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What is your Bethel?

The house of Joseph also went up against Bethel, and the Lord was with them. And the house of Joseph scouted out Bethel. (Now the name of the city was formerly Luz.) And the spies saw a man coming out of the city, and they said to him, “Please show us the way into the city, and we will deal kindly with you.” And he showed them the way into the city. And they struck the city with the edge of the sword, but they let the man and all his family go. And the man went to the land of the Hittites and built a city and called its name Luz. That is its name to this day.
JUDGES 1:22-25 

I have been thinking about success recently. What is success? How does it look like? That is partly because of change in personal circumstances. I am now just moved into this new pastoral role, a radical departure from my previous economic role in government. The other reason is that we have been hearing a lot of success from national leaders. Prime Minister Theresa May has vowed to make a success of Brexit. What does that really mean? President Donald Trump wants to make America great again. How do we measure that?

The passage above is a helpful place to start. The context is that Joshua has died, so the people of God have come before God and asked for direction on the way forward. God has directed Judah to lead the assault and He has promised them that He will be with them as they seek full possession of Canaan. The first wave has been led by Judah and Simeon mainly focusing on the South and central parts. Now the House of Joseph is leading a new push for central and north starting at Bethel.  Bethel is a strategically town north of Jerusalem that if taken could potential open up the whole northern hill country as far as the Jezreel Valley to possible occupation by Israel. It is also spiritually important to Israel because it is Bethel, the “city of God”. Israel wants Bethel and the good news is that God is still with them.

Joseph swings into action with great military tactics. They win the battle decisively but sadly it seems to have been done though spiritual compromise. When they say to the man, “we will deal kindly with you”, literally it means, “we will demonstrate covenant loyalty with you”. This was forbidden by God and later on He will indict them for it at Bocchim.  What is interesting is that to casual reader it seems like Joseph has done nothing wrong. What is wrong with striking a deal to win war? Is this really any different from what Joshua did with Rahab?

In fact what they had done is very different from what Joshua did at Jericho. The man of Luz that the House of Joseph is helping is no Rahab. She later on became an Israelite and is one of the ancestors of Jesus. The man of Luz that the House of Joseph has let go is a diehard Canaanite! In fact instead of destroying Luz as they were supposed to do, the city has just moved to another location. Joseph’s compromise as led to a new city that now stands as a symbol of defiance against God.

Compromise always wears a friendly face. It seems so innocent and common place. Sometimes it even looks kind / tolerant”. To the world, Joseph deserves applause for achieving success! But in God’s book, the victory at Bethel represents a tragic failure because they have compromised terribly. What may look success may be a complete failure to God. It is possible to display all the marks of success as individuals, organisation or country and yet be failures in the eyes of God. Bethel is a warning to all of us not to rely on our own common sense but to look to God and to be clear what God centred success is!

Series Posts:

Who is your Simeon? (Judges 1:1-3)
What is your iron chariot? (Judges 1:19)


Copyright © Chola Mukanga 2017

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