Sunday 24th September – Psalm 24
1 The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it,
the world, and all who live in it;
2 for he founded it on the seas
and established it on the waters.
3 Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord?
Who may stand in his holy place?
4 The one who has clean hands and a pure heart,
who does not trust in an idol
or swear by a false god.
5 They will receive blessing from the Lord
and vindication from God their Savior.
6 Such is the generation of those who seek him,
who seek your face, God of Jacob.
7 Lift up your heads, you gates;
be lifted up, you ancient doors,
that the King of glory may come in.
8 Who is this King of glory?
The Lord strong and mighty,
the Lord mighty in battle.
9 Lift up your heads, you gates;
lift them up, you ancient doors,
that the King of glory may come in.
10 Who is he, this King of glory?
The Lord Almighty—
he is the King of glory.
“The earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it,
the world, and all who live in it”.
So begins this Psalm stating the starting point of everything and everyone. The Bible never tries to do some kind of apologetic argument for this position it just states it, as it does in Genesis, “In the beginning God” (Gen 1:1). Anyone who is obliged to differ must make their own way through life and existence.
David, the Psalmist, asks the question of who may have fellowship with this God when he says, “Who may ascend the mountain of the LORD? Who may stand in his holy place” (v3) and his answer is “he who has clean hands a pure heart” (v4), in other words the one whose deeds are holy and whose inner being is untainted with wrong. Who could this be? David knew that it couldn’t be him, but could it apply to his descendant and thereby include him also?
This is the understanding of all those who have faith in Jesus Christ for he alone is the one whose deeds and heart are acceptable to God (“this is my beloved Son, hear him” – Matt3:17 – and, “which of you convicts me of sin” John 8:46). Only in the shoes of Christ can we approach the God of the burning bush. Every time we begin our worship we do so not in our own name but in the name of Christ, he is the one who approaches our Heavenly Father with the blood of his own sacrifice for us and we come in his coat tails. This is what we remember in every service.
The Psalm goes on to picture a King coming to his palace and his kingdom with the command for the gates to be lifted and the doors opened. Those of us old enough to remember the Scottish metrical version of this Psalm will hear two songs in our minds, the first being, “The earth belongs unto the Lord” and the second, the glorious conclusion, “Ye gates lift up your heads” to the tune St George’s Edinburgh.
READINGS FOR THE WEEK AHEAD
If you don’t have a bible at home you can find the readings on a website such as www.biblegateway.com or an app such as YouVersion
Monday Joshua 1:10-18
Joshua instructs the officers to get the people ready for the entry into the land because in three days’ time they will cross over the Jordan to take possession of it. There follows a little bit about two and a half tribes – Reubenites, Gadites and half of Manasseh – which will be important in days to come but not just now. If the map of Palestine is looked at, the dominant feature that runs North to South is the Jordan river which goes from the Sea of Galilee down to the Dead Sea. The Jordan is seen as a boundary which must be crossed to enter the land however in future battles some land on the East side of the Jordan would be taken and it was to be allocated to these two and a half tribes. However it could happen that when that land was taken there would be a temptation for those who settled there to forget about their brothers of the other tribes who still had to fight to gain the land on the other side of the Jordan.
Joshua reminded them of Moses’ command that those who took part in the early victories on the East of the Jordan were to cross over and fight with their fellows on the West until all the land was taken after which they could return to the land on the East. It was a command to remind them that they were part of a team, a group, a people, and not just individuals or factions.
Those in the Church who find things falling to them in pleasant places (Ps 16:5) cannot forget those who are not in the same situation. We have a responsibility for each other to fight our common Enemy and seek the victory for each other in order to gain our good life in Christ. Togetherness is the message of this passage.
Tuesday Joshua 2:1-24
“News travels fast” was the old saying and the news of this Hebrew band approaching Palestine on the other side of the Jordan had spread through the land causing a great deal of fear and trepidation. Joshua sent two spies to check out the land and especially the first city they would come to, Jericho, and it was there that they found out that news of them had travelled far ahead.
They stayed in the house of a prostitute, Rahab, who becomes an important figure in the history of Israel. First, she reveals herself as a believer that the God of this people is “God in heaven above and the earth below” (v11) though how she came to this belief remains in God’s sovereignty. She is brave in her belief because she offers to hide the spies and assist their escape but also asks for mercy for herself and her family when the people come to besiege the city. The men agree but tell her to hang a scarlet cord out of her window to show the future Hebrew invaders to spare them. It is a little bit like the blood of the Passover lambs which were put outside of the Hebrews’ houses during the night of the Angel of death in Egypt. When we ask for forgiveness we need to do it in a way that shows where we are claiming mercy and in whom we are putting our faith. If we believe in forgiveness, where is it coming from – Christ and him alone.
This woman, described as a prostitute in the city, would not be seen as someone belonging in a hierarchy of salvation history, but not only is she saved, she becomes included in Matthew’s lineage of the ancestry of Jesus. She marries a Hebrew called Salmon and together they become parents of a man of great honour and upright character – Boaz who we read of in the book of Ruth and together they become the grandparents of Jesse, David’s father. (Matt 1:5).
It is a good story that shows us that the most unlikely people, through faith, can become great heroes in the Kingdom of God.
