Posts Tagged 'Promised Land'

How To Succeed in Life

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Let’s be completely honest: Moses must have been a hard act to follow! Here’s how Deuteronomy records his epitaph:

Since then, no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face, who did all those signs and wonders the Lord sent him to do in Egypt—to Pharaoh and to all his officials and to his whole land. For no one has ever shown the mighty power or performed the awesome deeds that Moses did in the sight of all Israel. (Deuteronomy 34:10 – 12 NIV)

How would you like to be the guy to succeed such a national treasure? We know the story of Israel didn’t end with the death of Moses atop Mount Pisgah. We also know that Joshua, a man who faithfully remained in Moses’ shadow for four decades, was the one who took his place. The book that bears his name was, in all probability, written in the main by Joshua himself. Both ancient and modern Jewish tradition, as well as much of conservative Christian opinion, attests to this.

The book is part autobiography and part history. As to the book of Joshua’s place in Hebrew history, here’s a bird’s eye-view. In Genesis, God gives birth to Israel and promises to give to it the land of Canaan. In Exodus, He delivers His people from oppression in a foreign land and starts them on their journey to the Promised Land. It is during this journey that He gave them His Law to live by. The book of Numbers records Israel’s wanderings through the desert right up to the gate of Canaan. Deuteronomy outlines final preparations for entering the land. It is here that Moses fades out and Joshua fades in. His book outlines the conquest of Canaan and the division of its territories to the various tribes of Israel. As noted by Irving Jensen:

Joshua is the climax of a progressive history as well as the commencement of a new experience for Israel. Thus its historical nexus gives it a strategic place in the Old Testament Scriptures.

Joshua the man was a man of faith. In fact, he was one of the very few men of faith who left Egypt, remaining absolutely faithful to God and to Moses. He trained diligently under Moses for some 40 years. Numbers 27:18 – 23 records Joshua’s divine calling:

So the Lord said to Moses, “Take Joshua son of Nun, a man in whom is the spirit of leadership, and lay your hand on him. Have him stand before Eleazar the priest and the entire assembly and commission him in their presence. Give him some of your authority so the whole Israelite community will obey him. He is to stand before Eleazar the priest, who will obtain decisions for him by inquiring of the Urim before the Lord. At his command he and the entire community of the Israelites will go out, and at his command they will come in.” Moses did as the Lord commanded him. He took Joshua and had him stand before Eleazar the priest and the whole assembly. Then he laid his hands on him and commissioned him, as the Lord instructed through Moses. (NIV)

Godly leaders are commissioned

For Joshua, it all began back in Deuteronomy 31:7, 8 –

Then Moses summoned Joshua and said to him in the presence of all Israel, “Be strong and courageous, for you must go with this people into the land that the Lord swore to their ancestors to give them, and you must divide it among them as their inheritance. The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.” (NIV)

Man’s time on earth is limited, but God’s plan never ends. Man’s abilities and opportunities are painfully limited to his time and the circumstances he finds himself in. God, however, continues to do His work through the changing times and generations. He never stops working. Moses’ life was almost over; his part in God’s plan was drawing to a close and it was time for someone else to step in and take over.

Up till now, Moses had been the most important man in Israel. He was the one to whom God had spoken. He was the one who did the leading. His word was the law of the land. At 120, he was still doing what he did best, but the end was in sight. And, truth be told, as important and indispensible as Moses may have been, he was not irreplaceable. He may well have been the key man in Israelite politics and religion, but in God’s estimation, Moses was just one spoke in the wheel of His will. It was never the presence of Moses that made kept Israel together all those years, it was the presence of God in Moses’ life. It was time for another to lead God’s people.

Joshua was the man God chose to succeed Moses. He was the one who would lead the people into the Promised Land. Joshua would be the leader who would set the example of being fearless and courageous. The words of Moses are not insignificant. They are not just words of encouragement, but words of experience and promise. And they are words that the Israelites – and we – should take to heart. It’s all well and good to have a godly man in leadership, but that godly man should be trusting in God and so should the people. The people’s trust should be in God, not in the leader God has appointed.

