Joshua

No Empty Words

39 “‘See now that I, even I, am he,
    and there is no god beside me;
I kill and I make alive;
    I wound, and I heal;
    and there is none that can deliver out of my hand.
40 For I lift up my hand to heaven
    and swear, As I live forever,
41 if I sharpen my flashing sword
    and my hand takes hold on judgment,
I will take vengeance on my adversaries
    and will repay those who hate me.
42 I will make my arrows drunk with blood,
    and my sword shall devour flesh—
with the blood of the slain and the captives,
    from the long-haired heads of the enemy.’

43 “Rejoice with him, O heavens;
    bow down to him, all gods,
for he avenges the blood of his children
    and takes vengeance on his adversaries.
He repays those who hate him
    and cleanses his people's land.”

44 Moses came and recited all the words of this song in the hearing of the people, he and Joshua the son of Nun. 45 And when Moses had finished speaking all these words to all Israel, 46 he said to them, “Take to heart all the words by which I am warning you today, that you may command them to your children, that they may be careful to do all the words of this law. 47 For it is no empty word for you, but your very life, and by this word you shall live long in the land that you are going over the Jordan to possess.” – Deuteronomy 32:39-47 ESV

This was no vapid ditty to be sung with a light heart or whistled absent-mindedly as one walked along their merry way. This was a poem containing the words of God and they were powerful and portentous. As God had told Moses, this divine ode was intended to act as a witness against the Israelites, testifying in advance to their future disobedience and unfaithfulness.

And while this song might be best classified as belonging to the blues genre, it contained more than a hint of hope and a glimpse of God’s gracious compassion and goodness. Yes, He was going to punish Israel for their spiritual adultery, but He also reveals that He will one day redeem and restore them. He will keep His covenant promises. While they would prove to be unfaithful and disobedient, God would never fully forsake them. There would be ramifications for their unfaithfulness and unrepentance though.

“I will hide my face from them;
    I will see what their end will be,
for they are a perverse generation,
    children in whom is no faithfulness.” – Deuteronomy 32:20 ESV

The end would come, in the form of the Assyrians and Babylonians.

“Outside, the sword will bring death,
    and inside, terror will strike
both young men and young women,
    both infants and the aged.”
– Deuteronomy 32:25 NLT

But God would repay these nations for their role in Israel’s demise. God, “the Rock,” would pour out His vengeance and wrath upon all those who took advantage of His people.

“I will take revenge; I will pay them back.
    In due time their feet will slip.
Their day of disaster will arrive,
    and their destiny will overtake them.”
– Deuteronomy 32:35 NLT

And all of this will be possible because God is God. There are no other gods beside Him. He has no competition. The nations of the earth are no threat to Him. The kings of the earth are set on their thrones by Him. The plans of all men are established by Him.

“Look now; I myself am he!
    There is no other god but me!
I am the one who kills and gives life;
    I am the one who wounds and heals;
    no one can be rescued from my powerful hand!”
– Deuteronomy 32:39 NLT

This message is an integral part of the song. God’s sovereignty and power were non-negotiable and non-debatable aspects of His character. That is why God could demand that Babylon and Assyria call on “their rock” and see what good it would do them. They would be left all alone and at the full mercy of “The Rock” of Israel.

But notice what God declares about Himself. He kills and He gives life. He wounds and He heals. He has the power to remove or to restore, and the choice is completely His. He can bring the full force of His wrath to bear or He can choose to extend His grace and mercy, bringing healing and wholeness. It is completely up to Him.

And God warns, “when I sharpen my flashing sword and begin to carry out justice” (Deuteronomy 32:41 NLT), you better watch out because He finishes what He starts.

“he will avenge the blood of his children;
    he will take revenge against his enemies.
He will repay those who hate him
    and cleanse his people’s land.” – Deuteronomy 32:43 NLT

This news was meant to cause rejoicing among the people of Israel. This was the upbeat portion of the song that was intended to bring a smile to the face of God’s people, even in light of all the dire predictions of doom and gloom. While the message of this poem contained ample cause for sadness, it also provided a reason for rejoicing.

God wins. He will avenge His people. He will repay their enemies. He will accomplish His plan concerning the people of Israel – in spite of their unfaithfulness and His well-justified punishment of them. And after Moses taught the words of this song to the people, He commanded them to burn them into their collective memory.

“These instructions are not empty words—they are your life! By obeying them you will enjoy a long life in the land you will occupy when you cross the Jordan River.” – Deuteronomy 32: 47 NLT

All that Moses had taught them, which included the laws of God and the words of this song, were to be recalled, recited, and revered. From the promise of blessings and the warning of curses to the assurance of His presence and the threat of His abandonment, all of these matters were to be passed down from generation to generation. They were to remember the ways and the words of God. They were to teach them to their children. And, more importantly, they were to obey the words of God.

The promised land lay before them. But so did the decision to either obey and disobey God. They had been warned what would happen if they disobeyed. They had even been told that they would disobey. But God assured them that His will would be done, with our without them. His redemptive plan would be accomplished in spite of them, not because of them. Why? Because He alone is God.

“Look now; I myself am he!
    There is no other god but me!” – Deuteronomy 32:39 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Righteous Wrath of God

19 “The Lord saw it and spurned them,
    because of the provocation of his sons and his daughters.
20 And he said, ‘I will hide my face from them;
    I will see what their end will be,
for they are a perverse generation,
    children in whom is no faithfulness.
21 They have made me jealous with what is no god;
    they have provoked me to anger with their idols.
So I will make them jealous with those who are no people;
    I will provoke them to anger with a foolish nation.
22 For a fire is kindled by my anger,
    and it burns to the depths of Sheol,
devours the earth and its increase,
    and sets on fire the foundations of the mountains.

23 “‘And I will heap disasters upon them;
    I will spend my arrows on them;
24 they shall be wasted with hunger,
    and devoured by plague
    and poisonous pestilence;
I will send the teeth of beasts against them,
    with the venom of things that crawl in the dust.
25 Outdoors the sword shall bereave,
    and indoors terror,
for young man and woman alike,
    the nursing child with the man of gray hairs.
26 I would have said, “I will cut them to pieces;
    I will wipe them from human memory,”
27 had I not feared provocation by the enemy,
    lest their adversaries should misunderstand,
lest they should say, “Our hand is triumphant,
    it was not the Lord who did all this.”’ – Deuteronomy 32:19-27 ESV

We love to talk about God’s love, mercy, and grace. And while these divine characteristics are essential to understanding His nature and bring us great comfort, they can also paint a rather one-dimensional image of God. An overemphasis of these positive aspects of God’s character can cause us to downplay His righteous anger and just judgment. This is one of the reasons so many people find such a disparity between the Old and New Testaments. They see conflicting images of God portrayed and choose the kind and compassionate God of the New Testament over the harsh and seemingly heartless God of the Old Testament.

But there is only one God, and He is unchanging in His nature. Yes, we may prefer to dwell on His more loving and father-like characteristics, but that does not mean He is incapable of displaying anger or dispensing harsh justice when necessary. And while the Old Testament is the primary place where this darker side of God’s character is displayed, it does not mean He has mellowed with time. Here are just a few reminders of God’s unchanging nature.

“For I the Lord do not change…” – Malachi 3:6 ESV

Of old you laid the foundation of the earth,
    and the heavens are the work of your hands.
They will perish, but you will remain;
    they will all wear out like a garment.
You will change them like a robe, and they will pass away,
    but you are the same, and your years have no end. – Psalm 102:25-27 ESV

And there countless passages in both the Old and New Testaments that reveal the righteous indignation of God.

“I, the LORD, will punish the world for its evil and the wicked for their sin. I will crush the arrogance of the proud and humble the pride of the mighty.” – Isaiah 13:11 NLT

In the greatness of your majesty you overthrow your adversaries;
    you send out your fury; it consumes them like stubble. – Exodus 15:7 ESV

“Now I will soon pour out my wrath upon you, and spend my anger against you, and judge you according to your ways, and I will punish you for all your abominations. 9 And my eye will not spare, nor will I have pity. I will punish you according to your ways, while your abominations are in your midst. Then you will know that I am the Lord, who strikes.” – Ezekiel 7:8-9 ESV

But when he [Jesus] saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” – Matthew 3:7 ESV

But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God's righteous judgment will be revealed. – Romans 2:5 ESV

And in this portion of the song given by God to Moses, the anger of God is clearly revealed.

“They have made me jealous…” – vs. 21

“…they have provoked me to anger.” – vs. 21

“…a fire is kindled by my anger…” – vs. 22

“…I will heap disasters upon them…” – vs. 23

“I will spend my arrows on them…” – vs. 23

“I will send the teeth of beasts against them…” – vs. 24

Not exactly the kind of sentiments you might find on a Hallmark card. These are clear expressions of God’s anger against the people of Israel and the tangible means by which He intends to manifest His indignation. He even goes so far as to say that He would have completely “cut them to pieces” and wiped them “from human memory” (Deuteronomy 32:26 ESV), but He knew their enemies would have taken credit for it.

God knew that, if He completely destroyed His people, their enemies would arrogantly assume that they were the ones responsible for Israel’s demise.

“Our hand is triumphant,
    it was not the Lord who did all this.” – Deuteronomy 32:27 ESV

And God hates the prideful and arrogant as much as He does the unfaithful and spiritually adulterous. He was not about to give the pagan nations the pleasure of taking credit for something He had done. They were simply instruments in His hands, doing His bidding and acting as His servants. Neither Babylon or Assyria, whom God would use to punish His rebellious people, could take credit for their success. God would raise them up and use them to accomplish His divine will by meting out His just and righteous judgment against His chosen people.

And God points out that His anger was brought on by the actions of those whom He had redeemed and rescued from slavery. His own adopted children had spurned His love and thrown His mercy and grace back in His face through their unfaithfulness.

They stirred him to jealousy… – vs. 16

They sacrificed to demon… – vs. 16

You were unmindful of the Rock that bore you… – vs. 19

…and you forgot the God who gave you birth. – vs. 19

And God makes His damning assessment of His rebellious people.

“…they are a perverse generation,
    children in whom is no faithfulness.” – Deuteronomy 32:20 ESV

What God describes here is serial apostasy. This is not a case of the occasional failure to remain faithful, but of the habitual and willful refusal to follow God’s will. This song is revealing what will become Israel’s because of Israel’s faithlessness.

God will spurn them and hide His face from them. Why? Because that is exactly how they will treat Him. They will turn their backs on Him, choosing instead to worship false gods and demons. They will hide from Him, attempting to disguise their spiritual infidelity and mask their apostasy by feigning faithful adherence to His laws. And so, God will give them a taste of their own medicine. But when God hides His face, the consequences are devastating. When He spurns them, they will experience a form of loss they could have never imagined or anticipated.

God warns of disasters, hunger, plagues, and pestilence. He describes suffering caused by “the teeth of beasts” and “the venom of things that crawl in the dust” (Deuteronomy 32:24 ESV). He foretells of death brought on by the sword and arrows. And no one will be spared. Young men and women will suffer. The nursing child and the old man with gray hair will each endure the same fate. There will be no mercy shown and no grace given.

And while we might not like this image of God, we cannot assume it is somehow incorrect or inconsistent with His character. He is God. And He is fully righteous. All that He does is right, just, and good. In fact, the opening stanza of this poem declared the justice of God.

“The Rock, his work is perfect,
    for all his ways are justice.
A God of faithfulness and without iniquity,
    just and upright is he.” – Deuteronomy 32:4 ESV

He is not the one we should judge. He does not deserve our criticism and, most certainly, does not merit our disdain.

“They have dealt corruptly with him;
    they are no longer his children because they are blemished;
    they are a crooked and twisted generation.” – Deuteronomy 32:5 ESV

God had poured out His love, mercy, and grace upon the people of israel. He had redeemed and rescued them from captivity in Egypt. He had led them across the wilderness and put up with their repeated displays of ingratitude and constant bickering and complaining. He had brought them to the border of the land of promise and watched as they stubbonrly refused to enter in because they didn’t believe He would see them through.

And now, as the next generation stood at the very same border, preparing to enter into the land under the leadership of Joshua, God was informing them that their unfaithfulness would continue. They would conquer the land, but would never enjoy victory over their own apostasy. They would experience the power and presence of God, but would constantly turn their back on Him, seeking instead to give their affections to and place their hopes in false gods.

But God had long ago warned them about what He would do if they proved unfaithful.

“You must not bow down to them or worship them, for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God who will not tolerate your affection for any other gods. I lay the sins of the parents upon their children; the entire family is affected—even children in the third and fourth generations of those who reject me. But I lavish unfailing love for a thousand generations on those who love me and obey my commands.” – Exodus 20:5-6 NLT

We might not like reading about God’s anger. We may find His judgment difficult to understand or justify. But it is the righteous judgment of God that makes the grace and mercy of God so meaningful. The fact that God would spare a remnant of the people of Israel so He could send His Son as their Messiah, shows us just how loving He really is. If we do not understand how just God is in judging those who reject Him and rebel against Him, we will never fully appreciate the value of the mercy and grace He offers. God has chosen to provide justification in place of judgment. He has made a way for sinful men and women to enjoy exoneration rather than condemnation. He has made a way possible for those dead in their trespasses and sins to experience forgiveness and eternal life. And it was all made possible through the death, burial, and resurrection of His Son.

But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. – Romans 5:8 NLT

It is not until we fully understand the justice of God’s wrath, that we will fully appreciate the joy of God’s love.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Joshua and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

23 And the Lord commissioned Joshua the son of Nun and said, “Be strong and courageous, for you shall bring the people of Israel into the land that I swore to give them. I will be with you.”

