Joshua 5:1-6:5, Isaiah 65

Read Joshua 5:1-6:5 and Isaiah 65.

This devotional is about Joshua 5:13-14.

Israel had just entered the Promised Land. It is time for the current generation to take the covenant sign of Abraham (vv. 2-9). This “rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you” (v. 9a) separating them forever from the uncircumcised Egyptians as a people belonging to God. They also celebrated the Passover (vv. 10-11) which also identified them with God’s deliverance from Egypt.

Then, in verse 13, we are told that “Joshua was near Jericho.” What was he doing there? A little scouting, perhaps? We don’t know but we do know that he had battle on this mind. God had already revealed that this would be the first city attacked in the Promised Land; now God revealed to Joshua the method Israel would use to win (vv. 2-5). Before he knew he was talking to the Lord, Joshua asked the soldier in front of him, “Are you for us or for our enemies?” (v. 13) The Lord’s answer is quite curious: “Neither” (v. 14 a).

Note something important here: the “commander of the army of the LORD” was Christ himself. Theologians call this a “theophany” or a “Christophany”–an appearance of Christ before he was born into the world as the man named Jesus.

We know that this “commander of the army” is God because “Joshua fell facedown to the ground in reverence” (v. 14), something mere angels never allowed. We also know this is God because verse 15 says, “The commander of the Lord’s army replied, ‘Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy.’ And Joshua did so.” Again, mere angels–powerful and wonderful though they are–do not deserve worship and veneration; only God himself does.

And, we know this is Christ, not the Father or the Holy Spirit because Christ is “the Word”–the person of God who communicates to humanity. We also know that it is Christ because he is “the commander of the army of the LORD” which the book of Revelation reveals to be Jesus (see Revelation 19:11-16).

Why would the Lord say that he was on “neither” side in verse 14? These were God’s chosen people, after all. They were the recipients of the Abrahamic and Mosaic Covenants, God’s Law, and the promises of God’s blessing. This was their land which God had promised them! How could the LORD then say that he was not on their side?

The answer is that God is on his own side and Israel benefited from being on his side by grace. Their success in taking the land was dependent on them living obediently to God’s commands, starting with the command to attack Jericho as Christ directed them to in chapter 6:2-5. God would not fight for them if they tried to attack using conventional means; only the crazy form of “attack” described in 6:1-5 would do because only that method would show the supernatural power of God.

“Is God on our side?” is really the wrong question. The question is, “Are we on God’s side?” Our success at anything in this life can come only by the grace of God, his unearned favor. Also “success” only matters as God defines it, not anyone else.

Think about this the next time you sing or hear, “God bless America.” Of course we want God to bless America but is America blessing God? That’s using the word “blessing” in two different ways, I grant you. The first, “God bless America” is a petition for God’s favor on America (“God shed his grace on thee” and all that). My formulation, “Is America blessing God” is using the word “blessing” in the sense of “thanking and praising God through faith and obedience.”

Are you on the Lord’s side?

Exodus 11:1-12:21, Job 29, Psalm 59

Today’s readings are Exodus 11:1-12:21, Job 29, and Psalm 59.

This devotional is about Exodus 11:1-12:21.

The most famous–and costly–of the ten plagues was prophesied to Pharaoh and the people of Israel in today’s readings. God promised, through Moses, that, “Every firstborn son in Egypt will die” (v. 5a). The prophecy was very serious and very specific.

So was the promise of deliverance. In fact, as I read this familiar passage of Scripture today, I was struck by how detailed the instructions were to those who believed God’s word about the firstborn sons. Verses 3-10 detailed specifically what must be done to save your firstborn son’s life:

  • The ratio of animals slaughtered to families was specific: one lamb per family (with some exceptions, v. 4) had to be killed and consumed (v. 3).
  • The animals slaughtered were specific: They “must be year-old males without defect” (v. 5b) and they could only be sheep or goats (v. 5b).
  • The date was specific: “the fourteenth day of the month” (v. 6a)
  • The time they were to be slaughtered was specific: “at twilight” (v. 6c).
  • The sign of their faith in God was specific: “take some of the blood and put it on the sides and tops of the doorframes of the houses where they eat the lambs” (v. 7b).
  • The menu for this day was specific: no pizza that night; instead, “they are to eat the meat roasted over the fire, along with bitter herbs, and bread made without yeast” (v. 8).
  • The way the lambs were prepared was specific: “Do not eat the meat raw or boiled in water, but roast it over a fire—with the head, legs and internal organs” (v. 9).
  • The way leftovers were handled was specific: “if some is left till morning, you must burn it” (v. 10).
  • The way the meal was eaten was specific: “with your cloak tucked into your belt, your sandals on your feet and your staff in your hand. Eat it in haste; it is the Lord’s Passover.”

Not one of these requirements had the spiritual or physical power to stop an angel from taking a boy’s life. The commands, though specific, were arbitrary. Death angels are not afraid of sheep blood on door posts or leftovers. But following the Lord’s instructions perfectly was important, for three reasons:

  • First, and foremost, the substitutionary sacrifice of the lamb whose blood was placed over the door to one’s home looked forward to Christ’s sacrifice for us as our substitute. Being careless with God’s instructions would cause the symbolism that pointed to Christ to be fuzzy instead of clear.
  • Second, obedience to these instructions indicated genuine faith in God and his word. If you really believed that God was going to take the life of the firstborn son of every disobedient family, you would be very careful to do exactly what God said to do.
  • Third, these instructions would provide the template for the annual observance of the Passover. They gave Israel a specific way to remember and celebrate God’s deliverance for many generations to come.

Now, what does any of this have to do with us Christians? In a general sense, this passage shows us the importance of paying attention to the specifics of God’s word. But, in a more …uh… specific sense, we don’t observe the Passover as Christians because Christ fulfilled the law on that and every other point.

But remember that the lamb and its blood were mere symbols. They had no inherent spiritual power; they merely demonstrated that someone believed God’s word and pointed toward the sacrifice of Christ. So, in the Christian era, isn’t that a lot like baptism? The water of baptism has no inherent power but those who believe in Jesus will be obedient by following his command to be baptized because water baptism symbolizes important spiritual realities about our identification with Jesus’s death burial and resurrection. The Passover lamb pointed toward the death of Christ; baptism points back to it. Both symbols are evidence of faith in God.

These days, however, some people don’t think baptism is very important. They want to change the meaning of it as a symbol by baptizing babies with a different mode besides immersion. And I’ve met some who profess faith in Christ who have never been baptized and don’t seem to think it is very important.

There is no death angel killing firstborns in this age of grace, thankfully. But isn’t just as important, if we believe God’s word, to follow his detailed instructions carefully? If you’re trusting Christ but have never been baptized, let the example of the Israelites at Passover be your guide. If you have been careless about something else God has instructed Christians to do, think about how carefully Israel followed God’s instructions in this passage.

Then go and do likewise, not because you fear losing your firstborn son, but because you fear and love God and want to keep his commands.