Joshua – Spying Out the Land

Searching His Word
 Seeking His Heart

Joshua takes to heart God’s encouraging words. (See “Joshua – Be Strong and Courageous”) 

His first task is to send two spies into Jericho to check things out. (Remember, Joshua himself was a spy years before.) Now this is no easy task. After all, the leaders of Jericho have been made quite aware that thousands of people are camped just across the Jordan River from them.  

Therefore, the first challenge is to even get through the gate of this walled city—unnoticed. Alas, the spies do manage to get in. 

Now very close to the entrance, they find an inn, managed by a woman named Rahab, who quietly takes them in.  She realizes they are Israelites, but doesn’t tell on them. In fact, she protects them and hides them on her roof and covers them with stalks of flax.

      

The king learns of the spies’ presence in Jericho and that they were seen going to Rahab’s, so the king sends soldiers to her house.

“Bring out the men who came to you and entered your house, because they have come to spy out the whole land.” Joshua 2:3

Rahab covers for the spies and sends the messengers on a wild goose chase out of the city.

 What will Rahab do now? Did I mention that Rahab happens to be a prostitute? Does she plan to use her alluring charms on the spies?

Quite the opposite. You see, with her house being located up in the wall, close to the entrance of the city, she hears the talk of those who come and go just below her house. She also hears the talk from those who use her “services.” What did she hear?

“We have heard how the Lord dried up the Red Sea for you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to Sihon and Og, the two kings of the Amorites east of the Jordan, whom you completely destroyed.” Joshua 2:10

Perhaps there are other events that she heard about that aren’t mentioned—enough that she realizes that their one God is far more powerful than the many gods of her people. Rahab says,

“…the Lord your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below.” Joshua 2:11b

What are the chances that these two men who know nothing of the city, find their way to a receptive, helpful woman to protect them?

Think also about the fact that she has lived all her life in this pagan city, far removed from the God-fearing Israelites. What are the chances of hearing the stories of these people?

While her people are struck with fear, she wants to protect these men and know more about their God.

We never know when someone is ready to hear a message from the Lord and that He is ready to use us. Perhaps we need to be “spying out the land” as well.

Hmm, let’s ponder this prostitute a bit more next week!

~ Joyce ~

 

 

 

 

Joshua – Preparation

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Recently, I wrote a note to my graduating grandson. I was inspired to encourage him to study the book of Joshua with God’s words as a his motto:

“Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9

I figured I, too, should familiarize myself with Joshua’s story once again. Who knows, this blog just might be the beginning of a study help for him, so I’ll practice on you. These brave words can apply to our lives as well—be strong!

Joshua’s story actually begins before the book of Joshua. He was a young man during the time when the Red Sea parted, possibly in his twenties. I picture him as being well built, showing signs of leadership, and ready to move forward with aggressive skills. (I’m thinking of my grandson.)

             

We are reminded in Numbers 13:8, that Joshua was one of the twelve spies sent into the land that God had promised Abraham. The spies found the land lush with vegetation, but dominated by large people who made them to feel like grasshoppers in comparison. In other words, they were afraid.

Caleb and Joshua disagreed with the other spies. Caleb and Joshua declared,

“If the Lord is pleased with us, he will lead us into that land, a land flowing with milk and honey, and will give it to us. Only do not rebel against the Lord and do not be afraid of the people… the Lord is with us.” Numbers 14:8-9

Unfortunately, it was a 10 to 2 vote. Caleb and Joshua lost. The results? 40 more years, wandering in this desert. Moses told the people that all those above twenty years old would eventually die during those years, but Caleb and Joshua would live. (Numbers 14:26-33)

That gave Joshua plenty of time to prepare for future leadership.

The next time we read of Joshua, the Amalekites were storming toward the Hebrew camp. Moses told Joshua,

“Choose some of our men and go out to fight the Amalekites. Tomorrow I will stand on top of the hill with the staff of God in my hands.” Exodus 17:9

During the battle, Moses held up his staff and as long as the staff was held high, the men were winning the battle, but when his arms grew weary, they began to lose. Aaron and Hur had to help Moses by holding up his arms and eventually, they won the battle. Quite a victory for the people and for Joshua!

Whether we are 18 or 52, we will encounter battles in our lives. To be successful, we too, must lift up our hands to God. When we take our eyes off of Him, we begin to falter. We see only the difficulties ahead. We focus on defeat. We think, “There’s no way I can do this” and we begin to lose the battle. Life lesson? Be strong, but keep your eyes on His power, not your own.

