Albert Einstein said, ‘There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.’
Jesus himself said that – ultimately – there are only two ways to live: there are two paths; there are two gates; there are two destinations and there are two groups of people (see Matthew 7:13–14). In a similar way, in each of the passages for today we see starkly contrasting ways of life.
- Two attitudes to God: hate (forget) or honour
When it comes down to it, there are only two possible attitudes to God. We can honour him or we can hate him. For God says, ‘Those who sacrifice thank-offerings honour me’ (v.23). He contrasts those who ‘hate my instruction’ (v.17a).
Those who ‘hate’ God ignore him and ‘forget God’ (v.22). The twentieth century saw the terrible consequences of the actions of those who forgot him and hated his instruction (Nazism and Communism are two of the worst cases). The description in verses 17–22 aptly fits both those regimes.
The great Russian novelist, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, spent fifty years studying the history of Russia in the twentieth century. As he considered the great disasters ‘that swallowed up some sixty million of our people’, the best explanation that he could come up with was that ‘Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened.’
Solzhenitsyn saw this as having universal significance, not just for Russia, but for the rest of the world as well. He saw the principle trait of the twentieth century was that ‘people have forgotten God’.
This does not just apply to other people; it applies to us all. Do you find that sometimes, possibly because everything seems to be going well in your life, you forget to pray, read the Bible or give thanks to God for all his blessings? It is almost as if you have forgotten about God? There are times in all our lives when we forget God and mess things up.
The contrast to forgetting God is a life honouring him – one full of thankfulness and praise. ‘It’s the praising life that honours me. As soon as you set your foot on the Way, I’ll show you my salvation’ (v.23, MSG).
Lord, today I want to honour you by offering a sacrifice of thanks. Thank you so much for all your goodness, mercy and grace. Thank you for all the blessings that you have given to me personally …
- Two paths to live: God’s will or your own
Do you ever find yourself in a situation where you know the right thing to do, but you also know that the right thing is very difficult and costly? Are you sometimes tempted to take the easy way out?
In this passage, we see that Jesus, as well as being fully God, was fully human. First, he faced the terrible suffering of the cross. He ‘knelt down and prayed’ (v.41), ‘Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done’ (v.42).
Jesus’ humanity is seen in his anguish and his sweat ‘like drops of blood falling to the ground’ (v.44). Despite all the difficulties, he chose God’s will over his own, and ‘an angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him’ (v.43).
You will never face as great a challenge as Jesus faced. But there will be times in your life when God asks you to choose his will over what you want to do. In every sacrifice, great or small, ask for God’s strength to choose his will over your own, as Jesus did.
Judas, on the other hand, chose his own way. With a kiss he betrayed the one who had loved him. We see a stark contrast between Jesus and Judas. On the one hand, as Jesus prayed, ‘an angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him’ (v.43). On the other hand, we see that the result of Judas’ act of betrayal – ‘when darkness reigns’ (v.53) – is hellish.
If you feel, as I do, that you could never be quite like Jesus, but desperately don’t want to be like Judas, then Peter gives us all hope. Peter messed up, as I often do, and yet God used him.
Peter’s first mistake was to follow ‘at a distance’ (v.54). When others are hostile towards Jesus it is tempting to put a bit of distance between us and him – not to align ourselves too closely with Christ. This path, in the end, led to straight out denials (vv.57–58,60).
When Jesus turned and looked straight at Peter (v.61), Peter knew he had blown it and ‘wept bitterly’ (v.62). Like Judas, Peter had failed. Yet his future was very different from Judas’. God went on to use Peter, perhaps as much as anyone else in the entire history of the Christian church. The difference between Peter and Judas was their reaction to failure. Peter was deeply repentant and received forgiveness and restoration from Jesus (see John 21). This gives us all hope.
For all of us, like Peter, our mess of yesterday can become our mess-age today. Our test of yesterday can be our testimony today.
Father, fill me today with your Holy Spirit and help me to say, like Jesus, ‘not my will, but yours be done’ (v.42).
- Two grounds to stand on: holy or hidden
Is there any area of your life that you keep hidden because it is a place of secret sin?
In this passage we see two contrasting grounds. We see Joshua standing on holy ground (5:15). On the other hand, we see Achan standing on the ground of hidden sin (7:21–22).
God’s messenger appears to Joshua. Whether it was an angel of the Lord or the second person of the Trinity (Jesus), we do not know. What we do know is that Joshua ‘fell face down to the ground in reverence’ (5:14) and was told, ‘Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy’ (v.15).
There are times in life when the presence of God seems to be so strong that we sense we are standing on holy ground. All we can do is fall down to the ground and worship.
God gave Joshua success (6:1–26): ‘The Lord was with Joshua, and his fame spread throughout the land’ (v.27). His success did not come from the size of his army, the power of his weapons, or his skill as a leader; it came from his faith in God, which led him to follow God’s instructions.
Likewise, the prostitute Rahab, her family and all who belonged to her were spared because of her faith, which led to an act of kindness towards God’s servants (v.25).
In the New Testament, the writer of Hebrews recognises both Joshua and Rahab as heroes of faith: ‘By faith the walls of Jericho fell, after the people had marched around them for seven days. By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient’ (Hebrews11:30–31).
The book of Joshua raises many difficult questions to which we may struggle to find answers. As Christians, again we have to remember to read it through the lens of Jesus and the New Testament.
The book of Hebrews suggests that the promised land is a picture of the blessings we receive by obedience, that is, by faith in Jesus Christ: ‘For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken later about another day … Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall by following their example of disobedience’ (Hebrews 4:8–11).
One incident of such ‘disobedience’ is seen in Achan whose coveting led to him disobeying God and taking silver and gold, which he eventually admits ‘are hidden in the ground inside my tent’ (Joshua 7:21). Sure enough, Joshua’s messengers ‘ran to the tent, and there it was, hidden in his tent, with the silver underneath’ (v.22).
We need to be aware of the danger of compartmentalising our lives. Like Achan’s tent, everything can look respectable on the surface, but underneath, hidden away, there lurks sin. Other people cannot see the compartments of our lives where sin resides, but the reminder is that God can.
Achan’s sin did not just affect him. It affected the whole camp. God wanted a holy people who were consecrated to him (v.13). Sin and disobedience in the camp affected their purity. The Lord said, ‘You cannot stand against your enemies until you remove it’ (v.13).
It is a good question to ask ourselves, ‘Is there an Achan in my life?’ Is there some area that is not consecrated to God, which is stopping me from receiving the blessings and victory God wants to give to his people?
My experience has been that the Holy Spirit continues to shine his light on the ‘hidden’ areas of our lives that we need to deal with. The process will probably never be complete this side of heaven.
The good news for us is that we need no longer fear the punishment of sin that Achan faced. Through Jesus we are forgiven and restored, no matter what our failings have been, as we saw in our New Testament passage for today.
Lord, I consecrate my life to you again today. Thank you that you go with me as you went with Joshua. I choose today the path of your will for my life – holiness and honour.