Be Stirred, Not Shaken

"We ask you not to be soon shaken in mind or troubled…" ~ II Thes. 2:2 *** "But stir up the gift of God that is within you by the laying on of hands…" ~ II Tim. 1:6

Author: poodster Page 2 of 4

Prophetic Harvest Seasons and Feast of Trumpets Food for Thought

I always find it interesting to see how people approach holy day studies and messages.  There are a couple of ditches that we can fall into when it comes to the holy days.

It’s understandable when something only comes around once a year to want to go over a certain set of scriptures that clearly pertain to that day.  Some people give the same message year after year or cycle through a few, sometimes taken almost straight from church literature, often implying that church leadership of a few decades ago figured out all the major things we need to know and that trying to dive deeper or consider something in a different way is simply a liturgical fidget at best and potentially hubris to think you could find something more.

Others try so hard to figure out every single detail, plot out specific timing and order of events, and connect every scripture that could possibly be related.  There’s absolutely nothing wrong with this at face value, because we’re supposed to be searching the scriptures and God expects us to have studied the events of the end time so we’re prepared for what’s to come.  The danger in this approach can be a myopic approach to individual holy days and how they fit together, and being too invested in our own way of looking at it to consider other ideas.

In giving each holy day its moment in the spotlight, we sometimes fail to take a step back and look at the bigger picture, and some of the keys that God has given us to help made sense of His plan.  One of those big thematic keys is the idea of harvest seasons.

God’s holy days and the harvest seasons

The bible is chock-full of harvest symbolism, of sowing and reaping, cycles of growing and coming to maturity.  It’s no accident that God tied His holy day calendar to the agricultural cycles.  Based on what He laid out in His word, I believe that the spring holy days and the fall holy days picture two distinct harvest seasons—each separate and complete.  This isn’t earth-shattering or “new truth”, but sometimes the actual implications of the harvest seasons in prophecy get overlooked.

  • The spring holy days are a smaller harvest, focused on the journey of God’s spiritual firstfruits from calling, repentance and reconciliation (Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread) to resurrection and acceptance into God’s spiritual family (Pentecost). The spring holy days are focused on a very small, specific group of people, and do not apply to the world at large.
  • The fall holy days tell the same story, but for the whole world—and because this physical world is hostile to God, the process of reconciliation requires its complete destruction as a starting point.
    • Traditionally, the Jews believe that Adam was created on Trumpets. In this case, then, we have Trumpets picturing the creation of physical man and this physical world, and then finally Jesus reclaiming dominion of the kingdoms of this world from Satan as the earth nears self-annihilation.
    • In Atonement we see (again, traditionally) the fall of man with the first sin in the Garden of Eden (requiring the death penalty), and ultimately Jesus’s perfect sacrifice being applied to all mankind to wipe away its sins, which makes reconciliation possible.
    • This larger harvest ends with a seven-day journey toward eternal life for those still alive and the establishment of God’s kingdom on this physical earth, followed by the resurrection of all of humanity since the beginning of time.
    • The entire plan is capped off with the cessation of the physical and creation of a new heaven and new earth on the eighth day, as all of mankind is brought into God’s family and this physical world ceases to exist.

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Touring the Holy Land: Old Jaffa, Be’er Sheva, & the Negev Desert

This is the third post in a series about our trip to Israel and Jordan, focusing particularly on the history and biblical relevance to areas we visited.  After our first day, spent up in the north part of Israel tracing Jesus’s footsteps around the Sea of Galilee and wandering the ruins of Megiddo, we got to spend a beautiful sabbath morning in modern Tel Aviv and ancient Jaffa before driving through the Negev Desert to the Red Sea.

If you missed the other posts in the series, here are the links.  I’d definitely recommend starting with the maps and introduction post, which gives some helpful context to the geography, history, and politics of the region.

Geography, Culture, & Background (start here!)

