Faith Is Simple, But Never Easy

32 And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets— 33 who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. 35 Women received back their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. 36 Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. 37 They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated— 38 of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. – Hebrews 11:32-38 ESV

The list goes on. The author of Hebrews draws this chapter to a close, but can’t help but add a few more names to his growing list of the faithful. He mentions Gideon, who lived in Israel during a time of spiritual apathy and moral depravity. As a result of their rebellious behavior, God gave the Israelites over to the hands of the Midians as punishment.

For whenever the Israelites planted crops, the Midianites and the Amalekites and the people of the East would come up against them. They would encamp against them and devour the produce of the land, as far as Gaza, and leave no sustenance in Israel and no sheep or ox or donkey. – Judges 6:3-4 ESV

But when the people cried out to God, He sent them Gideon as a judge to deliver them. But Gideon was a reluctant deliverer. When God called him, his response was less than enthusiastic.

Please, Lord, how can I save Israel? Behold, my clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house. – Judges 6:15 ESV

And God’s response to him was simple and direct: “But I will be with you, and you shall strike the Midianites as one man” (Judges 6:16 ESV). Gideon would go on to accomplish great things for God, delivering His people from the oppression of the Midianites and, according to the book of Hebrews, he did so by faith. Each step of the way, Gideon had to believe God’s promise that He would be with him.

This is true of each of the individuals listed in the verses above. Barak had to face the overwhelmingly superior armies of Sisera on the words of Deborah, a prophetess. The odds were against him, but He obeyed the word of the Lord and God gave Israel a great victory.

Then there was Samson, a somewhat surprising addition to the list. His story is a sad one and does not end well. He was driven by his desires and eventually defeated by them. But on the final day of his life, having been blinded by the Philistines and chained between two pillars, he called out to God in faith.

O Lord God, please remember me and please strengthen me only this once, O God, that I may be avenged on the Philistines for my two eyes.” – Judges 16:28 ESV

That prayer of faith lifted up in his vulnerable and weak condition was answered by God.

Then he bowed with all his strength, and the house fell upon the lords and upon all the people who were in it. So the dead whom he killed at his death were more than those whom he had killed during his life. – Judges 16:30 ESV

He died in faith, trusting in His God and giving the last minutes of his life to destroy the enemies of God.

What about Jephthah? He had been born as a result of his father’s immoral affair with a prostitute, and when he became an adult, Jephthah was thrown out of the family by his brothers. He ended up living in exile from his family and found himself in the companionship of “worthless men.” But when the Ammonites began to oppress the Israelites, they sought out Jephthah to deliver them because he was a mighty warrior. In his newfound position as the judge of Israel, Jephthah turned to the Lord, and he made a vow to God.

If you will give the Ammonites into my hand, then whatever comes out from the doors of my house to meet me when I return in peace from the Ammonites shall be the Lord‘s, and I will offer it up for a burnt offering.” – Judges 11:30-31 ESV

Jephthah believed that God could and would deliver His people. But he wrongly assumed that God would want something in return, so he bargained with God. I suggest that Jephthah fully believed that God would come through and that he would be required to follow through on his vow. But little did he know that after God had given him the victory over the Ammonites, it would be his own daughter who came out of the house to greet him, and he would go on to keep his rash vow and sacrifice his daughter.

This is a bizarre and disturbing story, and it seems a bit strange to include the “hero” of the story in the great “Hall of Faith.” But while Jephthah’s understanding of God was somewhat flawed, he did believe in the power and deliverance of God. He trusted that Yahweh could and would come through. His problem was that his faith in God was marred by a faulty comprehension of God’s nature.

In the case of David, the stories that exemplify his faith in God are many. The psalms he wrote echo his belief in God and his unwavering faith that God was his savior and sustainer. From the moment David was anointed the next king of Israel, he had to live a life of faith in God, spending years trusting in the promise of God while running for his life from the wrath of King Saul. He had been anointed king by the prophet of God, but Saul was still on the throne. David learned to wait on God, believe in God, trust in God, and rely on God. And his life reflects that faith.

From his earliest days as a young boy serving in the house of the Lord under the watchful eye of Eli the priest, Samuel developed a growing faith in God. He would become a prophet for God, speaking on his behalf and leading the people of Israel to obey the will and word of God. Samuel would eventually be called on by God to anoint Israel’s first king. And while he was reluctant to do so, he obeyed. Throughout his life, Samuel would learn to trust God. He had to believe that God knew what He was doing, even when it seemed to make no sense. His faith is best seen in his unwavering obedience to the will of God. What God said, he would do. What God declared, he would believe. Trusting that God knows what He is doing even when you can’t comprehend it or completely appreciate it is a hallmark of faith.

The author of Hebrews goes on to illustrate that faith is oftentimes accompanied by rousing success, including great military victories. Faith is often illustrated by strength in the midst of weakness, deliverance by the hand of God, and mind-blowing miracles. But just as often, faith can be accompanied by less-than-ideal circumstances. He mentions torture, mocking, flogging, chains, imprisonment, stoning, destitution, and even death.

Faith doesn’t always result in a happy ending. Samson died under the very rubble that destroyed the Philistines. David died never getting to build the temple he dreamed of constructing for God. Jephthah would see the accolades for the victory over the Ammonites go to a woman.

The focus of our faith should always be God. Faith is trusting Him regardless of what we see happening or not happening around us. The presence of difficulty does not mean the absence of God. The lack of an answer is not proof of God’s lack of power or interest. Faith that is God-focused is willing to wait and comfortable accepting seemingly unacceptable outcomes knowing that God is not yet done.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

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.

Walking in Faith

30 By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they had been encircled for seven days. – Hebrews 11:30 ESV

Moses was gone. An entire generation of Israelites had died during their forty years of wandering in the wilderness, all because they had refused to believe God and enter the land He had promised them. Their disobedience had brought God’s judgment and that generation would never enter the rest that God had promised to provide for them.

Now, Joshua led a new generation of Israelites into the promised land. They would not just waltz into the land and take over without a fight. The occupants of the land of Canaan were going to have a real problem with the descendants of Abraham showing up and making claims that the land belonged to them because Yahweh, their God, had given it to them. The land and all its provisions were not going to come without a fight. But God would give some important news to Israel’s new leader, Joshua.

When Joshua was by Jericho, he lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, a man was standing before him with his drawn sword in his hand. And Joshua went to him and said to him, “Are you for us, or for our adversaries?” And he said, “No; but I am the commander of the army of the Lord. Now I have come.” And Joshua fell on his face to the earth and worshiped and said to him, “What does my lord say to his servant?” And the commander of the Lord‘s army said to Joshua, “Take off your sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy.” And Joshua did so. – Joshua 5:13-15 ESV

This occasion is reminiscent of Moses’ experience at the burning bush. Joshua, like Moses, had a personal and up-close encounter with God Himself in the form of a theophany. Joshua saw what he believed to be a man and this stranger announced himself as the commander of the army of the Lord. The word “commander” can be translated as “prince” or “captain.” Some believe that this “man” was actually the pre-incarnate Christ, and Joshua’s immediate reaction reveals his awareness that he was speaking with more than just a man. He fell on his face and worshiped. The very next chapter records the words that the commander of the army of the Lord shared with Joshua.

Now Jericho was shut up inside and outside because of the people of Israel. None went out, and none came in. And the Lord said to Joshua, “See, I have given Jericho into your hand, with its king and mighty men of valor. You shall march around the city, all the men of war going around the city once. Thus shall you do for six days. Seven priests shall bear seven trumpets of rams’ horns before the ark. On the seventh day you shall march around the city seven times, and the priests shall blow the trumpets. And when they make a long blast with the ram’s horn, when you hear the sound of the trumpet, then all the people shall shout with a great shout, and the wall of the city will fall down flat, and the people shall go up, everyone straight before him.” – Joshua 6:1-5 ESV

These instructions must have sounded strange to Joshua. The city of Jericho was the very first city they encountered after crossing the Jordan River and entering Canaan, it was well-fortified and heavily armed. Yet, the Lord was telling Joshua that He would give the city into their hands. But the conditions for achieving this victory were a bit odd.

