The Image of an Altar
Joshua 22:9
And the children of Reuben and the children of Gad and the half tribe of Manasseh returned, and departed from the children of Israel out of Shiloh, which is in the land of Canaan, to go unto the country of Gilead, to the land of their possession, whereof they were possessed, according to the word of the Lord by the hand of Moses.

With a title like that I suppose some readers may be visualizing all kinds of altars of all different shapes and sizes. And that is good because I, myself have no idea of exactly what the altar this blog is focusing on looked like.

I have just finished reading the Book of Joshua and ready to start on the Book of Judges on my current trip, reading through the Bible one more time. If someone were to ask me how many times I have read through the Bible, my answer would have to be, "Not enough!" That is probably true of each one of us. But there is a very interesting lesson to be learned near the end of Joshua that can easily be applied to our lives today. But before we can look at that lesson we need to do a little review of what has happened to the Children of Israel leading up to this point.

They have been traveling throughout the wilderness for about 40 years and are getting close to the Jordan River. They have recently defeated the Moabites and the Amorites and taken over their land. Just prior to preparing to cross the Jordan river into the Promised Land, the Reubenites, Gadites, and half the tribe of Manasseh discover that this land on the east side of Jordan is very suitable for settling down and staying put instead of crossing Jordan to "who knows what might be on that side."

In Numbers, chapter 32 they spoke to Moses and requested permission to remain where they were, ("And they came near unto him, and said, We will build sheepfolds here for our cattle, and cities for our little ones: But we ourselves will go ready armed before the children of Israel, until we have brought them unto their place: and our little ones shall dwell in the fenced cities because of the inhabitants of the land. We will not return unto our houses, until the children of Israel have inherited every man his inheritance." Numbers 32:16-18) In other words, the men agreed to go with the the rest of the group, across the Jordan, help them conquer the land, and then return to their wives and children when the work is finished. So Moses agreed to that and when the day came to cross the Jordan River these men also crossed over to help conquer the Promised Land. These men would be away from their families for roughly six years. I am guessing the men who were not fit for war probably remained behind to hold down the fort while they were gone, but that is only a guess.

Finally, when we get to the Book of Joshua we see how the land was gradually conquered, starting with the story of The walls of Jericho. And over the next several years the Children of Israel moved in and took over the land that God had promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Now, when we get to chapter 22 of Joshua, Joshua tells the men from the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and Manasseh that they may return back across the Jordan River and join their families. Can you imagine how glad these guys were to hear that! They were a fighting unit of brothers who had helped the other brothers in this large family to conquer the land. Now, they were ready to head home. They are excited!

So, here they go, marching from Shiloh eastward toward the Jordan River. Can you hear them shouting in unison, singing some marching song, as they go. But when they reach the Jordan River they stop and meditate over all that has taken place over the past several years. They remember the victories and the trials they have overcome, and decide that they can't "Just leave" without making it a special occasion of some kind. So they decide to build an altar just like the one in Shiloh. Just as a memorial of all they have accomplished. So they begin building it and when it is nearly finished . . . Word gets out that they have build a different altar from the one God placed in Shiloh. And in chapter 22 of Joshua, verse twelve, we read, "And when the children of Israel heard of it, the whole congregation of the children of Israel gathered themselves together at Shiloh, to go up to war against them."

Fortunately, before attacking, they sent Eleazar, the priest and a group of representatives to investigate. And, as it turned out they discovered that this second "altar" was never intended to be used for sacrifice or worship, but was only an "Image" of the altar used to worship God in Shiloh with their sacrifices. So, in the end, all turned out well and they all parted as good friends and brothers. But, can you conceive of what almost happened? We have a bunch of brothers who were about to go kill their very own brothers who had spent the last six years helping them do what needed to be done.

So, where can we apply this story from God's word to our lives today? I would like you to stop and think of someone in your church, or family who has disappointed you, or made you angry, or hurt you because they say things or do things that seem to get under you skin all of the time.