Northern Israel:  the Galilee area, Tel-Megiddo, & Akko

Petra and Wadi Rum, Jordan

Jerusalem, Masada, En Gedi, & the Dead Sea

Tel Aviv & Old Jaffa (Yafo/Joppa/Japho)

We based ourselves in Tel Aviv the first couple days we were there, but didn’t end up getting to spend a lot of time in the city itself.  Tel Aviv is actually quite modern, officially founded in the early 1900s by Jewish settlers as the Zionist movement was gaining traction.  It’s a vibrant and interesting city with gorgeous Mediterranean beaches, and the center of tech and finance in Israel as well as one of the great tech cities in the world.  So what does that have to do with biblical history?

While Tel Aviv is a young city, it was founded on the outskirts of—and eventually consumed—the ancient port of Jaffa (also known as Yafo, Japho, Joppa, etc.).

There many references to Old Jaffa in the bible, by various names (Japho, Joppa, and more)

History of Old Jaffa

Basically everyone has owned Jaffa at some point—it’s one of the oldest functioning harbors in the world.  As we mentioned in the last post on Akko, that means that its history is quite colorful (and lengthy!) as well.

The port is strategically located near the north-south Via Maris (“Way of the Sea”), the ancient coastal road that connected the regions north of Israel (Mesopotamia, Asia Minor, Syria) to the south (Egypt).

  • Established as Canaanite port, conquered by Egyptians in 1500s BC (first recorded), Hittites tried to take around 1300
  • Came under Philistine control in 12th century BC, apparently back and forth between Philistine & Judah for a long time
    • Philistines (“Sea Peoples”) from the Aegean Sea landed in Canaan and Egypt in 12th century BC. They battled the Egyptians for control, and eventually the Philistines were confined to a small area in the southern coastal cities, from Gaza to Ashkelon, eventually moved up and conquered Jaffa as well.  Ruled until King Solomon’s time.
  • Was a border city for tribe of Dan during the period of the judges
  • King Solomon used for importing timber during construction of the temple (~1000 BC)
  • Where Jonah tried to flee to Tarshish (8th century BC)
  • Hezekiah re-took the port trying to prepare for Assyrian invasion (701 BC)
    • In 701 BCE the Assyrians, headed by Sennacherib, invaded Israel in order to bring it into their vast empire (2 Chronicles 32 1).  In preparation for the war, King Hezekiah enlarged the borders of the kingdom and fortified the cities in Judea, including the conquest and fortification of of Jaffa (which may have still been a Canaanite seaport at that time).  Spoiler alert: the Assyrians won.
  • Became major Greek city, renamed Joppa (4th-1st century BC)
  • Continued to play a role throughout history—Romans, Jewish revolts, Byzantines, Arabs, Crusades, Mamalukes and Ottomans, and even Napoleon conquered it (before the Ottomans re-took it), then the British took over in 1917

Jaffa in the Bible

Because of its strategic position and importance as a shipping port, Jaffa pops up in the bible several times, both Old and New Testament.

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Touring the Holy Land: Northern Israel

As I mentioned in the previous article, we’re doing a series of posts on our trip to Israel and Jordan, based on a presentation we did speaking to the historical and biblical relevance to various sites.  This one is pretty lengthy because the sites are all so close together up in that area, so we were able to visit a lot in one day.

I’d recommend starting with this introductory post to get familiar with the geography of the area and all the places we went.  We gave some background on the history and politics of the region as well, particularly as it relates to the modern state of Israel.

After you read the introductory post, make sure you catch these other posts:

Touring the Holy Land: Old Jaffa, Beersheba, & the Negev Desert

Touring the Holy Land: Petra & Wadi Rum, Jordan

Jerusalem, Masada, En Gedi, & the Dead Sea

Dad and I flew into Tel Aviv in the evening and our friends picked us up, got some food into us (yummy fresh falafel and pita), and then we crashed into bed.  But we were up early the next morning to get on the road, since we had a ton of ground to cover in the north of Israel.  Below is the route we took, then back to Tel Aviv.