This could be called “Leadership 101.” Human leadership is important, but regardless of who the human leader is our faith should be vested in God for it is He who enables and empowers. Leaders are expected to set the example of trusting God. This takes two character traits sorely missing in our culture today: humility and integrity. Moses had both by the bucketful. Joshua did, too. John MacArthur wrote:

According to Scripture, virtually everything that truly qualifies a person for leadership is directly related to character. It’s not about style, status, personal charisma, clout, or worldly measurements of success. Integrity is the main issue that makes the difference between a good leader and a bad one.

And so Moses commissioned Joshua in front of Israel, then the Lord inaugurates him:

The Lord gave this command to Joshua son of Nun: “Be strong and courageous, for you will bring the Israelites into the land I promised them on oath, and I myself will be with you.” (Deuteronomy 31:23 NIV)

Joshua needed to be as certain that God had called him as Moses had been. God had spoken to Moses regarding Joshua, and then the Lord Himself spoke to Joshua. Those are wonderful words of encouragement that would be repeated again and again. And they needed to be. Joshua would need to be reminded many times to be “strong and courageous” and that God was with him because the words the Lord spoke this day weren’t all sunshine and buttercups. The God who knows the future shared that future with Moses just prior to his death:

“When I have brought them into the land flowing with milk and honey, the land I promised on oath to their ancestors, and when they eat their fill and thrive, they will turn to other gods and worship them, rejecting me and breaking my covenant. And when many disasters and calamities come on them, this song will testify against them, because it will not be forgotten by their descendants. I know what they are disposed to do, even before I bring them into the land I promised them on oath.” (Deuteronomy 31:20, 21 NIV)

More than ever, Joshua would need to have faith in God’s words to Moses and to him. He had a commission to fulfill and a job to do, regardless of the circumstances now or in the future.

Godly leaders are courageous

“Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:7 – 9 NIV)

God definitely wanted Joshua to “be strong and courageous.” But notice the phrase “keep this Book of the Law.” That’s an important phrase. There were no written Scriptures before Moses. God had spoken to people, like the patriarchs, but they didn’t compile their various revelations. They were passed on from person to person verbally. God spoke to Moses face-to-face and he recorded the gist of those conversations and compiled the verbal history of Israel into what we call “The Pentateuch,” the first five books of the Bible. That was the “Book of Law” Joshua was to always remember and never forget. In those five books God had given the people all they needed to know in order to enter into the Promised Land and prosper. Joshua and the people were to read it, think about it, and observe it. The promise attached to obeying God on this point is glorious: They, the Israelites, would be prosperous and successful.

It’s important for us to understand exactly what God had promised to Joshua and the Israelites. All the promised success and properity would come from God. In other words, their source was God Himself. Without God, there would be defeat; with God there would be success and prosperity. That’s God’s soveriegnty at work. But mixed in with that sovereignty was the condition of their obedience. Faith without works is dead, James would write. This is certainly true in the case of Joshua and Israel. All the success and prosperity in the world would be theirs if they obeyed the Word of the Lord, part of which included being “strong and courageous.” The blessing of God would follow the obedience and work of the people.

But it would all start with Joshua and his example. God’s charge to Joshua is full of tremendous lessons for the Christian. We all want to enjoy the very best of God’s blessings. We want success and prosperity in life. And we need to understand that successful living is a promise – yes a promise – of God. It is also a gift from God that is available to all believers and attainable with the help of God. The enemies of our soul: Satan, the world, and our very flesh, need to be driven out just as the enemies of the Israelites needed to be driven out of the Promised Land. Those enemies would nullify God’s promises to Israel as surely as our spiritual enemies will do the same in our lives. But those enemies of ours are also God’s enemies, and so He promises help in conquering them. Success and prosperity can be yours, but they are costly, indeed. Believers are to live in constant and consistent obedience to God’s Word, never deviating from it or forgetting it or ignoring it. For too many Christians, that’s too high a price. Oh yes, we want success and prosperity in life but we stubbornly refuse to do what’s necessary to obtain those blessings! And when we fail, instead of placing the blame where it belongs, squarely on our shoulders, we blame God!

