Tag Archives: Spiritual disciplines

The Tragedy of Disobedience – (Judges 3-5)

Scripture Reading – Judges 3-5

Israel’s failure to drive the heathen nations out of the land soon brought home a sorrow and heartache to many in Israel. We read,

Judges 3:6-76  And they took their daughters to be their wives, and gave their daughters to their sons, and served their gods. 7  And the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the LORD, and forgat the LORD their God, and served Baalim and the groves.

Unspeakable wickedness is reflected in those two verses. Having failed to drive out the heathen and separate themselves from them and their idols, Hebrew families suffered the loss of their sons and daughters who intermarried with the wicked and followed in their ways (3:6). Their children not only turned from the LORD, but they began committing all manner of whoredom in the groves (3:7).

A history of Israel under the Judges is recorded beginning with Judges 3:7 and continuing to Judges 16:31.

From liberty to servitude, Israel provoked the LORD’S anger and He delivered them “into the hand of Chushanrishathaim king of Mesopotamia” whom the people served for eight years (3:8).

Evidencing His grace, when Israel cried to the LORD He sent Othniel, Caleb’s younger brother, to judge and call the nation to turn to the LORD (3:9-10). The LORD delivered His people and gave the nation rest for forty years as long as Othniel was judge in the land. (3:11).

After Othniel’s death, Israel followed a pattern of rebellion that invited God’s judgment and each time the LORD raised up a judge to call the nation to repent (3:12-31).

An intriguing story unfolds of a brave Benjaminite named Elud who stealthily made his way into the palace where he slew Eglon, the Moabite king with a dagger (3:15-26). Ehud’s courageous example and his faith in the LORD, not only delivered Israel from servitude, but also gave the people rest for eighty years (3:27-30).

Judges 4 – Deborah: A Prophetess in the Land

Israel once again turned from the LORD and the nation fell victim to a powerful king, “Jabin king of Canaan” (4:2-3).  This time the LORD called upon a woman named Deborah, identified as a “prophetess” (4:4-5), to judge the nation.

Deborah summoned a man named “Barak” (4:6) of the tribe of Naphtali, to lead the tribes of Naphtali and Zebulun against Jabin (4:6-7). When Barak insisted he would only go if Deborah accompanied him, she warned it would be said that “the LORD shall sell Sisera [the Canaanite general] into the hand of a woman” (4:8).

When the Canaanite general Sisera realized he was defeated (4:9-16), he fled the battle on foot, and sought to hide in the tent of a woman named Jael (4:17-19). When he fell asleep, Jael rose up and drove a tent peg through Sisera’s temple (4:20-22).

Judges 5 – A Song of Victory

The prophetess Deborah breaks into song (5:3-11) and leads the people to recall their glorious history (5:3-5), and their decline as a wayward, suffering people (5:6-8).

Deborah’s song turns to rejoicing in the victory the LORD had given his people (5:9-23), and the courage of Jael, the woman who slew Sisera, by driving a peg through his temples (5:24-27).

Faith was and still is the victory!

Copyright 2020 – Travis D. Smith

A Crisis: Third Generation Leaders Often Lack the Fortitude of Unshakable Convictions (Judges 1-2)

Daily reading assignment: Judges 1-2

Dear Heart of a Shepherd Followers,

It is a joy to begin the eighth book in our chronological study of the Word of God this year. We completed the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Old Testament that are Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy).  We have read the ancient Book of Job and just finished our study of the Book of Joshua.

Israel’s passage from Egypt, her forty years in the wilderness, and that nation’s settlement of the Promised Land has been our focus. With the land divided among the tribes, the book of Judges begins with a matter of fact statement that marks the end of an era: “after the death of Joshua” (Judges 1:1).

Judges 1 – A Third Generation Leadership Crisis

With Joshua and Eleazar the high priest dead, the children of Israel asked the LORD, “Who shall go up for us against the Canaanites first, to fight against them?” (Judges 1:1)

Though Israel possessed the land, they still encountered the presence of enemies in the midst.  Receiving the LORD’s command to go to war, the tribes of Judah and Simeon fought against the Canaanites and the Perizzites, and God blessed them with victories over their enemies (Judges 1:2-20).  With Joshua dead, we find Caleb named in the midst, the last of his generation to come out of Egypt (1:14-20).

Sadly, the faith, fortitude, and obedience witnessed in Judah was absent among the other tribes who failed to drive the heathen out of the land (1:21-36). The tribe of Benjamin (1:21), the tribe of Manasseh (1:27-28), and the tribes of Ephraim, Zebulun, Asher, and Naphtali (1:29-36) all failed.

