Stones to Overcome Obstacles

Up until now, we have seen Israel cross the Jordan, destroy Jericho, get beaten at Ai, stone Achan and his family, then destroy Ai, and recommitting themselves to the commandments of the LORD; and all of that in eight chapters. If you simply look at it, in eight chapters they have crossed the Jordan and conquered two cities in the Promised Land. That’s all. In other words, they have a long way to go to be done conquering.

But God is good, and God has a plan, and Israel is conquering the Promised Land according to God’s plan, not theirs; according to His ways, not theirs. We have seen this so far as well, right? Crossing the Jordan on dry ground because the priests were standing in the midst of the Jordan, holding the Ark of the Covenant. Defeating Jericho by walking around the city for seven days and then giving a shout. Not really ways the Israelites would have chosen, right? And we see this when they try to defeat Ai in their own ways. What happens? They lose because of Achan. And after they purge the sin from their midst, and follow His ways, they win. So we see that God is good, and God has a plan for Israel to conquer the Promised Land. But although it is His plan, Israel does have to be involved, in their own imperfect and sometimes sinful way.

Joshua 9-10 is a beautiful picture of God’s grace, His goodness towards not only Israel, but also the Gibeonites, in the midst of sin.

 

THE GIBEONITE DECEPTION (Joshua 9:16)
The news of Israel’s conquering march has reached the southern parts of Canaan. By the way this is strange, because it seems that Israel was moving towards the north, not the south. But, like the people of Jericho before them, the southern kings were scared. And what we see is two totally different strategies of dealing with this threat, this opposition of Israel. The southern kings gather together against Israel and are planning a full frontal attack. They do not acknowledge that God is on Israel’s side fighting for them, and believe they can defeat the Israelites by sheer strength. But the Gibeonites, a city of the Hivites in the south, were choosing a different approach. They were going to lie and deceive Israel by claiming they were from a distant country and heard about Israel’s victories, and that they wanted to make a covenant with them. Yet we can read in the next chapter that “Gibeon was a great city, like one of the royal cities, […] because it was greater than Ai, and all its men were warriors” (Jos. 10:2). So why did they surrender? “… because of the name of the Lord your God” (Jos. 9:9). Because God fights for Israel, they know it would be useless to oppose Israel. They acknowledge God, but approach Him in the wrong way though, by lying and deceiving.

The Gibeonite deception was clever, and therefore powerful. Israel falls for it. Why? Things went well. They had defeated two huge cities. They were on a roll. Watch out when things go well! We tend to lower our guard and don’t notice potential dangers. Gibeon was a huge city, and yet Israel was not suspicious at all when they “just” surrendered. Israel had lowered their guard. Joshua and the leaders never sought the LORD, but thought they’d had this figured out by themselves. It was their strength that made Gibeon surrender. They trusted in their own senses… “Look at this bread. Feel and taste how stale it is. Surely, they must have come a long way.” In other words, they walked by sight, not by faith. How much trouble do we find ourselves in for this very reason? Not asking the LORD’s counsel. Our life is seems to be going well. We are comfortable with where things are at. On the surface it looks like we are in control. We set the course. And bit-by-bit we involve God less and less in our decision-making. Bit by bit we create for ourselves an environment in which we do not have to walk by faith, because walking by sight will do. We have it figured out by ourselves.

 

KEEPING THE OATH, NO MATTER WHAT (Joshua 9:16:20; 10:1-8)
Only a couple of days later the Israelites find out that they had been deceived. And even though all the congregation murmured against the leaders, the leaders still knew they had to do what was right and honorable before God: keep their oath, even if it was a bad oath. The rulers of Israel were wise in not allowing one sin (wiping out the Gibeonites) follow another sin (making the oath without seeking the Lord), especially in light of public pressure to do otherwise. And I think it is refreshing to see that going back on their word was not even really a possibility for the rulers of Israel. It was simply not even up for debate.

