He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High
Will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say to the LORD, “My refuge and my fortress.
My God, in whom I trust.”
For it is He who delivers you from the snare of the trapper,
And from the deadly pestilence.
He will cover you with His pinions,
And under His wings you may seek refuge;
His faithfulness is a shield and bulwark.
Is God a chicken who has feathers and wings? No. Does God, who is spirit, cast a shadow? No. This is the writer using figurative language. The Psalms are poetry and the writers use poetic language to convey lofty ideas. We are not meant to take poetic language literally. What is the main idea we are to understand here? God is someone we can trust, someone whose very nature is to protect and rescue. Our soul rushes to Him for refuge.
For He will give His angels charge concerning you,
To guard you in all your ways.
They will bear you up in their hands,
Lest you strike your foot against a stone.
You will tread upon the lion and cobra,
The young lion and the serpent you will trample down.
Satan tried to use this Scripture with Jesus when tempting Him to throw Himself off the top of the temple (Luke 4:9-12). Jesus replied that we are not to tempt God. Satan wanted Jesus to take these verses literally, but Jesus knew what was really at stake and refused. There are places in the United States today where snake-handling is part of their religious worship. They, too, are taking this and similar verses literally, but I say what they are really doing is tempting God. We are not to tempt God, but to trust Him. When we are in dangerous situations, not of our own choosing, God is there to see that no evil harms us. God has your back, so to speak.
“Because he has loved me, therefore I will deliver him.” Psalm 91:14a. God’s love is not figurative. It is literal, and He proved it at the cross.
Deuteronomy 29, 30 Psalm 91 Romans 11
Deuteronomy 29:1-15; 30:11-20 Psalm 91:1-4 Romans 11:25-36
It is good to give thanks to the LORD,
And to sing praises to Thy name, O Most High;
To declare Thy lovingkindness in the morning,
And Thy faithfulness by night.
When I read these words this morning, I thought about the morning and evening e-mails I send to Andrea and Bethany each day. Since my fall and concussion of December 2007, I have been, at their request, faithfully informing my daughters twice a day that I am still okay. Sometimes that means just a simple “goodnight” or “good morning.” However, beginning tomorrow I am going to amplify those thoughts by saying instead:
Here I am, declaring God’s lovingkindness this morning.
Here I am, declaring God’s faithfulness tonight.
This will give me the perfect lead-in to relate whatever kindness and faithfulness I have experienced during the past twelve or so hours, not just for their benefit, but for mine, as I deliberately focus on the good that God is doing in my life.
For this is the kind of person I want to be:
The righteous man will flourish like the palm tree,
He will grow like a cedar in Lebanon.
Planted in the house of the LORD,
They will flourish in the courts of our God.
They will still yield fruit in old age;
They shall be full of sap and very green,
To declare that the LORD is upright;
He is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in Him.
Deuteronomy 31, 32 Psalm 92 Romans 12
Deuteronomy 31:1-8; 32:1-4 Psalm 92:1-4 Romans 12:9-2
"And this do, knowing the time, that it is already the hour for you to awaken from sleep; for now salvation is nearer to us than when we believed. The night is almost gone, and the day is at hand. Let us therefore lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us behave properly as in the day, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual promiscuity and sensuality, not in strife and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts." Romans 13:11-14.
It is the latter part of this passage that was the instrument of Saint Augustine’s conversion. In his Confessions, Augustine tells it like this as he agonized over his own sinfulness: Why not now? Why not is there this hour an end to my uncleanness?
So was I speaking, and weeping in the most bitter contrition of my heart, when lo! I heard from a neighbouring house a voice, as of boy or girl, I know not, chanting, and oft repeating, “Take up and read; Take up and read.” Instantly, my countenance altered, I began to think most intently, whether children were wont in any kind of play to sing such words: nor could I remember ever to have heard the like. So checking the torrent of my tears, I arose; interpreting it to be no other than a command from God, to open the book, and read the first chapter I should find. . . . Eagerly then I returned to the place where Alypius was sitting; for there had I laid the volume of the Apostle, when I arose thence. I seized, opened, and in silence read that section on which my eyes first fell: Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying: but put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh in concupiscence. No further would I read; nor needed I: for instantly at the end of this sentence by a light as it were of serenity infused into my heart, all the darkness of doubt vanished away.
Augustine went on to become one of the most influential Christian philosophers and theologians of Western Christianity. He is revered by Catholics as well as Protestants. His Confessions and The City of God are two of his books that are widely read today. He lived in North Africa most of his life, was appointed as a bishop early in his Christian life, and died in A.D. 430. God used Romans 13:14 as a means of ending Augustine’s agony and giving him new life in Christ.