The Lord was explicit in His details, leaving nothing to chance or to Joshua’s imagination. For six days, they would make a single circuit around the walls of the city. No arrows would be fired. No spears would be thrown. Imagine the reactions they would have gotten from the people inside the city and the soldiers looking down on this strange spectacle from the tops of the walls. Safely ensconced within their walled fortress,  the citizens of Jericho would have hurled taunts and rained down ridicule on the hapless Israelites as Joshua led them on the bizarre parade around the city walls.

The men of Israel would have struggled with feelings of shame and embarrassment as they marched in a silent column around the city, listening to their enemies question their sanity and manhood. Their swords hung at their side, unused. They were exerting their energy walking in circles rather than fighting their enemy. Under the direction of Joshua, the fighting men of Israel faithfully obeyed the instructions of the commander of the army of the Lord.

The armed men were walking before the priests who were blowing the trumpets, and the rear guard was walking after the ark, while the trumpets blew continually. – Joshua 6:9 ESV

No one said a word. No one fired off a single arrow. And in keeping with the commander’s instructions, no one could respond to the jeers and insults coming from behind the walls of Jericho. But the people of Israel continued to walk day after day for six days. But then the seventh day came.

On the seventh day they rose early, at the dawn of day, and marched around the city in the same manner seven times. It was only on that day that they marched around the city seven times. And at the seventh time, when the priests had blown the trumpets, Joshua said to the people, “Shout, for the Lord has given you the city. And the city and all that is within it shall be devoted to the Lord for destruction.” – Joshua 6:15-17 ESV

This day was going to be different. Six days of seemingly pointless activity were going to be followed by an incredible miracle from God. Just as they had the previous six days, the people marched in silence, but this time they circled the city seven times. And after their final trip around the city, “the people shouted, and the trumpets were blown. As soon as the people heard the sound of the trumpet, the people shouted a great shout, and the wall fell down flat, so that the people went up into the city, every man straight before him, and they captured the city. Then they devoted all in the city to destruction, both men and women, young and old, oxen, sheep, and donkeys, with the edge of the sword” (Joshua 6:20-21 ESV).

For seven days they had walked and waited. For a solid week, they had done as they had been told. They had been faithful and obedient to the Lord’s command. That doesn’t mean they didn’t struggle with doubts or questions regarding the Lord’s plan. There was most likely a fair share of grumbling and grousing around the campfires at night. The people probably wondered if Joshua had really heard from God at all. There was probably a lot of Monday morning quarterbacking going on.

But they walked. For seven days they did as they had been told. Their walking was evidence that they were trusting God. They didn’t know exactly how the walls were going to fall because God had not explained that part of the plan. But they knew the role they were assigned to play. They were to march. They were to obey. And they were to wait on the Lord.

God’s plan required that their pride take a back seat. Their physical abilities had to be used for walking and not fighting. But as the author of Hebrews tells us, “by faith the walls of Jericho fell down.”

It wasn’t their faith that caused the walls to fall. That miraculous accomplishment was God’s doing. But their faith was instrumental in God’s power being unleashed and put on display. Had they stopped walking, the walls would not have fallen. Had they decided to take up their swords and attack the city in their own strength, the outcome would have been radically different.

Their faith was in God. Over a seven-day period, they maintained an “assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1 ESV). They kept walking because they believed God would deliver a victory. They were convinced it would happen, not because they marched but because their God had promised it. Their marching was simply an expression of their faith in God. Sometimes trusting God requires us to step out – in faith – and walk in seemingly meaningless circles. We have to do what appears to be pointless and sometimes even ridiculous so that God can prove His faithfulness.

But if we truly trust God, walking and waiting is well worth the effort. He always comes through – in His way and according to His will. The walls will fall. The victory will come. The enemy will be defeated. And our obedience will further increase our faith in His power, provision, and protection.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

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.

Better Than…

Of the angels he says,

“He makes his angels winds,
    and his ministers a flame of fire.”

But of the Son he says,

“Your throne, O God, is forever and ever,
    the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your kingdom.
You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness;
therefore God, your God, has anointed you
    with the oil of gladness beyond your companions.”

10 And,

“You, Lord, laid the foundation of the earth in the beginning,
    and the heavens are the work of your hands;
11 they will perish, but you remain;
    they will all wear out like a garment,
12 like a robe you will roll them up,
    like a garment they will be changed.
But you are the same,
    and your years will have no end.”

13 And to which of the angels has he ever said,

“Sit at my right hand
    until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet”?

14 Are they not all ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation? – Hebrews 1:7-14 ESV

For the author of Hebrews, the theme of his letter is simple, yet profound. He spends the vast majority of his treatise supporting his premise that Jesus is superior to anything that has come before Him, including every aspect of the Levitical system. He is attempting to dissuade the Jewish audience to whom he wrote from abandoning their faith in Christ and returning to their former dependency upon the Mosaic Law and their vain attempts to earn favor with God through human effort. At the core of his message is a warning to avoid any attempt to supplement their faith in Jesus.

These Jewish converts to Christianity were under a lot of pressure from their Hebrew peers to return to Judaism. But to do so would require these new Christians to demote and devalue the worth of Christ and His gift of salvation. It was only natural for these Jewish believers to hold their former faith system in high esteem. After all, they had spent the majority of their lives attempting to keep the Mosaic Law and fulfilling the various sacramental and sacrificial requirements placed upon them by God. Yahweh had clearly told them, “if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” (Exodus 19:5-6 ESV).

These people had been raised to believe that their obedience was the key to their ongoing relationship with God. Strict adherence to His laws and a faithful commitment to the covenant they had made with Him were essential to remaining in good standing with Yahweh. But when Jesus appeared on the scene, all of that had changed. He offered another way and, according to the author of Hebrews, a superior way. In fact, he will spend the rest of his letter comparing Jesus to every other element of Judaism that they tended to revere and to which they were tempted to return.

He began his letter with an unapologetic defense of Jesus superiority, even placing Him on a higher plane than the angelic beings. These divine creatures had played a significant role in the history of the people of Israel. They had served as God’s messengers and even as agents of destruction. But the author wants his readers to understand that Jesus, as the Son of God, was far superior to any angel.

Angels are ministers. They are servants of God. Like the wind, they blow according to His will. They are worshipers and are never to be worshiped by men. But the Son of God is different. As the author expressed earlier, “The Son radiates God’s own glory and expresses the very character of God” and “he sustains everything by the mighty power of his command” (Romans 1:3 NLTa).

He holds a “place of honor at the right hand of the majestic God in heaven” (Romans 1:3b NLT), and as a result, “the Son is far greater than the angels” (Romans 1:4 NLT).

Using the Old Testament Scriptures as a proof text for his thoughts, the author of Hebrews presents the Son of God as having a royal pedigree, ruling over an everlasting kingdom that is marked by righteousness. He is eternal, having always existed as God and having no beginning or end. Rather than having been created, He is the creator of all that exists. And, as God, His nature is unchanging. The fact that He came to earth and took on human flesh in no way diminished or altered His divinity in any way. He sits at the right hand of God the Father, ruling in righteousness over all that exists.

For the writer of Hebrews, the deity of Jesus is essential and non-negotiable. He is the Son of God and, as such, He shares the nature and character of God. He is royal, immutable, all-powerful, sovereign, righteous and, ultimately, the victor in the battle over sin, death, and Satan.

Part of what the author is attempting to do is promote the superiority of the new covenant over the old one. And since the average Jew believed the old covenant was brought to them from God by angels, they held angels in high regard. But the point of this letter is to establish the superiority of Christ in all things. He is greater than angels. The new covenant in His blood is superior to the old covenant which was based on works. His service to men through the offering of His life as a payment for sin is far superior to any service the angels may offer up.

The angels, while important, pale in significance when compared with Christ. In fact, they exist “to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation” (Hebrews 1:14 ESV). In other words, they exist to serve God’s people, and we serve Christ. He is the head of the body of Christ. He alone deserves our worship and full attention.

