WHEN GOD CONQUERS A HEART

WHEN GOD CONQUERS A HEART

Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross

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Neal Pollard

The story of Rahab the harlot is one of the better-known stories of the entire Conquest Period. Perhaps it is because it occurs before but is connected with the most famous (and first) place to be conquered, Jericho, but it is also because of who the heroine of the story is. Three New Testament writers mention her, Matthew for her place in the Messianic genealogies (Mat. 1:5), the writer of Hebrews for her faith (Heb. 11:31), and James for her works (Jas. 2:25). But, there is no escaping who she was or how she made her living when Israelite spies paid her a visit. The Hebrew word, ZANA, means “to commit fornication, be a harlot, play the harlot, illicit heterosexual intercourse,” TWOT). They say, “Such persons received hire (Deut 23:19), had identifying marks (Gen 38:15; Prov 7:10; Jer 3:3), had their own houses (Jer 5:7), and were to be shunned (Prov 23:27)” (ibid.). She is not only a Canaanite, but she operated a sordid business.

But from the moment we hear from her in Scripture, we can see that there is much more to her than the aforementioned description. Despite the fact that she needed to do more growing (don’t we all?), she shows the difference God can make in even the most unlikely places. What do we find in Joshua two?

When God conquers a heart, one will be ruled by His authority (2-5). The Bible doesn’t sanction Rahab’s lie, but consider for a moment that she was ordered by the King of Jericho to surrender the two spies from Israel. She feels no allegiance to the earthly ruler, and she will explain that it is because of her faith in Jehovah (9). If God has conquered our hearts, won’t we say with Peter and John, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29)?

When God conquers a heart, one will help His people (6-7,14-21). She saved the spies’ lives. She hid them and helped them escape. She recognized these men as God’s servants doing God’s business. She wanted to serve and protect them. Ultimately, she lets them down through her window and enables their escape (15, 20). Those whose hearts God possess are allies of the righteous (Mal. 3:18). 

When God conquers a heart, one has faith in God’s provision (8-13). Nothing in the text tells us that the spies preached to her, yet somehow she had arrived at the conviction that she could have hope of salvation. She says she knew God had given Israel the land (9), something these spies’ fathers most likely did not believe (cf. Num. 13-14). She saw how afraid her fellow-citizens were of God’s wrath and power, working through His people (9). She had faith based on the signs and works God had performed from the Red Sea to the Amorites (10). It led her to acknowledge God as “God in heaven above and on earth beneath” (11). Therefore, she asked, in exchange for protecting the spies, for the deliverance of her family and herself (12-13). She hadn’t seen the battle yet, but she believed that it belonged to the Lord. It takes genuine faith to draw a conclusion like that. We’ve not experienced death, the resurrection, the judgment, and an eternal destiny, but do we have faith that God will provide for us through them (cf. 1 Pet. 1:3-9)? If God possesses our hearts, we do!

When God conquers a heart, one will meet the conditions of salvation (14-21). The spies made the salvation of Rahab and her family conditioned upon three things: tie a scarlet thread in her window (18), gather all she wanted to be saved into her house (18), and not tell anyone these spies’ business (20). There was no picking and choosing what she preferred to follow. Obedience meant the difference in life and death (5:25). So today, a heart which God owns will not shun to do anything His Word commands. There’s no arguing, bargaining, debating, or rationalizing, but instead a faith that does what God wills. 

The spies’ mission was a great success and Joshua was encouraged (22-24). They were ready to do battle, ready to conquer. Back in Jericho, there was a woman born into a life of godlessness who had lived a life of worldliness who now faced the hope of happiness and righteousness. Great things follow when we allow God to conquer our hearts! 

Neal’s Note: I send out an email most mornings that I call “The Lehman Learner.” I walk through books of the Bible (in the past I’ve done the Psalms, Luke, 1-2 Corinthians, 1-2 Kings, etc.). This article is from last week. If you would like to receive The Lehman Learner, write to this email and request it. You will be added to the mailing list.)

