Monday, December 5, 2011

God's Absence Spells Failure (Joshua 7)

Josh 7:10-13 The Lord said to Joshua, "Stand up! What are you doing down on your face? Israel has sinned; they have violated my covenant, which I commanded them to keep. They have taken some of the devoted things; they have stolen, they have lied, they have put them with their own possessions. That is why the Israelites cannot stand against their enemies; they turn their backs and run because they have been made liable to destruction. I will not be with you anymore unless you destroy whatever among you is devoted to destruction. "Go, consecrate the people. Tell them, 'Consecrate yourselves in preparation for tomorrow; for this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: That which is devoted is among you, O Israel. You cannot stand against your enemies until you remove it.

After a major victory and easy walkover at Jericho, Joshua thought the next smaller city Ai would be just another walkover. They send 3,000 men to attack the city and was routed, leaving 36 of the Israelites dead. Joshua was totally devasted by that experience and fell before the Lord in anguish and despair. That was when the Lord said to Joshua to "Stand up! What are doing down on your face? Israel has sinned."

Israel was consecrated to the Lord through circumcision, so was a holy people set apart for God's glory. What makes them holy is the manifested Presence of God in their midst as symbolised by the Ark of the Presence in the Holies of holy of the Tabernacle (portable temple). Holiness and sin cannot co-exist, just as light and darkness cannot coexist. If God's presence is to remain in the midst of Israel, sin has to be removed. Israel was a kingdom of priests, a holy nation chosen by grace and entered into through faith:

Ex 19:3-6 Then Moses went up to God, and the Lord called to him from the mountain and said, "This is what you are to say to the house of Jacob and what you are to tell the people of Israel: 'You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles' wings and brought you to myself. Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.' These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites."

As much as grace bestows on Israel the unmerited favour of the Lord of the earth, it nevertheless obligated them to be holy. Priests are consecrated to serve the Lord and every Israelite was to be a priest - holy before the Lord. Holiness is a state of being bestowed on Israel by virtue of God's holy presence dwelling among them. However, the holiness can be compromised if sin is tolerated in the camp. Israel experienced defeat at Ai because the presence of God was not with them when they attacked Ai. Sin has compromised the presence and power of God working on their behalf: "Israel has sinned; they have violated my covenant, which I commanded them to keep... I will not be with you anymore unless you destroy whatever among you is devoted to destruction." (v. 11,12).

If it's the presence of God that guarantees success in any Christian endeavour - whether in the marketplace or church - then the absence of God also means failure and defeat. The way to restore holiness in the camp is to get the person who have sinned to confess and forsake the sin. Maybe some may be thinking that this event took place in the Old Testament when Israel was "under law" but such thing would not happen in the New Testament when the church was "under grace". But God has not changed and His presence through the indwelling Holy Spirit makes holiness an even more urgent priority. The story of Annanias and Sapphira and the immediate judgment upon them resulting in their death is recorded for all generations to come (read Acts 5:1-10).

Grace is not an excuse to tolerate sin, but an opportunity to abide in the holy Presence of God in Christ: "If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.  By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love.  If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love." (John 15:7-10, ESV). If Jesus, the Son of God, needed to keep the commandments to abide in the Father's love, what makes us think we can ignore the Father's commandments and still abide in His love? This is presumption, not faith.

Father, we thank You that Your Presence guarantees our success. May You instruct us so that we may walk in obedience to Your Spirit of holiness and abide in Your Presence always. Amen.

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