~ Joyce ~

The Unknowns

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My husband, Jim, and I had an active life being in the spotlight as soloists and church leaders. but when Jim moved to a denominational position, we also moved to a new church. I remember attending that first Sunday and thinking, we’re just one of the people. Nobody knows us. We were used to being known. I  felt like just another person in the pew.

Have you ever felt like that? Just a plain ole person? An unknown?

Getting back to our study of the disciples, we come to three more who are hardly known. Maybe you don’t even know their names.

Let’s give them due honor beginning with James, son of Alphaeus. Now, I want very much to claim him as Matthew’s brother since they are both sons of Alphaeus, But alas, the scholars have no proof of that it’s the same Alphaeus.

James is also referred to as James the less. How would you like to be known as “the lesser?” Perhaps he was small of stature or was younger than James, son of Zebedee. His mother Mary (and another son) is listed among the women who helped Jesus and were there at the cross.

Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and Joses, and Salome. Mark 15:40 

There is some evidence that James took the gospel to Syria and Persia where he was martyred.

Simon the zealot is the next of these three. He likely had to endure his tag for a while like Matthew the tax collector. These two tags were at the opposite ends of the political spectrum. The zealots were all about undoing anything Roman. What a testimony that these two could overcome their former lives and become brothers in Christ.

Several sources say that Simon took the gospel north to the British Isles. Like the others, he was killed for preaching the gospel.

Finally, we have Judas son of James, also known as Thaddaeus (meaning breast child or heart child.) Perhaps he was tender-hearted. We do have one comment recorded of this Judas. Jesus is in the upper room having his last words to his disciples. Jesus says some things they can’t quite understand until after the crucifixion and resurrection.

“He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him.”

Then Judas (not Iscariot) said, “But, Lord, why do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world?” John 14:21-22

Jesus assures Judas that whoever loves him and obeys his teachings will be loved by Jesus and the Father.

Though little known, though few comments if any are recorded, all of these followers of Jesus, from Peter to Judas son of James, experienced his love and grew in their understanding which prepared them to go into all the world to minister even unto death for their Savior. 

Each disciple contributed much, but the gospel writers made it clear that the most important words and actions must center on Christ alone.

~ Joyce ~

 

Thomas, the Questioner

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I know, I know, we often say “doubting Thomas” because Thomas was not present when Jesus appeared to the disciples just after Jesus was resurrected. Though the eleven witnesses reported all that they experienced, Thomas would not believe.

“Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my fingers into his side, I will not believe it.” John 20:25

A week later, Jesus appeared again. This time, Thomas was with them. They all needed God’s peace, but especially Thomas. Through locked doors, Jesus came among them a second time.

“Peace be with you!” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” John 20:26-27

Seeing Jesus’ face and hearing Jesus’ voice was all Thomas needed. Scripture doesn’t say, but I believe Thomas fell to his knees before his master when he said,

“My Lord and my God!” John 20:28

Jesus has a word for us in 2020.

[Thomas,]Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” John 20:29

Whether we have personal struggles or joint struggles like this coronavirus, Jesus says, “Peace be with you” and “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” 

We can find a previous time when Thomas questioned. Jesus drew the disciples together for a few final precious hours of last teaching—things like humility as he washed their feet and the challenge to love one another, a prime way to show that they were his disciples. He let them know one would betray him and specifically tells Peter that he will deny him. 

Then we hear those encouraging words from Jesus that we can once again apply to our day.

“Do not let your heart be troubled. Trust in God, trust also in me.” John 14:1

The antidote for a troubled heart? Trust.

Jesus tells them that he is going to prepare a place for them (heaven) and that they know the way (belief). It is here that Thomas has another recorded question.

“Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” 

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:5-6

Without Thomas’ question, we may have never had that powerful verse in Scripture. Questions can show doubt, but they can also bring understanding. Thank you for asking, Thomas. This answer has been quoted many times through out the centuries.

Stepping back a bit further, we find Jesus heading toward Bethany for what will be the raising of Lazarus. It will mean going closer to Jerusalem, dangerous territory for Jesus with the hostile Temple leaders only a breath away. Although Thomas may be somewhat pessimistic, he makes the very bold statement,

“Let us also go that we may die with him.” John 11:16

It is believed that Thomas was eventually martyred with a spear in India.  

~ Joyce ~

 

Nathaniel, a True Israelite

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We are still near the Jordan River where John the Baptist has been baptizing and calling listeners to repentance. 

