us. He has something better for us. When we disobey we never get God’s best. Obey God and you’ll always get His best.
But there’s another reason why obedience is important. Obedience is a way of expressing our love for God. Love and obedience are connected (cf. Deut. 11:13; 30:20).  Jesus said if we love Him we will obey Him (John 14:15, 21).  We can say we love Jesus all we want, but if we are living in sin we prove ourselves liars. You may say you love your spouse, but if you cheat on them and commit adultery in thought or deed how valid or true is your love? Cheating on them breaks your marriage covenant. We can rationalize and excuse ourselves but the reality is still we have broken something precious. It is only through repentance and actual change that reconciliation is possible. Usually that comes through getting caught; through testing. Maybe this teaching is a test for some of you.
God knows what is in our hearts but we don’t (Jeremiah 17:9-10; 1 John 1:8, 10). The heart is deceitful and wicked. We can only know what is really in our heart by looking into the mirror of God’s word (James 1:22-25). God’s word speaks of His testing. It is God’s word that tells us the truth about ourselves (Hebrews 4:12-13). God tests us to bring us to a point of decision. When we choose to obey Him it expresses our true love. When we choose to disobey it exposes false love. God tests us for our own good, to strengthen our faith and show us the truth about ourselves. God’s testing makes a way for us to experience His best.
The psalmist was inspired to write, “For You, O God, have tested us; You have refined us as silver is refined. You brought us into the net; You laid affliction on our backs. You have caused men to ride over our hearts; we went through fire and trough water; but You brought us out to rich fulfillment” (Psalm 66:10-12). Sometimes rich fulfillment only comes through testing.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Seven Promise Fulfilling Principles

So the Lord gave to Israel all the land of which He had sworn to give to their fathers, and they took possession of it and dwelt in it.” – Joshua 21:43

It is fitting to conclude this series of messages from the book of Joshua with a summation of the tools that help us to secure God’s promises. There are certain principles in scripture which pave the path to seeing God’s promises fulfilled in our life. In the last five chapters of Joshua as we read the account of the taking of the Promised Land we can see Seven Promise Fulfilling Principles.  

Principle #1 – Justice and Mercy. In Joshua 20 we read of the Cities of Refuge. Revenge killing was common in primitive cultures. Families killed families like the Hatfield’s and the McCoy’s. This is not uncommon even to our day as we see in the Middle Eastern conflict. Such revenge killing was often done even in the case of an accidental killing. This was unjust therefore God made a provision in the Law for Cities of Refuge where those not guilty of intentional killing could flee to find a fair hearing. These Cities did not protect the premeditated or intentional murderer. Living with a spirit of justice and mercy is a principle that leads to experiencing the fullness of God’s promises.

God commands justice be the rule of His people and connects it with taking the Promised Land – “You shall follow what is altogether just, that you may live and inherit the land which the Lord your God is giving you” (Deut. 16:20). The testimony of God in His word is that He requires justice (Micah 6:8). He puts the highest value on justice (Prov. 2:13). God delights in justice (Prov. 11:1). God gives wisdom to execute justice (Prov. 2:6, 9). And God is displeased with injustice (Eccl. 5:8). God’s judges are commanded by Him to rule justly (Duet. 16:18; 2 Sam. 23:3; Ezek. 45:9).

Jesus is our supreme example of justice and will one day rule justly on the earth – “Behold, the days are coming,” says the Lord, “That I will raise to David a Branch of righteousness; A King shall reign and prosper, And execute judgment and righteousness in the earth.” (Jer. 23:5). In Acts Paul proclaimed,  Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, 31 because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead.” (Acts 17:30-31; cf. also Psalm 98:9 and Isaiah 11:1-4).


We are exhorted in God’s word to seek justice: We should think about justice – Phil. 4:8; We should receive teaching about justice – Prov. 1:3; We should always act justly – Psalm 119:121; We should take pleasure in acting justly – Prov. 21:15; and we should teach justice in our family – Gen. 18:19. Therefore, 6 Cities of Refuge were appointed for the just consideration of those involved in the death of others. These Cities were spread throughout the Land. There were 3 Cities of Refuge in the West and 3 in the East. These Cities of Refuge are a type of Christ. We find safety from our sin as we abide in Christ (John 15).


