Thursday, January 31, 2013

Reflections on Joshua 10

    Joshua 10 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. King Adonizedek of Jerusalem heard that Joshua had captured and destroyed the town of Ai, and then killed its king as he had done at Jericho. He also learned that the Gibeonites had signed a peace treaty with Israel.
  2. This frightened Adonizedek and his people. They knew that Gibeon was a large town, as big as the towns that had kings, and even bigger than the town of Ai had been. And all of the men of Gibeon were warriors.
  3. So Adonizedek sent messages to the kings of four other towns: King Hoham of Hebron, King Piram of Jarmuth, King Japhia of Lachish, and King Debir of Eglon. The messages said,
  4. "The Gibeonites have signed a peace treaty with Joshua and the Israelites. Come and help me attack Gibeon!"
  5. When these five Amorite kings called their armies together and attacked Gibeon,
  6. the Gibeonites sent a message to the Israelite camp at Gilgal: "Joshua, please come and rescue us! The Amorite kings from the hill country have joined together and are attacking us. We are your servants, so don't let us down. Please hurry!"
  7. Joshua and his army, including his best warriors, left Gilgal.
  8. "Joshua," the LORD said, "don't be afraid of the Amorites. They will run away when you attack, and I will help you defeat them."
  9. Joshua marched all night from Gilgal to Gibeon and made a surprise attack on the Amorite camp.
  10. The LORD made the enemy panic, and the Israelites started killing them right and left. They chased the Amorite troops up the road to Beth-Horon and kept on killing them, until they reached the towns of Azekah and Makkedah.
  11. And while these troops were going down through Beth-Horon Pass, the LORD made huge hailstones fall on them all the way to Azekah. More of the enemy soldiers died from the hail than from the Israelite weapons.
  12. The LORD was helping the Israelites defeat the Amorites that day. So about noon, Joshua prayed to the LORD loud enough for the Israelites to hear: "Our LORD, make the sun stop in the sky over Gibeon, and the moon stand still over Aijalon Valley." So the sun and the moon stopped and stood still until Israel defeated its enemies. This poem can be found in The Book of Jashar. The sun stood still and didn't go down for about a whole day.
  13. (SEE 10:12)
  14. Never before and never since has the LORD done anything like that for someone who prayed. The LORD was really fighting for Israel.
  15. After the battle, Joshua and the Israelites went back to their camp at Gilgal.
  16. While the enemy soldiers were running from the Israelites, the five enemy kings ran away and hid in a cave near Makkedah.
  17. Joshua's soldiers told him, "The five kings have been found in a cave near Makkedah."
  18. Joshua answered, "Roll some big stones over the mouth of the cave and leave a few soldiers to guard it.
  19. But you and everyone else must keep after the enemy troops, because they will be safe if they reach their walled towns. Don't let them get away! The LORD our God is helping us get rid of them."
  20. So Joshua and the Israelites almost wiped out the enemy soldiers. Only a few safely reached their walled towns.
  21. The Israelite army returned to their camp at Makkedah, where Joshua was waiting for them. No one around there dared say anything bad about the Israelites.
  22. Joshua told his soldiers, "Now, move the rocks from the entrance to the cave and bring those five kings to me."
  23. The soldiers opened the entrance to the cave and brought out the kings of Jerusalem, Hebron, Jarmuth, Lachish, and Eglon.
  24. After Joshua had called the army together, he forced the five kings to lie down on the ground. Then he called his officers forward and told them, "You fought these kings along with me, so put your feet on their necks." The officers did,
  25. and Joshua continued, "Don't ever be afraid or discouraged. Be brave and strong. This is what the LORD will do to all your enemies."
  26. Joshua killed the five kings and told his men to hang each body on a tree. Then at sunset
  27. he told some of his troops, "Take the bodies down and throw them into the cave where the kings were found. Cover the entrance to the cave with big rocks." Joshua's troops obeyed his orders, and those rocks are still there.
  28. Later that day, Joshua captured Makkedah and killed its king and everyone else in the town, just as he had done at Jericho.
  29. Joshua and his army left Makkedah and attacked the town of Libnah.
  30. The LORD let them capture the town and its king, and they killed the king and everyone else, just as they had done at Jericho.
  31. Joshua then led his army to Lachish, and they set up camp around the town. They attacked,
  32. and the next day the LORD let them capture the town. They killed everyone, as they had done at Libnah.
  33. King Horam of Gezer arrived to help Lachish, but Joshua and his troops attacked and destroyed him and his army.
  34. From Lachish, Joshua took his troops to Eglon, where they set up camp surrounding the town. They attacked,
  35. captured it that same day, then killed everyone, as they had done at Lachish.
  36. Joshua and his army left Eglon and attacked Hebron.
  37. They captured the town and the nearby villages, then killed everyone, including the king. They destroyed Hebron in the same way they had destroyed Eglon.
  38. Joshua and the Israelite army turned and attacked Debir.
  39. They captured the town, and its nearby villages. Then they destroyed Debir and killed its king, together with everyone else, just as they had done with Hebron and Libnah.
  40. Joshua captured towns everywhere in the land: In the central hill country and the foothills to the west, in the Southern Desert and the region that slopes down toward the Dead Sea. Whenever he captured a town, he would kill the king and everyone else, as the LORD God of Israel had commanded.
  41. Joshua wiped out towns from Kadesh-Barnea to Gaza, everywhere in the region of Goshen, and as far north as Gibeon.
  42. The LORD fought on Israel's side, so Joshua and the Israelite army were able to capture these kings and take their land. They fought one battle after another, then they went back to their camp at Gilgal after capturing all that land.
  43. (SEE 10:42)

Recorded in chapter 10 is a summary of Israel's campaign through southern Canaan. We are given no hint that Joshua yet had a plan for execution of this campaign. Instead, circumstances took the initiative and Joshua took advantage of the circumstances. Though Israel's peace treaty with the Gibeonites was a mistake, God used it as a huge opportunity to make swift work of defeating the 5 major military forces in the southern region, doing so in one day. It was not a 24 hour day, however, but more like a 48 hour day.

Once the king of Jerusalem became aware that Israel was closing a circle around his city, he realized he must take action. He sent word to four other kings of major cities in the south to enlist their support in forming a coalition against Israel. Surely together they could defeat Israel. Since Israel had made a peace treaty with Gibeon they would take advantage of the treaty to draw out Israel onto their playing field. By attacking Gibeon, they could punish the people for turning their backs on their neighbors while drawing Israel into battle on their terms. As expected, soon after Gibeon came under attack a runner was sent to Israel to ask for help. It would seem that allowing Gibeon to be destroyed by her neighbors would solve a problem for Israel, but Joshua evidently didn't consider this to be an option.

With the Lord's assurance that He had handed the forces of the coalition over to them, Joshua and "his whole military force" set out from Gilgal to Gibeon marching all night to cover the 25 miles by daylight the next day and catch the coalition by surprise. Once the battle was underway, God began His part by first throwing the enemy into confusion. A "great slaughter" at Gibeon ensued. In defeat, the remaining soldiers of the coalition fled, but they were not to escape. Again God intervened. This time with hail. He sent a discriminating hailstorm that struck only the fleeing Canaanites, killing "More of them .  . . from the hail than the Israelites killed with the sword." (10:11)

At this point Israel could have claimed victory, but God did not intend for there to be any survivors. If Israel was to destroy the remaining soldiers fleeing them they needed to do so while it was still daylight or those fleeing would escape into the night. So Joshua prayed a bold prayer asking God to make the sun and moon stand still "until the nation took vengeance on its enemies." (10:13) It is ridiculous to argue the fallacy of religion versus science over Joshua's request of God. While it is unlikely that Joshua knew that the earth rotated around the sun instead of vice versa, God, to whom he made the request, knew the difference for He had made it all. Besides, even science refers to sunrise and sunset and this was really all that Joshua referred to. Neverthe less, God granted Joshua's request and resulted in a day unlike any before or after. A day in which the earth slowed in its rotation, extending daylight by "almost a full day." (10:13)  With this extension of daylight Israel was able to destroy the entire coalition forces.

God used the plans of men who schemed to overpower His army to provide Israel the opportunity of destroying five major armies of the region in a 48 hour span of time. Capturing the momentum of this victory, Joshua swiftly led his army from this victory on through the southern region of Canaan destroying 8 cities and all the inhabitants.  Obviously, the destruction of these cities and their inhabitants didn't mean no people remained in the region. Regardless, the military strength of the inhabitants was broken making it possible for each Israelite tribe to complete the task once they took possession of their territories.

Do we argue against the validity of a God who would command such an annihilation of people? Or, on the other hand, do we argue against this account being true since a loving God would not do such a thing? In either case, to make such arguments is to claim greater wisdom than the Creator of the universe.