Judges 2 – The Rebuke of an Angel and Tragedy in the New Land

God sent an angel to rebuke the disobedient tribes in Judges 2, warning them their treaties with the heathen would eventually become “as thorns in your sides, and their gods shall be a snare unto you” (Judges 2:2-3).

Every generation has its spiritual destiny, and the achievement of one generation does not guarantee the next will follow.  The second-generation Joshua led into the Promised Land had this testimony: “[They] served the LORD all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders that outlived Joshua” (2:7). The same would not be said of the third generation out of Egypt who rose up and “knew not the LORD” (Judges 2:10).

We read of the third generation, they “did evil…served Baalim…forsook the LORD, and served Baal and Ashtaroth” (Judges 2:11-13). 

Israel having broken His covenant, God set His face against them, delivered them to their enemies, “and they were greatly distressed”  (Judges 2:14-15).

Although the people had forsaken the LORD, He did not forsake them and graciously sent judges to remind the people of His Laws and Covenant. Faithful judges called the people to repent, and for a season the nation would heed the warnings, only to turn back to their sinful ways when a judge died (Judges 2:16-19).

“Familiarity breeds contempt” is an adage that is all too true of God’s people. In one generation, Israel had turned from the LORD and lost His blessing and protection.

I fear the same is true of Bible preaching churches and Christian institutions in our day. Like Israel, there are many pulpits in America occupied by third generation leaders who impart spiritual apathy, dead orthodoxy, and a rejection of the convictions of previous generations.

I am afraid many have forgotten that, though times have changed, the admonitions of God’s Word have not!

1 John 2:15-16 – “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.”

Copyright 2020 – Travis D. Smith

Whom or What are You Serving? (Joshua 22-24)

Daily reading assignment: Joshua 22-24

Joshua 22 – A Misunderstanding Led to a Threat of Civil War

The tribes of Reuben, Gad, and the half of the tribe of Manasseh had requested of Moses to grant them the pasture lands on the east side of the Jordan River (Numbers 32; Deuteronomy 3:12-20).

Seven years had passed before the new land was at peace and the warriors of Israel were allowed to lay down their swords and shields. With Israel at rest and the lands assigned by tribe, the warriors of Reuben, Gad, and half of the tribe of Manasseh were discharged from their duties and allowed to return to their families and lands on the east side of the Jordan (22:1-9).

Joshua challenged the men returning to their families to be diligent to observe the Commandments and the Law given by Moses. He urged them to cleave to the LORD and serve Him with all their hearts. (22:5).

Erecting a memorial to their covenant with the other tribes, the Reubenites, Gadites, and the half-tribe of Manasseh built an altar on the east side of the Jordan that nearly became a provocation for war (22:10).  A threat of civil war soon followed as the western tribes misunderstood the purpose of the altar and feared the other tribes had departed from the God of Israel (22:11-12).

Wisely, before blood was shed, a delegation was sent to investigate the intent of the structure. Rather than a place of worship and sacrifice as they feared, they found the altar was a memorial for future generations to remember their covenant with the LORD and the Twelve Tribes of Israel  (22:13-34). The investigation embodies a spiritual principle for us all:

Proverbs 18:13 – “He that answereth a matter before he heareth it, it is folly and shame unto him.”

Joshua 23-24 – Joshua’s Final Challenge and Address

“Old and stricken in age,” Joshua gathered the leaders of Israel for a parting exhortation before his death (23:1-2).  Like the great leader he was, he foresaw the challenges Israel would face in the years ahead when he was departed. Joshua’s words echo the passion of every godly leader who longs to see God’s people walk in the ways of the LORD.

He reminded them how the LORD had fought for and never forsook them (23:4-10).  He challenged them to keep God’s Word (23:6), cleave to the LORD (23:8), and love the LORD (23:11).  He warned: Compromise with the heathen and you will invite God’s judgment (23:12-16).

At Shechem (24:1), the same place Abraham had received God’s promise that his lineage would inherit the land (Genesis 12:6-7), Joshua began to rehearse God’s promises and providences.

He recalled God had chosen Abraham (24:2-4), delivered Israel out of Egypt (24:5-7), and guided them through the wilderness (24:7-10).  He reminded the people that God had given them the land as He had promised (24:11-13) and challenged them to revere and serve the LORD (24:14-28). Lastly, Joshua exhorted the people to declare their devotion to the LORD with a covenant to memorialize their vow to serve Him (24:25-28).