24 When Moses had finished writing the words of this law in a book to the very end, 25 Moses commanded the Levites who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord, 26 “Take this Book of the Law and put it by the side of the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God, that it may be there for a witness against you. 27 For I know how rebellious and stubborn you are. Behold, even today while I am yet alive with you, you have been rebellious against the Lord. How much more after my death! 28 Assemble to me all the elders of your tribes and your officers, that I may speak these words in their ears and call heaven and earth to witness against them. 29 For I know that after my death you will surely act corruptly and turn aside from the way that I have commanded you. And in the days to come evil will befall you, because you will do what is evil in the sight of the Lord, provoking him to anger through the work of your hands.” – Deuteronomy 31:23-29 ESV

The commissioning of Joshua by God seems a bit anticlimactic, doesn’t it? It takes just one verse to record the whole affair. There were no animals sacrificed, no anointing oil poured over the head of Joshua. A comparison between his commissioning and that of Aaron reveals some remarkable and glaring contrasts.

And Moses brought Aaron and his sons and washed them with water. And he put the coat on him and tied the sash around his waist and clothed him with the robe and put the ephod on him and tied the skillfully woven band of the ephod around him, binding it to him with the band. And he placed the breastpiece on him, and in the breastpiece he put the Urim and the Thummim. And he set the turban on his head, and on the turban, in front, he set the golden plate, the holy crown, as the Lord commanded Moses. – Leviticus 8:6-9 ESV

And he poured some of the anointing oil on Aaron’s head and anointed him to consecrate him. And Moses brought Aaron’s sons and clothed them with coats and tied sashes around their waists and bound caps on them, as the Lord commanded Moses. – Leviticus 8:12-13 ESV

Yet, all Joshua got as a word of encouragement from God: “Be strong and courageous, for you shall bring the people of Israel into the land that I swore to give them. I will be with you” (Deuteronomy 31:23 ESV).

But even these words of encouragement and affirmation had to come across as a little underwhelming to Joshua. After all, he had just heard God say that the people of Israel would prove to be rebellious and unrepentant, earning them the full weight of the curses Moses had warned them about. So, while God provided Joshua with the assurance that he would be successful in his new role as leader of the people of Israel, it had to have been bitter-sweet news to his ears. Yes, Joshua would accomplish his God-given assignment and lead the people into the land of Canaan, but how could he forget the fact that they would not be allowed to stay there. The day would come when they would be destroyed by their enemies and taken as captives to foreign lands.

And even after his rather abrupt and abbreviated commissioning, Joshua had to hear Moses repeat the warning God had delivered to them in the tent of meeting.

“I know how rebellious and stubborn you are. Behold, even today while I am yet alive with you, you have been rebellious against the Lord. How much more after my death!” – Deuteronomy 31:27 ESV

Put yourself in Joshua’s sandals. He has just been commissioned the new leader of the people of Israel and yet when he and Moses step out of the tent of meeting, he doesn’t even get an introduction. There is no official announcement of the leadership transition from Moses to Joshua. It’s almost as if Joshua simply stood in the background, eyes wide with shock and surprise. He had just seen the Shekinah glory of God, heard the voice of God, and was still digesting the devastating news from God that the nation of Israel would end up back in captivity one day. And just as he is about to take over the reins of leadership, he has to sit back and hear Moses accuse the people of being rebellious and stubborn.

And Moses wasn’t done. He had one more punch to the gut he wanted to deliver.

“I know that after my death you will surely act corruptly and turn aside from the way that I have commanded you. And in the days to come evil will befall you, because you will do what is evil in the sight of the Lord, provoking him to anger through the work of your hands.” – Deuteronomy 31:29 ESV

I can’t help but imagine how Joshua felt as all this transpired. Here he was getting ready to lead the people of Israel into the promised land, not exactly an easy task, and Moses was busy stirring up and offending them. On top of that, Joshua had just been informed that, while the whole conquest-of-the-land initiative would be a success, it would prove to be shortlived and irrelevant. 

This is probably not the way Joshua had envisioned his tenure as the shepherd of Israel beginning. This entire section of the book of Deuteronomy is weighted with a dark sense of foreboding. This should have been one of the most eagerly anticipated events in Israel’s long and storied history as they prepared to cross over the border and begin their conquest of the land promised to them by God centuries earlier. But rather than joy and celebration, the occasion was marked by sadness and disappointment. The party balloons had popped. The candles on the cake had blown out.

And Moses told the people that the law itself would bear witness against them. He instructed the Levites to “Take this Book of the Law and put it by the side of the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God, that it may be there for a witness against you” (Deuteronomy 31:26 ESV). His handwritten copy of God’s commandments would be a constant presence among the people, practically screaming out its judgments against them every time they violated its contents.

Moses assembles all the elders and officers of the 12 tribes and calls heaven and earth to witness against them. But what does this mean? How do the heavens and the earth bear witness against the nation of Israel? Well, in the opening stanza of the song that God gave Moses, we read these words: “Give ear, O heavens, and I will speak, and let the earth hear the words of my mouth” (Deuteronomy 32:1 ESV).

Moses was going to sing the words of God’s song to the people, and the first words would be addressed to the heavens and the earth. It is as if God is saying, “If you won’t listen, creation will.” The rest of the creative order will hear the commands of God and bear witness against the Israelites for their stubborn refusal to do as He has said.

In a sense, Moses is saying that the heavens and earth will still remain, even after the Israelites are long gone. The sun, moon, and stars will still be in the sky long after Israel is exiled from the land of promise. They will look up from their new home in Babylon and see the same unchanging scene in the heavens, but they will be in captivity. The land of Canaan will remain right where it was when they left. Nothing will change about it except the identity of those who occupy it. The earth will keep spinning. The sun, moon, and stars will keep shining. Canaan will remain a land flowing with milk and honey. But the fate of the Israelites will be markedly different than it had been.

“…in the days to come evil will befall you, because you will do what is evil in the sight of the Lord.” – Deuteronomy 31:29 ESV

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Read It and Keep It

9 Then Moses wrote this law and gave it to the priests, the sons of Levi, who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord, and to all the elders of Israel. 10 And Moses commanded them, “At the end of every seven years, at the set time in the year of release, at the Feast of Booths, 11 when all Israel comes to appear before the Lord your God at the place that he will choose, you shall read this law before all Israel in their hearing. 12 Assemble the people, men, women, and little ones, and the sojourner within your towns, that they may hear and learn to fear the Lord your God, and be careful to do all the words of this law, 13 and that their children, who have not known it, may hear and learn to fear the Lord your God, as long as you live in the land that you are going over the Jordan to possess.” – Deuteronomy 31:9-13 ESV

Moses is about to commission Joshua as his official replacement. But before he conducts that auspicious ceremony where he will turn over the leadership of the people of Israel to his successor, Moses called together two other groups of God-appointed leaders. One was the priests, who were all members of the tribe of Levi. God’s appointment them as priests is recorded in the book of Numbers.

And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Bring the tribe of Levi near, and set them before Aaron the priest, that they may minister to him. They shall keep guard over him and over the whole congregation before the tent of meeting, as they minister at the tabernacle. They shall guard all the furnishings of the tent of meeting, and keep guard over the people of Israel as they minister at the tabernacle. And you shall give the Levites to Aaron and his sons; they are wholly given to him from among the people of Israel. And you shall appoint Aaron and his sons, and they shall guard their priesthood. But if any outsider comes near, he shall be put to death.” – Numbers 3:5-10 ESV

The tribe of Levi had been set apart by God as substitutes for the firstborn sons of Israel. As a result of His sparing of all the firstborn male Israelites during the final plague in Egypt, God had claimed them as His own. They were to be dedicated to Him. But He later appointed the Levites to serve in this role. They would be the tribe from which the priestly order would come – the men who would serve in the tabernacle and offer sacrifices to God on behalf of the people. So, these men played an important role in the lives of the Israelites.

The second group of leaders Moses called upon was comprised of the elders of Israel. Back during the days when Israel was making their way from Egypt to the land of Canaan, Moses had become overwhelmed by the weight of his leadership responsibilities. So, God had provided him with a solution.

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Gather for me seventy men of the elders of Israel, whom you know to be the elders of the people and officers over them, and bring them to the tent of meeting, and let them take their stand there with you. And I will come down and talk with you there. And I will take some of the Spirit that is on you and put it on them, and they shall bear the burden of the people with you, so that you may not bear it yourself alone. – Numbers 11:16-17 ESV

The nation of Israel had grown too large for one man to lead them effectively. So, God provided Moses with a system for delegating authority among a group of well-qualified men. Their job was to come alongside Moses and to help him bear the burden of the people. And as Moses, prepared to turn over leadership to Joshua, he wanted the sons of Levi who served as priests and the elders of Israel to understand that they would play an important role in the future of the nation.

Moses provided them with a copy of the law and with instructions to guard and protect it. This document was going to be vital to the nation’s spiritual well-being. It would be the key to Israel experiencing the blessings of God. And Moses instructed these men to set aside a day every seventh (sabbatical) year on which they would call for a national assembly and read the law in the hearing of the people.

“At the end of every seventh year, the Year of Release, during the Festival of Shelters, you must read this Book of Instruction to all the people of Israel when they assemble before the Lord your God at the place he chooses.” – Deuteronomy 31:10-11 ESV

It was essential that the people remain well-educated concerning the content of God’s law. Not long after Moses had received the law from God, he had told the people of Israel:

“…you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today. Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up. Tie them to your hands and wear them on your forehead as reminders. Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” – Deuteronomy 6:6-9 NLT

And God had given a command concerning the kings who would eventually reign over the nation.

“…when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for himself in a book a copy of this law, approved by the Levitical priests. And it shall be with him, and he shall read in it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the Lord his God by keeping all the words of this law and these statutes, and doing them, that his heart may not be lifted up above his brothers, and that he may not turn aside from the commandment, either to the right hand or to the left, so that he may continue long in his kingdom, he and his children, in Israel.” – Deuteronomy 17:18-20 ESV

By commanding the audible recitation of the law every seventh year by the priests and elders of Israel, Moses was ensuring that the people would have a regular reminder of their commitment to the law. Not only that, he tied it to the annual Feast of Booths, which was a commemoration of Israel’s release from captivity. As part of the feast, they constructed temporary “booths” or “tabernacles” meant to remind them of the years their ancestor spent wandering in the wilderness of their way to the land of promise.

The feast was timed to occur immediately after the fall harvest, and it was accompanied by sacrifices, offered in thanksgiving to God for His gracious provision. It was at this joyous occasion that the law was to be read aloud to the entire population of Israel “at the set time in the year of release, at the Feast of Booths” (Deuteronomy 31:10 ESV).

And Moses commanded that this solemn convocation was to include “the people, men, women, and little ones, and the sojourner within your towns, that they may hear and learn to fear the Lord your God, and be careful to do all the words of this law” (Deuteronomy 31:12 ESV). No one was to be left out. And an important byproduct of this event was the instruction of their children regarding the law of God. 

“Do this so that your children who have not known these instructions will hear them and will learn to fear the Lord your God.” – Deuteronomy 31:13 NLT

And this reading of the law was to take place every seventh year for as long as the people of Israel lived in the land of Canaan. And since God had promised the land to them as a permanent possession, that means Moses expected the priests and elders to see their commitment to holding this solemn assembly as perpetual and never-ending in nature. 

It’s interesting to note that, by spacing this reading of the law at seven-year intervals, there would have been thousands of 7-year-old children attending the festival who had born into the Jewish community during the gap years. These children would have been mature enough to hear the law and understand it. So, if they had not had parents who taught it to them, they would at least hear it for themselves on their 7th birthday and every seventh year after that.

To say that the law was important to God would be a vast understatement. He cared greatly about His law and was adamant that His people know it and obey it. He wanted them to live their lives by it. He demanded that they be committed to it. He wanted the leaders of His people to be the protectors and disseminators of it – for generations to come. And this law was not just a list of rules to keep. It was written documentation of the commitment the people of Israel had made. They had promised to keep all the commandments of God, and He was not going to allow them to forget the nature of that commitment.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Need For Strong Leadership

1 So Moses continued to speak these words to all Israel. 2 And he said to them, “I am 120 years old today. I am no longer able to go out and come in. The Lord has said to me, ‘You shall not go over this Jordan.’ 3 The Lord your God himself will go over before you. He will destroy these nations before you, so that you shall dispossess them, and Joshua will go over at your head, as the Lord has spoken. 4 And the Lord will do to them as he did to Sihon and Og, the kings of the Amorites, and to their land, when he destroyed them. 5 And the Lord will give them over to you, and you shall do to them according to the whole commandment that I have commanded you. 6 Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.”

7 Then Moses summoned Joshua and said to him in the sight of all Israel, “Be strong and courageous, for you shall go with this people into the land that the Lord has sworn to their fathers to give them, and you shall put them in possession of it. 8 It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.” – Deuteronomy 31:1-8 ESV

Moses’s days were numbered, and he knew it. His long and somewhat drawn out homily to the people was meant to prepare them for the inevitable and, possibly, to delay the unavoidable. He would not be going with them into the land of Canaan. God had denied Moses the privilege of leading the people of Israel when they crossed the border of Canaan and began their conquest of the land.

Moses had been God’s hand-picked deliverer. He had been chosen by God for the unique assignment of rescuing the people of Israel from their captivity in Egypt, and he had performed that role faithfully and effectively. Then he had successfully led the people to the edge of the land of promise, only to see them refuse to keep God’s command and cross the border – all because of an excess of fear and a lack of trust in God. So, Moses was forced to spend the next 40 years leading this rebellious generation around the wilderness until they had died off. Then, with a new generation in tow, he once again brought them to the edge of the land of promise so they might enter and possess it. But he would not be going with them. Why?