Our friend Steven picked us up and we headed north, stopping in Netanya quickly for coffee and French pastries (Netanya is a community of French Jewish emigrants), then arriving in Caesarea Maritima for our first stop.

Caesarea Maritima

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Touring the Holy Land: Introduction & Maps

This post is a little different from what we typically share on this site.  Rather than an in-depth study, it’s adapted from a presentation we gave recently at my parents’ congregation.  My dad and I spent a week in Israel and Jordan this spring, and we wanted to share some of our travels in the Holy Land, focusing on where they show up in the bible and some of the history or prophecy tied to them.

Similar to how we started the live presentation, we’re starting here by talking through a few maps, just to ground the overall discussion.  That way once we dive into individual sites you can refer back here if necessary.  It’s also helpful to have some context on the modern state of Israel and some of the dynamics and politics of that area, so we’ll provide a (super topline) bit on that at the end of this post.  Once you’ve read through this post, here are the next ones:

Modern-day Israel...this post provides some maps of the Holy Land and background on the region's history, politics, & geography to serve as the basis for the next few posts

What do we mean by the Holy Land?

Roughly speaking, the Holy Land encompasses the area between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean (and including the eastern bank of the Jordan).  The ruins of the world’s oldest civilizations lie within this region, and most (though not quite all) of the bible takes place within its borders.

For this particular trip, we spent time in the country of Israel as well as southern Jordan.  The map below shows the modern state of Israel and some of the key cities and sites.  While not marked on the map, we also visited Wadi Rum and the lost city of Petra in Jordan, which are both in the south—to the east of Eilat (Wadi Rum; Eilat is at the very tip of Israel, if the map is fuzzy) and southeast of Mitzpe Ramon (Petra); both are about halfway over in Jordan on the part pictured by this map.

Modern-day Israel...this post provides some maps of the Holy Land and background on the region's history, politics, & geography to serve as the basis for the next few posts

Putting the modern state of Israel into perspective

Something that many people don’t really realize is how small today’s Israel is.  The whole country is about the size of New Jersey.  Unless you’re from the Northeast, that probably doesn’t mean much, so I overlaid it on my home state of Kansas for comparison—this fun website allows you to set a point of comparison and it will overlay Israel on it.  By our U.S. standards that is so tiny!

Holy Land maps & background on the region's history, politics, and geography as an introduction into our biblical Israel and Jordan travels

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From Wave Sheaf to Wave Loaves—The Acceptance of the Elect

Ancient Israel was an agricultural society revolving around two harvest periods, one in the spring and one in the fall.  The harvest timing was governed by God’s holy days, and vice versa.  We understand from the scriptures that the holy days provide a picture of His plan for mankind, but the fact that there are two distinct harvest periods often gets overlooked in favor of a purely linear interpretation.

Most of what I’ve heard talked about where the Feast of Firstfruits (also called Pentecost) is concerned is that it pictures the giving of God’s holy spirit, a historical event.  But I believe that the bible very clearly outlines a much greater future fulfillment that brings the spring harvest season to an end—when the saints are resurrected, changed to spirit, and brought before God’s throne for the marriage supper of the Lamb and His Bride.

Historically, both the giving of the law at Mount Sinai and the giving of the holy spirit shortly after Christ’s resurrection occurred on Pentecost.  Neither of these is accidental, but instead are two sides of the same coin.  Law and grace, old covenant and new covenant.  The future and final fulfillment of this day will be when God’s elect—obedient to His laws, redeemed from sin through grace, and having His holy spirit—are brought before His throne as newly-resurrected eternal children of God.

There are so many other aspects of this holy day, it’s impossible to cover them all in one study (and this one is long enough as it is)—the seven weeks, the Year of Jubilee and receiving our inheritance, the kinsman redeemer, the book of Ruth.  But in this study we’ll cover some of the reasons why I believe that the feast of Pentecost pictures the resurrection of the saints and the marriage supper of the Lamb.

