Be Courageous (Joshua 1:1-9)

After the death of Moses the servant of the Lord, the Lord spoke to Joshua son of Nun, Moses’s assistant, saying: 

“My servant Moses is dead. Now proceed to cross the Jordan, you and all this people, into the land that I am giving to them, to the Israelites. Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given to you, as I promised to Moses. From the wilderness and the Lebanon as far as the great river, the River Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites, to the Great Sea in the west shall be your territory. 

No one shall be able to stand against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will not fail you or forsake you. 

Be strong and courageous, for you shall lead this people to possess the land that I swore to their ancestors to give them. Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to act in accordance with all the law that my servant Moses commanded you; do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, so that you may be successful wherever you go. 

This book of the law shall not depart out of your mouth; you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to act in accordance with all that is written in it. For then you shall make your way prosperous, and then you shall be successful. I hereby command you: Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” (New Revised Standard Version)

Freedom came to the ancient Israelites; they were delivered from their cruel Egyptian bondage. Then, they wandered through the desert for forty years; and, after the death of their leader Moses, were poised to enter the Promised Land. 

However, it was going to be no cakewalk. There were pagan peoples entrenched in the land. It would be a huge feat to conquer their territory. Joshua, the young aide-de-camp of Moses, now leader of the people, would be the one to go before them in battle. Understandably, Joshua was likely nervous, maybe even downright scared. 

So, the Lord came to Joshua. God told him to be strong and courageous, to not be afraid to claim the divine promise of the land. 

The path to success for Joshua – as well as all God’s people – is not by the physical sword but by the sword of the Lord, the Word of God. 

The Lord was plainspoken about the need to intimately know the Law given to the people and to continually meditate upon it. Being careful to do everything written within it, Joshua would find both the courage and the wisdom to lead the people to victory.

It still remains true for all God’s people that faithful knowledge, sage wisdom, and careful adherence to Holy Scripture comes through meditation upon its contents. 

There is a great need amongst believers to continually ruminate on God’s Word. We live on a broken planet, filled with all sorts of adversity, hardship, difficulty, and challenge to living a committed spiritual life. And so,

we may sometimes wonder how to address and deal with it all; our problems might seem as large as taking the Promised Land. 

The place to begin is by going to the Word of God – not so much in an anxious, hasty, or impatient question-and-answer sort of way which looks for a quick response; but instead, in a slow, deliberate, contemplative way. 

Lasting and genuine spirituality, as well as a sense of settled success, comes not only through acknowledging the importance and integrity of Scripture; one must know it’s contents, and allow it’s wisdom to saturate the soul through consistent and continual meditation.

Scripture memorization is a discipline worth pursuing. Having large chunks of the Holy Bible in our minds and hearts helps us in the crucible of challenging situations and adverse circumstances. 

What’s more, when doing the everyday pedantic and tedious work, we can engage our minds in the practice of contemplation on those verses we have committed to memory. Meditation on God’s Word is a necessary practice if we want to have success in living a genuinely well-rounded life.

Courage and meditation are a package deal. Bravery and contemplation are meant to be wed together. One rarely comes without the other – which means the realization of our good dreams, for both us and the world, needs the practice of Scripture meditation.

God Almighty, my delight is in your law, and on it I meditate day and night. (Psalm 1:2)

O how I love your law! It is my meditation, my food and drink, all day, every day. (Psalm 119:97)

I will meditate on your precepts and honor your ways in all I do and say. (Psalm 119:15)

I am determined to lift my hands to your commandments, which I love; and I will meditate on your statutes. (Psalm 119:48)

I look forward to the wee hours of the night because it provides me the space and the quiet to meditate on your word. (Psalm 119:148)

In fact, I meditate on all your doings through both day and night; I ponder and consider the works of your hands. (Psalm 143:5)

Amen.

Joshua 4:14-24 – The Importance of Visual Reminders

That day the Lord brought honor to Joshua before all Israel. They respected him all his life, just as they had respected Moses.