Reflections on Joshua 11

    Joshua 11 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. King Jabin of Hazor heard about Joshua's victories, so he sent messages to many nearby kings and asked them to join him in fighting Israel. He sent these messages to King Jobab of Madon, the kings of Shimron and Achshaph,
  2. the kings in the northern hill country and in the Jordan River valley south of Lake Galilee, and the kings in the foothills and in Naphath-Dor to the west.
  3. He sent messages to the Canaanite kings in the east and the west, to the Amorite, Hittite, Perizzite, and Jebusite kings in the hill country, and to the Hivite kings in the region of Mizpah, near the foot of Mount Hermon.
  4. The kings and their armies went to Merom Pond, where they set up camp, and got ready to fight Israel. It seemed as though there were more soldiers and horses and chariots than there are grains of sand on a beach.
  5. (SEE 11:4)
  6. The LORD told Joshua: Don't let them frighten you! I'll help you defeat them, and by this time tomorrow they will be dead. When you attack, the first thing you have to do is to cripple their horses. Then after the battle is over, burn their chariots.
  7. Joshua and his army made a surprise attack against the enemy camp at Merom Pond
  8. and crippled the enemies' horses. Joshua followed the LORD's instructions, and the LORD helped Israel defeat the enemy. The Israelite army even chased enemy soldiers as far as Misrephoth-Maim to the northwest, the city of Sidon to the north, and Mizpeh Valley to the northeast. None of the enemy soldiers escaped alive. The Israelites came back after the battle and burned the enemy's chariots.
  9. (SEE 11:8)
  10. Up to this time, the king of Hazor had controlled the kingdoms that had joined together to attack Israel, so Joshua led his army back and captured Hazor. They killed its king
  11. and everyone else, then they set the town on fire.
  12. Joshua captured all the towns where the enemy kings had ruled. These towns were built on small hills, and Joshua did not set fire to any of these towns, except Hazor. The Israelites kept the animals and everything of value from these towns, but they killed everyone who lived in them, including their kings. That's what the LORD had told his servant Moses to do, that's what Moses had told Joshua to do, and that's exactly what Joshua did.
  13. (SEE 11:12)
  14. (SEE 11:12)
  15. (SEE 11:12)
  16. Joshua and his army took control of the northern and southern hill country, the foothills to the west, the Southern Desert, the whole region of Goshen, and the Jordan River valley.
  17. They took control of the land from Mount Halak near the country of Edom in the south to Baal-Gad in Lebanon Valley at the foot of Mount Hermon in the north. Joshua and his army were at war with the kings in this region for a long time, but finally they captured and put to death the last king.
  18. (SEE 11:17)
  19. The LORD had told Moses that he wanted the towns in this region destroyed and their people killed without mercy. That's why the LORD made the people in the towns stubborn and determined to fight Israel. The only town that signed a peace treaty with Israel was the Hivite town of Gibeon. The Israelite army captured the rest of the towns in battle.
  20. (SEE 11:19)
  21. During this same time, Joshua and his army killed the Anakim from the northern and southern hill country. They also destroyed the towns where the Anakim had lived, including Hebron, Debir, and Anab.
  22. There were not any Anakim left in the regions where the Israelites lived, although there were still some in Gaza, Gath, and Ashdod.
  23. That's how Joshua captured the land, just as the LORD had commanded Moses, and Joshua divided it up among the tribes. Finally, there was peace in the land.

    Joshua was able to break the backs of the kings in the south in one great battle due to the coalition formed by these kings. Rather than fighting them separately he was able to defeat them at once. Now, the account of chapter 11 reveals that the same thing occurred in the north. The major kings of the north formed a coalition to attack Israel only to be attacked and defeated by Israel. Considering the overwhelming forces of the northern coalition, Israel didn't stand a chance without the Lord's help. Again the Lord assured Joshua as he set out for the attack against this huge force, "Do not be afraid of them, for at this time tomorrow I will hand all of them over dead to Israel." (11:6) And so He did. Laming the horses and burning the chariots was no doubt aimed at keeping Israel from depending on these resources as a means of bolstering their military strength rather than depending on the Lord.

    In two huge battles Israel had destroyed the major forces of Canaan along with their cities. Even after these two huge victories over the major kings of the north and south there remained smaller forces to defeat which Joshua proceeded to do following this defeat of the northern coalition. Though the smaller cities didn't stand a chance against the Israelite army, none of them pursued peace because "it was the LORD's intention to harden their hearts, so that they would engage Israel in battle, be completely destroyed without mercy, and be annihilated, just as the LORD had commanded Moses." (11:20)

    After defeating the kings of these smaller cities Joshua then proceeded "to exterminate the Anakim from the hill country." (11:21) This he succeeded in doing as well. Now all that remained to be done was "clean up" of scattered forces throughout Canaan. This task was to be accomplished by each tribe as it claimed its inheritance of land.

    Joshua was a great military leader for Israel but it was due more to his faithfulness in listening to and obeying God's instruction than to his own prowess in military strategy. Though he was not without error in judgment, as with the peace treaty with the Gibeonites, he was a good and faithful servant of the Lord.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Reflections on Joshua 9

    Joshua 09 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. The kings west of the Jordan River heard about Joshua's victories, and so they got together and decided to attack Joshua and Israel. These kings were from the hill country and from the foothills to the west, as well as from the Mediterranean seacoast as far north as the Lebanon Mountains. Some of them were Hittites, others were Amorites or Canaanites, and still others were Perizzites, Hivites, or Jebusites.
  2. (SEE 9:1)
  3. The people of Gibeon had also heard what Joshua had done to Jericho and Ai.
  4. So they decided that some of their men should pretend to be messengers to Israel from a faraway country. The men put worn-out bags on their donkeys and found some old wineskins that had cracked and had been sewn back together.
  5. Their sandals were old and patched, and their clothes were worn out. They even took along some dry and crumbly bread.
  6. Then they went to the Israelite camp at Gilgal, where they said to Joshua and the men of Israel, "We have come from a country that is far from here. Please make a peace treaty with us."
  7. The Israelites replied, "But maybe you really live near us. We can't make a peace treaty with you if you live nearby." The Gibeonites said, "If you make a peace treaty with us, we will be your servants." "Who are you?" Joshua asked. "Where do you come from?" They answered:
  8. (SEE 9:7)
  9. We are your servants, and we live far from here. We came because the LORD your God is so famous. We heard what the LORD did in Egypt
  10. and what he did to those two Amorite kings on the other side of the Jordan: King Og of Bashan, who lived in Ashtaroth, and King Sihon of Heshbon.
  11. Our leaders and everyone who lives in our country told us to meet with you and tell you that all of us are your servants. They said to ask you to make a peace treaty with our people. They told us to be sure and take along enough food for our journey.
  12. See this dry, crumbly bread of ours? It was hot out of the oven when we packed the food on the day we left our homes.
  13. These cracked wineskins were new when we filled them, and our clothes and sandals are worn out because we have traveled so far.
  14. The Israelites tried some of the food, but they did not ask the LORD if he wanted them to make a treaty.
  15. So Joshua made a peace treaty with the messengers and promised that Israel would not kill their people. Israel's leaders swore that Israel would keep this promise.
  16. A couple of days later, the Israelites found out that these people actually lived in the nearby towns of Gibeon, Chephirah, Beeroth, and Kiriath-Jearim. So the Israelites left the place where they had camped and arrived at the four towns two days later.
  17. (SEE 9:16)
  18. But they did not attack the towns, because the Israelite leaders had sworn in the name of the LORD that they would let these people live. The Israelites complained about their leaders' decision not to attack,
  19. but the leaders reminded them, "We promised these people in the name of the LORD God of Israel that we would let them live, so we must not harm them. If we break our promise, God will punish us. We'll let them live, but we'll make them cut wood and carry water for our people."
  20. (SEE 9:19)
  21. (SEE 9:19)
  22. Joshua told some of his soldiers, "I want to meet with the Gibeonite leaders. Bring them here." When the Gibeonites came, Joshua said, "You live close to us. Why did you lie by claiming you lived far away?
  23. Now you are under a curse, and your people will have to send workers to cut wood and carry water for the place of worship."
  24. The Gibeonites answered, "The LORD your God told his servant Moses that you were to kill everyone who lives here and take their land for yourselves. We were afraid you would kill us, and so we tricked you into making a peace treaty. But we agreed to be your servants,
  25. and you are strong enough to do anything to us that you want. We just ask you to do what seems right."
  26. Joshua did not let the Israelites kill the Gibeonites,
  27. but he did tell the Gibeonites that they would have to be servants of the nation of Israel. They would have to cut firewood and bring it for the priests to use for burning sacrifices on the LORD's altar, wherever the LORD decided the altar would be. The Gibeonites would also have to carry water for the priests. And that is still the work of the Gibeonites.

    Israel seemed to take a step forward and then two steps back. They would get right with God and with His intervention have a success and then they would leave God out and mess up. The lesson they learned at Ai was evidently short-lived, for they again took action without inquiring of God. This time it was not regarding a battle but a peace treaty. A treaty they should never have made since it was with a people God had commanded them to destroy.

    The people in question were the Gibeonites who lived only six miles from Ai and about the same distance from Jerusalem. They came to the Israelites at Gilgal following their worship of God at Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal and renewed reading of the law of Moses. The Israelites evidently didn't know much about the people living in Canaan, but the Gibeonites knew quite a lot about the Israelites. They knew of what God did for Israel in Egypt and of their victories over the Amorite kings. However, they did not mention the victories just won over Jericho and Ai though they undoubtedly knew of them. The Gibeonites also knew that Israel was to destroy all those living in the land of Canaan. Therefore they presented themselves as coming from a "far away land" wishing to make a treaty of peace with them.

    Though Joshua and the leaders questioned the Gibeonites, uncertain of their story, they "did not seek the LORD's counsel." This was a mistake that would haunt them for years to come. Accepting the answers they received from the Gibeonites to their questions, Joshua and the leaders made a treaty with them. Within three days, though, they learned of their mistake and went to Gibeon to confront those with whom they had made the treaty about their deception. Though the Israelites people wanted to attack them anyway, the leaders would not since they had "sworn an oath to them by the LORD, the God of Israel." Breaking the oath would have been worse for them than having sworn the oath.