What The Israelites Lost Besides Canaan

What The Israelites Lost Besides Canaan

Neal Pollard

If you were to ask the typical Bible student what the consequences of Israel’s following the foolish counsel of the ten negative spies, you might hear talk of the wilderness wandering or the fact that God denied them the Promised Land. This was truly, from a physical standpoint, the most visible result of their faithlessness. Yet, looking closer, the Israel of that generation lost much more. They teach us today what not to do in doing the Lord’s work.

–They lost proper perspective. Who did Israel send to Canaan? Every tribe sent a “leader among them” (Num. 13:2; lit., “An exalted one; a king of sheik; captain; chief”). Also, who was Israel? They were not a people chosen of God because they were the biggest, strongest, or fiercest nation, but because God loved them (Deu. 7:7)! But, when Israel goes into Canaan, they walk by sight (Num. 13:28,32) rather than faith. They saw the giants, not the God who made them. They saw themselves as grasshoppers (Num. 13:33), not God’s people! They saw by fear and not by faith.

So often, today, we set our aim too low because our perspective is skewed. We launch out as far as we can see and go no farther. This hamstrings our budgets, our goals for evangelism, and the extent of our involvement in needed works. If we focus solely on ourselves, we become latter day followers of the Israel described in Numbers 13.

They lost sight of their purpose. Why had they left Egypt? At the bush, God told Moses (Exo. 3:8,17), and Moses, between the Red Sea and Mount Sinai, told Israel (Exo. 13:5). From the days right after their exodus from Egypt, Israel knew she was journeying toward Canaan. Certainly, she was prone to get sidetracked, as when Aaron led the calf-building project (Exo. 32) and when the people periodically, bitterly complained (Exo. 15-17). But, they ultimately plodded up to the precipice of the Promised Land. They camped at the corner of Canaan. This was where they were going. What happened? A few challenges, formidable as they might have seemed, derailed them. Rather than occupy the land God promised them, “They said to one another, ‘Let us appoint a leader and return to Egypt'” (Num. 14:4). How exasperated with them God must have been!

Do we get like that today? Our purpose for being on this earth, to win souls (Mat. 28:19), help our brethren get to heaven (Jas. 5:19-20), help people in need of it (Jas. 1:27), and save ourselves (Acts 2:40), can get lost in the shuffle of career success, material gain, worldly acceptance, and even the material rather than the spiritual concerns within the local work of the church. Why are we here?! That determines where we go from here!

They lost the sense of their identity. They were God’s special people. He had covenant with them and they with Him (Exo. 24). They were God’s children. Exodus 6:7 captures succinctly God’s sentiment toward Israel, where God says, “And I will take you to me for a people, and I will be to you a God.” Nobody could defeat them. Nobody stood a chance before them. They were the hands and feet of God on the earth. No army stood a chance against them. They could have recalled Egypt as “Exhibit A” of this (Exo.. 15:4; Heb. 11:20). Instead, when they looked in the mirror of fear, they saw themselves as grasshoppers.

Christians are God’s people. We are the Lord’s army (Eph. 6). Can you think of fighting for a more powerful ruler? We are the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12; Col. 1:18). Can you think of a healthier, stronger organism? We are branches of His vine, and the Father’s the farmer (John 15). No drought, pest, or conditions can keep us from being weighed down with fruit for Him! Yet, we have got to conquer the cricket concept if we want God to be pleased with us!

We are able to do more for the Lord, and we are able to do it better. But, this requires our enthusiastic, wholehearted participation in the work of the church. Don’t let the giants of time, apathy, inaction, and distraction turn you back. Through Christ we can do all the things He’s already commanded us to do! On to the milk and honey!

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OPTIMISM

OPTIMISM

Neal Pollard

Joshua and Caleb were positively optimistic. They surveyed the situation and saw the taking of Canaan as a no-lose situation (cf. Num. 14:7-9). But have you stopped to consider what made them so optimistic? When the majority was cursed with a pessimistic spirit, these men saw looming victory.

