The Curses

11 That day Moses charged the people, saying, 12 “When you have crossed over the Jordan, these shall stand on Mount Gerizim to bless the people: Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Joseph, and Benjamin. 13 And these shall stand on Mount Ebal for the curse: Reuben, Gad, Asher, Zebulun, Dan, and Naphtali. 14 And the Levites shall declare to all the men of Israel in a loud voice:

15 “‘Cursed be the man who makes a carved or cast metal image, an abomination to the Lord, a thing made by the hands of a craftsman, and sets it up in secret.’ And all the people shall answer and say, ‘Amen.’

16 “‘Cursed be anyone who dishonors his father or his mother.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’

17 “‘Cursed be anyone who moves his neighbor’s landmark.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’

18 “‘Cursed be anyone who misleads a blind man on the road.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’

19 “‘Cursed be anyone who perverts the justice due to the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’

20 “‘Cursed be anyone who lies with his father’s wife, because he has uncovered his father’s nakedness.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’

21 “‘Cursed be anyone who lies with any kind of animal.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’

22 “‘Cursed be anyone who lies with his sister, whether the daughter of his father or the daughter of his mother.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’

23 “‘Cursed be anyone who lies with his mother-in-law.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’

24 “‘Cursed be anyone who strikes down his neighbor in secret.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’

25 “‘Cursed be anyone who takes a bribe to shed innocent blood.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’

26 “‘Cursed be anyone who does not confirm the words of this law by doing them.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’ Deuteronomy 27:11-26 ESV

In this passage are recorded the words of Moses instructing the Israelites to conduct a special ceremony in conjunction with the construction of the memorial and the altar to God. Moses had made it clear that these things were to be high priorities, having instructed the people to complete them “on the day you cross over the Jordan to the land that the Lord your God is giving you” (Deuteronomy 27:2 ESV). The inscribing of the law onto the plastered stones, the building of the altar to God, and the offering of sacrifices to Him were all to be completed within the first 24 hours of their arrival in the land. And verses 11-26 contain one more important task the people were obligated to complete that very first day.

As soon as they crossed over the Jordan, Joshua was to divide the tribes into two separate groups. One group was to stand on Mount Ebal, while the other was to make their way to Mount Gerizim. The Levites would stand in the valley between the two mountains and shout out the blessings and curses that would come with their decision to keep or disobey the law of God.

The fulfillment of this order from Moses is recorded in the book of Joshua.

At that time Joshua built an altar to the Lord, the God of Israel, on Mount Ebal, just as Moses the servant of the Lord had commanded the people of Israel, as it is written in the Book of the Law of Moses, “an altar of uncut stones, upon which no man has wielded an iron tool.” And they offered on it burnt offerings to the Lord and sacrificed peace offerings. And there, in the presence of the people of Israel, he wrote on the stones a copy of the law of Moses, which he had written. And all Israel, sojourner as well as native born, with their elders and officers and their judges, stood on opposite sides of the ark before the Levitical priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord, half of them in front of Mount Gerizim and half of them in front of Mount Ebal, just as Moses the servant of the Lord had commanded at the first, to bless the people of Israel. And afterward he read all the words of the law, the blessing and the curse, according to all that is written in the Book of the Law. There was not a word of all that Moses commanded that Joshua did not read before all the assembly of Israel, and the women, and the little ones, and the sojourners who lived among them. – Joshua 8:30-35 ESV

But it is important to note that this event took place after the Israelites had won a victory against Jericho, an endeavor that took six days to complete. This was followed by an attempt by the Israelites to defeat the city of Ai. But because of sin in the camp, the Israelites were routed by the people of Ai. After several days of delay, during which Joshua ascertained the guilty party and had him executed, the Israelites finally defeated the city of Ai. But more than a week had passed since they had entered the land. It was after their destruction of Ai and its inhabitants that Joshua finally got around the carrying out the instructions given to them by Moses.