When Andrew and John (Peter’s brother)  see the Baptist nod toward Jesus and declare him to be the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world, Andrew and John follow Jesus.

We learned last week that Jesus finds Philip and he, too, becomes a follower. Philip in turn finds his friend, Nathaniel.

Nathaniel’s name means “God has given.” Truly, God had given Nathaniel a desire to study the Holy Scriptures including the prophesies  that pertain to the Promised One. We first see Nathaniel sitting under a fig tree. It was very common to get away from the stifle of small houses and sit under the broad, cooling branches of a fig tree.

        

Philip finds his friend sitting under the tree and excitedly tells Nathaniel,

“We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” John 1:45

Nathaniel is from Cana and evidently there is a bit of a rivalry between Cana and Nazareth. Nathaniel’s first recorded words are,

“Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” John 1;46

This is a bit humorous in that both towns are very small and rather insignificant. At least Nazareth was at a cross road along trade routes, and Cana is off by itself, but you know how rivalry can be.

Philip doesn’t argue with him; he merely says,

“Come and see.” John 1:46

Reluctantly, Nathaniel gets up and follows Philip. When Jesus sees Nathaniel approaching, he says of him,

“Here is a true Israelite, in whom there is nothing false.” John 1:47

Though prejudiced, Jesus knew Nathaniel’s heart. He wasn’t tainted by hypocrisy. His heart was circumcised; he knew the prophecies of the coming Messiah and looked toward that hope.

“How do you know me?” Nathaniel asked.

Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.”

Then Nathaniel answered, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel!”

Jesus said, “You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You shall see greater things than that.” He then added, “I tell you the truth, you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” John 1:48-51

This reminds us of Jacob’s dream with angels ascending and descending on a ladder, but in Jesus’ comment, he is the ladder.

It is interesting that three days later, Jesus goes to Cana where he performs his first miracle. No doubt Nathaniel stands nearby witnessing this confirmation of following Christ. How like our Lord to give affirmation when we step out in faith.

In all the groupings of disciples, Nathaniel is listed as Bartholomew (son of Tolmai or Bar Tolmai).

Various reports have Nathaniel ministering in Turkey and/or Persia and India, and particularly in Armenia where he was likely martyred.

~ Joyce ~

 

 

Andrew, a Quiet Witness

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Now, as promised, we explore other disciples. What do we know about Andrew? Very little. Let’s start with what we do know.

He’s often referred to as Peter’s brother. Isn’t that the way it is when you have one aggressive brother? The other tends to stand in the shadows. That doesn’t mean that quiet ones are any less important.

Andrew was, after all, one of the first disciples to follow John the Baptist. He sought after truth and found it in John’s message of repentance and belief.

But John the Baptist made it clear that,

“… after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry.” Matthew 3:11

Being a disciple of John, Andrew possibly witnessed the baptism of Jesus and heard the voice of God declaring,

“This is my Son, whom I love; with him, I am well pleased.” Matthew 3:17

The next day, when Jesus passed by, John the Baptist said,

“Look, the Lamb of God.” Matthew 1:36

Andrew and John (the disciple) followed Jesus and spent time from the tenth hour (4:00 PM) on into the evening.  When they returned to Capernaum,

The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon [later named Peter] and tell him, “We have found the Messiah, (that is, the Christ).” Matthew 1:41

That’s the first quote we get from Andrew. The first witness. The first missionary!

One day, after a miraculous boat-load catch of fish, Peter was so overwhelmed that he fell at Jesus’ knees and said,

“Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” Then, Jesus said to Simon, “From now on you will catch men.” Matthew 5:8,10

Later on, when Jesus returned to Capernaum, he saw Andrew and Simon by the sea, casting their nets.

“Come follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men.” Matthew 4:19

The only other time the words of Andrew were recorded was at the feeding of the 5,000. Jesus and the disciples discussed how to feed this huge group. Andrew went into action behind the scenes. Apparently, he had been asking around to see if anyone had food. Instead of talking about it, he had quietly been working in the background.

         

Andrew spoke up, “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?” John 6:9

At least he brought the boy to Jesus. And look what Jesus did with that little lunch!

Another time some Greeks asked Philip if they could see Jesus. Philip first consulted with Andrew and together they led them to Jesus.

Do you see the common thread. Andrew worked at bringing people to Jesus—first his brother, then the boy with his lunch, and later he brought the Greeks to Jesus.

Andrew is known as the patron saint of Russia and Scotland.

