Middletree Bible Studies

James Williams

Joshua 5, part 3: Something Amazing is About To Happen

Angel with sword

from photobucket

Joshua 5: 13  Now it came about when Joshua was by Jericho, that he lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, a man was standing opposite him with his sword drawn in his hand, and Joshua went to him and said to him, “Are you for us or for our adversaries?”
14  He said, “No; rather I indeed come now as captain of the host of the LORD.” And Joshua fell on his face to the earth, and bowed down, and said to him, “What has my lord to say to his servant?”
15  The captain of the LORD’S host said to Joshua, “Remove your sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy.” And Joshua did so.

This scene is (probably not coincidentally) reminiscent of Moses’ meeting with the Burning Bush in Exodus 3. This is a good sign, as we know that Moses’ conversation with God in that episode led to the rescue of the Hebrew people, a feat which involved many miracles, including the big one: the parting of the Red Sea.

Although the scriptural accounts of God’s miracles is too long to count without a calculator, it’s only in a few of those instances that God tells His people ahead of time that He’s about to do so. But He’s about to enter into a conversation with Joshua in which He lays out the plan for the conquest of Jericho. This time, He’ll use trumpets and shouts. In His creativity, He chooses to do His works differently every time. What’s worth focusing on here, though, is that the Lord is giving Joshua a heads up.

I am reminded of this inspiring proclamation from Habakkuk:

“Look among the nations! Observe! Be astonished! Wonder! Because I am doing something in your days– You would not believe if you were told.” (Habakkuk 1:5 NASB)

Why does God tell Joshua what He’s up to?

The reason Joshua was allowed to hear about this beforehand was practical: God had to give him instructions. Beyond that, however, there’s the sheer thrill, accompanied by immeasurable confidence in the God of the universe. Although Joshua should be intimidated at this moment by the mighty angel and that sword, he’s being given a special treat straight from the Lord. Sometimes, a surprise ending is great, but sometimes, it’s still just as fun to watch it unfold even as you know what’s coming. God’s giving a great gift to Joshua by letting him in on the way this conquest is going to occur.

What good things is God up to? A modern example:

I have a friend whose son was diagnosed with Leukemia last October. It was devastating to hear. Then, the doctors gave them some excellent news: the type of Leukemia could be dealt with by simply taking a pill for the rest of his life.

Fast forward a couple of months, and they are dealt with a major setback: cancer has been discovered in his spine. They deal with it with chemo and radiation. Life is good again. But then this June, they are told that the type of Leukemia is no longer the kind that is treatable with a pill: he has another kind now, and needs chemo. Moreover, if he doesn’t get a bone marrow transplant, his prognosis is not good.  So the mom spearheads a massive bone marrow drive, and over a thousand people get tested. Only one problem: because the boy is biracial, finding someone who’s a good match for him (which relies on genetic markers) is very difficult. But now they’ve found a perfect match, and the transplant is on the calendar for a couple of weeks from the time that I am writing this.

Why is this story relevant? Because one cannot help but be tempted to ask God “why?” Why didn’t He just prevent the leukemia from being part of this kid’s life? And if it had to be, then why couldn’t it have remained the “easy” kind of leukemia? Why didn’t He tell someone ahead of time what His plan is?

I don’t profess to have the answers, but I do know this: over a thousand more people are in the bone marrow database than there were 3 months ago. The way this is playing out, there is a potential for many saved lives. Lives that might now have been spared had this whole saga not started last October. God was up to something back then, and His ways look very weird to us. But if we are willing to approach Him, with shoes in hand, ready to bow the knee, then He’s likely going to show us something wonderful.

Introduction to Joshua

Joshua 1: God’s Warnings and Promises
Joshua 2: Drawing a Line in the Sand
Joshua 3: All of Scripture in One Verse
Joshua 4: Why Memorials Are Vital
Joshua 5, part 1: Set Apart
Joshua 5 part 2: Glory Days?


Humbling and Exalting

“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” – Philippians 4:13

Moses bows before the birning bush

Off came the shoes. First the left, then the right. This prince-turned-shepherd had never seen a burning bush before, and when the Voice inside the bush said to remove his shoes, he didn’t argue. But his don’t-argue-with-the-Voice policy didn’t last long. Once the Voice (a.k.a. God) began dictating the plan to Moses the shepherd, Moses started to protest.

The plan, it turned out, involved Moses approaching Pharaoh and demanding the release of God’s people from slavery. Moses told God: “No thanks. I’m not qualified.”

God’s answer:  “I am qualified, and I’ll be with you.”

