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Joshua 13-17: Obedience in Blessing Print E-mail
Sunday, 30 March 2008

My wife and I have purchased two homes (two properties) together.  When we first got married, we lived at 334 W. Grand Ave. in Jackson, TN.  Over a year ago, we purchased our second home here in Sikeston at 924 N. Ranney St.  Both of these purchases involved a closing, where all the parties involved gather and sign a bunch of papers to make the transaction legal and binding.  Some of the papers that are signed at the closing outline the ‘official’ description of the property that we bought.  For example, borrowing from one of my commentator’s, it may have said something like this: “Lot 56 in Block 212 in Uptown unit no. 23, being a subdivision of the southeast quarter of the southwest quarter of Section 18, Township 34 north, Range 8, east of the sixth principal meridian, according to the plat thereof…” 1  Of course, details and specifics will vary, but that is the general gist of a legal description of a piece of property.  I mention it this morning because it is very similar to the type of descriptions that we get in Joshua 13-21.  The land has been conquered (at least as far as Joshua is concerned) and now he is told to divide the land (see 13:7).  The obvious question for most modern readers is simple: why is this here?  Why is it necessary to describe the divisions of the land with such detail?

It is this question that brings us back to our discussion of the sale of a house.  Unfortunately, we treat this section in Joshua like we treat all those detailed descriptions of our property during the closing.  Yet, both of these serve important purposes.  As for your legal property description, I will let you work out the details as needed.  But as for the division of the land in Joshua, I want us to better understand the important lessons that are reinforced in this section.  Thus, over the next two weeks, we will be taking a broad survey of the chapters dealing with the land divisions.  This morning we want to consider chapters 13-17 and ask the question: what lessons can we learn from the division of the land?

First, we learn (again) that God keeps His promises.

If you have been here throughout our series in the book of Joshua, then you may be thinking to yourself, ‘Gosh, haven’t we already this sermon?  Haven’t we already been told a couple of times that God keeps His promises?’  Of course, the only answer that I can give is yes.  Each week as I have studied the different passages in the book it seems that the message that the author is always trying to communicate is that God keeps His promises.  As we have said before, this book answers many of the remaining questions from the Law, namely who will lead the people after Moses and will God keep His promise to Israel concerning the land.  The Lord has raised up Joshua to lead Israel and through Joshua has given the people the land.  Thus, He has kept His promises.  Yet, it is important to note from the different passages how God specifically keeps His promises.  So then, how does God keeps His promises in the division of the land?

First, as we have already noted, He keeps His promise to give Israel the land.  The Lord had promised to Abraham that He would give His descendants the land of Canaan.  We read of the specific fulfillment of that promise in chapters 13-21.  Chapter 13 is a review of all the land that Moses gave to tribe of Rueben, Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh.  Chapter 14, which we read, tells of the inheritance of Judah, beginning with Caleb.  The rest of the tribe of Judah is dealt with in chapter 15.  It is given the most attention seemingly due to its later importance in the history of Israel.  Chapters 16-17 tell of the inheritance of Ephraim and the other half-tribe of Manasseh, the rest of Joseph’s descendants.  We will look next week at the remaining tribes in chapters 18-21.  In all of these accounts, we are given great details about the allotments (divisional boundaries and cities), which served to settle any disputes in later generations as well as highlighting God’s faithfulness to take care of His people and give them the land.

Second, God keeps His promise to provide for the Levites.  God not only deals with the people as a whole, but He takes care of the individual tribes as well.  So, what about the Levites, who were told that they would inherit no land?  How did God take care of them?  Look at 13:14, 33 and 14:3-4.  If you remember the story, you remember that the Levites were set apart to serve Israel as priests.  The Lord told Aaron that they would not receive an inheritance of land.  Rather, He told them: I am your portion and your inheritance among the people of Israel (Numbers 18:20).  They were not given land, they were given the Lord Himself.  The book of Joshua affirms this inheritance in 13:33.  Likewise, they were given the tithes of Israel to supply for their needs as well as certain cities and pasture lands, which we will see next week.  The Levites were to serve as priests for the people and were not to be given land, but their inheritance was nonetheless great, because it consisted of intimacy with the presence of the Lord.  He was their inheritance and He kept His promise to provide for them.  As an aside, I should note that the inheritance of the Levites is similar to the one that is promised to the Church (see Ephesians 1:11-14 and 1 Peter 1:3-5).  Not only will we be given the Kingdom, but we will be given the eternal reward of the presence of the King.  And how do we know that we can trust God to keep His promise and give us this inheritance?  The book of Joshua makes it clear that He keeps all His promises!!