The blessings of victrorious Christian living come by invitation to the Christian, but the conditions for its fulfillment come by mandate. Believers, like Joshua, cannot afford to ignore God’s command:

“Have I not commanded you?” (Joshua 1:9 NIV)

How To Inherit God’s Promises

Canaan

Numbers 33:50 – 56

The Israelites were so close to the Promised Land, they could look across the Jordan right into it. Up to this point in Numbers 33, Moses recalls the past for the sake of his people and of the inspired record he set down. If you were to read Numbers 33:1 – 47, you would be struck with the seemingly never-ending patience of God as He preserved His people during their travels, beginning with their Exodus from Egypt. The trip from Mount Sinai to the Promised Land should have been quick and simple. Thanks to the people’s rebellious, sinful attitudes, God forced them to turn back from the Promised Land and He made the walk around the desert for almost 40 years until that sinful generation died off. Essentially, God would start fresh with a new group of people entering into the Promised Land. During the 40 years, God preserved and put up with almost constant complaining, murmuring, often thankless people until He led them right back to where they started: the border of the Promised Land.

The Israelites learned a lesson, and so should we. The life we Christians enjoy in Christ, our “land of rest,” depends on the same grace of God. If you are serving the Lord, you may experience supernatural provision, happiness, and peace in the here-and-now thanks only to God’s grace. The children of Israel were often discouraged because of God’s will – their wilderness wanderings. God’s will may not always be exciting or something that you particularly enjoy either, but it is God’s will none-the-less and rather than “kicking against the goad,” it’s best for you to submit to His will and enjoy all that His grace has to offer. It’s a lot less work, a lot less frustrating, and a lot more rewarding experience.

They left the mountains of Abarim and camped on the plains of Moab by the Jordan across from Jericho. There on the plains of Moab they camped along the Jordan from Beth Jeshimoth to Abel Shittim. (Numbers 33:48, 49 NIV)

So here are, after four decades, Israel found itself standing on the plains of Moab, directly across from Jericho and the wonders of “the land flowing with milk and honey.” The Jordan River was the only thing between the people and the promise. The tens of thousands of Israelites were occupying an area of about five miles square; plenty of room for them to wait for the word to enter Canaan. Ronald Allen, in his commentary on Numbers, makes six keen observations of what was going on in Numbers 33. Of those six, two are worth noting here.

First, in the midst of Moses’ account of the Israelite’s travels, he abruptly pauses to mention something else:

While they were at the foot of Mount Hor, Aaron the priest was directed by the Lord to go up into the mountain, and there he died. This occurred during the fortieth year after the people of Israel had left Egypt. The date of his death was July 15, when he was 123 years old. (Numbers 33:38 – 40 TLB)

Moses was dying and he knew it. Much of this chapter may be regarded his obituary, written ahead of time by himself. In the midst of his obituary, Moses memorializes his brother Aaron. It’s a small point but a remarkable one that speaks to the character of both Moses and his brother. Moses, the reluctant hero, deliverer, and leader of a nation and his brother, Aaron, the nation’s spiritual leader, were both significant men of God and significant men in the history of Israel. They were not sinless. They were far from perfect. And, when God called them into service, Moses and Aaron had already lived half a lifetime; these were not young men. But they both rose to their callings. They both, no doubt, got more grief than they deserved, and yet both men kept on, walking the road God had put them on. Neither man would be allowed to enter Canaan, but they were men of God.

Secondly, as you read Numbers 33, there is absolutely no mention of the rebellion of the people; no mention of the 40 years of judgment and punishment. If all you knew about Israel’s history came from this chapter, you would rightly conclude that Israel marched faithfully, from one staging point to another, from Egypt to the Canaan. Why is that, do you suppose? In God’s records, the new generation had replaced the old one. As far as God was concerned, there had never been a previous rebellious and sinful generation. The people who arrived at the banks of the Jordan were regarded by God as the people who had left Egypt.

