When God Responds to Us With a Question
We've been told that it's rude to answer a question with another question, but God isn't hesitant to do it when appropriate. Recently, a teacher going through the book of Joshua caused me to think about God's questions to ours.
In Joshua 7 God hears a question and replies with one of his own. The children of Israel, under the leadership of Joshua, have taken the city of Jericho after God tore down the walls. Next, they begin to look toward the next city. A tiny, yet confident, force attacks the city of Ai but flee when they suffer a small number of casualties. Joshua and the elders begin to mourn and pray before the Ark of the Covenant. Here is what Joshua said to the Lord:
“Alas, O Lord God, why have you brought this people over the Jordan at all, to give us into the hands of the Amorites, to destroy us? Would that we had been content to dwell beyond the Jordan! O Lord, what can I say, when Israel has turned their backs before their enemies! For the Canaanites and all the inhabitants of the land will hear of it and will surround us and cut off our name from the earth. And what will you do for your great name?” (ESV)
It's interesting that Joshua first seems to whine like the people did before they crossed the Jordan, when he was so confident in God's promise and ability to do as He said. The whine then seems to turn to questioning God. Not to ask what the problem was but what was God going to do about it...how He would overcome the failure of the Israelites. And before we condemn Joshua, we must come clean and admit that we do the same thing WAY too often. We tend to remember our failures far more than we remember God's faithfulness.
The people's fear of God had been a tremendous advantage for the Israelites but Joshua feared, with that advantage gone, the enemy would be emboldened, knowing they weren't unstoppable. God's reply to Joshua's worry is blunt.
The Lord said to Joshua, “Get up! Why have you fallen on your face?" (ESV)
God gives a command and asks a question. Joshua asks something unnecessary; God asks something he already knows the answer to. God knew why Joshua was bowed down, and that he should be looking elsewhere for the cause of the problem. He then explains the reason for the failure of the Israelites:
"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." (ESV)
The failure was not on God's shoulders. He wasn't unfaithful; an Israelite was. Someone had gone against God's direct order and had taken spoil from Jericho, looking for personal gain in what was to be a victory for God's people as a whole. God was questioned but He had kept his promise. David Roper has said, "Joshua says to the Lord, 'It's your fault, because you brought us over the Jordan.' And the Lord says, 'No, it's your fault, because you have crossed over the covenant.'"
Joshua laid out his concern that the people of the land would no longer fear the Israelites...or God...because of God's perceived failure. His concern may have been valid but his blame was misplaced. The sin of man can blemish the name of God and, therefore, the name of God's people. We see that so obviously today. As followers of Christ go about in their own knowledge and power only to fall on our faces, the name of God is diminished in the eyes of a skeptical world around us. God has done great things and will continue to do them. His power has not waned over the centuries. We fail; He does not. Do we see the failures or shortcomings of the Church as God's weakness? If so, we're complaining in the wrong direction. We can ask the question but we should keep in mind God can ask His own of us.
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