Angels could bring “good news of great joy that will be for all the people” (Luke 2:10 ESV). But they could not save anyone. They could announce the arrival of Jesus on the scene, but He would still have to sacrifice His own life to make salvation possible to men. And while angels were the ones who told the women at Jesus’ empty tomb, “He is not here, for he has risen, as he said” (Matthew 28:6 ESV), they were simply messengers of some very good news. Without Jesus, there would have been no news at all.

Apart from Jesus, salvation would be impossible for all men. Had Jesus not died and rose again, there would have been no victory over sin, Satan, and the grave. But Jesus DID come. He DID die. He WAS resurrected from death to life. He HAS ascended back to heaven. And He WILL return one day.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

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 Lord Is My Banner

Then Amalek came and fought with Israel at Rephidim. So Moses said to Joshua, “Choose for us men, and go out and fight with Amalek. Tomorrow I will stand on the top of the hill with the staff of God in my hand.” 10 So Joshua did as Moses told him, and fought with Amalek, while Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of the hill. 11 Whenever Moses held up his hand, Israel prevailed, and whenever he lowered his hand, Amalek prevailed. 12 But Moses’ hands grew weary, so they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it, while Aaron and Hur held up his hands, one on one side, and the other on the other side. So his hands were steady until the going down of the sun. 13 And Joshua overwhelmed Amalek and his people with the sword.

14 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Write this as a memorial in a book and recite it in the ears of Joshua, that I will utterly blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven.” 15 And Moses built an altar and called the name of it, The Lord Is My Banner, 16 saying, “A hand upon the throne of the Lord! The Lord will have war with Amalek from generation to generation.” – Exodus 17:8-16 ESV

After miraculously providing water for His disgruntled and dissatisfied people at Rephidim, God followed that gracious act with a much more dangerous and deadly demonstration of His power that also served to validate Moses’ role as His chosen leader. To quench their thirst and assuage their anger, God ordered Moses to use his staff to strike “the rock” so that it gushed forth water. This blatant demonstration of divine authority, accomplished through God’s official spokesman, was intended to bolster Moses’ credibility and credentials among the people.

“Pass on before the people, taking with you some of the elders of Israel, and take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb, and you shall strike the rock, and water shall come out of it, and the people will drink.” – Exodus 17:5-6 ESV

God allowed Moses to play a significant role in meeting the people’s need for water. It would have been just as easy for God to cause water to spring up from the dry ground, but He chose to deliver this miracle through Moses. And one of the lessons God wanted the Israelites to learn was that Moses was His personal representative. Moses spoke and acted on behalf of God. And by questioning the quality of Moses’ leadership, they were actually raising doubts about the reliability of Yahweh Himself. In a sense, their anger-filled rants against Moses were really a vocalization of their lack of faith in God.

the people of Israel argued with Moses and tested the Lord by saying, “Is the Lord here with us or not?” – Exodus 17:7 NLT

So, with the people’s thirst temporarily satisfied, God brought a new and even more demanding trial for the people to endure. This time, the problem wouldn’t be a lack of water or meat, but it would be an overabundance of enemies.

While the people of Israel were still at Rephidim, the warriors of Amalek attacked them. – Exodus 17:8 NLT

The timing of this attack is impeccable and thoroughly ordained by God. The people had just satisfied their thirst with water from the rock when suddenly and as if out of nowhere, a force of Amalckite warriors descended upon them.

The Amalekites were a nomadic people who had descended from Esau, the son of Isaac and the twin brother of Jacob.

These are the descendants of Esau who became the leaders of various clans:

The descendants of Esau’s oldest son, Eliphaz, became the leaders of the clans of Teman, Omar, Zepho, Kenaz, Korah, Gatam, and Amalek. – Genesis 36:15-16 NLT

These descendants of Esau were close relatives of Israelites who had settled in the southern region of Canaan, between the border of Egypt and Mount Sinai. During the Israelites’ 400-year sojourn in Egypt, the Amalekites had grown in number and considered the wilderness of Sin as their homeland. The scene of millions of Hebrew refugees setting up camp on their home turf must have alarmed the Amalekites. Water rights and pasture land would have been of great value in that arid part of the world. So, the Amalekites decided to give the Israelites ample reason to move on.  But rather than ordering the Israelites to run, Moses put together a battle plan, formed a makeshift army, and assigned a young man named Joshua to serve as commander. Then he gave this new general his strange-sounding strategy for achieving victory.

“Choose some men to go out and fight the army of Amalek for us. Tomorrow, I will stand at the top of the hill, holding the staff of God in my hand.” – Exodus 17:9 NLT

The Israelites were shepherds, not warriors. None of them had any military training or battle experience. Yet, Moses was ordering them to go up against an Amalekite force comprised of seasoned and well-equipped warriors.

So, the next day, as Joshua led his rag-tag group of citizen soldiers into battle, Moses ascended a nearby hill in the company of Aaron and Hur. There on the mountaintop, Moses took the very same staff he had used to strike the rock and raised it above his head with both arms. The text states that, as long as he held the staff aloft, the Israelites were able to get the upper hand in the battle taking place in the valley below. But as time wore on, Moses’ arms grew weary, and as he lowered them to rest, the battle went in favor of the Amalekites. The key to victory over the Amalekites was directly tied to God’s chosen leader raising his staff over the enemies of Israel.

In the heat of the battle taking place in the valley, Joshua had no way of knowing what was happening on the mountaintop. One minute his forces gained the advantage, only to find themselves retreating in apparent defeat. It was a touch-and-go affair that could go either way.

But Moses’ two companions could see exactly what was going on and knew that they were going to have to intervene or the battle would end in tragedy. Moses was insufficient for the task. He had the heart and possessed the staff through which the power of God was displayed, but he lacked the stamina necessary to stay the course.

Moses’ arms soon became so tired he could no longer hold them up. So Aaron and Hur found a stone for him to sit on. Then they stood on each side of Moses, holding up his hands. So his hands held steady until sunset. – Exodus 17:12 NLT

The power of God was more than sufficient to meet the need. What was lacking was Moses’ ability to serve as the unwavering conduit through whom God’s power could flow unchecked. God’s chosen leader was well into his 80s when this battle took place and the physical demands on his elderly body proved to be too much. He understood that victory hinged on his ability to keep the staff aloft but he lacked the personal strength to do his part. That’s when Aaron and Hur stepped in. These two men immediately understood the role they were there to play.

First, they provided a stone on which Moses could rest. The exhausted octogenarian was completely worn out from the physical exertion and the emotional toll he suffered every time he lowered his arms and watched the battle turn against Joshua and his troops.

Next, they each stood alongside Moses, lifting his arms into the air and using their combined strength to serve as conduits of the power of God. The staff remained aloft, the power of God flowed, and the army of Israel won the day.

Joshua overwhelmed the army of Amalek in battle. – Exodus 17:13 NLT

In the aftermath of this great victory, God ordered Moses to make a permanent record of this victory, along with a promise regarding the eventual destruction of the Amalekites.

“Write this down on a scroll as a permanent reminder, and read it aloud to Joshua: I will erase the memory of Amalek from under heaven.” – Exodus 17:14 NLT

God specifically told Moses to deliver this divine promise to Joshua. It was as if God was letting Joshua know that this battle was far from over. They had not destroyed the Amalekites but had simply defeated them in battle. That meant they would live to fight another day. But God wanted Joshua to know that he would lead one more battle against these enemies of Israel and, when that day came, Joshua would have the pleasure of wiping them off the face of the earth.

This promise would not take place until long after the Israelites had entered the land of Canaan and made it their own. Some forty years later, Moses would pull out his written record of God’s promise and read it to Joshua again.

Therefore, when the Lord your God has given you rest from all your enemies in the land he is giving you as a special possession, you must destroy the Amalekites and erase their memory from under heaven. Never forget this! – Deuteronomy 25:19 NLT

And at the scene of the battle, Moses erected another record of their decisive victory. He erected an altar and named it Yahweh-Nissi (which means “the Lord is my banner”). This memorial or tribute to God’s faithfulness celebrated His sovereign role in Israel’s victory. Moses, Aaron, and Hur were simply instruments in God’s hands. Joshua and the men who fought alongside him, each served under the banner of the King of kings. They were the army of God Almighty. But the victory was God’s alone.

