If God is Your Co-Pilot…

…You’re Sitting in the Wrong Chair!

Please read Proverbs 3:5-6 in your Bible.

God's Guidance_v04(Image by James Best, (C) 2019, https://www.behance.net/gallery/82544295/Sermon-Illustrations-2019.)

CONTEXT:  This third chapter of Proverbs is an example of the content of the book.  It presents reasons and means to live an intelligent life based on the faith conviction that God is real and He rewards those who earnestly seek him.  Chapter three is a father admonishing his son to make the pursuit of wisdom a lifelong practice.  He lists many benefits to wise living to encourage this practice.  In the middle of the chapter we find two verses that put in focus how divine will and human will are to work together.

The way the world works is a combination of providence and prudence.

  1. Providence is God’s will deciding what happens.

In circumstances from mundane to miraculous, the Bible teaches that God sets a path before us.  He is not distant, but is intimately involved in our lives, knowing our hearts (Psalm 44:21), the number of hairs on our heads (Luke 12:7), and our future (John 3:20).

God is also at work in the great movements of human history, directing the affairs of nations.  In Proverbs 21:1, God directs the heart of the king like men direct the channel of a river.

Deism is the mistaken notion that God created everything then left it to run on its own.  It is another example of vain philosophies that attempt to take God out of the picture.  Let’s be clear: any teaching that limits the power of God or gives any being equality with God is a false teaching.

  1. Prudence is our own will deciding what happens.

“Prudence” is defined as self-discipline achieved by the use of reason.  It can be emblematic of a notion central to our culture that a person is only limited by their imagination and determination; any of us can become anything we want.

The Bible does command self-control (Titus 2:12) and includes it as one of the Fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). Superficially, self-control and self-determination look similar but self-control is something achieved with God’s grace.  Self-determination is just a subtle way of excluding God from the details of everyday life.

Self-determination is one extreme.  The opposite end of the spectrum might be called “determinism.”  The Bible’s commands would not be necessary nor could we be held responsible for our choice if all our choices were being made for us.  Divine determinism may sound religiously correct, but it is not a biblical doctrine.

  1. The Bible’s witness is more complicated: it holds both providence and prudence in tension.

Herein is the difficulty: our human nature wants to simplify and to eliminate tension.  To be faithful to the Scriptures, we must hold onto both providence and prudence.  Let’s use Proverbs 3:5-6 as an example.

Proverbs 3:5-6 tell us prudence is a virtue when it is God-centered, not reliant on reason or any human power.  There are three expressions that develop this teaching.

First, TRUST IN THE LORD WITH ALL YOUR HEART.  In the Bible, the HEART is the center of a person’s inner life, both intellect and emotions.

Second, LEAN NOT ON YOUR OWN UNDERSTANDING.  By faith we appreciate that God offers unlimited resources; success is more likely as we trust in Him.

Third, IN ALL YOUR WAYS ACKNOWLEDGE (recognize) HIM.  Give God the glory; draw attention to Him, not yourself.

Providence is in evidence here in form of the promised reward: HE WILL MAKE YOUR PATHS STRAIGHT or “will direct your paths.”  In life and in Proverbs, the straight path is the best.  In Proverbs, the “crooked path” is a word picture of a life of folly and sin.  It ends in death (Proverbs 9:18).

Theologically, we understand that human free will is a delegation of the authority of God.  Rather than choose everything for us, God allows us to make our own choices and to experience the consequences of those choices.  God helps believers to make the right choices by supplying His word, the Holy Spirit, and the Church.  He exerts His will bring us to circumstances and gives us experiences that also shape our decisions.  After we decide, God exerts His will to bring about positive or negative consequences to teach us and to bring about His will.

Our life with God is not a matter of divine will OR human will but the interplay of both.  All of this is to direct our attention to God, to rely on Him more fully and love Him more dearly.

In both the details and in the big picture, God is so powerful He does not rely on our meager powers, but out of love He chooses to make us His partners in bringing about His will.  In our daily living, we exercise prudence but put our trust in providence.  We live wisely and righteously, seeking God’s will and choosing to walk in His way.

