Suffering With Us
Tuesday of Epiphany 5
12 February 2019
The righteous suffer with the wicked. Often the judgments of God fall indiscriminately upon whole peoples. The suffering which arises in war cannot be attributed to the personal wickedness of a particular soldier or his family, but its burden often falls on whole communities. The U.S. Civil War caused enormous suffering in both North and South, where many families were bereaved of sons taken by ordnance and disease. No one remained untouched by this suffering. Israel's unbelief in the wilderness wandering brought suffering to the whole people. Only Joshua and Caleb were permitted to enter the Promised Land. Not even God's faithful servant, Moses, set foot in Canaan. His rest would come only by death.
How shocking the unbelief of Israel is! They had been brought out of Egypt by God, passing through the Red Sea on dry ground. The Lord had led them by a cloud by day and covered them with a pillar of fire at night. The Word of God was present with them. Yet, they were afraid of the enemies that the Lord had promised to give into their hands. They did not believe that God could accomplish what He had promised. How foolish this unbelief was. It was not even sustainable on common sense grounds. They had witnessed God's rescue in manifold ways over the time of the Exodus. They had every reason to believe that God could do what He said. But neither their experience nor God's abundant promises were sufficient.
Now they would wander for years until everyone but Caleb and Joshua died. They alone had retained faith in God's power to save by giving their enemies into their hands. Yet, they too marked time, walking in what became a long death march. How Joshua must have chafed under this discipline. It wasn't his fault, yet he suffered. He would have to lead these wandering unbelievers to take possession of the Promised Land. We can only speculate, but perhaps in his secret moments Joshua longed to leave behind these people who could only walk in spiritual circles, to establish his own faithful dynasty, unburdened by their unbelief. However, he did not, instead shouldering with them their burden and leading them, despite their unworthiness. In this, Joshua prefigures another Savior, who would allow the sin and unbelief of us all to fall upon His shoulders and who would lead us into the Promised Land of the church. The Righteous One suffered for the wicked.

Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray
Memorial Lutheran Church

  Martin Luther
"When [Israel] had already reached the boundaries of the Land of Promise, Moses sharpens their courage and arouses their faith by repeating the promises, so that they could enter without fear. Here, however, faith wavers, and unbelief overwhelms the people in a pitiful demonstration, so that by their own fault, when they were already at the point of entering the land to be occupied, they were forced to turn back and to wander thirty-eight years in the desert until they all perished and not one of them went in except Joshua and Caleb, two out of so great a number. This disaster of unbelief began with a small and innocent-looking doubt, when they pretended that they had to send spies who would show the way; nor did they believe the Word of God, who had given His promises, and had led them through the Red Sea where a way was impossible. As though He were unable or unwilling to lead them in open and passable country! Thus, they had trusted God in great trials but doubted Him in small ones, so that you might know that faith is the product, not of free will but of the grace of God alone.
"Nevertheless, this work of God is wonderful too, just as all His works are. For the Jewish nation had to fall while it already breathed down the necks of the Amorites, that the long-suffering of God might be praised. This gave those nations which were already about to perish a period of time for repentance, that they might be terrified by the threats of God and be converted. So even at the cost of damage and peril to His own people He is concerned for the Gentiles too as He smites it and spares them to show that He is the God not only of the Jews but also of the Gentiles.
Yet this kindness and long-suffering of God also becomes a snare and stumbling block for the Gentiles through their blindness, so that they are hardened and add impenitence to the store of God's wrath and just judgment (Rm 2:5). For who doubts that when the Amorites had seen the enemy retreat and perish in the wilderness while they themselves were now safe and free, they gained the conviction that they had God fighting for them against their enemies? And this work of God becomes a snare for them to pride themselves in their own worth and to remove the wrath of God far from themselves upon other peoples, that they may now keep on in their sins without fear. This is what the Psalm says: 'He is awesome in his deeds toward the children of man' (Ps 66:5). And we see here an example in both directions of what the blind unbelief of men does in the world." 

Martin Luther, Lectures on Deuteronomy, 1.20
Joshua 1:1-13

After the death of Moses the servant of the LORD, the LORD said to Joshua the son of Nun, Moses' assistant, "Moses my servant is dead. Now therefore arise, go over this Jordan, you and all this people, into the land that I am giving to them, to the people of Israel. Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given to you, just as I promised to Moses. From the wilderness and this Lebanon as far as the great river, the river Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites to the Great Sea toward the going down of the sun shall be your territory. No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life. Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you. Be strong and courageous, for you shall cause this people to inherit the land that I swore to their fathers to give them. Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go. This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go."
And Joshua commanded the officers of the people, "Pass through the midst of the camp and command the people, 'Prepare your provisions, for within three days you are to pass over this Jordan to go in to take possession of the land that the LORD your God is giving you to possess.'"
And to the Reubenites, the Gadites, and the half-tribe of Manasseh Joshua said, "Remember the word that Moses the servant of the LORD commanded you, saying, 'The LORD your God is providing you a place of rest and will give you this land.'" (ESV)
Lord Jesus, You have been patient with all sinners, leading them into the Promised Land of the church by Your Word. You took our sins and weaknesses upon Yourself that we might be rescued from all our enemies. Keep us from unbelief and doubt. Send Your Spirit to us that we might trust You with our future. Amen.
For Michael Koutsodontis, that God His heavenly Father would grant him strength and healing
For all medical researchers, that they would seek to heal, and never to harm, and that God's compassion for humans in suffering would motivate their work
For Jay and Kim Anderson, that the Lord would be with them as they move to a new home, and that they would look forward to that home built in heaven by the blood of their Savior
Art: DAVID, Jacques-Louis Christ on the Cross (1782)

Memorial Lutheran Church
© Scott Murray 2019
Memorial Lutheran Church, 5800 Westheimer Rd., Houston, TX 77057
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