Teaching to the Test

Now these are the nations that the LORD left, to test Israel by them, that is, all in Israel who had not experienced all the wars in Canaan. It was only in order that the generations of the people of Israel might know war, to teach war to those who had not known it before. These are the nations: the five lords of the Philistines and all the Canaanites and the Sidonians and the Hivites who lived on Mount Lebanon, from Mount Baal-hermon as far as Lebo-hamath. They were for the testing of Israel, to know whether Israel would obey the commandments of the LORD, which he commanded their fathers by the hand of Moses. So the people of Israel lived among the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. And their daughters they took to themselves for wives, and their own daughters they gave to their sons, and they served their gods. And the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the LORD. They forgot the LORD their God and served the Baals and the Asheroth.” Judges 3:1-7

The LORD is good in all His ways, full of wisdom and grace. He taught Israel to the test, giving clear instructions and commands, yet even with an ‘open book,’ left to their own devices and self-will, they failed. Was it a lack of experience with warfare by which they could plead ignorance? The allure of ease or distraction over taking up arms? Naivety over the nature of the enemy, underestimating their spiritually destructive effect? Was it weakness of the flesh– the enticement of the wiles of foreign women, or the temptation to make alliances through intermarriage that in their minds would be politically beneficial, and therefore justifiable? We do not know for sure; it could be a combination of all of the above. What we do know is that Israel clearly disobeyed, failing God’s deliberate test, and reaped the consequences, over and over.

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We face tests all the time, opportunities to follow God’s directions and apply what we know of God Himself. He faithfully trains us for war, teaching His strategies and intelligence on the enemy, supplying strength, fitting us with armor. He wants us to pass, because He knows what is best for us, and He wants us to know Him– His power, victory, and blessing. But He allows us to exercise our wills and learn to align them to His; we grow strong through the exercise of faith, resistance, and brave resolve. (Psalm 18:34; 144:1; John 8:44; 17:15; Ephesians 6:10-18; 2 Thessalonians 3:3; James 4:7; 1 Peter 5:8-9)

Sometimes we learn the hard way, giving in to the flesh or lesser desires, weaknesses that distort our reasoning, the catty eye, the whining tongue, but even here, He offers grace. In Israel, again and again, merciful God sent judges to lead His people, giving one more chance to correct course, but their rest was always temporary. Again and again, after a time, they failed the tests. How committed am I to intense study and practice?

Lord on high, give me resolve to yield to Your training. Help me exercise faith and intelligent choices that set aside self to honor You, and so pass Your tests.

 

None Like God

“The beloved of the Lord dwells in safety. The High God surrounds him all day long, and dwells between his shoulders… There is none like God, O Jeshurun, who rides through the heavens to your help, through the skies in his majesty. The eternal God is your dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms… Happy are you, O Israel! Who is like you, a people saved by the Lord!” Deuteronomy 33:12,26-27,29

A blessing is God’s favor and protection, or the pronouncing of such, and Moses, right before breathing his last, spoke these blessings over God’s chosen people. He graced them with truth and hope in their unique, amazing God Who was constantly with them and would be their home forever. Could he have granted a greater, more meaningful gift?

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And we who believe on Jesus are also the beloved of the Lord, saved from destruction, anointed and indwelt by His Spirit, eternally secure, held, helped, happy. What difference does this make in our every day? The plans we make, the way we prioritize our hours and expenditures, the people we spend time with, what we read and watch and do with our bodies, all should be affected by the reality that God is ours, and we are His. Does knowing that we belong to the Lord, and He is ever with us, lift the drooping countenance and lighten the weight of circumstances? Does this brighten the eyes, and outlook? Does this stir hope and joy, and awaken expectancy? How can it not?

There is none- no one, nothing- like our God. Do we believe we can find wisdom in books, study, experience? “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.” What credentials or things do we collect, what do we think we need to do, to secure abundance and satisfaction? “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” What practices or methods do we exercise to find or generate peace? “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Where are we looking for love and acceptance? “God is love.” (Proverbs 9:10; John 14:27; Philippians 4:6-7; 1 John 4:8)

Good Father, You overwhelm me with Your love and affection. Teach me to rest gladly and gratefully in Your arms, never chafing at Your care or attempting to earn it. Thank You for Your bountiful blessing on me. Fill me to overflow that this grace showered on me may extend to others in this dark and needy world. May they, too, know that there is none like You.