It all goes back to a regrettable scene that happened at a place called Meribah. Early on in their exodus from Egypt to Canaan, the people of Israel found themselves short on water and patience. So, they complained to Moses, who took the issue up with God. And God gave Moses instructions to take his brother Aaron’s staff “and assemble the congregation, you and Aaron your brother, and tell the rock before their eyes to yield its water. So you shall bring water out of the rock for them and give drink to the congregation and their cattle” (Numbers 20:8 ESV).

But Moses was angry with the people for reading him the riot act over their lack of water. So, when he had assembled them, he took the staff and, rather than speaking to the rock as God had commanded, he took his anger out on it.

Then Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock, and he said to them, “Hear now, you rebels: shall we bring water for you out of this rock?” And Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock with his staff twice, and water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their livestock. And the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them.” – Numbers 20:10-12 ESV

God accused Moses of two sins: Disbelief and disrespect. He expressed a lack of faith in God by refusing to do exactly as God had said. God’s word was not enough. He decided to add a little drama to the moment by striking the rock. And, on top of that, he seemed to take credit for the miracle, showing a deep disrespect for God. In doing so, he did not treat God as holy in the eyes of the people. As a leader and the representative of God, he had displayed unholy behavior, and his actions had reflected poorly on God. When Moses spoke, he spoke for God. When he led, he did so on behalf of God. When he struck the rock in anger, he did so as the representative of God. And his ungodly actions made God look unholy in the eyes of the people. This was a serious issue that brought a severe punishment from God.

“…because you broke faith with me in the midst of the people of Israel at the waters of Meribah-kadesh, in the wilderness of Zin, and because you did not treat me as holy in the midst of the people of Israel. For you shall see the land before you, but you shall not go there, into the land that I am giving to the people of Israel.” – Deuteronomy 32:51-52 ESV

And yet, just a few chapters later in the book of Deuteronomy, we read:

And there has not arisen a prophet since in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face, none like him for all the signs and the wonders that the Lord sent him to do in the land of Egypt, to Pharaoh and to all his servants and to all his land, and for all the mighty power and all the great deeds of terror that Moses did in the sight of all Israel. – Deuteronomy 34:10-12 ESV

Moses was a great leader. He was a God-appointed and Spirit-anointed leader. But at Meribah, he had chosen to doubt and disrespect God, and he would pay dearly for that lapse in judgment. So, at the ripe old age of 120, Moses broke the news to the people of Israel that he would not be the one leading them on the next leg of their journey. That responsibility would fall to Joshua, Moses’ protegé and successor. And Moses assured the people that, ultimately, it would be God who would be going before them as their divine leader. 

“The Lord your God himself will go over before you. He will destroy these nations before you, so that you shall dispossess them.” – Deuteronomy 31:3 ESV

Their true leader had always been God Almighty. Moses had been nothing more than a human representative whose authority and power had been delegated by God. Now, the responsibility to lead God’s people would fall to Joshua, whom Moses assured them would “cross before you just as the Lord has said” (Deuteronomy 31:3 ESV).

And just to make sure that the people understood that God, not Joshua, was their true leader, Moses reminds them just who it would be that gave them victory over their enemies.

 “…the Lord will do to them as he did to Sihon and Og…” – Deuteronomy 31:4 ESV

“…the Lord will give them over to you…” – Deuteronomy 31:5 ESV

“…the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.” – Deuteronomy 31:6 ESV

It would be God who gave them victory over their enemies. It would be God who went before them, never leaving them alone or on their own. Which is they could be “be strong and courageous” and not fear. Joshua would be their new human leader, but it was God who would make their path straight and their battles victorious.

Unlike Moses, God would never leave them or forsake them. Even good leaders can make bad mistakes that let their followers down. But not God. Moses would not be leading them into Canaan, but they could rest easy knowing that God would be with them every step of the way.

Next, Moses turns his attention to Joshua. He brings his much-younger successor before the people and provides him with a similarly worded charge:

“Be strong and courageous, for you will accompany these people to the land that the Lord promised to give their ancestors, and you will enable them to inherit it.” – Deuteronomy 31:7 NLT

Joshua would be attempting to fill some rather large sandals. He was tasked with stepping into the formidable role that Moses had held for nearly half a century. And he was going to have to be strong. But his strength would have to be in the Lord. Without His help, Joshua would find the days ahead difficult, because as Moses knew all too well, leading God’s people was anything but a walk in the park. And he gave Joshua the same simple, yet vital reminder.

“It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.” – Deuteronomy 31:8 ESV

The people of Israel were going to need strong leadership if they were to be successful in fulfilling God’s command. The conquest of the land was not going to be easy. The enemies who lived in the land would not give up without a fight. There would be many battles to fight. They would face more powerful foes and come up against what appeared to be impenetrable defenses. But the people and their new leader would need to constantly remember that their strength and success would be God-ordained, not man-made.

Moses knew the people were going to need Joshua. But he also knew that Joshua was going to need the Lord. Effective spiritual leaders are those who allow themselves to be led by God. They find their strength and courage in the Lord, not in themselves. Moses knew from personal and painful experience just how difficult the role would be that Joshua was taking on. He was going to need all the help he could get and the only reliable source he could turn to was God Himself.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Curses

11 That day Moses charged the people, saying, 12 “When you have crossed over the Jordan, these shall stand on Mount Gerizim to bless the people: Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Joseph, and Benjamin. 13 And these shall stand on Mount Ebal for the curse: Reuben, Gad, Asher, Zebulun, Dan, and Naphtali. 14 And the Levites shall declare to all the men of Israel in a loud voice:

15 “‘Cursed be the man who makes a carved or cast metal image, an abomination to the Lord, a thing made by the hands of a craftsman, and sets it up in secret.’ And all the people shall answer and say, ‘Amen.’

16 “‘Cursed be anyone who dishonors his father or his mother.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’

17 “‘Cursed be anyone who moves his neighbor’s landmark.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’

18 “‘Cursed be anyone who misleads a blind man on the road.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’

19 “‘Cursed be anyone who perverts the justice due to the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’

20 “‘Cursed be anyone who lies with his father's wife, because he has uncovered his father’s nakedness.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’

21 “‘Cursed be anyone who lies with any kind of animal.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’

22 “‘Cursed be anyone who lies with his sister, whether the daughter of his father or the daughter of his mother.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’

23 “‘Cursed be anyone who lies with his mother-in-law.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’

24 “‘Cursed be anyone who strikes down his neighbor in secret.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’

25 “‘Cursed be anyone who takes a bribe to shed innocent blood.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’

26 “‘Cursed be anyone who does not confirm the words of this law by doing them.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’” – Deuteronomy 27:11-26 ESV

In this passage are recorded the words of Moses instructing the Israelites to conduct a special ceremony in conjunction with the construction of the memorial and the altar to God. Moses had made it clear that these things were to be high priorities, having instructed the people to complete them “on the day you cross over the Jordan to the land that the Lord your God is giving you” (Deuteronomy 27:2 ESV). The inscribing of the law onto the plastered stones, the building of the altar to God, and the offering of sacrifices to Him were all to be completed within the first 24 hours of their arrival in the land. And verses 11-26 contain one more important task the people were obligated to complete that very first day.

As soon as they crossed over the Jordan, Joshua was to divide the tribes into two separate groups. One group was to stand on Mount Ebal, while the other was to make their way to Mount Gerizim. The Levites would stand in the valley between the two mountains and shout out the blessings and curses that would come with their decision to keep or disobey the law of God.

The fulfillment of this order from Moses is recorded in the book of Joshua.

At that time Joshua built an altar to the Lord, the God of Israel, on Mount Ebal, just as Moses the servant of the Lord had commanded the people of Israel, as it is written in the Book of the Law of Moses, “an altar of uncut stones, upon which no man has wielded an iron tool.” And they offered on it burnt offerings to the Lord and sacrificed peace offerings. And there, in the presence of the people of Israel, he wrote on the stones a copy of the law of Moses, which he had written. And all Israel, sojourner as well as native born, with their elders and officers and their judges, stood on opposite sides of the ark before the Levitical priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord, half of them in front of Mount Gerizim and half of them in front of Mount Ebal, just as Moses the servant of the Lord had commanded at the first, to bless the people of Israel. And afterward he read all the words of the law, the blessing and the curse, according to all that is written in the Book of the Law. There was not a word of all that Moses commanded that Joshua did not read before all the assembly of Israel, and the women, and the little ones, and the sojourners who lived among them. – Joshua 8:30-35 ESV

But it is important to note that this event took place after the Israelites had won a victory against Jericho, an endeavor that took six days to complete. This was followed by an attempt by the Israelites to defeat the city of Ai. But because of sin in the camp, the Israelites were routed by the people of Ai. After several days of delay, during which Joshua ascertained the guilty party and had him executed, the Israelites finally defeated the city of Ai. But more than a week had passed since they had entered the land. It was after their destruction of Ai and its inhabitants that Joshua finally got around the carrying out the instructions given to them by Moses.

When Israel had finished killing all the inhabitants of Ai in the open wilderness where they pursued them, and all of them to the very last had fallen by the edge of the sword, all Israel returned to Ai and struck it down with the edge of the sword. And all who fell that day, both men and women, were 12,000, all the people of Ai. But Joshua did not draw back his hand with which he stretched out the javelin until he had devoted all the inhabitants of Ai to destruction. Only the livestock and the spoil of that city Israel took as their plunder, according to the word of the Lord that he commanded Joshua. So Joshua burned Ai and made it forever a heap of ruins, as it is to this day. And he hanged the king of Ai on a tree until evening. And at sunset Joshua commanded, and they took his body down from the tree and threw it at the entrance of the gate of the city and raised over it a great heap of stones, which stands there to this day. – Joshua 8:24-29 ESV

One of the things Moses had repeatedly warned the people about was the need for them to obey God completely. He had clearly warned them, “You shall therefore obey the voice of the Lord your God, keeping his commandments and his statutes, which I command you today” (Deuteronomy 27:10 ESV).

And yet, just days after having entered the land and after having experienced a miraculous victory over the city of Jericho, God accused the entire nation of unfaithfulness.

“Israel has sinned; they have transgressed my covenant that I commanded them; they have taken some of the devoted things; they have stolen and lied and put them among their own belongings.” – Joshua 7:11 ESV

While it turned out that one man was guilty of the crime, God held the entire nation accountable. And until Achan was exposed as the guilty party and dealt with accordingly, God’s judgment would hang over every single Israelite. God warned them that they must deal with the sin in their midst, or they would continue to fall before their enemies.

“Therefore the people of Israel cannot stand before their enemies. They turn their backs before their enemies, because they have become devoted for destruction. I will be with you no more, unless you destroy the devoted things from among you.” – Joshua 7:12 ESV

Once Achan and his family were eliminated, the curse was lifted and the people enjoyed a great victory over Ai.

So, when Joshua finally got around to carrying out Moses’ instructions regarding the memorial of stones, the building the altar to God, and the recitation of the blessings and the curses, he had the full attention of the people. They had just seen first-hand what happens when anyone disregards or disobeys God’s commands. Thirty-six Israelites had needlessly died in battle against Ai because Achan had chosen to disobey God.

The recitation of the blessings and curses was intended to remind the people of Israel of just how serious God was about obedience. The people would have walked anywhere from 20 to 25 miles to get from Ai to Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim, in spite of their weariness after two battles.

Their defeat against the city of Ai was a powerful reminder of just how dependent they were upon God and how vital the link was between their obedience to God and their future success in the land. If they chose to disregard God’s laws and do things their way, they would find themselves isolated and alone, fighting battles without the assistance and power of God. 

There are 12 curses listed in this section, perhaps as a recognition of the 12 tribes of Israel. The list appears to be rather random, dealing with everything from idolatry to lack of love for one’s neighbor. The diversity of the offenses seems intended to represent the broad application of the law to every area of daily life. Any form of disobedience was going to bring the curse of God against them. It was not the significance or seeming magnitude of the transgression that mattered. It was the disobedience itself.

Dishonoring your mother and father, moving a neighbor’s boundary marker, taking advantage of a blind person, or failing to show justice would all result in a curse upon the nation. And with the reading of each successive curse, the people were to shout their affirmation by saying, “Amen!” This word in Hebrew simply means “So be it!” The people of Israel were affirming their understanding of the curse and acknowledging that God was just and righteous in His pronouncement of it. The punishment fit the crime.

Disobedience of God’s holy law was going to have consequences. He had given them free will to obey or disobey, but their choice would not be without ramifications. And as we will see in the next section of verses, the decision to obey God always delivers a far better outcome.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Death of a Generation.

29 After these things Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of the Lord, died, being 110 years old. 30 And they buried him in his own inheritance at Timnath-serah, which is in the hill country of Ephraim, north of the mountain of Gaash.

31 Israel served the Lord all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua and had known all the work that the Lord did for Israel.

32 As for the bones of Joseph, which the people of Israel brought up from Egypt, they buried them at Shechem, in the piece of land that Jacob bought from the sons of Hamor the father of Shechem for a hundred pieces of money. It became an inheritance of the descendants of Joseph.