When Israel had finished killing all the inhabitants of Ai in the open wilderness where they pursued them, and all of them to the very last had fallen by the edge of the sword, all Israel returned to Ai and struck it down with the edge of the sword. And all who fell that day, both men and women, were 12,000, all the people of Ai. But Joshua did not draw back his hand with which he stretched out the javelin until he had devoted all the inhabitants of Ai to destruction. Only the livestock and the spoil of that city Israel took as their plunder, according to the word of the Lord that he commanded Joshua. So Joshua burned Ai and made it forever a heap of ruins, as it is to this day. And he hanged the king of Ai on a tree until evening. And at sunset Joshua commanded, and they took his body down from the tree and threw it at the entrance of the gate of the city and raised over it a great heap of stones, which stands there to this day. – Joshua 8:24-29 ESV

One of the things Moses had repeatedly warned the people about was the need for them to obey God completely. He had clearly warned them, “You shall therefore obey the voice of the Lord your God, keeping his commandments and his statutes, which I command you today” (Deuteronomy 27:10 ESV).

And yet, just days after having entered the land and after having experienced a miraculous victory over the city of Jericho, God accused the entire nation of unfaithfulness.

“Israel has sinned; they have transgressed my covenant that I commanded them; they have taken some of the devoted things; they have stolen and lied and put them among their own belongings.” – Joshua 7:11 ESV

While it turned out that one man was guilty of the crime, God held the entire nation accountable. And until Achan was exposed as the guilty party and dealt with accordingly, God’s judgment would hang over every single Israelite. God warned them that they must deal with the sin in their midst, or they would continue to fall before their enemies.

“Therefore the people of Israel cannot stand before their enemies. They turn their backs before their enemies, because they have become devoted for destruction. I will be with you no more, unless you destroy the devoted things from among you.” – Joshua 7:12 ESV

Once Achan and his family were eliminated, the curse was lifted and the people enjoyed a great victory over Ai.

So, when Joshua finally got around to carrying out Moses’ instructions regarding the memorial of stones, the building the altar to God, and the recitation of the blessings and the curses, he had the full attention of the people. They had just seen first-hand what happens when anyone disregards or disobeys God’s commands. Thirty-six Israelites had needlessly died in battle against Ai because Achan had chosen to disobey God.

The recitation of the blessings and curses was intended to remind the people of Israel of just how serious God was about obedience. The people would have walked anywhere from 20 to 25 miles to get from Ai to Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim, in spite of their weariness after two battles.

Their defeat against the city of Ai was a powerful reminder of just how dependent they were upon God and how vital the link was between their obedience to God and their future success in the land. If they chose to disregard God’s laws and do things their way, they would find themselves isolated and alone, fighting battles without the assistance and power of God.

There are 12 curses listed in this section, perhaps as a recognition of the 12 tribes of Israel. The list appears to be rather random, dealing with everything from idolatry to lack of love for one’s neighbor. The diversity of the offenses seems intended to represent the broad application of the law to every area of daily life. Any form of disobedience was going to bring the curse of God against them. It was not the significance or seeming magnitude of the transgression that mattered. It was the disobedience itself.

Dishonoring your mother and father, moving a neighbor’s boundary marker, taking advantage of a blind person, or failing to show justice would all result in a curse upon the nation. And with the reading of each successive curse, the people were to shout their affirmation by saying, “Amen!” This word in Hebrew simply means “So be it!” The people of Israel were affirming their understanding of the curse and acknowledging that God was just and righteous in His pronouncement of it. The punishment fit the crime.

Disobedience of God’s holy law was going to have consequences. He had given them free will to obey or disobey, but their choice would not be without ramifications. And as we will see in the next section of verses, the decision to obey God always delivers a far better outcome.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

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There Is A Way…

Thus says the Lord:
“Stand by the roads, and look,
    and ask for the ancient paths,
where the good way is; and walk in it,
    and find rest for your souls.
But they said, ‘We will not walk in it.’
I set watchmen over you, saying,
    ‘Pay attention to the sound of the trumpet!’
But they said, ‘We will not pay attention.’
Therefore hear, O nations,
    and know, O congregation, what will happen to them.
Hear, O earth; behold, I am bringing disaster upon this people,
    the fruit of their devices,
because they have not paid attention to my words;
    and as for my law, they have rejected it.
What use to me is frankincense that comes from Sheba,
    or sweet cane from a distant land?
Your burnt offerings are not acceptable,
    nor your sacrifices pleasing to me.
Therefore thus says the Lord:
‘Behold, I will lay before this people
    stumbling blocks against which they shall stumble;
fathers and sons together,
    neighbor and friend shall perish.’”
Jeremiah 6:16-21 ESV