The Book of Joshua closes with the death of a generation of leaders and three burials.  Joshua, the successor of Moses died at 110 years old and was buried (24:29-30).  Fulfilling Joseph’s request (Genesis 50:25), his bones were buried on the land owned by his father Jacob (24:32).  Finally, Eleazar the high priest and the son of Aaron, died and was buried (24:33).

Like it was with Israel, so it is with every man and woman reading this devotional:

We must individually decide whether or not we will serve the LORD with our whole heart (24:14-24).

Copyright 2020 – Travis D. Smith

Three Affirmations Concerning the Faithfulness of God (Joshua 19-21)

Daily reading assignment: Joshua 19-21

Joshua 19 – A selfless, godly leader

The business of dividing the Promised Land and assigning portions to the seven tribes (18:2-3) that had not yet taken possession of their inheritance continues in Joshua 19.

After dividing the land according to tribe, Joshua was the last to receive his inheritance. Honoring him for his years of faithful service, the “children of Israel gave an inheritance to Joshua… [and]they gave him the city which he asked, even Timnathserah in mount Ephraim: and he built the city, and dwelt therein” (19:49-50).

A word of caution: Don’t make the mistake of glibly passing over the names of cities and territories listed in Joshua 19 and miss an important lesson. Although the names of the cities may be foreign and difficult to pronounce, they remind us of an important truth: God fulfilled His promise, and Israel was settled in her land.

Joshua 20 – Cities of Refuge for the Innocent Accused of Murder

The LORD commanded Joshua to establish six “cities of refuge” in the land (20:1-2). Moses had already assigned three cities on the east side of the Jordan River (20:8; Deuteronomy 4:41-43). To those three remaining Joshua designated three cities west of the Jordan (20:7).

Reflecting the sanctity of human life and the principle of capital punishment established by God (Genesis 9:5-6; Exodus 20), the cities of refuge afforded a safe place for those who had unintentionally taken the life of another man (20:3-4).  Because there was no law enforcement, the cities of refuge provided a place where a man’s case could be judged by the elders of the city and his life protected from those who felt compelled to avenge the death of a loved one (20:5).

Two regulations governed who might find refuge from an avenger (20:6). The first was the responsibility of the inhabitants of the city to determine if a man was guilty or innocent of murder. If guilty, the accused would be turned over to the avenger. If innocent of murder, but guilty of manslaughter, the accused must remain in the city of refuge until the death of the high priest.

Joshua 21 – Cities Assigned to the Tribe of Levi

We have been reminded on several occasions that the priestly tribe of Levi would not receive its own land.  Serving the LORD and the congregation, the Levites’ physical needs were to be met by the sacrificial gifts of God’s people.

The tribe of Levi requested the cities they had been promised for their inheritance in the land (Joshua 21:1-3) and were assigned forty-eight cities, by family, and scattered throughout the tribal lands (21:4-42).  It was the ministry of the Levites to minister to the people and teach them the Word and Law of God (2 Chronicles 17:9).

I invite you to consider three affirmations concerning the faithfulness of God as we close today’s commentary.

1) The LORD gave Israel “all the land which he sware to give unto their fathers” (21:43).

2) He gave the nation victory over her enemies and “gave them rest” (21:44).

3) Not one “good thing” the LORD had promised failed (21:45).

What a great and faithful God we serve!

2 Corinthians 1:2020  For all [every one of] the promises of God in him [Christ] are yea, and in him Amen, unto the glory of God by us.

Copyright 2020– Travis D. Smith

Slackers Stumble, but the Faithful Claim God’s Promises (Joshua 16-18)

Scripture Reading – Joshua 16-18

Today’s devotional reading does not have the drama of battle or the clash of personalities we have observed in earlier chapters. For the Twelve Tribes of Israel, this begins the division of the Promised Land after the heathen, idolatrous people were driven out of Canaan.

We have considered the land assigned to the tribes of Gad, Reuben, and the half-tribe of Manasseh on the east side of the Jordan River (Joshua 12:6, 13:8, 15, 23-32). Of course, the Levites would receive no land for an inheritance, but the tribes would allot them cities and land in their midst for their service to the LORD (13:33; 14:3-5). The tribe of Judah was assigned its land (14:6; 15:1-63).

Joseph, the eleventh born son of Jacob, was abundantly blessed for his faithfulness to the LORD in Egypt, and his sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, born in Egypt, were each given their own inheritance in the land (Joshua 16:1-4). The inheritance of the tribe of Ephraim, Joseph’s younger son, is outlined (16:1-10) as well as the failure of the tribe to drive out “the Canaanites that dwelt in Gezer” (16:10).

