One of the pleasures of reading the Old Testament is to spot when Jesus unexpectedly turns up. On several occasions, Jesus (the second person of the Trinity, the Son of God) makes an actual physical appearance and does or says something significant. These Old Testament appearances are known as ‘Christophanies’.
Jesus became incarnate of the Virgin Mary in the era of New Testament but one of the hardest concepts to grasp in the Bible is that time means nothing to God. The past, present and future are all the same to him. He knows what we are going to choose to do before we do it as he knows the future. So, as James pointed out (James 2:21-24), Abraham was not considered righteous just because of his faith. Abraham was considered righteous because he, in the future, would offer his son Isaac as a sacrifice on an altar. God mashes our faith and our future deeds together: ‘You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone (James 2:24). Similarly, even though Jesus didn’t become a baby until the year AD 1, he was able to travel back in time as both God and Man to create the world in Genesis 1, walk with Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden (Genesis 3:8), talk to Abraham (Genesis 18:1-33), wrestle with Jacob (Genesis 32:22-31) and abort the assassination of Moses (Exodus 4:24-36).
When it comes to Joshua 5:13-15, the jury is out as to whether this is actually Jesus talking to Joshua or an angel. Some pastors think this is Jesus because ‘Joshua fell face down in reverence’ (v.14). The argument is that an angel would have told Joshua to stand back up because angels are not to be worshipped. However, there is a big difference between reverence and worship. Reverence is to show ‘deep respect’ for someone or something and so it is legitimate to revere an angel – particularly this one because he is obviously none other than my boss, Saint Michael, ‘the commander of the army of the Lord’ (v.14). I belong to the Order of the Knights of Saint Michael and so I am a big fan. Saint Michael obviously thought it was fine for Joshua to fall face down because ‘the place where you are standing is holy’ (v.15). He told Joshua to take his shoes off as well.
However, here is some further confusion. One minute, it is Saint Michael holding a drawn sword in his hand speaking to Joshua but from the beginning of Chapter 6 it says, ‘Then the Lord said to Joshua… ‘. So the mystery person may have been Jesus after all. Maybe both Jesus and Saint Michael were there. The author has not explained this clearly enough. If I was marking Chapter 6, I would highlight it in red and write, ‘Joshua, you must try harder!’
God / Jesus told Joshua how to defeat the besieged city of Jericho. It was already a done deal: ‘I have delivered Jericho into your hands’ (6:2). The Israelites had to march around the city blowing trumpets once a day for six days but on the seventh day, they had to march around it seven times. Then, when the people gave a loud shout, the wall of the city would collapse and every man could rush straight in (6:2-5). The Israelites had started a working partnership with God. If they carried out certain actions to show their faith, he would carry out the supernatural miracle to enable the task to be completed. The plan might sound far-fetched but as the river Jordan had just dried up in front of them, the Israelites had full faith in both God and Joshua.
Joshua commanded that Rahab and her family would be the only inhabitants of Jericho to be spared because she had hidden the Israelite spies (v.17). As the walls were due to collapse, I would have been nervous for Rahab who actually lived in the wall of the city but her house was left standing (v.22). The Israelites shouted, the wall collapsed, they all rushed into the city and destroyed every living thing (apart from Rahab, her parents and her family). From being the disgrace of the family, because of her profession, she became their saviour because she recognised who the true God was and that he was fighting with his people. She had faith in the God of the Israelites. Rahab, and her family, had to stay outside the Israelite camp (v.23) as they had been contaminated by the devil worship in the city and their lifestyles. Eventually, Rahab was assimilated into society and became one of Jesus’s ancestors after she married a Jew named Salmon and gave birth to Boaz.
The Israelites burned the city to the ground and Jacob cursed it so it could never be rebuilt. With this second major miracle, Joshua’s ‘fame spread throughout the land’ (v.27).
An Israelite called Achan looted from Jericho some of the items that had been devoted to demonic entities. This was strictly banned. This made God very angry just as he gets very angry if we bring back dubious souvenirs from abroad such as Buddha statues or African masks, which might be infested by all sorts of evil spirits. Putting the wrong types of objects in your house can put a curse on it. My wife and I are rejoicing that now that my children have moved out we can get rid of all the dubious childhood items they collected that might affect the atmosphere in the house: Harry Potter books, Pokémon cards, soft toys, dolls, videos and music. We have had a complete clear-out. I need to stock up on holy water to bless the newly organised cupboards.
Incidentally, many children are scared of the cupboards in their bedroom. If demonic activity is going to start anywhere in a child’s room, it is often in a cupboard. It is dark for a start and these creatures avoid the light, but also kids store their commercial rubbish in these cupboards. Many items have dodgy spiritual associations. Cupboard doors often open ‘by themselves’, items fall off shelves and roll out of the cupboard. On the other side of my city in a council house, there was reputed to be an incubus, a sexual demon focused on women. This one kept organising the shoes of its young female victim in her cupboard. I talked to an exorcist from London at a conference once and he said the two most common locations he found demons were in council houses and hospitals. Pubs weren’t far behind.
The Israelites were expecting an easy victory against the inhabitants of the city of Ai but, unbeknownst to them, God was no longer protecting them due to Achan’s sin. Achan had secretly taken some of the plunder from Jericho and hidden it under his tent. When the Israelites attacked Ai, they were routed and thirty-six of them died. This is what happens to society when individuals start sinning. Many people think what they do in the privacy of their own house or bedroom won’t hurt anyone else. However, God sees everything. If he is upset at the sins people are carrying out – other people get hurt as he withdraws their protection and stops answering people’s prayers. God tells Joshua that the Israelites will not be able to stand against their enemies until any objects devoted to demonic entities are removed. God whittled down the Israelites through a selection process to show Achan was the guilty party. Only then did he admit to coveting items from Jericho, taking them and hiding them.