The Firstfruit Harvest

In order to get a deeper understanding of Pentecost’s ultimate meaning for God’s elect, we have to first start a little bit earlier with an often-overlooked ceremony that happened during the Days of Unleavened Bread.  After commanding that they keep the Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread, God continued His instructions:

“Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: ‘When you come into the land which I give to you, and reap its harvest, then you shall bring a sheaf of the firstfruits of your harvest to the priest. He shall wave [elevate] the sheaf before the Lord, to be accepted on your behalf; on the day after the Sabbath [during the Days of Unleavened Bread] the priest shall wave it. And you shall offer on that day, when you wave the sheaf, a male lamb of the first year, without blemish, as a burnt offering to the Lord. Its grain offering shall be two-tenths of an ephah of fine flour mixed with oil, an offering made by fire to the Lord, for a sweet aroma, and its drink offering shall be of wine, one-fourth of a hin.  You shall eat neither bread nor parched grain nor fresh grain until the same day that you have brought an offering to your God; it shall be a statute forever throughout your generations in all your dwellings.” (Lev 23:10-14)

Until the wave sheaf was cut and brought to the priest for offering, harvesting could not begin.  Once the first of the firstfruits harvest was offered, only then did it become ceremonially legal for the Israelites to begin bringing in the rest of the grain.  To my knowledge, this is the only time this ceremony is spoken of in the bible but it’s the only way that we can get to Pentecost, because God’s instruction continues:

“And you shall count for yourselves from the day after the Sabbath, from the day that you brought the sheaf of the wave offering: seven Sabbaths shall be completed. Count fifty days to the day after the seventh Sabbath; then you shall offer a new grain offering to the Lord. You shall bring from your dwellings two wave loaves of two-tenths of an ephah. They shall be of fine flour; they shall be baked with leaven. They are the firstfruits to the Lord…The priest shall wave [elevate] them [the meat and drink offerings] with the bread of the firstfruits as a wave offering, before the Lord, with the two lambs. They shall be holy to the Lord for the priest.” (Lev. 23:15-20)

Pentecost is unique among God’s holy days because it does not fall on a fixed date—it’s the only floating holy day and must be counted based on another of God’s commands.  We have no way of getting to Pentecost without the wave sheaf.  Similarly, understanding the wave sheaf offering is key to understanding the future events signified by the Feast of Firstfruits.

The Wave Sheaf

What does Leviticus 23 tell us about the wave sheaf offering?

  1. The offering was given on the day after the Sabbath during the Days of Unleavened Bread
  2. It was the very first of the firstfruits harvested
  3. It was offered by the High Priest to God to be accepted on behalf of God’s people

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What Does It Mean to Be ‘Ambassadors for Christ’?

The writers of the New Testament focused on many major themes—becoming like Christ, how to treat each other, how to interact and live in the world, what we shall become. In reading their letters and epistles, we can see that we are to be easily distinguishable from the world around us, yet not withdraw from society and live as hermits. We are to interact and live in the world and yet remain unspotted from it. These instructions can seem contradictory at times, and it can be difficult finding the right line to walk (the ‘narrow’ path, as it may be).

In telling the Philippians not to walk as the world, Paul tells them, “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Phil. 3:20). In other words, we do not claim citizenship of this world, and though we are currently living here, it is only a temporary home.

He then uses an analogy that all his readers would have easily understood, and from which we today can learn a lot. “Now then,” he says, “we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God” (II Cor. 5:20). The Greek word here translated “ambassador” is presbueo, which means “to act as a representative”. The Latin equivalent used by the Romans (who were in power at the time) was legatus or “legate” in English, which had several meanings including that of a diplomatic emissary sent on a mission abroad. In most respects, the role of an ambassador or legate in ancient Rome was not all that different from our modern-day ambassadors, and being chosen as one was a great honor.