Oh, this person loves the Lord. This person is born again and on the way to Heaven some day. This person is very much like everyone else in your church but you don't feel that they act like a Christian the way you think they should. In fact, they don't even worship the way you do. They show off when they worship and attract attention to themselves. Or, maybe they don't even sing along during worship, and you think to yourself, "What's wrong with their attitude?"

I may not have pin-pointed the thing that "bugs" you about the person you are thinking of, but we all, oftentimes, find ourselves judging a brother or sister in the Lord because of something they do different. And that puts us into the a very similar state of mind that the Children of Israel had against the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and Manasseh. We judge wrongly by not understanding the real reason our brothers or sisters behave the way they do. But in doing so we run the risk of being judged according by the Lord; ("Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again." Matthew 7:1, 2)

So what did the Children of Israel do before taking action against their brothers? They spoke with them and listened to them and came to an understanding with them. And forgave them.

Joshua 22:33, 34: "And the thing pleased the children of Israel; and the children of Israel blessed God, and did not intend to go up against them in battle, to destroy the land wherein the children of Reuben and Gad dwelt. And the children of Reuben and the children of Gad called the altar Ed: for it shall be a witness between us that the Lord is God."

Pray for understanding and wisdom and be a blessing to your brother - and your God.

God bless.

Aged to Perfection
John 2:12
And saith unto him, Every man at the beginning doth set forth good wine; and when men have well drunk, then that which is worse: but thou hast kept the good wine until now.

The above verse comes from the passage in John 2:1-12, where Jesus performed His first miracle by turning water into wine at a marriage ceremony. There are several very interesting sidelines to this story. The first may be a perfect illustration of how Jesus truly WAS sinless. The fifth commandment tells us to honor our father and our mother, not just our father. Jesus exhibited perfect obedience to His mother by performing this miracle, even after stating that His Time had not come yet. And this brings about another question, "How did Jesus' mother know He could perform such a miracle." But we will leave that for another time. So, Jesus gave a few commands to the servants and changed plain old water into very special tasting wine.

And, as our Lord seems to always do, He didn't just make a little amount of wine. If you study it out he changed six full water pots into wine. Those water pots could contain about nine gallons each. I think that would figure out to 54 gallons of wine. That marriage celebration most likely continued for more than one day. Or, there was a big bunch of folks attending that day. However you look at it, as usual, Jesus provided enough to meet the needs of these folks.

One other interesting note associated with this miracle is the word, "wedding." My dear Savior and I were brought together way back in 1951, as I became a member of His bride, the Church. Luke 15:10 says, "Likewise, I say unto you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth." I love this verse because it says nothing about the angels being filled with joy. There is joy in their presence. So, who do you suppose is being filled with this joy? I am guessing it is the Groom, Jesus. The angels are in His presence. So, why wouldn't He make such a large amount of wine? Because when someone gets saved and becomes a member of His bride, that is a very, very special occasion.

OK, now back to the purpose of this little devotional: What was it that made this wine so different than any other ordinary wine? Well, I looked for an answer on the internet and on Wikipedia I found this when typing in "How does aging improve wine?": Wikipedia says: "grape variety, vintage, viticultural practices, wine region and winemaking style" are what makes all the difference between the best wine and just plain old wine

Now, how long do you suppose Jesus had been aging that wine? The only answer that came into my mind was – Throughout eternity past. Or, maybe just half that long. Or, maybe just 1/4th that long. Then I began to try to calculate . . . Did you know if you divide "eternity past" by 2 it comes out to the same amount as all of eternity past? Well, that wine must have been Aged to Perfection.

So, how can I apply the above information to my life today? Just a few things come to mind. The first is this: During the years that I have been close to the Lord, reading my Bible and praying on a daily basis at about the same time each day, I can affirm that those few minutes together with Jesus DO become sweeter and sweeter as time goes by. It is as if we are still celebrating our wedding after all these years. And I am no judge of wine but I can say for sure those moments are beyond compare with wine of any kind.