The enemies of Israel feared greatly, but they did not retreat when they were afraid, but launched a bold attack. Afraid to attack Israel directly, they attacked their former ally, the Gibeonites, who were now servants of Israel. We saw earlier that, Joshua, the leaders of Israel, and all the people of Israel knew they made a bad vow to the Gibeonites, yet they did not turn their backs on that vow. But here, we see Joshua and the leaders of Israel even going a step further. Allowing these Canaanite kings to wipe out the Gibeonites would have been a convenient way to get out of a vow that should not have been made, but they will have none of it. Though Joshua was only bound to not kill the Gibeonites himself (Joshua 9:15), he goes on to fulfill the spirit of the vow he made to the Gibeonites. And what does God do? He commands Joshua to not fear them. Though Joshua has reason to fear because Israel faces a confederation of five kings, God commands Joshua to not fear his enemies. But, the command is coupled with a promise that Israel will be victorious. Having the assurance of God’s promise, Joshua did not sit back to passively watch God work without his participation. He went to great effort to participate with the work and will of God. This took hard work and initiative on Joshua’s part. God does His work, but He draws us into working with Him. The result? God’s work, and the partnership of Joshua’s work with the Lord, accomplished something great. We read in the remainder of chapter ten that Israel not only defeats the five armies in this battle, with some amazing feats from God might I add, but it sets Israel up for defeating all these other cities in Canaan, thereby conquering all the southern Canaanite kingdoms. The victory was won one at a time. God knew what He was doing in selecting which particular battles to fight, and when they needed to be fought. Most importantly, the key to victory was that the Lord God of Israel fought for Israel.

 

GRACE ABOUNDS!
Let’s look at the story again and at the amazing grace of God towards both the Israelites and the Gibeonites.

Israel messed up big time. They did not seek God’s counsel when the Gibeonites approached them, which resulted in making a covenant, a treaty with them. But even so they already knew what His answer would be, for by law Israel was forbidden to make peace with any of the tribes of Canaan (Ex. 23:23-24). And what does God do? He allows Israel to make their mistake, and does not punish them for it (God’s mercy). But look what it results in: through their mistake, God gives them the Gibeonites (thus enlarging the nation Israel) and He gives them the five other cities, and ultimately the whole southern region, as a result of their sin (God’s grace)

Gibeon messed up big time. They deceived Israel by misrepresenting themselves, providing false evidence for their deception, and simply lied. And this while they displayed a proper admiration and honor for the God of Israel, they approach Him in completely the wrong way. What does God do? He arranges that the Israelites do not kill the Gibeonites for the lying and deceiving (God’s mercy). But on top of that, the Gibeonites are taken up into Israel (you could say they are transferred from the kingdom of the enemy into the kingdom of God – Col 1:13-14) where they became servants for the tabernacle services (God’s grace)

This is so counter-intuitive, so mind-blowing and simply destroys our conditional world and thinking. Which is exactly what grace does. Grace is unconditional, which is why we struggle with it so much because we are conditional people. You see, we read this and think that God is not only condoning sin, He is actually blessing it, right? The Israelites sin, and God gives them the southern part of the Promised Land into their hands. The Gibeonites sin, and God makes them sons of God, just like the Israelites. And we think: that cannot be! How can God do that? That’s not fair; sin must be punished. And it makes us say, “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?” (Rom. 6:1). But here’s the thing: God is always fair, because He is good. And He has a plan, and it’s a good plan. And His plan always operates on the basis of grace. Pure, unconditional grace. And where sin increases, grace abounds all the more (Rom. 5:20). This is a beautiful picture of what the grace of God does. He turns liars, deceivers, and lawbreakers into His victorious children. But although grace is unconditional, we are not without responsibility.

 

STONES TO OVERCOME OBSTACLES
Earlier on in Joshua 7 with the story of Achan, Israel had to deal with internal obstacles. How sin affects those around you. How if one member suffers, all suffer together (1 Cor. 12:26). Here in this story we read how to deal with external obstacles. Although Israel as a whole is sinning by making a treaty with the Gibeonites, the story is really about how Israel responded to the Gibeonites after they acknowledged their mistake. So, here are three ways (three “stones”) on how to overcome external obstacles, and all three are based on how Israel responded after they found out they had been deceived by the Gibeonites.