33 And Eleazar the son of Aaron died, and they buried him at Gibeah, the town of Phinehas his son, which had been given him in the hill country of Ephraim. – Joshua 24:29-39 ESV

Joshua lived to the ripe old age of 110. He had served Israel for many years and had led them into the promised land, but also in their efforts to conquer and possess it. Under his guidance, the Israelites had gone from a rag-tag assemblage of former slaves to a powerful force in the Middle East. They had successfully and, in most cases, miraculously defeated the inhabitants of the land of Canaan, taking over their cities, villages, pastures and fields. By the end of his tenure as Israel’s spiritual and military leader, the Israelites were well-established in the land promised to them by God many centuries earlier. But as they say, all good things must come to an end, and Joshua’s life-span reached its allotted course. He died, leaving the people of Israel without an appointed leader. Joshua had not followed the example of Moses, who had passed on the mantel of leadership to him before his own death. Perhaps Joshua assumed that each of the 12 tribes, now established in the land with their own inheritance to manage, would appoint their own leadership. After their renewal of the covenant at Shechem, each of the tribes had dispersed to their own cities and villages, and they were to have begun the final stage of God’s command to eliminate the Canaanites from the land. There were no longer going to be any joint military efforts combining the forces of all 12 tribes. Instead, each tribe would be expected to police and possess its land allotment on its own. And one of the things that will become increasingly clear as their story unfolds is that, without proper leadership, the people of Israel tended to lack follow-through.

In the opening verses of the book of Judges, which chronicles the next chapter in the story of the Israelite’s conquest of the land of Canaan, it becomes clear that the tribes are attempting to follow the example for them by Joshua. They seek the counsel of God in order to determine their next steps.

1 After the death of Joshua, the people of Israel inquired of the Lord, “Who shall go up first for us against the Canaanites, to fight against them?” 2 The Lord said, “Judah shall go up; behold, I have given the land into his hand.” 3 And Judah said to Simeon his brother, “Come up with me into the territory allotted to me, that we may fight against the Canaanites. And I likewise will go with you into the territory allotted to you.” So Simeon went with him. 4 Then Judah went up and the Lord gave the Canaanites and the Perizzites into their hand, and they defeated 10,000 of them at Bezek. – Judges 1:1-4 ESV

They begin to form some strategic alliances among themselves in order to improve their chances of success against the Canaanites. And God gave the tribes of Judah and Simeon success in their efforts. But there is a nagging pattern of incompleteness that permeates the opening chapters of Judges. They enjoyed success, but it seems that it was always marked by a failure to finish what they had started.

And the Lord was with Judah, and he took possession of the hill country, but he could not drive out the inhabitants of the plain because they had chariots of iron. – Judges 1:19 ESV

Notice what this verse says: The Lord was with Judah…BUT. God was fighting alongside the people of Judah and Simeon and they had enjoyed numerous victories as a result. But the presence of chariots of iron had stopped their progress. They had come up against a superior force that had somehow stymied their efforts. But years earlier, long before the Israelites had made it into the land of Canaan, God had told them:

“When you go out to war against your enemies, and see horses and chariots and an army larger than your own, you shall not be afraid of them, for the Lord your God is with you, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.” – Deuteronomy 20:1 ESV

Their inability to stand against an enemy with chariots and horses was due to a lack of faith on their part, not a deficiency in God’s power to deliver. And their failure to trust God would become a pattern that would repeat itself in the story of each of the tribes.

But the people of Benjamin did not drive out the Jebusites who lived in Jerusalem, so the Jebusites have lived with the people of Benjamin in Jerusalem to this day. – Judges 1:21 ESV

Manasseh did not drive out the inhabitants of Beth-shean and its villages, or Taanach and its villages, or the inhabitants of Dor and its villages, or the inhabitants of Ibleam and its villages, or the inhabitants of Megiddo and its villages, for the Canaanites persisted in dwelling in that land. – Judges 1:27 ESV

And Ephraim did not drive out the Canaanites who lived in Gezer, so the Canaanites lived in Gezer among them. – Judges 1:28 ESV

Zebulun did not drive out the inhabitants of Kitron, or the inhabitants of Nahalol, so the Canaanites lived among them… – Judges 1:29 ESV

Asher did not drive out the inhabitants of Acco, or the inhabitants of Sidon or of Ahlab or of Achzib or of Helbah or of Aphik or of Rehob, so the Asherites lived among the Canaanites, the inhabitants of the land, for they did not drive them out. – Judges 1:31-32 ESV

Naphtali did not drive out the inhabitants of Beth-shemesh, or the inhabitants of Beth-anath, so they lived among the Canaanites, the inhabitants of the land. – Judges 1:33 ESV

The Amorites pressed the people of Dan back into the hill country, for they did not allow them to come down to the plain. – Judges 1:34 ESV

These are not just statements of military failure or incomplete conquest. They are a reflection of the state of Israel’s spiritual health. They were failing because they were no longer trusting God. They were making compromises and concessions. Allowing their enemies to remain in the land was easier than stepping out in faith and eliminating them completely as God had commanded them to do. And God reprimanded them for their lack of faith, accusing them of not only disobedience, but of failing to keep the covenant they had made with Him.

1 Now the angel of the Lord went up from Gilgal to Bochim. And he said, “I brought you up from Egypt and brought you into the land that I swore to give to your fathers. I said, ‘I will never break my covenant with you, 2 and you shall make no covenant with the inhabitants of this land; you shall break down their altars.’ But you have not obeyed my voice. What is this you have done? 3 So now I say, I will not drive them out before you, but they shall become thorns in your sides, and their gods shall be a snare to you.” – Judges 2:1-3 ESV

Their disobedience to God was going to be costly. They were going to learn just how difficult spiritual warfare was going to be without God’s help. And the book of Judges provides us with an important detail concerning the leadership of Joshua and its impact on the people of Israel.

…the people served the Lord all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua, who had seen all the great work that the Lord had done for Israel. – Judges 2:7 ESV

But this is followed by a sobering caveat, a all-telling addendum that will set the stage for all that comes later in the book of Judges.

And all that generation also were gathered to their fathers. And there arose another generation after them who did not know the Lord or the work that he had done for Israel. – Judges 2:10 ESV

The final chapter of the book of Joshua chronicles the deaths of Joshua and Eleazar. It also provides details concerning the interment of Joseph’s bones, brought back from Egypt. But it really paints a bleak picture concerning the death of an entire generation. Those who had come from Egypt under the leadership of Moses had died in the wilderness because of their failure to enter the land the first time. And all those who had played a role in conquering the land under Joshua’s leadership would eventually die as well. Their days in the land would be numbered, just as Joshua’s had been. And as long as he was alive, they had served the Lord. But with his death, they began to falter and fail in their commitments to God and their capacity to trust His word. And by the time they pass off the scene, the next generation had long forgotten who God was or any of the great things He had done.

11 And the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and served the Baals. 12 And they abandoned the Lord, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt. They went after other gods, from among the gods of the peoples who were around them, and bowed down to them. And they provoked the Lord to anger. 13 They abandoned the Lord and served the Baals and the Ashtaroth. – Judges 2:11-13 ESV

It happened just as God said it would. They had failed to do what God had commanded and, as a result, their hearts were led away from Him. The failure of a single generation to maintain their covenant faithfulness to God resulted in an entire spiritual meltdown on the part of their descendants.

The book of Psalms provides a stark reminder of just how different things should have turned out, had the people of Israel done what they had been told to do.

3 What we have heard and learned—
that which our ancestors have told us—
4 we will not hide from their descendants.
We will tell the next generation
about the Lord’s praiseworthy acts,
about his strength and the amazing things he has done. – Psalm 78:3-4 NLT

6 so that the next generation, children yet to be born,
might know about them.
They will grow up and tell their descendants about them.
7 Then they will place their confidence in God.
They will not forget the works of God,
and they will obey his commands.
8 Then they will not be like their ancestors,
who were a stubborn and rebellious generation,
a generation that was not committed
and faithful to God. – Psalm 78:6-8 NLT

But, sadly, there arose another generation after them who did not know the Lord or the work that he had done for Israel.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

A Stone of Witness.

14 “Now therefore fear the Lord and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. 15 And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

16 Then the people answered, “Far be it from us that we should forsake the Lord to serve other gods, 17 for it is the Lord our God who brought us and our fathers up from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, and who did those great signs in our sight and preserved us in all the way that we went, and among all the peoples through whom we passed. 18 And the Lord drove out before us all the peoples, the Amorites who lived in the land. Therefore we also will serve the Lord, for he is our God.”

19 But Joshua said to the people, “You are not able to serve the Lord, for he is a holy God. He is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions or your sins. 20 If you forsake the Lord and serve foreign gods, then he will turn and do you harm and consume you, after having done you good.” 21 And the people said to Joshua, “No, but we will serve the Lord.” 22 Then Joshua said to the people, “You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen the Lord, to serve him.” And they said, “We are witnesses.” 23 He said, “Then put away the foreign gods that are among you, and incline your heart to the Lord, the God of Israel.” 24 And the people said to Joshua, “The Lord our God we will serve, and his voice we will obey.” 25 So Joshua made a covenant with the people that day, and put in place statutes and rules for them at Shechem. 26 And Joshua wrote these words in the Book of the Law of God. And he took a large stone and set it up there under the terebinth that was by the sanctuary of the Lord. 27 And Joshua said to all the people, “Behold, this stone shall be a witness against us, for it has heard all the words of the Lord that he spoke to us. Therefore it shall be a witness against you, lest you deal falsely with your God.” 28 So Joshua sent the people away, every man to his inheritance. Joshua 24:14-28 ESV

Joshua was nearing the end of his life and, therefore, the end of his tenure as Israel’s spiritual leader. He had enjoyed a long and successful career after having assumed the mantel of leadership from Moses. During his rule, the people had finally crossed over the Jordan River and entered the land of promise. He had led them in their very first victory over the inhabitants of the land as they destroyed the city of Jericho. And he had followed God’s lead and dealt with the sin of Achan that had prevented the people from defeating the much-smaller city of Ai. In battle after battle, Joshua had been there, leading the way and fighting alongside the people of God. He had overseen the apportioning of the land between the 12 tribes, ensuring that each of the tribes received their fair share of the inheritance promised by God to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. And all along the way, he had repeatedly reminded the people of their need to remain faithful to God. God demanded obedience and had forbidden them to intermarry with the inhabitants of the land. Why? Because He knew that they would end up worshiping their false gods. And there were plenty of false gods in abundance among the nations living in the land of promise.

So, as Joshua neared the end of his life, he felt compelled to provide his people with one last challenge. He calls them to “fear the Lord and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness” (Joshua 24:14 ESV). He used two very important Hebrew words to describe the character of their service to God: tamiym and 'emeth. The first word has to do with the idea of wholeness or entirety. It is translated as “integrity” in this passage, but might be better understood as “wholeheartedness.” It carries the idea of bringing the entirety of your being to the matter – no compartmentalization. In other words, Joshua was calling the people to serve God with a “whole” heart. No hidden affections for other gods. No undisclosed love affairs with the things of this world. Jesus would one day put this concept into words that we can readily and easily understand.

37 “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment.” – Matthew 22:37-38 NLT

The prophet Jeremiah would later record the words of God, calling His people to this idea of tamiym.

13 “When you seek me in prayer and worship, you will find me available to you. If you seek me with all your heart and soul, 14 I will make myself available to you,’ says the Lord.” – Jeremiah 29:13-14 NLT

But along with wholeheartedness, Joshua emphasized their need for 'emeth. This Hebrew word has to do with “truth” or, better yet, “faithfulness.” It carries the idea of stability or continuity of character. It is faithfulness displayed over the long-haul. Joshua was calling the people to a long-term, unending commitment of their entire lives to God. This was to include every area of their lives for the entire length of their lives – both as individuals and as the corporate community of God.

And we should not miss the significance of Joshua’s next challenge to the people of Israel:

“Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord.” – Joshua 24:14 ESV

Their life-long commitment to wholeness of heart and holiness of character was going to have to start with a turning away from the false gods of Egypt to which they were still clinging. Even after all that God had done for them, there were those within the community of Israel who were holding on to their false gods. And Joshua was demanding that they let them go – once and for all. It is impossible to be wholehearted in your love for God if you have a heart that is divided in its affections. Joshua knew that the divided allegiance produced by the presence of false gods would ultimately lead the people away from the one true God. They would become half-hearted in their love and short-term in their commitment to Him.

And Joshua placed himself as a model of spiritual integrity and truth, claiming his allegiance to God.

“…as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” – Joshua 24:15 ESV

He was verbally committing himself and his family to serve God alone. He was placing a stake in the ground and declaring his unwavering, undivided allegiance to God. And the people responded with enthusiastic agreement, shouting, “we also will serve the Lord, for he is our God” (Joshua 24:18 ESV). Good answer. Right answer. But was it a truthful answer? Did they really mean what they were saying or were they simply responding based on the excitement of the moment? Only time would tell.

And Joshua seems to have had his doubts about not only the sincerity of their answer, but also the potentiality of their follow-through. He boldly predicted, “You are not able to serve the Lord, for he is a holy God. He is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions or your sins” (Joshua 24:19 ESV). Joshua seemed to have realized that the people were making their commitment to serve God with their whole hearts throughout their whole lives, in ignorance. They failed to recognize their own insufficiency to pull this off. Joshua was simply reminding them that what God was calling them to do was impossible – on their own. They would not be able to pull it off on their own strength, any more than they could have conquered the land of Canaan without God’s help. They were completely dependent upon God for everything, including the capacity to remain faithful and true to Him.

Joshua warned them that if they failed to keep their commitment to God, they would find themselves on the receiving end of His wrath and judgment. The God who had done so much to bless and prosper them would turn against them. But, once again, the people responded unanimously and enthusiastically, “No, but we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:21 ESV).

