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Joshua 18-21: He Will See Us Through Print E-mail
Joshua
Sunday, 06 April 2008

If you are anything like me, then you know how difficult it can be to follow through with our actions.  Sometimes, I feel like I am the king of having great plans and great intentions only to fail at actually doing the work.  For example, when I first came to Trinity, I decided that I wanted to keep a journal on my computer.  My plan was to come in every Tuesday and just write a paragraph or two about what the Lord was teaching me and how things were going in pastoral ministry.  Seemingly a good plan with good intentions.  I went back to look at how long it lasted and here are the results: 11 entries for 2005 followed by 2 entries in 2006 and I have yet to enter for 2007, oh yeah, or 2008.  Probably all of us have had similar results with something that they have committed to do.  In fact, since it is now April, I wonder, how many of you are still faithfully keeping all of your New Year’s resolutions?  I will not ask for a show of hands and hopefully some of you are more faithful than me, but many of you may know exactly what I am talking about.

When I read our passage for this week, I could not help but wonder if Israel ever wondered to themselves: ‘Will the Lord follow through?  Sure, He was faithful to Judah and the tribes of Joseph and He even kept His promise to Caleb, but what about the rest of us?’  Maybe you have found yourself asking a similar question: ‘How do I know that the Lord will continue to provide for me?  What if He decides to give up on me or just forgets about me?’  Now, we may not admit such doubts, but I dare say that many of us have struggled with such thoughts at some point or another.  So then, how do we know that God will see things through?  I think our passage gives us at least four answers to this question for Israel this morning.  I want to consider these and then look at how they help us know that God will see us through.  Let’s begin with these four examples of God’s continued provision for Israel.

First, He provides land for the remaining tribes (18:1-19:48).

The Lord has given land to the two and one-half tribes that will settle east of the Jordan, namely Reuben, Gad, and half the tribe of Manasseh.  As we saw last week, He has also given land to Judah, Ephraim, and the rest of the tribe of Manasseh.  This leaves 7 tribes who have not been given land and the Levites, who were promised cities to live in and pasturelands.  The narrative begins with a change of setting.  Up to this point in the book, Gilgal has been the site of many of the important happenings in Canaan.  Yet, we are told in 18:1 that the people of Israel assembled at Shiloh and set up the tent of meeting there.  Why is this significant? 

Shiloh will become one of the more important religious centers in Canaan.  Also, the mentioning of the tent of meeting points to the fact that the divisions of the land were done in accordance with God’s direction.  As we have seen before, the land was divided up by the casting of lots (18:6, 8, and 10).  When you couple this with the mentioning of Shiloh, it seems that the author is making it clear that the divisions of the land were done under God’s sovereignty and direction.  In fact, since it is the casting of lots that has decided the divisions and since we are told that it is the Lord who controls the lot (see Proverbs 16:33), it is safe to conclude that all of the land was divided based upon God’s sovereign control.

Second, He provides land for Joshua (19:49-50).

After the land is allotted for the tribes, we are told that Joshua received his inheritance in 19:49-50.  Look at those verses with me.  It is interesting to note that Joshua waited to the end to receive his inheritance.  This might not seem like that big of a deal until you remember that the dividing up of the land took time.  They divided it up in Gilgal and then had to move to Shiloh.  Once at Shiloh, Joshua sent out representatives from each of the tribes to divide the remaining land.  When they returned, he cast lots and informed the tribes of their allotments.  Only then did Joshua receive his inheritance.  Of course, it could just be that this is how the author chose to tell the story and it does not reflect the actual timeline, but either way, it is interesting that the giving of the land began with Caleb (see 14:6-15) and ended with Joshua.  These were the only two men remaining from the former generation.  They were the only two from that generation that believed that the Lord would indeed give them the land.  Thus, it is very fitting that we are told specifically about their inheritance in Canaan.  God did not forget their faithfulness.  He did not forget His promise to them (see Numbers 14:20-38).  The Lord follows through on His promises to Caleb and Joshua

Third, He provides a means for justice and refuge (20:1-9).

After the dividing of the land is complete (ch. 13-19), we are then told about the cities of refuge that were to be appointed.  Look at 20:1-3.  The Lord had told Moses in Exodus 21:12-14 that if a man kills another man, then he shall be put to death.  But, if the man did not lie in wait for him, but God let him fall into his hand, then I will appoint for you a place to which he may flee.  In other words, if the murder was not intentional but accidental, then the penalty would not be death, but removal to a city of refuge.  These instructions are expanded upon in Numbers 35:9-15, which includes the direction to appoint six cities, three on the east side of the Jordan and three on the west side.  Likewise, in Deuteronomy 19:1-10 Israel is given further instructions concerning the cities of refuge.  Thus, the commands of the Lord concerning these cities were familiar to the people of Israel and as we have seen so often in this book, Joshua sought to obey the Lord’s commands completely.  So they appointed cities throughout the land that a person could flee to if they killed someone accidentally. 