For us today, being told we are ambassadors for Christ may not fully resonate and provide specific guidelines for living our lives. So it’s worthwhile to examine what the characteristics, responsibilities, and lifestyle of an ambassador should be, and see how we can apply them to our lives today. Obviously, though many ambassadors in today’s world (as with all politicians) use lies and manipulation in their jobs, the principles of a good ambassador remain the same.

What is an ambassador?

Ambassadors are the highest-ranking representatives of their governments abroad, and their primary responsibility is to represent and work towards the best interests of their government or head of state. They are not elected—instead they are chosen by the government or head of state, and it is a huge honor to be chosen as one. We, too, were bestowed with an enormous honor when God called and chose us to follow Him (I Cor. 1:26).

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Spiritual strongholds:  laying siege to the “walled city” inside us

“For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ, and being ready to punish all disobedience when your obedience is fulfilled” (II Cor. 10:3-6)

As I mentioned in the first post on this topic, this is a verse that I’ve always struggled to make super meaningful in the past.  High things that exalt themselves against God, sure, that makes perfect sense to me.  Even casting down arguments, assuming those are arguments against God’s way and truth, I can wrap my head around.  But strongholds aren’t a concept that is immediately tangible to me.

A while back, though, I did have a little bit of a breakthrough where strongholds are concerned, and what they can represent in our lives as followers of Christ.  These strongholds or “walled cities” can be external—the obstacle in front of us that we see as bigger than God (covered in the previous post)—or they can be internal.  The internal strongholds are where we have built fortresses protecting pieces of our carnal nature from being conquered.  Both types need pulled down.  This part of the study deals with the hostile spiritual strongholds quietly occupying our hearts and minds.

Enemy strongholds in the heart and mind

While the strongholds in front of us are generally easier to see (if still difficult to overcome), spiritual strongholds’ power lies in their ability to fly under the radar.  If you consider yourself a disciple of Christ or a Christian, at some point in your life you decided to turn from your previous life and asked God to put His spirit in you.  You repented and were baptized, and ostensibly gave Him unlimited access to every part of your heart and mind—asking Him to transform your carnal mind into one led by Him.

Every one of us that has gone through this process did so with the complete intention of letting God conquer everything in His path, burn it down, and start from scratch.  But every one of us also—mostly unknowingly—built walls around a few particular areas to fortify them against this process.  We don’t like to admit it, but it’s generally true of every person.  We’re pretty good at identifying and rooting out certain kinds of sins and correcting wrong behaviors.  We can refrain from lying, avoid adultery, keep the Sabbath and holy days, and maybe we even had to quit smoking or stop eating certain meats when we came into the knowledge of God.  But despite all of this, we still have trouble recognizing or acknowledging the spiritual strongholds located within the deepest regions of ourselves.

When an army conquers a land, they must breach and take every single one of the strongholds, because if an enemy-occupied stronghold remains in the land then the native people there can continually attack whenever they sense weakness.  The battle will rage on and peace can never come—the land will never be fully conquered.

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What We Can Learn From Haggai About Zeal: Just Do It

“…Not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord”

~Romans 12:11

The book of Haggai is the second-shortest in the Old Testament, and like many of the minor prophet books it’s often skimmed over or overlooked altogether.  I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t spend much time in these books, simply because I find the contents challenging to relate to.  But at the Feast last year I heard a message given from this book that really resonated with aspects of my life over the past several months.

Written during the Babylonian exile, Haggai’s story tells of a complacent and lethargic people.  Roughly 16 years prior, the Persian ruler Cyrus had granted them leave to return to Israel and rebuild the temple of God.  The people returned to the land filled with excitement and immediately set to building.  But they fairly quickly allowed discouragement and their personal concerns to delay and derail their efforts.