Joshua 17

The tribe of Manasseh, Joseph’s eldest son, received a double portion, not only a portion of the land on the east side of Jordan, but also on the west side of Jordan (17:1-18). Two daughters, born to a father who had no sons and therefore no male heir, had petitioned Moses, and Joseph was reminded they ought to receive an inheritance in the absence of a male heir (17:3-4). Like Ephraim, we notice the failure of Manasseh to “drive out the inhabitants” of the land (17:12-13).

A humorous exchange takes place between Joshua and Ephraim and Manasseh when those tribes complained they were not receiving a rightful portion of land based on the size of their tribes (17:14-18). Joshua challenged them to go to war against the “Perizzites” and the “giants” in the land and claim the land for their children (17:15). Joshua refused to accept their protests and challenged them a second time, “Thou art a great people, and hast power” (17:17-18).

Joshua 18

The LORD commanded the Tabernacle to be erected in Shiloh where it would remain throughout the era of the Judges (18:1). The narrative concerning the dividing of the land among the twelve tribes continues in Joshua 18.  Seven tribes had failed to claim their land and Joshua confronted them saying, “How long are ye slack to go to possess the land, which the LORD God of your fathers hath given you?” (18:3)

Joshua then set forth a plan for dividing up the remaining territories among the seven remaining tribes (18:4-28).  He challenged them to survey the land and come back with a description of the towns and the land to be divided up at the Tabernacle in Shiloh (18:10).  The tribe of Benjamin was also assigned its land with its boundaries stated (18:11-28).

Half-hearted (18:2-3), what a tragic flaw of humanity we see in the seven tribes that we too often see in ourselves! The land was at peace and theirs to claim and settle, and yet they were slackers. They failed to take and possess what the LORD had given them!

Let us not be numbered among the spiritually half-hearted slackers.  May we, like Joshua, be diligent in following the LORD’s commands, claim the blessings that come from faithfulness, and rest in His love, promises, and bountiful care.

Copyright 2020 – Travis D. Smith

Setting Boundaries and Finishing the Job (Joshua 12-15)

Daily reading assignment: Joshua 12-15

Joshua 12 – Taking Possession of the Promised Land

Joshua 11 closed with the statement, “And the land rested from war” (11:23). With the conquest of Canaan complete, the next task was to divide the land by tribe.  Joshua 12 gives us a record of the Canaanite kings Israel had defeated on the east side of the Jordan River (12:1-5). This was the land Moses had promised would be the inheritance of the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh (12:6).

On the west side of the Jordan under Joshua’s leadership, we find a list of thirty-one kings conquered by Israel and named in order of their defeat beginning with Jericho (12:9-24).

Joshua 13 – Too Old to Go On

The first verse of chapter 13 reminds us that all men and women have their day, but the passing of years inevitably take its toll. We read,

Joshua 13:11  Now Joshua was old and stricken in years; and the LORD said unto him, Thou art old and stricken in years, and there remaineth yet very much land to be possessed.

Most likely one hundred years old or more, Joshua was reminded he still had a job to do (13:1). Five Philistine kings are named who had not yet been conquered (13:2-6).

The LORD commanded Joshua to divide the lands among the tribes and direct the tribes to drive out the inhabitants of the land God had given them for an inheritance (13:2-33).  We are reminded that the priestly tribe of Levi was given no inheritance because God promised He would provide for them through the sacrifices of His people (13:14, 33).

Joshua 14 – Caleb: Aged Man with a Burning Passion

Israel had waited over four centuries to claim the land God had promised Abraham for an inheritance. Trusting the division of the land to the providence of God, the tribes were assigned their geographical territories by lot  (Joshua 14:1-5).  Caleb, one of only two faithful spies (Joshua being the other) who believed the LORD had given the land to Israel forty-five years earlier, petitioned Joshua to remember he had been promised a specific inheritance in the land (14:6-9).

What an inspiration Caleb is to all who face the inevitable reality of old age, but can be passionate in their faith.

Though 85 years old, God had preserved his strength, and the fire of a young warrior still burned in his soul (14:10-13).  Caleb declared, “Now therefore give me this mountain, whereof the LORD spake in that day” (14:12)!

Joshua 15 – The sum and boundaries of the Promised Land.

Joshua 15 identifies the boundaries of the Promised Land, as well as the great narrative of Caleb’s conquest of his inheritance (15:13-19). The eighty-five-year-old claimed his land, but only after driving out enemies identified as giants (Numbers 13:28, 33).  We are also reminded that this giant of the faith was also a mortal man. Caleb promised the man who would assist him in battle would win the hand of his daughter in marriage (15:16-20).