Deuteronomy 33, 34 Psalm 93 Romans 13
Deuteronomy 33:1-3; 34:1-12 Psalm 93:1-2 Romans 13:1-14
Today we begin our reading of the book of Joshua. Joshua is already a familiar figure for us as we read about him in Exodus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. What have we learned so far?
- He was from the tribe of Ephraim, which means that one of his ancestors was Joseph
- From the time of his youth, he attended Moses
- He was with Moses on Mt. Sinai when God gave the ten commandments
- He was one of the twelve spies of Numbers 14, one of the two faithful ones
- The Spirit of God was on him
- He was filled with a spirit of wisdom
- He was commissioned by Moses to be his successor
- Moses was his mentor
- Moses was told to encourage and strengthen Joshua
- Joshua was called the servant of Moses
In addition to all his years of being with Moses and of being taught by him, Joshua had these words from God Himself:
No man will be able to stand before you all the days of your life. Just as I have been with Moses, I will be with you; I will not fail you or forsake you. Be strong and courageous, for you shall give the people possession of the land which I swore to their fathers to give them. Only be strong and very courageous; be careful to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, so that you may have success wherever you go. This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go. Joshua 1:5-9.
Finally, after all the years of wandering, Israel was about to realize the great promise of God. And Joshua was the one who was to lead the charge. He had need of strength and courage for his daunting task. But so do we all! Our own way forward often seems daunting to us. Yet it is the same God who has said that He will not leave us or forsake us. Strengthen your own heart today and take courage no matter what your challenge!
Joshua 1, 2 Psalm 94 Romans 14
Joshua 1:1-11; 2:1-7, 22-24 Psalm 94:17-19 Romans 14:7-9
Now I urge you, brethren, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God for me,
- that I may be delivered from those who are disobedient in Judea,
- and that my service for Jerusalem may prove acceptable to the saints,
- so that I may come to you in joy by the will of God
- and find refreshing rest in your company. Romans 15:30-32.
I have taken some liberties in the layout of these verses, but I wanted to emphasize the requests for which Paul was asking prayer. Paul was on his way to Jerusalem to deliver a contribution from the churches of Macedonia and Greece for the poor Christians in Jerusalem. He intended to go to Rome from Jerusalem in order to finally meet the Roman Christians, whom he had been wanting to see for some time.
The question is: Were these prayers answered? Not in the way Paul had anticipated. Yes, the offering was probably acceptable, but what about deliverance from his enemies in Jerusalem? Acts 23 tells of Paul’s dramatic escape from death at the hands of some Jews, but he did not escape imprisonment. In fact, Paul spent at least two years as a prisoner in Caesarea before becoming a prisoner in Rome for at least another two years. Did Paul go to Rome in joy despite going in chains? Knowing Paul, he probably did. There is no doubt this was part of the will of God, however. And Acts 28:30 tells us that while in Rome he had “his own rented quarters, and was welcoming all who came to him.” This would lead me to say that he did find “refreshing rest” in their company at last, but hardly as he would have imagined when he was writing this letter to the Romans.
It is good to have plans, as Paul did. It is good to pray and to ask for prayer, as Paul did. But God has plans too, and those are not always the same as ours. When our plans do not work out, and when our prayers are seemingly not answered, it does not mean that God is not at work in our lives.
Our part is to:
- Be open to God
- Allow God the freedom to do as He pleases in our life (without complaining)
- Exercise a radical trust in God, no matter what
Joshua 3, 4 Psalm 95 Romans 15
Joshua 3:7-17; 4:1-11 Psalm 95:1-6 Romans 15:1-7
Now it came about when all the kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan to the west, and all the kings of the Canaanites who were by the sea, heard how the LORD had dried up the waters of the Jordan before the sons of Israel until they had crossed, that their hearts melted, and there was no spirit in them any longer, because of the sons of Israel. Joshua 5:1.
Now Jericho was tightly shut because of the sons of Israel; no one went out and no one came in. Joshua 6:1.
Imagine the scene. You are a citizen of Jericho. The familiar river Jordan has done the unheard of – it has dried up during mid-flood. The familiar Jordan has allied itself with this horde of strange people, these Israelites as they are called, and allowed them to cross into your territory. Their camping place is nearby. They’ve been doing nothing either good or bad for several days. The gates of Jericho are locked tight, however. No one is moving in or out of the city. Then a noise is heard, a noise of a trumpet. Then comes a long line of marching men. Marching, marching, but not making a sound. Only the sound of the trumpet. Marching around the city and then disappearing. Not a word from their lips. The next day it is the same. For six days. You were already terrified. Now the suspense is adding to the terror. What is happening? What will happen to me?
We know the rest of the story. On the seventh day, Jericho and everything in it was destroyed, except for Rahab and her family.
As Hebrews 10:31 tells us, “It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” And yet, most of our contemporary America has no sense of the fear of God. We go about our lives as if there were no God, or at least not a vengeful God. That is not the testimony of Scripture. The bible makes it clear that Yahweh is coming to judge the earth. It will be a joyful time for some:
Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice;
Let the sea roar, and all it contains;
Let the field exult, and all that is in it.
Then all the trees of the forest will sing for joy
Before the LORD, for He is coming;
For He is coming to judge the earth.
He will judge the world in righteousness,
And the peoples in His faithfulness.
Those who are clothed in the righteousness of Christ will rejoice in that day. Those who reject Him have every reason to tremble and be afraid, like the people of Jericho.
Joshua 5, 6 Psalm 96 Romans 16
Joshua 5:1, 13-15; 6:1-5, 15-21 Psalm 96:1-6 Romans 16:25-27
After the spectacular victory over Jericho, it was a bitter blow for the Israelites to be defeated by little Ai. The reason, however, soon became clear. Someone had sinned against God’s explicit command, and God was making an example of him. The man was Achan, and this is what he had to say for himself:
Truly, I have sinned against the LORD, the God of Israel, and this is what I did: when I saw among the spoil a beautiful mantle from Shinar and two hundred shekels of silver and a bar of gold fifty shekels in weight, then I coveted them and took them; and behold, they are concealed in the earth inside my tent with the silver underneath it. Joshua 7:20-21.
For our meditation today, I want us to think about the connection between coveting and taking and concealing.
First of all, coveting is particularly singled out as one of the “Thou shalt nots” of the Ten Commandments. Deuteronomy 6:21 puts it like this: “You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, and you shall not desire your neighbor’s house, his field or his male servant or his female servant, his ox or his donkey or anything that belongs to your neighbor.” Coveting is something more than the simple desire of wanting something, for many of our wants are genuine needs that we have as human beings. Coveting, as one of the ten commandments, is particularly wanting something that belongs to someone else, which one may not legitimately buy or otherwise possess. The type of coveting that is forbidden is the kind that would take against the will of the lawful owner.
In the case of the items taken by Achan, God was the legitimate owner. Joshua had specifically told them before the capture of Jericho: “And the city shall be under the ban, it and all that is in it belongs to the LORD.” Joshua 6:17a. Not only did Achan greatly desire these banned items, but he actually took them from God, the rightful owner! Coveting is a kind of strong desire that is going to “take,” commandment or not!
Secondly, there is the concealment. Achan knew he had done wrong, and he wanted no one else to know. Of course, it is foolish to think we can hide anything from God, but when sin takes hold and we do what is forbidden, our instinct is to hide. If we can’t hide it from God, we can at least hide it from man! It never works. All our hidden deeds will eventually come to light. It is better to confess and forsake our sins today rather than have God expose them when we least expect it.
Joshua 7, 8 Psalm 97 Mark 1
Joshua 8:1-22, 30-35 Psalm 97:10-12 Mark 1:21-28
SOME OBSERVATIONS FROM MARK 2
“And when He had come back to Capernaum several days afterward, it was heard that He was at home.” Mark 2:1. Although it is known that Jesus had once said that He had nowhere to lay His head, He was speaking hyperbolically, because the text, here and elsewhere, tells us that He made His home in Capernaum when He left Nazareth. Perhaps His home was with Peter and his family who lived in Capernaum. Archaeologists have uncovered the ruins of what they are certain is Peter’s house, and it is a favorite tourist destination, especially for Christians. The town today is not inhabited.
“And they came, bringing to Him a paralytic, carried by four men . . . And Jesus seeing their faith said to the paralytic, ‘My son, your sins are forgiven.’” Mark 2:2, 5. It was not the faith of the paralytic but the faith of the four men to which Jesus responded. Let us not despise the impact we have when we, in faith, touch the lives of others and bring them to Jesus, by our words or deeds or prayers.
“And hearing this, Jesus said to them, ‘It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.’” Mark 2:17. Jesus’ closest companions were the twelve apostles, but He deliberately put Himself in situations where He could minister to those who knew they were sinners. Those who considered themselves too good for the scum of society did not even realize that they were the neediest of all. Let us not despise the weak, the lowly, the unlovely; it is often they whose hearts are most susceptible to the love of Christ.