    Instead of destroying the Gibeonites, the Israelites made them slaves, serving as "woodcutters and water carriers for the whole community." (9:21) Eventually they also served as woodcutters and water carriers for the Lord's altar and the tabernacle was pitched at Gibeon. Though the Gibeonites intent had not been to become slaves, their association with Israel served as a blessing for them.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Reflections on Joshua 8

    Joshua 08 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. The LORD told Joshua: Don't be afraid, and don't be discouraged by what happened at the town of Ai. Take the army and attack again. But first, have part of the army set up an ambush on the other side of the town. I will help you defeat the king of Ai and his army, and you will capture the town and the land around it. Destroy Ai and kill its king as you did at Jericho. But you may keep the livestock and everything else you want.
  2. (SEE 8:1)
  3. Joshua quickly got the army ready to attack Ai. He chose thirty thousand of his best soldiers and gave them these orders: Tonight, while it is dark, march to Ai and take up a position behind the town. Get as close to the town as you can without being seen, but be ready to attack.
  4. (SEE 8:3)
  5. The rest of the army will come with me and attack near the gate. When the people of Ai come out to fight, we'll run away and let them chase us. They will think we are running from them just like the first time. But when we've let them chase us far enough away,
  6. (SEE 8:5)
  7. you come out of hiding. The LORD our God will help you capture the town.
  8. Then set it on fire, as the LORD has told us to do. Those are your orders,
  9. now go! The thirty thousand soldiers went to a place on the west side of Ai, between Ai and Bethel, where they could hide and wait to attack. That night, Joshua stayed in camp with the rest of the army.
  10. Early the next morning he got his troops ready to move out, and he and the other leaders of Israel led them to Ai.
  11. They set up camp in full view of the town, across the valley to the north.
  12. Joshua had already sent five thousand soldiers to the west side of the town to hide and wait to attack.
  13. Now all his troops were in place. Part of the army was in the camp to the north of Ai, and the others were hiding to the west, ready to make a surprise attack. That night, Joshua went into the valley.
  14. The king of Ai saw Joshua's army, so the king and his troops hurried out early the next morning to fight them. Joshua and his army pretended to be beaten, and they let the men of Ai chase them toward the desert. The king and his army were facing the Jordan valley as Joshua had planned. The king did not realize that some Israelite soldiers were hiding behind the town.
  15. (SEE 8:14)
  16. So he called out every man in Ai to go after Joshua's troops. They all rushed out to chase the Israelite army, and they left the town gates wide open. Not one man was left in Ai or in Bethel. Joshua let the men of Ai chase him and his army farther and farther away from Ai.
  17. (SEE 8:16)
  18. Finally, the LORD told Joshua, "Point your sword at the town of Ai, because now I am going to help you defeat it!" As soon as Joshua pointed his sword at the town,
  19. the soldiers who had been hiding got up and ran into the town. They captured it and set it on fire.
  20. When Joshua and his troops saw smoke rising from the town, they knew that the other part of their army had captured it. So they turned and attacked. The men of Ai looked back and saw smoke rising from their town. But they could not escape, because the soldiers they had been chasing had suddenly turned and started fighting.
  21. (SEE 8:20)
  22. Meanwhile, the other Israelite soldiers had come from the town and attacked the men of Ai from the rear. The Israelites captured the king of Ai and brought him to Joshua. They also chased the rest of the men of Ai into the desert and killed them. The Israelite army went back to Ai and killed everyone there.
  23. (SEE 8:22)
  24. (SEE 8:22)
  25. Joshua kept his sword pointed at the town of Ai until every last one of Ai's twelve thousand people was dead.
  26. (SEE 8:25)
  27. But the Israelites took the animals and the other possessions of the people of Ai, because this was what the LORD had told Joshua to do.
  28. Joshua made sure every building in Ai was burned to the ground. He told his men to kill the king of Ai and hang his body on a tree. Then at sunset he told the Israelites to take down the body, throw it in the gateway of the town, and cover it with a big pile of rocks. Those rocks are still there, and the town itself has never been rebuilt.
  29. (SEE 8:28)
  30. One day, Joshua led the people of Israel to Mount Ebal, where he told some of his men, "Build an altar for offering sacrifices to the LORD. And use stones that have never been cut with iron tools, because that is what Moses taught in The Book of the Law." Joshua offered sacrifices to please the LORD and to ask his blessing. Then with the Israelites still watching, he copied parts of The Book of the Law of Moses onto stones.
  31. (SEE 8:30)
  32. (SEE 8:30)
  33. Moses had said that everyone in Israel was to go to the valley between Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim, where they were to be blessed. So everyone went there, including the foreigners, the leaders, officials, and judges. Half of the people stood on one side of the valley, and half on the other side, with the priests from the Levi tribe standing in the middle with the sacred chest. Then in a loud voice, Joshua read the blessings and curses from The Book of the Law of Moses.
  34. (SEE 8:33)
  35. (SEE 8:33)

    Israel had gone emotionally from the pinnacle to the pit since entering Canaan. After a miraculous crossing of the Jordan River and a miraculous victory over the city of Jericho they no doubt thought they were invincible. Then they attacked Ai and met a swift defeat and suddenly felt they could do nothing. Few are able to  handle success with spiritual maturity which never forgets that victory belongs to God and not ourselves. Most want to own the victory for themselves and go on to tackle the next challenge in their own strength with results similar to that of Israel at Ai.

    After dealing with the sin of Achan and hearing God's words to Joshua "Do not be afraid or discouraged . . . I have handed over to you the king of Ai, his people, city, and land," (8:1) the Israelites were ready again to listen to God. God gave them a battle plan for Ai as He had done with Jericho, but it was a very different plan. This plan used more military strategy than the plan for Jericho. It called for the Israelite army to be split into 2-3 units. The account is somewhat unclear as to whether it was 2 or 3 units. One unit of 30,000 soldiers marched at night and positioned themselves to the west of the city of Ai and hid. It is possible another, smaller unit of 5,000 positioned themselves also to the west of the city. The main unit marched to Ai during the day in full sight.

    When the king of Ai saw the main Israelite unit come within view of the city he hurried out of the city with his troops to engage the Israelites "at a suitable place." (8:14) The Israelites quickly pretended to be beaten back and fled toward the wilderness. Then the Ai commanders summoned all of their troops from the city to assist in the pursuit leaving "not a man" in either Ai or the neighboring city of Bethel. The Israelite unit laying in ambush then rushed into Ai and quickly set the city on fire. When the Ai troops in pursuit of the retreating Israelite army unit turned and saw the smoke from the city they realized they were trapped. The retreating Israelites then turned and began pursuing the Ai troops and those who set fire to the city came out and also joined the battle fully surrounding the Ai troops. No Ai soldiers were left alive, nor were any people within the city allowed to survive.

    Had Achan been obedient to take nothing from Jericho he could have had all he wanted from Ai. God did not place a ban on Ai, allowing the Israelites to take everything from it as plunder. So Achan settled for limited plunder under a cloak of secrecy when he could have enjoyed unlimited plunder without hiding it. Obedience to God is the only way to achieve happiness. Any other way is a lie and leads to destruction.

    What Israel did next would have been a huge risk under normal conditions. But Moses had commanded Joshua to do what he led the Israelites to do. They marched 30 miles further into the interior of Canaan to the twin peaks of Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim. Without securing the region militarily they were risking surprise attack from enemy forces. From these mountain peaks they could view much of Canaan, and with this view of the land they built an altar and worshiped God. The details of this worship can be read in 8:30-33. Joshua also copied the law of Moses on stone tablets and read it to the people.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Reflections on Joshua 7

    Joshua 07 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. The LORD had said that everything in Jericho belonged to him. But Achan from the Judah tribe took some of the things from Jericho for himself. And so the LORD was angry with the Israelites, because one of them had disobeyed him.
  2. While Israel was still camped near Jericho, Joshua sent some spies with these instructions: "Go to the town of Ai and find out whatever you can about the region around the town." The spies left and went to Ai, which is east of Bethel and near Beth-Aven.
  3. They went back to Joshua and reported, "You don't need to send the whole army to attack Ai--two or three thousand troops will be enough. Why bother the whole army for a town that small?"
  4. Joshua sent about three thousand soldiers to attack Ai. But the men of Ai fought back and chased the Israelite soldiers away from the town gate and down the hill to the stone quarries. Thirty-six Israelite soldiers were killed, and the Israelite army felt discouraged.
  5. (SEE 7:4)
  6. Joshua and the leaders of Israel tore their clothes and put dirt on their heads to show their sorrow. They lay facedown on the ground in front of the sacred chest until sunset.
  7. Then Joshua said: Our LORD, did you bring us across the Jordan River just so the Amorites could destroy us? This wouldn't have happened if we had agreed to stay on the other side of the Jordan.
  8. I don't even know what to say to you, since Israel's army has turned and run from the enemy.
  9. Everyone will think you weren't strong enough to protect your people. Now the Canaanites and everyone else who lives in the land will surround us and wipe us out.
  10. The LORD answered: Stop lying there on the ground! Get up!
  11. I said everything in Jericho belonged to me and had to be destroyed. But the Israelites have kept some of the things for themselves. They stole from me and hid what they took. Then they lied about it.
  12. What they stole was supposed to be destroyed, and now Israel itself must be destroyed. I cannot help you anymore until you do exactly what I have said. That's why Israel turns and runs from its enemies instead of standing up to them.
  13. Tell the people of Israel, "Tomorrow you will meet with the LORD your God, so make yourselves acceptable to worship him. The LORD says that you have taken things that should have been destroyed. You won't be able to stand up to your enemies until you get rid of those things.
  14. "Tomorrow morning everyone must gather near the place of worship. You will come forward tribe by tribe, and the LORD will show which tribe is guilty. Next, the clans in that tribe must come forward, and the LORD will show which clan is guilty. The families in that clan must come, and the LORD will point out the guilty family. Finally, the men in that family must come,
  15. and the LORD will show who stole what should have been destroyed. That man must be put to death, his body burned, and his possessions thrown into the fire. He has done a terrible thing by breaking the sacred agreement that the LORD made with Israel."
  16. Joshua got up early the next morning and brought each tribe to the place of worship, where the LORD showed that the Judah tribe was guilty.
  17. Then Joshua brought the clans of Judah to the LORD, and the LORD showed that the Zerah clan was guilty. One by one he brought the leader of each family in the Zerah clan to the LORD, and the LORD showed that Zabdi's family was guilty.
  18. Finally, Joshua brought each man in Zabdi's family to the LORD, and the LORD showed that Achan was the guilty one.
  19. "Achan," Joshua said, "the LORD God of Israel has decided that you are guilty. Is this true? Tell me what you did, and don't try to hide anything."
  20. "It's true," Achan answered. "I sinned and disobeyed the LORD God of Israel.
  21. While we were in Jericho, I saw a beautiful Babylonian robe, two hundred pieces of silver, and a gold bar that weighed the same as fifty pieces of gold. I wanted them for myself, so I took them. I dug a hole under my tent and hid the silver, the gold, and the robe." Joshua had some people run to Achan's tent, where they found the silver, the gold, and the robe.
  22. (SEE 7:21)
  23. They brought them back and put them in front of the sacred chest, so Joshua and the rest of the Israelites could see them.
  24. Then everyone took Achan and the things he had stolen to Trouble Valley. They also took along his sons and daughters, his cattle, donkeys, and sheep, his tent, and everything else that belonged to him.
  25. Joshua said, "Achan, you caused us a lot of trouble. Now the LORD is paying you back with the same kind of trouble." The people of Israel then stoned to death Achan and his family. They made a fire and burned the bodies, together with what Achan had stolen, and all his possessions.
  26. They covered the remains with a big pile of rocks, which is still there. Then the LORD stopped being angry with Israel. That's how the place came to be called Trouble Valley.