Achan, the devoted items, and all his belongings, including his sons and daughters were taken out to a valley and destroyed. This seems harsh as it was only recently in Deut: 24:16 that Moses declared; ‘parents are not to be put to death for their children, nor children put to death for your parents; each will die for their own sin’.
However, Achan had let a whole nation down. The Israelites had been given a fresh start with God, yet almost immediately covetous greed started up and, as a result, innocent people died. Sin kills and God takes it incredibly seriously. Sin affects the whole of society. There is no such thing as a secret sin that doesn’t affect others. Think of humanity as a beautiful hot air balloon ascending up to heaven. If everyone in the world lived a faultless life, we would keep on rising together. However, whenever anyone sins, even in the ‘privacy’ of their own bedroom, a little bit of warm air is leaked from our balloon and eventually the whole of society starts sinking towards an inevitable crash. We might be personally trying to live a God fearing life and keep confessing our sins as soon as they happen, but next door there might be someone committing adultery or taking home abortion bills with no apology to God. The billions of hidden sins that take place every day in our world are why only the ultimate sacrifice of God’s beloved son, Jesus Christ, was sufficient to atone for our iniquities.
Jesus had long known he was going to die a horrendous death. I have an icon on my kitchen wall, ‘Our Lady of Perpetual Succour’ which depicts Jesus as a tiny child being comforted by his mother Mary after two archangels had shown him the objects of his crucifixion. He didn’t just die – like you and I will. He was converted into sin – every sin that anyone would ever carry out, past, present and future. If any of us should murder someone or commit adultery tomorrow or next week, Jesus suffered pain because of that particular sin when he was on the cross.
Jesus would rather not have been tortured in this way but he totally submitted to the will of God, ‘yet not my will, but yours be done’ (v.42). ‘An angel from heaven appeared to him strengthened him’ (v.43).
Jesus was adamant that his disciples should pray that they should not fall into temptation. This should also be our daily prayer. We have to keep strong to the end without the stain of unconfessed serious sin on us.
Even when Jesus was betrayed by his friend and arrested, he still cared for his enemies. He healed the servant of the high priest, Malchus, whose ear had been cut off in the fracas. This is Jesus’ last miracle before his resurrection. One would hope that Malchus would have testified in Jesus’ defence at his trial or at least convert to Christianity.
Peter reached the all time low point in his life when he lied and disowned Jesus three times. As soon as Jesus was arrested, Peter fell back and ‘followed at a distance’ (v.54). Many people follow Christianity at a distance today. They want to have one foot in the camp of eternal life and the other foot in the secular world. We need to commit to Christ or it is too easy and tempting to slip away. Imagine if Peter had fought to the death to prevent Jesus being taken. He could have been a hero but he quickly obeyed Jesus’ call to drop his weapons. However, we know Peter eventually recovered in spectacular fashion after being empowered with the fire of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. His temporary weakness made him stronger in the end and compassionate to sinners. Peter gives hope to all disciples that we can repent, receive tender forgiveness, dust ourselves off and still achieve wonders for the glory of God through the power of the Holy Spirit within us.
Wicked people today hate God’s instruction and laws (v.17). They use their mouth for evil, condoning adultery and abortion and try to eliminate religion from all spheres of society. They want to forget the historical facts of Jesus’ life and even try to use terms such as the year 2021 CE rather than AD – because the term ‘AD’ (‘Anno Domini’, the year of our Lord) is an everyday reminder that God became man 2,021 years ago to save humanity. By using the term CE, you are denying that Jesus is Lord and choosing to consign yourself to everlasting suffering in hell.
Many people call bad things good and accuse good things of being bad. They harness their tongue to deceit (v.19).
Most secular people have no idea how far away from God they have become. They are being gently led down the path to everlasting destruction thinking they are not as bad as infamous murderers, thieves or paedophiles yet they cheat with regards to their financial affairs, commit adultery with their eyes and cheat on God with man-made idols. If they do not repent, they will be torn to pieces.
Our first step back to God is to give him thanks. We need to apologise if we have forgotten him when things were going well. We owe all the good things in our life to our heavenly Father. God is always looking out for us, with outstretched arms and will run to gather us up when we sincerely turn to him. We just have to renounce, repent and hand over control of our life to him.
Saint Paul wrote that when we confess. ‘Jesus is Lord‘ with our mouth and believe that God raised him from the dead in our heart, we will be saved (Romans 10:10). However, Jesus said: ‘Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned’ (Matthew 16:16). The church has always believed that baptism, or at least the desire for baptism is vital for our salvation. As Jesus commanded us to be baptised, our desire to follow his wishes proves that when we confessed ‘Jesus is Lord’ we actually meant it. If we refuse to be baptized, Jesus obviously isn’t our Lord as we are rejecting his command. As James pointed out, we are considered righteous by what we do e.g. requesting to be baptized, not by faith alone (James 2:24).
Jesus won our salvation through his sacrifice on the cross. It is tragic when people have their hearts so hardened by sin, they do not turn to him and ask to be saved.
Image: Unterlinden Museum, CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons