Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Old Testament Lesson #18 "Be Strong and of a Good Courage"

(Joshua 1-6; 23-24)

A HAPPY ENDING FOR JOSHUA & THE ISRAELITES

Joshua was one of the two faithful, courageous spies who gave a good report of the land of Canaan (Num. 14:6-10).  He was full of the spirit of wisdom, and led the Israelites after Moses was gone (Deut. 34:9).  The Lord told him three times to "be strong and of a good courage" and the people also repeated that counsel to him, which he definitely followed (Josh. 1:6,7,9,18).

Joshua followed the ark of the covenant to cross the Jordan River on dry ground, showing the children of Israel that he was clearly the worthy successor to Moses (Josh. 3:7-13).  He erected a monument to keep the miracle of the crossing in the memory of the people (Josh. 4:5-7).  The Lord sent an angelic military captain to show Joshua that great heavenly aid was on his side (Josh. 5:13-15). 

Joshua took the city of Jericho in a miraculous manner, as commanded by the Lord:  The army marched in a circle around the city, followed by seven priests blowing seven trumpets, followed by the ark of the covenant, followed by a rear guard.  They did this for seven days, and on the seventh day, they did it seven times (the meaning of the number seven in Hebrew is "perfection, completion"), and the host of Israel shouted and the walls of the city fell flat, so that the Israelites could easily conquer (Josh. 6-7). 

After the many battles were won to conquer the land of Canaan, after peace was established among the Israelite nation, and when his own life was nearly over, Joshua counseled the Israelites once again to "be very courageous" in keeping the commandments (Josh. 23:6).  He testified to them that God had kept all his promises (Josh. 23:14).  He counseled them to "choose ye this day" to serve the Lord (Josh. 24:15).

Joshua's taking of the city of Jericho is listed in Hebrews 11 as one of seventeen all-time great acts of faith (verse 30).  Among those great examples of faith, there are only two women listed.  Not surprisingly, the great matriarch Sara is one of them, but the other is a shocker: the Canaanite prostitute Rahab!  "By faith, the harlot Rahab perished not with them that believed not, when she received the spies with peace" (Heb. 11:31).

A HAPPY ENDING FOR RAHAB

Rahab was truly a remarkable example of faith, if an unusual one.  Rahab was living in the city of Jericho among idolators.  With no gospel training, no missionaries, no "members" living nearby, and in the most wicked environment in the world, she gained a testimony of Jehovah.  She bore it to the Israelite spies who lodged at her abode: "For the Lord your God, he is God in heaven above, and in earth beneath" (Josh. 2:11).  She hid the spies, and lied in their behalf, risking her life for that testimony (Josh. 2:2-7).  She had greater faith than do many active Latter-day Saints today, because as she trusted the Israelites and believed that they would physically save her, she also must have trusted Jehovah and believed that He would spiritually save her, despite her history of prostitution.  She raised her son, Boaz, to be a great, kind, wise, and faithful man, the man who married Ruth!  Jesus Christ Himself was a direct descendant of Rahab and she is expressly mentioned in His genealogy (Matt. 1:5).

Both Joshua and Rahab were carried by their faith through extremely challenging, even life-threatening difficulties, to a happy ending (Josh. 6:25; 23:1).  We can reflect about times that our faith has carried us through hard times.  Sometimes we enjoy a happy ending in earth life; sometimes we have to wait until later for our happy ending.

EARTHLY RESULTS OF FAITH

Hebrews 11:33-38 lists the results of faith in the lives of many of the saints through the ages.  By faith, they:
  • Subdued kingdoms (Joshua)
  • Wrought righteousness (Joshua)
  • Obtained promises (Joshua)
  • Stopped the mouths of lions (Daniel)
  • Quenched the violence of fire (all these first five apply to Melchizedek, see JST Gen. 14)
  • Escaped the edge of the sword (Rahab & Joshua)
  • Waxed valiant in fight (Joshua)
  • Turned to flight the armies of aliens (Joshua)
  • When dead, were raised to life again (Lazarus)
Happy endings, all!  Hooray!  Faith always pays off!

BUT, read the rest of the passage...

By faith, others were:
  • Tortured, not accepting deliverance (Paul, see Acts 21:13,30-34)
  • Tried with cruel mockings and scourgings (Peter & John, see Acts 4)
  • In bonds and imprisonment (Peter & Paul, see Acts 12)
  • Stoned (Stephen, see Acts 7; Jeremiah, see Bible Dictionary)
  • Sawn asunder (Isaiah, see Bible Dictionary)
  • Tempted (Christ Himself, see JST Matt. 4:1)
  • Slain with the sword (James, see Acts 12:2)
  • Wandered about in skins (John the Baptist, see Matt. 3)
  • Destitute, afflicted, tormented (all the remaining apostles of Jesus Christ)
  • Wandered in deserts & mountains, in dens & caves (Elijah, see 1 Kings 19)
Sometimes faith does not lead to a happy earthly ending, but to more trials of faith!  Why this disparity?  Is God unfair?  Does He not care?

