“The people of Israel again did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and served the Baals and the Ashtaroth, the gods of Syria, the gods of Sidon, the gods of Moab, the gods of the Ammonites, and the gods of the Philistines. And they forsook the Lord and did not serve him.”
Really? Again? After all that God had done for His people, how could they serve anyone other than the Lord? Let alone everyone but the Lord? It’s truly baffling…until we stop and reflect on our own lives. I’m not trying to guilt or shame anyone, but I think that if we’re honest, then we can all admit that our stories include a repetition of the same sins that leave us just as baffled as Israel’s repeated failures do. If that sounds like your story, then we can be grateful for what we see next in Judges 10. Yes, God is angered by the sin of His people, but He is also listening when they cry out to Him in repentance. And ultimately, the Lord “became impatient over the misery of Israel.” We worship and serve a God who is patient with us and impatient toward our misery, a God who wants to deliver and restore us when we fall.
I love the modern hymn, “His Mercy is More,” written by Matt Boswell and Matt Pappa. It reminds us of God’s mercy and calls us to turn to the Lord who is patient and kind. If you have a few minutes, listen and give thanks for God’s mercy in your life.
“And the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and served the Baals.”
And so it begins…well, sort of. The book of Judges records Israel’s repeated pattern of sin and rebellion against God. Again and again, their sin placed them at odds with the Lord and under the control of their enemies, but again and again, the Lord graciously raised up judges who delivered his people, only for them to fall back into the same pattern.
The pattern first becomes visible in Judges 2:11, but the seeds were sown in the opening chapter of Judges. God had instructed His people to drive out all the inhabitants of the land, but Judges 1 reports one instance after another of Israel’s failure to carry out that command. They sort of did what the Lord commanded. They started to do what He called them to do, but in the process of their partial obedience, they also left open the door to worship other gods. And that is the door we see the people of Israel walking through in Judges 2:11.
The pattern that played out in the days of the Judges can be an important reminder to us that sin doesn’t just appear out of nowhere. Jesus said in Matthew 15:18-19, “But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.” Jesus tells us what the book of Judges shows us–that the seeds of sin first take root in the heart, where self or someone or something other than God takes priority and where His commands are viewed merely as suggestions. The problem with that is that God is worthy of our entire hearts, and He knows the danger of His people living among other gods, competing for their attention and allegiance. So, we’re told to put sin to death. We’re told to flee from it. We’re warned against giving sin an opportunity to take hold in our lives. Are there priorities competing for the attention and allegiance of your heart today? If so, let’s flee from sin and run to Christ, who is worthy of our entire hearts!
What changed between Ruth 1 and Ruth 4? At the end of Ruth 1, Naomi had returned to Bethlehem, and she said to the women of the town, “Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. I went away full, and the Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi, when the Lord has testified against me and the Almighty has brought calamity upon me?” Call me Mara. Call me bitter. Naomi was at a point where her bitterness and the tragedy she experienced had become her identity, to the point that she corrects those who called her by her name.
But by the time we turn the page to Ruth 4, after Boaz had married Ruth and their son had been born, we hear the women of the town saying to Naomi, “Blessed be the Lord, who has not left you this day without a redeemer, and may his name be renowned in Israel! He shall be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age, for your daughter-in-law who loves you, who is more to you than seven sons, has given birth to him.” Before, Naomi’s bitterness led her to object strongly to being called by her own name. Now, the women are celebrating the Lord’s provision of a redeemer in Naomi’s life. Before, Naomi was empty, but now she is filled with life and love.
What changed between Ruth 1 and Ruth 4? The easy answer is everything. Naomi was empty, but now she is restored. Naomi was bitter, but now she seems grateful. What changed? God provided a redeemer. The son of Ruth and Boaz changed everything about the way Naomi saw her life. That’s the way redemption works. Colossians 1:13-14 says, “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” We were in darkness, but now we walk in the light of His kingdom! We were defined by our sin, but now we have been forgiven!The Son of God changes everything about the way we see our lives! That’s the way redemption works. Redemption changed everything for Naomi, and it does the same for us. Blessed be the Lord, who has not left us this day without a redeemer!
So the people shouted, and the trumpets were blown. As soon as the people heard the sound of the trumpet, the people shouted a great shout, and the wall fell down flat, so that the people went up into the city, every man straight before him, and they captured the city.