And Moses recognized that the Amalekites would pay dearly for their decision to stand against the God of the universe. Their assault on the Israelites was a direct attack on the sovereignty of Yahweh, the ruler of heaven and earth. And God would hold the Amalekites accountable for their actions.

“They have raised their fist against the Lord’s throne, so now the Lord will be at war with Amalek generation after generation.” – Exodus 17:16 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

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.

Against All Odds

15 The Lord said to Moses, “Why do you cry to me? Tell the people of Israel to go forward. 16 Lift up your staff, and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it, that the people of Israel may go through the sea on dry ground. 17 And I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they shall go in after them, and I will get glory over Pharaoh and all his host, his chariots, and his horsemen. 18 And the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I have gotten glory over Pharaoh, his chariots, and his horsemen.”

19 Then the angel of God who was going before the host of Israel moved and went behind them, and the pillar of cloud moved from before them and stood behind them, 20 coming between the host of Egypt and the host of Israel. And there was the cloud and the darkness. And it lit up the night without one coming near the other all night.

21 Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and the Lord drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided. 22 And the people of Israel went into the midst of the sea on dry ground, the waters being a wall to them on their right hand and on their left. 23 The Egyptians pursued and went in after them into the midst of the sea, all Pharaoh’s horses, his chariots, and his horsemen. 24 And in the morning watch the Lord in the pillar of fire and of cloud looked down on the Egyptian forces and threw the Egyptian forces into a panic, 25 clogging their chariot wheels so that they drove heavily. And the Egyptians said, “Let us flee from before Israel, for the Lord fights for them against the Egyptians.”

26 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand over the sea, that the water may come back upon the Egyptians, upon their chariots, and upon their horsemen.” 27 So Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and the sea returned to its normal course when the morning appeared. And as the Egyptians fled into it, the Lord threw the Egyptians into the midst of the sea. 28 The waters returned and covered the chariots and the horsemen; of all the host of Pharaoh that had followed them into the sea, not one of them remained. 29 But the people of Israel walked on dry ground through the sea, the waters being a wall to them on their right hand and on their left.

30 Thus the Lord saved Israel that day from the hand of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore. 31 Israel saw the great power that the Lord used against the Egyptians, so the people feared the Lord, and they believed in the Lord and in his servant Moses. – Exodus 14:15-31 ESV

The victory parade that Moses led out of Egypt had quickly turned into a nasty mob scene when the Israelites realized that Pharaoh and his army were bearing down on them. All hope of leaving Egypt had faded as soon as they caught sight of 600 chariots headed their way. Now all they could think about was certain death at the hands of their former captors.

“…it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness. – Exodus 14:12 ESV

The people were in full-blown panic, and Moses put up an impressive show of confidence in the face of a very difficult situation. He encouraged the people to “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord” (Exodus 14:13 ESV). But he must have had reservations about exactly how God was going to get them out of this precarious situation. While the people screamed their questions at Moses, he must have issued a quick call for help to the Lord, because Yahweh responded to Moses with a question of His own.

“Why do you cry to me? – Exodus 14:15 ESV

This inquiry was directed at Moses and was accompanied by a set of instructions that the beleaguered spokesman was to carry out. Rather than stand around waiting for God to do something, Moses was to get busy and do his part in bringing about the very salvation he had assured the Israelites was coming.

Tell the people to get moving! Pick up your staff and raise your hand over the sea. Divide the water so the Israelites can walk through the middle of the sea on dry ground. – Exodus 14:15-16 ESV

These instructions must have hit Moses like a brick to the forehead. While he and Aaron had been a part of some spectacular signs in Egypt, this was taking things to another level. God was demanding that Moses use his staff to divide the Red Sea so that the people could pass through it on dry ground. And all the while, the people continued to voice their disapproval of his leadership.

But before Moses could play his part in God’s divine drama of deliverance, the Egyptians had to be stopped. So, God had His guiding angel move to the rear of the Israelite camp, closest to the Egyptian forces. Then the pillar of cloud, the symbol of God’s presence, repositioned itself between the Israelites and their enemy.

Then the angel of God, who had been leading the people of Israel, moved to the rear of the camp. The pillar of cloud also moved from the front and stood behind them. The cloud settled between the Egyptian and Israelite camps. As darkness fell, the cloud turned to fire, lighting up the night. But the Egyptians and Israelites did not approach each other all night.  Exodus 14:19-20 NLT

At the sight of this cosmic apparition, the Egyptians were stopped in their tracks. They could see the Israelite camp but were afraid to advance against them. Their most recent encounters with the power of the Israelites’ God had left them reluctant to take any chances. So, as dusk turned to dark, the pillar of cloud transformed into a pillar of fire that lit up the night sky.

And as God held off the Egyptians, Moses “raised his hand over the sea, and the Lord opened up a path through the water with a strong east wind” (Exodus 14:21 NLT). Yahweh, the God of creation, sent a powerful wind that caused the waters of the sea to stand up like transparent walls, exposing the sea bed underneath. And this wind blew throughout the night, simultaneously holding back the walls of water and drying out the sea bed so that it would provide firm footing for the Israelites. Then at just the right moment, God ordered Moses to lead the people across.

So the people of Israel walked through the middle of the sea on dry ground, with walls of water on each side! – Exodus 14:22 NLT

Stunned by what they witnessed, but motivated by a strong desire to distance themselves from the Egyptians, the Israelites formed into ranks and began their journey across the perfectly dry sea floor. And while they made their way through this divine detour, the angel of God and the pillar of fire kept the Egyptians at bay. Pharoah and his soldiers could only stand back and watch in stupefied wonder as the Israelites escaped across this massive causeway that had suddenly appeared in the middle of the sea.

But when the last Israelite’s sandal had cleared the path and was standing firm on the eastern bank of the sea, the barrier provided by the angel and the pillar of fire was removed. And within minutes, Pharaoh ordered his troops to pursue the fleeing Israelites. But God was not yet done.

…just before dawn the Lord looked down on the Egyptian army from the pillar of fire and cloud, and he threw their forces into total confusion. – Exodus 14:24 NLT

As Pharoah’s troops entered the pathway the Israelites had just vacated, the Lord of Hosts got in on the action. Somehow, these seasoned charioteers became confused and unable to make their way to the other shore. Perhaps their horses became frightened by the sound of the wind and the sight of the walls of water standing up on either side of them. It seems that the dry sea bed was suddenly transformed into a muddy morass in which the chariot wheels became stuck. Before long the entire Egyptian force found itself logjammed between the walls of water. Sensing the hand of Yahweh, they cried out, “Let us flee from before Israel, for the Lord fights for them against the Egyptians” (Exodus 14:25 ESV).

But they never made it out. As the sun began to rise in the eastern sky, “Moses raised his hand over the sea, and the water rushed back into its usual place” (Exodus 14:27 NLT). Within minutes, every single Egyptian who had entered the pathway had been drowned by the sudden deluge as the walls of water collapsed.

And the Israelites, standing high and dry on the eastern shore, watched the whole thing take place right before their eyes. Not a single chariot made it across and the only Egyptians the Israelites saw on the eastern shore were lifeless and powerless to do them any harm. And Moses chronicles the impact this spectacular event had on the people of God.

When the people of Israel saw the mighty power that the Lord had unleashed against the Egyptians, they were filled with awe before him. They put their faith in the Lord and in his servant Moses. – Exodus 14:31 NLT

When the odds were stacked against them and all seemed lost, the Israelites were delivered by their all-powerful, promise-keeping God. He had stepped into their reality and provided a one-of-a-kind miracle. And as the water of the Red Sea slowly settled back into its normal state, it was as if God had closed a door behind His people. There would be no turning back. That pathway was closed forever and the only way left for them to go was forward. With the enemy defeated, the angel of the Lord and the pillar of cloud took their places at the head of the column once again, and the people set out for their final destination: the land of promise.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

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 Lord Will Fight For You

When the king of Egypt was told that the people had fled, the mind of Pharaoh and his servants was changed toward the people, and they said, “What is this we have done, that we have let Israel go from serving us?” So he made ready his chariot and took his army with him, and took six hundred chosen chariots and all the other chariots of Egypt with officers over all of them. And the Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh king of Egypt, and he pursued the people of Israel while the people of Israel were going out defiantly. The Egyptians pursued them, all Pharaoh’s horses and chariots and his horsemen and his army, and overtook them encamped at the sea, by Pi-hahiroth, in front of Baal-zephon.

