Discernment

When we say that we want to be focussed on God, it can sound really easy. In truth, this doesn’t seem very hard to do, but whenever we try it we discover that it is not as easy as it seems. Why is this?

Well, lets be honest, it is not God that makes it hard; that blame rests entirely on us. We could blame the devil for it, and I am sure that he has his hand in it, but more often than not, it is entirely our doing. This is not a problem that you alone are battling with; this is a problem that has been fought by all people seeking God through out the ages.

Lets look at Joshua to see some of the problems he went through. Joshua was the successor of Moses. Joshua was the man who made a remarkable statement to the Israelites when they entered the Promised Land:

“And if it seems evil for you to serve the Lord, choose for yourself this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

(Joshua 24:15)

You see Joshua was a leader of men and a man of God. But he still had the same problems as you and I. Lets read about some of the problems he had. A good place to start is immediately after Joshua fought the battle of Jericho. This was a fabulous victory, which was only made possible because they followed God’s command. However, there is something very strange going on here. The passage of scripture dealing with the battle of Jericho ends on a high as follows:

So the Lord was with Joshua, and his fame spread throughout all the country.

(Joshua 6:27)

However, the very next passage of scripture that starts to talk about the battle for Ai tells a completely different story:

But the children of Israel committed a trespass regarding the accursed things, for Achan the son of Carmi, the son of Zabdi; the son of Zerah of the tribe of Judah, took the accursed things; so the anger of God burned against the children of Israel.

(Joshua 7:1)

Something had gone wrong which perhaps Joshua should have been aware of if he had been spending time with God. However, you can see that he was more active in doing what God had told him to do:

On this side of the Jordan in the land of Moab, Moses began to explain this law saying, “The Lord our God spoke to us in Horeb, saying ‘You have dwelt long enough at this mountain. Turn and take your journey, and go to the mountains of the Amorites, to all the neighbouring places in the plain, in the mountains and in the lowland, in the South and on the seacoast, to the land of the Canaanites and to Lebanon, as far up as the great river, the river Euphrates. See, I have set the and before you; go in and possess the land which the Lord swore to your fathers…’”

(Deuteronomy 1:5-8)

He was carrying out the plan of God as he saw it. Possibly he was on a high from the victory in Jericho and just carried on doing what he knew needed to be done. As Joshua was about to find out, doing it right once, doesn’t mean that we know how to do it again; and it certainly doesn’t mean that we can do it without God’s involvement. This is as true for us today as it was for him. Doing God’s will our way is not doing God’s will at all; it is just doing our will.

As we read on you can see that things are not quite going to plan.

Now Joshua sent men from Jericho to Ai, which is beside Beth Aven, on the east side of Bethel, and spoke to them saying, "Go up and spy out the country.” So the men went up and spied out Ai. And they returned to Joshua and said to him, “Do not let all the people go up, but let about two or three thousand men go up and attack Ai. Do not weary all the people there, for the people of Ai are few.” So about three thousand men went up there from the people, but they fled before the men of Ai. And the men of Ai struck down thirty-six men, for they chased them from before the gate as far as Shebarim, and struck them down on the descent; therefore the hearts of the people melted and became like water. Then Joshua tore his clothes, and fell to the earth on his face before the ark of the Lord until evening, he and the elders of Israel; and they put dust on their heads. And Joshua said, “Alas, Lord God, why have your brought this people over the Jordan at all – to deliver us into the hand of the Amorites, to destroy us? Oh that we had been content, and dwelt on the other side of the Jordan! O Lord, what shall I say when Israel turns its back before its enemies? For the Canaanites and all the inhabitants of the land will hear of it, and surround us, and cut off our name from the earth. Then what will You do for Your great name?”

(Joshua 7:2-9)

When I read this, I am quite shocked at Joshua’s response to the situation. He is acing just like the Israelites did when they complained against Moses. In many ways, he was acting the same as you and I when things go wrong; whom can I blame for this? Seldom do we ask what have I done wrong; we would rather be able to blame someone else. But look at the way God deals with this:

So the Lord said to Joshua, “Get up! Why do you lie thus on your face? Israel has sinned, and they have also transgressed My covenant which I commanded them. For they have taken some of the accursed things, and have both stolen and deceived; and they have also put it among their own stuff. Therefore, the children of Israel could not stand before their enemies, but turned their backs before their enemies, because they have become doomed to destruction. Neither will I be with you anymore unless you destroy the accursed from among you.

(Joshua 7:10-12)

God is not mincing His words here, and there are a number of things to be aware of that will affect us if we make the same mistake as the Israelites If we break His covenant:

  • We cannot stand before our enemies.
  • We are doomed to destruction.
  • We are separated from God.

It is important to realise that not all of the Israelites stole the accursed things but all were guilty of it. Not all of them were directly involved with it; it was the act of one man. But there is guilt of association that is at work here. In exactly the same way as when Adam sinned, he brought that sin onto us all; so when Achan sinned he brought sin on to all the Israelites. This could only be dealt with when they sanctified themselves and the accursed was removed from them.

If Joshua had dealt with this first, if he had sanctified the Israelites and removed the accursed from their midst before attacking Ai, there would have been a very different story to tell. This teaches us some important keys or being focussed on God:

  1. Doing His will
  2. Doing it His way
  3. Doing it in His time

If we fail on any of these, it is because we have not been focussed on God. More likely, we have been focussed on ourselves; focussed on our own personal gain rather than focussed on His Kingdom.

