Right after Moses died, Joshua took over and led the Israelites into the promised land. God told them to wipe out all the other nations (men, women, children and even livestock) along with their customs, false gods and idols. They were warned of the dangers of not totally annihilating these pagan and corrupt people. But, good of a man as he was, Joshua could not dislodge all of them. Why?
We’re told, “Judah could not dislodge the Jebusites, who were living in Jerusalem; to this day the Jebusites live there with the people of Judah.” Joshua 15:63, NIV. And again, “They did not dislodge the Canaanites living in Gezer; to this day the Canaanites live among the people of Ephraim but are required to do forced labor.” Joshua 16:10 NIV.
And if you read about life in the first century of the church, there was plenty of heartache, troubles and resistance to those sharing the good news. People like Paul probably could have traveled more and spoken more often if he had not been plagued by something vey painful in his life—his “thorn”.
So why did God not allow Joshua to have 100% success (Joshua was a very righteous and God-focused man) and why did He not allow Paul to have perfect health (Paul was the greatest evangelist in history)? The answer is found quite clearly in the book of Judges: “These are the nations the Lord left to test all those Israelites who had not experienced any of the wars in Canaan (he did this only to teach warfare to the descendants of the Israelites who had not had previous battle experience): the five rulers of the Philistines, all the Canaanites, the Sidonians, and the Hivites living in the Lebanon mountains from Mount Baal Hermon to Lebo Hamath. They were left to test the Israelites to see whether they would obey the Lord’s commands, which he had given their ancestors through Moses.” (Judges 3:1-4, NIV)
That was amazing for me to read recently—I don’t recall ever seeing it before! God allowed these pagans to remain, as a thorn in the flesh for the nation, for a very good purpose: it kept the Israelites ready for a fight, it tested their faithfulness to God and kept them dependent upon God!
Paul understood this and put it this way, “… Therefore, so that I would not become arrogant, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to trouble me—so that I would not become arrogant. I asked the Lord three times about this, that it would depart from me. But he said to me, “My grace is enough for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” So then, I will boast most gladly about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may reside in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, with insults, with troubles, with persecutions and difficulties for the sake of Christ, for whenever I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:6–7, NIV)
Those things God does not remove, even though we pray that He does remove them, make us strong, prepare us for battle and keep us dependent upon Him! Praise God He is aware of my propensity toward pride and self-promotion…thank goodness He knows that I am prone to laziness if I have no reason to rise up and fight those things that could destroy me.
Do you have “thorns” in your life that you think are slowing you down or taking away the fullness of life? Are there people that live among you that are constantly challenging you to defend your faith in Jesus Christ and that keep you sharp and aware that “eyes are watching you”? Praise God for the thorns and the Philistines that He has not removed from us or our nation! We have no idea how miserable and farther from Him we would be if He did not let these things remain. He has our best interests at heart, regardless of how things appear right now….