Interestingly, we are given new instructions that deal with how long the person is to remain in the city of refuge.  Look at 20:6.  The man who had fled to the city would have to remain in the city until the death of the high priest.  Why is this significant?  It seems that the high priest’s death would take the place of the manslayer’s.  To use more biblical terms, it was the high priest’s death that would atone for the accidental killing.  When the high priest died, the sin would be atoned for and the man could return to his home.  If you know anything about the work of Christ as our great High Priest (see the book of Hebrews), then it is hard to miss the parallels here.  Jesus came to die in our place at the cross and through His death at Calvary, our sins are atoned for.  His sacrifice takes away our guilt.  Not only that, but He is our ‘city of refuge.’  We flee to Him and find protection and atonement.  I know that the author of Joshua did not see these parallels when he wrote his book, but as Christians who are called to read the whole Bible in light of Christ (see Luke 24), it is amazing to see how God has provided for the Church a city of refuge and atonement for their sins through Christ.
 
Fourth, He provides practically for the Levites (21:1-42).

What about the Levites?  Everyone else has been taken care of, so will God follow through with His promises to the Levites?  Chapter 21 answers this question for us.  Look at verses 1-3.  The command that was given to Moses concerning the Levites is recorded in Numbers 35:1-8.  The Lord commands the people of Israel to give the Levites some of their inheritance so that they can have cities to dwell in and land to farm.  According to the Numbers passage, six of those cities were to be the cities of refuge and they were also to receive 42 more for a total of 48 cities.  Guess how many cities Joshua and the people of Israel give them?  Look at 21:41-42.  This is follow through.  The Lord had promised the Levites that He would provide for them practically with 48 cities and He keeps that promise through the faithfulness of Joshua and the people.  We should note that each of the tribes gave cities for the Levites to dwell in.  This seemingly had a two-fold importance. 

First, we see that all of the tribes were faithful to provide for their priests.  Second, this allowed the Levites to dwell among all of the tribes so that they could teach them the Law and encourage their faithfulness to Yahweh.  As a minister of the gospel, I find great encouragement from God’s follow through here.  He did not give Israel’s ministers any land, but He provided for them both spiritually and practically.  The Lord has been so faithful to me and Glenna and I can trust that He will continue to meet our needs both spiritually and practically.  He knows how to follow through.  Likewise, all believers can trust in the Lord to provide for them practically based on Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 6.  He makes it clear that the Lord knows what we need and we can trust Him to provide for us.

Thus, in all of these ways the Lord follows through with His promises and commitments to Israel.  Thankfully, He is not like us.  He does not get distracted or tired or absent-minded.  He does not forget.  He remembers all the tribes, including the Levites.  He takes care of Joshua and the one who accidentally kills someone.  He provides for practical needs as well as any other legitimate need that we might have.  This is the God that we serve.

So, besides what we have already mentioned, how does this specifically apply to us?  Look at Philippians 1:6 with me again.  Paul is writing to the believers at Philippi and encouraging them to continue in their following of Christ.  At the beginning of the letter here, he is offering thanksgiving and prayer for them as he so often does at the beginning of his letters.  It is in the middle of these thanksgivings that he makes this statement: I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.  What ‘good work’ is Paul talking about?  In context, it seems that Paul is referring to the good work of their salvation, their partnership in the gospel (v. 5).  Paul says that they are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel (v. 7).  Ultimately his prayer for them is that they, by God’s grace, will be pure and blameless for the day of Christ (v. 10). 

What hope does he have that this will actually occur?  He knows that ‘he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion.’  But how can he be so sure?  How can he know that God will see these Christians in Philippi, or any other Christians for that matter, through to the end?  He is sure because He knows the character of God.  He knows that God will see His work through.  He knows the story of Joshua and Israel and how God kept all of His promises.  Look at 21:43-45.  Paul knows and believes the Word when it says: Not one word of all the good promises that the Lord had made to the house of Israel failed; all came to pass.  May we believe with Paul that the Lord will see us through, that not one of His promises to us will fail, but all will come to pass.  May we persevere in such hope.  Amen.

~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Wednesday, 16 April 2008 )

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