Courage
After they found out, the people went out to Gibeon, but did not attack them because the leaders had sworn an oath. “Then all the congregation murmured against the leaders.” (Jos. 9:18), but the leaders did not come back on their oath. Here we see courage working in two directions. The leaders showed a lot of courage in keeping their oath, while the entire congregation murmured. But also the congregation shows a lot of courage by not attacking Gibeon and trusting their leaders’ decision although they did not agree with them. And courage is really the keyword of the whole book isn’t it? “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.” (Jos. 1:9)

Repentance
After they found out, the Israelites own up to their mistake. They did not deny it or blame-shifted, but they took full responsibility for it. They did not only feel bad about it, but they changed their hearts. We see that because later on when they were asked by the Gibeonites to help them out, they joyfully did so, and thereby went way beyond what they were bound to by the oath. In other words, they repented. Repentance is not only a turning from sin, but also a turning to God by pursuing righteousness out of obedience to Him and a love for Him. As Paul said, “Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?” (Rom. 2:4)

Integrity
After they found out, the Israelites did not come back on the oath they had made. They welcomed the Gibeonites into their midst, and when it became difficult when they were asked to help the Gibeonites, it would have been the perfect opportunity to get rid of the Gibeonites and thus the oath, but instead they sucked it up and suffered the consequences of their sin and helped them out. It is a mark of godliness to hold to an oath, even when it’s difficult. Their ‘yes’ was simply ‘yes’. And isn’t that what James says as well: “But above all, my brothers, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your “yes” be yes and your “no” be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation.” (Jam. 5:12)

And while I was dwelling on these themes in this text, my thoughts went to Jesus being in the Garden of Gethsemane, and how we really see all three of these aspects being perfectly fulfilled in Jesus, when He simply said, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” (Luk. 22:42). The courage He had in that moment to press on in the face of the most intense opposition. It says that He was in such agony that He prayed more earnestly and that His sweat became drops of blood. And although He did not have to repent of any sin, He did perfectly turned to God and pursued righteousness out of obedience to and love for His Father. And how beautifully is Jesus’ integrity on display when He said, “not my will, but yours, be done”. His ‘yes’ truly was ‘yes’. He completed what He said He would.

And while I was dwelling on Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, I thought: “I do not have the strength to show such courage, such repentance, and such integrity. It is too much for me.” And the beauty is that I don’t have to, we don’t have to, but He already did. Jesus already did for us what God is asking us to do. His death and resurrection is the only basis upon which we can do this. In Him, we already are victorious. As I said earlier, He turns sinners into victorious children. Such grace! God is good, and God has a plan, and it is a good plan. We see in this story that all things work together for good for those who love God (Rom. 8:28). All we have to do is dwell in what Jesus already has done, and we can overcome any obstacles, because He already has.

On Elementary Doctrines

Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment.” (Hebrews 6:1-2)

Three pairs of foundational teachings are the Hebrews instructed to leave:

  1. Repentance of dead works and faith toward God;
  2. Instruction about washings and the laying on of hands;
  3. The resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment;

Now, although it’s true that many Christians have not digested this milk yet and have no clue about these things and are not mature, yet this is not the writer’s point. We have to remember that the writer is talking to Hebrew Christians here. And so the question we should ask is how this relates to their immaturity specifically.

The writer is admonishing them not the lay again a foundation, by which he refers to the old Jewish practices rather than Christian doctrine. You have to ask yourself the question what is distinctively Christian about this list. Where is the mention of Jesus or salvation by grace alone? Can you believe or practice these things and not be a follower of Jesus Christ, believing Him to be the Messiah? No!