Then Joshua makes an interesting and highly revealing statement to the people of Israel:

“Then put away the foreign gods that are among you, and incline your heart to the Lord, the God of Israel.” – Joshua 24:23 ESV

It’s as if Joshua was challenging their commitment. He was demanding that they prove their enthusiastic verbal commitment with a realistic display of action. Words would not be enough. God would not tolerate lip-service. He wanted wholehearted devotion. God would later accuse the people of Israel of the very thing Joshua feared.

"These people say they are mine. They honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. And their worship of me is nothing but man-made rules learned by rote.” – Isaiah 29:13 NLT

And it’s interesting to note that the response of the people was another verbal expression of commitment, but without any form of visible action. They simply stated, “The Lord our God we will serve, and his voice we will obey” (Joshua 24:24 ESV). Again, the right answer was given, but it was lacking any tangible evidence of sincerity. So, Joshua took their verbal commitment and gave it a visual expression. He set up a stone, a witness stone, that would be a constant, timeless reminder of the commitment they had made to God that day. The stone would serve several purposes. First, it would act as a memorial commemorating the day they had renewed their covenant commitment to God. On the very same spot where Abraham had first built an altar to God after having arrived in the land of Canaan, they were setting up a stone to remind them of their expressed faith to God. But the stone would also serve as a witness against them, silently testifying of their unanimous commitment to serve God alone. Joshua made this point perfectly clear.

“Therefore it shall be a witness against you, lest you deal falsely with your God.” – Joshua 24:27 ESV

And the chapter ends with each of the tribes returning to their respective inheritance. They had made a verbal commitment to God. They had solemnly sworn to rid themselves of their false gods and to serve the Lord alone. They had made it to the land of promise. They had conquered many of the inhabitants of the land and were enjoying the fruit of their labors and the results of God’s blessings. God had been faithful to them. He had kept His covenant commitments to them. But would they remain true to their word? Would they serve Him alone? Would their lives be marked by wholehearted love and devotion over the whole length of their days? Only time would tell. 

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Matchless Grace of God.

1 Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel to Shechem and summoned the elders, the heads, the judges, and the officers of Israel. And they presented themselves before God. 2 And Joshua said to all the people, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘Long ago, your fathers lived beyond the Euphrates, Terah, the father of Abraham and of Nahor; and they served other gods. 3 Then I took your father Abraham from beyond the River and led him through all the land of Canaan, and made his offspring many. I gave him Isaac. 4 And to Isaac I gave Jacob and Esau. And I gave Esau the hill country of Seir to possess, but Jacob and his children went down to Egypt. 5 And I sent Moses and Aaron, and I plagued Egypt with what I did in the midst of it, and afterward I brought you out.

6 “‘Then I brought your fathers out of Egypt, and you came to the sea. And the Egyptians pursued your fathers with chariots and horsemen to the Red Sea. 7 And when they cried to the Lord, he put darkness between you and the Egyptians and made the sea come upon them and cover them; and your eyes saw what I did in Egypt. And you lived in the wilderness a long time. 8 Then I brought you to the land of the Amorites, who lived on the other side of the Jordan. They fought with you, and I gave them into your hand, and you took possession of their land, and I destroyed them before you. 9 Then Balak the son of Zippor, king of Moab, arose and fought against Israel. And he sent and invited Balaam the son of Beor to curse you, 10 but I would not listen to Balaam. Indeed, he blessed you. So I delivered you out of his hand. 11 And you went over the Jordan and came to Jericho, and the leaders of Jericho fought against you, and also the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. And I gave them into your hand. 12 And I sent the hornet before you, which drove them out before you, the two kings of the Amorites; it was not by your sword or by your bow. 13 I gave you a land on which you had not labored and cities that you had not built, and you dwell in them. You eat the fruit of vineyards and olive orchards that you did not plant.’” – Joshua 24:1-13 ESV

The last chapter revealed that “Joshua was old and well advanced in years” (Joshua 23:1 ESV). He knew his days were numbered and his time for leading the people of Israel was coming to an end. So, in this closing chapter of the book of Joshua, we see him attempting to prepare them for the next phase of their spiritual and physical journey with God. And he chose to prepare them for the future by looking at the past. Joshua gathered all the tribes together at Shechem. This was an important location that held significant memories for the Israelites. It was at Shechem that Abraham had built an altar to God, in response to the promise made to him by God: “To your offspring I will give this land” (Genesis 12:7 ESV). At that point in time, Abraham had no children, a barren wife, and the land was filled with Canaanites. But it was a promise made to him by God and Abraham took God at His word. 

Abram believed the LORD, and the LORD counted him as righteous because of his faith. – Genesis 15:6 NLT

Now, hundreds of years later, Joshua and the offspring of Abraham stood on the very same spot where Abraham had built his altar to God. It was at this strategic location that Joshua chose to give the people a brief, but vital history lesson. But from the outset, he let them know that this was actually a message from Yahweh, prefacing his remarks, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel” (Joshua 24:2 ESV). This was a message from God Himself, reminding His people of the role He had played in their founding as a nation. And the entire timeline concerning God’s interactions with the nation of Israel is filled with exampled of His unmerited grace and favor. He began with the call of Abraham, the son of Terah, an idolatrous pagan living beyond the Euphrates River in the land of Ur. God had chosen Abraham, not the other way around. God, in His grace and according to His sovereign will, had picked Abraham out of all the other inhabitants on the earth at the time. Notice that God mentions Nahor, the brother of Abraham, but that he was not the one selected. God’s choice was Abraham, and in spite of his idolatrous background. God had plans for Abraham, and those plans included a long and arduous journey to the land of Canaan. It was in Canaan that God provided Abraham with a son, Isaac. And, once again, this abbreviated version of the story stressed God’s matchless grace. It fails to mention Abraham’s old age and Sarah’s barrenness. It doesn’t point out their failure to trust God and their attempts to bring about His promise through human means. Abraham had tried to convince God to accept his manservant, Eliezer, as his heir. Sarah had tried to help God out by convincing Abraham to have a child by her maidservant, Hagar. But God had something far greater in mind. He was the God of the impossible and His promise was not going to be fulfilled through human cunning and cleverness. Sarah gave birth to a son, Isaac, another example of God’s grace. And from this one son came Jacob and Esau, from whom would come the nations of Israel and Edom. And while the Edomites would settle in the land of Seir, it was God’s sovereign will that the Israelites end up in Egypt, just as God had promised to Abraham.

“Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years.” – Genesis 14:13 ESV

Through a series of God-ordained events, Joseph, one of the sons of Jacob, ended up in Egypt where he became the second-highest ranking official in the land. And a famine in the land of Canaan forced his father and brothers to turn to Egypt for aid, reuniting the family and fulfilling God’s promise to Abraham. The descendants of Jacob would remain in Egypt for 400 years, until God sent Moses to set them free from their bondage and slavery to Pharaoh. Once again, a picture of God’s grace, because they had long ago stopped worshiping Him as God. During their four-century stay in Egypt they had begun to worship the false gods of Egypt. But God graciously delivered them, using a series of plagues to prove to them that He was the one and only God. God had told Moses:

6 “Say therefore to the people of Israel, ‘I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from slavery to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment. 7 I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God, and you shall know that I am the Lord your God, who has brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians.’” – Exodus 6:6-7 ESV

And their exodus from Egypt had culminated with God’s gracious deliverance of the people of Israel from certain death at banks of the Red Sea. They had walked out of Egypt, only to find themselves standing at the shore of the sea with the armies of Pharaoh bearing down on them. And the people saw their situation as hopeless.

11 They said to Moses, “Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us in bringing us out of Egypt? 12 Is not this what we said to you in Egypt: ‘Leave us alone that we may serve the Egyptians’? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.” – Exodus 14:11-12 ESV     

But God had graciously delivered them that day. And He had led them through the wilderness. He had taken to the land of Canaan. He had provided them with victories over their enemies. He had defeated Balak, thwarted the plans of Balaam, handed over the city of Jericho, and given them possession of the land, just as He had promised to do nearly half a century earlier. Over and over again, God stressed His role in their corporate story.

I took… (vs 3)

I led… (vs 3)

I made… (vs 4)

I gave… (vs 4, 8, 11, 13)

I sent… (vs 5, 12)

I plagued… (vs 5)

I did… (vs 5)

I brought… (vs 5, 6)

I destroyed… (vs 8)

I delivered… (vs 10)

And God summarized it all with the statement: “I gave you a land on which you had not labored and cities that you had not built, and you dwell in them. You eat the fruit of vineyards and olive orchards that you did not plant” (Joshua 24:13 ESV). From the moment God had called Abraham to the day they had begun to occupy the land and enjoy the fruits it provided, God had been actively, graciously working on their behalf. Their entire history had been His story. He had done it all. From beginning to end. And it had all been an act of grace of God’s part – totally undeserved and unmerited. And God had done it all so that He might fulfill His divine plan to send His Son as the Savior of the world. The apostle Paul makes this point perfectly clear in his letter to the church in Galatia.

Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ. – Galatians 3:16 ESV

God had preordained that the Messiah, the Savior of the world, would be born a Jew, a descendant of Abraham. God’s plan was far greater in scope than just the occupation of a land somewhere in the Middle East by a particular people group. It was about the redemption of mankind and the future restoration of His creation. It was about the ultimate defeat of sin and death, not just the conquest of Canaan. Each and every part of Israel’s story was an expression of God’s grace and mercy, as He orchestrated His plan for the salvation of mankind. God was reminding His people that the many blessings they enjoyed were the result of His grace, not their inherent goodness or greatness.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Don’t Say I Didn’t Warn You.

1 A long time afterward, when the Lord had given rest to Israel from all their surrounding enemies, and Joshua was old and well advanced in years, 2 Joshua summoned all Israel, its elders and heads, its judges and officers, and said to them, “I am now old and well advanced in years. 3 And you have seen all that the Lord your God has done to all these nations for your sake, for it is the Lord your God who has fought for you. 4 Behold, I have allotted to you as an inheritance for your tribes those nations that remain, along with all the nations that I have already cut off, from the Jordan to the Great Sea in the west. 5 The Lord your God will push them back before you and drive them out of your sight. And you shall possess their land, just as the Lord your God promised you. 6 Therefore, be very strong to keep and to do all that is written in the Book of the Law of Moses, turning aside from it neither to the right hand nor to the left, 7 that you may not mix with these nations remaining among you or make mention of the names of their gods or swear by them or serve them or bow down to them, 8 but you shall cling to the Lord your God just as you have done to this day. 9 For the Lord has driven out before you great and strong nations. And as for you, no man has been able to stand before you to this day. 10 One man of you puts to flight a thousand, since it is the Lord your God who fights for you, just as he promised you. 11 Be very careful, therefore, to love the Lord your God. 12 For if you turn back and cling to the remnant of these nations remaining among you and make marriages with them, so that you associate with them and they with you, 13 know for certain that the Lord your God will no longer drive out these nations before you, but they shall be a snare and a trap for you, a whip on your sides and thorns in your eyes, until you perish from off this good ground that the Lord your God has given you.

14 “And now I am about to go the way of all the earth, and you know in your hearts and souls, all of you, that not one word has failed of all the good things that the Lord your God promised concerning you. All have come to pass for you; not one of them has failed. 15 But just as all the good things that the Lord your God promised concerning you have been fulfilled for you, so the Lord will bring upon you all the evil things, until he has destroyed you from off this good land that the Lord your God has given you, 16 if you transgress the covenant of the Lord your God, which he commanded you, and go and serve other gods and bow down to them. Then the anger of the Lord will be kindled against you, and you shall perish quickly from off the good land that he has given to you.” – Joshua 23:1-16 ESV

Years have passed. Joshua has been in leadership over Israel for quite some time and is coming to the end of his life. And like his predecessor, Moses, Joshua feels compelled to give the people under his care one last word of instruction. He probably remembered well the words spoken to him by Moses when the mantel of leadership had been transferred.

7 “Be strong and courageous, for you shall go with this people into the land that the Lord has sworn to their fathers to give them, and you shall put them in possession of it. 8 It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.” – Deuteronomy 31:7-8 ESV

And Joshua had seen that promise fulfilled. He had watched God work and was able to say to his people, “you have seen all that the Lord your God has done to all these nations for your sake, for it is the Lord your God who has fought for you” (Joshua 23:3 ESV). They had possessed the land, but not without the help of God. He had fought for them and had routed their enemies before them. But, even all these years later, there was still more work to be done. There were still more enemies to conquer and land to possess. But Joshua simply passed on to the people what he had heard from Moses:

Therefore, be very strong to keep and to do all that is written in the Book of the Law of Moses, turning aside from it neither to the right hand nor to the left. – Joshua 23:6 ESV

Nothing had changed. Even after all the years that had passed, God was still in control and His demand for obedience and faithfulness still held. He had proven Himself to be trustworthy and true to His word. He had exhibited His power, time and time again. And Joshua reminded them, “the Lord has driven out before you great and strong nations. And as for you, no man has been able to stand before you to this day” (Joshua 23:9 ESV). So, any nations that remained would prove to be no problem. But Joshua knew his people well. After decades of leading the people of Israel, he had come to know their strengths and weaknesses. He was well aware of their shortcomings and the possibility that, after all these years, they could still end up turning their backs on God. So, like a loving father, he warned his sin-prone children.

11 So be very careful to love the Lord your God. 12 “But if you turn away from him and cling to the customs of the survivors of these nations remaining among you, and if you intermarry with them, 13 then know for certain that the Lord your God will no longer drive them out of your land. Instead, they will be a snare and a trap to you, a whip for your backs and thorny brambles in your eyes, and you will vanish from this good land the Lord your God has given you. – Joshua 23:11-13 NLT

Joshua knew that love for God had to be expressed in obedience to God. Lip-service was not going to cut it. The prophet Isaiah would later record the words of God, spoken in accusation against the future descendants of this very group of people listening to Joshua’s final charge.