Secondly, I can hardly wait until the day comes that I can literally sit at His feet up in Heaven. This passage of scripture in the Bible is not just about a wedding in Cana. It is about how eternity will become better and better as (time) goes by. I have no idea of what that will be like, but from the time Jesus performed His first miracle until now He has never stopped performing miracles, like, when I was four-years old and my kidneys stopped working prior to the invention of dialysis machines. I was in the terminal ward of Children's Hospital in Seattle for several months – but I didn't die! And, then the miracle he performed when I was a bratty little nine-year-old kid, and He still saved my soul. And this all took place here on earth. What will Heaven be like? 1 Corinthians 2:9, "But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him." And I love Him a lot.

I am hoping you do too. And if you do, please don't hesitate to spend as much time with Him between now and the day you arrive in Heaven - Aged to Perfection.

God bless.

The Two Josephs And Me
Matthew 1:18
Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost.

This is a story about two men who were each named, Joseph. We read about these "Two Josephs" in the Bible. And, until recently I had never given much thought to how they were so closely related. But when I began to consider each of their relationships to our Savior, Jesus, the Lord began to speak to my heart of how sweet a story their two lives have turned out to be. So I decided to put these thoughts and ideas down on paper in order to share that "sweet story" with others. Hopefully it will bless your heart and life in the way it has mine.

The first Joseph was a poor young carpenter from Nazareth who fell in love with a beautiful young girl named Mary. We don't know many details about the history of their relationship but at the point in the Bible where we come into their lives they were what we could call, "engaged." Those of us who love the Lord also know and love the story of their relationship told by Matthew and Luke – especially the part told in chapter two of Luke that describes many details leading up the birth of Jesus.

This first Joseph was a hard-working man who probably had strong callused hands and a suntanned body from his occupation of building houses and other structures. This is what he did in order to earn a living that would eventually provide for his family. He would also, someday, train Jesus, Whom many people thought to be his son, all of the skills of a carpenter. We will shortly return to this part of the story, but about right now you may be wondering who this second Joseph might be.

The second Joseph is the one we know of as "Joseph of Arimathaea." The first Joseph appears in the Bible around the birth of Jesus while the second Joseph appears in the Bible around the death of Jesus. And in both instances they each show their love and concern over the wellbeing of our Savior's physical body.

The second Joseph was nothing at all like the first Joseph as far as this world is concerned. The first Joseph was a poor, hard-working man who had very little money. We know this because the sacrifice he brought to the temple about twenty days after the circumcision of Jesus. Wealthy people were expected to bring a lamb as a sacrifice. Poor people were allowed, according to Jewish law, to bring two simple turtledoves. Because that was the sacrifice that Joseph and Mary brought, this is a good indication that the first Joseph was poor.

The Bible calls this second Joseph a "rich" man, and an " honorable counselor," which tells us that he was among the ruling class of the Jewish nation. In fact he knew Pilot well enough to boldly go to his house at night to request the body of Jesus. The second Joseph was wealthy enough to have previously paid to have his own family tomb hewn out of the stone in a garden near the area of the crucifixion.

Now that we have considered the differences between these two men, let us consider the many similarities between the two:

I will begin with how both of them were willing to bear a great deal of embarrassment because of their relationship with Jesus. The first Joseph lived for about nine months, bearing the shame that his Jewish family and friends felt toward him because he remained faithful to his espoused wife, Mary, who was "with child." Under Jewish law he was legally allowed to "put her away," or divorce her knowing that the child she bore was not conceived by him. But our loving God had consoled him through an angel, in a dream, that the child conceived in her was of the Holy Ghost. And the first Joseph loved God so much that he took Him at His word and lived with the shame.

The second Joseph was also willing to bear the shame and embarrassment of his relationship with Jesus. The Bible tells us that he was a "Good man, and just." But up, until the death of Jesus on the cross he felt as though he HAD to keep his belief in Jesus, as the Son of God a secret. He could not allow this new-found faith in Jesus to be known because of the offices and position he held. If this became public knowledge he would lose all he had gained over the years. He would be removed from those important offices he held, and probably would have lost his source of substantial income.

And, I cannot say what must have gone through his mind and heart on the day they nailed Jesus to the cross, but I am assuming that when he saw the blood of Jesus flowing from his body, the things of this world were no longer important to him. It must have been at that point where he chose to go and request Jesus' body from Pilot.