The Lord told Joshua, “Instruct the priests carrying the ark of the covenantal laws to come up from the Jordan.” So, Joshua instructed the priests, “Come up from the Jordan!” The priests carrying the ark of the covenant of the Lord came up from the middle of the Jordan, and as soon as they set foot on dry land, the water of the Jordan flowed again and returned to flood stage.

The people went up from the Jordan on the tenth day of the first month and camped in Gilgal on the eastern border of Jericho. Now Joshua set up in Gilgal the twelve stones they had taken from the Jordan. He told the Israelites, “When your children someday ask their fathers, ‘What do these stones represent?’explain to your children, ‘Israel crossed the Jordan River on dry ground.’ For the Lord your God dried up the water of the Jordan before you while you crossed over. It was just like when the Lord your God dried up the Red Sea before us while we crossed it.He has done this so all the nations of the earth might recognize the Lord’s power and so you might always obey the Lord your God.” (New English Translation)

On my hospital office desk, where I can see it every day, is a scapular. “Scapular” is the Latin word for “shoulders.” A scapular typically consists of two small pieces of cloth, a few inches in size, which has a religious image on one, and a message on the other. There are two bands of cloth connecting the message or image.

The wearer places one square on the chest, rests the bands on each shoulder and lets the second square drop down the back. Worn by some Catholic faithful, the scapular serves to remind the believer of their commitment to live a Christian life.

The particular scapular I have in my possession was given to me by a patient when I was first starting out as a hospital chaplain. I was called to the room of a dying patient. He was afraid of death. So, we conversed together for an hour about his life, his fears, and his devotion to faith. At the end of the conversation, the patient took off the scapular he was wearing, which states, “Whosoever dies wearing this Scapular shall not suffer eternal fire.”

Regardless of what you think about scapulars and the particular message on this one, most important to me is what the patient said next with tears in his eyes: “I’ve worn this scapular every day for the past forty years. Here, I want you to have it. I don’t need it anymore. I am no longer afraid of death.”

The patient died. But he died at peace with God and without fear. I keep his scapular on my desk as a constant reminder of why I am a hospital chaplain, and how important the work I do is. Anytime I get discouraged or have a hard day, when I return to my office, the scapular reminds and reorients me that the spiritual care of patients is a privileged and sacred responsibility.

The ancient Israelites were finally ready to enter the Promised Land. The twelve tribes miraculously crossed the Jordan River on dry ground. God had stopped the water from flowing. After everyone crossed over, the river went back to flowing again.

Joshua, their leader, instructed people from each tribe to take a large stone from the river and place them in a heap for two didactic reasons:

1) To educate future generations inside Israel that God kept the promise to bring them into a land of abundance; and

2) To educate those outside Israel that God is mighty.

It’s important that we all have a continual awareness of why we are here on this earth and what our purpose is. Our history is significant and needs to be remembered.

Yet, there are many families and faith communities in which the children know little about how God worked in their parents’ lives, not to mention the many previous generations. Having tangible reminders of God’s past actions helps everyone remember. 

Just as people ask me about why I have a scapular on my desk, so having reminders of God’s grace in prominent visible places serves to aid all ages of folks to ask why those mementos are there.

It is good to have visual reminders of faith and the faithful people who influenced us around our homes, places of work, and communities so that others may discover and know the redemptive acts of God, that the Lord keeps promises.

Almighty God, we praise and magnify your holy Name for all your servants who have finished their course in faith and patience. May we remember them and their service well. We humbly pray that, at the day of resurrection, we and all who are members of the mystical body of your Son may be set on his right hand, and hear his most joyful voice: “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” Grant this, O merciful Father, for the sake of Jesus Christ, our only Mediator and Advocate. Amen

Judges 2:6-15 – *Sigh*

After Joshua had dismissed them, the People of Israel went off to claim their allotted territories and take possession of the land. The people worshiped God throughout the lifetime of Joshua and the time of the leaders who survived him, leaders who had been in on all of God’s great work that he had done for Israel. Then Joshua son of Nun, the servant of God, died. He was 110 years old. They buried him in his allotted inheritance at Timnath Heres in the hills of Ephraim north of Mount Gaash.