    On the heels of a rousing victory with Israel's first battle in Canaan at the city of Jericho, the Iraelites next experienced a demoralizing defeat. Though 7:1 immediately pinpoints the main problem - "The Israelites . . . were unfaithful regarding the things set apart for destruction" - it was not the only problem. Overconfident following their previous victory, Israel overestimated their own strength and underestimated that of their enemies at Ai. But an even greater concern was that they entered battle against Ai without consulting God. It was as if following God's miraculous intervention with their crossing of the Jordan River and defeat of Jericho they assumed His support of them at Ai without consulting Him. As much as we all enjoy success, it is often the greatest contributor to our failures.

    Joshua again sent spies to reconnoiter their next military target at Ai. They returned overconfident about encountering the city in battle, recommending that only 2,000 to 3,000 soldiers be sent for this battle, allowing the others to rest. Without checking with God, Joshua took their recommendation and sent only 3,000 men to engage the army at Ai and the Israelite army was immediately routed. Fortunately, Israel only lost 36 men in the battle. It could have been much worse. But it was tremendously demoralizing for the whole Israelite camp. Joshua and the elders of Israel tore their clothes in mourning and "fell before the ark of the Lord" until evening. Joshua asked three questions of God: "why did You ever bring these people across the Jordan to hand us over to the Amorites for our destruction," "What can I say, Lord, now that Israel has turned its back and run from its enemies?" and "When the Canaanites and all who live in the land hear about this, they will surround us and wipe out our name from the earth. Then what will You do about Your great name?" (7:7, 8, 9) Not once did Joshua ask about Israel's hand in the defeat - only God's. Why is it that we are so quick to point our finger in blame at God for our problems, failing to consider our part?

    Joshua would have done better to have fallen down before the ark of the Lord in prayer to God prior to attacking Ai rather than afterward. Now that he did enquire of God he learned the problem. Israel had sinned! They had "taken some of what was set apart." This was why "the Israelites cannot stand against their enemies." (7:12) They would be unable "to stand against your enemies until you remove what is set apart." (7:13) The guilty party must be discovered and dealt with, and God described how that was to be done. First, the people were to consecrate themselves. Then each tribe was to be presented before the Lord. The tribe the Lord selected was then to go forward clan by clan. The clan selected by the Lord would go forward until God selected the family, and then each man in the family would go forward until God selected the man. In this way, the man Achan of the tribe of Judah was found to be guilty.

    Once Achan was selected he admitted what he had done but it was short of a confession of sin. Would things have turned out differently had Achan confessed from the beginning? 1 John 1:9 says that, "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." But without such confession, Achan was taken, along with his family, all he owned, and the things he had taken, to the Valley of Achor and stoned to death, and everything was burned. Then it is said that "the Lord turned from His burning anger." The whole camp had suffered because of the sin of one person. 

Monday, January 21, 2013

Reflections on Joshua 6

    Joshua 06 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. Meanwhile, the people of Jericho had been locking the gates in their town wall because they were afraid of the Israelites. No one could go out or come in.
  2. The LORD said to Joshua: With my help, you and your army will defeat the king of Jericho and his army, and you will capture the town. Here is how to do it: March slowly around Jericho once a day for six days.
  3. (SEE 6:2)
  4. Take along the sacred chest and have seven priests walk in front of it, carrying trumpets. But on the seventh day, march slowly around the town seven times while the priests blow their trumpets.
  5. Then the priests will blast on their trumpets, and everyone else will shout. The wall will fall down, and your soldiers can go straight in from every side.
  6. Joshua called the priests together and said, "Take the chest and have seven priests carry trumpets and march ahead of it."
  7. Next, he gave the army their orders: "March slowly around Jericho. A few of you will go ahead of the chest to guard it, but most of you will follow it. Don't shout the battle cry or yell or even talk until the day I tell you to. Then let out a shout!" As soon as Joshua finished giving the orders, the army started marching. One group of soldiers led the way, with seven priests marching behind them and blowing trumpets. Then came the priests carrying the chest, followed by the rest of the soldiers.
  8. (SEE 6:7)
  9. (SEE 6:7)
  10. (SEE 6:7)
  11. They obeyed Joshua's orders and carried the chest once around the town before returning to camp for the night.
  12. Early the next morning, Joshua and everyone else started marching around Jericho in the same order as the day before. One group of soldiers was in front, followed by the seven priests with trumpets and the priests who carried the chest. The rest of the army came next. The seven priests blew their trumpets while everyone marched slowly around Jericho and back to camp. They did this once a day for six days.
  13. (SEE 6:12)
  14. (SEE 6:12)
  15. On the seventh day, the army got up at daybreak. They marched slowly around Jericho the same as they had done for the past six days, except on this day they went around seven times.
  16. Then the priests blew the trumpets, and Joshua yelled: Get ready to shout! The LORD will let you capture this town.
  17. But you must destroy it and everything in it, to show that it now belongs to the LORD. The woman Rahab helped the spies we sent, so protect her and the others who are inside her house. But kill everyone else in the town.
  18. The silver and gold and everything made of bronze and iron belong to the LORD and must be put in his treasury. Be careful to follow these instructions, because if you see something you want and take it, the LORD will destroy Israel. And it will be all your fault.
  19. (SEE 6:18)
  20. The priests blew their trumpets again, and the soldiers shouted as loud as they could. The walls of Jericho fell flat. Then the soldiers rushed up the hill, went straight into the town, and captured it.
  21. They killed everyone, men and women, young and old, everyone except Rahab and the others in her house. They even killed every cow, sheep, and donkey. Joshua said to the two men who had been spies, "Rahab kept you safe when I sent you to Jericho. We promised to protect her and her family, and we will keep that promise. Now go into her house and bring them out." The two men went into Rahab's house and brought her out, along with her father and mother, her brothers, and her other relatives. Rahab and her family had to stay in a place just outside the Israelite army camp. But later they were allowed to live among the Israelites, and her descendants still do. The Israelites took the silver and gold and the things made of bronze and iron and put them with the rest of the treasure that was kept at the LORD's house. Finally, they set fire to Jericho and everything in it.
  22. (SEE 6:21)
  23. (SEE 6:21)
  24. (SEE 6:21)
  25. (SEE 6:21)
  26. After Jericho was destroyed, Joshua warned the people, "Someday a man will rebuild Jericho, but the LORD will put a curse on him, and the man's oldest son will die when he starts to build the town wall. And by the time he finishes the wall and puts gates in it, all his children will be dead."
  27. The LORD helped Joshua in everything he did, and Joshua was famous everywhere in Canaan.

    Conquering Jericho was one of Israel's highest points. Through it God was teaching Israel an important lesson in their relationship with Him. The question is how well they learned it. The main role Israel played in taking the city of Jericho was obedience. God did the rest. There could not have been a clearer demonstration of God's intervention on their behalf. Though Israel played a signficant hands-on role when they marched into the city, after the walls fell, and destroyed everything, even this was made easier by God. They encountered little resistance due to the enemy being immobilized by terror because of the Lord's actions.

    Had Israel learned the intended lesson for them in this and all their interaction with God, they would seek God's directions in everything they did, especially in their conquest of Canaan, walking with the Lord by faith in everything they did. We have such difficulty, however, consistently walking by faith. We prefer walking by sight, clearly seeing the next step before taking it. It is uncomfortable for us to take steps of faith without exerting some measure of control over how those steps are taken and where they take us. Because of our lack of comfort we are prone to systematize our faith walk into a formula so that we are doing the same thing in each conquest with God with the same anticipated results.

    Israel saw what God did to Jericho when they marched around the city as prescribed. They might have been tempted, as we are tempted, to anticipate that the next city would be conquered in the same way. Another temptation, though, is to assume that God is on our side and we need simply to make our plans and do it and He will bring the victory. In either case, we reserve for ourselves some measure of control giving us a greater comfort level but reducing our chances for success.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Reflections on Joshua 5

    Joshua 05 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. The Amorite kings west of the Jordan River and the Canaanite kings along the Mediterranean Sea lost their courage and their will to fight, when they heard how the LORD had dried up the Jordan River to let Israel go across.
  2. While Israel was camped at Gilgal, the LORD said, "Joshua, make some flint knives and circumcise the rest of the Israelite men and boys."
  3. Joshua made the knives, then circumcised those men and boys at Haaraloth Hill.
  4. This had to be done, because none of Israel's baby boys had been circumcised during the forty years that Israel had wandered through the desert after leaving Egypt. And why had they wandered for forty years? It was because right after they left Egypt, the men in the army had disobeyed the LORD. And the LORD had said, "None of you men will ever live to see the land that I promised Israel. It is a land rich with milk and honey, and someday your children will live there, but not before you die here in the desert."
  5. (SEE 5:4)
  6. (SEE 5:4)
  7. (SEE 5:4)
  8. Everyone who had been circumcised needed time to heal, and they stayed in camp.
  9. The LORD told Joshua, "It was a disgrace for my people to be slaves in Egypt, but now I have taken away that disgrace." So the Israelites named the place Gilgal, and it still has that name.
  10. Israel continued to camp at Gilgal in the desert near Jericho, and on the fourteenth day of the same month, they celebrated Passover.
  11. The next day, God stopped sending the Israelites manna to eat each morning, and they started eating food grown in the land of Canaan. They ate roasted grain and thin bread made of the barley they had gathered from nearby fields.
  12. (SEE 5:11)
  13. One day, Joshua was near Jericho when he saw a man standing some distance in front of him. The man was holding a sword, so Joshua walked up to him and asked, "Are you on our side or on our enemies' side?"
  14. "Neither," he answered. "I am here because I am the commander of the LORD's army." Joshua fell to his knees and bowed down to the ground. "I am your servant," he said. "Tell me what to do."
  15. "Take off your sandals," the commander answered. "This is a holy place." So Joshua took off his sandals.