Only Jesus

When he had entered Capernaum, a centurion came forward to him, appealing to him, ‘Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, suffering terribly.’ And he said to him, ‘I will come and heal him.’ But the centurion replied, ‘Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. And I say to one, “Go,” and he goes, and to another, “Come,” and he comes, and to my servant, “Do this,” and he does it.’ When Jesus heard this, he marveled and said to those who followed him, ‘Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith… And to the centurion Jesus said, ‘Go; let it be done for you as you have believed.’ And the servant was healed at that very moment.” Matthew 8:5-10,13

A centurion was commander of a hundred soldiers, presumably having risen in the ranks, very capable, brave, holding sway with tough men. But this one was remarkable in his humility, tenderness of heart, and deep compassion. He had an uncanny understanding of worthy, and is commended by Jesus for his unmatched faith. He respected authority both above and below him, yet for him, the source of all authority and goodness and strength was only Jesus. He was unworthy to have Jesus come to his home, yet he knew Jesus was worthy to be called upon for this supernatural act of healing.

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In contrast, Peter always wanted to add something, do something, contribute something, be in on everything. At Jesus’s transfiguration, Peter’s enthusiastic impulse was arrested by God’s voice saying, ‘This is my Son, listen to Him,’ then he ‘saw Jesus only.’ The centurion never presumed to make a fuss over Jesus or erect a shrine for Jesus; he didn’t even need to rub shoulders with Him as an inner-circle confidante. He simply knew Who He was and what He was capable of, and implored Him to have His marvelous way with his beloved servant. And so He did. (Matthew 17:1-8; John 20:3-6; 21:7) 

Do my eyes dart to and fro as I spend energy wanting or getting a special ‘public’ audience with Jesus, making much over a spiritual show for others to notice, telling Him how to answer my prayers? Or do I know Him well enough to appeal only to Him, and trust His power and goodness with the issues concerning me? Do I have to contribute my words, or will I take Him at His? Where I need healing in a relationship, my outlook, my habits of thought and practice, will I determine to see Jesus only?

“Spirit of the living God,… when You speak, when You move, when You do what only You can do, it changes us; it changes what we see and what we seek.” ~Vertical Worship (2015)

You alone, my Lord, know the burdens and needs of my heart. My eyes are toward you. Teach me, change me, that in every situation, I seek and see You only. (Psalm 141:8)

A Friend to the End

When it was evening, he reclined at table with the twelve. And as they were eating, he said,.. ‘One of you will betray me.’ And they were very sorrowful and began to say to him one after another, ‘Is it I, Lord?’ He answered, ‘He who has dipped his hand in the dish with me will betray me.’ Judas, who would betray him, answered, ‘Is it I, Rabbi?’ He said to him, ‘You have said so.’ When [Jesus] had dipped the morsel, he gave it to Judas. After he had taken the morsel, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, ‘What you are going to do, do quickly.’ So, after receiving the morsel of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night. 

“And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives… to a place called Gethsemane. Then Jesus said to them, ‘You will all fall away because of me this night.’ Then he said to [the disciples], ‘Sleep and take your rest later on… Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.’ While he was still speaking, Judas came, one of the twelve, and with him a great crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the elders of the people. [He] had given them a sign, saying, ‘The one I will kiss is the man; seize him.’ And he came up to Jesus at once and said, ‘Greetings, Rabbi!’ And he kissed him. Jesus said to him, ‘Friend, do what you came to do.’ Then they came up and laid hands on Jesus and seized him.” Matthew 26:20-23,25,30-31,36a,45-50; John 13:26-27,30

How prone we are to turn from, even against, those who hurt us, deceive us, do not agree with us. We put up walls of protection, justifying our fortresses with rights and our resentment with self-absorbed reason. We cut off communication so we can sit comfortably and preach to the choir while criticizing those who sing a different song.