Can you imagine the plans we would have devised to capture Jericho? Can you imagine how you would have responded to the plan Joshua presented to the people? I’m trying to put myself in their place. Maybe I would have done exactly as he said. Maybe I would have shouted a great shout. I hope that would have been my response, but I also have enough track record to know it might not have been. I don’t do a whole lot of shouting. It just isn’t who I am…but I think that might be part of the point. The victory at Jericho wasn’t about who the Israelites were. It was about who their God is. One second the walls of Jericho stood tall, and the next second they were flat on the ground. How? Were the Israelites exceptionally gifted shouters? I don’t think that’s it. The author of Hebrews says it was “by faith” (11:30) that the walls fell. That means the walls came down not by sophisticated strategies or schemes but by faith in God and His improbable plan. The victory in Jericho pointed to the glory and power of God, not the military might or vocal force of the Israelites.
The truth is we’ll never know how we would have responded at Jericho, but we all get to find out how we’ll respond to God’s call today. So what has He called you to do? The good news for us is the same as it was at Jericho…God is always faithful to work through the faith of His people. So, let’s walk where He calls us to walk, be silent when He says to be silent, and shout when He says to shout. Then, just as it did in Jericho, the victory will declare (and maybe even shout) the glory and power of our God.
It had been forty years since the Red Sea parted and the people of Israel walked across into the freedom God had promised them. Forty years of wandering and and sometimes wondering, even though God was there to lead them all the way to the banks of the Jordan River. Forty years had passed, Moses had passed away, Joshua was now leading, but God was still there, even through the wilderness, working to bring about His promises.
The same God who parted the Red Sea to get the people out of Egypt would now demonstrate His power to get the people into the Promised Land. God told Joshua that He was going to show the people that He was with Joshua just as He was with Moses. How would He show them? Joshua 3:13 tells us what He would do, “And when the soles of the feet of the priests bearing the ark of the LORD, the Lord of all the earth, shall rest in the waters of the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan shall be cut off from flowing, and the waters coming down from above shall stand in one heap.” Just as they did coming out of Egypt, the people walked into the Promised Land on dry ground.
God brought them into the Promised Land just as He brought them out of Egypt. Two events, forty years apart, but God’s plan was still intact. Sometimes in the Christian life, we need reminding that God’s plan is still intact and that His promises remain unbroken. Paul wrote in Philippians 1:6, “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” God didn’t bring the people through the Red Sea and then see the Jordan as an impossible task, and God didn’t call you out of your sin to faith in Christ only to now look at your struggles, as long as they might have lasted, as more than He can handle. He’ll finish His good work in you just as surely He started it.
Have you ever built something up so much in your mind that there was just no way for the reality to rise to the level of your expectations? Maybe you went to a restaurant for dinner, and the food was simply amazing. So, you told your family and your friends how great it was, and you looked forward to taking them with you so that you could share your experience with them. You talked it up for weeks and finally returned to the restaurant, only to find that both you and your friends were disappointed. The food was good. It was ok. An otherwise good meal just wasn’t quite what you remembered or what they expected.
Our expectations have a lot to do with whether we are satisfied in a given situation. When our expectations far outpace reality, it is a recipe for disappointment. On the other hand, when the reality exceeds expectations, we’re overflowing with excitement. When Moses said to God, “Please show me your glory,” the Lord pointed Moses both to His grace and to His glory, which was ultimately too much for Moses to behold. The reality is that God’s grace and glory are always more than we can comprehend. He always exceeds expectations.
Ephesians 3:20 says that God “is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think.” The missionary Willliam Carey once said, “Expect great things from God, attempt great things for God.” We have a God whose ability always exceeds our expectations. As you pray, what are you asking God to do? What are you expecting Him to do? To put it another way, if God instantly answered every prayer you’ve been praying, how would the world change? How would your life change? How would the lives of others be transformed? Let’s remember that we pray to the One who is able to do far more than we can ask or imagine. And then, let’s pray and live accordingly.
I love a good plan. I love the details. I love the logistical challenges and puzzles that must be solved. When I am excited about something, I can pour huge amounts of time and energy into developing a plan to make it happen. For me, the detail of the plan usually corresponds to the priority of what I’m planning. The more important something is to me and the more passionate I am about it, then the more detailed the plan will be.
What we have seen clearly from creation on is God’s persistent desire to dwell with His people. It is a high priority, and the level of detail in His instructions for the tabernacle reflect that. God describes a tabernacle that would point to His holy presence in the midst of His people. The plan reflects the priority, and if that is true, then we can be encouraged as we read every intricate detail of God’s plan to dwell with the people He loves. We can also be encouraged because we know how far God’s plan to dwell with His people would go. The Son of God would become flesh and dwell among us so that He could rescue us from sin to dwell with Him for all of eternity. So, as you read Exodus 25-26, give thanks for the detail of God’s plans and for His presence in your life.