Principle #2 – Give Priority to and Support Ministry (Make provision for you spiritual health). The Levites (from the priestly tribe of Levi) were not given any portion of the Promised Land because God was their portion. The priests were entrusted with caring for the spiritual health of the people. Having said this the Levites still needed their practical needs met. Therefore the LORD arranged for 48 cities spread throughout the Land where the Levites could reside, have their practical needs met as well as be centers of ministry. These cities were locations where the priestly ministers would infiltrate and influence the people to worship the LORD. Six of these Cities also served as Cities of Refuge. Placing the priests in close proximity to the Cities of Refuge revealed God’s heart that there should be a consideration of the spiritual/eternal aspect of criminal proceedings (Joshua 21:1-42).

Principle #3 – Trust in God’s Faithfulness. In Joshua 21 it states, “So the Lord gave to Israel all the land of which He had sworn to give to their fathers, and they took possession of it and dwelt in it. 44 The Lord gave them rest all around, according to all that He had sworn to their fathers. And not a man of all their enemies stood against them; the Lord delivered all their enemies into their hand. 45 Not a word failed of any good thing which the Lord had spoken to the house of Israel. All came to pass” (Joshua 21:43-45).  God is faithful. He gave all the Land that had been promised to Abraham 475 years before (Gen. 15). God always keeps His word. You can always trust the LORD. God always has and always will keep His word (e.g. Psalm 111).

God by nature is faithful. “God is faithful, by whom you have been called into the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord” (1 Cor. 1:9; cf. also 1 Thess. 5:24). God’s faithfulness is great (Lam. 3:23; Ps. 89:2), it is holy and like no other faithfulness (Psalm 89:8). God’s faithfulness never fails (Ps. 89:33; 2 Tim. 2:13). His faithfulness is infinite (Ps. 36:5). His faithfulness is everlasting (Ps. 119:90; 146:6). His counsels are faithful and reliable (Is. 25:1). He is faithful to fulfill His promises (1 Kings 8:20; Ps. 132:11; Micah 7:20; Hebrews 10:23). He is faithful to keep covenant (Deut. 7:9; Ps. 111:5). He is faithful in executing judgment (Jer. 23:20; 51:29). And He is faithful to forgive sins based on faith in Christ (1 John 1:9). Aren’t you blessed and glad that God is so faithful? Praise God for His faithfulness!

The reality of God’s faithfulness is very practical to us. We should pray to God based on His faithfulness (Ps. 143:1). We should proclaim the faithfulness of God (Ps. 40:10:89:1, 5; 92:2). We should depend on the faithfulness of God (1 Peter 4:19). Even when we are faithless God remains faithful for He cannot deny Himself (2 Tim. 2:13). Thank You Lord for Your faithfulness.

Principle #4 – Follow Through on Agreements. The tribes of Reuben, Gad and the half tribe of Manasseh had decided to take their portion outside the Promised Land east of the Jordan river. They had held up their part of the agreement to accompany their brethren into the conquest of the Promised Land. Now Joshua would uphold his part of the agreement by releasing these tribes to go to their land east of the Jordan. It’s important to allow people freedom to make decisions. When we enter into an agreement we should be faithful to follow through with it (Joshua 22).

Joshua charges the two and a half tribes who would live east of the Jordan to love the LORD, walk in all His ways, cleave to Him, and serve Him with all their heart. Then Joshua sent them away with a blessing. Even when we don’t agree with people’s decisions, we should be willing to exhort them and send them away with a blessing. Sometimes we have to agree to disagree. If a person’s choice is not contrary to God’s word, then we should be willing to let go (Joshua 22:1-8).

Principle #5 – Be Diligent to Adhere to God’s Word but Not Hasty in Accusing Others of Sin – Don’t be Judgmental (Joshua 22:9-20). There was only to be one altar to God located in the Tabernacle of Meeting. To build another altar was to raise concerns of idolatry. Yet this is what the two and a half tribes east of the Jordan did. The tribes east of the Jordan had good intentions but it was a shocking step no matter the intent. When the nine and a half tribes heard of the alternative altar they passed judgment on them even though they didn’t have all the facts. They assumed the worst. This led to strife. We shouldn’t be judgmental. They had been exhorted to live in love. Love believes all things (1 Cor. 13:4-8). They were not acting in love toward their brethren.

