April 20: Deut. 27-28
April 21: Deut. 29-30
April 22: Deut. 31-32
April 24: Joshua 1-2
April 25: Joshua 3-4
April 26: Joshua 5-6
This week’s readings cover a lot of ground. The final chapters of Deuteronomy are about a choice: the choice to live or the choice to die (Deuteronomy 30:15-18). In these chapters, Moses lays out the blessings or curses that follow obedience or disobedience. In one sense they are not much different than the advice a parent might give a child: follow the discipline of a good life and you will prosper; follow your own immediate desires and tragedy will follow. The difference in Deuteronomy is that God takes it very personally. He is the one who delivered them from slavery (29:2), who nurtured them in the wilderness (29:5), and who helped them beat enemies stronger than themselves (29:7).
God asks the Israelites to renew their covenant with Him. Their obedience is not simply a following of a set of rules, but a reaffirming of their relationship with God. That is why the most important rule of the covenant is keeping hearts turned towards God rather than wandering off after idols (29:18). Based on their past performance, God is wary of their ability to stay true (31:20-21), but He will stay true nonetheless. Even after the curses of disobedience fall upon them, God will take them back (30:4), which is what indeed happens after the exile, as recorded in Ezra and Nehemiah.
These last few chapters of Deuteronomy also contain some quotable quotes:
"During the forty years that I led you through the desert, your clothes did not wear out, nor did the sandals on your feet. You ate no bread and drank no wine or other fermented drink. I did this so that you might know that I am the LORD your God". Deuteronomy 29:5-6 (NIV) Showing people where prosperity really comes from.
"See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction". Deuteronomy 30:15 (NIV) All of life contains choices.
I also want to observe that the blessings Moses bestows on the tribes of Israel in chapter 33 are worth paying attention to. Though they were specific blessings for a specific time, they show us what blessing should look like.
We move on to the Book of Joshua. The Book of Deuteronomy ends this way:
"Since then, no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face, who did all those miraculous signs and wonders the LORD sent him to do in Egypt--to Pharaoh and to all his officials and to his whole land". Deuteronomy 34:10-11 (NIV)
How do you follow an act like Moses? And yet, that is what Joshua was charged to do. God called Joshua to complete the job Moses began, but the completion of the task would take great courage. God bestows both the blessing of His presence upon Joshua (Joshua 1:5) and calls him to “man up” (1:6), a command God repeats on several occasions. The key to God’s continued presence with Joshua would be Joshua’s continued obedience to God (1:7-9).
To get ready to cross the Jordan and take the land, Joshua sent spies over to Jericho, a fortressed city that stood as the first major obstacle. Chapter 2 recounts the story of how God used a woman of ill-repute and her righteous lie to save his people.
Chapters 3 & 4 describe the miraculous holding back of the Jordan river (a mini-Red Sea parting) as a means of solidifying people’s respect for Joshua (4:14). In remarking on the miracle, God says:
"For the LORD your God dried up the Jordan before you until you had crossed over. The LORD your God did to the Jordan just what he had done to the Red Sea when he dried it up before us until we had crossed over. He did this so that all the peoples of the earth might know that the hand of the LORD is powerful and so that you might always fear the LORD your God." Joshua 4:23-24 (NIV)
On to Jericho… In some ways, God presented Joshua and the people of Israel with their hardest test first. Their first obstacle was the taking of Jericho, an impossibly-fortressed city which seemed impregnable. How would they ever win that battle? The story has become the stuff of legends, so that even people unfamiliar with the Bible often know of Jericho’s fate. The way the battle was won speaks to overcoming modern-day challenges.
The outline of the story is this: God commanded the Israelites to march around Jericho with the priests and the Ark of the Covenant leading the way. They were to do this for six days. On the 7th day, they were to march around the city seven times and then give a great shout and the walls would come tumbling down, which they did.
The interesting thing about this victory is that it combines the obedience of people with the power of God for miraculous results. God didn’t simply knock the walls down of His own accord; He asked the Israelites to get up and do something. But God was at the very center of victory. He didn’t give the Israelites some sort of vague assurance that he would be with them for good luck. He asked them to fight His way for His purposes.
For us, I think this translates into finding the balance between sitting back and asking God to magically make our obstacles disappear on the one hand and getting so far ahead of God in solving our problems on the other hand that there is no room left for Him to act.
This was made evident through Joshua’s encounter with the angelic being in 5:13-15. Joshua sees a divine warrior and immediately wants to know whether he is for or against Israel. Joshua was looking for allies in the fight against Jericho and could use all the help he could find. But the angel answers that he is neither on Jericho’s or Israel’s side, but God’s side (5:14).
Often, we want to know if God is on our side, but the real question is are we on His side?