Again and again, Moses argued with God: “I’m no good at talking.” “What if they don’t believe me?” And again and again, God countered Moses’ protests by saying “I will…”.

Each time God commanded Moses to go free the slaves, he claimed to be inadequate for the job. The epitome of humility, right? Err … no.  Just the opposite. Humility isn’t thinking less of ourselves. It’s thinking of ourselves less. Moses may have thought his self-degradation would look humble in the eyes of God, but God became angry (Exodus 4:14), because Moses was making it all about himself.

In “The Cloud and the Line,” Paul Gibbs points out that Moses learned humility by being exalted, then humbled, then exalted again—Prince of Egypt to lowly shepherd to leader of the Israelites. As the Burning Bush story shows us, Moses had learned a few things about true humility, but he hadn’t arrived where he needed to be yet. God had to humble him before He could exalt him and ultimately use him.

Moses needed to understand this simple truth:
Humility isn’t about how you think of yourself. Humility is about who you’re focusing on. We can anger God when we choose to stop looking at what He can do and begin looking at where we fall short. Oswald Chambers said:  “The way we continually talk about our own inabilities is an insult to our Creator. To complain over our incompetence is to accuse God falsely of having overlooked us.”

True humility leads us away from looking at ourselves and what we cannot do and toward looking to Him and what He can do through you as He has designed you  (Ephesians 2:10).  If you currently don’t see how God can work through you, change your focus and allow him to work through you in surprising ways. Moses went from a man who doubted himself at the Burning Bush to a man pinned against the Red Sea, approaching it with confidence that the God who said He’d deliver them would do exactly that. My prayer is that all of us will look to Him, and all that He can do, all the time. That’s true humility.


Family activity for families with kids of any age: Sit together as a family, going around the room, asking each person to give a list of one-word descriptions of God. Hopefully, the answers given would be along the lines of Good, Big, Strong, Able, Caring, Powerful, etc.  Then ask each family member to describe what that attribute means personally. For example, if God is Powerful, then how can I be powerful in Him? If He is Strong, what does it mean for me to tap into that strength instead of relying on my own strength? If He is caring, how will that play out in situations where I am called to care for those I really don’t enjoy being around?

[The obvious hoped-for result is that as we think of His attributes, we are humbled, because He’s all the things we are not, but then we are built up as we realize what He can do through us.]


Note: the leadership of my kids’ school, Grace Preparatory Academy in Arlington, has initiated several programs designed to help students become more spiritually mature as young Christian boys and girls. One of these includes a monthly character witness guide, and this school year, that guide is based upon Paul Gibbs’ book “The Cloud and the Line“.  For April, I got to write the guide, based upon principles found in Chapter 6: Humbling and Exalting.   I am taking a break from the Joshua series to post the contents of this month’s guide.

Joshua 5, part 2: Glory Days

BruceI remember it like it was yesterday: it was 1984, and I had reached the end of my 6th week of Basic Training. We were allowed to go the PX to buy non-bathroom items for the first time.  After a month and a half of music deprivation, I couldn’t wait to immerse myself in the music section. Bruce Springsteen’s “Born In The USA” had just been released. I was only familiar with one song, but I bought the cassette, and loved it. I bought the CD about a year later, I’ve played it hundreds of times since, and I still have that 27-yr-old disc to this day.

From the beginning, one of my favorite tunes was “Glory Days”, a story told from the point of view of a guy in his mid-30′s, looking back at his life, having happy memories of his younger days, but lamenting that his youth is now gone.  To hear this man tell it, his best days are behind him, and he won’t be accomplishing anything of value from now on. Best to just drink and remember.

I’m not sure when it happened, but at some point, I realized that that “Glory Days”, catchy as it is, is perpetuating the lie that a man can be past the point (because of age or some unfortunate event in his life) where he is able to do anything worthwhile. The truth is that our best days can be in front of us, despite our past. Or perhaps because of it.

In the previous post, we read through the first 8 verses of Chapter 5 of Joshua. In it, God has ordered that the Hebrew men be circumcised, a way of setting them apart as God’s people. Now, let’s pick up in verse 9:

“Then the LORD said to Joshua, “Today I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you.” So the name of that place is called Gilgal to this day.”

The Hebrews word for “reproach” in this verse means “disgrace”.  God is declaring that, by setting His people apart, He is removing the shame of their past. This step is essential for them to move forward with His plans.

Recall that, four centuries prior to this, God had told Abraham that He was going to make a great nation out of his descendents, and that nation would be a blessing to other nations.  The future looked bright when Abraham first heard the Lord’s proclamation, but by the time of Joshua, those descendents were burdened with a 400-year history of slavery, oppression, and cruel treatment.