Third, God keeps His promise to grant Caleb his inheritance.  God takes care of the people as a whole and of the tribes.  We also see Him keep His promise to individuals as well.  Look at 14:6-15 with me again.  Just in case you missed it, Caleb and Joshua were the only two spies who trusted that the Lord would give the land to Israel.  When the people would not listen to them, but followed the other spies, the Lord not only cursed Israel but promised them that only Joshua and Caleb from that generation would inherit any land.  Caleb tells us that he had waited for the fulfillment of that promise for 45 years.  That’s right, 45 years.  We get frustrated when we have to wait a couple of weeks for God to answer our prayers, but Caleb waited for 45 years.  Yet, the Lord kept His promise because Caleb wholly followed after God.  He is a shining example to all followers of Yahweh.  We must follow with our whole hearts, trusting and knowing that the Lord will keep His promises (even if it takes 45 years).  God keeps His promises to the people, to the tribes, and to individuals (see also the account of the daughters of Zelophehad in 17:3-4).

Second, we learn that God’s blessing is never an excuse for disobedience.

Surely, now that all the fighting of Joshua is over, the people can stop worrying about driving the remaining Canaanites out of the land, right?  I mean the Lord has given them victory, the land is being divided, surely they can take it easy, right?  No, even in the midst (or especially in the midst) of the Lord’s blessing, we must continue to be obedient to all His commands.  We see this play out in two ways in chapters 13-17.

First, we see the repeated failures of Israel to drive out the remaining people.  We are told in 13:1-6 of the land that still needed to be conquered.  Then, as the allotments are being given, we are told of Israel failure to drive out the people.  Look at 15:63 (Judah’s failure), 16:10 (Ephraim’s failure), and 17:12-13 (Manasseh’s failure).  We are given an extended episode dealing with the need to drive out the Canaanites in 17:14-18.  As Howard notes (referencing E. R. Clendenen) the people seemingly figured: “Peace with wickedness is preferred to war for righteousness.” 2  God had promised to help them, but they refused to continually obey.

Second, we see that Caleb persevered in obeying the Lord.  As we have already seen in 14:6-15, Caleb was willing to continue the job of driving out the enemies that occupied his inheritance (see also 15:13-19).  Caleb had followed the Lord with his whole heart for 45 years and he wasn’t going to stop now.  He got help from Othniel, who would later serve Israel as her first Judge (see Judges 3:7-11), and they fought to drive out the remaining people.  The writer of the book of Joshua wants us to note Caleb’s obedience in contrast to the other tribes who did not obey the Lord.  This theme will be picked up in Joshua’s address to the people at the end of the book and in the book of Judges.  God calls His people to remain obedient even after they have received a great blessing from Him.

As I was studying this passage this week, the Lord kept drawing my attention to the words of Paul in Philippians 2:12-13.  Look at those verses with me.  Paul tells the Philippians to keep obeying, to work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.  Yes, they have been saved by God’s grace through faith in Christ.  Yes, they have the promise of a great inheritance in Christ.  And yes, they have the promise of God’s continual work in them (see v. 13).  Yet, they are still called to obey.  The blessing and the promise of future blessing is never meant to be used as an excuse for disobedience in the life of a believer.  No, we are to continue in working out our salvation with fear and trembling.  As others have put it: Christianity is not a 50 yard dash, it is a marathon.  It is continual obedience through the grace and strength of God.  It is not like the movies where the major conflict is overcome in about 2 hours and the rest of the story is summarized with ‘and they lived happily ever after.’  No, we must continue to obey.  We must continue to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling. 

I meet with Matt and Andy every week to confess my sins and for them to encourage me to continue in obedience.  Do you have someone encouraging you in that way?  Do you have someone reminding you of the call to continual obedience?  Are you going to be like Caleb or the rest of Israel?  Are you going to actually lose your inheritance because you fail to hold fast your confession and continually obey (see the book of Hebrews as well)?  We must not miss these warnings.  We must not grow lax in our following hard after the Lord.  His promise is glorious and great.  The inheritance that awaits us is far beyond a simple tract of land.  Yet, by the grace and strength that only He can provide, we must persevere in our obedience to Him.  O Lord, grant us the help we need to follow hard after you all our days.  Amen.

1 David M. Howard, Jr., The New American Commentary: Joshua (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1998), p. 321
2 Ibid., p. 354.

~ William Marshall ~

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