 The Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD, when I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring out the people of Israel from among them.
When LeBron James joined the Miami Heat in 2010, he made a bold prediction–He wasn’t there to win a championship or two or three…or even seven. By joining forces with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami, he was putting the rest of the NBA on notice that he intended not just to win but to do so in historic fashion. Looking back ten years later, the Heat were certainly able to achieve greatness in the coming years…just not quite at the level LeBron predicted. By the time he left the Heat in 2014, they had won just two world championships. That is a remarkable accomplishment, but it was still a long way from the seven or more championships he predicted before the team had played its first game together.
Before the Lord sent the first of ten plagues upon Egypt, He made a bold declaration–the Egyptians would know that He is the Lord. Yet, every time Moses would relay the Lord’s call for Pharaoh to let the people go and every time a plague would come, Pharaoh’s heart was hardened. The same pattern played out nine times…but then, things changed.
We might be prone to hyperbole at times, but when God said the Egyptians would know that He is the Lord when He brought the people out, that’s exactly what He meant. It would be as the Lord said, and it will be as the Lord has said, “…at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,  and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:10-11). Not one, not two, not three, not four…every tongue will one day confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. Let us pray today that the hearts of those around us will be softened to receive the truth that Jesus Christ is Lord.
Maybe you’ve been where Moses is in Exodus 4–probably not having a conversation with a burning bush but at least in terms of the struggle happening in his life. By this point, Moses knew exactly what God was asking him to do. God had laid out His promises and His plan, even acknowledging the difficulty. God kept answering Moses’ questions, but after every answer God provided, Moses came up with another question. Moses was worried about how people would react when he did what God was calling him to do. Moses was worried that he wouldn’t have the answers and that he wouldn’t be able to communicate them if he did.
I know I have been there. It wasn’t that I didn’t know what God was calling me to do, but I was still raising questions and making excuses. Why? Some of my worries, like Moses’, were legitimate, but ultimately, it was for the same reason Moses finally gave here in Exodus 4–I didn’t want to do it. Moses’ heart was revealed in the fact that God’s answers to his questions were never enough, so that he finally just came out and said it, “Oh, my Lord, please send someone else.” And just as He had every time, God answered Moses again. God was still sending Moses, but He wasn’t sending him alone. Aaron would meet Moses, serve alongside him, and support Moses in his area of weakness.
Moses was looking at all the reasons he wasn’t up to the task, but God kept on pointing Moses back to all the ways that He was up to the task. When God calls us to do hard things, things that we can’t do on our own, we can remember that God is able to do immeasurably more than all we can ask or imagine. When He calls us, then He will equip us, and in our church family, He calls us to come alongside one another and to lift each other up where we are weak. Maybe you’ve been where Moses is in Exodus 4–you’ve trusted that God is able to work powerfully when you trust Him and follow Him.
There aren’t many things more frustrating than being blamed for something you didn’t do, but one of the things on that list is what happened to Joseph. He wasn’t just accused but was also imprisoned for something he didn’t do. From the highest point in Potiphar’s house, Joseph was thrown into prison, but even then, Joseph trusted that God was faithful. Who would have blamed Joseph for doubting at this point? Who would have been surprised if Joseph looked around at his circumstances and decided that God had let him down? Anybody?
And yet, Joseph shows remarkable perseverance that can only be attributed to one thing–God was with him. God with Joseph meant that he faced temptation with integrity, and now we see that God with Joseph meant that he faced a desperate situation with unshakable hope. Joseph, having many reasons to be troubled and downcast, notices the trouble of the cupbearer and the baker. Joseph, in a moment when many would question God’s faithfulness, is found declaring God’s faithfulness, “Do not interpretations belong to God?”
Joseph trusted that God had not forgotten him, even when the cupbearer did just that, so that years later when he finally remembered him, Joseph still says to Pharaoh, “It is not in me; God will give Pharaoh a favorable answer.” Looking back on a life that would have led many people into bitterness, Joseph confesses his total dependence upon God. After a life that would have led many people into doubt, Joseph confesses unwavering faith in God. Joseph was even able to name his sons Manasseh and Ephraim because God made him forget all of his hardship and his father’s house, and God made him fruitful in the land of his affliction.
Those names don’t mean that Joseph was in denial about the trouble he faced or that he was ignoring the difficulties around him. They meant that Joseph came to understand that God was at work even when he couldn’t see how. Joseph’s story doesn’t call us to ignore our troubles or to pretend everything is okay even when it isn’t. Joseph’s story calls us to recognize that we are totally dependent upon God, whether our circumstances resemble the lowest prison or the highest palace.