 

RESOURCES:

Baker Commentary on the Old Testament Wisdom and Psalms, Proverbs, Tremper Longman III

Joseph: Reunited

(Please read Genesis 45 and 46 in your favorite version of the Bible.  I have prepared these remarks using the NIV.)

If you’ve been following along, you’ll notice that I’ve hopped over chapters 42-44; Joseph’s intrigues with his brothers.  I confess to being chicken.  I don’t see Joseph’s reason for engaging in these maneuvers, they’re lengthy, repetitive, and they only complicate the story. I encourage you to read them for yourself.  When you can make sense of it, please contact me.

SO.  From confession to an MSN News item dated September 16 2015:

A 103-year-old Georgia woman, banned from the church she’s been attending for over nine decades, is speaking out about her expulsion from her Baptist Church.

“According to reports, Genora Ham Biggs and the Rev. Tim Mattox of Union Grove Baptist Church in Elberton, Ga., have been going back and forth over his preaching, which Biggs calls a ‘holiness style’ that has been adopted at the church since he was hired about six years ago. Biggs says that sort of preaching doesn’t belong in a Baptist church.”

Biggs, who has been attending the church since she was just 11 years old, and who once served as the church secretary, is known by some in the congregation as the “church mother,” while others have dubbed her a “Jezebel.” But a recent letter from the church directed her that she is no longer welcome to worship; she’s been banned from entering the property after being too outspoken.

When Biggs tried to attend the service after receiving the letter, Mattox met her at the door and told her she wasn’t welcome. She pushed in, and Mattox reportedly dismissed the service, sent everyone home and shut off the lights. Biggs was left sitting alone, in the dark, in a church pew.

Biggs told Fox Carolina: “I was shocked. It was not a good feeling. I haven’t seen anything like this before,” she said of the service being canceled outright.  Biggs is receiving widespread support on social media, while the church’s Facebook page has been barraged with damning messages against the actions of the church.

(Retrieved from http://www.examiner.com/article/103-year-old-woman-banned-from-church-lifelong-churchgoer-booted-by-ga-church on 9/17/15.)

It’s bad when the family is fractured.  I think we can agree on a few facts regarding this story: One, we have only heard one side so far.  Two, we do not want the problems of the church being prosecuted in social media.  Three, both sides seem to have forgotten whose church it is.  Four, we need to pray that this church family gets restored; that the conflict gets resolved.

This kind of fractured family is where we began our look into the life of Joseph.  We saw how sibling rivalry ushered in a set of very difficult and even unjust circumstances for Joseph.  Today we find out why.  From Joseph’s own lips we will learn what God was doing throughout all these circumstances, even the mistakes, miscues and outright sins that various people committed.

I pray that after today we’ll be encouraged by the knowledge that God is in control and that He has the power to take what is intended for evil and turn it to good.

MESSAGE: In all circumstances, God is working on our salvation.

  1. Reunited with his brothers, Joseph explained God’s greater purpose (45:1-15).

Whatever motive Joseph had for the two intrigues he perpetrated in chapters 42-44, he abandoned them at the end of chapter 44 and is overcome with emotion at the beginning of chapter 45.  He dismissed his ATTENDANTS, but proceeded to weep so loudly that they overheard his cries AND they felt justified in reporting this to Pharaoh.  Verse three indicates part of the emotion is concern for his father: Joseph wants to know whether he is alive or not.

For their part, the eleven brothers are confused and slow to understand.  In their defense, keep in mind this is a sudden and dramatic change.  Previously, the Egyptian official before them – now claiming to be their brother – had accused them of spying and thievery.  The passage of years and wearing the garb of a different culture no doubt changed Joseph’s appearance: he had to call them to have a closer look and see who he really was.

This is one of the more dramatic scenes of the Bible but the emotion is very understated.  The writer does not want us to miss the point in all the drama.

Joseph explained the point of it all is that God was at work all the time. He stated God’s will succinctly: “IT WAS TO SAVE LIVES THAT GOD SENT ME AHEAD OF YOU.”  Though the brothers’ intentions and actions were evil, God’s will was done.  This truth is the key to the Joseph narrative; God is in control in ALL circumstances.