10 When Pharaoh drew near, the people of Israel lifted up their eyes, and behold, the Egyptians were marching after them, and they feared greatly. And the people of Israel cried out to the Lord. 11 They said to Moses, “Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us in bringing us out of Egypt? 12 Is not this what we said to you in Egypt: ‘Leave us alone that we may serve the Egyptians’? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.” 13 And Moses said to the people, “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. 14 The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.” – Exodus 14:5-14 ESV

At some point, it dawned on Pharaoh that the Israelites had no intentions of returning from their 3-day trek into the wilderness. Verse 5 states that “word reached the king of Egypt that the Israelites had fled.” The Hebrew word translated as “fled” is בָּרַח (bāraḥ), which carries the idea of running away. It seems likely that Pharoah had sent spies to keep an eye on the Israelites and to ensure that they kept their end of the bargain and returned after worshiping their God in the wilderness. Instead, Pharaoh was informed that the Israelites were attempting to make a break for it but had become lost and confused in the process.

Upon receiving the news of the somewhat circuitous route the Israelites had taken, Pharaoh concluded that they had become lost. He immediately regretted his previous decision to allow them to leave and was determined to do everything in his power to get them back.

So Pharaoh harnessed his chariot and called up his troops. He took with him 600 of Egypt’s best chariots, along with the rest of the chariots of Egypt, each with its commander. – Exodus 14:6-7 NLT

Twice, Moses emphasizes that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart. Once again, this is meant to emphasize God’s sovereignty over all that was taking place. But it does not absolve Pharaoh of guilt in the matter. He was not being forced to do what he did. This arrogant king was being motivated by the wickedness of his own heart but all according to the divine plan of God.

The very fact that God had ordered Moses to have the Israelites begin their journey out of Egypt headed in one direction and then had them reverse their course, is a clear indication that God had something else He had planned to do. He was not yet done humiliating Pharaoh and was about to enact one more irrefutable demonstration of His superior power and authority.

God had told Moses in advance exactly what He was going to do and why.

“…once again I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and he will chase after you. I have planned this in order to display my glory through Pharaoh and his whole army. After this the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord!” – Exodus 14:4 NLT

The Lord of Hosts(Jehovah Sabaoth) was about to do battle with the elite troops of Egypt. One of the most powerful and feared armies in the world was going to find itself going up against God Almighty.

As the Israelites sat in their makeshift camp along the shore of the Red Sea, waiting for directions from Moses, they were unaware that Pharaoh and his troops were headed their way. And Pharaoh was motivated by what he believed to be was a blatant display of arrogance on the part of the Israelites.

he chased after the people of Israel, who had left with fists raised in defiance. – Exodus 14:8 NLT

He had been given time to reconsider his earlier decision and came to the conclusion that the Israelites needed a healthy serving of humble pie. So, mounted in his royal chariot, Pharaoh led his crack troops in hasty pursuit of a fleeing mob of confused and defenseless Israelites. But the Israelites weren’t running; they were sitting quietly by the shores of the Red Sea awaiting instructions from Moses. The pillar of cloud, a manifestation of God’s presence, still hovered nearby, and they had been instructed not to break camp until the cloud began to move. By all indications, they were right where God wanted them to be.

But, in time, the Israelites heard the sound of the approaching army and could see the large sandstorm stirred up by the horses’ hooves and the chariot wheels. And as the Israelites watched in horror, the 600 chariots of the Egyptian army came into view, barrelling toward them with unbridled abandon. And the hearts of the Israelites sank in despair.

Almost as if in unison, the people cried out to God for help. Others directed their fear and anger at Moses, shouting, “Why did you bring us out here to die in the wilderness? Weren’t there enough graves for us in Egypt? What have you done to us? Why did you make us leave Egypt?” (Exodus 14:11 NLT). These questions, among others, poured out in a torrent of rage and abject terror as the people considered their doomed fate. They began to hurl accusations against Moses and Aaron, questioning their leadership an demeaning the failed nature of their strategy. From their perspective, Moses and Aaron had blown it. Their promise of deliverance had turned into a guarantee of certain destruction. And the Israelites began to regret having ever left Egypt in the first place.

It’s better to be a slave in Egypt than a corpse in the wilderness! – Exodus 14:12 NLT

As far as they could tell, listening to Moses and Aaron had been a huge mistake. And as they vented their frustration, fears, and anger at these two elderly men, the Israelites failed to notice that the pillar of cloud had never stirred or left their sight. It remained right where it had been all along, signifying that God was still with them.

But Moses must have seen the cloud and gained renewed confidence. He withstood the verbal onslaught and responded with a powerful call to faith.

“Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.” – Exodus 14:13-14 ESV

While the eyes of the Israelites were fixated on the 600 chariots headed their way, Moses must have fixed his sight on the pillar of cloud, remembering the words of the Lord.

I have planned this in order to display my glory through Pharaoh and his whole army. – Exodus 14:4 NLT

Moses gave the people three simple instructions.

Fear not – he encouraged them to cease fearing because he knew that uncontrolled fear can turn to flight. If they ran, they were as good as dead. They could not outrun chariots.

Stand firm – rather then run, they were to stand their ground because God had them right where He wanted them. He had led them to this very spot, and it would be on this ground that they would see the deliverance of God.

See the salvation of the Lord – whether they realized it or not, they had ringside seats to what would be the greatest show on earth. Moses was inviting them to stand back and watch their God perform a miracle of epic proportions. When they thought all was lost and their lives were in the balance, God was ready to provide them with salvation.

The army bearing down on them looked formidable. The fate awaiting them appeared to be unavoidable. Though they greatly out numbered the Egyptians, they were no match for chariots, swords, and spears. Yet, God wanted them to trust Him. The army they feared would soon be gone. The deadly outcome they expected would not be forthcoming. All because Jehovah Sabaoth was on their side and He was about to display His omnipotence on their behalf.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

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.

Less Is More

The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Command the people of Israel, and say to them, When you enter the land of Canaan (this is the land that shall fall to you for an inheritance, the land of Canaan as defined by its borders), your south side shall be from the wilderness of Zin alongside Edom, and your southern border shall run from the end of the Salt Sea on the east. And your border shall turn south of the ascent of Akrabbim, and cross to Zin, and its limit shall be south of Kadesh-barnea. Then it shall go on to Hazar-addar, and pass along to Azmon. And the border shall turn from Azmon to the Brook of Egypt, and its limit shall be at the sea.

“For the western border, you shall have the Great Sea and its coast. This shall be your western border.

“This shall be your northern border: from the Great Sea you shall draw a line to Mount Hor. From Mount Hor you shall draw a line to Lebo-hamath, and the limit of the border shall be at Zedad. Then the border shall extend to Ziphron, and its limit shall be at Hazar-enan. This shall be your northern border.

10 “You shall draw a line for your eastern border from Hazar-enan to Shepham. 11 And the border shall go down from Shepham to Riblah on the east side of Ain. And the border shall go down and reach to the shoulder of the Sea of Chinnereth on the east. 12 And the border shall go down to the Jordan, and its limit shall be at the Salt Sea. This shall be your land as defined by its borders all around.”

13 Moses commanded the people of Israel, saying, “This is the land that you shall inherit by lot, which the Lord has commanded to give to the nine tribes and to the half-tribe. 14 For the tribe of the people of Reuben by fathers’ houses and the tribe of the people of Gad by their fathers’ houses have received their inheritance, and also the half-tribe of Manasseh. 15 The two tribes and the half-tribe have received their inheritance beyond the Jordan east of Jericho, toward the sunrise.” Numbers 34:1-15 ESV

As the people prepared to enter the land of promise, Moses provided them with the boundary markers that would establish their future territory. But it is important to note that the description given by Moses is distinctly different than the one God had originally given to Abram at the point of his calling. The borders that Moses outlines in this passage are far more restrictive than the ones God proposed to Abram.  At that point in time, God had designated a far larger area as the future homeland for Abram’s descendants.

