Vol. X — No. 23 June 8, 1969
And an angel of the Lord came up from Gil gal to Bochim, and said, I made you to go up out of Egypt, and have brought you unto the land which I sware unto your fathers; and I said, I will never break my covenant with you. And ye shall make no league with the inhabitants of this land; ye shall throw down their altars: but ye have not obeyed my voices why have ye done this? Wherefore I also said, I will not drive them out before you; but they shall be as thorns in your sides, and their gods shall be a snare unto you. And it came to pass, when the angel of the Lord spake these words unto all the children of Israel, that the people lifted up their voices, and wept. And they called the name of that place Bochim: and they sacrificed there unto the Lord. And when Joshua had let the people go, the children of Israel went every man unto his inheritance to possess the land. And the people served the Lord all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders that outlived Joshua, who had seen all the great works of the Lord, that he did for Israel. And Joshua the son of Wun, the servant of the Lord, died, being an hundred and ten years old. And they buried him in the border of his inheritance in Timnathheres, in the mount of Ephraim, on the north side of the hill Gaash. And also all that generation were gathered unto their fathers: and there arose another generation after them, which knew not the Lord, nor yet the works which he had done for Israel. And the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord, and served Baalim: And they forsook the Lord God of their fathers, which brought them out of the land of Egypt, and followed other gods, of the gods of the people that were round about them, and bowed themselves unto them, and provoked the Lord to anger.
“Am I a soldier of the cross,
A follower of the Lamb?
And shall I fear to owm His cause,
Or blush to speak His name?
“Must I be carried to the skies
On flowery beds of ease,
While others fought to win the prize,
And sailed through bloody seas?
“Are there no foes for me to face?
Must I not stem the flood?
Is this vile world a friend of grace,
To help me on to God?
“Sure I must fight if I would reign:
Increase my courage, Lord;
I’ll bear the cross, endure the pain,
Supported by Thy word.
“Thy saints, in all this glorious war,
Shall conquer, though they die;
They view the triumph from afar,
And seize it with their eye.
“When that illustrious day shall rise,
And all Thy armies shine
In robes of victory through the skies,
The glory shall be Thine.” Amen.
Dearly beloved in the Lord, called to fight the good fight of faith:
It is told of the legendary Roman hero, Coriolanus, that in a battle which routed the enemy he was nevertheless half dead with wounds and fatigue. As his soldiers began their pursuit of the beaten enemy, they begged their general to retire to the camp. But his answer was this: “It is not for the victor to tire of the battle,” and he joined in the onward rush of his men.
We can understand why a nation that is being defeated will suffer a sinking in morale; and we can understand why the leaders of such a nation will try to whip up enthusiasm for the war by speaking of the terror that will come if all do not sacrifice their utmost to win. But we cannot understand why that people can tire of the battle which has the promise of God that its warfare is accomplished, that its battle with sin is already won,—yes, which has heard the Son of God declare from the cross: “It is finished!” The Israel of our text had won glorious conquests—Oh, the miraculous triumphs to which the Lord God had led them with a strong and mighty arm!—but they grew weary of waging the Lord’s battles—the Lord’s, yes; not their own—and they came to grief. Nor is the Israel of our day any improvement upon the Israel of old. How do we not see signs all about us of those who are tiring of the battle! How does not our own heart testify to us that many a time we, too, have tired of the battle! How do not churches compromise with error, and many of their members compromise with sin! Then we look back to the Captain of the Lord of hosts. We are ashamed of denying Him. We look away from our own weakness, and we take hold of His strength. Today we want to renew our zeal with the thought of victory:
Let us see that such weariness is utterly disgraceful.
The Israelites were assembled, perhaps for one of their festivals, and perhaps it was at or near Shiloh, we are not told definitely. The Angel of the Lord came up from Gilgal to Bochim. That Angel of the Lord was the Lord God Himself, the Messenger of God, the pre-incarnate Christ. We are told in Corinthians that this Captain of the Lord of Hosts, who went before them into battle, was none other than Christ our Savior. Our Lord Jesus Christ appeared to His people in the Old Testament, long before He took upon Himself our flesh to die for us.
This Angel of the Lord came from Gilgal. Gilgal was a sort of Plymouth rock to the Israelites. Gilgal is the place where they took those twelve stones out of the Jordan and made a monument to the Lord who dried up the Jordan River for them to cross, even as God had dried up the Read Sea for them to go through. For years Gilgal was the headquarters of Israel as it marched from victory to victory. It was like an arsenal of strength to them, for as long as they relied upon the promises of God, the Captain of the Lord of hosts did go before them and lead them to one triumph after the other.
But Israel grew tired of the battle. More and more they ceased to drive out the Canaanite from the land. They allowed one tribe after the other to remain side by side with them. At times they made them conquered nations that had to pay tribute. But they disobeyed the command of God which said that they were to exterminate the tribes in Canaan, that they were to tear down their heathen altars to their idols, and that they were to wipe out every vestige of the false religion.