Let’s look at them again:

  1. Something has changed regarding the way of repentance and faith towards God. Our faith should now be in Jesus, “the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:2). Repentance should now be based on conviction from the Holy Spirit, which is now available through the resurrection of Jesus, and sin should be put to death. “For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 6:10-11)
  2. The specific ancient Greek word translated baptisms is not the word regularly used in the New Testament to describe Christian baptism. It is the word used on two other specific occasions (Hebrews 9:10 and Mark 7:4) to refer to Jewish ceremonial washings. Yet these washings will not save you. Only Jesus’ blood will save you, and Christian baptism should only be seen as an outward sign in obedience to Jesus of an inward change which is a work done by the Holy Spirit. The laying on of hands is also a reference to these washings.
  3. The object of their hope has changed! No longer should they aim to please God through works, thereby escaping the final judgment and be resurrected from the dead. Now their hope should be in Jesus! “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” (1 Peter 1:3-5)

Now, these elementary principles to move beyond are all items in the “common ground” between Christianity and Judaism. This was a “safe” common ground these Jewish Christians retreated to. Because Christianity did grow out of Judaism, it was a more subtle temptation for a Jewish Christian to slip back into Judaism than it was for a formerly pagan Christian to go back to his pagan ways. Of course, these Jewish Christians did not want to abandon religion, but they did want to make it less distinctively Christian. Therefore, they went back to this “common ground” to avoid persecution. Living in this comfortable common ground, you would not stick out so much. A Jew and a Christian together could say, “Let’s repent, let’s have faith, let’s perform ceremonial washings,” and so forth. But this was a subtle denial of Jesus.

Acts #2 – A Mighty Rushing Wind

Pentecost and Leaven
It is the day of Pentecost, which is not only one of the seven Feasts of Israel, it is also one of the three feasts which requires that every able-bodied Jewish male was required to in in Jerusalem. This means that Jerusalem was crowded with people from all over to celebrate this feast. Now without going into an extensive study on the feast of Pentecost, it may be a good idea to give some background to get a better picture. The first three feasts are in the spring, which are Passover, the Feast of Unleavened Bread, and the Feast of Firstfruits. The last three feasts are in the fall, which are the Feast of Trumpets, The Day of Atonement, and the Feast of Tabernacles. In the middle there is the Feast of Pentecost (meaning the fiftieth day), which is 50 days after the Feast of Firstfruits. Each feast has a ceremonial role, a historic commemorative role, and also a prophetic role. Without going into much detail, the first three feasts were prophetic to Jesus’ First Coming (respectively, His death, His burial and His resurrection). The last three feasts are prophetic to Jesus’ Second Coming.

The Feast of Pentecost is prophetic for the birth of the Church (being the spiritual Body of Christ). It is described in Leviticus 23:15-17, which says: “You shall count seven full weeks from the day after the Sabbath, from the day that you brought the sheaf of the wave offering. You shall count fifty days to the day after the seventh Sabbath. Then you shall present a grain offering of new grain to the Lord. You shall bring from your dwelling places two loaves of bread to be waved, made of two tenths of an ephah. They shall be of fine flour, and they shall be baked with leaven, as firstfruits to the Lord.” Now you have to be aware of Jewish customs to notice something peculiar here, namely that the breads are baked with leaven. All the other Jewish feasts and offerings are dealing with unleavened bread. In Exodus 12:15; 12:19-20; 13:7 it is actually described that leaven should be removed from the house during these feasts, except for Pentecost. The idea of leaven is always used negatively for the reason that leaven corrupts the dough by puffing up and is therefore symbolic for sin. So, the symbol for the Church is leaven. Now it is said that this is because the Church is not perfect (yet who is!), but I think it also has something to do with the fact that the Church are Gentiles, which are considered unholy from a Jewish viewpoint.

The Holy Spirit is Coming
Now all the disciples (about 120) were all gathered in one place, which is mostly likely the upper room where they were regularly met, and is most likely close to the temple grounds (for we will see that they will be baptizing 3,000 new believers soon – which would be quite hard in the upper room). Now, in John 3:8 Jesus makes reference to the Holy Spirit as wind, but it seems that this wind is much wilder. So strong that it causes attention throughout the town. When they are filled with the Holy Spirit they are speaking in tongues, but this must not be seen as a gift of the Spirit (as in 1 Corinthians 14), but must be translated as speaking in other languages as they were understood by various people present in Jerusalem. Could the fact that they could all understand each other have something to do with lifting the curse of Babel? Who knows… Now there 16 countries listed here which are present in Jerusalem, but I assume more countries are actually represented for Pentecost is one of the mandatory festivals and it mentions men “from every nation under heaven” (Acts 2:5)