As a result, God had stopped blessing them and allowed significant trials to befall them.  Eventually, He gave Haggai this message for the people:

“Then the word of the Lord came by Haggai the prophet, saying, ‘Is it time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled [luxurious] houses, and this temple to lie in ruins?’ Now therefore, thus says the Lord of hosts: ‘Consider your ways!  You have sown much, and bring in little; you eat, but do not have enough; you drink, but you are not filled with drink; you clothe yourselves, but no one is warm; and he who earns wages, earns wages to put into a bag with holes.’  Thus says the Lord of hosts: ‘Consider your ways!’” (Hag. 1:3-7)

God points out that they had been working on improving their own lives, establishing and beautifying their own homes, but not accomplishing what He had sent them there to do.  Over time they had lost sight of their purpose, and because of their misplaced priorities God had ceased to bless them—all their daily work wasn’t actually accomplishing anything.  It was, as Solomon says, “vanity of vanities” (Eccl. 1:2).

Haggai shows us what happens when we neglect His house and put our own priorities first, and there are some really important warnings for us.  The Israelites were required to build a physical temple for God to dwell in, but the stakes are much higher for God’s people today.

Our commission:  to build His house

Much like He had centuries earlier in Egypt, God plucked the Israelites from subjugation in a foreign land and sent them back to their homeland with a specific directive—to build His house.  Our situation is the same today, except we are building a spiritual temple rather than a physical one.  He called each of us out of the bondage of this world, brought us into covenant with Him, and promised to provide His spirit as a helper.

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“Salt of the Earth” – What’s the Significance of Salt?

We’re told to be the “salt of the earth”, but what does that really mean?

Jesus told his disciples, “You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned?” (Matt. 5:13; also Luke 14:34). I don’t know about you, but this statement has never really fired me up spiritually. I mean, salt? The stuff that comes in tiny little paper packets at McDonald’s? What about gold or precious gems, something beautiful and special and rare? In our society, salt is the most mundane of commodities. You can buy a giant canister of it for a dollar and throw it on everything. It’s pretty much impossible to run out of salt, and it never goes bad. When I read a verse like Matthew 5:13, my brain has all these questions about salt but I’ve always just pushed them to the back of my mind and kept going. Recently the questions have been nagging at me, however, because if Jesus says we’re supposed to be something (or be like something), then we should do our level-best to understand the analogy. So I recently decided to try and get a better context around His statement.

Though today it’s something we totally take for granted, salt has a fascinating history. A precious substance in the ancient world, salt can be credited with building civilization. Since it allowed for preservation of food beyond immediate consumption, it gave people the ability to travel more than a day’s journey away and led to the development of trade. Throughout the centuries wars were fought over it, trade routes sprung up around it, and at times it was worth more than gold.  In fact, it was often accepted as currency and is where the word salary (literally “salt-money,” or allowance a Roman soldier was given to buy salt) and the expression “he’s worth his salt” come from. So to put us back in Jesus’s time, salt was very valued and useful, and the people listening to Him would have known this.

A precious, useful material

“Useful and valuable” is a good place to start in terms of describing what a true Christian should be. Salt has myriad properties that make it as useful today as it was in the ancient world. As mentioned above, one of its first uses was as a preservative and purifying agent, to keep food from spoiling or to purify or disinfect something. While the world will ultimately go down a path of destruction, God’s people are called as examples to preserve themselves and their families from the spiritual and moral decay of society. James tells us that pure and undefiled religion before God is this, “to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world” (James 1:27).

Purity (both physical and spiritual) is perhaps the key theme underlying all of God’s commandments, and is the crowning achievement of the Bride of Christ, composed of the resurrected firstfruits. Paul says Christ will “present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish”—that is, pure (Eph. 5:27).

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Pulling down strongholds:  the “walled city” in front of us

“The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” 

 ~ Ps. 27:1 (NIV)

In a letter to the ekklesia at Corinth, Paul challenges them to be strong and bold in their daily lives, and then says this:

“For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ, and being ready to punish all disobedience when your obedience is fulfilled” (II Cor. 10:3-6)

I’ve always found that a curious verse, specifically the part about strongholds.  It kind of sat there in the back of my mind for a while, until I happened to be reading something that talked about the concept of obstacles between us and God as being strongholds or walled cities, like Jericho.  Then something clicked.