Eventually that entire generation died and was buried. Then another generation grew up that didn’t know anything of God or the work he had done for Israel.

The People of Israel did evil in God’s sight: they served Baal-gods; they deserted God, the God of their parents who had led them out of Egypt; they took up with other gods, gods of the peoples around them. They actually worshiped them! And oh, how they angered God as they worshiped god Baal and goddess Astarte! God’s anger was hot against Israel: He handed them off to plunderers who stripped them; he sold them cheap to enemies on all sides. They were helpless before their enemies. Every time they walked out the door God was with them—but for evil, just as God had said, just as he had sworn he would do. They were in a bad way. (MSG)

The Old Testament book of Judges reads like a soap opera. The main characters are the ancient Israelites, fresh from coming into the Promised Land; God, the One who brought them into the land with a series of miraculous events and divine interventions; and, of course, the Judges, the men and women who led the people and ruled in the land.

Throughout the book of Judges, there are plenty of adventures and misadventures. The exploits and foibles narrate a sad downward spiral of people forsaking the worship of God; God arresting their attention; the people awakening to their dire condition and crying out to God; God sending a Judge to save them; the people slipping into a worse condition; and, the cycle starting all over again with more disastrous results and brokenness than before. *Sigh*

In today’s lesson, we get a clue as to where it all began and why it kept happening. Tucked away in the middle of these verses is the cryptic message that when Joshua’s generation died, the next generation did not know the Lord or any of the mighty acts God did on their behalf. *Sigh*

The first generation of Israelites born into the Promised Land were flat out ignorant of God because their parents and religious leaders failed to pass on values, experiences, and knowledge to their children. They were not intentional about providing the kind of education to their kids that would let them know about the person and work of God. *Sigh*

Emerging generations need present generations to grab hold of the mandate to graciously teach and develop them in the words and ways of Jesus Christ – because faith is not a magically delicious box of Lucky Charms which providentially drops from the sky. *Sigh*

It behooves us all to consider ways to pass on the grace and truth of Jesus to the next generation – and to do so in a loving and compelling way. And, if you feel a low confidence level in doing this, go on a discovery with teens, kids, and grandkids so that you are all learning together.

A few of the ways my wife and I taught our three girls when they were young included singing Scripture, even coming up with our own original tunes; dramatizing biblical stories, complete with costumes and interesting ad libs; and, prayer walking together outside.

I am more than confident younger generations will have ideas that are not boring or pedantic. In other words, take some initiative and have some fun with it. Then, neither you nor anyone else will be ending sentences with a big *Sigh*

Lord God Almighty, you have acted in the past with mighty deeds and gracious ways. Enable your people to pass on their love for Jesus to the next generation so that your kingdom breaks into the generations and your will be done here on earth as it is always done in heaven. Amen.

Joshua 20:1-9 – Asylum

A painting of Hebron, one of the cities of refuge, 1839.

The Lord said to Joshua, “Now tell the Israelites to designate the cities of refuge, as I instructed Moses. Anyone who kills another person accidentally and unintentionally can run to one of these cities; they will be places of refuge from relatives seeking revenge for the person who was killed.

“Upon reaching one of these cities, the one who caused the death will appear before the elders at the city gate and present his case. They must allow him to enter the city and give him a place to live among them. If the relatives of the victim come to avenge the killing, the leaders must not release the slayer to them, for he killed the other person unintentionally and without previous hostility. But the slayer must stay in that city and be tried by the local assembly, which will render a judgment. And he must continue to live in that city until the death of the high priest who was in office at the time of the accident. After that, he is free to return to his own home in the town from which he fled.”

