Joshua, chapters 1-5

“Have I not commanded you? Be courageous and strong. Do not be struck with terror or fear, for Jehovah your God is with you wherever you go.”
~Joshua 1:9

These words were being repeated to Joshua, Israel’s new leader, since little before Moses died and up until Joshua commanded the men in some of the tribes to be ready for battle (De. 31:7; Jos. 1:6,18).

I have read these words countless times, seeking strength during times of high anxiety.

This time, I cannot help but wonder at how repetitive they are.

Was Joshua visibly reluctant or nervous?

He had already proved himself to be a fearless warrior, zealous guard, and loyal spy (Ex. 17:10; 33:11; Nu. 14:6-10).

Perhaps he had grown accustomed to his role of serving as minister to Moses.

Perhaps invading and conquering a foreign land as well as directing an entire nation suddenly seemed more daunting than it ever had before Moses’ death .

Or perhaps Joshua did have his worries under control and he was simply being reminded to remain calm no matter what.

Whatever the case, Joshua did not step back from the plate.

Chapter Two describes him sweeping into action, ordering spies into a city he is but days away from overtaking (Jos. 2:1).

This passage makes me ask myself: how do I react when I am given a new assignment in the congregation to carry out on my own?

It is normal to feel scared or nervous, but to reject a task simply because it is beyond my comfort zone would reflect a selfish, immature attitude lacking in faith.

Joshua was not born a leader. God trained him and gave him the resources he needed.

All Joshua had to do was stay optimistic, trusting in God, using his common sense.

He made mistakes. We all make mistakes. But his courage kept moving him and his people forward, and so God remained by his side.

Deuteronomy, chapters 32-34

“Moses was 120 years old at his death. His eyes had not grown dim, and his strength had not departed.”

~Deuteronomy 34:7

I had the opportunity to share this passage with an elderly woman in the ministry last week.

She is in her late 70s and has been undergoing cancer treatment for the last three years.

She still has two more years of treatment before she can go back to her “normal” life.

The medication she takes has very painful side effects.

She cannot usually sleep at night and her bones hurt constantly.

I’ve known her for a little over a year and every time I visit her, she complains about the pain and wishes she could just let herself die.

Our initial visits were all about why God allows pain and suffering, whether life is ruled by karma or random chance.

In later visits we focused on God’s kingdom, the hope that one day earth will be without any pain, suffering or even death.

As we talked last week about Moses’s end-of-life, we noted that Moses did not start his life’s major work until he was about 80 (Acts 7:20-36).

So, even in old age, we should not face life with an attitude of giving up, as if the best is already behind us.

In my friend’s case,  she does not have the strength she had 15 or 30 years ago.

But she contributes so much to her family’s and neighbor’s quality of life just by being there, enduring, joking around with them.

Now she has finally learned God’s reasons for allowing pain and suffering, understanding that he is not the one to blame for our lamentable state.

Through that understanding she no longer feels angry at God, so whatever the future holds for her, she can be at peace, knowing he has her best interests in mind (Jer. 29:11).

Moses knew Jehovah “face-to-face,” and perhaps none of us will ever enjoy that privilege (De. 34:10).

But we can imitate the faithful attitude Moses demonstrated up until his last breath, even as he looked at the entirety of the promised land, conscious that he was not to enter it (De. 34:4,5).

‘For God is not unrighteous so as to forget our work and the love we show for his name,’ ‘therefore, do not give up, but even if the man we are outside is wasting away, certainly the man we are inside is being renewed from day to day,’ (Heb. 6:10; 2 Cor. 4:16).

 

Numbers, chapters 33-36

‘They may marry whomever they wish. However, they should marry someone from a family of the tribe of their father.” […]
The daughters of Zelophehad did just as Jehovah had commanded Moses. […] so that their inheritance would remain in the tribe of their father’s family.
~Numbers 36:6,10,12

When looking up information on Zelophehad, what we know about him mostly comes from the story about what his five daughters did after he passed away (Insight on the Scriptures, vol. II, pp. 1228-1229).

He was a descendant of Manasseh, having died during the forty years in which Israel wandered the desert, and he never had any sons (Nu. 26:29-33; 27:3).

Had he had at least one son, his family line would have most likely blended into the Scriptures along with the names of Jacob’s many other descendants.

Originally, the promised land was to be distributed from fathers to sons.

But when Zelophehad’s daughters asked, “Why should the name of our father be lost from his family because he had no son? Give us a possession among our father’s brothers,” Jehovah replied through Moses:

“The daughters of Ze·lo′phe·had are correct. You should by all means give them the possession as an inheritance among their father’s brothers and transfer their father’s inheritance to them,” (Nu. 27:4-7).

Zelophehad had no way of knowing that after his death, his name would not only remain, but be used as a reference in matters concerning the just distribution of inheritances and as an example of pious obedience and loyalty.