This fact would be of international consequence. Countless people would be saved. But, as we see later in the passage, Joseph and Pharaoh would see to it that God’s will was on a personal scale too, and Joseph’s family would be saved.  Starting with the dreams and continuing with all the exceptional events of Joseph’s life, he was being prepared and placed by God where God wanted him to be.

The scene ends with the brothers being reconciled: hugging, kissing, and talking to one another (45:14-15).  When they parted company, Joseph gave them a bit of brotherly and friendly advice: “DON’T QUARREL ON THE WAY!”  This implies their reconciliation is complete and the relationship is restored.

  1. Pharaoh blessed the reunion with extra provision for Joseph’s family (45:16-24).

The text implies that Joseph and Pharaoh came up with the same idea independent of one another: to bring his father’s household to Egypt, where they could be cared for throughout the remaining years of the famine.  Pharaoh was especially generous; “I WILL GIVE YOU THE BEST OF THE LAND OF EGYPT AND YOU CAN ENJOY THE FAT OF THE LAND.”

Given the circumstances, Egypt was the best place for Israel & his family to be.  It’s said at least three times in this chapter to make it obvious; God worked to save His people.  Historically, we know that the sons of Jacob did prosper in Egypt.  They grew to be a great and numerous people.  You could say that Egypt provided a safe place in which the people of God could prosper.

Here’s an important truth, folks; God’s will is always what’s best for you.  In the short term, it may present difficulties, but it always ends up being for our good.

3. Joseph was reunited w/ Jacob(45:25-46:34)

You can understand how Jacob, who had been so heartbroken at the news of Joseph’s death so many years ago, might be STUNNED to hear that he was alive after all.  The word for STUNNED literally means that Jacob’s “heart grew numb.”

Jacob the Deceiver could hardly believe that he had been deceived all these years.  How could he admit such a thing, even to himself?   More likely, I think, was that the news was too good to be true.  The shock and surprise were too great to easily overcome.

What convinced him were the carts full of food and provisions that Pharaoh and Joseph had ordered as gifts to the family.  Joseph’s survival and exaltation to a place of authority in Egypt – the whole improbable tale – must be true, for it explained the evidence of his eyes.

In contrast to his “numbed heart,” the evidence before Jacob’s eyes REVIVED his SPIRIT and he exclaimed, “I’M CONVINCED! MY SON JOSEPH IS STILL ALIVE.  I WILL GO AND SEE HIM BEFORE I DIE.”  The generosity of Pharaoh REVIVED Jacob.  As we know, acts of kindness can renew a human heart.

Having made his decision to believe Joseph was alive, Jacob/Israel set out for Egypt.  At one of the caravan’s stops, he worshipped God.  Notice Jacob acted FIRST.  He acted on faith and THEN God sent a vision that affirmed his decision.

God told him, “DO NOT BE AFRAID.”  How often do we read THAT in Scripture?  And yet, how often do we allow ourselves to be bound by fear?  The LORD encouraged Jacob in four other ways:

– By reminding him of the promise first made to his grand-father, Abraham; “I WILL MAKE YOU INTO A GREAT NATION.”  This would happen in Egypt.

– By promising to be with him; “I WILL GO DOWN TO EGYPT WITH YOU.”

– By promising to bring the nation of Israel out of Egypt; “I WILL BRING YOU BACK AGAIN.”  In Genesis 15:13-14, God told Abraham that his descendants would be slaves for 400 years, but they would come out of it endowed with great wealth.

– On a personal level, promising Jacob that he would be with Joseph until the day he died; “JOSEPH’S OWN HAND WILL CLOSE YOUR EYES.”  They wouldn’t be separated again, as Joseph’s hand would be the one to close Jacob’s eyelids after he died.  This may sound like a strange way of phrasing a promise, but from Jacob’s own words, all he wanted was to see Joseph again before he died.

“When you’re in church, should you leave your cell phone in your pocket or purse? Or can you take it out to look up Bible verses or take notes?

“Almost all Americans (96%) believe that using a cell phone in church is generally unacceptable, according to a recent survey by the Pew Research Center. In fact, worship services are the most frowned-upon setting to use a cell phone, followed closely by movie theaters and meetings.