They were optimistic about the land (7). They didn’t just refer to it as the land, but as a good land. They saw it not just as a “good land,” but an exceedingly good land. The Hebrew word translated “exceedingly” means “power and strength.” The idea is that it’s exceptional. It’s the same word used in Deuteronomy 6:5, that “you shall love the Lord your God with all….”  The word is a word with great depth and the word God used to describe His view of creation in Genesis 1:31, which was “very” good. A passion that strong can’t be faked or contrived! They saw such potential in Canaan.

They were optimistic about the labor (9). Their faith led them to the optimistic conclusion that the Canaanites were their prey and that those native people’s protection was removed from them. They repeatedly admonished Israel not to fear them. Someone has said, “Fear wants to give your present to your past so you don’t have a future.”

They were optimistic about the Lord (8). He was the heart of their optimism. Joshua and Caleb mention His name three times in encouraging the people to take possession. They say that the Lord is with them and is pleased with them. To act with the assertion that the Lord is on our side is the height of optimism. They weren’t fooling themselves. God had already said He’d be with them, and they could look into the past and see His assistance and provision.

We have the same reasons to see this life with the same level of optimism. We don’t have a physical territory to inherit, but we still have a heavenly inheritance. Hebrews 9:15 tells us it’s eternal. Our labor is different, but we still should be optimistic about the battle with the enemy (Heb. 2:14-15). We live in a different age, but we serve the unchanging God (Mal. 3:6). A.W. Tozer has said, “He is immutable, which means that He has never changed and can never change in any smallest measure. To change he would need to go from better to worse or from worse to better.  He cannot do either, for being perfect He cannot become more perfect, and if He were to become less perfect, He would be less than God.”  All of this should give us the fuel for optimism however dark or doubtful the situation seems!

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How Do We Avoid Going Into The Wilderness?

How Do We Avoid Going Into The Wilderness?

Neal Pollard

I thought about this question as I meditated today on the state of the church in our nation.  Composed of so many dedicated, wonderful people, the church as a whole, nonetheless, is tempted to drift from biblical moorings. It is anecdotal to observe seismic philosophical shifts in the leadership and direction of various congregations, pulled for one reason or another from the place and being the people God wants it to be.  The whole wilderness analogy is drawn from the events in the book of Numbers, a wandering that went for forty years in the wake of a 40-day scouting trip.  It might have been different for Israel, and it can be different for us.  Return with me for a moment to that fateful event that would forever shape their nation.

  • It begins with leadership (Num. 13:25ff).  The spies chosen were “leaders” among the 12 tribes (13:2).  Obviously, they had sway with the people (14:1).  Because of their negative influence, the people went the wrong direction–into the wilderness and ultimately to their deaths.
  • It involves faith-driven obedience (Num. 13:30). Caleb understood this and argued for the people to proceed on that basis.  Yet, their reaction was the opposite of obedience.  Moses, Aaron, and Joshua warned them, “Only do not rebel (emph. mine) against the Lord…” (Num. 14:8).  That very rebellion, called “iniquity” by Moses in his prayer to God (Num. 14:19), cost them the promised land (Num. 13:23ff).  Instead, they earned a trip into the wilderness. Why? Hard-hearted disobedience and unbelief (Heb. 3:15, 18-19).
  • It includes courage (Num. 13:25-33).  The majority of the spies lacked the courage to act and obey.  They were content to go back to Egypt (Num. 14:2ff). They would rather face bondage alone than Canaan with God.  So, their cowardice was not only wrong but misplaced. They were afraid of the wrong things and the wrong ones. This fear led them into the wilderness (cf. Num. 14:9).

We live in daunting times, yet in them God still has given us a job to do.  If we do not do it or if we fail to do it the way He has commanded, we will wind up, like Israel, in the wilderness!  God give us the leadership, faith-filled obedience, and courage to follow Christ and thereby miss the wilderness.