The turnaround

During the 40 years that the people of Israel wandered in the wilderness because of their unbelief, “the LORD went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night. The pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night did not depart from before the people” (Exodus 13:21-22). There was never a moment that the people of Israel didn’t know where they were supposed to be when they were in the wandering in desert, but after the Israelites crossed the Jordan River, things changed dramatically. God expected his chosen people to start walking by faith and not by sight. The fall of Jericho was followed by an unsuccessful attempt to destroy Ai with just a few thousands men. Joshua tells us, “And they fled before the men of Ai, and the men of Ai killed about thirty six of their men and chased them before the gate as far as Shebarim and struck them at the descent. And the hearts of the people melted and became as water” (Joshua 7:4-5). The people of Israel were overwhelmed with fear when they realized that their success in fighting against the inhabitants of Canaan was not guaranteed. Even Joshua was ready to give up and thought all was lost because of the Israelites defeat (Joshua 7:8-9). In order to set the record straight, God told Joshua that the problem was due to the camp being defiled by things that were devoted to destruction. Joshua 7:10-13 states:

The Lord said to Joshua, “Get up! Why have you fallen on your face? Israel has sinned; they have transgressed my covenant that I commanded them; they have taken some of the devoted things; they have stolen and lied and put them among their own belongings. Therefore the people of Israel cannot stand before their enemies. They turn their backs before their enemies, because they have become devoted for destruction. I will be with you no more, unless you destroy the devoted things from among you. Get up! Consecrate the people and say, ‘Consecrate yourselves for tomorrow; for thus says the Lord, God of Israel, “There are devoted things in your midst, O Israel. You cannot stand before your enemies until you take away the devoted things from among you.”

God’s statement, “I will be with you no more, unless you destroy the devoted things from among you” (Joshua 7:12) was not a threat, but was meant to help the Israelites turn their situation around. Proverbs 21:2 tells us, “Every way of a man in right in his own eyes, but the LORD weighs the heart.” When the LORD weighs the heart, he reveals its contents. According to Psalm 139, God knows everything about us. It states:

O Lord, you have searched me and known me!
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
    you discern my thoughts from afar.
You search out my path and my lying down
    and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
    behold, O Lord, you know it altogether.
You hem me in, behind and before,
    and lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
    it is high; I cannot attain it.

Where shall I go from your Spirit?
    Or where shall I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
    If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
If I take the wings of the morning
    and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,
    and your right hand shall hold me.
If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
    and the light about me be night,”
even the darkness is not dark to you;
    the night is bright as the day,
    for darkness is as light with you. (Psalm 139:1-12)

The darkness that is referred to here is associated with disorder and is distinguished and separated from light. “In subsequent uses, whether used in physical or a symbolic sense, it describes confusion and uncertainty (Job 12:25; 37:19), evil done in secret” (H2822) and “to the darkness sometimes surrounding persons that requires them to trust in God” (H2825). The people of Israel were operating in spiritual darkness when they attacked the city of Ai, but weren’t aware of it until they were overcome and forced to flee and thirty-six men were killed (Joshua 7:4-5).

God exposed Achan’s sin and required the people of Israel to destroy the things that were devoted to destruction (Joshua 7:10-12). When Joshua confronted Achan, he said to him, “My son, give glory to the LORD God of Israel and give praise to him. And tell me now what you have done; do not hide it from me” (Joshua 7:19). Achan’s confession revealed that he had broken one of the Ten Commandments and had tried to conceal his sin by hiding the things he had taken from Jericho under the dirt inside his tent (Joshua 7:21). There is no indication that Achan felt any remorse for what he had done or that he was willing to repent of his sin. Therefore, Achan, his family, and all his property were destroyed along with all the things that he had taken from Jericho (Joshua 7:25). Afterward, the LORD said to Joshua, “Do not fear and do not be dismayed. Take all the fighting men with you, and arise, go up to Ai. See, I have given into your hand the king of Ai, and his people, his city, and his land. And you shall do to Ai and its king as you did to Jericho and its king” (Joshua 8:1-2). The phrase that God used, arise, go up had to do with the people of Israel being back in fellowship with God and their spiritual power being restored. There was an immediate turnaround in the Israelites circumstances once they did what God told them to and dealt with Achan’s sin.

Psalm 33 focuses on the steadfast love of the LORD and shows us how this characteristic of God causes us to experience turnarounds in our lives because it draws us closer to him when we are in trouble. The Psalmist begins by focusing our attention on God’s faithfulness. He states:

Shout for joy in the Lord, O you righteous!
    Praise befits the upright.
Give thanks to the Lord with the lyre;
    make melody to him with the harp of ten strings!
Sing to him a new song;
    play skillfully on the strings, with loud shouts.