    Israel was no doubt mentally ready for battle following their miraculous crossing of the Jordan. Because of that miraculous crossing the Canaanites had "lost heart and their courage failed because of the Israelites." (5:1) It would seem the time was right to take advantage of the moment and strike swiftly. But Israel was not yet ready for battle. This was not a mere conquest of land but a spiritual encounter. Not only was God's covenant with Abraham about to be fulfilled, giving Israel the land of Canaan, but the long delayed judgment of the inhabitants of Canaan was also about to be accomplished, and Israel was to be God's instrument of judgment. Therefore, God would be fighting Israel's battles for them both to allow them to have possession of the land and to judge the Canaanites. It was crucial, then, that Israel be prepared spiritually for this crusade. Consecration must precede conquest. And this was God's next instructions to Joshua.

    First, the Israelite men were to be circumcised, once again carrying the mark of their covenant with God. The fact that they were not circumcised was an indication of their spiritual indifference at this point. All of the men were circumcised when they left Egypt but the practice had not been continued during their 40 year stint in the wilderness. It was important that they consecrate themselves to the Lord in this way. Once they had been circumcised, the Lord said to Joshua, "Today I have rolled away the disgrace of Egypt from you." (5:9) It is thought by many commentators that this referred to taunts by the Egyptians about Israel being rejected by God and left to wander in the wilderness. But that disgrace was removed because they had renewed their covenant with God through circumcision and preparing to take possession of the land God had promised to them.

    Next, the Israelites observed Passover. This was only their third time to do so. The first was just prior to their escape from Egypt and the second was when they prepared to leave Mount Sinai following their receipt of the laws handed down to them through Moses. Their failure to observe the Passover since then was another indication of their spiritual indifference. Once they observed Passover on this occasion, they ate of the produce of the land for the first time and the manna ceased coming. Their wandering was officially over and they were now spiritually prepared to take possession of the land.

    Only one more thing was needed, and that was God's battle plan for Jericho. Jericho was the most fortified city in Canaan and would be their most daunting to overtake. How were they to break through the walls of Jericho with an arsenal of slings, arrows, and spears? Following Passover, Joshua evidently went alone to look over Jericho and consider how they were to approach the city. As he neared the city he "saw a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in His hand." (5:13) Joshua enquired as to whether he was "friend or foe" and the man identified himself as "commander of the LORD's army." Joshua immediately bowed down in worship and asked "What does my Lord want to say to His servant?" (5:14) The first thing the man said to him was to "Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy." (5:15) Joshua was not only in the presence of an angel but in the presence of God. Now he would receive his battle plan for Jericho. 

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Reflections on Joshua 4

    Joshua 04 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. After Israel had crossed the Jordan, the LORD said to Joshua:
  2. Tell one man from each of the twelve tribes to pick up a large rock from where the priests are standing. Then have the men set up those rocks as a monument at the place where you camp tonight.
  3. (SEE 4:2)
  4. Joshua chose twelve men; he called them together,
  5. and told them: Go to the middle of the riverbed where the sacred chest is, and pick up a large rock. Carry it on your shoulder to our camp. There are twelve of you, so there will be one rock for each tribe.
  6. Someday your children will ask, "Why are these rocks here?" Then you can tell them how the water stopped flowing when the chest was being carried across the river. These rocks will always remind our people of what happened here today.
  7. (SEE 4:6)
  8. The men followed the instructions that the LORD had given Joshua. They picked up twelve rocks, one for each tribe, and carried them to the camp, where they put them down.
  9. Joshua had some other men set up a monument next to the place where the priests were standing. This monument was also made of twelve large rocks, and it is still there in the middle of the river.
  10. The army got ready for battle and crossed the Jordan. They marched quickly past the sacred chest and into the desert near Jericho. Forty thousand soldiers from the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and East Manasseh led the way, as Moses had ordered. The priests stayed right where they were until the army had followed the orders that the LORD had given Moses and Joshua. Then the army watched as the priests carried the chest the rest of the way across.
  11. (SEE 4:10)
  12. (SEE 4:10)
  13. (SEE 4:10)
  14. "Joshua," the LORD said, "have the priests come up from the Jordan and bring the chest with them." So Joshua went over to the priests and told them what the LORD had said. And as soon as the priests carried the chest past the highest place that the floodwaters of the Jordan had reached, the river flooded its banks again. That's how the LORD showed the Israelites that Joshua was their leader. For the rest of Joshua's life, they respected him as they had respected Moses.
  15. (SEE 4:14)
  16. (SEE 4:14)
  17. (SEE 4:14)
  18. (SEE 4:14)
  19. It was the tenth day of the first month of the year when Israel crossed the Jordan River. They set up camp at Gilgal, which was east of the land controlled by Jericho.
  20. The men who had carried the twelve rocks from the Jordan brought them to Joshua, and they made them into a monument.
  21. Then Joshua told the people: Years from now your children will ask you why these rocks are here.
  22. Tell them, "The LORD our God dried up the Jordan River so we could walk across. He did the same thing here for us that he did for our people at the Red Sea,
  23. (SEE 4:22)
  24. because he wants everyone on earth to know how powerful he is. And he wants us to worship only him."

    Chapter 4 completes the account of the Jordan crossing. In the previous chapter we are told of how the priests carried the ark of the covenant into the river and how the waters suddenly stopped flowing as they set foot in the water, "rising up in a mass that extended as far as Adam, a city next to Zarethan." (3:16) Not only did the water stop flowing, but the riverbed dried up allowing the people to walk on dry ground. As the priests stood in the riverbed holding the ark, the people walked across to the other side led by 40,000 men from the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and Manasseh who claimed land on the west of the Jordan. These men crossed in battle formation in front of the Israelites as a protection against enemy attack.

    Chapter 4 picks up with the selection of twelve stones from the riverbed that were to be carried to where they spent that first night in Canaan. There they were to set up the stones as a memorial and testimony of what the Lord did for them on that day in stopping the flow of the Jordan for them to cross. Prior to crossing, the Lord had instructed Joshua to select 12 men, one from each tribe, for this purpose. Once the people had crossed to the other side, God instructed Joshua to have the 12 men go back into the riverbed and select the stones. Beyond serving as a memorial, the stones had two additional purposes. First as a sign to future generations of Israelites: "in the future, when your children ask you, 'What do these stones mean to you?' you should tell them, 'The waters of the Jordan were cut off in front of the ark of the LORD's covenant. When it crossed the Jordan, the Jordan's waters were cut off.'" (4:6-7) Second, the stones were to also serve as a testimony, "so that all the people of the earth may know that the LORD's hand is mighty, and so that you may always fear the LORD your God." (4:24)

    While the men were gathering the stones from the riverbed, Joshua went about gathering 12 stones which he set up "in the middle of the Jordan where the priests who carried the ark of the covenant were standing." (4:9) This he evidently did as his own personal memorial. Once the people had all crossed the river and the stones had been gathered, the Lord told Joshua to instruct the priests carrying the ark of the covenant to come up from the middle of the Jordan. Once "their feet stepped out on solid ground, the waters of the Jordan resumed their course, flowing over all the banks as before." (4:18) That night the Israelites camped at Gilgal, only two miles from Jericho, where they set up the memorial of 12 stones.

    Parents should note the responsibility inferred in this passage for spiritual training of their children. When the Israelite children asked about the stones, what were the parents to do? They were not to send them to a Levite or priest, but the fathers were to give an answer to their children's questions. If spiritual training does not take place in the home, it is often not passed along to the children. Children who do not see spritual values as important to their parents - important enough for them to teach those values themselves - often see no reason for adopting those values for themselves. While it is true that the church has a responsibility in teaching the children, it should be in partnership with the parents not in place of them. The first and greatest responsibility is with the parents.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Reflections on Joshua 3

    Joshua 03 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. Early the next morning, Joshua and the Israelites packed up and left Acacia. They went to the Jordan River and camped there that night.
  2. Two days later their leaders went through the camp,
  3. shouting, "When you see some of the priests carrying the sacred chest, you'll know it is time to cross to the other side. You've never been there before, and you won't know the way, unless you follow the chest. But don't get too close! Stay about half a mile back."
  4. (SEE 3:3)
  5. Joshua told the people, "Make yourselves acceptable to worship the LORD, because he is going to do some amazing things for us."
  6. Then Joshua turned to the priests and said, "Take the chest and cross the Jordan River ahead of us." So the priests picked up the chest by its carrying poles and went on ahead.
  7. The LORD told Joshua, "Beginning today I will show the people that you are their leader, and they will know that I am helping you as I helped Moses.
  8. Now, tell the priests who are carrying the chest to go a little way into the river and stand there."
  9. Joshua spoke to the people: Come here and listen to what the LORD our God said he will do!
  10. The Canaanites, the Hittites, the Hivites, the Perizzites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, and the Jebusites control the land on the other side of the river. But the living God will be with you and will force them out of the land when you attack. And now, God is going to prove that he's powerful enough to force them out.
  11. Just watch the sacred chest that belongs to the LORD, the ruler of the whole earth. As soon as the priests carrying the chest step into the Jordan, the water will stop flowing and pile up as if someone had built a dam across the river. The LORD has also said that each of the twelve tribes should choose one man to represent it.
  12. (SEE 3:11)
  13. (SEE 3:11)
  14. The Israelites packed up and left camp. The priests carrying the chest walked in front,
  15. until they came to the Jordan River. The water in the river had risen over its banks, as it often does in springtime. But as soon as the feet of the priests touched the water,
  16. the river stopped flowing, and the water started piling up at the town of Adam near Zarethan. No water flowed toward the Dead Sea, and the priests stood in the middle of the dry riverbed near Jericho while everyone else crossed over.
  17. (SEE 3:16)

    Once the spies brought their report concerning conditions in Jericho to Joshua, he wasted no time in taking action. The next morning he moved the Israelite camp to the banks of the Jordan River, spending three days in preparation to cross the Jordan into Canaan. A part of this preparation was spiritual. They were to consecrate themselves in preparation for what the Lord was going to do among them.

