Monday, December 24, 2012


I gave a talk in meeting yesterday, on Solomon's going up to Gibeon to sacrifice (2 Kings 1:1--4). I've already written about this. I didn't go into as much detail in the talk as I did on this blog: I try to keep a talk to 35 minutes or less, and on my blog I can go as long as I like. But the main point I was trying to make was, if we mingle true faith with man's religion, we'll end up leaving the Lord's presence out. This is precisely what Solomon did. The ark of the covenant was in Jerusalem, the Lord had chosen Jerusalem to put His Name there (Psalm 78:60--69): He Himself had promised to meet the people between the cherubim on the mercy seat (Exodus 25:22). But Solomon left Jerusalem to worship at the altar in Gibeon (2 Chronicles 1:3--6).

I started out by giving a brief history of the ark's location from Kadesh-Barnea to Jerusalem. The first camp of the children of Israel in Canaan was at Gilgal (Joshua 5). It was at Gilgal that the Lord commanded Joshua to make stone knives and circumcise the Israelites, because they hadn't been practicing circumcision the whole time they were in the wilderness (Joshua 5:1--7).

2 At that time Jehovah said to Joshua, Make thee stone-knives, and circumcise again the children of Israel the second time. 8 And it came to pass when the whole nation had finished being circumcised, that they abode in their place in the camp, till they were whole. 9 And Jehovah said to Joshua, This day have I rolled away the reproach of Egypt from off you. And the name of the place was called Gilgal to this day. (Joshua 5:2, 8--9, JND)

Now, I realize I probably sound really "brethren" here, but we notice when the children of Israel went out to conquer the land, Gilgal was their base camp. When they finished a campaign, they'd return to Gilgal before their next campaign. Well, they didn't always return to Gilgal. When they'd taken Jericho, they went straight from Jericho to Ai (Joshua 7:2--4). The battle at Ai didn't go so well. When Joshua asked the Lord about it, the Lord answered,

11 Israel hath sinned, and they have also transgressed my covenant which I commanded them, and they have even taken of the accursed thing, and have also stolen, and dissembled also, and they have put it among their stuff. 12 And the children of Israel shall not be able to stand before their enemies: they shall turn their backs before their enemies, for they have made themselves accursed. I will no more be with you, except ye destroy the accursed thing from your midst. (Joshua 7:11--12, JND)
This passage was a real hot topic for a while among some of the "brethren" I was in fellowship with. A lot of the discussion about it seemed to me to have missed the most salient point: Joshua sent spies from Jericho to Ai without ever consulting the Lord. It wasn't until they were pummelled at Ai that Joshua asked the Lord about it.

There was another time Joshua acted without consulting the Lord, when the Gibeonites came to Gilgal to sue for peace (Joshua 9:1--15). The Scripture specifically tells us that Joshua didn't ask the Lord before acting (v. 14). Again, the decision made regarding Gibeon turned into a permanent problem for the Israelites. Adonai-Zedek attacked Gibeon, drawing the Israelites into a fight on his terms (Joshua 10:1--6).

When the Angel of the Lord came from Gigal to Bochim, He referenced the failure at Gibeon:

1 And the Angel of Jehovah came up from Gilgal to Bochim, and said, I made you to go up out of Egypt, and have brought you to the land which I swore unto your fathers; and I said, I will never break my covenant with you; and as for you, 2 ye shall make no covenant with the inhabitants of this land; ye shall throw down their altars: but ye have not hearkened unto my voice. Why have ye done this? 3 Wherefore I also said, I will not drive them out from before you; but they shall be scourges in your sides, and their gods shall be a snare unto you. 4 And it came to pass, when the Angel of Jehovah spoke these words to all the children of Israel, that the people lifted up their voice and wept. 5 And they called the name of that place Bochim; and they sacrificed there to Jehovah. 6 And Joshua dismissed the people, and the children of Israel went every man to his inheritance to possess the land. (Joshua 2:1--6, JND)
They'd made a covenant with the people of the land, and the people of the land were scourges in their sides.

We might notice a principle here in passing: they weren't to make a covenant with the people of the land, but when they did, the Lord didn't tell them to break the covenant. Sometimes we might find that we've made a covenant (as it were) with the "people in the land". We sometimes think the solution is to break our covenant and declare war on them anyway, but that's not what the Scripture teaches. Joshua and his people had sworn to the Gibeonites they wouldn't attack them, and the Lord held them to their oath. He chides them for making the oath, but He never tells them to break it. In fact, when Saul broke the covenant with the Gibeonites, the Lord punished Israel (2 Samuel 21:1--14).