What do we take away from this? God’s will; His eternal purpose and plan for His people will always be realized, despite the loss and disappearance of an entire generation. Or, in other words, with or without your help or co-operation, God’s will is going to come to pass.

That Land of Promise, like all of God’s promises, could only be received and entered into by faith. Like the children of Israel, let’s take a few moments to look into the Promised Land.

What was it like?

From all the songs and hymns we sing, you might get the impression that Canaan Land was just like Heaven. In fact, it probably wasn’t. Canaan Land, far from being like a place, was like a Person: the Lord Jesus Christ. Think about this: Canaan was the following things.

A land of plenty

Remember how God Himself described the Promised Land:

So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey (Exodus 3:8 NIV)

Remember what the spies saw when they spied out the Land:

When they reached the Valley of Eshkol, they cut off a branch bearing a single cluster of grapes. Two of them carried it on a pole between them, along with some pomegranates and figs. (Numbers 3:23 NIV)

They gave Moses this account: “We went into the land to which you sent us, and it does flow with milk and honey! Here is its fruit.” (Numbers 3:27 NIV)

Canaan was everything God said it would be. Would it have been anything else? It was something – some place – God had given to them. God only gives good things to His people. Even during their time wandering around the desert, God was still giving them good things (whether they fully realized it or not!).

The Lord your God has blessed you in all the work of your hands. He has watched over your journey through this vast wilderness. These forty years the Lord your God has been with you, and you have not lacked anything. (Deuteronomy 2:7 NIV)

Even when you don’t deserve it, God will provide for you. What a foreshadow of what Jesus Christ does for His people.

And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:19 NIV)

A God-given land

Canaan was a piece of property God gave personally to His people. It was a Land of Promise for every Israelite to enjoy. All they had to do was receive it. Jesus Christ is a Person given to every human being:

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned (John 3:16 – 18a NIV)

But just like the Promised Land, Jesus is a promise waiting to be claimed. Until the Israelites went in to possess the Land, it really didn’t belong to them even though God gave it to them. Until a lost soul reaches out in faith to possess the gift of God in Jesus Christ, He doesn’t belong to them, either.

How to possess the promise

Believe

If you, like the Israelites before you, want to “possess the land,” or possess the promises God has in store for you, you need to remember what a “promise” is. The promise of God must be accepted by the one God made it to. The promise He has promised man is eternal life in Christ Jesus. You must believe, not only in Him, but in what He accomplished for you. It was unbelief that kept Israel out of the Promised Land for 40 years and it is unbelief that keeps eternal life elusive to so many lost souls.

Possess

Canaan could not be claimed and owned by the Israelites until they were IN it. They had to claim it with their feet!

I will give you every place where you set your foot, as I promised Moses. (Joshua 1:3 NIV)

Don’t think this is another “name-it-and-claim-it” message, because it isn’t. Nobody can claim the promises of God until they are IN Christ. If you are in Christ, you will receive the promises of God in due time.

Confront

Sometimes, as in the case of Israel, possessing God’s promises may take a little bit of work.

“When you pass across the Jordan River into the land of Canaan, you must drive out all the people living there and destroy all their idols—their carved stones, molten images, and the open-air sanctuaries in the hills where they worship their idols. I have given the land to you; take it and live there.” (Numbers 33:51 – 53 TLB)

There may not be people in between you and your promise, but maybe you may have to deal with some sin in your life. Or maybe some doubt or faithlessness. Whatever you need to “drive out” in order to receive your promise, it will be more than worth the effort to do it. There is an enemy determined to keep you away from the promises God has given to you and you may have to deal with him, too.

A warning:  You may fail

God had given Canaan to Israel, but it wasn’t a done deal by a long shot. Failure was possible.