Strongholds are kind of a foreign concept to those of us in the U.S. because we don’t have any, but the remnants of ancient strongholds are all over the world—and in particular the Middle East and Europe.  A stronghold is a strategically-located fortified structure able to resist the assault of enemy forces (Google pictures of Masada or Bamburgh Castle to get a good visual).  When gazed on from the outside, they are imposing and will discourage all but the most determined and able forces.  They are typically very difficult to overcome, demanding long sieges or subterfuge to breach.  But overcoming them is critical to winning the war for a conquering army.

These strongholds or “walled cities” can take a couple forms—the big obstacle you see in front of you that (consciously or subconsciously) you allow to be bigger than God, and the fortresses inside of yourself that are still protecting pieces of your carnal nature from being conquered.  Both types of strongholds need torn down.  As I got deeper into this study it kept getting longer and more complicated, so I’ve split it into two parts for simplicity’s sake. This article addresses the first—the fortress that stands between you and the Promised Land.

Read the second part in this series here

Stronghold as obstacle – a faith issue

In Numbers 13, Moses commanded the twelve spies to go into the land of Canaan and do some reconnaissance.  He told them to come back and report on the quality of the land, its fruit, its inhabitants, and their cities or settlements.  The spies went out in pairs and spent 40 days in the land (symbolic of a time of testing or trial), and then reported back to Moses.  The land, ten of them said, was everything God and Moses had promised them—lush, prosperous, bountiful, and beautiful.  But, they continued, the people were terrifying giants inhabiting mighty strongholds, who the ragtag Israelites could never hope to defeat.

Rather than counteracting the other spies’ testimony, Caleb and Joshua simply said, “Let us go up at once and take possession, for we are well able to overcome it.”  The other spies argued, “We are not able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we” (Num. 13:30-31).  And the children of Israel listened to the ten spies and were distraught and sought to turn back toward Egypt.  Caleb and Joshua pleaded with them to reframe their perspective, saying:

“If the Lord delights in us, then He will bring us into this land and give it to us…only do not rebel against the Lord, nor fear the people of the land, for they are our bread; their protection has departed from them, and the Lord is with us. Do not fear them.”  (Num. 14:8-9)

The confused and terrified people wanted to stone them for saying such things.  Then God showed up and Moses had to intercede to keep Him from destroying the rebellious Israelites then and there.  Instead, He punished them and sentenced them to wander the desert for 40 years, with all of the adults dying during the journey and never entering the Promised Land.

The Israelites didn’t trust God to be big enough, to be powerful enough to clear their path.  Even though they’d experienced firsthand the plagues of Egypt, the parting of the Red Sea, miraculous manna every day in the desert, and the pillar of cloud and fire leading them, they could only see giants inhabiting the Promised Land and the big, foreboding walls of Jericho blocking their way.  And they knew they weren’t strong enough to overcome them, so they tried to turn back to the life they’d had before, even though it was a life of miserable slavery.  Before any battle was ever fought on the field, it was fought in the mind, and the stronghold—fear—won.

We say we have faith in God, but how big do we truly believe He is? When an obstacle is placed in front of us—be it a conflict between work and the holy days, financial difficulties, a little white lie that will seemingly make our lives easier—do we try to solve it on our own or cave to the more obvious worldly solution, or do we trust in God’s ability to work things out to His satisfaction?  The trouble is that even if we do pray about certain situations or trials, we already have a solution in mind that we’re asking God to bring about.  And our human minds can only see certain types and numbers of solutions, while God’s mind is infinite and He sees far more of the situation than we do.  So while He might be working out a far better resolution for us in the long-term, all we can see is that He didn’t answer our prayer to our specifications.

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