A Roman governor had him crucified near Athens because Andrew had led the governor’s wife to the Lord and she refused to recant. Even on his cross, he continued to exhort passersby to turn to Christ for salvation. What a legacy!

Quiet witnesses matter.

~ Joyce ~

 

 

 

 

 

The Twelve Disciples

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Perhaps when you were young, you learned the little tune that named the twelve disciples. If not, or if you’ve forgotten it, Matthew, Mark, and Luke give us a list, pretty much in the same order. 

Simon (who is called Peter) and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus and Thaddaeus; Simon the zealot and Judas Iscariot. Matthew 10:2-4

By far, the one we hear about most is Simon whom Jesus later names Peter. I’ve already written several blogs about this very dynamic character who tops the list. While he doesn’t always show himself to be the “rock,” he certainly is a work in progress. 

When Jesus walked on the water, Peter said,

“Lord, if it is you, tell me to come to you on the water.” Matthew 14:28 

Rather adventurous, right?

Then there was the time when Jesus asked, “Who do you say that I am?” And Peter speaks for the group,

“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Matthew 16:16 

Well done, Peter! The very basis of our faith! Or as Jesus said,

“…on this rock I will build my church…” Matthew 16:18 

But then, Jesus began to explain to them that he must suffer many things at the hands of the Jerusalem leaders, be killed, and on the third day be raised again. 

Peter pops back with,

“Never, Lord! This shall never happen to you!” Matthew 16:22

His audacious boldness has gone too far. Jesus smacks back with,

“Get behind me Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.” Matthew 16:23

       

Six days later, Jesus takes the inner circle of Peter, James and John up the mountain where he is transfigured before them. Moses and Elijah appear as well. Not knowing what to say in these truly awe inspiring moments, Peter feels compelled to say something—anything.

“Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” Matthew 17:4

God Himself intervenes through a cloud of bright light.

“This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him! Matthew 17:5

In a study about gifts, I learned a powerful lesson; when taken to the extreme, our gifts can become a negative. 

We hear the voice of this bold disciple other times as well, but through the questions he asks and the denials he makes, this pebble of a man becomes the rock Jesus destined him to be.

Eventually, Peter is a faithful leader and the preacher who brought thousands to the Lord.

Whether we’re quiet or bold in personality, may we, like Peter, learn and grow through the rough edges of life to be what God has called us to be.

~ Joyce ~

 

 

Wondering

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I’m looking out at the clear blue sky and bright sun as it shines over the waters in Gulf Shores, Alabama. The sun rays are creating a myriad of sparkling diamonds dancing across the gulf. It reminds me of the thousands of characters who have walked across the pages of history in our Bible.

I’m still working on my book about Matthew—89,000 words at this point. I’ve thought about many of the people who crossed Jesus’ path, but particularly the disciples with whom He spent much time.

We know the disciples were in the boat and on the shore or in the towns and in the upper room when life happened with Jesus, but what did they say? How did they react?

We can read many comments and incidents that involved Peter, but we hear only one or two sentences from a few disciples and nothing at all from others.

Some of the one-liners spoken from these men are positive, some questioning, and a few are quite negative.

We will look at some of these statements in the coming weeks and try to glean what we can of each man and his personality.

As I thought about these few comments, the thought occurred to me; what if only one or two things I have said were written down for posterity? How would I be remembered?

Do you have someone you haven’t seen for several years? Maybe a childhood friend with whom you’ve lost contact. Maybe a school teacher or a buddy from college. Do you remember one thing that person said? Or one thing they did that stuck with you?

One of my roommates in college was a Physical Education major. She had a thing about “table tennis.” You were absolutely not to call it “ping-pong.” To this day, I have a hard time saying “ping-pong.”

      

I played with a little curly-haired blonde in one of the many cities I lived when I was growing up. We were about six years old. Mary had the unique “gift” of being able to walk on her toes. She would push her big toes forward while the others tucked underneath. That’s all I remember about her.

Of course, we likely remember more important words and actions, whether inspirational or negative.   

So what sticks with people about me? What will they remember that I said or something I did?

What will people remember about you?

An anxious heart weighs a man down, but a kind word cheers him up. Proverbs 12:25

A gentle word turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. Proverbs 15:1

Kind of makes you want to go back and erase some of the things you said or did, doesn’t it? Well, of course we can’t do that, but we can be more mindful of our words and actions now and how they affect others.

We’ll take a look at the words some of the disciples said.