“And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost; and the skins as well; but one puts new wine into fresh wineskins.” Mark 2:22. I believe that Jesus was here speaking of the newness of the Gospel. The old traditions of the law would not be able to contain the new life in the Spirit. Jesus came to fulfill the law but He also came to bring life, life more abundant; and that life would require new forms and expressions that would be radically different from the old.
“The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.” Mark 2:27b. Even in the order of creation, man was created before the Sabbath rest of the seventh day. Moreover, God gave man the responsibility of ruling over and of tending the creation so that it could be used for his benefit. It is not God’s intent that nature be our master, as some present-day environmentalists would like.
Joshua 9, 10 Psalm 98 Mark 2
Joshua 10:1-15 Psalm 98:1-6 Mark 2:23-28
Truly I say to you, all sins shall be forgiven the sons of men, and whatever blasphemies they utter; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin. Mark 3:28-29.
My definition of blasphemy is this: irreverent or false utterances against God. Under the Old Testament law, blasphemers were to be stoned, and today in some Muslim countries, those who blaspheme Allah are liable to punishment by the authorities or by the mobs. But blasphemy against the Holy Spirit has a far greater punishment than physical death; it is eternal damnation because it is unforgiveable. For this reason, we should have some understanding of its meaning.
We must, therefore, look at what is the Holy Spirit’s work in the world. Jesus said this in John 16:8: “And He [speaking of the Holy Spirit], when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin, and righteousness, and judgment.” The Holy Spirit’s job in the life of unbelievers is to convict people of their need for salvation and show the way of salvation. If, during the process of conviction, a person says to himself, “This is not God; this is the devil,” that person is blaspheming or making false statements about the work of God in his life. In other words, the unforgiveable sin is to reject God’s gracious work in our heart that would lead us to salvation. It is saying “No! I have no sin. No! I have no need of this kind of righteousness. No! I will never come into judgment.”
It is obvious, then, that no Christian can commit the unforgiveable sin because the Christian has already said yes to the Holy Spirit regarding sin and righteousness and judgment. Instead, to that person, the Holy Spirit comes as a comforter and a helper.
But to those who resist the work of the Holy Spirit, it is like taking the side of Satan who is a liar and the father of lies. It is choosing Satan’s way instead of God’s way. It is choosing to believe in the lie that says “I am okay just as I am. I have no need of God. I can do life on my own.” That person is actively suppressing the witness of the Holy Spirit to the contrary. As long as he persists in that self-talk, he has no hope.
But I am persuaded of better things of you. Continue to say yes to the work of the Holy Spirit in your life. Open yourself to Him. Trust Him with all your heart.
Joshua 11, 12 Psalm 99 Mark 3
Joshua 11:16-23; 12:7-24 Psalm 99:6-9 Mark 3:1-6
Now Joshua was old and advanced in years when the LORD said to him, “You are old and advanced in years, and very much of the land remains to be possessed. This is the land that remains: . . .” Joshua 13:1 ff.
“Very much of the land remains to be possessed.” This seems almost to contradict what Joshua 11:23 says, “So Joshua took the whole land, according to all that the LORD had spoken to Moses, and Joshua gave it for an inheritance to Israel according to their divisions by their tribes. Thus the land had rest from war.” So which is it? Did Joshua take the whole land or was there much left to be possessed? My answer to that question is that both are correct. But we must make a distinction between people who were to be subjugated and land which was to be possessed. By the end of Joshua’s life the entire area was under the subjugation of the Israelites; the wars had ended, and so it is possible to say that the land was taken. But all the land was not yet occupied, and that is what remained to be done. Joshua portioned out the territory for each of the tribes, and it was then up to them to occupy it. In their subjugation of the land of Canaan, the Israelites had bypassed some enemy strongholds and destroyed others. Now, as they were getting ready to fully occupy the land, it was up to the individual tribes to complete the destruction of the strongholds that had been bypassed earlier.
Besides clarifying a possible issue readers might have in the book of Joshua, I think there is an additional insight we can gain here. That is an analogy to the Christian life and sin.
Christ has gained the greater victory over sin for us, but there remain pockets of resistance within us. It remains for us to root out that which is not pleasing to Christ. He will help us, and when He does, we will eventually be victorious. But it takes some active fighting on our part. We cannot become complacent and think that it does not matter if I am disobedient to Christ in this area of my life. No. The longer we tolerate sin in our life, the stronger it becomes and the harder it is to uproot. We cannot ignore the enemy’s stronghold in our life. We are meant to destroy it so that we can fully possess the abundant life Christ means for us to have.
Joshua 13, 14 Psalm 100 Mark 4
Joshua 13:1-7; 14:6-15 Psalm 100:1-5 Mark 4:21-34