We shouldn’t take the place of God in judging others. Our heart is deceitful and ill equipped to stand in judgment of others (Jer. 17:9-10). God alone knows the heart. Instead we are to love one another (1 Pet. 4:8). This doesn’t mean we aren’t to correct people. But if we do correct, we should use God’s word as our plumb line and watch that our motives are holy (2 Tim. 3:16-17; 4:1f.; Gal. 6:1).

Principle #5 – Be Willing to Reconcile. Good communication leads to reconciliation in cases of misunderstanding the motives of others. Unity is important to God. The outpouring of the Spirit comes to those united in prayer for it (e.g. Acts 1:14 and Acts 2). That is what we see happen here with God’s people. The two and a half tribes explained they erected an altar to the Lord out of fear that they would not be remembered as God’s people (22:21-29). Then it states, “30 Now when Phinehas the priest and the rulers of the congregation, the heads of the divisions of Israel who were with him, heard the words that the children of Reuben, the children of Gad, and the children of Manasseh spoke, it pleased them” (22:30; cf.  Also 22:31-34). The unity of believers is of great value to God and critically important to experiencing the fullness of God’s promises. We should communicate with the parties involved and gather all the facts before accusations or corrections are made that jeopardize our precious unity.

Principle #6 – Courageously Cling to the LORD in Love – Don’t Compromise. Joshua 23 begins, “Now it came to pass, a long time after the Lord had given rest to Israel from all their enemies round about, that Joshua was old, advanced in age. 2 And Joshua called for all Israel, for their elders, for their heads, for their judges, and for their officers, and said to them: “I am old, advanced in age. 3 You have seen all that the Lord your God has done to all these nations because of you, for the Lord your God is He who has fought for you” (23:1-3). God had promised. God had delivered. God was faithful. God can therefore be trusted. Therefore, Joshua exhorts the people to carry on to completion the calling of God to secure the Promised Land. “See, I have divided to you by lot these nations that remain, to be an inheritance for your tribes, from the Jordan, with all the nations that I have cut off, as far as the Great Sea westward. 5 And the Lord your God will expel them from before you and drive them out of your sight. So you shall possess their land, as the Lord your God promised you” (23:4-5). Joshua exhorts the people to not stop now but follow through to the end on what God had called them to do; that is take all of the Promised Land.

But taking hold of God’s promises is not for the faint of heart; courage is required. “Therefore be very courageous to keep and to do all that is written in the Book of the Law of Moses, lest you turn aside from it to the right hand or to the left, 7 and lest you go among these nations, these who remain among you. You shall not make mention of the name of their gods, nor cause anyone to swear by them; you shall not serve them nor bow down to them, 8 but you shall hold fast to the Lord your God, as you have done to this day” (23:6-8). It takes courageous faith to live out the word of God. There will be opposition from without and from within. But if we are to take hold of God’s promises we need to be courageous in obediently keeping all of God’s word. Courageously cling to the LORD and His word.

Courage is not something that comes from within us. Courage is an overcoming faith that depends on God. “For the Lord has driven out from before you great and strong nations; but as for you, no one has been able to stand against you to this day. 10 One man of you shall chase a thousand, for the Lord your God is He who fights for you, as He promised you. 11 Therefore take careful heed to yourselves, that you love the Lord your God´ (23:9-11). Love is what binds us to the LORD. Love should be our motivation. Our courage is rooted in God’s love and our love for Him. Obedience is how our love is proved (cf. John 14:15, 21).

The alternative of disregarding God and His word only leads to loss. That is what Joshua warns the people of when he states: “12 Or else, if indeed you do go back, and cling to the remnant of these nations—these that remain among you—and make marriages with them, and go in to them and they to you, 13 know for certain that the Lord your God will no longer drive out these nations from before you. But they shall be snares and traps to you, and scourges on your sides and thorns in your eyes, until you perish from this good land which the Lord your God has given you” (23:12-13). Marriages that aren’t built on God’s word will not realize their maximum purpose or potential (cf. Eph. 5). If we choose to go our own way, God will let us, but He won’t go with us. The consequence will be a life of “snares and traps, and scourges on your sides and thorns in your eyes, until you perish” and miss out on the promises of God.