Who knows what personal sacrifices his five daughters had to make in order to obey Jehovah’s new law concerning the marriage and inheritance of brother-less women.

Did they already have boyfriends or their own personal plans for the future?

At least one of them, perhaps Mahlah, had to be old enough to take the initiative and guide the others before the entire assembly (Nu. 27:2).

In any case, by marrying men within their own tribe, they demonstrated a respect toward God that was obviously influenced by their upbringing.

Zelophehad must have been an excellent father. He would have been very proud of his daughters.

We have no way of knowing the extent to which our actions influence the future, so even when we feel irrelevant, it is important to try wholeheartedly to carry out our roles the best we can.

 

 

 

Numbers, chapters 10-13

So all that day and all night and all the next day, the people stayed up and gathered the quail.
No one gathered less than ten ho′mers [2200 L, or 581 gall.], and they kept spreading them all around the camp for themselves.
But while the meat was still between their teeth, before it could be chewed, Jehovah’s anger blazed against the people, and Jehovah began striking the people with a very great slaughter.
~Nu. 11:32,33

Israel had traveled roughly 425 km (264 mi) when they started complaining about eating manna.

The “mixed-crowd,” or non-Israelites,who were in their midst then expressed selfish longing, and the Israelites too began to weep again and say: ‘Who will give us meat to eat?'” (Nu. 11:4).

Moses, brought to the brink of desperation, complained to Jehovah.

“From where will I get meat to give to all this people?
For they keep weeping before me, saying, ‘Give us meat to eat!’ […]
If this is how you are going to treat me, please kill me right now.
If I have found favor in your eyes, do not make me see any more calamity,” (Nu. 11:13,15).

Yes, even Moses, who had confronted Pharaoh, crossed the Red Sea on dry land, spoken with God on several occasions, laid down the foundations of law and religion for millions of people, even he had limitations and came to feel suicidal.

Jehovah heard Moses out and promised to bring meat to the people (Nu. 11:18).

Moses doubted this but Jehovah reassured him that he was perfectly capable of accomplishing the task, also noting that the people of Israel had hurt God’s own feelings with their ungrateful complaining (Nu. 11:20-23).

“Then a wind from Jehovah sprang up and began driving quail from the sea and causing them to fall around the camp, about a day’s journey on this side and a day’s journey on the other side, all around the camp, and they were about two cubits [89 cm, or 2.9 ft.] deep on the ground,” (Nu. 11:31).

The Awake! magazine from December of 2007 draws the following lesson:

When the Israelites desired meat to eat in the wilderness, Jehovah provided an abundance of quail.
Greed caused them selfishly to abuse that gift, greatly angering Jehovah God.
God has not changed since then.
Accordingly, responsible Christians avoid needless waste, which could be a sign of greed.
Some may view the unlimited consumption of energy or other resources as their right.
But natural resources should not be squandered simply because we can afford them or there is an abundance.
After Jesus miraculously fed a large crowd, he directed that the remaining fish and bread be gathered (John 6:12).
He was careful not to waste what his Father had provided.

And just as God exterminated those who made immoderate use of resources then, God warns us of our own future through a prophecy in the book of Revelation:

“[…] Your own wrath came, and the appointed time came […] to bring to ruin those ruining the earth,” (Re. 11:18).

Food for thought. 🙂

Exodus, chapters 30-33

“But now if you are willing, pardon their sin; if not, please wipe me out from your book that you have written.”
~Exodus 32:32

Moses is making reference to the “book of life,” a figurative book representing God’s memory of those who have passed away and whom he will one day resurrect (Rev. 3:5).
Shortly after Israel solemnly vowed to obey God, Moses was on Mt. Sinai receiving instructions on how to institute pure worship (Exo. 24:3, 12).
Meanwhile, back at the camp, the people were growing restless.
They concluded something must have happened to Moses and asked his brother, Aaron, to make them a god- a tangible one that they could worship then and there (Exo. 32:1).
Aaron succumbed to the pressure and figured the gold idol he made was just as well a representation of Jehovah (Exo. 32:2-5).
Jehovah was furious and he explored the option of exterminating the nation in order to form a new nation stemming from Moses (Exo. 32:10).
Moses humbly appealed to God on behalf of his people, begging him to take other factors into account (Exo. 32:11-13).
Of course, Jehovah already knew he was going to give Israel the opportunity to repent time and again, but by planting the option of extermination, we can appreciate Moses’s self-sacrificing attitude and the great love he felt for those whom he led.
Moses was willing to be wiped out from existence because the extermination of his people would have signified he had failed them as a leader.
This leads me to ask myself: do I show similar concern for the welfare of those who have been commended to my spiritual tutelage?

feast to idol

Israelites deviated to idol-worship despite having solemnly sworn to vow only before Jehovah.