“To your offspring I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates…” – Genesis 15:18 ESV

The two primary boundary markers that God gave Abram were “the river of Egypt,” which most likely refers to the Nile, to “the river Euphrates,” which extends from the southern border of modern-day Turkey all the way to the Persian Gulf.

God had a much larger geographic region in mind when He made His original promise to Abram. But centuries later, by the time the descendants of Abram were ready to cross over the Jordan and occupy the land, the boundaries had shrunk significantly.

Moses provided a detailed description of the eastern, western, southern, and northern boundaries of the Israelite’s future homeland. At this point in their history, there were not ready or equipped to conquer and occupy the much larger region promised by God to Abram. Their army was far too small to attempt a conquest of the original promised land. Even though the nation was comprised of 12 tribes, there were not enough soldiers to take on the armies of “the Kenites, the Kenizzites, the Kadmonites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites and the Jebusites” (Genesis 15:19-21 NLT).

In a sense, God was starting small, but He had every intention of sticking to His original promise if the people of Israel proved obedient and successful at accomplishing His will. The reduced boundaries were not a sign of God reneging on His promise. He was not going back on His word. He was simply asking the people of Israel to prove their willingness to be faithful and obedient.

The borders of the land, while greatly reduced, would prove more than enough territory for the 12 tribes of Israel. In fact, as Moses points out, two and a half of the tribes would end up locating outside those boundaries.

“This territory is the homeland you are to divide among yourselves by sacred lot. The Lord has commanded that the land be divided among the nine and a half remaining tribes. The families of the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and half the tribe of Manasseh have already received their grants of land  on the east side of the Jordan River, across from Jericho toward the sunrise.” – Numbers 34:13-15 NLT

Technically, according to the original description given by God to Abram, the land occupied by the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and half the tribe of Manasseh was in the land of promise. But their land allotments would be considered separate from the rest of the tribes. Yet, one day, God would extend Israel’s borders under the leadership of King David. Then, when his son, Solomon came to power, the kingdom would expand even further. God would slowly extend the borders of Israel but because of the nation’s disobedience, He would one day spit the kingdom in half and dramatically reduce their land holdings and influence in the region.

But at the point at which Moses was preparing the send the people into the land for the very first time, they were faced with the formidable and seemingly insurmountable task of conquering a vast expanse of enemy-occupied territory. Yet Moses reminded them that the land was as good as theirs.

“This shall be your land as defined by its borders all around.” – Numbers 34:15 ESV

It was theirs but they would have to do their part. According to God, it belonged to them but it wouldn’t come without a fight. It was Jesus who declared the need for follow-through in the life of God’s people.

“…a servant who knows what the master wants, but isn’t prepared and doesn’t carry out those instructions, will be severely punished. But someone who does not know, and then does something wrong, will be punished only lightly. When someone has been given much, much will be required in return; and when someone has been entrusted with much, even more will be required.” – Luke 12:47-48 NLT

The Israelites had their marching orders and a detailed map of their battle zone. Now it was time to exhibit faith and fight for what was rightfully theirs.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

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.

Faith is the Victory

25 The Lord said to Moses, 26 “Take the count of the plunder that was taken, both of man and of beast, you and Eleazar the priest and the heads of the fathers’ houses of the congregation, 27 and divide the plunder into two parts between the warriors who went out to battle and all the congregation. 28 And levy for the Lord a tribute from the men of war who went out to battle, one out of five hundred, of the people and of the oxen and of the donkeys and of the flocks. 29 Take it from their half and give it to Eleazar the priest as a contribution to the Lord. 30 And from the people of Israel’s half you shall take one drawn out of every fifty, of the people, of the oxen, of the donkeys, and of the flocks, of all the cattle, and give them to the Levites who keep guard over the tabernacle of the Lord.” 31 And Moses and Eleazar the priest did as the Lord commanded Moses.

32 Now the plunder remaining of the spoil that the army took was 675,000 sheep, 33 72,000 cattle, 34 61,000 donkeys, 35 and 32,000 persons in all, women who had not known man by lying with him. 36 And the half, the portion of those who had gone out in the army, numbered 337,500 sheep, 37 and the Lord’s tribute of sheep was 675. 38 The cattle were 36,000, of which the Lord’s tribute was 72. 39 The donkeys were 30,500, of which the Lord’s tribute was 61. 40 The persons were 16,000, of which the Lord’s tribute was 32 persons. 41 And Moses gave the tribute, which was the contribution for the Lord, to Eleazar the priest, as the Lord commanded Moses.

42 From the people of Israel’s half, which Moses separated from that of the men who had served in the army— 43 now the congregation’s half was 337,500 sheep, 44 36,000 cattle, 45 and 30,500 donkeys, 46 and 16,000 persons— 47 from the people of Israel’s half Moses took one of every 50, both of persons and of beasts, and gave them to the Levites who kept guard over the tabernacle of the Lord, as the Lord commanded Moses.

48 Then the officers who were over the thousands of the army, the commanders of thousands and the commanders of hundreds, came near to Moses 49 and said to Moses, “Your servants have counted the men of war who are under our command, and there is not a man missing from us. 50 And we have brought the Lord’s offering, what each man found, articles of gold, armlets and bracelets, signet rings, earrings, and beads, to make atonement for ourselves before the Lord.” 51 And Moses and Eleazar the priest received from them the gold, all crafted articles. 52 And all the gold of the contribution that they presented to the Lord, from the commanders of thousands and the commanders of hundreds, was 16,750 shekels. 53 (The men in the army had each taken plunder for himself.) 54 And Moses and Eleazar the priest received the gold from the commanders of thousands and of hundreds, and brought it into the tent of meeting, as a memorial for the people of Israel before the Lord.  Numbers 31:25-54 ESV

There were 12,000 Israelite soldiers chosen to go into battle against the Midianites; 1,000 men from every tribe. That is a relatively small number when compared with the 601,730 men deemed battle worthy according to the recent census taken by Moses. This small contingent of soldiers easily defeated their enemy and brought back an abundance of plunder from their raids of the towns and villages of the Midianites. And according to the military leaders, they had not lost a single man in the process.

“We, your servants, have accounted for all the men who went out to battle under our command; not one of us is missing! – Numbers 31:49 NLT

The mission had been a rousing success, and the bounty they had taken from the Midianites was substantial. But before anyone could enjoy the riches they had plundered, everyone and everything had to be purified.

“Anything made of gold, silver, bronze, iron, tin, or lead—that is, all metals that do not burn—must be passed through fire in order to be made ceremonially pure. These metal objects must then be further purified with the water of purification. But everything that burns must be purified by the water alone. On the seventh day you must wash your clothes and be purified. Then you may return to the camp.” – Numbers 31:22-24 NLT

Moses warned the soldiers that they must go through a purification ritual before they could enter the camp.

“…all of you who have killed anyone or touched a dead body must stay outside the camp for seven days. You must purify yourselves and your captives on the third and seventh days. Purify all your clothing, too, and everything made of leather, goat hair, or wood.” – Numbers 31:19-20 NLT

Contact with the enemy had rendered these men ceremonially impure. That required them to go through a period of forced isolation and cleansing, along with all those taken captive during the mission. This was the process God had established and communicated to Moses back in chapter 19.

“All those who touch a dead human body will be ceremonially unclean for seven days. They must purify themselves on the third and seventh days with the water of purification; then they will be purified. But if they do not do this on the third and seventh days, they will continue to be unclean even after the seventh day. All those who touch a dead body and do not purify themselves in the proper way defile the Lord’s Tabernacle, and they will be cut off from the community of Israel. Since the water of purification was not sprinkled on them, their defilement continues. – Numbers 19:11-13 NLT

Once the men and their captives had completed the purification process, the booty was divided. The 12,000 combatants would receive their fair share of the reward, but those who remained behind would not be left out. This pattern of equity among those who went into battle and their brothers who remained behind would become a norm for the nation of Israel.