Now, we know that both of these men had a deep love for our Savior, Jesus. The first Joseph showed his love for Jesus before he was born, and from then on. And the second Joseph displayed his love for Jesus following His death.

Imagine for a moment the first few hours that the first Joseph spent with the Baby Jesus. I am quite sure he is the one who would have wrapped Jesus in the swaddling clothes mentioned in the book of Luke. As I understand it, "swaddling clothes" consist of narrow bands of cloth that are carefully wrapped around a newborn baby. If you can picture in your mind, Joseph finishing that loving task and then finding one of his fingers being softly grasped and squeezed by the little fingers of Jesus, as infants often tend to do. Imagine how he must have smiled and thanked God for that precious moment. Then he gently laid that precious little body down into the manger and looked lovingly at those little hands as he stepped away to let Jesus fall asleep.

Now, try to picture in your mind those things that the second Joseph must have been doing during the hours following Jesus' death. The Book of Mark briefly describes how, after being given permission by Pilot, the second Joseph went and bought some "fine linen", then took Jesus down from the cross and wrapped him in it. This fine linen was also cut into narrow strips of cloth in the same manner as the swaddling cloth. And as the second Joseph lovingly wrapped the precious body of Jesus in that linen cloth I am quite sure he was just as careful as the first Joseph must have been in handling His body. Then he carefully laid Jesus' body in his tomb – as gently and loving as the first Joseph had laid Jesus into that manger. I can imagine he had tears in his eyes and many thoughts racing through his mind as he stepped away and left that body laying there in the tomb, just as still and quiet as it had once been laying in that manger.

Can you imagine some of the thoughts that must have passed through his mind as he removed the nails from that cross. I am quite sure that he must have held a tight grasp of Jesus' hand, holding it as he lovingly removed each nail from that wooden cross. I don't suppose he gave much thought to how tiny and soft those hands once had been thirty-three years earlier.

There is one more thought that comes to mind relating to the similarity between these two men: The first Joseph spent many years with Jesus teaching him the art of carpentry. I can imagine there were many times when the first Joseph stood with pride as he watched Jesus, as a child, struggling to hammer a nail into a piece of wood. If you are a parent you know the feeling of wanting to step in and help but knowing that this is something which that child must learn on his own. So the first Joseph probably watched with pride, and an aching heart as Jesus became the carpenter the first Joseph wanted him to be.

And I can imagine that, if the second Joseph was there as the Roman soldiers hammered those nails, he also may have wanted to step in - to prevent what was taking place. And if he was there, he did not stand with "pride," as the first Joseph had, as he watched Jesus hammering nails. At least, up until that point it was as if the second Joseph was ashamed to be a friend of Jesus. But we know without a doubt that his heart was changed because of those nails that day.

So, those are just a few of the similarities and differences between these two Josephs that loved Jesus enough to care for his hands and feet. And I don't know how you feel about this love story but I am guessing that Jesus' Real Father in Heaven must have watched both of these men with a tear in his eye as they did all the things they could do to care for His Son.

Now, if you can recall the title of this blog, remember? - It is "THE TWO JOSEPHS AND ME." But where do I come into this picture. And where would you come into this picture? I, myself, need to recognize that, just as these two individual men displayed such loving care and devotion to the One who died for them, I also, as an individual, need to recognize that ALL of this was done for Jesus so that I could be so physically close to Him as to touch those precious fingers myself, someday in Heaven.

And, just as the sight of Jesus' blood may have been the one thing that turned the second Joseph's life around and gave him whatever it took do what he did, that same blood still gives us whatever it takes to do what we can do for our Lord.

Jesus can be just as close to us today as He was to those two Josephs. We simply need to remember and recognize that. And since the day that I realized how true that was, it has been my desire to do all I can to wrap my little fingers around His loving hand and be as much like the two Josephs as I can. So, that's the story of the two Josephs - me. And there is no reason that you too, cannot be a part of that same sweet story.

God bless.