Life is full of difficult decisions. Every single day, choices must be made. Like a traveler on a journey to a distant hand but who lacks a map, we humans find ourselves facing the challenge of navigating life with a myriad of options in front of us. There are so many choices we could make and paths we might take. But because we lack the ability to see into the future, we are incapable of determining the outcome of our choices ahead of time. And we have all learned over time, that not all of our choices have been good ones. Not all the paths we have taken have gotten us where we had hoped to go. The book of Proverbs provides us some insight into this dilemma.

There is a path before each person that seems right, but it ends in death. – Proverbs 14:12 NLT

The world appears to be all about options. We have so many opportunities in front of us. As free men, we have the ability to choose our lot in life. Sure, there are limits. Lack of available resources, country of origin, ethnic background, gender – all of these things can and often do play a limiting role in our ability to choose our own destiny. But the one thing that holds every human being back and ends up determining their destiny is sin.

As God continues to deliver His message of judgment against the people of Judah, He accuses them of something that should jump out at us. He says that they have determined to take another path than the one He has chosen for them. He refers to it as the “ancient path” or the “good way”. He reminds them that this path will provide them with rest for their souls. It is the right path, the godly path. There is no doubt concerning the final destiny at the end of this path. It is well-worn and has a proven track record of getting people where they need to go. But the people of Judah had decided that God’s way was not for them. They said, “We will not walk in it” (Jeremiah 6:16 ESV). This was not a case of ignorance regarding the path’s existence. They knew it was there. It had always been there. And they had heard the stories of former travelers who had taken that path – like Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, and David. They had even been given detailed road maps for this path by God Himself. He had clearly communicated to them how to live according to His will. He had given them His law. He had told them exactly how to walk in His ways. But they had chosen to walk a different path. And this message regarding their stubborn refusal to take the ancient path, the good way, will come up repeatedly in the book of Jeremiah.

Yet my people have forgotten me
and offered sacrifices to worthless idols!
This makes them stumble along in the way they live
and leave the old reliable path of their fathers.
They have left them to walk in bypaths,
in roads that are not smooth and level.” – Jeremiah 18:15 NLT

Near the end of the book, long after God’s judgment has come and the people have been taken captive to Babylon, the small remnant who remained in Judah would finally see the error of their ways and call out to Jeremiah for help:

“Please grant our request and pray to the Lord your God for all those of us who are still left alive here. For, as you yourself can see, there are only a few of us left out of the many there were before. Pray that the Lord your God will tell us where we should go and what we should do.” – Jeremiah 42:2-3 NLT

Now they want directions. They want to know where to go and what to do. And isn’t that exactly how we respond when we find our choices have ended up as dead ends? When the paths we choose to take leave us lost or living in a state of discontentment and confusion, we usually turn to God. We ask Him what to do and where to go. And all along we have have had His road map for life right in front of us. God had clearly told the people of Judah His path for abundant life.

“If you walk in my statutes and observe my commandments and do them, then I will give you your rains in their season, and the land shall yield its increase, and the trees of the field shall yield their fruit. Your threshing shall last to the time of the grape harvest, and the grape harvest shall last to the time for sowing. And you shall eat your bread to the full and dwell in your land securely.” – Leviticus 26:3-5 ESV

The words of the psalmist were well known to them.

Blessed are those whose way is blameless,
    who walk in the law of the Lord!
Blessed are those who keep his testimonies,
    who seek him with their whole heart,
who also do no wrong,
    but walk in his ways! – Psalm 119:1-3 ESV

I have chosen the way of faithfulness;
    I set your rules before me.
I cling to your testimonies, O Lord;
    let me not be put to shame!
I will run in the way of your commandments
    when you enlarge my heart! – Psalm 119:30-32 ESV

They knew the right way, but they had chosen to walk their own path. Rather than the way of faithfulness, they had chosen unfaithfulness. Instead of walking in the law of the Lord, they chose to walk in the ways of the world. And as a result, God was going to punish them.