The following cities were designated as cities of refuge: Kedesh of Galilee, in the hill country of Naphtali; Shechem, in the hill country of Ephraim; and Kiriath-arba (that is, Hebron), in the hill country of Judah. On the east side of the Jordan River, across from Jericho, the following cities were designated: Bezer, in the wilderness plain of the tribe of Reuben; Ramoth in Gilead, in the territory of the tribe of Gad; and Golan in Bashan, in the land of the tribe of Manasseh. These cities were set apart for all the Israelites as well as the foreigners living among them. Anyone who accidentally killed another person could take refuge in one of these cities. In this way, they could escape being killed in revenge prior to standing trial before the local assembly. (NLT)

God is concerned for justice. The Lord made sure that as soon as the Israelites got into the Promised Land that the divine rule of law would be established concerning cities of refuge. God did not take the stance of saying, “Well, these guys need to get settled in after all this military campaigning. I don’t want to overwhelm them with having to deal with this issue.” No, the Lord considered it imperative to have the cities set up. It was important enough to not put off or wait for Joshua to get around to it, even though it was on his to-do list.

The six cities of refuge in Israel.

God made it clear to Moses what was to happen in the case of involuntary manslaughter:

When the Lord your God has destroyed the nations whose land he is giving you, and when you have driven them out and settled in their towns and houses, then set aside for yourselves three cities in the land the Lord your God is giving you to possess. Determine the distances involved and divide into three parts the land the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, so that a person who kills someone may flee for refuge to one of these cities.

This is the rule concerning anyone who kills a person and flees there for safety—anyone who kills a neighbor unintentionally, without malice aforethought. For instance, a man may go into the forest with his neighbor to cut wood, and as he swings his ax to fell a tree, the head may fly off and hit his neighbor and kill him. That man may flee to one of these cities and save his life. Otherwise, the avenger of blood might pursue him in a rage, overtake him if the distance is too great, and kill him even though he is not deserving of death, since he did it to his neighbor without malice aforethought. Therefore, I command you to set aside for yourselves three cities. (Deuteronomy 19:1-7, NIV)

A city of refuge is a place of safety where someone who murdered another unintentionally could seek asylum. Safeguarding life is a premium value for God. If one person is accidentally killed, the last thing the Lord wanted was even more innocent blood to be shed out of vengeance.

Law and grace are meant to exist together for the benefit of the entire nation.

Six cities are named, three on the west side of the Jordan River and three on the east side. No place in the land of Israel was more than one day’s journey from at least one of these cities, so God graciously provided ample opportunity for preserving the life of the one who killed without malicious forethought or intent.

Although sanctuary was given, there was a full investigation of the killing to ensure the innocence of the killer. If the killer was found to be guilty, then appropriate legal action was taken. If not, the person was only protected while within the bounds of the refuge city.

Therefore, it is important to approach God’s law and God’s grace not as an either/or but as a both/and. We are to show grace while obeying the law, and we are to maintain just laws when extending grace.

The crime should fit the punishment, and actions, even unintended ones, have consequences.

We need to continually work to uphold both law and grace together without forfeiting one for the other. Simplistic answers along with cut-and-dried approaches will not do when holding them together. Instead, issues of human life and death are to be given due diligence with examining the situation in all its complexity.

There is to be public respect for the sanctity of human life.

Showing such respect will come through both law and grace. By establishing cities of refuge, God was squelching generational feuds that go on and on and on. Justice will be done, yet it will be done with grace and not by family vendettas and blood feuds, like the Hatfield’s and McCoy’s.

God’s people are to live differently, with gracious respect for all life at the forefront of civil law.

Lord God, thank you for creating human life in your image and likeness, for the inherent worth you place on human existence. Help us to uphold the sanctity of life in our communities. Give us the strength to stand up to those forces that seek to destroy the lives of those most vulnerable. Today I commit myself never to be silent, never to be passive, never to be forgetful of respecting life. I commit myself to protecting and defending the sacredness of life according to your will, through Christ our Lord. Amen.