Truly, when people choose to disregard the Lord in light of all the evidence of His faithfulness, it boggles the mind.  Joshua reminds the people of the reality of God’s faithfulness. ““Behold, this day I am going the way of all the earth. And you know in all your hearts and in all your souls that not one thing has failed of all the good things which the Lord your God spoke concerning you. All have come to pass for you; not one word of them has failed” (23:14). Pastor Chuck Smith comments, “The past faithfulness of God is witness to the future faithfulness of God.” But as God is faithful to bless those with good who follow Him, He will be faithful to allow harmful things enter the life of those who disobey Him. It works both ways “(23:15-16). God loves us enough to discipline us (Heb. 12).

Principle #7 – Build on What God has Done – Choose to Serve the LORD Sincerely in Truth. Joshua gathers the people at Shechem and issues a challenge to them. Serving the Lord is a choice. You have to choose to serve the Lord. And that decision should be based on theh history of God’s faithfulness (Joshua 24:1-13).

Shechem is located between Mr. Ebal and Mt. Gerizim. In Deuteronomy 8 God tells the people to remember that all that they have is from the LORD (Deut. 8:18-20). God told the people that if they obeyed Him, God would give them victory no matter the size of the foe (Deut. 11:22-23). To ingrain this in the hearts of the people God instructed them separate into two groups, one on Mt. Ebal and the other on Mt. Gerizim. Then from Mt. Ebal the people would declare the curses that would come upon them in consequence for disobedience and from Mt. Gerizim declare the blessings that would come as a reward for their obedience (cf. Deut. 27:11-13). In light of all God has done and provided for His people, they are to reverence and worship the LORD by serving Him sincerely in truth (24:14-28).

“Now therefore, fear the Lord, serve Him in sincerity and in truth, and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the River and in Egypt. Serve the Lord!” 24:14). “Sincerity” is translated from the Hebrew term tawmeem means entirely, completely, wholly, without blemish, or fully. It is a call to serve the LORD with all your heart.

Then Joshua utters these strong and memorable words: “And if it seems evil to you to serve the Lord, choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord(24:15). This is the challenge that all people have to consider; especially those who want to experience the promises of God.

The people were quick to answer and claim their allegiance to God (24:16-18). But Joshua knew better. He speaks what unfortunately became a prophetic word about God’s people. “But Joshua said to the people, “You cannot serve the Lord, for He is a holy God. He is a jealous God; He will not forgive your transgressions nor your sins. 20 If you forsake the Lord and serve foreign gods, then He will turn and do you harm and consume you, after He has done you good” (24:19-20). Joshua confronted the tendency to idolatry of the people. If your “God” is your master passion, an idol is a master passion for anything other than God the LORD. No one else besides the LORD deserves to be your mater passion.

There were numerous pagan gods in the Old Testament: Baal the god of thunder; Chemosh the “destroyer”; Molech the fire-god and god of “death and underworld to which” infants sacrificed in the fire of Molech; and there was Mammon, god of wealth. These gods incorporated to one degree or another four basic aspects of idolatry: Worship of intellect, pleasure, power, and money. These are the same things people idolize today.

The people insisted they would serve the Lord (24:21). Joshua tells them their words are a witness about their decision (24:22-24).  Joshua put everything in writing; his charge to the people; and their vow to serve the LORD (24:26-28). Joshua died at 110 years of age. Israel followed the LORD while Joshua was alive. That’s the sign of an effective leader (24:29-33). But ultimately the people would stray from the Lord repeatedly. Judges, the book that follows Joshua, is a record of the low point, some of the darkest days of Israel. God remained faithful through all their wanderings and betrayals. Many missed out on God’s promises.

How about you? What will you decide? Dwight L. Moody once said, “The world has yet to see what God can do through one man that is totally yielded to God!” Let’s seek to be totally committed in love to God and see what God will do! Will you choose to serve the Lord? Will you follow these principles and experience the fulfillment of God’s promises?