    The crossing of the Jordan served even a greater purpose than simply getting into the land of Canaan. Only a miracle would make it possible for the crossing and through the miracle Joshua would be exalted before the people and the people would be exalted before the residents of Canaan and also assured that God would be with them in taking possession of the land. As there was a spiritual component in the three-day preparation, there was also a spiritual component in the crossing. The priests were to lead the people into the river carrying the ark of the covenant, representing God who was leading them. As soon as the priests stepped into the water of the river, the waters of the river would be cut off causing the water to "stand up in a mass." (3:13) This left the riverbed dry where the Israelites were to cross. So Joshua 3:16 says that, "the water flowing downstream stood still, rising up in a mass that extended as far as Adam, a city next to Zarethan. The water flowing downstream into the Sea of the Arabah (the Dead Sea) was completely cut off, and the people crossed opposite Jericho." This was not an event known only to the Israelites. All of the Canaanites living in the area knew of this phenomenon and a people whose courage had already failed them were now completely traumatized.

    The life God wants with His people is not one in which the spiritual aspects of that life are compartmentalized, separating life in general from our religious duties in giving acknowledgment to God. Instead He wants there to be no separation between our lives in general and life with Him. Our lives should be totally engrossed with Him. How else is He to give us the type of life He desires for us and promises to us?  But we compartmentalize our lives giving a tip of our hat, so to speak, to God and then wonder why He has not made our lives better. But if our lives are to be better we must invite God into the whole of our lives.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Reflections on Joshua 2

    Joshua 02 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. Joshua chose two men as spies and sent them from their camp at Acacia with these instructions: "Go across the river and find out as much as you can about the whole region, especially about the town of Jericho." The two spies left the Israelite camp at Acacia and went to Jericho, where they decided to spend the night at the house of a prostitute named Rahab.
  2. But someone found out about them and told the king of Jericho, "Some Israelite men came here tonight, and they are spies."
  3. So the king sent soldiers to Rahab's house to arrest the spies. Meanwhile, Rahab had taken the men up to the flat roof of her house and had hidden them under some piles of flax plants that she had put there to dry. The soldiers came to her door and demanded, "Let us have the men who are staying at your house. They are spies." She answered, "Some men did come to my house, but I didn't know where they had come from. They left about sunset, just before it was time to close the town gate. I don't know where they were going, but if you hurry, maybe you can catch them." The guards at the town gate let the soldiers leave Jericho, but they closed the gate again as soon as the soldiers went through. Then the soldiers headed toward the Jordan River to look for the spies at the place where people cross the river.
  4. (SEE 2:3)
  5. (SEE 2:3)
  6. (SEE 2:3)
  7. (SEE 2:3)
  8. Rahab went back up to her roof. The spies were still awake, so she told them:
  9. I know that the LORD has given Israel this land. Everyone shakes with fear because of you.
  10. We heard how the LORD dried up the Red Sea so you could leave Egypt. And we heard how you destroyed Sihon and Og, those two Amorite kings east of the Jordan River.
  11. We know that the LORD your God rules heaven and earth, and we've lost our courage and our will to fight.
  12. Please promise me in the LORD's name that you will be as kind to my family as I have been to you. Do something to show
  13. that you won't let your people kill my father and mother and my brothers and sisters and their families.
  14. "Rahab," the spies answered, "if you keep quiet about what we're doing, we promise to be kind to you when the LORD gives us this land. We pray that the LORD will kill us if we don't keep our promise!"
  15. Rahab's house was built into the town wall, and one of the windows in her house faced outside the wall. She gave the spies a rope, showed them the window, and said, "Use this rope to let yourselves down to the ground outside the wall.
  16. Then hide in the hills. The men who are looking for you won't be able to find you there. They'll give up and come back after a few days, and you can be on your way."
  17. The spies said: You made us promise to let you and your family live. We will keep our promise, but you can't tell anyone why we were here. You must tie this red rope on your window when we attack, and your father and mother, your brothers, and everyone else in your family must be here with you. We'll take the blame if anyone who stays in this house gets hurt. But anyone who leaves your house will be killed, and it won't be our fault.
  18. (SEE 2:17)
  19. (SEE 2:17)
  20. (SEE 2:17)
  21. "I'll do exactly what you said," Rahab promised. Then she sent them on their way and tied the red rope to the window.
  22. The spies hid in the hills for three days while the king's soldiers looked for them along the roads. As soon as the soldiers gave up and returned to Jericho,
  23. the two spies went down into the Jordan valley and crossed the river. They reported to Joshua and told him everything that had happened.
  24. "We're sure the LORD has given us the whole country," they said. "The people there shake with fear every time they think of us."

    Joshua secretly sent two spies across the Jordan to scout out the city of Jericho prior to entering the land with the Israelite army. This account is reminiscent of the one 40 years earlier when 12 spies were sent into Canaan. But there are significant differences. In this instance the mission was secret. Should a negative report be brought back, only Joshua and the two spies would know and the whole Israelite camp would not be demoralized. Also, rather than scouting out the whole land of Canaan they were doing reconnaissance of only the city of Jericho.

    God's hand in the events of this account is evident throughout. What were the chances of the spies connecting with the person who was probably the only one in Jericho who had faith in the God of Israel as evidenced in her statement to the spies: "the LORD your God is God in heaven above and on earth below." (2:11)  They must have been led to her very quickly after entering the city given the fact that they were detected and reported to the king and soldiers sent to Rahab's house to capture them. This was not a chance occurrence but clearly the hand of God at work.

    Rahab's testimony to them was invaluable on at least two counts. She said to them, "I know that the LORD has given you this land and that dread of you has fallen on us, and everyone who lives in the land is panicking because of you," telling them what they needed to know concerning the morale of the people of Jericho.  (2:9)  She also told them, "we have heard how the LORD dried up the waters of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to Sihon and Og, the two Amorite kings you completely destroyed across the Jordan." (2:10) In this testimony Rahab reminded the spies of the miraculous work of God on their behalf which brought them to where they were in preparing to enter the land the Lord was giving them. All of this is incredible coming from a pagan. They were able to return and confidently tell Joshua that God had brought them to that point and would also give them victory in Canaan.

    We will invariably miss what God is doing or has done if we attempt to transfer our thinking onto God, assuming what He would or should do based on what we would do. Who of us would have used a prostitute as the logical aid to the spies? Or who would have guessed her to have given such a strong statement of faith concerning the true God of Israel? But God used her and included her in the lineage of Jesus. Many refuse to believe in a God who does not do as they would do. But thankfully He does not do as we would do.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Reflections on Joshua 1

    Joshua 01 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. Moses, the LORD's servant, was dead. So the LORD spoke to Joshua son of Nun, who had been the assistant of Moses. The LORD said:
  2. My servant Moses is dead. Now you must lead Israel across the Jordan River into the land I'm giving to all of you.
  3. Wherever you go, I'll give you that land, as I promised Moses.
  4. It will reach from the Southern Desert to the Lebanon Mountains in the north, and to the northeast as far as the great Euphrates River. It will include the land of the Hittites, and the land from here at the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea on the west.
  5. Joshua, I will always be with you and help you as I helped Moses, and no one will ever be able to defeat you.
  6. Long ago I promised the ancestors of Israel that I would give this land to their descendants. So be strong and brave! Be careful to do everything my servant Moses taught you. Never stop reading The Book of the Law he gave you. Day and night you must think about what it says. If you obey it completely, you and Israel will be able to take this land.
  7. (SEE 1:6)
  8. (SEE 1:6)
  9. I've commanded you to be strong and brave. Don't ever be afraid or discouraged! I am the LORD your God, and I will be there to help you wherever you go.
  10. Joshua ordered the tribal leaders
  11. to go through the camp and tell everyone: In a few days we will cross the Jordan River to take the land that the LORD our God is giving us. So fix as much food as you'll need for the march into the land.
  12. Joshua told the men of the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and East Manasseh:
  13. The LORD's servant Moses said that the LORD our God has given you land here on the east side of the Jordan River, where you could live in peace. Your wives and children and your animals can stay here in the land Moses gave you. But all of you that can serve in our army must pick up your weapons and lead the men of the other tribes across the Jordan River. They are your relatives, so you must help them
  14. (SEE 1:13)
  15. conquer the land that the LORD is giving them. The LORD will give peace to them as he has given peace to you, and then you can come back and settle here in the land that Moses promised you.
  16. The men answered: We'll cross the Jordan River and help our relatives. We'll fight anywhere you send us.
  17. If the LORD our God will help you as he helped Moses, and if you are strong and brave, we will obey you as we obeyed Moses. We'll even put to death anyone who rebels against you or refuses to obey you.
  18. (SEE 1:17)

    The closing verses of Deuteronomy tell of Moses' death and the transfer of leadership to Joshua. Along with this transfer of leadership went the transfer of God's hand upon Joshua as it had been with Moses: "Joshua son of Nun was filled with the spirit of wisdom, because Moses had laid his hands on him." (Deuteronomy 34:9) For this reason the Israelites also transfered their loyalty to Joshua willing to obey him.