Would the Israelites become Canaanites? Not if the Angel of the Lord can prevent it. With majestic strides He comes up from Gilgal to the place where the congregation is assembled. First He reminds them of the manner in which He led them up from Egypt. Then He reminded them of His promise, of His oath, never to break the covenant He had made whereby He would be their God and they should be His people. He repeated what He had said to them before: “Ye shall make no league with the inhabitants of this land; ye shall throw down their altars.” Then He charged them with disobediences “But ye have not obeyed my voice: why have ye done this?” And now He said: “I will not drive them out from before you; but they shall be as thorns in your sides, and their gods shall be a snare unto you.”
They were victorious, they were winning, one after another of the tribes was falling before them, God was keeping His promise of success, but they who were winning grew tired, weary of the battle. Had they been losing, we could understand why they might grow tired of the strife; but they were winning, and yet grew tired! What a disgrace! “WHY have ye done this?” asked the Lord. An unanswerable WHY! All they could do was to lift up their voice and weep. Therefore the place was called Bochim, which means “weepers.”
Look at the weariness in large sections of the church today. The question of St. Paul in Galatians 5:7 fits many in Israel today: “Ye did run well; who did hinder you that ye should not obey the truth?” Now many are tired of contending for the truth and are ready, as the Israelites of old, to make a league with those who deny it. Men are more and more tired of insisting upon that which is right; they would rather make peace with all men. The devil and the world and our own flesh, that triumvirate of evil, is not always looked upon as something definitely dangerous, but rather as something which we need not entirely avoid. The devil—men deny that he exists, although he is leading them by, the nose. The world—why, that is something for us to enjoy, and thus so-called Christians so thoroughly join with it that you would never be able to distinguish them from the sons of men. The flesh—why shouldn’t we enjoy its appetites and all the thrills of which it is capable? And when our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, again comes striding from Gilgal to ask men WHY HAVE YE DONE THIS? there will be only weeping, the tears of the damned, who were unwilling to rely upon the victory of God and thus overcome the devil, the world, and their own flesh and grow up into Christ as a child of the Heavenly Father, separate from sinners, called out from among them to be separate.
Oh, what a disgrace!—to have a Captain of our salvation who has fought and is still fighting in the thick of the fray, and then to grow weary of the battle!—to have a Savior who promises us victory over every design of the enemy, and then to lie down in the enemy’s camp!—to have a Savior who calls on us to be a separate people, and then to be like the rest in the world.
If such weariness is not driven off, it will prove disastrous.
Israel did not continue in repentance, and it did not continue in the promises of the Lord, Yes, at Bochim they wept. They made sacrifices. But weeping for sin is of no avail if it is not a weeping for having sinned against God. Weeping without forsaking sin is offensive to God. In Israel, the first generation that had seen the wonderful works of God remained faithful; but the second generation knew not the Lord. It had the head knowledge of what God had done and would do; but the light of faith was gone from the heart. Fear of the enemy took hold of them; weariness of the battle crept upon them; worldliness weakened them; they began to tolerate evil; they did not destroy it out of their presence, and finally they fell away. The evil which they would not exterminate be came the very curse that destroyed them. The heathen became a thorn in their sides, and their idols became a snare and a destruction.
Grow weary of sticking to the truth, and you will learn to love a lie. Grow tired of the battle against sin, and you will weaken and succumb to it. Grow cold in your love of the Savior, and you will lose that love. Start going down, and you will crash in a heap in the pit below. Stay away from the church of Christ, and you will find yourself in the synagogue of Satan. “He who is not with me is against me.”
Israel was required to be physically separate from the Canaanites; we are to be spiritually separate from the world. A Christian’s life is like a boat on the water: as long as the water is kept outside the boat, it does not matter how much water there is, not how dirty and polluted; the boat rides above it. But when the water gets into the boat, that is when it begins to sink; and the boat will be utterly swallowed up if the leak is not stopped.
But the moment we sense weariness in our God-appointed struggle, what must we do? Simply renew our vision of the great works of the Lord, repent, and renew the struggle. But above all we must remember that our battle has been won. All we need to do is to go back to Gilgal, to the monument which tells what God has done. The church is our Gilgal today. This very house of God is the visible monument which reminds us of the doings of our Lord. At this Gilgal we have the Word which tells that our Lord doeth valiently. It tells of Him who went forth to do battle and who destroyed the power of the enemy, and it tells us “Thanks be unto God which giveth us the victory through out Lord Jesus Christ,” I Cor. 15:57. It tells us: “Thanks be unto God, which always causeth us to trimumph in Christ.” II Cor. 2:14. He has taken away our sins; He has made us children of God; His Spirit rules us who are His, and in His promises we are safe. No, it is not for the victor to tire of the battle. God forbid that any of us should draw back to perdition, but that we shall all believe unto the salvation of our soul. Amen.
SOLI DEO GLORIA!
Ministry by Mail is a weekly publication of the Church of the Lutheran Confession. Subscription and staff information may be found online at www.clclutheran.org/ministrybymail.
All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the King James Version.