There is another passage of scripture that we should look at as it shows us a different aspect, a different problem area, of being focussed on God. Lets read it here:

And it came to pass when all the kings who were on this side of the Jordan, in the hills and in the lowlands and in all the coasts of the Great Sea towards Lebanon – the Hittite, the Amorite, the Canaanite, the Perizzite, the Hivite, and the Jebusite – heard about it, that they gathered together to fight with Joshua and Israel with one accord. But when the inhabitants of Gibeon heard what Joshua had done to Jericho and Ai, they worked craftily, and went and pretended to be ambassadors. And they took old sacks on their donkeys, old wineskins torn and mended, old and patched sandals on their feet, and old garments on themselves; and all the bread of their provision was dry and mouldy. And they went to Joshua, to the camp at Gilgal, and said to him and to the men of Israel, “We have come from a far country; now therefore, make a covenant with us.”

(Joshua 9:1-6)

When we read this passage, we already know that there is something taking place that is very dishonest. Joshua and the Israelites were not privy to the background of this story as we are. They are just presented with the request from the people claiming to be from afar off. However, if you look at their response you can see that there is a fundamental distrust in their mind. There is a degree of discernment working here as they listen to the request and they are not happy with the way that it looks and feels.

The men of Israel said to the Hivites, “Perhaps you dwell among us; so how can we make a covenant with you?” But they said to Joshua, “we are your servants,” And Joshua said to them, “Who are you and where do you come from?” So they said to him, “From a very far country your servants have come, because of the name of the Lord your God; for we have heard of His fame, and all that He did in Egypt, and all that He did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan – to Sihon king of Heshbon and to Og king of Bashan, who was at Ashtaroth. Therefore our elders and all the inhabitants of our country spoke to us, saying, ‘Take provision with you for the journey, and go to meet them and say to them “We are your servants; now therefore make a covenant with us.”’ This bread of ours we took hot for our provision from our houses on the day we departed to come to you. But look, it is now dry and mouldy. And these wineskins which we filled were new, and see, they are torn; and these our garments and our sandals have become old because of the very long journey.” And the men of Israel took some of their provisions; but they did not ask counsel of the Lord. So Joshua made peace with them to let them live; and the rulers of the congregation swore to them.

(Joshua 9:7-15)

Joshua and the men of Israel listened to them and checked on the evidence that was presented to them; they tested it and accepted it as the truth. But they didn’t ask God. They didn’t seek His counsel even though their first reaction to the request was telling them something. Instead, they made their own decision and acted upon it.

In reality, there was probably enough evidence there to convince a jury that they were telling the truth. This is the problem that we have today, do we accept the facts that are presented to us, that in so many ways speak for themselves; do we listen to eloquent people telling a story in such a plausible way that we start to believe it? Isn’t this exactly what confidence tricksters rely upon? When I look back at the times that I have made these same mistakes in my life, I have discovered that there was always something in my mind that I was not happy with at the beginning. But over a period of time it was covered over by facts or details or powerful persuasions. In truth that which was warning me was my discernment; my problem was that I was happier to listen to what other people were saying than rushing off to talk to God and hear what He had to say about it. Oh that I had talked to him first in the past; it would have made my life so much easier if I had been eager to talk to Him.

This is the mistake that Joshua made here. He wasn’t reliant upon, and prepared to accept, his discernment as the route to seeking God. This was the start of a situation that was about to get worse. As the Israelites discover that they have been lied to, they now have a bigger problem. How do they deal with it?

And it happened at the end of three days, after they had made a covenant with them, that they heard that they were their neighbours who dwelt near them. The children of Israel journeyed and came to their cities on the third day. Now their cities were Gibeon, Chephirah, Beeroth and Kirjath Jearim. But the children of Israel did not attack them, because the rulers of the congregation had sworn to them by the Lord God of Israel. And all the congregation complained against the rulers.

(Joshua 9:16-18)

You see, they were not free to tell the Gibeonites that they made a mistake; not even if this was caused by the Gibeonites lying to them. They found themselves bound by the law given by Moses:

If a man makes a vow to the Lord, or swears an oath to bind himself by some agreement, he shall not break his word; he shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth.

(Numbers 30:2)

This now put them in a catch 22 situation; on one hand, if they break this covenant they are breaking the Law of Moses, which is the Law of God; on the other hand, by having this covenant they are breaking the commandment of God:

When the Lord your God brings you into the land which you go to possess, and has cast out many nations before you, the Hittites and the Girgashites and the Amorites and the Canaanites and the Perizzites and the Hivites and the Jebusites, seven nations greater and mightier than you, and when the Lord your God delivers them over to you, you shall conquer them and utterly destroy them. You shall make no covenant with them nor show mercy to them.

(Deuteronomy 7:1-2)

Once again, the Israelites did not consult God about what to do, but acted out of fear:

“This is what we will do to them: We will let them live, lest wrath be upon us because of the oath which we swore to them.”

(Joshua 9:20)

Be spiritual in your thought processes.

The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.

(1 Corinthians 2:14)

How do we get this?

And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may able to discern what is best and be pure an blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ – to the glory and praise of God.

(Philippians 1:9-11)