Jesus betrayed with a kiss, 18th century Dutch Delft

Yet Jesus was prone a different way. He nurtured, valued, maintained to the end His friendship with the one who would betray Him unto death. He knew Judas would turn from Him, yet He welcomed him at the table, warned him, offered food to him, looked in his eyes and said, ‘Go ahead and turn Me in,’ and allowed him to leave, in the darkness of his soul, into the night. He kept loving.

Buffeted by hurt when the other disciples then fell asleep, burdened by the agony of the impending cross, Jesus’s wound of betrayal by Judas through a poisoned sign of affection gave Him every reason to hate this man in whom He had invested so much. Yet, He loved on, even after the kiss, and called him friend.

Would I boldly be such a friend to those who mistreat me? Can I? Indeed, my Savior has so loved me, though I betray Him in my will, attitudes, words, and actions. (Matthew 5:44; 11:19)

“Jesus! What a friend for sinners!
Jesus! Lover of my soul;
Friends may fail me, foes assail me,
He, my Savior, makes me whole.”  ~John Wilbur Chapman (1910)

My Lord, thank You for loving me and calling me friend. Make me more, wholly, like You. (John 15:15)

The Folly of Self-Assurance

Then Jesus said to them, ‘You will all fall away because of me this night. For it is written, “I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.” Peter answered him, ‘Though they all fall away.., I will never fall away.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.’ Peter said to him, ‘Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you!’ Then Jesus went with them to Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, ‘Sit here, while I go over there and pray.’  And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he.. said to them, ‘My soul is very sorrowful; remain here, and watch with me.’ And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, ‘So, could you not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.’ 

Now Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard. And a servant girl came up to him and said, ‘You also were with Jesus the Galilean.’ But he denied it before them all, saying, ‘I do not know what you mean.’ And when he went out to the entrance, another servant girl saw him, and she said to the bystanders, ‘This man was with Jesus of Nazareth.’ And again he denied it with an oath: ‘I do not know the man.’ After a little while the bystanders came up and said to Peter, ‘Certainly you too are one of them, for your accent betrays you.’ Then he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, ‘I do not know the man.’ And immediately the rooster crowed. And Peter remembered the saying of Jesus, ‘Before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.’ And he went out and wept bitterly.” Matthew 26:31,33-38,40-41,69-75

Peter knew he was no betrayer, as Jesus had just announced (of Judas) at the Passover, and he was adamant he would never deny his Lord. He was zealous, committed to the One he had left everything to follow three years before. After all, he was in Jesus’s inner circle, privy to the transfiguration, and this night, to His prayer in Gethsemane. (Matthew 4:18-20; 17:1-8)

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As it was, Peter’s bold impulsiveness was ‘open mouth-exchange foot.’ His confidence was in his determination, and Jesus, Who knew his heart as well as his flesh, warned him about relying on his will alone. Promising instead of praying, dozing instead of watching, are a poor substitute for vigilance in resisting temptation. Peter closed his eyes not only in sleep, but to the danger of his self-assurance, and he blatantly denied his Lord.

When do I gloat, ‘I can handle it, I can resist this time,’ then relax in false confidence that has no spiritual tethering or fortitude? Am I playing light with my tongue, unhealthy relationships, expenditures, emotions? When we do fall, our Savior offers grace and redeems us, as He did Peter, to full assurance in Him. (2 Peter 1:1-4)

My unchanging Strength and Salvation, I cannot be sure of myself, but only of You. May I not lean on my own understanding, but in all my ways acknowledge and rely on you. (Proverbs 3:5-6; Isaiah 12:2)

Advanced in Years, Firm in Faith

A long time afterward, when the LORD had given rest to Israel from all their surrounding enemies, and Joshua was old and well advanced in years, Joshua summoned all Israel,.. and said to them, ‘I am now old and well advanced in years. And you have seen all that the LORD your God has done to all these nations for your sake, for it is the LORD your God who has fought for you. Behold, I have allotted to you as an inheritance for your tribes those nations that remain, along with all the nations that I have already cut off, from the Jordan to the Great Sea in the west. The LORD your God will push them back before you and drive them out of your sight. And you shall possess their land, just as the LORD your God promised you… The LORD has driven out before you great and strong nations. And as for you, no man has been able to stand before you to this day. One man of you puts to flight a thousand, since it is the LORD your God who fights for you, just as he promised you. Be very careful, therefore, to love the LORD your God… And now I am about to go the way of all the earth, and you know in your hearts and souls, all of you, that not one word has failed of all the good things that the LORD your God promised concerning you. All have come to pass for you; not one of them has failed.'” Joshua 23:1-5,9-11,14 