After a rousing victory over the Amalekites, King David encountered a problem among his soldiers. The ones who had assisted him in the battle were angry at having to share their plunder with those who had remained behind.

“They didn’t go with us, so they can’t have any of the plunder we recovered. Give them their wives and children, and tell them to be gone.” – 1 Samuel 30:22 NLT

These men wanted all the plunder for themselves. But David denied their selfish demands, saying: “No, my brothers! Don’t be selfish with what the Lord has given us. He has kept us safe and helped us defeat the band of raiders that attacked us. Who will listen when you talk like this? We share and share alike—those who go to battle and those who guard the equipment” (1 Samuel 23-24 NLT).

Moses followed a similar plan, first making a detailed list of all the plunder taken from the Midianites. Once that was done, he ordered that half be equally divided between the 12,000 men who had fought in the battle. The other half would be divided between the rest of the Israelites.

But a portion of all the plunder was to be dedicated to God. From the soldier’s share 1/500th of all that was taken was to be given to the Lord.

“…one of every 500 of the prisoners and of the cattle, donkeys, sheep, and goats…” – Numbers 31:28 NLT

This share was to be given to Eleazar the priest as an offering to the Lord, and the numbers are staggering. The quantity of sheep and goats dedicated to God was 675. But there were also 72 cattle, 61 donkeys, and 32 virgin girls set aside for the Lord. It is likely that the young women became servants to the Levitical priests and assisted in the maintenance of the tabernacle. Of the plunder given to the rest of the people, 1/50th of it was given to the Levites.

Moses took one of every fifty prisoners and animals and gave them to the Levites, who maintained the Lord’s Tabernacle. All this was done as the Lord had commanded Moses. – Numbers 31:47 NLT

There was one final offering presented to Yahweh. The military leaders who oversaw the battle came before Moses with an offering of atonement. Out of gratitude for God’s protection of their men, they brought a large number of gold armbands, bracelets, rings, earrings, and necklaces that the soldiers had taken as plunder. This would have been from the portion of the booty that belonged to the 12,000 soldiers. These men willingly gave up part of their reward as an offering to God.

“…we are presenting the items of gold we captured as an offering to the Lord from our share of the plunder—armbands, bracelets, rings, earrings, and necklaces. This will purify our lives before the Lord and make us right with him.” – Numbers 31:50 NLT

In essence, this was a ransom for the lives that God had graciously spared. Not one man had died in this expedition and the generals and captains were expressing their gratitude to God for His mercy and providential care.

This entire scenario paints a picture of how things will begin to unfold as the Israelites enter the land of Canaan. It served as a practice run in preparation for their future conquest of the promised land. There would be many more battles ahead. And every victory they enjoyed would be because of the grace and mercy of God. He would be going before them and fighting alongside them. And they were never to forget to render their thanksgiving to Him for His protection and provision.

Moses would repeatedly warn the people to take their relationship with God seriously. Without Him, they were nothing. And he knew they would always face the temptation to take credit for their own success; a dangerous prospect that was to be avoided at all costs.

“Beware that in your plenty you do not forget the Lord your God and disobey his commands, regulations, and decrees that I am giving you today. For when you have become full and prosperous and have built fine homes to live in, and when your flocks and herds have become very large and your silver and gold have multiplied along with everything else, be careful!” – Deuteronomy 8:11-13 NLT

With every victory would come the temptation to glory in their success and celebrate their newfound wealth. But Moses wanted to remember that faithfulness was far more important than fame or financial success.

“Remember the Lord your God. He is the one who gives you power to be successful, in order to fulfill the covenant he confirmed to your ancestors with an oath.” – Deuteronomy 8:18 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

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.

Boot Camp for the Coming Battle

21 Then Israel sent messengers to Sihon king of the Amorites, saying, 22 “Let me pass through your land. We will not turn aside into field or vineyard. We will not drink the water of a well. We will go by the King’s Highway until we have passed through your territory.” 23 But Sihon would not allow Israel to pass through his territory. He gathered all his people together and went out against Israel to the wilderness and came to Jahaz and fought against Israel. 24 And Israel defeated him with the edge of the sword and took possession of his land from the Arnon to the Jabbok, as far as to the Ammonites, for the border of the Ammonites was strong. 25 And Israel took all these cities, and Israel settled in all the cities of the Amorites, in Heshbon, and in all its villages. 26 For Heshbon was the city of Sihon the king of the Amorites, who had fought against the former king of Moab and taken all his land out of his hand, as far as the Arnon. 27 Therefore the ballad singers say,

“Come to Heshbon, let it be built;
    let the city of Sihon be established.
28 For fire came out from Heshbon,
    flame from the city of Sihon.
It devoured Ar of Moab,
    and swallowed[f] the heights of the Arnon.
29 Woe to you, O Moab!
    You are undone, O people of Chemosh!
He has made his sons fugitives,
    and his daughters captives,
    to an Amorite king, Sihon.
30 So we overthrew them;
    Heshbon, as far as Dibon, perished;
    and we laid waste as far as Nophah;
    fire spread as far as Medeba.”

31 Thus Israel lived in the land of the Amorites. 32 And Moses sent to spy out Jazer, and they captured its villages and dispossessed the Amorites who were there. 33 Then they turned and went up by the way to Bashan. And Og the king of Bashan came out against them, he and all his people, to battle at Edrei. 34 But the Lord said to Moses, “Do not fear him, for I have given him into your hand, and all his people, and his land. And you shall do to him as you did to Sihon king of the Amorites, who lived at Heshbon.” 35 So they defeated him and his sons and all his people, until he had no survivor left. And they possessed his land. Numbers 21:21-35 ESV

This is the Numbers’ version of the story of Israel’s unfortunate confrontation with the Sihon, the king of the Amorites. It’s also recorded in Deuteronomy 2, but in this rendition, Moses reveals that “Israel settled in all the cities of the Amorites, in Heshbon, and in all its villages” (Numbers 21:25 ESV). Not only did they conquer the Amorites, but they confiscated their cities and villages and moved into them. For the first time since leaving Egypt 39 years earlier, the Israelites found themselves living in real houses and enjoying all the amenities of a semi-settled existence.

On this occasion, they refused to walk away from a fight as they had in Edom because the territory of the Amorites provided the only access point to the land of promise. The Amorites were attempting to block the Israelites’ way to their inheritance. And while Moses tried to reason with Sihon, he soon discovered that brute force would be the only negotiating tool that got the king’s attention.

God provided the Israelites with a decisive victory over the Amorites, and Moses makes it clear that the land Israel conquered and confiscated had originally belonged to the Moabites. This is significant because, according to Deuteronomy 2, God had commanded the Israelites to avoid any conflict with the Moabites and had forbidden them from attempting to occupy any of their land. The territory of the Moabites was off-limits and under a divine ban.

“Do not bother the Moabites, the descendants of Lot, or start a war with them. I have given them Ar as their property, and I will not give you any of their land.” – Deuteronomy 2:9 NLT

But it appears that God provided Moses with a special dispensation regarding these cities and villages because Sihon had stolen them from the Moabites. These lands had transferred hands and, technically, no longer belonged to the Moabites.

Heshbon had been the capital of King Sihon of the Amorites. He had defeated a former Moabite king and seized all his land as far as the Arnon River. – Numbers 21:26 NLT

This transfer of ownership officially rendered the land open for conquest and occupation. But Moses points out that the Israelites went as far as the border of the Ammonites and no further. This is because the Israelites had been forbidden from taking any land belonging to the Ammonites or Moabites. These two people groups were the descendants of the two sons born to Lot through his incestuous relationship with his own daughters (Genesis 19:34-38).

But God had been explicit when issuing His prohibition about Moabite and Ammonite land.