Peter’s First Sermon
Peter’s sermon answers their question, “What does this mean?” (Acts 2:12), and it’s is a very intricate masterpiece. We also see here that the Holy Spirit is indwelling Peter. In the Gospels Peter is often speaking without thinking, but here he is being skillful and elegant. Although the sermon answers the question about what does this [the Holy Spirit] mean, it is in fact not a sermon about the Holy Spirit, but about Jesus, the Son of God. It is important to recognize that Peter is addressing the Jews here. The sermon is built on three sections of the Old Testament, namely Joel 2:28-32, Psalm 16:8-11 and Psalm 110:1.

The Foretelling of the Holy Spirit (Joel 2:28-32)
Peter picks out a section of the Old Testament which is not the earliest nor the latest, but the most crisp passage on the promise of the Holy Spirit. Interesting detail maybe is that whilst in “our” Bible this section of Scripture is part of the second chapter, in the Hebrew Bible this section gets its own chapter and thus stands out quite a bit. This section of the promise of the Holy Spirit is followed by some end-time prophecy. Peter speaks of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit as what was prophesied by Joel, but he also implies that not the complete prophecy has come to pass yet. The start of this section will probably shock every Jew as Peter says that God will pour His Spirit on all flesh (meaning also the Gentiles!). Furthermore, the idea of prophesying is no longer limited to the prophet (as they were used to having a prophet and a priest), but that it will be made available to everybody. Verse 19 and 20 obviously speaks about end-time prophesy as this clearly hasn’t happened yet. In Matthew 24:29-31 Jesus says that “Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.” It may be that one of the reasons that Peter includes this prophecy which is still to come because he wants to get to the closing line which says that “it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” (Acts 2:21), which give him the opportunity to say that “Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know – this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.” (Acts 22-24)

Hope of Everlasting Joy (Psalm 16:8-11)
Peter then moves on by using a psalm by David to be used as a prophecy of Jesus, where it first talks about life (Psalm 16:8,9a), then death (Psalm 16:9b, 10) and then resurrection (Psalm 16:11). Peter’s point here is that this cannot apply to David for “he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day.” (Acts 2:29), but that Jesus is “exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out” (Acts 2:33). Peter’s central theme is the study of the person of Jesus Christ: His role, mission, character, and nature of the Messiah.

Sit at My Right Hand (Psalm 110:1)
Peter’s final verse is to point out that David’s body did not ascend into heaven, but that it is Jesus who ascended back into heaven to sit at the right hand of the Father until He makes His enemies His footstool. Jesus Himself refers to this same verse in the Psalms. Notice that it says “until.” Christ’s enemies will definitely be made His footstool. What a great promise!

What’s the Point?!
Peter has now quoted from three portions of the Old Testament, building his sermon on Jesus Christ. The result? The Jews were cut to the heart and ask Peter what to do. Peter’s answer? “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). In the subsequent verse Peter says that this call is not only for Israel, but also “for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” (Acts 2:39)

The Year Of

The year of 2009 (According to our Gregorian calendar)
The year of the Ox (According to the Chinese calendar)
The year of discipline (As this is much needed in my life)
The year of the Cross of Christ (As I need to “feel” its weight more in my life)
The year of the ESV Study Bible (As I ordered one yesterday and really look forward reading it)
The year of CCIE (Will I decide to go for it? Will I pass?)
The year of Barack Hussein Obama II (Will he be He to many, or just stay he?)
The year of Canon EOS400D (Will I actually start having a hobby this year?)
The year of 35 (That old? Yes!)
The year of budgeting (I hope)
The year of #2 (We hope)
The year of Jehoshaphat (Well, only for two weeks actually)
The year of preaching (Or at least an attempt to)
The year of choosing a structure (I sincerely hope)
The year of repentance (much needed)
The year of humility (much needed)
The year of finally getting it (much needed)