Put simply, the Hebrews were broken. We Christians often talk or sing songs about brokenness as if it’s a noble thing. Like that time when we went through something hard, and God could finally get our attention.  This level of brokenness, however, was beyond that. The Israelites were smashed into a million pieces.  Any thoughts of greatness as a nation were beaten out of them. They experienced and saw horrible things during their time in captivity. Even after leaving Egypt, their spies saw enemy soldiers and didn’t want to have any part of fighting them. They had no fight left in them.

Fast-forward 40 years. God ordered circumcision as a way to remind them of who they are,  and to remove the shame associated with their past. It was now time to move forward. To fix their eyes on what He declared was already theirs. Not as a possession, but as their mission.  When God first mentioned Israel to Abraham, He said He would use this new nation as a way of impacting the rest of the world (Genesis 12:2). These people needed some sort of reminder of who they were and what they could still do with God on their side.

I know many people, myself included, who have bought into the lie that because of their past (their own sin or sin done to them), they had no good days in front of them.  That their chances to make their life count are gone. People who have thrown away their marriage through their sin. People who have been abused. People who have been abusers. People who have lost a child. People who have been in prison.  People who have lost everything.

Good, caring people who, for a variety of reasons, have lost sight of the incredible redemption that is still possible. I don’t blame them for forgetting about God’s ability to redeem anything. But I do recognize it as a deception, one which has resulted from our enemy’s ability to twist experiences, tell lies, push our buttons, and hide what’s true.

Plenty of Christians will tell you they know they can trust God with their future. But He also challenges you to trust Him with your past. Not only is God able to redeem your past, but it’s very possible that your best days are ahead of you. I find comfort and peace in knowing that, if I’ll let Him,  He can and will let me play a part in the Story He’s telling.

He has removed the disgrace from me. My future is bright, and inviting.

Glory days, they’ll pass you by…

Not necessarily.

Introduction to Joshua
Joshua 1: God’s Warnings and Promises
Joshua 2: Drawing a Line in the Sand
Joshua 3: All of Scripture in One Verse
Joshua 4: Why Memorials Are Vital
Joshua 5, part 1: Set Apart

Joshua 5, part 1: Set Apart

ONe of these things is not like the otherWhen all the kings of the Amorites…[and] Canaanites… heard how the LORD had dried up the waters of the Jordan before the sons of Israel until they had crossed, that their hearts melted, and there was no spirit in them any longer because of the sons of Israel.

Sound familiar? Back in chapter 2, verse 9, Rahab told Joshua that the people in her city (Jericho) were afraid of the God of the Israelites. The way this verse is worded, they pretty much knew they were toast.

In my introduction to the study of Joshua, I mentioned that this journey contains symbols to the journey of a follower of God. If that’s the case, then the kings and soldiers of the enemy represent the demons and spirits who comprise Satan’s army and do his bidding. If so, it’s reasonable to suggest that these stories give us insight into the mind of our enemy.  We know from the Gospels that demons know they are toast. They see the inevitability of their fate. They understand that Jesus has defeated them and will, when it’s all said and done, have the ultimate victory.

At that time the LORD said to Joshua, “Make for yourself flint knives and circumcise again the sons of Israel the second time.”

When the Israelites first left Egypt, the males were all circumcised. However, it’s now 40 years later, and most of those men have passed on. The men about to enter into this new war are, for the most part, not circumcised:

Their children whom He raised up in their place, Joshua circumcised; for they were uncircumcised, because they had not circumcised them along the way.

The Lord wanted these men to bear the mark of circumcision because it shows they have been set aside. The fancy churchy word for that is “sanctification”. I’m not a fan of such words, but this one is biblical. To be set apart is an honor, and it comes with responsibility. God could do everything Himself, but He chooses to let us do His work. Although you and I most likely won’t be called to bring down a large city with musical instruments, we do get to be used by God to advance His kingdom. He has set us aside for His purposes.

This chapter is so rich, I have 3 blog posts about it. We’re going to pick up with verse 9 in the next post.

Introduction to the Joshua series

Joshua 1: Promises and Warnings

Joshua 2: Drawing a Line

Joshua 3: The Ultimate Message of Scripture, in one verse

Joshua 4: The Importance of Memorials

Joshua 4: The Importance of Memorials


photo from photobucket.com

Note: This is part of a series in a chapter-by-chapter study of the book of Joshua. Today we look at Chapter 4

[God told Joshua] v.3  and command them, saying, ‘Take up for yourselves twelve stones from here out of the middle of the Jordan, from the place where the priests’ feet are standing firm, and carry them over with you and lay them down in the lodging place where you will lodge tonight.’