“However, half of Americans who use their mobile device during worship services find their phones are an easy way to look up scriptures and songs. About 40 percent said using mobile and internet technology can help messages of hope and inspiration reach more people, as well as can make personal faith more accessible to those with disabilities.  Christianity Today has noted how many millennials use their cell phones to fact check their pastor’s sermon.”

(Retrieved from http://www.christianitytoday.com/gleanings/2015/

september/sunday-morning-where-should-cell-phone-be-church-etiquette.html on 9/17/15.)

I am convinced that electronics will never take the place of face-to-face personal conversation.  I know that problems get resolved and relationships restored when people talk and listen.  I believe that even though God can redeem t worst circumstances, He prefers that we love one another first & work together to overcome obstacles to our relationships with one another.  In all circumstances, God is working on our salvation.  He expects us to join Him in that work.

From Trial to Testimony

(Please read Ruth 1:1-22.  The following remarks have been developed from study with the NIV.)

Message: One of the many reasons God allows suffering is so we can experience His salvation and be transformed to accomplish His purposes.

  1. Naomi’s destitution (1:1-14).

Naomi’s first experience of destitution was when famine “forced” her family to relocate (1:1-2).  I put the word “forced” in quotation marks because humans have always been prone to make excuses for themselves.  One way we do this is recast decisions we make as things we “had” to do; we can’t be assailed for making a wrong choice if we convince ourselves and others that we had no choice in the first place.  This observation is relevant to this passage when we note that not everyone left Bethlehem as Elimelech’s family did.  It’s clear the famine motivated their decision, but when Naomi returned to their ancestral home, people who’d lived there before were still there and they recognized her.  So – not everyone left and some survived the famine.  I’m merely emphasizing this was Elimelech’s choice.  This gives some substance to the traditional Jewish interpretation that Elimelech made a bad decision when he relocated his family.

Not to build too big a case on this one detail, but this is also good news.  It shows that one bad decision, even a catastrophically bad one, with deadly consequences, is not going to put us so far outside the will of God that we can’t be redeemed.  The book of Ruth is a story of redemption, a precursor to THE redemption story in the Gospels.  There is no sin that irredeemable or at least unusable in the redemptive plan of God.  GREAT STUFF!  OK, let’s carry on.

The last verse in Judges and the first verse in Ruth set the stage for this book: THE DAYS WHEN THE JUDGES RULED (1:1).  JUDGES were people God raised up to lead Israel out of periods of idolatry.  This period started with the death of Joshua (Moses’ successor) and lasted until the ministry of Samuel

Here’s how the Bible sums up that period of history; IN THOSE DAYS ISRAEL HAD NO KING; EVERYONE DID AS HE SAW FIT (Judges 21:25).  Hint: that’s what Elimelech did when he decided Moab’s grass was greener.

Admittedly, this was not a decision made lightly.  After all, THERE WAS A FAMINE IN THE LAND.  Famines occurred as a result of raids conducted by neighboring nations or as the direct action of God in judgment for Israel’s sins.  The fact that Elimelech lead his entire family out of the country implies that the famine was not limited to Bethlehem and environs.  The text makes it clear that the scope of the famine was not just local, but it was not international either.  Of course famines do not respect political boundaries, but sometimes reflect neighboring nation’s different practices.  It should also be noted that Elimelech’s intent was not to resettle, only TO LIVE [there] FOR A WHILE.

In order to appreciate the depth of their decision, we can compare cultures.  In our very mobile modern culture, people move frequently.  With increasing globalization moving to other countries becomes increasingly commonplace.  But in this culture, here’s what this family gave up:

– Abandonment of ancestral lands; who else would tend to the house and fields?

– Severance from family and clan and all the relations within the tribe of Ephraim.

– Even leaving behind God.  At this time, the prevalent belief was “henotheism;” the belief that all gods were real and that they were most powerful in their own homelands.  This family was not just leaving the tabernacle and other tokens of faith, they were leaving their God’s domain and entering the lands where another god reigned.  (NOTE; this belief is not biblical –it is not accurate – but is occasionally noted in the Bible that people believed it.  Indeed, Naomi’s remarks in this first chapter seem very henotheistic when we reread them from this point of view.)