    Now, we read in the opening verses of Joshua that the Lord spoke to Joshua telling him it was time to cross the Jordan and possess the land He was giving the Israelites. Along with this the Lord assured Joshua that He would never leave him or forsake him. Following, the Lord gave Joshua some specific instructions. He was to:

    • Be strong and courageous
    • Carefully observe the whole instruction Moses had commanded him
    • Continually meditate on the book of instruction
    • Carefully observe everything written in it
    Next, Joshua prepared the people to cross into Canaan. This involved gathering provisions since the manna would stop as soon as they crossed the Jordan into Canaan. It also involved reaffirming the commitment of the Reubenites, the Gadites, and half the tribe of Manasseh to cross the Jordan with their fighting men and assist the other tribes in taking possession of the land even though their inheritance east of the Jordan had already been won. Their families could go ahead and settle the land that was theirs east of the Jordan, but their fighting men must assist in taking possession of the land west of the Jordan until the job was completed. As with Moses, these tribes enthusiastically affirmed their commitment with Joshua to be faithful to these instructions. Not only did they voice their willingness to obey Joshua, but stated that "Anyone who rebels against your order and does not obey your words in all that you command him, will be put to death." (1:18) Did this mean they would enforce this judgment on those who rebel against Joshua's orders? This is certainly implied.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Reflections on Ezra 10

    Ezra 10 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. While Ezra was down on his knees in front of God's temple, praying with tears in his eyes, and confessing the sins of the people of Israel, a large number of men, women, and children gathered around him and cried bitterly.
  2. Shecaniah son of Jehiel from the family of Elam said: Ezra, we have disobeyed God by marrying these foreign women. But there is still hope for the people of Israel,
  3. if we follow your advice and the advice of others who truly respect the laws of God. We must promise God that we will divorce our foreign wives and send them away, together with their children.
  4. Ezra, it's up to you to do something! We will support whatever you do. So be brave!
  5. Ezra stood up and made the chief priests, the Levites, and everyone else in Israel swear that they would follow the advice of Shecaniah.
  6. Then Ezra left God's temple and went to spend the night in the living quarters of Jehohanan son of Eliashib. He felt sorry for what the people had done, and he did not eat or drink a thing.
  7. The officials and leaders sent a message to all who had returned from Babylonia and were now living in Jerusalem and Judah. It told them to meet in Jerusalem within three days, or else they would lose everything they owned and would no longer be considered part of the people that had returned from Babylonia.
  8. (SEE 10:7)
  9. Three days later, on the twentieth day of the ninth month, everyone from Judah and Benjamin came to Jerusalem and sat in the temple courtyard. It was a serious meeting, and they sat there, trembling in the rain.
  10. Ezra the priest stood up and said: You have broken God's Law by marrying foreign women, and you have made the whole nation guilty!
  11. Now you must confess your sins to the LORD God of your ancestors and obey him. Divorce your foreign wives and don't have anything to do with the rest of the foreigners who live around here.
  12. Everyone in the crowd shouted: You're right! We will do what you say.
  13. But there are so many of us, and we can't just stay out here in this downpour. A lot of us have sinned by marrying foreign women, and the matter can't be settled in only a day or two.
  14. Why can't our officials stay on in Jerusalem and take care of this for us? Let everyone who has sinned in this way meet here at a certain time with leaders and judges from their own towns. If we take care of this problem, God will surely stop being so terribly angry with us.
  15. Jonathan son of Asahel and Jahzeiah son of Tikvah were the only ones who objected, except for the two Levites, Meshullam and Shabbethai.
  16. Everyone else who had returned from exile agreed with the plan. So Ezra the priest chose men who were heads of the families, and he listed their names. They started looking into the matter on the first day of the tenth month,
  17. and they did not finish until the first day of the first month of the next year.
  18. Here is a list of the priests who had agreed to divorce their foreign wives and to sacrifice a ram as a sin offering: Maaseiah, Eliezer, Jarib, and Gedaliah from the family of Joshua son of Jozadak and his brothers;
  19. (SEE 10:18)
  20. Hanani and Zebadiah from the family of Immer;
  21. Maaseiah, Elijah, Shemaiah, Jehiel, and Uzziah from the family of Harim;
  22. Elioenai, Maaseiah, Ishmael, Nethanel, Jozabad, and Elasah from the family of Pashhur.
  23. Those Levites who had foreign wives were: Jozabad, Shimei, Kelaiah (also known as Kelita), Pethahiah, Judah, and Eliezer.
  24. Eliashib, the musician, had a foreign wife. These temple guards had foreign wives: Shallum, Telem, and Uri.
  25. Here is a list of the others from Israel who had foreign wives: Ramiah, Izziah, Malchijah, Mijamin, Eleazar, Hashabiah, and Benaiah from the family of Parosh;
  26. Mattaniah, Zechariah, Jehiel, Abdi, Jeremoth, and Elijah from the family of Elam;
  27. Elioenai, Eliashib, Mattaniah, Jeremoth, Zabad, and Aziza from the family of Zattu;
  28. Jehohanan, Hananiah, Zabbai, and Athlai from the family of Bebai;
  29. Meshullam, Malluch, Adaiah, Jashub, Sheal, and Jeremoth from the family of Bani;
  30. Adna, Chelal, Benaiah, Maaseiah, Mattaniah, Bezalel, Binnui, and Manasseh from the family of Pahath Moab;
  31. Eliezer, Isshijah, Malchijah, Shemaiah, Shimeon, Benjamin, Malluch, and Shemariah from the family of Harim;
  32. (SEE 10:31)
  33. Mattenai, Mattattah, Zabad, Eliphelet, Jeremai, Manasseh, and Shimei from the family of Hashum;
  34. Maadai, Amram, Uel, Benaiah, Bedeiah, Cheluhi, Vaniah, Meremoth, Eliashib, Mattaniah, Mattenai, and Jaasu from the family of Bani;
  35. (SEE 10:34)
  36. (SEE 10:34)
  37. (SEE 10:34)
  38. Shimei, Shelemiah, Nathan, Adaiah, Machnadebai, Shashai, Sharai, Azarel, Shelemiah, Shemariah, Shallum, Amariah, and Joseph from the family of Binnui;
  39. (SEE 10:38)
  40. (SEE 10:38)
  41. (SEE 10:38)
  42. (SEE 10:38)
  43. Jeiel, Mattithiah, Zabad, Zebina, Jaddai, Joel, and Benaiah from the family of Nebo.
  44. These men divorced their foreign wives, then sent them and their children away.

    As soon as Ezra learned of the sin of the people in marrying foreign wives he publicly grieved over the situation. It was a serious offense that threatened the wellbeing of the entire Israelite community. It was a sin that had contributed heavily in causing their 70 year exile in Babylon, and here they were beginning their recovery from the exile and the same sin had entered the community. Ezra's grieving carried into the time of the evening offering and then he was joined by "an extremely large assembly of Israelite men, women, and children." (10:1)

    Were these people who joined Ezra in his grief already concerned about the situation or did they become concerned upon learning of the seriousness of the situation? In either case, Ezra was not alone in his concern. One person in the crowd spoke out stating the unfaithfulness of the people and suggesting that a covenant be made "before our God to send away all the foreign wives and their children, according to the counsel of my lord and of those who tremble at the commandment of our God." (10:3) Ezra had been given authority by the king to deal with matters of the community and so the responsibility to act lay on his shoulders. He got up from his grieving and "made the leading priests, Levites, and all Israel take an oath to do what had been said." (10:5)

    After a night of fasting, Ezra issued a proclamation for every Israelite living in Judah to gather at Jerusalem within three days. This was not a request, but an order with teeth to it. Those not making an appearance would lose all possessions along with the right to assemble with the people. When the people gathered and the grave situation brought before them, it was determined that the problem was too widespread to be dealt with in a couple of days. So it was decided for it to be handled at the local level.  Ezra appointed men who were tribal leaders to investigate the matter within their own "ancestral houses." After four months they had dealt with the matter and the foreign wives and their children had been sent away.

    Our sense of justice cringes at this outcome for the wives and children who were sent away. What about them? Is this justice for them? In the end we must decide whether we really trust that God is a loving and just God. But our decision must be made on the basis of accepting what we are told by scripture, not on the basis of our own sense of justice. If God is just it will not be determined by those He has created. We will decide for ourselves whether we believe it or not, but it will not change the reality of whether He is or not. 