So you see, I’m still wondering. (See Making Scripture Real)

~ Joyce ~

Make Scripture Real

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 Seeking His Heart

Years ago, when the Lord called me to write, I was engaged in a group Bible study of the gospel of Matthew. As I read each lesson, I found myself lingering over each character that came along, wondering what the rest of their story might be.

Sometimes a whole incident was told in two verses. I wanted to say, “Whoa, who is this leper? What did he do for a living?  What was the initial separation like for he and his wife and children knowing that they could never see each other or touch each other again?

Then Jesus healed him! Jesus even touched this unclean leper. Amazing. Oh the gratitude he must have felt. Did his family know about Jesus? Were they cautious, even afraid to accept him back in the household?

I found myself asking questions and thinking about the characters Jesus met all along the way. I wanted readers of Scripture to wonder as well. For I found that asking questions leads you to seek answers.

We might not always get it exactly right, but as we dig into other similar passages or Bible notes, these characters can come to mean more to us. They become the real people they were.

Let’s take John the Baptist for instance. Matthew tells us,

John the Baptist came preaching in the Desert of Judea and saying, “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is near.”

Don’t jump over the phrase that tells of his two-part message—the call for repentance and the message that heaven is near. In other words, the Savior is coming.

This is he who was spoken of  through the prophet Isaiah: “A voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord. Make straight paths for him.’ “ Matthew 3:1-2

So, John knows the ancient writings of the prophets all the way back to Isaiah and he equates the “voice” as himself  and the “Lord” as the Messiah, the coming-soon Messiah.

      

We read a little farther and discover that John wears camel-hair clothing with a leather belt and eats locusts and wild honey—a desert man for sure. That gives us a glimpse of the ruggedness of this man.

People went to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and from the whole region of the Jordan. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. Matthew 3:5-6

Clearly he was effective, in spite of his desert-man ways. Again, a two-part result—confession of sin and the commitment of baptism. Thus, he was known as John the Baptizer or John the Baptist.

In the first chapter of Luke, we find out about his miracle-boy birth. 

My point is, we must read slowly, think through the pieces we are given, and look for other references that will give greater insight.

Then wonder…

What took place when he was out there in the desert during his preparation years? How did the Spirit reveal so much to him? Was it similar to Jesus desert experience? What do we learn when we’re in  those wandering “desert” times? Hmm.

~ Joyce ~

 

God’s Provisions for David

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David is still moving from one hiding place to another. (See David, on the Run) Such a task to keep 400 men together, yet hidden.

All the while, both Israelite tribes and non-Israelites wished to gain favor with King Saul and were ready to tell of David’s whereabouts.

At one point, both Saul and David were circling the same mountain in the Desert of Maon.

Saul was going along one side of the mountain, and David and his men were on the other side, hurrying to get away from Saul. As Saul and his forces were closing in on David and his men to capture them, a messenger came to Saul, saying, “Come quickly! The Philistines are raiding the land.” I Samuel 23:26-27

So Saul stopped his pursuit of David  and went off to to face the Philistines. What an example of God’s provision. Just in time—a monumental distraction!

After the Philistine interruption had passed, Saul heard that David had moved to the desert of En Gedi, so Saul gathered 3ooo chosen men to tract down David. Maybe Saul didn’t know that David only had about 400 men or maybe he did know and was determined to totally wipe him out. 

Along the way, Saul passed several caves. Evidently, he pulled away from his men to do what we all have to do through the day.

            

Saul went in to relieve himself. I Samuel 23:3

(Even kings have to do this.) In God’s divine providence, Saul chose the very cave in which David and his men were hiding. David saw that Saul had entered the cave alone.

David crept up unnoticed and cut off a corner of Saul’s robe. I Samuel 24:5

I am astonished that he was able to do this—unheard and unnoticed. Again, the Lord protected him.

When David showed the piece of robe to his men, they couldn’t believe it. They protested, “What? You had him in the palm of your hand and you just cut off a piece of his robe?” They were ready to go after Saul, but David said no.

“Why?” we might ask. When he had this madman right there, he could have put a spear through him and ended the rat race of being chased and constantly running. After all, Saul was bent on killing him. Why wouldn’t David beat him to it?

“The Lord forbid that I should do such a thing to my master, the Lord’s anointed.” I Samuel 24:6

I can just picture the men looking at one another like, “What does he mean? Why did he let him get away!”

What would you have done?

Next week we’ll pull apart the meaning of “the Lord’s anointed” and see what amazing thing David did next.

~ Joyce ~