Naomi also suffered the devastation of grief and poverty when death took all the men from her family. (1:3-5)

The head of the household was named “Elimelech,” which means “God is king.”  We are not told how long the family lived in Moab before Elimelch died.  Jewish rabbis understood his death to be a sign of God’s judgment against him for leaving his homeland.

The names of the sons are a lot less positive. “Mahlon” means “to be sterile, weak, ill, pierce.”  (On the plus side, it could also be translated as “crown.”)  “Kilion” is based on a word that means “at an end, weakening, or pining.”  While you don’t want to read too much into this level of detail, perhaps the names of Ruth’s sons are offered as explanation for their dying young and childless.  We’re not told how far into their life in Moab Naomi’s sons married; only that after having been in Moab a total of ten years, her sons died.  In that culture, to die childless was a sign of destitution; especially after having been married for years.

The Law did not forbid marriage with Moabites (see Deuteronomy 7:1+3), but they were not considered part of the congregation of the Lord until the tenth generation after the marriage (see Deuteronomy 23:3 and Nehemiah 13:1-3).  In spite of this ambiguity, Jewish rabbis assumed that the deaths of Naomi’s sons were a sign of God’s judgment against them for marrying pagan women.

Regarding the daughters-in-law, here’s what we know about these Moabit maids. The meaning of the name “Orpah” is difficult to determine; It can be everything from “stiff-necked” to “perfume,” so there’s no help there.  “Ruth,” however, is easier to trace.  It means “friend or friendship, abundantly watered.”

One devastation lead Elimelech to decide to leave their homeland, then the devastating loss of her husband and sons lead Naomi to decide to return.  Her decision is a natural one; when you’re hurting and alone, going home sounds extra good.  Also, being without a male head of household was the same as being homeless.  Widows were just above slaves on the social ladder of Israel; who knows about Moab?  So, given the choice of being a “bag lady” in a foreign land or returning home to the charity of her kinfolk, Naomi chose the easier of the two.

  1. Naomi’s decisions (1:6-14, 19-21).

Her first decision to separate herself from her daughters-in-law. (1:6-14)  While there was certainly sentiment and emotion involved, the way Naomi handled this situation tends more toward a practical decision.

– ONE, she’d heard THAT THE LORD HAD [provided] FOOD FOR His people. So the green grass was now back in Israel.

– TWO, she realized that three mouths to feed would be harder for her kinfolk to support and probably harder for her to arrange.

– The girls might have a harder time being pagans living in Israel.

– If they returned to their fathers’ households, they would be cared for and the process of finding them new husbands would be initiated.  Their best chance was to return to their homes.

All three of them prepared to leave, perhaps with Orpah and Ruth assuming they would go with Naomi as she was now head of their household.  It seems from their reaction in the text that she surprised them (vs. 8+9).  In all, this was a sensible decision and probably the most loving thing Ruth could do for her daughters-in-law.  So when they stood at the head of the road, she formally released them from any obligation to her.  She offered a blessing on them (REST can be translated as “security”) and kissed them.

Their mutual tears reveal how traumatic this was for Ruth and Orpah, as does their initial refusal to leave Naomi (9+10).  This speaks well of these women and of Naomi.  Naomi shows her own tender heart in verse thirteen when she refers to them as “MY DAUGHTERS.”

In vs. 11-13, Naomi attempts to reason with them, showing how it was impossible for her to raise up sons to keep them in her household.  This assumes Naomi’s mind was on the Law of Moses, specifically the provision that a man would marry his brother’s widow and raise children in his place (see Deuteronomy 25:5-10).

Naomi’s second decision was theological: she decided God’s hand was against her. (1:13)  As Naomi attempted to reason with her daughters-in-law, Naomi explained that her lot in life was worse than that of her daughters-in-law; she had no hope for remarriage and the remainder of her days would be dependent wholly on the charity of others.  It should be easy for us to sympathize and see how Naomi would be bitter and angry with God for bringing this calamity on her.

