Monday, May 9, 2011

Prayers of the Bible, Part 5--Joshua

I think Joshua might be one of the most-easily overlooked figures in the Old Testament--especially considering the role he played in leading Israel during their conquest of the Promised Land.  Sure, there's the story of Jericho, with the marching around and the horns and the walls come tumbling down.  And there's also the "Choose this day whom you will serve..." speech (one of the best, in my opinion).  But that's usually the most we hear of Joshua  I feel like he kind-of fades in Moses' shadow.  And sure, he's got his own book named after him, but let's be honest--much of that book is filled with descriptions of families with unpronounceable names taking over territories with unpronounceable names.  Riveting.  However, there are a couple of instances in Joshua's life, a couple of his prayers worth taking a look at.

The first is in Joshua chapter 7.  Israel has just crossed over the Jordan River and begun their conquest of the Promised Land.  They began, of course, in Jericho, with a victory over this great city, a victory that was so unusual and so unlikely, that it left no doubt in anyone's mind--they did not earn this victory.  It was handed to them by God.

Next on the map, the Israelites moved to the city of Ai, where they expected their God to certainly give them another victory.  After all, He's promised to give them this land, and they've learned enough of this God to know one thing--He keeps His promises.  Beyond that, Ai is a smaller city than Jericho.  The spies that came back from Ai told Joshua only a couple thousand men could go in and take Ai.

So imagine the disappointment and confusion and frustration when the Israelites do not, in fact, take Ai.  Rather, the men of Ai killed some of the Israelites and pursued them for some distance!  Scripture says, "the hearts of the people melted and became as water.  Then Joshua tore his clothes and fell facedown to the ground before the ark of the Lord, remaining there till evening.  The elders of Israel did the same, and sprinkled dust on their heads.  And Joshua said, 'Ah, Sovereign Lord, why did you ever bring this people across the Jordan to deliver us into the hands of the Amorites to destroy us?  If only we had been content to stay on the other side of the Jordan!  O Lord, what can I say, now that Israel has been routed by its enemies?  The Canaanites and the other people of the country will hear about this and they will surround us and wipe out our name from the earth.  What then will you do for your own great name?'"

There are some noteworthy elements in Joshua's prayer.  First, he physically expressed his grief at what had just happened by his actions, with his torn clothes, lying facedown before the Lord with ashes on his head.  Also, we see some very familiar phrases here as Joshua, like Moses, questions the Lord's actions and, once again, appeals to God's nature and His great name.  I can't help but think that when people are truly concerned with His glory, He is so moved to action.

Joshua does use one phrase in here that breaks my heart a little, as he says, "If only we had been willing to dwell beyond the Jordan!"  He's saying, in essence, "If only we had been willing to settle for less than God has planned for us"--indeed--"for less than God has promised us."  That's just tragic, because what Joshua doesn't see is that the Lord hasn't broken that promise to them at all.  Rather, it is one of Israel's own number who has sinned and brought defeat upon them.  That's the main lesson I take from this prayer of Joshua's:  it is okay to question the Lord's actions and to appeal to His nature and His mercy.  But remember, when you do, that, like Joshua, you may not know the whole story.  Regardless of what has happened, God has not broken His promise to you, and He doesn't want you to settle for anything less than what He's promised.

The other important prayer of Joshua's is found in Joshua chapter 10.  The background on this is that the Israelites foolishly were tricked into making a treaty with the people of Gibeon, who live in the Promised Land.  The Israelites failed to consult the Lord on this--and it was against His instructions to make treaties with those who lived there--but since the Israelites had made a covenant, they were bound by it.  So when their friends the Gibeonites are under attack, the Israelites are required to go fight for them.  In this battle, the Lord fights for the Israelites; in fact, scripture says He sends large hailstones, so that  more of their enemies were killed by the hailstones than by the sword in battle.  It's during this battle that Joshua prayed, "O sun, stand still over Gibeon, O moon over the Valley of Aijalon."  Joshua was not afraid to pray for something big, and the Lord listened.  From this prayer of Joshua is a reminder that the God who created the heavens and the earth and everything in them is an unimaginably big God, and He's the One who hears our prayers.  Don't be afraid to ask Him for big things.  He's listening.  And He may just give what you're asking.

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