"These people say they are mine. They honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. And their worship of me is nothing but man-made rules learned by rote.” – Isaiah 29:13 NLT

Joshua had a sneaky suspicion that his people were going to constantly struggle with faithfulness. He knew that the remaining presence of the unconquered Canaanites in the land was going to be a constant problem, because of their false gods. He also knew that there was going to be a temptation for the people of Israel to compromise their convictions and disobey the expressed will of God by intermarrying with the Canaanites, rather than destroying them. But Joshua warned that accommodation could bring condemnation. Making concessions would only make things worse, not better. God was not going to tolerate any decision on their part to do His will their way.

It’s interesting to note that Joshua was passing on to the people the very same words God had spoken to him years earlier, when the mantel of leadership had become his.

6 Be strong and courageous, for you shall cause this people to inherit the land that I swore to their fathers to give them. 7 Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go.” – Joshua 1:6-7 ESV

Those words had been proven true. Joshua believed them, because he had seen them fulfilled in his own lifetime. He had learned the value of obedience and faithfulness. He wanted the people he left behind to remain true to God and His Word. And why wouldn’t he? As he reminded them, “not one word has failed of all the good things that the Lord your God promised concerning you. All have come to pass for you; not one of them has failed” (Joshua 23:14 ESV). God had been faithful to them, so why in the world would they ever choose to disobey His commands? But Joshua understood human nature. And he was very familiar with his own sin nature. Covenant faithfulness was always in jeopardy because of the presence of indwelling sin. The presence of God’s law was not enough to cause obedience. In fact, the apostle Paul would later write of his own experience with the law of God.

7 I would not have known sin except through the law. For indeed I would not have known what it means to desire something belonging to someone else if the law had not said, “Do not covet.” 8 But sin, seizing the opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of wrong desires. For apart from the law, sin is dead. – Romans 7:7-8 NLT

Paul knew that the law could not prevent sin. It could only reveal it. Which he made perfectly clear in his letter to the Galatians.

Why, then, was the law given? It was given alongside the promise to show people their sins. – Galatians 3:19 NLT

God had forbidden intermarriage with the Canaanites, but here was Joshua warning them once again not to do just that. Why? Because he knew that they were prone to do what God had told them not to do. God’s ban on intermarriage was meant to be a protection. It was to keep his people from worshiping false gods and turning their backs on Him, the one true God. He was trying to protect them from experiencing His wrath. As God, He is obligated by His very nature, to punish sin. He cannot and will not tolerate unfaithfulness. His holiness and righteousness will not allow Him to do so. Compromise is not an option for God.

But we know how this story ends. The book of Judges and the history of the kings of Israel, recorded in the books of 1st and 2nd Samuel and 1st and 2nd Kings, remind us of Israel’s failure to keep God’s commands. In spite of Joshua’s warning, they would prove to unfaithful. They would intermarry. They would make compromises and concessions. They would worship false gods and turn their backs on the one true God. And the prophetic words of Joshua would come to pass: “the anger of the Lord will be kindled against you, and you shall perish quickly from off the good land that he has given to you” (Joshua 23:16 ESV).

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

That Didn't Take Long.

10 And when they came to the region of the Jordan that is in the land of Canaan, the people of Reuben and the people of Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh built there an altar by the Jordan, an altar of imposing size. 11 And the people of Israel heard it said, “Behold, the people of Reuben and the people of Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh have built the altar at the frontier of the land of Canaan, in the region about the Jordan, on the side that belongs to the people of Israel.” 12 And when the people of Israel heard of it, the whole assembly of the people of Israel gathered at Shiloh to make war against them.

13 Then the people of Israel sent to the people of Reuben and the people of Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh, in the land of Gilead, Phinehas the son of Eleazar the priest, 14 and with him ten chiefs, one from each of the tribal families of Israel, every one of them the head of a family among the clans of Israel. 15 And they came to the people of Reuben, the people of Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh, in the land of Gilead, and they said to them, 16 “Thus says the whole congregation of the Lord, ‘What is this breach of faith that you have committed against the God of Israel in turning away this day from following the Lord by building yourselves an altar this day in rebellion against the Lord? 17 Have we not had enough of the sin at Peor from which even yet we have not cleansed ourselves, and for which there came a plague upon the congregation of the Lord, 18 that you too must turn away this day from following the Lord? And if you too rebel against the Lord today then tomorrow he will be angry with the whole congregation of Israel. 19 But now, if the land of your possession is unclean, pass over into the Lord’s land where the Lord’s tabernacle stands, and take for yourselves a possession among us. Only do not rebel against the Lord or make us as rebels by building for yourselves an altar other than the altar of the Lord our God. 20 Did not Achan the son of Zerah break faith in the matter of the devoted things, and wrath fell upon all the congregation of Israel? And he did not perish alone for his iniquity.’”

21 Then the people of Reuben, the people of Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh said in answer to the heads of the families of Israel, 22 “The Mighty One, God, the Lord! The Mighty One, God, the Lord! He knows; and let Israel itself know! If it was in rebellion or in breach of faith against the Lord, do not spare us today 23 for building an altar to turn away from following the Lord. Or if we did so to offer burnt offerings or grain offerings or peace offerings on it, may the Lord himself take vengeance. 24 No, but we did it from fear that in time to come your children might say to our children, ‘What have you to do with the Lord, the God of Israel? 25 For the Lord has made the Jordan a boundary between us and you, you people of Reuben and people of Gad. You have no portion in the Lord.’ So your children might make our children cease to worship the Lord. 26 Therefore we said, ‘Let us now build an altar, not for burnt offering, nor for sacrifice, 27 but to be a witness between us and you, and between our generations after us, that we do perform the service of the Lord in his presence with our burnt offerings and sacrifices and peace offerings, so your children will not say to our children in time to come, “You have no portion in the Lord.”’ 28 And we thought, ‘If this should be said to us or to our descendants in time to come, we should say, “Behold, the copy of the altar of the Lord, which our fathers made, not for burnt offerings, nor for sacrifice, but to be a witness between us and you.”’ 29 Far be it from us that we should rebel against the Lord and turn away this day from following the Lord by building an altar for burnt offering, grain offering, or sacrifice, other than the altar of the Lord our God that stands before his tabernacle!”

30 When Phinehas the priest and the chiefs of the congregation, the heads of the families of Israel who were with him, heard the words that the people of Reuben and the people of Gad and the people of Manasseh spoke, it was good in their eyes. 31 And Phinehas the son of Eleazar the priest said to the people of Reuben and the people of Gad and the people of Manasseh, “Today we know that the Lord is in our midst, because you have not committed this breach of faith against the Lord. Now you have delivered the people of Israel from the hand of the Lord.”

32 Then Phinehas the son of Eleazar the priest, and the chiefs, returned from the people of Reuben and the people of Gad in the land of Gilead to the land of Canaan, to the people of Israel, and brought back word to them. 33 And the report was good in the eyes of the people of Israel. And the people of Israel blessed God and spoke no more of making war against them to destroy the land where the people of Reuben and the people of Gad were settled. 34 The people of Reuben and the people of Gad called the altar Witness, “For,” they said, “it is a witness between us that the Lord is God.”  Joshua 22:10-34 ESV

Now that the major portion of the fighting was over and the tribes of Israel had been awarded their respective land allotments, Joshua blessed and dismissed the three tribes that had been given land on the eastern side of the Jordan River. The tribes of Reuben and Gad, along with half the tribe of Manasseh, had requested to settle in the land of Gilead. But they had agreed to help the rest of the tribes conquer and possess the land of Canaan, and now that they had kept their commitment, Joshua was allowing them to return home. But not without a warning to remain faithful to Yahweh.

 

“Only be very careful to observe the commandment and the law that Moses the servant of the Lord commanded you, to love the Lord your God, and to walk in all his ways and to keep his commandments and to cling to him and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul.” – Joshua 22:5 ESV

But almost immediately after returning to their side of the Jordan River, the natural boundary that separated them from the rest of the tribes of Israel, the trouble began. They made a fateful decision to build an altar to God, “an altar of imposing size” according to the text. But when the rest of the tribes heard about it, they jumped to a very wrong conclusion. They assumed that the tribes of Reuben, Gad and Manasseh had decided to abandon Yahweh for the gods of the Canaanites, in direct violation of God’s command given to Moses.

10 But when you go over the Jordan and live in the land that the Lord your God is giving you to inherit, and when he gives you rest from all your enemies around, so that you live in safety, 11 then to the place that the Lord your God will choose, to make his name dwell there, there you shall bring all that I command you: your burnt offerings and your sacrifices, your tithes and the contribution that you present, and all your finest vow offerings that you vow to the Lord. – Deuteronomy 12:10-11 ESV

God had made it clear that they were to offer sacrifices to Him in one place only – a place that He alone would designate. And that place was Shiloh. There, the tabernacle had been set up and the altar erected. And only there were the people of Israel to offer sacrifices to God. That point had been made perfectly clear by Moses.

13 Take care that you do not offer your burnt offerings at any place that you see, 14 but at the place that the Lord will choose in one of your tribes, there you shall offer your burnt offerings, and there you shall do all that I am commanding you. – Deuteronomy 12:13-14 ESV

So, the tribes west of the Jordan jumped to the conclusion that their three fellow tribes had broken faith with God and had erected an altar to a false god. Either that, or they had built an altar other than the one in Shiloh and were planning on making their own offerings and sacrifices, in direct violation of God’s prohibition against doing so. This was a communications disaster that was quickly turning into a potential civil war. Those tribes west of the Jordan assumed the worst and assembled to do battle with their brothers on the other side of the river. They were driven by the fear of what God would do if they allowed this sin to take place without taking steps to deal with it. They could still recall the sin of Achan and how his decision to disobey the command of God had brought defeat to the entire nation. They knew that God took disobedience to His law quite seriously and that individual sin had corporate consequences. And if three out of the 12 tribes chose to disobey God’s command, they would all end up suffering for it. So, they acted – probably a bit hastily and without getting their facts straight.

Again, they were operating in fear, based on what they knew to be God’s will regarding idolatry and His hatred for it. Moses had given them specific instructions about how to handle those who worshiped false gods.

12 “If you hear in one of your cities, which the Lord your God is giving you to dwell there, 13 that certain worthless fellows have gone out among you and have drawn away the inhabitants of their city, saying, ‘Let us go and serve other gods,’ which you have not known, 14 then you shall inquire and make search and ask diligently. And behold, if it be true and certain that such an abomination has been done among you, 15 you shall surely put the inhabitants of that city to the sword, devoting it to destruction, all who are in it and its cattle, with the edge of the sword. 16 You shall gather all its spoil into the midst of its open square and burn the city and all its spoil with fire, as a whole burnt offering to the Lord your God. It shall be a heap forever. It shall not be built again. – Deuteronomy 13:12-16 ESV

So, when they heard that the three tribes west of the Jordan had built an impressive altar, they wasted no time, gathering all the people together at Shiloh in preparation for an assault on their unfaithful brothers. But prior to marching into Gilead, they sent a delegation, made up of “Phinehas the son of Eleazar the priest, and with him ten chiefs, one from each of the tribal families of Israel” (Joshua 22:13-14 ESV). And, upon arrival in Gilead, these men wasted no time in stating their accusation against the tribes of Reuben, Gad and Manasseh.

What is this breach of faith that you have committed against the God of Israel in turning away this day from following the Lord by building yourselves an altar this day in rebellion against the Lord? – Joshua 22:16 ESV

They made it clear that they saw the actions of the three tribes as a breach of faith and an act of sin worthy of death. They assumed their brothers had been tempted by the unclean practices of the pagans living in the land of Gilead and begged them to consider moving over the Jordan and finding land among the rest of the tribes. They were asking them to repent and return to the Lord.

But the people of Reuben, Gad and Manasseh were shocked and appalled at what they heard. They were dumbstruck by the accusations of Phinehas and his fellow delegates. It was all a huge misunderstanding. They had not erected an altar to false gods. And the altar they had built was not for the purpose of offering sacrifices. It had been constructed as a memorial or reminder or, as they put it, as “a witness between us and you, and between our generations after us, that we do perform the service of the Lord in his presence with our burnt offerings and sacrifices and peace offerings” (Joshua 22:27 ESV). They feared that the natural boundary of the Jordan would end up becoming a relational barrier between themselves and the other tribes. In time, they speculated, their brothers west of the Jordan would see them as outsiders and bar them from worship at the tabernacle in Shiloh. So, they constructed the altar as a reminder to the generations to come, that they too were Yahweh worshipers. They had never intended to offer sacrifices on this altar. Their clearly articulated their purpose behind building the altar.

“Behold, the copy of the altar of the Lord, which our fathers made, not for burnt offerings, nor for sacrifice, but to be a witness between us and you.” – Joshua 22:28 ESV

A civil war was avoided and a disaster averted. The truth was revealed and all were able to rejoice in the fact that they worshiped the same God. The three tribes ended up calling the altar, “Witness” because “it is a witness between us that the Lord is God.” They shared a common love for and faith in God. The river may have separated them physically, but they were linked by their belief in Yahweh. And while idolatry would remain a constant threat for each of the tribes of Israel, on this occasion, it had been a huge misunderstanding. People jumped to conclusions. Fear got the best of Joshua and the people of Israel. They assumed the worst, but thankfully, they were prevented from acting on their false assumptions and sought the truth.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

More Than Conquerors.