Notice that the text neither commends nor condemns Naomi’s decision about the LORD’s intent.  The story simply is what it is.  As such, it’s more of a commentary on human nature than divine nature.  However, the Bible gives us evidence everywhere that God is in charge and that He is the hero of every story.

Naomi’s third decision was to be characterized as “bitter.”  We see this explicitly stated later, in verses 19-21, when Naomi wants to change her name.

Notice how this happens.  Her family greets her in a friendly way; THE WHOLE TOWN WAS STIRRED, AND THE WOMEN ASKED, “CAN THIS BE NAOMI?”  This may have just been a friendly, folksy kind of greeting.  But there may have been more to it than that; after at least 10 years away and after all the grief she suffered, Naomi’s appearance may have been altered.

Naomi reacted to this welcome negatively and strongly; she wanted her name changed to reflect her changed circumstances.  “Naomi” means “pleasant.” “Mara” means “bitter.”  What’s amusing about this is that nobody else buys it.  Nowhere in this book is Naomi ever called “Mara.”  This is her grief talking.

Even here faith is active; Naomi did not blame here trials on bad luck or the devil or other gods, she acknowledged that God was in control and He was making these things happen to her.  She may not understand or appreciate her trials, but they have not caused a crisis of faith for her.

Indeed, it is an immature faith that attributes pleasant things to God and unpleasant things to someone else.  If we say that anything happens outside the will of God then we do not believe in the Almighty God of the Bible.

  1. Naomi’s deliverance (1:14-18).

God used Ruth’s love to deliver Naomi from bitterness (1:14-18).  We’ll see this developed throughout the remainder of the book, but need to note it now.

Apparently Orpah was a practical person; she gave way to Naomi’s logic and reluctantly turned back to her father’s house (1:14).  Her virtue was obedience; nowhere in the Bible is she criticized for it.

But Ruth refused the easier path, the one more sensible if seen in worldly wisdom.  She chose the loving path instead and CLUNG to Naomi.  This reminds me of Jesus’ Resurrection when the women CLUNG to the feet of the resurrected Jesus, (see Matthew 28:9).  The word CLUNG is significant in the original languages; it is used to express the ideal of intimacy that can be achieved in any relationship, usually marriage (Genesis 2:24; 1 Kings 11:2).

Ruth’s response to Naomi’s logic is heart-strong; it stands as one of the most classic declarations of love in all of literature.  It is often used in weddings.  Most importantly, it demonstrates that Ruth’s commitment is total.   No commentary on those words is needed; they speak for themselves.  One thing to note: Ruth, though a Moabite, has clearly heard Naomi’s faith as she invokes the LORD as a witness and guarantee of her oath.  Part of the beauty of this statement is that it was a convincer.  After Ruth said all this, Naomi gave up on trying to argue with her.

Ruth is rightly praised for her commitment, but we must see Naomi’s influence behind it.  Think about it – she must have done something to inspire Ruth to this level of devotion.

The end of the story: RUTH WAS PART OF JESUS’ FAMILY TREE.  As we’ll see in the fourth sermon in this series, Ruth was one of the ancestors of Jesus.

It Involves More Than Your Backbone

(Please read Deuteronomy 31:1-8.)

THESIS = God calls us to follow Him with a courageous faith.

Courage is needed in times of change.

        The people of God were changing leaders: from Moses to Joshua.

MOSES…SPOKE THESE WORDS TO ALL ISRAEL, “I AM NOW A HUNDRED AND TWENTY YEARS OLD AND I AM NO LONGER ABLE TO LEAD YOU.” 120 is WAY past the mandatory retirement age!  The text literally says, “I am no longer able to go out or come in,” a way of saying, “I can’t work any longer.”

Moses was guilty of his own personal rebellion against God at Meribah.  The details don’t matter at this time; the point here is simply that Moses was done and Joshua was going to be taking his place. “JOSHUA ALSO WILL CROSS OVER AHEAD OF YOU, AS THE LORD SAID;”  the implication is that no one individual is indispensible; God can use anybody, even YOU to accomplish His will.