I imagine, if Joshua had another heart, that idleness after years of military pursuit would have lent itself to much gloating, stories of great victories grown greater, exaggerated brags of his stellar strategizing, his remarkable leadership, his well-deserved rest. But Joshua was not as so many others; he was God’s man, through and through, and when advanced in years, he showed himself advanced in gratitude to and love for his LORD. His faith was firm in Him, his words exalted Him, his life was hid in Him.

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While God had temporarily given rest to Israel, Joshua knew the land that was still to be conquered had already been claimed. He would not rest on his laurels, but with confidence in this Commander and Victor he knew so well, and with every last breath would remind God’s people of God’s greatness, power, mercies, and promises. His every I is swallowed up in the LORD.

As we advance in life and experience, what, or who, consumes us? In what place are we resting, the boundaried-camp of self, or the high sanctuary of the LORD? Do we feed our personal image so that I grows bigger than my Maker? Do I relish the praises of others instead of turning them to the Deserving One? Why are we prone to take a call from God, but then take credit, upon its achievement, for ourselves?

My covenant LORD, You are faithful and will not fail. May my advancing years advance Your glory, honor, and praise.

Hear, Hence Heed

Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Cursed be the man who does not hear the words of this covenant that I commanded your fathers when I brought them out of the land of Egypt, from the iron furnace, saying, Listen to my voice, and do all that I command you. So shall you be my people, and I will be your God. And the Lord said to me, ‘Proclaim all these words in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem: Hear the words of this covenant and do them. For I solemnly warned your fathers when I brought them up out of the land of Egypt, warning them persistently, even to this day, saying, Obey my voice. Yet they did not obey or incline their ear, but everyone walked in the stubbornness of his evil heart. Therefore I brought upon them all the words of this covenant, which I commanded them to do, but they did not. They have turned back to the iniquities of their forefathers, who refused to hear my words. They have gone after other gods to serve them.'” Jeremiah 11:3-4,6-8,10

How interesting that this curse pronounced by the Lord is first for those who do not hear, who refuse to listen; then He says, ‘and obey.’ While our obedience is a matter of will, it stems from what we take into our minds and allow to influence our thinking. Input affects output, and the Lord is teaching that listening to and understanding God’s word, allowing it to take root and grow in us, shapes our thoughts and attitudes, permeates our will, and is our impetus to think rightly, accept truth, and thus obey.

“May the mind of Christ my Savior
Live in me from day to day,
By His love and pow’r controlling
All I do and say.
”  ~Katie Barclay Wilkinson (1859-1928)

What noise fills my days? Much is available, some unavoidable. But to what do I willfully incline my ears? When I tune in to listen, really listen, what is my source? How am I deciding who to consult for knowledge, insight? Whose opinions matter most to me, and should they? How do I determine which news is real, what experts are right, whose advice to value? Would I first go to the Way and Truth to seek His counsel? Will I consult the Bible as my perfect text? When I soak in God’s revelation of Himself, His promises and good plans and instruction for His children, His word grows in my spirit to bear fruit in my living. With warmed affection for Him, and a heart of reverence and gratitude, my desire becomes God-ward, my will wants to obey. (Proverbs 2:1-11; John 14:6)

“Speak, O Lord, as we come to You
To receive the food of Your Holy Word.
Take Your truth, plant it deep in us;
Shape and fashion us in Your likeness,
That the light of Christ might be seen today
In our acts of love and our deeds of faith.
Speak, O Lord, and fulfill in us
All Your purposes for Your glory.”  ~Stuart 
Townend, Andrew Christopher, Keith Getty

Yes, Lord, speak, and tune my heart to hear, my will to heed. Amen.