But if you refuse to drive out the people living there, those who remain will be as cinders in your eyes and thorns in your sides. (Numbers 33:55 TLB)

It’s hard to imagine, but living in disobedience to God’s revealed will can literally turn the blessings of God into small curses that make life hard for you. Israel had to do exactly what God told them to do, otherwise they would forever be plagued with aggravations and irritations all the years they lived in the land gave them.

How many Christians are genuine, true believers, yet live miserable lives because they are just slightly out of His will?

Disobedience is fatal

If failing to do all that God wants you to do results in you living a sub-standard Christian life, then outright, continual disobedience is deadly.

And I will destroy you as I had planned for you to destroy them. (Numbers 33:55 TLB)

The Importance of Glorifying God

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More than one Bible scholar has noted that Numbers 27 has a “distinctly modern” tone to it. Indeed, the first part of it deals with something we’ve heard a lot about: women’s rights. But there’s more going on here than meets the eye. The problem only seems to be about gender. It’s really about something else. It’s about a fundamental building block of a free society: private property or property rights. It started like this –

“Our father died in the wilderness,” they said, “and he was not one of those who perished in Korah’s revolt against the Lord—it was a natural death, but he had no sons. Why should the name of our father disappear just because he had no son? We feel that we should be given property along with our father’s brothers.” (Numbers 27:3, 4 TLB)

Here was something not dealt with in the Law the Lord gave to Moses some 40 years ago. It’s been that long since Israel had left Mount Sinai and traveled to the border of the Promised Land. Because of their lack of faith and rebellious, mutinous attitude, God would not allow any Israelite to enter the land. In fact, God’s will for Israel now changed. Where once it had been for them to march in and just take possession of the land He gave them, now His will was for the whole nation to turn around and march through the desert for 40 years until the present faithless generation died off.

Yes, it’s a serious thing to go against God’s will. If you’re like the minority of Christians that actually knows God’s will (most do not, by the way), you probably find yourself going against it, like the Israelites did. What you don’t find yourself doing, however, is being forced to wander around a desert as punishment. That doesn’t mean God hasn’t noticed the fact that you rebelled against Him nor does it mean you haven’t disappointed Him. What it does mean is this: If you habitually find yourself out of God’s will, you may do just fine in life. But you’ll never know the full blessing of God; you’ll never know what it feels like to be in the very center of His will. In other words, you’ll won’t be living life to the fullest unless or until you get into the mainstream of the will of God.

God’s solution

So one day, some women came to Moses with a complaint. But it wasn’t like the many other complaints he had to endure; this one had merit and Moses did just what he should have done:

So Moses brought their case before the Lord. (Numbers 27:5 NIV)

This problem was unprecedented. Moses needed a special kind of wisdom; wisdom from above.

And the Lord replied to Moses, “The daughters of Zelophehad are correct. Give them land along with their uncles; give them the property that would have been given to their father if he had lived. Moreover, this is a general law among you, that if a man dies and has no sons, then his inheritance shall be passed on to his daughters. And if he has no daughter, it shall belong to his brothers. And if he has no brother, then it shall go to his uncles. But if he has no uncles, then it shall go to the nearest relative.” (Numbers 27:6 – 11 NIV)

There are ignorant people in the world who think that the Bible – and Judaism and Christianity – put women down or keep women down. Nothing could be further from the truth. Judaism, and later Christianity, liberated women from all kinds of oppression. The notion that women should have an equal place with men in society is unique to the Judeo-Christian tradition.

So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. (Galatians 3:26 – 29 NIV)

Far from being mere baby-producing machines and chefs, women were given a dignity they never had before, in any other culture on earth. Indeed, she became an integral part of the family for all time.

A sin comes home to roost

The good news for women soon gave way to bad news for Moses. The time had come for the Lord to judge Moses for a sin he committed back at the waters of Meribah.

[T]hen Moses and Aaron summoned the people to come and gather at the rock; and he said to them, “Listen, you rebels! Must we bring you water from this rock?”