43 Thus the Lord gave to Israel all the land that he swore to give to their fathers. And they took possession of it, and they settled there. 44 And the Lord gave them rest on every side just as he had sworn to their fathers. Not one of all their enemies had withstood them, for the Lord had given all their enemies into their hands. 45 Not one word of all the good promises that the Lord had made to the house of Israel had failed; all came to pass. 

1 At that time Joshua summoned the Reubenites and the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh, 2 and said to them, “You have kept all that Moses the servant of the Lord commanded you and have obeyed my voice in all that I have commanded you. 3 You have not forsaken your brothers these many days, down to this day, but have been careful to keep the charge of the Lord your God. 4 And now the Lord your God has given rest to your brothers, as he promised them. Therefore turn and go to your tents in the land where your possession lies, which Moses the servant of the Lord gave you on the other side of the Jordan. 5 Only be very careful to observe the commandment and the law that Moses the servant of the Lord commanded you, to love the Lord your God, and to walk in all his ways and to keep his commandments and to cling to him and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul.” 6 So Joshua blessed them and sent them away, and they went to their tents.

7 Now to the one half of the tribe of Manasseh Moses had given a possession in Bashan, but to the other half Joshua had given a possession beside their brothers in the land west of the Jordan. And when Joshua sent them away to their homes and blessed them, 8 he said to them, “Go back to your tents with much wealth and with very much livestock, with silver, gold, bronze, and iron, and with much clothing. Divide the spoil of your enemies with your brothers.” 9 So the people of Reuben and the people of Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh returned home, parting from the people of Israel at Shiloh, which is in the land of Canaan, to go to the land of Gilead, their own land of which they had possessed themselves by command of the Lord through Moses. Joshua 21:43-22:9 ESV

 

The closing verses of chapter 21 act as a kind of summary statement, drawing the previous section of the book to a close. The people of Israel were in the land of promise and had conquered their enemies and occupied the land. Each of the tribes had received their inheritance. And it had all been done according to and in keeping with the promises of God. Now, it might appear to us that the words found in these verses are either a bit overly optimistic or an outright lie, because we know that they had not completely conquered the land or eradicated the former inhabitants of the land. And there were many more battles ahead for them. But it is important to remember that God had never promised them the immediate and full elimination of their enemies. He had told them:

29 I will not drive them out from before you in one year, lest the land become desolate and the wild beasts multiply against you. 30 Little by little I will drive them out from before you, until you have increased and possess the land. 31 And I will set your border from the Red Sea to the Sea of the Philistines, and from the wilderness to the Euphrates, for I will give the inhabitants of the land into your hand, and you shall drive them out before you. – Exodus 23:29-31 ESV

God had always intended this to be a slow and steady operation, allowing the people of Israel time to increase in numbers and strength. Had they wiped out all the inhabitants immediately, the fields would have gone untended and the pasture lands would have become overgrown. The Israelites did not yet have the numbers necessary to occupy all the land. So, God had planned that their occupation of the land would be methodical and gradual. But the text makes it clear that the land was completely theirs. The concluding verse of chapter 21 says it all: “Not one word of all the good promises that the Lord had made to the house of Israel had failed; all came to pass.” God had done His part. Now it was time for them to do theirs. Each tribe had their promised allotment. It was up to them to populate and fully possess their respective inheritance. And, once again, God had promised to make their full and complete possession of the land a reality – if they would trust in and obey Him.

21 You shall not be in dread of them, for the Lord your God is in your midst, a great and awesome God. 22 The Lord your God will clear away these nations before you little by little. You may not make an end of them at once, lest the wild beasts grow too numerous for you. 23 But the Lord your God will give them over to you and throw them into great confusion, until they are destroyed. – Deuteronomy 7:21-23 ESV

Their arrival at the eastern shores of the Jordan River was not the fulfillment of God’s promise made to Abraham. Neither was their crossing over the Jordan on dry ground. Their amazing victories over Jericho and Ai were not the final realization of His promise either. It was not until the final acre of land had been allotted and every one of the 12 tribes had received their inheritance that God deemed His promise fulfilled. Yes, there was much work yet to be done.  There were still enemies to be defeated, cities to be captured, and land to be possessed but, from God’s divine perspective, His promise had been kept. His will had been done. 

The presence of enemies in the land was not an indication that God’s promise was incomplete and, therefore, unfulfilled. He had proven that, with His help, no enemy could stand before them. It was only when the people of Israel failed to live in obedience to and in dependence upon God, that they found their enemies to be a threat. And as Christians, we must always recognize that the salvation we experienced in Christ did not eliminate the presence of the enemy from our lives. But as Paul reminds us, we are more than conquerors through Christ.

31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? 33 Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
    we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. – Romans 8:31-39 ESV

Our enemies are real and their presence is pervasive. They are all around us. But we have already been given the victory over them. And the same thing was true of the Israelites. Yes, there were still Canaanites in the land. There would be days of battle ahead. The enemies of God’s people don’t give up without a fight. But if God is for us, who can be against us? And the apostle John provides us with another word of encouragement concerning the battle we face in this life as believers.

But you belong to God, my dear children. You have already won a victory over those people, because the Spirit who lives in you is greater than the spirit who lives in the world. – 1 John 4:4 NLT

After the last tribe received their land allotment, Joshua gave permission to the tribes of Reuben, Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh to return to their land on the east side of the Jordan. They had kept their promise and had fought alongside their brothers until each tribe had received their portion of the land. Now, they were free to return home and to begin the process of occupying and cultivating the land given to them by God. But Joshua gave them a word of warning, encouraging them to not allow the natural barrier of the Jordan River to place a roadblock to their faith.

“Only be very careful to observe the commandment and the law that Moses the servant of the Lord commanded you, to love the Lord your God, and to walk in all his ways and to keep his commandments and to cling to him and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul.” – Joshua 22:5 ESV

These three tribes had been faithful to their brothers, but Joshua knew it was even more important that they remain faithful to God. He had seen what happened when one man failed to obey God’s word. Achan had taken plunder from Jericho and the whole nation had suffered for his sin. And Joshua knew that if the tribes of Reuben, Gad and Manasseh failed to remain faithful to God, keeping His laws and worshiping Him alone, the rest of the tribes would find themselves under God’s wrath. Corporate faithfulness was the key to receiving God’s ongoing blessing. They had gotten what they wanted: The land. But God wanted obedience and faithfulness. And while He had fulfilled His promise to them, their ability to enjoy all the blessings associated with that promise was going to require that they remain faithful to Him.


English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

A Priestly Presence.

1 Then the heads of the fathers' houses of the Levites came to Eleazar the priest and to Joshua the son of Nun and to the heads of the fathers' houses of the tribes of the people of Israel. 2 And they said to them at Shiloh in the land of Canaan, “The Lord commanded through Moses that we be given cities to dwell in, along with their pasturelands for our livestock.” 3 So by command of the Lord the people of Israel gave to the Levites the following cities and pasturelands out of their inheritance.

4 The lot came out for the clans of the Kohathites. So those Levites who were descendants of Aaron the priest received by lot from the tribes of Judah, Simeon, and Benjamin, thirteen cities.

5 And the rest of the Kohathites received by lot from the clans of the tribe of Ephraim, from the tribe of Dan and the half-tribe of Manasseh, ten cities.

6 The Gershonites received by lot from the clans of the tribe of Issachar, from the tribe of Asher, from the tribe of Naphtali, and from the half-tribe of Manasseh in Bashan, thirteen cities.

7 The Merarites according to their clans received from the tribe of Reuben, the tribe of Gad, and the tribe of Zebulun, twelve cities.

8 These cities and their pasturelands the people of Israel gave by lot to the Levites, as the Lord had commanded through Moses.

9 Out of the tribe of the people of Judah and the tribe of the people of Simeon they gave the following cities mentioned by name, 10 which went to the descendants of Aaron, one of the clans of the Kohathites who belonged to the people of Levi; since the lot fell to them first. 11 They gave them Kiriath-arba (Arba being the father of Anak), that is Hebron, in the hill country of Judah, along with the pasturelands around it. 12 But the fields of the city and its villages had been given to Caleb the son of Jephunneh as his possession.

13 And to the descendants of Aaron the priest they gave Hebron, the city of refuge for the manslayer, with its pasturelands, Libnah with its pasturelands, 14 Jattir with its pasturelands, Eshtemoa with its pasturelands, 15 Holon with its pasturelands, Debir with its pasturelands, 16 Ain with its pasturelands, Juttah with its pasturelands, Beth-shemesh with its pasturelands—nine cities out of these two tribes; 17 then out of the tribe of Benjamin, Gibeon with its pasturelands, Geba with its pasturelands, 18 Anathoth with its pasturelands, and Almon with its pasturelands—four cities. 19 The cities of the descendants of Aaron, the priests, were in all thirteen cities with their pasturelands.

20 As to the rest of the Kohathites belonging to the Kohathite clans of the Levites, the cities allotted to them were out of the tribe of Ephraim. 21 To them were given Shechem, the city of refuge for the manslayer, with its pasturelands in the hill country of Ephraim, Gezer with its pasturelands, 22 Kibzaim with its pasturelands, Beth-horon with its pasturelands—four cities; 23 and out of the tribe of Dan, Elteke with its pasturelands, Gibbethon with its pasturelands, 24 Aijalon with its pasturelands, Gath-rimmon with its pasturelands—four cities; 25 and out of the half-tribe of Manasseh, Taanach with its pasturelands, and Gath-rimmon with its pasturelands—two cities. 26 The cities of the clans of the rest of the Kohathites were ten in all with their pasturelands.

27 And to the Gershonites, one of the clans of the Levites, were given out of the half-tribe of Manasseh, Golan in Bashan with its pasturelands, the city of refuge for the manslayer, and Beeshterah with its pasturelands—two cities; 28 and out of the tribe of Issachar, Kishion with its pasturelands, Daberath with its pasturelands, 29 Jarmuth with its pasturelands, En-gannim with its pasturelands—four cities; 30 and out of the tribe of Asher, Mishal with its pasturelands, Abdon with its pasturelands, 31 Helkath with its pasturelands, and Rehob with its pasturelands—four cities; 32 and out of the tribe of Naphtali, Kedesh in Galilee with its pasturelands, the city of refuge for the manslayer, Hammoth-dor with its pasturelands, and Kartan with its pasturelands—three cities. 33 The cities of the several clans of the Gershonites were in all thirteen cities with their pasturelands.

34 And to the rest of the Levites, the Merarite clans, were given out of the tribe of Zebulun, Jokneam with its pasturelands, Kartah with its pasturelands, 35 Dimnah with its pasturelands, Nahalal with its pasturelands—four cities; 36 and out of the tribe of Reuben, Bezer with its pasturelands, Jahaz with its pasturelands, 37 Kedemoth with its pasturelands, and Mephaath with its pasturelands—four cities; 38 and out of the tribe of Gad, Ramoth in Gilead with its pasturelands, the city of refuge for the manslayer, Mahanaim with its pasturelands, 39 Heshbon with its pasturelands, Jazer with its pasturelands—four cities in all. 40 As for the cities of the several Merarite clans, that is, the remainder of the clans of the Levites, those allotted to them were in all twelve cities.

41 The cities of the Levites in the midst of the possession of the people of Israel were in all forty-eight cities with their pasturelands. 42 These cities each had its pasturelands around it. So it was with all these cities. Joshua 21:1-42 ESV

 

During the days of Israel’s wandering in the wilderness, God had given the tribe of Levi the responsibility of caring for the tabernacle and everything associated with it. They were declared by God to be a priestly order, with their descendants holding the distinct honor of serving the rest of the tribes of Israel in a spiritual capacity.They were to be unique among all the other tribes, not only because of their  special God-ordained role, but because of God’s declaration that they not be allotted their own portion of land as an inheritance. In the book of Numbers, we have recorded God’s words to Moses that outlined His plans for the Levites. 

6 “Bring the tribe of Levi near, and set them before Aaron the priest, that they may minister to him. 7 They shall keep guard over him and over the whole congregation before the tent of meeting, as they minister at the tabernacle. 8 They shall guard all the furnishings of the tent of meeting, and keep guard over the people of Israel as they minister at the tabernacle. 9 And you shall give the Levites to Aaron and his sons; they are wholly given to him from among the people of Israel. 10 And you shall appoint Aaron and his sons, and they shall guard their priesthood. But if any outsider comes near, he shall be put to death.” – Numbers 3:6-10 ESV

And God gave Moses the reasoning behind His decision.

12 “Behold, I have taken the Levites from among the people of Israel instead of every firstborn who opens the womb among the people of Israel. The Levites shall be mine, 13 for all the firstborn are mine. On the day that I struck down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, I consecrated for my own all the firstborn in Israel, both of man and of beast. They shall be mine: I am the Lord.” – Numbers 3:11-13 ESV

And later on, when God had given the law to Moses, He provided further details concerning the distinctive role of this particular tribe.

8 At that time the Lord set apart the tribe of Levi to carry the ark of the covenant of the Lord to stand before the Lord to minister to him and to bless in his name, to this day. 9 Therefore Levi has no portion or inheritance with his brothers. The Lord is his inheritance, as the Lord your God said to him.) – Deuteronomy 10:8-9 ESV

But who were the Levites and what led God to choose them for this very special honor? To understand what is going on here, we have to go back to Exodus chapter 2, where we have recorded the birth of Moses.