For the word of the Lord is upright,
    and all his work is done in faithfulness. (Psalm 33:1-4)

According to the psalmist, everything God does is done in faithfulness. The Hebrew word that is translated faithfulness, ʾemunah (em-oo-nawˊ) means “to remain in one place” and “appears to function as a technical term meaning ‘a fixed position.’” “On the other hand, the word can represent the abstract idea of ‘truth’…The essential meaning of emunah is ’established’ or ‘lasting,’ ‘continuing,’ ‘certain’” (H530).

God’s dependability and reliability are important qualities when it comes to trust. In order for us to trust or believe in God, there has to be a sense of permanence in his character and actions (H539). The song of Moses refers to Israel’s future Messiah as The Rock and says about him, “The Rock, his work is perfect, for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he” (Deuteronomy 32:4). The Hebrew word tsur (tsoor) “means rocky wall or cliff (Exodus 17:6; 33:21-22). It frequently means rocky hill or mountains (Isaiah 2:10, 19)…The rock (or mountain) serves as a figure of security (Psalm 61:2), firmness (Job 14:18), and something that endures (Job 19:24)…The word means boulder in the sense of a rock large enough to serve as an altar (Judges 6:21). Rock frequently pictures God’s support and defense of his people (Deuteronomy 32:15)” (H6697). Jesus was identified not only as “the spiritual Rock” that followed the Israelites as they wandered in the wilderness (1 Corinthians 10:4), but also as “a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense” because of Israel’s unbelief (Romans 9:33).

Jesus demonstrated his ability to turn the most impossible situation around when he died on the cross and then, was resurrected three days later. By paying the penalty for every sin that had been or ever would be committed, Jesus opened the door for God to erase the errors that cause believers to fall short with regards to accomplishing God’s will for their lives. Psalm 33:5 indicates that God “loves righteousness and justice” and “the earth is full of the steadfast love of the LORD.” In order for the earth to be full of the steadfast love of the LORD, there would have to be a limitless amount of it to go around. Essentially, what the psalmist was saying was that God doesn’t withhold his steadfast love from certain people. It flows freely to anyone that wants or needs it. The Hebrew word cheçed (khehˊ-sed) appears three times in Psalm 33 and each time it is translated steadfast love. “The word refers primarily to mutual and reciprocal rights and obligations between the parties of a relationship…Checed implies personal involvement, and commitment in a relationship beyond the rule of law. Marital love is often related to cheçed. Marriage certainly is a legal matter, and there are legal sanctions for infractions. Yet the relationship, if sound, far transcends mere legalities. The prophet Hosea applies the analogy to Yahweh’s cheçed to Israel within the covenant (e.g. 2:21). Hence, ‘devotion’ is sometimes the single English word best capable of capturing the nuances of the original. Hebrew writers often underscore the element of steadfastness (or strength) by pairing cheçed with ʾemet (H571 – “truth, reliability”) and ʾemunah (H530 – “faithfulness”)…The Bible prominently uses the term cheçed to summarize and characterize a life of sanctification within, and in response to the covenant” (H2617).

The reciprocity that is involved in cheçed makes it clear to us that God does not show his lovingkindness to people that want nothing to do with him and yet, we know that God has made a way for everyone’s sins to be forgiven. The psalmist tells us:

The Lord looks down from heaven;
    he sees all the children of man;
from where he sits enthroned he looks out
    on all the inhabitants of the earth,
he who fashions the hearts of them all
    and observes all their deeds. (Psalm 33:13-15)

The Hebrew word that is translated observes, biyn (bene) refers to God’s ability to “to separate mentally (or distinguish)” and “basically means to understand” (H995). God is not only aware of what is going on here, but also understands the implications of everything people do. The Book of Hebrews explains that Jesus’ human nature was the same as our own and it enabled him to be tempted just like us. It states, “Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:14-16). God’s grace and mercy are dispensed from heaven without being earned or deserved. Paul tells us in his letter to the Ephesians that the immeasurable riches of God’s grace and his kindness toward us is what causes us to be saved and be given a new life. Paul said:

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

In the same way that Christians are created for good works that God prepares beforehand for them to walk in them, so also the nation of Israel was created by God to accomplish a specific objective. Deuteronomy 9:4-5 explains that the Israelites were brought in to possess the Promised Land because of the wickedness of the nations that were living there. It states:

“Do not say in your heart, after the Lord your God has thrust them out before you, ‘It is because of my righteousness that the Lord has brought me in to possess this land,’ whereas it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the Lord is driving them out before you. Not because of your righteousness or the uprightness of your heart are you going in to possess their land, but because of the wickedness of these nations the Lord your God is driving them out from before you, and that he may confirm the word that the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.”