“Do not bother the Moabites, the descendants of Lot, or start a war with them. I have given them Ar as their property, and I will not give you any of their land.” – Deuteronomy 2:9 NLT

“Today you will cross the border of Moab at Ar and enter the land of the Ammonites, the descendants of Lot. But do not bother them or start a war with them. I have given the land of Ammon to them as their property, and I will not give you any of their land.” – Deuteronomy 19:18-19 NLT

The land occupied by the Moabites and Ammonites was not part of the inheritance God had promised to Abraham. So, there was really no need for Israel to get comfortable on this side of the river. Their land lay to the west and would be theirs soon enough.

But for the time being, God allowed them to live in the cities and villages they had taken from the Amorites. And Moses relates the lyrics of a so-called “Song of Heshbon,” a ballad that had been composed by the Amorites commemorating Sihon’s defeat of the Moabites.

“Come to Heshbon and let it be rebuilt!
    Let the city of Sihon be restored.
A fire flamed forth from Heshbon,
    a blaze from the city of Sihon.
It burned the city of Ar in Moab;
    it destroyed the rulers of the Arnon heights.
What sorrow awaits you, O people of Moab!
    You are finished, O worshipers of Chemosh!
Chemosh has left his sons as refugees,
    his daughters as captives of Sihon, the Amorite king.
We have utterly destroyed them,
    from Heshbon to Dibon.
We have completely wiped them out
    as far away as Nophah and Medeba.” – Numbers 21:27-29 NLT

This little ditty provided justification for Israel’s occupation of the former Moabite cities because they had originally been stolen and occupied by the Amorites. So, technically, Israel had not violated God’s decree.

Notice that Moses is very specific with his wording.

Thus Israel lived in the land of the Amorites.” – Numbers 21:31 ESV

And God allowed Israel to continue their conquest of additional Amorite-occupied land. He also provided them with decisive victories over the kingdom of Bashan.

“So the Lord our God handed King Og and all his people over to us, and we killed them all. Not a single person survived. We conquered all sixty of his towns—the entire Argob region in his kingdom of Bashan. Not a single town escaped our conquest. These towns were all fortified with high walls and barred gates. We also took many unwalled villages at the same time. We completely destroyed the kingdom of Bashan, just as we had destroyed King Sihon of Heshbon. We destroyed all the people in every town we conquered—men, women, and children alike. But we kept all the livestock for ourselves and took plunder from all the towns. – Deuteronomy 3:3-7 NLT

Israel’s wandering days were over. And with these battles, God was giving them on-the-job training, preparing them for the day when they crossed over the Jordan River and began their conquest of the land of Canaan. These victories on the east side of the Jordan were less about land acquisition than they were about providing the Israelites with much-needed military experience. They were learning how to conduct urban warfare. They were developing tactical strategies and honing their skills as warriors. And their access to well-fortified cities provided them with protection from their growing list of enemies. Until God gave them their marching orders to cross the Jordan, they would live on the east side and fine-tune their fighting skills.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

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.

Growing Confidence

10 And the people of Israel set out and camped in Oboth. 11 And they set out from Oboth and camped at Iye-abarim, in the wilderness that is opposite Moab, toward the sunrise. 12 From there they set out and camped in the Valley of Zered. 13 From there they set out and camped on the other side of the Arnon, which is in the wilderness that extends from the border of the Amorites, for the Arnon is the border of Moab, between Moab and the Amorites. 14 Therefore it is said in the Book of the Wars of the Lord,

“Waheb in Suphah, and the valleys of the Arnon,
15 and the slope of the valleys
that extends to the seat of Ar,
and leans to the border of Moab.”

16 And from there they continued to Beer; that is the well of which the Lord said to Moses, “Gather the people together, so that I may give them water.” 17 Then Israel sang this song:

“Spring up, O well!—Sing to it!—
18 the well that the princes made,
that the nobles of the people dug,
with the scepter and with their staffs.”

And from the wilderness they went on to Mattanah, 19 and from Mattanah to Nahaliel, and from Nahaliel to Bamoth, 20 and from Bamoth to the valley lying in the region of Moab by the top of Pisgah that looks down on the desert. Numbers 21:10-20 ESV

Having been denied safe passage through the land of Edom, the Israelites had attempted to make their way through the Negev. But their efforts were hampered by the Canaanites who occupied that territory. So, they reversed their steps and headed east around the borders of Edom and on to the western borders of Moab. This would have been a long and circuitous journey that left the Israelites frustrated by their slow progress. It was an unexpected and unwelcome detour that required the people of God to extend their time in the wilderness. But there was a reason for this delay. God was waiting for the last of the rebellious generous that had refused to enter Canaan the first time to die off. In the book of Deuteronomy, Moses recalls the nearly 40-year death march the Israelites were forced to make because of their disobedience to God’s command.

“Thirty-eight years passed from the time we first left Kadesh-barnea until we finally crossed the Zered Brook! By then, all the men old enough to fight in battle had died in the wilderness, as the Lord had vowed would happen. The Lord struck them down until they had all been eliminated from the community.” – Deuteronomy 2:14-15 NLT

And as that earlier generation slowly died off, the time was growing closer when the next crop of Israelites would face the decision to obey God and enter the land of Canaan. But as they drew closer to Canaan’s border, God warned the people to give the people of Moab a wide berth.

“Do not bother the Moabites, the descendants of Lot, or start a war with them. I have given them Ar as their property, and I will not give you any of their land.” – Deuteronomy 2:9 NLT

When the very last member of the earlier generation died, the Israelites were given permission to cross the border of Moab and enter the land of Ammon,

“Today you will cross the border of Moab at Ar and enter the land of the Ammonites, the descendants of Lot. But do not bother them or start a war with them. I have given the land of Ammon to them as their property, and I will not give you any of their land.’” – Deuteronomy 2:18-19 NLT

As before, the Israelites were to refrain from taking any land from the Ammonites. These people were close relatives of the Israelites and God declared their property to be off limits. God had awarded Lot’s descendants this land and the Israelites had no claim to it.

But the day came when God ordered the Israelites to begin their conquest of the land of Canaan. The older generation was gone and, after a nearly 40-year delay, it was time for God’s people to obey His command and enter the land of promise.

“Then the Lord said, ‘Now get moving! Cross the Arnon Gorge. Look, I will hand over to you Sihon the Amorite, king of Heshbon, and I will give you his land. Attack him and begin to occupy the land. Beginning today I will make people throughout the earth terrified because of you. When they hear reports about you, they will tremble with dread and fear.’” – Deuteronomy 2:24-25 NLT

Moses attempted to negotiate a treaty with Sihon, the king of the Amorites, but he was not interested in peace talks. That’s when God informed Moses to drop the peace overtures and have the people pick up their weapons.

“Look, I have begun to hand King Sihon and his land over to you. Begin now to conquer and occupy his land.” – Deuteronomy 2:31 NLT

And the victory was overwhelming. Moses indicates that “the Lord our God handed him over to us, and we crushed him, his sons, and all his people.  We conquered all his towns and completely destroyed everyone—men, women, and children. Not a single person was spared” (Deuteronomy 2:33-34 NLT).

Moses refers to “the Book of the Wars of the Lord” (Numbers 21:14 ESV. This was a record of Israel’s victories in the form of songs. The people were just beginning to witness the overwhelming power of God on their behalf. This victory over the Amorites was to be the first of many and it was intended to promote a sense of hope and confidence among the people of God.

After their defeat of the Amorites, the Israelites continued on to Beer, where God quenched the thirst of the people with refreshing water. And the people responded in grateful song.

“Spring up, O well!
    Yes, sing its praises!
Sing of this well,
    which princes dug,
which great leaders hollowed out
    with their scepters and staffs.” – Numbers 21:17-18 NLT

Israel was experiencing a sense of renewed confidence as they witnessed firsthand the power and providence of God. He was graciously preparing them for the days ahead and helping them to understand that anything was possible when they placed their faith in Him.

But while they were getting closer to the land of Canaan, they were not quite ready to take on the challenged that lie across the border. So, God continue to prepare them for the difficult days ahead.

Their enthusiasm, while admirable, would not be enough to bring victory against the nations living in Canaan. What the Israelites really needed was increased confidence in the power of God. Ultimately, the conquest of the land would be up to Him. They were going to need to learn to trust Him implicitly. Cockiness was not an acceptable substitute for confidence in God.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

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.