TWO EXODUSES

In the JST Appendix, we find a large passage added to Genesis 50 in which Joseph of Egypt prophecies that two of his descendants will each do a great work to save the people:  Moses, and Joseph Smith (JST Gen. 50:24-29 for Moses; 50:30-33 for Joseph Smith).  Both these great leaders endured great trials as they tried to prepare their people for a holier existence.  The followers of both great prophets had to leave their homes in search of a promised land.  If we compare the Exodus in the Old Testament with the Exodus of the Latter-day Saints, we learn some interesting things:

Moses gave the Israelites the Law, and tried to lead them to the Promised Land of Canaan, but was taken into heaven before they achieved it.  The Lord showed the children of Israel that Joshua was Moses' successor by parting the Jordan River for them to cross, as He had parted the Red Sea for Moses (Josh. 3:7,13).  Joshua succeeded in the enormous task of claiming the Promised Land and establishing peaceful residency there (Josh. 23).
Joseph Smith tried in vain to establish Zion in Missouri.  He died, not seeing Zion, but Brigham Young successfully led the saints to the Salt Lake Valley, which they claimed as a Promised Land, and where they enjoyed relative peace.  Brigham Young, like Joshua, was shown to be the clear successor to Joseph Smith when Joseph Smith's likeness came upon him in the eyes of the people as he spoke to them.

The children of Israel left Egypt with great riches, the payment for their slavery (Exo. 12:36).
The Latter-day Saints were destitute when they were forced to leave Nauvoo.  They left all that they had worked for behind--their homes, their gardens, their beautiful possessions--and were severely limited in what necessities of life they were able to pack into a covered wagon or handcart.

The Israelites were fed manna from heaven every day for forty years until they arrived in Canaan (Josh. 5:12).
The pioneers' food was rationed and limited.  They all hungered; some starved.

The Israelites' clothing didn't wear out, and their feet didn't swell during their journey (Deut. 8:4).  They never experienced extreme cold.
The pioneers walked across the plains with worn-out shoes, some with feet wrapped in rags, leaving bloody footprints in the snow.  Some lost limbs because of the cold.  Some froze to death.

The children of Israel were led into a fertile, cultivated, developed farmland (Josh. 24:13).
The early saints were led into a dry and barren desert, and had to be extremely hard-working and clever to make the desert bloom so they could survive.

The Israelites crossed the Red Sea and the Jordan River on dry ground (Josh. 3:17).
The pioneers forded icy rivers with bare feet, while ill and starving, some carrying others on their backs.

The children of Israel continually begged to go back to Egypt (Acts 7:39).
The Latter-day Saints continually begged to go on to Zion, flocking to the pioneer wagon trains from all over the eastern United States, Canada, and Europe, many of them so overanxious that they started the trip under-prepared.

IF IT SEEM EVIL UNTO YOU...

Joshua said to his people when he neared his death, "And if it seem evil unto you to serve the Lord, choose you this day whom ye will serve...but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord" (Josh. 24:15).  We never read that first half-sentence, but we can see from the comparison above that there are times when maybe it does seem "evil" or at least fruitless to serve the Lord.  Paul, however, one of those on the Hebrews 11 list who received a lot of evil for his faith, testified, "Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord" (1 Cor. 15:58).  How could he say that, after all he suffered?

If we finish the comparison between the Israelites with their "happy ending" and the pioneers with their continual trials, we can learn a very important lesson in the end result:

The children of Israel quickly lost their testimonies and reverted to evil (Judges 2).
The early Latter-day Saints stayed faithful for generations, a large percentage even until the present day, and the Church continues to grow exponentially upon that foundation of faithfulness amid trial.

As is said of the faithful listed in Hebrews 11, "And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise [in this life]: God having provided some better things for them through their sufferings, for without sufferings they could not be made perfect" (JST Heb. 11:39-40).  The message:  Regardless of the temporal outcome, our faith can sanctify us.  If we suffer greatly for our faith, we will be rewarded greatly.  If we receive not the promise in earth life, we will receive greater promises in the next life.  The trials perfect us.  James, the brother of the Lord advised, "Count it all joy when ye fall into diverse temptations [Harper-Collins Study Bible translates temptations as "trials of any kind"]; knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience.  But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing" (James 1:2-4).

"And we desire that every one of you do shew the same diligence to the full assurance of hope unto the end: That ye be not slothful, but followers of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises" (Heb. 6:11 -12).

3 comments:

Shannon said...

Thank you for your lessons it has really helped me captivate my class of 16-18yrs olds. I love how you bring in a bigger picture allowing the class to see what the gospel has done. Thank you!!

Nancy W. Jensen said...

You're so welcome, and I'm jealous: I've never taught teenagers in Sunday School but I'd love to. (Somebody tell my bishop...)

Dennis Huang said...

Thank you. I am so grateful for dedication and I look forward each week to study each lesson.