Exodus, chapters 19-22

Exodus 21:21~
“However, if he survives for one or two days, he is not to be avenged, because he is someone bought with his owner’s money.”

From a modern perspective, it makes no sense that the law God handed down to the Israelites through the hand of Moses would regulate slavery rather than abolish it.
After all, hadn’t God just finished a series of spectacular miracles, some at a great cost to human life, with the purpose of freeing them from slavery?
Although that was part of the reason, the main reason God had freed them was to fulfill the promises he had made to Abraham, their ancestor, (Exo. 2:23-25).
The readings from the last two weeks have highlighted the lack of faith the Israelites demonstrated as a whole during the exodus process.
Therefor it is not surprising that a practice common to their times, unfair as it was, would be engrained into their culture; similar to the practice of having more than one wife, which most people in modern Western civilization find objectionable.
God’s purpose never was for slavery to exist, for 1,500 years later Peter arrived at the correct conclusion when he stated: “Now I truly understand that God is not partial, but in every nation the man who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him,” (Acts 10:34,35).
It would take a very long time to adjust the erroneous thinking of the people of ancient Israel, and most Jews never accepted the new law as prescribed by Christ (Matt. 22:37-40).
In the mean time, God did set forth a set of rules to regulate forced labor.
The Hebrew word e′vedh can mean slave or servant, depending on the context,(Insight on the Scriptures, volume 2).
Hebrews sold into slavery were freed in the seventh year of their servitude, or in the year of the Jubilee, which occurred every 50 years, depending on which came first, and their master had to give them a parting gift for them to start a new life (Exo. 21:2; Deut. 15:13-15).
Female Hebrew slaves were to either become concubines to their masters or legal wives to their sons with all the inheritance rights therein, otherwise they were to be set free. They could not be sold to foreigners (Exo. 21:7-11).
Adult human trafficking of others was illegal and punishable by death (Exo. 21:16).
With that in mind, I will return to the text I cited at the beginning.
Did the law give less value to the life of a slave than to the life of a free person?
If a master injured his/her slave with a non-lethal instrument and the person took more than two days to die, that would indicate the master did not have murder as an intention.
Furthermore, the master would be at an economic loss if the slave did die.
That is why the law protected the master from being avenged if the slave died under these circumstances.
However, if the slave was maimed, he was to be set free (Exo. 21:26,27).
If the slave did die within two days, the master was to be put to death without fail, (Lev. 24:17).
It is not my intention to justify slavery under Mosaic Law. I believe the law came from Jehovah and it was applicable to that culture and time. If they heeded God’s law, their community would benefit and behave more justly than other nations were behaving at that particular point in time.
After all, Jehovah’s wisdom is unquestionable, having “made out of one man every nation of men to dwell on the entire surface of the earth, and he decreed the appointed times and the set limits of where men would dwell, so that they would seek God,” (Acts 17:26).

Exodus, chapters 15-18

Then Moses said to them: “Nobody should leave any of it until the morning.” But they did not listen to Moses. When some men left some of it until the morning, it bred worms and stank, and Moses became indignant at them.

~Exodus 16:19,20

Then Moses said: “Eat it today, because today is a sabbath to Jehovah. Today you will not find it on the ground. You will pick it up for six days, but on the seventh day, the Sabbath, there will be none.” However, some of the people did go out to pick it up on the seventh day, but they found nothing.

~Exodus 16:25-27

It is surprising how careless some of the Israelites were when it came to obeying details.

Moses had demonstrated he was their God-appointed leader and yet, they still questioned his instructions.

Such unwilling attitudes could have disheartened Moses, who had risked his life to go back to Egypt and see them free across the Red Sea.

But Moses kept tending to them as he would have done to his sheep when he was a shepherd, refining his patience on a day-to-day basis.

Concentrating on the Israelites’ lack of faith, this teaches me that I should obey God’s instructions even when the details seem illogical from a human perspective.

Christ has appointed “gifts in men” to serve as shepherds in the congregation (Eph. 4:8).

“And he gave some as apostles, some as prophets, some as evangelizers, some as shepherds and teachers, with a view to the readjustment of the holy ones, for ministerial work, to build up the body of the Christ,” (Eph. 4:11).

These men have no personal gain by serving the congregation, other than the satisfaction of having done what is right.

They make arrangements for the well-being of our spiritual-family, knowing that God will provide means to see those arrangements to fulfillment.

These arrangements may not always make sense.

Some members of the congregation may criticize or even refuse to cooperate.

An attitude that constantly questions counsel given in accordance with Bible principles can prove detrimental to our own spirituality and eventually dishearten those who serve us.

Our love for God is tested in the details (Luke 16:10).

My Book of Bible Stories Story 34 illustration

The Israelites had to trust in Jehovah that he would provide all they needed, when they needed it.