Then Moses lifted the rod and struck the rock twice, and water gushed out; and the people and their cattle drank. But the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not believe me and did not sanctify me in the eyes of the people of Israel, you shall not bring them into the land I have promised them!” (Numbers 20:10 – 12 TLB)

It took a while, but it was time for Moses to step aside as leader of the Israelites. Many times in the Old Testament we read about the swift judgment and punishment of God, but here is an incident that seems more commonplace to the modern Christian. He is a lot like Moses in that he sins, he knows he has sinned and he knows that without the forgiveness provided by Christ on the Cross he will be face judgment and punishment eventually. But he will live a lifetime before facing his Maker and Judge. Moses knew what his punishment would be but it took a while for it to come to pass. He would live with the knowledge of what he had done and he would live with the knowledge that he would not escape punishment. But in an act of mercy, Moses would be allowed to look into the Promised Land but not to enter into it.

What was the sin Moses was guilty of at Meribah? He struck a rock twice, but was that the sin? According to the text, something else was going on.

When the people of Israel rebelled, you did not glorify me before them by following my instructions to order water to come out of the rock. (Numbers 27:15 TLB)

It appears as though not glorifying God when you have the chance to do so is a serious sin. How many times have we done this very thing? How many times have we not only not glorified God, but actually made God look bad by our words or actions? Thank God for His mercy! But what happened to Moses should serve as a solemn lesson to all believers.

Moses was generally an obedient and faithful servant of the Lord, yet this single incident caused his whole life to be a bitter-sweet experience for him. Maybe you’re like that. Maybe you’re obedient to the Lord sometimes, but often you wander off and try your hand at doing your own thing. Life for you – and other believers like you – must surely be bitter-sweet. There are moments when God seems so close that He feels like He’s right beside you, yet other times He seems to be a million miles away. Bitter-sweet; a life no Christian needs to live.

Moses didn’t have the benefit of the kind of grace you and I experience in Christ, so he had to pay the price for his arrogant presumption that resulted in God not being glorified. Not only he, but Aaron, for Aaron also died before coming to the Promised Land. In graphic fashion we see a before-hand fulfillment of verse in the New Testament, 1 Peter 4:17 –

For it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? (NIV)

The solemnity of this section of Numbers is made all the more striking because of what preceded it. In the first 11 verses of Numbers 27, we read about the remarkable righteousness of God in how He dealt with a group of unfortunate women. And here we see the utter holiness of God. God did not take lightly Moses’ assault on His holiness. We shouldn’t be afraid of God, but we need to learn how to revere Him; how to respect His Person. He is a real Person; He may be offended; He may be hurt; He may be angered.

Moses’ failure and victory

Obviously, there is the main lesson of this section of Numbers, which deals with how one treats God and how God should be treated. But there’s something else going on, sort of percolating just under the surface; a spiritual lesson about the weakness of the Law, exemplified by Moses. Spiritually, Moses (the Law) was not allowed to ender the Promised Land (Heaven). Only through faith and not the Law may one gain entrance into Heaven. Even our best efforts are never enough for God because we are unable to do for ourselves what only Jesus can do for us.

Moses could not enter the Promised Land because of the imperfection of his character. What Moses did he did in front of everybody; for all to see. Moses wasn’t a wicked or evil man; he was imperfect. Moses’ successor, Joshua, was not perfect – nobody is – yet he was permitted by an act of God’s grace to lead Israel into the Land.

Moses could look at the Promised Land but not enter it. The Law could lead a person only so far, but grace brings him home. Paul described the Law as a “schoolmaster,” that leads and teaches but eventually hands a person over to grace to finish the job.

Moses didn’t complain about God’s judgment, he wanted others to reap what he had sown. Even as Moses was given the bad news, he was concerned about who would get Israel into the Promised Land. He wanted Joshua to succeed where he failed. Moses was a class act all the way to the end. His love was for his people and he wanted only was best for them.

God could have judged and punished Moses back at Meribah. Why didn’t He? It was because, in spite of his sin, God wasn’t finished with Moses; Moses still had to finish the job God had for him. He had to get his people back to the border of Canaan Land.


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