Joshua's failure at Jericho was that he didn't inquire of the Lord before going up against Ai. This is illustrated geographically in his going straight from Jericho to Ai, without coming back to Gilgal. Now, coming to Gilgal wasn't enough: the story of the Gibeonites tells us that even at Gilgal, he still failed to consult the Lord before acting. But the point remains that there is a lesson for us in Joshua's failure.

Gilgal was where the Lord rolled away the reproach of Egypt. Colossians 2:9--12 connects circumcision with the "putting off of the body of the flesh, in the circumcision of the Christ" (v. 11, JND). So we might see in the story of Gilgal an application to us. And I have to admit I see a lot of my own failure here.

There are times when things seem to be going well. I don't mean that my bills are getting paid and I've got plenty to eat: I mean there are times when it seems like maybe I'm getting the hang of this whole Christian life thing. It's been something like 35 years, I ought to be figuring it out! But there are times when we get the smell of victory: the smell of smoke and destruction and blood. There are times when it seems like we're doing the right things and walking with the Lord. And it's at those times that we need to return to Gilgal. But in my personal experience, those are the times I say, "I've got this, Lord. Don't worry about me. I'll just go ahead and send some spies up to Ai...".

What's the result? It's not good.

I noticed a couple years ago that there is a sort of progression through Romans 6--8:

  1. Romans 6 is "Know... reckon... yield". It's about deliberate sin.
  2. Romans 7 is "Who shall deliver me?". The point here is not that we ought not to continue in sin, but that we have this thing in us called "the flesh" and we're powerless over it.
  3. Romans 8 is "put to death the deeds of the body"
Romans 8 is different from 6 & 7: they have the sense of a crisis. The man in Romans 7 is anything but calm: the flesh is beating him down and he knows it. But when we got to Romans 8 things are calmer. And yet, even in the calm, there is the responsibility to be on the offensive. See, there's a sense where it's not too hard to rely on the Lord in the thick of the battle. When the flesh is dominating, when temptation seems just insurmountable, when we find in ourselves no good thing and we find ourselves doing what we don't want to do... those times it's relatively easy to look for the Deliverer (notice I said relatively). But when there's a respite, when we're celebrating on a field of victory, it can be really, really hard to go on the offensive. It can be really hard to remember what Romans 8 says, we need to "mortify".

Once again, Scripture doesn't teach asceticism, it doesn't teach works as the answer. That's the whole point of Romans 7, right? But it doesn't teach abandon either, that's the whole point of Romans 6. So what's "mortifying"?

There is an answer in the story of Gilgal, and it's answered in 2 Corinthians 3. When the children of Israel were in Gigal, they didn't only circumcise with stone knives: they also ate the old corn of the land (Joshua 5:11). What's the old corn of the land? It's Christ in resurrection (cf. Leviticus 2:12--16; 1 Corinthians 15:20--28). So it's not only that we put off the flesh, we also feed on Christ. Now, 2 Corinthians 3:18 tells us the same thing, maybe in less mystical terms:

But *we* all, looking on the glory of the Lord, with unveiled face, are transformed according to the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Lord the Spirit. (JND)
Want to be Christ-like? The scriptural path to Christ-likeness is to look at Him in glory.

But we can't come to Gilgal (as it were) in any sort of pride. We might come back flushed with victory, but Gilgal isn't only the place to feed, it's the place of circumcision. There's a cutting that happened at Gilgal, and 2 Corinthians 4 tells us about that too:

6 Because it is the God who spoke that out of darkness light should shine who has shone in our hearts for the shining forth of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. 7 But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the surpassingness of the power may be of God, and not from us: 8 every way afflicted, but not straitened; seeing no apparent issue, but our way not entirely shut up; 9 persecuted, but not abandoned; cast down, but not destroyed; 10 always bearing about in the body the dying of Jesus, that the life also of Jesus may be manifested in our body; 11 for we who live are always delivered unto death on account of Jesus, that the life also of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh; 12 so that death works in us, but life in you. (2 Corinthians 4:6--12, JND)
The life of Jesus is manifested in our mortal bodies as death works in us. That's not to say that we work death in ourselves: it should be obvious that's impossible. But the Lord uses death to work in us so that His life is manifested in us. But the point is, the whole idea of coming to Gilgal with any sort of pride is the very opposite to the working of death in us that happens there.

So that's what I've been thinking about for the last couple days: I didn't set out to talk about Gilgal yesterday; but as I was speaking about Gibeon, I was struck that there's been a real failure on my part to appreciate (and practice) the lesson of Gilgal. And I thought it might be worthwhile to share that.

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