I will bring disaster on my people.
It is the fruit of their own schemes,
    because they refuse to listen to me.
    They have rejected my word.” – Jeremiah 6:18 NLT

Their sacrifices and offerings would do them no good. Their religious rituals and observances would not provide course correction. It was their hearts that were off track. They loved their way more than God’s. They preferred their own path over the one God had prepared for them. They thought they were wiser than God. They thought they knew better than God. And so, they were going to learn the timeless lesson that there is a path before each person that seems right, but it ends in death.

Therefore, this is what the Lord says:
    “I will put obstacles in my people’s path.
Fathers and sons will both fall over them.
    Neighbors and friends will die together.” – Jeremiah 6:21 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Joshua 11-12, Acts 11

God’s Way Is the Best Way.

Joshua 11-12, Acts 11

…who was I that I could stand in God’s way? ­– Acts 11:17 ESV

Every child of God faces a daily choice to either live their life God’s way, or according to their own will. And it’s not a one-time decision. Countless times during each day of our lives we are given opportunities to follow God’s will and do things His way, or to determine that our way is better. When Joshua led the people into the land of Canaan, he knew full well what God’s expectations on him were. He knew what his job was and how God wanted him to do it. And he had learned a valuable lesson when he and the people failed to follow God’s plan in the case of the city of Ai. It resulted in defeat. But when Joshua and the people did things God’s way, the results were markedly different. God had told Joshua not to fear those nations living in the land, because they would be handed over to the people of Israel for defeat by the hand of God Himself. And that’s exactly what happened – “and the Lord gave them into the hand of Israel” (Joshua 11:8 ESV). Joshua’s conquest of northern Canaan was a huge military success. In fact, chapter 12 records that Joshua and the people defeated 31 different kings and kingdoms. That was 29 more victories than Moses had experienced when he led the people of Israel.

There is always a temptation to do things our own way. Doing things God’s way doesn’t always make sense or seem logical. It isn’t always easy. But Joshua learned that God’s way is always best and produces the preferred outcome.

What does this passage reveal about God?

When God birthed the Church in the early days after Jesus’ ascension, it was clear that He had a plan in place. The growth was spectacular and the events surrounding it were far from normal. The Spirit of God was at work. And yet there was persecution present as well. In the midst of the exciting expansion of the Gospel and the coming to faith of countless men and women, there was a growing animosity toward the cause of Christ and those who claimed His name. But that persecution resulted in the spread of the Gospel. The Church was scattered. “Now those who were scattered because of the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far away as Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except Jews” (Acts 11:19 ESV). God was using the persecution of the Church to force the Gospel outside the confines of Jerusalem and Judea and into the surrounding regions of the world at that time. Not only that, He was opening up the Gospel to the Gentile world, expanding the Good News beyond the confines of the Jewish nation. Peter had learned that God’s way included ALL men, not just Jews. Barnabas and Paul would discover that God was at work among the Gentiles in Antioch, pouring out His Spirit on them as “a great number who believed turned to the Lord” (Acts 11:21 ESV). It was in Antioch, among the newly converted Gentile believers, that the term “Christian” first came into use. The term was used to distinguish those who were of the “Christ party” from the religious Jews and pagan Gentiles. God was doing something new and exciting. His way was producing amazing results, and the world was beginning to notice.

What does this passage reveal about man?

When the apostles first received word that Gentiles were coming to faith in Christ, they didn’t know what to think. The more hard-core Jewish believers, known as the “circumcision party”, were upset with Peter, criticizing him for spending time with uncircumcised Gentiles. They just couldn’t believe that this would be within God’s will. But Peter revealed the story of his call by God to go to Caesarea. He told them, “the Spirit told me to go with them, ‘making no distinction’” (Acts 11:12 ESV). Peter made it clear that this was clearly the work of God and it had been anointed by the Spirit of God. He concluded, “who was I that I could stand in God’s way?” (Acts 11:17 ESV). Peter knew that God’s will was going to be done – either with or without him. To disobey God would have been futile. It would not have halted the advance of His Kingdom, but it would have placed Peter in an unenviable position as a stumbling block to God’s will. God was granting to the Gentiles repentance that leads to life, and he was not going to stand in God’s way.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