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Reflections on Ezra 9

    Ezra 09 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. Later the Jewish leaders came to me and said: Many Israelites, including priests and Levites, are living just like the people around them. They are even guilty of some of the horrible sins of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Jebusites, the Ammonites, the Moabites, the Egyptians, and the Amorites.
  2. Some Israelite men have married foreign women and have let their sons do the same thing. Our own officials and leaders were the first to commit this disgusting sin, and now God's holy people are mixed with foreigners.
  3. This news made me so angry that I ripped my clothes and tore hair from my head and beard. Then I just sat in shock
  4. until time for the evening sacrifice. Many of our people were greatly concerned and gathered around me, because the God of Israel had warned us to stay away from foreigners.
  5. At the time of the evening sacrifice, I was still sitting there in sorrow with my clothes all torn. So I got down on my knees, then lifted my arms,
  6. and prayed: I am much too ashamed to face you, LORD God. Our sins and our guilt have swept over us like a flood that reaches up to the heavens.
  7. Since the time of our ancestors, all of us have sinned. That's why we, our kings, and our priests have often been defeated by other kings. They have killed some of us and made slaves of others; they have taken our possessions and made us ashamed, just as we are today.
  8. But for now, LORD God, you have shown great kindness to us. You made us truly happy by letting some of us settle in this sacred place and by helping us in our time of slavery.
  9. We are slaves, but you have never turned your back on us. You love us, and because of you, the kings of Persia have helped us. It's as though you have given us new life! You let us rebuild your temple and live safely in Judah and Jerusalem.
  10. Our God, what can we say now? Even after all this, we have disobeyed the commands
  11. that were given to us by your servants the prophets. They said the land you are giving us is full of sinful and wicked people, who never stop doing disgusting things.
  12. And we were warned not to let our daughters and sons marry their sons and daughters. Your prophets also told us never to help those foreigners or even let them live in peace. You wanted us to become strong and to enjoy the good things in the land, then someday to leave it to our children forever.
  13. You punished us because of our terrible sins. But you did not punish us nearly as much as we deserve, and you have brought some of us back home.
  14. Why should we disobey your commands again by letting our sons and daughters marry these foreigners who do such disgusting things? That would make you angry enough to destroy us all!
  15. LORD God of Israel, you have been more than fair by letting a few of us survive. But once again, our sins have made us ashamed to face you.

    Emotions must have been running high for the Israelites with the completion of the rebuilt temple and the return of another group of exiles, bringing with them more priests and Levites to administer the sacrificial system and maintain the temple. They were being restored to their homeland though they were still under the rule of a foreign king. But given what God had already done for them in allowing this remnant to return and to rebuild the temple, having complete freedom and rule would surely come.

    However, the mood took a sudden turn when the leaders approached Ezra, soon after his arrival in Jerusalem, and reported that the people had not "separated themselves from the surrounding peoples whose detestable practices are like those of the Canaanites, Hittites, Perizzites, Jebusites, Ammonites, Moabites, Egyptians, and Amorites." (9:1) And it was not just the ordinary Israelites doing this. It included the priests and Levites, those who should know the law and lead the rest in obedience to it. Ezra's response was immediate: "I tore my tunic and robe, pulled out some of the hair from my head and beard, and sat down devastated." (9:3) Others who "trembled at the words of the God of Israel" gathered around him as he sat devasted until the evening offering.

    Ezra was a true intercessor for the community of Israel. Though he was not guilty he took the guilt of those who were upon himself, falling on his knees before the Lord in shame, confessing the sin of the people. It was because of their disobedience to God's laws that they had been "handed over, along with our kings and priests, to the surrounding kings." Now God had extended grace to them "in the presence of the Persian kings, giving us new life, so that we can rebuild the house of our God," (9:9) and yet they were still disobedient. What now could be said? There were no excuses, only the confession, "we have abandoned the commandments." (9:10)

    Though separating themselves from other nations and strictly forbidding intermarriage with them may appear on the surface to be holy snobbery, it was a kingpin in maintaining a single-mindedness toward God and being faithful to the stipulations of their covenantal relationship with Him. All relationships we forge have the potential of either strengthening or tearing down our relationship with God, but none so much as the marriage relationship. And once a man, who should lead the home in worshipping God, opens the door to disobedience by marrying outside the faith community, he will even more easily be influenced by his wife to follow the pagan religious practices of her upbringing rather than him influencing her. Once the spiritual underpinnings of the family have eroded, the spiritual foundation of the whole community will erode.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Reflections on Ezra 8

    Ezra 08 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. Artaxerxes was king of Persia when I led the following chiefs of the family groups from Babylonia to Jerusalem:
  2. Gershom of the Phinehas family; Daniel of the Ithamar family; Hattush son of Shecaniah of the David family; Zechariah and 150 other men of the Parosh family, who had family records; Eliehoenai son of Zerahiah with 200 men of the Pahath Moab family; Shecaniah son of Jahaziel with 300 men of the Zattu family; Ebed son of Jonathan with 50 men of the Adin family; Jeshaiah son of Athaliah with 70 men of the Elam family; Zebadiah son of Michael with 80 men of the Shephatiah family; Obadiah son of Jehiel with 218 men of the Joab family; Shelomith son of Josiphiah with 160 men of the Bani family; Zechariah son of Bebai with 28 men of the Bebai family; Johanan son of Hakkatan with 110 men of the Azgad family; Eliphelet, Jeuel, and Shemaiah who returned sometime later with 60 men of the Adonikam family; Uthai and Zaccur with 70 men of the Bigvai family.
  3. (SEE 8:2)
  4. (SEE 8:2)
  5. (SEE 8:2)
  6. (SEE 8:2)
  7. (SEE 8:2)
  8. (SEE 8:2)
  9. (SEE 8:2)
  10. (SEE 8:2)
  11. (SEE 8:2)
  12. (SEE 8:2)
  13. (SEE 8:2)
  14. (SEE 8:2)
  15. I brought everyone together by the river that flows to the town of Ahava where we camped for three days. Not one Levite could be found among the people and priests.
  16. So I sent for the leaders Eliezer, Ariel, Shemaiah, Elnathan, Jarib, Elnathan, Nathan, Zechariah, and Meshullam. I also sent for Joiarib and Elnathan, who were very wise.
  17. Then I sent them to Iddo, the leader at Casiphia, and I told them to ask him and his temple workers to send people to serve in God's temple.
  18. God was kind to us and had them send a skillful man named Sherebiah, who was a Levite from the family of Mahli. Eighteen of his relatives came with him.
  19. We were also sent Hashabiah and Jeshaiah from the family of Merari along with twenty of their relatives.
  20. In addition, 220 others came to help the Levites in the temple. The ancestors of these workers had been chosen years ago by King David and his officials, and they were all listed by name.
  21. Beside the Ahava River, I asked the people to go without eating and to pray. We humbled ourselves and asked God to bring us and our children safely to Jerusalem with all of our possessions.
  22. I was ashamed to ask the king to send soldiers and cavalry to protect us against enemies along the way. After all, we had told the king that our God takes care of everyone who truly worships him, but that he gets very angry and punishes anyone who refuses to obey.
  23. So we went without food and asked God himself to protect us, and he answered our prayers.
  24. I chose twelve of the leading priests--Sherebiah, Hashabiah and ten of their relatives.
  25. Then I weighed the gifts that had been given for God's temple, and I divided them among the twelve priests I had chosen. There were gifts of silver and gold, as well as the articles that the king, his advisors and officials, and the people of Israel had contributed. In all there were: 25 tons of silver; 100 silver articles weighing 150 pounds; 7,500 pounds of gold; 20 gold bowls weighing 270 ounces; and 2 polished bronze articles as valuable as gold.
  26. (SEE 8:25)
  27. (SEE 8:25)
  28. I said to the priests: You belong to the LORD, the God of your ancestors, and these things also belong to him. The silver and gold were willingly given as gifts to the LORD.
  29. Be sure to guard them and keep them safe until you reach Jerusalem. Then weigh them inside God's temple in the presence of the chief priests, the Levites, and the heads of the Israelite families.
  30. The priests and Levites then took charge of the gifts that had been weighed, so they could take them to the temple of our God in Jerusalem.
  31. On the twelfth day of the first month, we left the Ahava River and started for Jerusalem. Our God watched over us, and as we traveled along, he kept our enemies from ambushing us.
  32. After arriving in Jerusalem, we rested for three days.
  33. Then on the fourth day we went to God's temple, where the silver, the gold, and the other things were weighed and given to the priest Meremoth son of Uriah. With him were Eleazar son of Phinehas and the two Levites, Jozabad son of Jeshua and Noadiah son of Binnui.
  34. Everything was counted, weighed, and recorded.
  35. Those who had returned from exile offered sacrifices on the altar to the God of Israel. Twelve bulls were offered for all Israel. Ninety-six rams and seventy-seven lambs were offered on the altar. And twelve goats were sacrificed for the sins of the people.
  36. Some of those who had returned took the king's orders to the governors and officials in Western Province. Then the officials did what they could for the people and for the temple of God.

    Ezra's stated purpose in returning to Jerusalem from exile in Babylon was to teach the statutes and ordinances of "the law of the Lord" in Israel. Bringing the Jewish returnees into full compliance with God's laws required a fully functional temple and sacrificial system. This required sufficient priests and Levites to fulfill all the duties related to these activities. But as Ezra started the first leg of the journey to Jerusalem he made a three-day stop to assess the group of people making the trip with him. In so doing, he discovered that there were no Levites among them.

    Since his purpose in making the return would be hindered without Levites, he refused to continue the journey until Levites could be enlisted. To accomplish this task he summoned key leaders among those with him and sent them back to enlist the needed Levites. They returned with 38 Levites and 220 temple servants. This satisfied Ezra and he once again turned his attention to continuing the journey. But first he proclaimed a fast to seek God's protection in providing them a safe journey. Such caravans traveling cross-country were at risk for attack by enemies, and in addition this group had among them a huge amount of silver and gold. Had Ezra requested it, they might have had a military escort for the trip, but Ezra had proclaimed to the king that "The hand of our God is gracious to all who seek Him," and he was ashamed to then ask for soldiers to protect them. He would depend on God for the protection they needed.

    One last task before setting out was to distribute the silver, gold, and temple articles among leaders in the group. So Ezra weighed out the silver and gold to each one receiving it, telling them to "Guard them carefully until you weigh them out in the chambers of the LORD's house before the leading priests, Levites, and heads of the Israelite families in Jerusalem." (8:29) Having accomplished this task they set out for Jerusalem and "were strengthened by our God, and He protected us from the power of the enemy and from ambush along the way." (8:31)

    Once they arrived in Jerusalem, they rested for three days and then weighed out the silver and gold into the care of Meremoth the priest. Then they offered burnt offerings to the Lord. Finally, they delivered the king's edicts to the government officials of the region. These edicts would bring the support of these officials for the people of Israel and allow Ezra to officiate the judicial system of the Jewish people. All was happening according to God's plan.