“The land of Canaan became the Promised Land the Lord gave to His people based on his oath. He brought them into the land as He had promised by oath to their fathers (Exodus 13:5; Deuteronomy 1:8, 35; 6:10; Joshua 1:6; Judges 2:1; Jeremiah 11:5)” (H7650). Psalm 33:16-17 reiterates this point by explaining why Israel’s military strength was useless to them when they attacked Ai at first (Joshua 7:2-5). It states:

The king is not saved by his great army;
    a warrior is not delivered by his great strength.
The war horse is a false hope for salvation,
    and by its great might it cannot rescue.

The psalmist used the words saved, delivered, salvation, and rescue to remind us that there is a spiritual dimension to warfare that takes precedence over the physical aspects in determining the outcome of a battle. Paul concluded his letter to the Ephesians with a discussion of spiritual warfare. Paul indicated that we must be strong in the Lord and fight in the strength of his might. The Greek word that is translated be strong, endunamoō (en-doo-nam-oˊ-o) is derived from the words en (en) which denotes a (fixed) position (in place, time, or state)” (G1722) and dunamoo (doo-nam-oˊ-o) which means “to make strong” (G1412). Dunamoo is derived from the word dunamis (dooˊ-nam-is) which specifies “miraculous power (usually by implication a miracle itself)…Dunamis almost always points to new and higher forces that have entered and are working in this lower world of ours. It is ‘power, ability,’ physical or moral, as residing in a person or thing” (G1411).

Psalm 33:18-19 states:

Behold, the eye of the Lord is on those who fear him,
    on those who hope in his steadfast love,
that he may deliver their soul from death
    and keep them alive in famine.

God’s ultimate objective for every person is to deliver their soul from death. The soul is our inner being with its thoughts and emotions. When the Hebrew word that is translated soul, nephesh (nehˊ-fesh) “is applied to a person, it doesn’t refer to a specific part of a human being. The Scriptures view a person as a composite whole, fully relating to God and not divided in any way (Deuteronomy 6:5; cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:23)” (H5315). That’s why the salvation that God provides for us applies not only to our body, but also to our soul, and our spirit (Matthew 10:28).

Psalm 33 concludes with the reassurance that God’s steadfast love can sustain us in our time of need. Verses 20-22 state:

Our soul waits for the Lord;
    he is our help and our shield.
For our heart is glad in him,
    because we trust in his holy name.
Let your steadfast love, O Lord, be upon us,
    even as we hope in you.

The psalmist connected waiting with the soul, suggesting that it is a spiritual activity or you might say a spiritual exercise. The Israelites were impatient and often failed to ask God for help when they needed it. Psalm 106 recounts their journey through the wilderness and notes that they soon forgot God’s work of deliverance and “they did not wait for his counsel” (Psalm 106:13).

The Israelites’ defeat at Ai was perceived to be God’s fault because he had removed his protection (Joshua 7:8-9), but it was Achan’s sin that the people of Israel needed to deal with. God told them, “They turn their backs before their enemies, because they have become devoted for destruction. I will be with you no more unless you destroy the devoted things from among you” (Joshua 7:12). After “they burned them with fire and stoned them with stones…the LORD said to Joshua, Do not fear and do not be dismayed. Take all the fighting me with you, and arise go up to Ai. See, I have given into your hand the king of Ai, and his people, his city and his land” (Joshua 8:1). During the battle, the army of Ai “left the city open and pursued Israel” (Joshua 8:17). Joshua 8:18-20 tells us:

Then the Lord said to Joshua, “Stretch out the javelin that is in your hand toward Ai, for I will give it into your hand.” And Joshua stretched out the javelin that was in his hand toward the city. And the men in the ambush rose quickly out of their place, and as soon as he had stretched out his hand, they ran and entered the city and captured it. And they hurried to set the city on fire. So when the men of Ai looked back, behold, the smoke of the city went up to heaven, and they had no power to flee this way or that, for the people who fled to the wilderness turned back against the pursuers.

When Joshua stretched out the javelin that was in his hand toward the city, there was a change in their circumstances and the Israelites began to overtake Ai in the battle. Joshua’s act of faith caused a shift in the spiritual dimension of Israel’s warfare to take place. The Hebrew word that is translated turned back in Joshua 8:20, haphak (haw-fakˊ) has to do with transformational change. “In its simplest meaning, haphak expresses the turning from one side to another” and is translated converted in Isaiah 60:5. “The meaning of ‘transformation’ or ‘change’ is vividly illustrated in the story of Saul’s encounter with the Spirit of God. Samuel promised that Saul ‘shalt be turned into another man’ (1 Samuel 10:6), and when the Spirit came on him, ‘God gave him another heart’ (1 Samuel 10:9). Likewise, the turnaround in the Israelites’ battle with Ai was a result of the Spirit of God getting involved because of Joshua’s act of faith.

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