The 4th chapter of Joshua is all about one event: God directing the Israelites to bring stones from the middle of the temporarily-dry Jordan River, and erecting a memorial at the place named Gilgal. This serves as a reminder of the miracle which enabled thousands to cross an uncrossable river.

Let this be a sign among you, so that when your children ask later, saying, ‘What do these stones mean to you?’ 7  then you shall say to them, ‘Because the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the LORD; when it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off.’ So these stones shall become a memorial to the sons of Israel forever.

10  For the priests who carried the ark were standing in the middle of the Jordan until everything was completed that the LORD had commanded Joshua to speak to the people, according to all that Moses had commanded Joshua. And the people hurried and crossed; 11  and when all the people had finished crossing, the ark of the LORD and the priests crossed before the people.

20  Those twelve stones which they had taken from the Jordan, Joshua set up at Gilgal.

21-24  He said to the sons of Israel, “When your children ask their fathers in time to come, saying, ‘What are these stones?’  then you shall inform your children, saying, ‘Israel crossed this Jordan on dry ground.’  For the LORD your God dried up the waters of the Jordan before you until you had crossed, just as the LORD your God had done to the Red Sea, which He dried up before us until we had crossed;  that all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the LORD is mighty, so that you may fear the LORD your God forever.

Introduction to this series

Chapter 1: Promises and Warnings

Chapter 2: Drawing a Line in the Sand

Chapter 3: The Entire Message of All Scripture, in one verse

Joshua 3: The Entire Message of all Scripture, Encapsulated

This is the latest in a series on the book of Joshua, finding insights from this underappreciated book that are applicable to your life and mine. Scroll all the way down for links to previous posts.

Joshua 3:3  and they commanded the people, saying, “When you see the ark of the covenant of the LORD your God with the Levitical priests carrying it, then you shall set out from your place and go after it.
v.4  “However, there shall be between you and it a distance of about 2,000 cubits by measure. Do not come near it, that you may know the way by which you shall go, for you have not passed this way before.”

The Ark.  Outside of the bible, have you ever used that word? Before you say “no”, remember this movie:

Raiders of the Lost Ark

Hey Indy: Move out of the way. You're blocking my view of the Ark!

Up to this point in Scripture, this is the third item we see which is assigned the moniker “Ark”. The first, in Genesis 6, is a large boatlike thing that Noah built to God’s specification, which saved his family and some animals from the Flood.

The 2nd is the basket that baby Moses was placed in in order to facilitate his rescue when Pharaoh had ordered the death of young male children.

Now we have the third Ark: something that is not just holy, but intensely holy. Several stern warnings are issued regarding how the Israelites are to treat this Ark. You weren’t even supposed to be within a half mile or so of it as it’s being carried.

v.6  And Joshua spoke to the priests, saying, “Take up the ark of the covenant and cross over ahead of the people.” So they took up the ark of the covenant and went ahead of the people.

v.8  “You shall, moreover, command the priests who are carrying the ark of the covenant, saying, ‘When you come to the edge of the waters of the Jordan, you shall stand still in the Jordan.'”

v.10  Joshua said, “By this you shall know that the living God is among you, and that He will assuredly dispossess from before you the Canaanite, the Hittite, the Hivite, the Perizzite, the Girgashite, the Amorite, and the Jebusite.

Joshua is telling the Israelites that they are about to witness something extraordinary, and it will be a reminder of the great love that God has for them. The setup that Joshua gives is an acknowledgment that

(a) God is living, and is with them;

(b) God’s people have enemies who are bent on their destruction;

(c) God will take care of Israel’s enemies on their behalf.

This simple message, when boiled down, is the message of the entire bible:

God is with us. God loves us. God rescues us.

Or, to personalize it:

God loves you. God loves you. God rescues you.

Scripture is full of story after story which demonstrate that God is with us, God loves us, and He rescues us.  Why is this truth reiterated over and over? Because we need to be reminded of it over and over. Oh, how much more peace we would have if we intentionally walked in those simple truths!


Summary of verses 11 through 17:

The Ark is to go ahead of the people, and once its carriers arrive at the Jordan river, God will stop the water from flowing, creating a scene not unlike the one in which Moses led the people across a parted Red Sea. Now, it’s the Jordan which has been parted to the people could cross.

v.17  And the priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the LORD stood firm on dry ground in the middle of the Jordan while all Israel crossed on dry ground, until all the nation had finished crossing the Jordan.