There should be no greater desire in the life of a believer than to watch God work. Our hope should be that we are always willing participants in God’s great plan for the redemption of mankind. His way should be our way. His will should be our greatest desire. When Joshua did things God’s way, he was able to witness some powerful results. He was an eye witness to the mighty hand of God operating on behalf of His people. When Peter, Barnabas, Paul and the apostles realized what God was doing among the Gentiles, they knew that their best option was to join in, whether they fully understood or not. God was confirming His work among the Gentiles through His Holy Spirit and there was no reasonable excuse for standing against what God was doing. God’s way is always the best way. I must continually learn to live my life in keeping with His will and with a sensitivity to what He is doing in the world around me. I can’t afford to let my way get in the way. My personal agenda must always take a backseat to God’s Kingdom agenda.

Father, we fail to see more victories in our lives because we tend to want to do things our way, rather than Yours. Help me to understand just how important it is to live my life according to Your terms and not my own. I never want to stand in Your way. I know I do it thought. Sometimes willingly. Other times, ignorantly. Give me a special sensitivity to Your will and an ability to know Your way, and then follow it.  Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org

 

Proverbs 10b

God’s Way: A Blessing and A Curse.

“The way of the Lord is a stronghold to those with integrity, but it destroys the wicked.” – Proverbs 10:29 NLT

Whether you believe in God or not has nothing to do with whether He exists or not. He exists and He is consistently God. He has a way about Him that impacts the life of every human being, regardless of whether they worship or ignore Him. God’s character is consistent and unchanging. He doesn’t surprise you by acting differently on one day than He did the day before. His “way” is reliable. Think of it like gravity. Gravity has a “way” about it. It is consistently the same, always influencing the lives of men equally and equitably. As long as you understand the “way” of gravity, you’ll do just fine. In fact, you will survive. But if you attempt to ignore gravity and act as it it doesn’t exist or have any influence over you, it will probably not go well with you. Whether you admit it or like it, you are under the influence of gravity each and every day of your life. As you walk around, you are being controlled by gravity. If you attempt to fly off the side of a cliff, you will find out just how real and powerful gravity can be.

In the same way, men and women who refuse to believe in God, attempt to live their lives as if He does not exist. They refuse to acknowledge and obey His “way.” They ignore His laws and commands. They want to act as if He is not even there. But like gravity, God does not go away. He is ALWAYS influencing the lives of men – both believing and non-believing. But there is real benefit to understanding God and His ways. When we learn to fear God for who He is and what He can do, we learn humility. We understand our powerlessness in the face of His infinite power. We learn to respect and appreciate Him for all that He does for us. For millenniums, mankind has tended to see gravity as restrictive. It kept us down and prevented us from soaring with the eagles. But in reality, it was the power that allowed us to survive on this planet. It literally kept us grounded. God is the same way. He is the power that keeps us grounded in life. In this chapter of Proverbs we have a long list of maxims and reminders of the benefits that come to those who recognize God for who He is, understand His ways and live according to them. We are told that they will not go hungry (10:3), they will be showered with blessings (10:6), they will be remembered well when they are gone (10:7), they accept instruction and discipline gladly (10:8, 17), walk safely (10:9), speak wisely (10:11, 13, 20-21, 31-32), treasure knowledge (10:14), enjoy the benefit of their labor (10:16), enjoy God’s blessing (10:22), find pleasure in living wisely (10:23), have their hopes fulfilled (10:24), survive the storms of life (10:25), experience happiness (10:28), and live life with an unwavering confidence in God regardless of what happens to them (10:30). But what about the ungodly? You can go back and read what happens to them, but I think you already know. If you choose to ignore God’s way, you will suffer the consequences. You can choose to believe He doesn’t exist, but it doesn’t make Him go away, and it doesn’t free you from His influence.

Father, You have made Yourself known to mankind in so many ways, but yet the majority of us on this planet still refuse to acknowledge Your existence. There are still millions upon millions of people who want to act as if You don’t exist or matter. But even more sadly, there are far too many of us who claim to believe in You who still refuse to live according to Your way. Open our eyes and help us see the tremendous benefits that come from living according to Your way. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org