In verse seven it is written, THEN MOSES SUMMONED JOSHUA AND SAID TO HIM IN THE PRESENCE OF ALL ISRAEL. This was the ceremony of Joshua’s commissioning. God commanded Joshua to BE STRONG AND COURAGEOUS here and in Joshua 1:6+9.  This word is not just for leaders, but for all of God’s people.

Human nature has not changed in all the time we’ve existed outside the garden. We need to be lead and we want strong leaders up until the moment they say “no” to us.  God raised up leaders for his people, men who made their own mistakes too.  What was needed to succeed was trust and obedience in God and in the men He had chosen to lead.

The people of God were also changing locations: from the wilderness to the Promised land. They were in this mess only because the previous generation had stood at this very spot 40 years ago and had “turned yellow.”  They refused to go in and by their disobedience, condemned the nation to wander in the wilderness for 40 years, until that disobedient generation had died off. They are reminded twice of the promises of God concerning this land; “HE WILL DESTROY THESE NATIONS BEFORE YOU, AND YOU WILL TAKE POSSESSION OF THEIR LAND” (3). “THE LAND THAT THE LORD SWORE TO THEIR FOREFATHERS TO GIVE TO THEM AS AN INHERITANCE” (7).

Having moved three times in the last 13 months, I can speak to the difficulties of changing one’s location.  I appreciate the courage it takes to be faithful in transitional times.  It is courage based on nothing less than trust in God that gets us through.

If the people lacked courage, these changes would be crippling, not creative.  The same can be said for us, on our walk.  We may not be in the process of forging a new nation, but we are always in some kind of process, countenancing some kind of change.

Courage is based on trusting God.

        We normally think of courage as being something like willpower; based on what I can do.  Instead, true courage is based on trust that God will do as He has promised. In this text we can discern at least three divine promises.

Promise #1: God will act in advance of His commands; He will prepare for your obedience.  As Moses said, “THE LORD YOUR GOD HIMSELF WILL CROSS OVER AHEAD OF YOU,” (verse three), and “THE LAND THAT THE LORD SWORE TO THEIR FOREFATHERS TO GIVE TO THEM AS AN INHERITANCE” (verse seven), and in verse eight; “THE LORD HIMSELF GOES BEFORE YOU.”

Promise #2: God will act decisively and on your behalf. Moses told the people, “THE LORD WILL DO WHAT HE DID TO SIHON AND OG, THE KINGS OF THE AMORITES, WHOM HE DESTROYED ALONG WITH THEIR LAND” (verse four; see also 2:26-3:11) and “THE LORD WILL DELIVER THEM TO YOU” (verse five).

Promise #3: God will act alongside you. To all the people Moses said, “THE LORD YOUR GOD GOES WITH YOU; HE WILL NEVER LEAVE YOU NOR FORSAKE YOU” (verse six). He repeated this promise to Joshua, “HE WILL NEVER LEAVE YOU NOR FORSAKE YOU” (verse eight).

Be obedient to His commands. Even when you don’t understand God’s purpose, methods, or timing, be obedient ANYWAY!  Moses passed this message on from the Lord, “YOU MUST DO ALL THAT I HAVE COMMANDED YOU” (verse five).

How did the fledgling nation of Israel do? Looking ahead to the book of Joshua, we recall that the first city the Israelites faced was Jericho. Remember how that city was taken?  Was it by military might or strategy?  Were any human powers at all responsible?

The only human agency at all was obedience.  In order to prove His point, God had them do something no one had done before or would do since. He commanded them to march around the city once a day for six days.  As He did on the six days of creation, God would be at work.  Though there would be no physical evidence of His work on this occasion.

If they were faithful to parade around the city – a procedure that had absolutely no military value whatsoever – God would deliver the city on the seventh day. The Israelites were faithful, the walls tumbled down, and for all time we have this wonderful example of how courage is trusting God even when what He wills or does makes no earthly sense to us.

Courage, then, is not based on our will.  It is based on our faith.  More than that, it flows from God, the object of our faith.  Courage is acting in obedience to the will of God and with assurance that He is guiding us on precisely the best path.  Our will and knowledge and foresight will certainly fail us.  We succeed as we look to God.