Wednesday Joshua 3:1-17
We come to another great water crossing in Chapter 3 but this time instead of it being by way of escape it is opening the way to future victory. We wouldn’t be amiss to compare this to baptism in Christ’s name for in baptism we are both delivered from our past and given an opening into victorious future to claim the land (our lives) for a blessed future.
The way it was done was that the ark of the covenant, the special box which contained the ten tablets of the law, Aaron’s rod that budded, and a pot containing some of the manna that fed the people in the wilderness, was to be carried by the priests and be in the lead as they marched towards the Jordan river, the gateway to the promised land. The ark was the symbol of the presence of God with the people; to follow the ark was to follow God. If the beginning of the crossing of the Red Sea was Moses rod striking the water, here the water would part as the feet of the priests carrying the ark entered the water. We could say that stepping into the water was an act of faith that God would deliver them, and indeed that was the case because they experienced its truth as they went down into the water. In both situations the water signified death but being able to go into death with/behind God, they would reach the other side. This metaphor has found its way into Christian song ever since where the Jordan river has signified the last crossing before the promised heaven of God’s kingdom.
Here’s a more modern upbeat take on the subject.
Thursday Joshua 4:1-24
Memorials are important. They are important so that things don’t get forgotten about, at least that’s their intention, though I’m sure we can all recall monuments we have seen about events which have long since faded from memory. However despite the forgetfulness of his people God told Joshua to assign 12 men, one from each tribe, to erect a sign which they could at least tell their children about. It was a sign made of stones from the middle of the Jordan and it signified that the people had walked through a boundary that seemed to be impassable on the way to the promised land.
In verse 6 it says, “when your children ask you ‘What do these stones mean?’ you are to tell them. Sunday Schools were started in the middle of the 19th Century when, with the onset of the Industrial revolution and the movement of many from country to town dwelling, many children had grown up outside the Church and special work for children was instituted. However, it has been said that it has had a double edge to it, for the instruction of children has passed from parents to SS teachers. Any troublesome biblical or theological question was bypassed by parents with the encouragement to, “Ask your SS teacher”. This is skipping the responsibility of parents and also allowing them to skip the hard work of prayer and deep thought in order to answer the questions of the young themselves.
The Hebrew children were to know about God’s deeds in the past. Parents and older people in Churches today need to listen to and answer the questions of the young.
Friday Joshua 5:1-12
We may remember that circumcision was given to Abram as a sign of the covenant God made with him in Genesis 17,“Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations, no longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations.” (Gen 17:5,6). During the wandering time of 40 years in the wilderness it appears that the new generation who had been brought up had not been circumcised and so God commands Joshua to restate the covenant He had made with the people by being circumcised before any battles took place.
Signs are important. When I got married, my wife and I exchanged wedding rings as symbols of the covenants we had entered into. I injured my finger last year causing my knuckle to swell and had to have my ring removed, however now that it has settled (and the ring will get slightly enlarged) I will put it on again as resumed remembrance of my covenant relationship with her.
In some Churches when a baptism is performed on an infant, the officiating priest will walk down the aisle and sprinkle water over the congregation as a reminder of their baptism years ago. This was what was happening in Chapter 5 after the Jordan was crossed. God said, “today I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you” (5:9) and they celebrated the Passover eating some of the produce of the land they were going to have – the manna God had provided for the wilderness days stopped that day.
As a little coda; people have forgotten what Mother’s Day was all about, it was nothing to do with mothers but with the Mother Church. People returned to their Mother Church (the Church they were baptised in or started their Christian journey in) as a pilgrimage and remembrance of where they came from. Thinking back and making note of where we first started is a good thing.
Saturday Joshua 5: 13-21
At the end of Chapter 5 we find a strange meeting between Joshua and a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua’s question to him is basically, “Friend or Foe?” Note the response of his strange angelic-type figure – “Neither”. He declares himself as being the Commander of the Lord’s army (v14) and tells Joshua to take off his sandals for he is standing on holy ground (harking back to Moses at the Burning Bush). The Commander of the Lord’s army is not on one side or the other.
Whenever we think or assume that we have God on our side we ought to remember this passage. God is on his own side. The better question is, are we on his side? We shouldn’t get things the wrong way round and we shall see this happening in a couple of chapters time. Remember that Jesus said to Peter at one point “Blessed are you Simon Bar-Jonah” and at another “Get behind me Satan”. As the old hymn goes, “Who is on the Lord’s side?”, that is what counts.
The message that the Commander gave was that the city of Jericho was given into their hands however there was an instruction about how they were to go about its capture. The ark of the covenant was to lead, just as it had through the waters of the Jordan, and there was to be a circling of the walls in which the number 7 gets repeated a number of times – there were 7 priests and 7 trumpets, on the 7th day the priests were to march round the walls 7 times and then as the people gave a great shout the walls well down and the people invaded the city.
The number 7 has a symbolism of completeness in the Bible. After the creation passage in which God completed his creative act he rested on the seventh day and made it holy for the generations of the Hebrews to come. The defeat of Jericho was to be complete; it was not to be partial, and nothing was to be left undone. This takes us to the squeamish feeling moderns have on reading about the slaughter of everyone and every animal in the city. The word that is used of them is a Hebrew word ‘Cherem’ which means inimitable to God and must be ‘devoted to’ or prescribed for death. It implies an attachment to or infection through sin. This is a difficult subject and for any who would like to consider it more, BeThinking website of the UCCF has a special article on it. https://www.bethinking.org/bible/old-testament-mass-killings