Two prominent failures are exposed in today’s scripture reading.

Jealous for the affection of the people He had chosen, and concerned for their sanctification (separation, dedication, and holiness), the LORD had commanded Israel to drive the heathen nations out of the land.

Two examples of Israel’s failures are identified. The first failure revealed that “the children of Israel expelled not the Geshurites, nor the Maachathites”  (Joshua 13:13).  The second failure of the same is stated in Joshua 15:63,  “As for the Jebusites the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the children of Judah could not drive them out.” Israel’s failure to obey the LORD would one day have grave consequences for the nation.

Ponder Caleb’s inspiring example as we close today’s devotional commentary.

Six times the scriptures state that Caleb “wholly followed the Lord” (Numbers 14:24; 32:12; Deuteronomy 1:36; Joshua 14:8-9, 14). Born a slave in Egypt, he was obedient. He had faith in the LORD when all others fainted. When he was eighty-five years old, not even the passing of years had quenched his desire to claim God’s promise!

Copyright 2020 – Travis D. Smith

Joshua: Finishing Strong (Joshua 9-11)

Daily reading assignment: Joshua 9-11

Joshua 9 – Failure to Seek the LORD’S Counsel

With Jericho destroyed (Joshua 6) and Ai utterly defeated (Joshua 8), word of the conquests went throughout Canaan. The city of Gibeon, fearing they would be the next to fall, sent a delegation to Joshua who disguised themselves as a people who lived a great way off (9:3-13).

Joshua and the elders of Israel, without seeking wisdom from the LORD, made a treaty with the Gibeonites (9:14-15). Three days passed when Joshua realized he and the elders of Israel had been duped, learning Gibeon was a neighboring city (9:16-17). The foolish league with Gibeon gave occasion for the children of Israel to murmur against the leaders of their tribes (9:18).

Accepting the treaty as binding, it was determined that the Gibeonites would become servants doing menial tasks in the midst of Israel (9:19-27).

Joshua 10 – Strategy for Success

Israel’s ill-advised peace treaty with the Gibeonites was a violation of the LORD’S command for Israel to not seek ties with the heathen. The decision made without “counsel at the mouth of the LORD” (9:14), soon drew Joshua and Israel into battles with neighboring city kingdoms in the land (Joshua 10).

In making an alliance with Israel, the Gibeonites had betrayed their former alliance of five city-states whose kings gathered to make war against Gibeon (10:1-5).  God used the gathering of the heathen kings and their armies as an opportunity for Joshua and Israel to defeat the whole confederation in one swift blow.

Facing a great foe, the LORD assured Joshua, “Fear them not: for I have delivered them into thine hand” (10:8).  Joshua believed God and he rallied Israel to march through the night (10:9) to come upon the enemy suddenly (10:10). The LORD intervened for Israel and sent hailstones slaying the enemy (10:11).

Joshua called out to the LORD, and said “in the sight of Israel, ‘Sun, stand thou still’…and the sun stood still, and the moon stayed, until the people had avenged themselves upon their enemies” (10:12-14).

How could God stop the rotation of the earth and extend the length of a day? Because He is God. The prophet Jeremiah observed,

Jeremiah 32:17 – “Ah Lord GOD! behold, thou hast made the heaven and the earth by thy great power and stretched out arm, and there is nothing too hard for thee:”

The LORD answered, “Behold, I am the LORD, the God of all flesh: is there any thing too hard for me?” (Jeremiah 32:27).

Joshua 11 – Lesson Learned

After Israel defeated the southern kings in Canaan (10:28-41), Joshua set his eyes on completing the task of conquering Canaan by attacking the northern kingdoms (11:1-23).

A string of successes in battle under Joshua’s leadership raised the ire of Israel’s enemies and became the catalyst of a gathering of adversaries against God’s people (Joshua 11:1-5).

Having learned well the lesson of not presuming upon the LORD’s blessing or moving ahead of His leading (11:6), Joshua went to war obeying God’s plan for the battles (Joshua 11:6-23).  We read, Joshua “left nothing undone of all that the LORD commanded Moses…Joshua took all the land [and] made war a long time” (11:15-18).

What a great example Joshua is for all leaders. He believed the LORD, and his faith and example inspired Israel until we read, “the land rested from war” (11:23).

Joshua’s failure to seek the LORD’S counsel (9:14) was one he regretted; however, he learned from his mistake and did not repeat it!

Copyright 2020 – Travis D. Smith