Introduction to the Joshua series
Joshua 1–God’s promises and Warnings
Joshua 2–Drawing a Line in the Sand

Joshua 2: Drawing a Line in the Sand

line in the sand


Intro to the Joshua Study
Chapter 1: God’s Promises and Warnings

Joshua 2:1  Then Joshua the son of Nun sent two men as spies secretly from Shittim, saying, “Go, view the land, especially Jericho.” So they went and came into the house of a harlot whose name was Rahab, and lodged there.

Rahab is a true hero of the faith. She’s even mentioned 3 times in the New Testament: as a direct ancestor of Jesus (Matthew 1:5), as one of a list of biblical Hall of Famers  (Hebrews 11:31), and as an example of one whose works were very important (James 2:25).

Joshua 2:9  and said to the men, “I know that the LORD has given you the land, and that the terror of you has fallen on us, and that all the inhabitants of the land have melted away before you.

Rahab was a traitor to her people, but she chose the winning side in this war, which she saw that God was going to win. I wonder how much better my life would be if I only did the same: make whatever choice will put me on God’s side.

When I am faced with a choice to sin or not sin–to be selfish or selfless, to turn the other cheek or to retaliate, to be generous or self-indulgent, to fudge the numbers or to maintain integrity– is it not true that I am going to be better off putting a stake in the ground and choosing to side with God, every time?

On to Chapter 3

Joshua 1: God Gives Us Both Promises and Warnings

Note: This is the first of a series on the book of Joshua. Read the introduction here.

warning lightMoses was not just a good man, but a great man. A Hall of Famer, if you will. He set the bar so high one can only have pity on whoever is chosen to replace him. But God made His selection:

1-2  Now it came about after the death of Moses the servant of the LORD, that the LORD spoke to Joshua the son of Nun, Moses’ servant, saying,  “Moses My servant is dead; now therefore arise, cross this Jordan, you and all this people, to the land which I am giving to them, to the sons of Israel.

The good news for the Israelites: Joshua was a good man.When the 12 spies were originally sent to checkout the Promised Land, 10 of them responded by what they saw: a seemingly insurmountable army. But Joshua and Caleb reported what they knew: God had promised the land to His people. Joshua lived his life not out of fearing the circumstances, but in trusting that God’s promises superseded circumstances:

“Every place on which the sole of your foot treads, I have given it to you…From the wilderness and this Lebanon, even as far as the great river, the river Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites, and as far as the Great Sea toward the setting of the sun will be your territory.” (v. 3-4)

An even better promise:
“No man will be able to stand before you all the days of your life. Just as I have been with Moses, I will be with you; I will not fail you or forsake you.

However, these promises come with some requirements:
–Be strong and courageous (v 6-7, 9)
–Be obedient:  “be careful to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, so that you may have success wherever you go.
–Know God’s word: “This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it” (v 8)

Finally, there’s a warning to those who desire to lead. The general population understood the importance of Joshua’s staying true to God:
“Just as we obeyed Moses in all things, so we will obey you; only may the LORD your God be with you as He was with Moses. ”

The people promised to follow Joshua, but insisted that he follow God. How much we can learn from that?

Chapter 2: Drawing a Line in the Sand

Joshua: Introduction

One thing that the beginning and end of the bible have in common is the divisiveness which exists concerning the level of literalness (a word I just made up) of the narratives. I know good solid Christians who have varying ideas of just how literal the stories of Creation and of the End Times are. Was Adam a real man, made from dust, through whom sin entered the human race, or does his story symbolize all men, whose sin has separated all of us from God? Will there be an actual period called the Tribulation, and a mark etched into the forehead of unbelievers, or is the book of Revelation full of metaphors for bigger truths about eternity?

While I’m not pretending to answer those questions here, it is undeniable that Scripture contains several stories which are both literally and figuratively true. For example, the idea that Abraham’s almost-sacrifice of Isaac could be an actual event does not conflict with the idea that Abraham represents God the Father, willing to give His only His Son. The story contains both literal and figurative truths. The bible is economical: several passages give us two truths for the price of one!

I said all that to make the following assertion: the journey of the Israelites, headed from Egypt, through the desert, into the Promised Land, while literally true for countless Hebrews, is also representative of the spiritual walk of individuals who walk with God. It is with that mindset that I will focus on the book of Joshua. Together, we’ll see what truths about the human heart we can see by reading through Joshua, without stretching anything, but looking for truths which go beyond the literal story of the Israelites as they begin their new status as a non-homeless nation.

Now, on to Chapter 1


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