1 Now a man from the house of Levi went and took as his wife a Levite woman. 2 The woman conceived and bore a son, and when she saw that he was a fine child, she hid him three months. – Exodus 2:1-2 ESV

Moses was a pure-blooded Levite. His father, Amram, was a Levite, born to Kohath, who was a son of Levi, the third son of Jacob. Moses’ mother was also a Levite. And Moses and his brother, Aaron, would become the first priests overseeing the well-being of the tribes of Israel as a whole. The Levites would become God’s ordained instruments dedicated to His service and assigned the task of ministering to the spiritual needs of the people. They belonged to God and, as His servants, they were to be cared for by God. So, when it came time to apportion the land of promise, they were not given a particular portion of land like all the other tribes. Instead, God gave them cities located within the boundaries of the other tribes – 48 cities in all. Each tribe was required to provide four cities each, and the Levites were given pasture land around those cities for their own use. This plan resulted in the Levites being equally distributed among the other tribes, providing them with ready access to the people of God so that they might instruct them in the law and in the worship of Jehovah. The Levites did not become the sole-inhabitants of these cities and the cities did not become their possessions. The cities remained the property of the tribes on whose land they existed. But the Levites were provided places to live and a means for raising flocks to care for their needs. God became their provider and benefactor.

God provided for His people. He had given them the land, but He had also provided them with a priestly clan, whose sole purpose was to teach the people the law and encourage them in their worship of God. God knew the people were going to need far more than land. He also recognized that their designation as His chosen people would not be enough to keep them faithful to His law and committed to the worship of Him alone. In fact, one of the key reasons the Levites had been chosen by God is because of the role they had played in God’s discipline of the people of Israel after they had made the golden calf in the wilderness. When Moses had seen what Aaron and the people had done while He had been on the top of Mount Sinai receiving the law from God, he called for judgment to be enacted upon the people, nd it was the Levites who responded.

26 then Moses stood in the gate of the camp and said, “Who is on the Lord's side? Come to me.” And all the sons of Levi gathered around him. 27 And he said to them, “Thus says the Lord God of Israel, ‘Put your sword on your side each of you, and go to and fro from gate to gate throughout the camp, and each of you kill his brother and his companion and his neighbor.’” 28 And the sons of Levi did according to the word of Moses. And that day about three thousand men of the people fell. 29 And Moses said, “Today you have been ordained for the service of the Lord, each one at the cost of his son and of his brother, so that he might bestow a blessing upon you this day.” – Exodus 32:26-29 ESV

The Levites, the tribe of Moses, came to his aid and to the defense of God’s name, and brought just judgment upon all those who had worshiped the false god. This tribe was dispersed among all the other tribes in order that they might hold the people of God accountable. They were to be a strong influence for good among the people, 

9 “For they observed your word
    and kept your covenant.
10 They shall teach Jacob your rules
    and Israel your law;
they shall put incense before you
    and whole burnt offerings on your altar. – Deuteronomy 33:9-10 ESV

These men were dedicated to God. They belonged to Him and were given the indispensable and unenviable task of keeping the people of God faithful to God. From their 48 cities, spread all across the land of promise, they were to be salt and light among the tribes of Judah. Their job would not be an easy one, but it was vital to the spiritual well-being of the nation. Obedience was going to be the key to Israel getting the most out of their experience in the land. And the Levites were God’s ambassadors, tasked with teaching the people the ways of God so that they might walk in obedience to God and fully know the blessings of God.


English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Jesus, Our Refuge.

1 Then the Lord said to Joshua, 2 “Say to the people of Israel, ‘Appoint the cities of refuge, of which I spoke to you through Moses, 3 that the manslayer who strikes any person without intent or unknowingly may flee there. They shall be for you a refuge from the avenger of blood. 4 He shall flee to one of these cities and shall stand at the entrance of the gate of the city and explain his case to the elders of that city. Then they shall take him into the city and give him a place, and he shall remain with them. 5 And if the avenger of blood pursues him, they shall not give up the manslayer into his hand, because he struck his neighbor unknowingly, and did not hate him in the past. 6 And he shall remain in that city until he has stood before the congregation for judgment, until the death of him who is high priest at the time. Then the manslayer may return to his own town and his own home, to the town from which he fled.’”

7 So they set apart Kedesh in Galilee in the hill country of Naphtali, and Shechem in the hill country of Ephraim, and Kiriath-arba (that is, Hebron) in the hill country of Judah. 8 And beyond the Jordan east of Jericho, they appointed Bezer in the wilderness on the tableland, from the tribe of Reuben, and Ramoth in Gilead, from the tribe of Gad, and Golan in Bashan, from the tribe of Manasseh. 9 These were the cities designated for all the people of Israel and for the stranger sojourning among them, that anyone who killed a person without intent could flee there, so that he might not die by the hand of the avenger of blood, till he stood before the congregation. Joshua 20:1-9 ESV

 

God had given His people the land He had promised them. But they were not free to live in the land according to their own standards or apart from His divine law. He had provided them with His law while they were still in the wilderness and He had intended for them to take the law with them into the promised land, where it would determine the nature of their relationship with Him and with one another. And God, knowing the reality of man’s sin nature, had made provision for the inevitable presence of sin among His people. The entire sacrificial system was designed to provide atonement for their sins and restore them to a right relationship with God. And because the sacrificial system could not remove sin, it would be a permanent part of their communal experience for generations to come.

One of the sad realities the law was forced to address was the human potential for murder. Even though the Israelites were united in their common bond as children of God, they were sinners who were fully capable of turning on one another out of jealousy or motivated by anger, and willfully taking the life of a brother or sister. So, God had made provision for such acts of violence, telling Moses, “Whoever strikes a man so that he dies shall be put to death” (Exodus 21:12 ESV). And God went on to clarify and qualify the conditions for putting a man to death for murder. His actions had to be premeditated.

“if a man willfully attacks another to kill him by cunning, you shall take him from my altar, that he may die.” – Exodus 21:14 ESV

God knew that there would always be the potential for extenuating circumstances. In other words, there might be unforeseen issues at play that dictated whether the murder was willful or simply an accident. So, He had added an important addendum to His law, stating, “But if he 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” (Exodus 21:13 ESV). God had gone on to provide the people of Israel with detailed plans concerning this important aspect of His judicial system. 

9 And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 10 “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, When you cross the Jordan into the land of Canaan, 11 then you shall select cities to be cities of refuge for you, that the manslayer who kills any person without intent may flee there. 12 The cities shall be for you a refuge from the avenger, that the manslayer may not die until he stands before the congregation for judgment. 13 And the cities that you give shall be your six cities of refuge. 14 You shall give three cities beyond the Jordan, and three cities in the land of Canaan, to be cities of refuge. 15 These six cities shall be for refuge for the people of Israel, and for the stranger and for the sojourner among them, that anyone who kills any person without intent may flee there. – Numbers 35:9-15 ESV

God had predetermined that the Israelites would designate six cities within the land of promise that would serve as places of refuge for anyone who committed murder. And these six cities, located strategically throughout the land, were intended to be easily reached by anyone who was guilty of murder. Within the confines of these cities, the guilty party was to be offered sanctuary and protection from anyone who might want to avenge the death of the victim. And it’s important to note that these six cities were among the 42 cities set aside for the tribe of Levi as their places of residence. 

“The cities that you give to the Levites shall be the six cities of refuge, where you shall permit the manslayer to flee, and in addition to them you shall give forty-two cities.” – Numbers 35:6 ESV

The one who committed the act of murder was allowed to seek refuge in one of these Levitical cities. As long as he was in the city, he was to be provided protection, until such time as the residents of the city were able to ascertain whether his act was accidental or premeditated. If it was determined that he had committed murder willfully, he was to be turned over the the “avenger” in order that he might be put to death. If evidence was produced that proved the murder was accidental, the guilty party was confined to the city of refuge for life or until the death of the high priest, at which time the prisoner was to be set free and absolved of all guilt. The death of the high priest acted as an atonement for the sin of the guilty party. But if the manslayer willingly left the protective confines of the city of refuge at any time, he would be fair game for the avenger. He took his life into his own hands. But as long as the guilty party placed his life in the hands of the Levites, he was safe. If he chose to leave the city, he forfeited his right to life.

The cities of refuge are a picture of the role that Christ was to eventually play in the life of each and every guilty sinner. The book of Hebrews provides us with a comforting reminder that we, as guilty sinners, can seek refuge in Christ, our high priest.

18 Therefore, we who have fled to him for refuge can have great confidence as we hold to the hope that lies before us. 19 This hope is a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls. It leads us through the curtain into God’s inner sanctuary. 20 Jesus has already gone in there for us. He has become our eternal High Priest in the order of Melchizedek. – Hebrews 6:18-20 NLT

We can run to Christ and find safety and protection from the condemnation of sin and death. And Paul would have us remember that our condemnation has been removed because of Christ's death on our behalf.

1 So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. 2 And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death. – Romans 8:1-2 NLT

Paul goes on to tell us that because we have sought refuge in Christ, we are freed from any and all accusations of guilt or any calls for our execution.

33 Who dares accuse us whom God has chosen for his own? No one—for God himself has given us right standing with himself. 34 Who then will condemn us? No one—for Christ Jesus died for us and was raised to life for us, and he is sitting in the place of honor at God’s right hand, pleading for us. – Romans 8:33-34 NLT

God knew His people were going to sin. That’s why He gave them His law and His sacrificial system. He also knew His people would commit murder, either willingly or accidentally. So, He provides cities of refuge. But notice that the only way the manslayer could be absolved of his guilt was through death. The high priest had to die. And the only way that sinners can be absolved of their guilt before God is through the death of the great High Priest, Jesus Christ. He gave His life so that we might have forgiveness of sin and be freed from condemnation. Jesus is our High Priest, in whom we find refuge. But we don’t just hide from our guilt and sin, we are completely freed from it because of what He has done on our behalf.

24 But because Jesus lives forever, his priesthood lasts forever. 25 Therefore he is able, once and forever, to save those who come to God through him. He lives forever to intercede with God on their behalf.

26 He is the kind of high priest we need because he is holy and blameless, unstained by sin. He has been set apart from sinners and has been given the highest place of honor in heaven. 27 Unlike those other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices every day. They did this for their own sins first and then for the sins of the people. But Jesus did this once for all when he offered himself as the sacrifice for the people’s sins. 28 The law appointed high priests who were limited by human weakness. But after the law was given, God appointed his Son with an oath, and his Son has been made the perfect High Priest forever. – Hebrews 7:24-28 NLT

Jesus Christ, our refuge. His death set us free from our guilt and condemnation. And there is no one who can accuse us anymore.


English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Sovereign Work of God.

1 The second lot came out for Simeon, for the tribe of the people of Simeon, according to their clans, and their inheritance was in the midst of the inheritance of the people of Judah. 2 And they had for their inheritance Beersheba, Sheba, Moladah, 3 Hazar-shual, Balah, Ezem, 4 Eltolad, Bethul, Hormah, 5 Ziklag, Beth-marcaboth, Hazar-susah, 6 Beth-lebaoth, and Sharuhen—thirteen cities with their villages; 7 Ain, Rimmon, Ether, and Ashan—four cities with their villages, 8 together with all the villages around these cities as far as Baalath-beer, Ramah of the Negeb. This was the inheritance of the tribe of the people of Simeon according to their clans. 9 The inheritance of the people of Simeon formed part of the territory of the people of Judah. Because the portion of the people of Judah was too large for them, the people of Simeon obtained an inheritance in the midst of their inheritance.

10 The third lot came up for the people of Zebulun, according to their clans. And the territory of their inheritance reached as far as Sarid. 11 Then their boundary goes up westward and on to Mareal and touches Dabbesheth, then the brook that is east of Jokneam. 12 From Sarid it goes in the other direction eastward toward the sunrise to the boundary of Chisloth-tabor. From there it goes to Daberath, then up to Japhia. 13 From there it passes along on the east toward the sunrise to Gath-hepher, to Eth-kazin, and going on to Rimmon it bends toward Neah, 14 then on the north the boundary turns about to Hannathon, and it ends at the Valley of Iphtahel; 15 and Kattath, Nahalal, Shimron, Idalah, and Bethlehem—twelve cities with their villages. 16 This is the inheritance of the people of Zebulun, according to their clans—these cities with their villages.

17 The fourth lot came out for Issachar, for the people of Issachar, according to their clans. 18 Their territory included Jezreel, Chesulloth, Shunem, 19 Hapharaim, Shion, Anaharath, 20 Rabbith, Kishion, Ebez, 21 Remeth, En-gannim, En-haddah, Beth-pazzez. 22 The boundary also touches Tabor, Shahazumah, and Beth-shemesh, and its boundary ends at the Jordan—sixteen cities with their villages. 23 This is the inheritance of the tribe of the people of Issachar, according to their clans—the cities with their villages.

24 The fifth lot came out for the tribe of the people of Asher according to their clans. 25 Their territory included Helkath, Hali, Beten, Achshaph, 26 Allammelech, Amad, and Mishal. On the west it touches Carmel and Shihor-libnath, 27 then it turns eastward, it goes to Beth-dagon, and touches Zebulun and the Valley of Iphtahel northward to Beth-emek and Neiel. Then it continues in the north to Cabul, 28 Ebron, Rehob, Hammon, Kanah, as far as Sidon the Great. 29 Then the boundary turns to Ramah, reaching to the fortified city of Tyre. Then the boundary turns to Hosah, and it ends at the sea; Mahalab,[a] Achzib, 30 Ummah, Aphek and Rehob—twenty-two cities with their villages. 31 This is the inheritance of the tribe of the people of Asher according to their clans—these cities with their villages.

32 The sixth lot came out for the people of Naphtali, for the people of Naphtali, according to their clans. 33 And their boundary ran from Heleph, from the oak in Zaanannim, and Adami-nekeb, and Jabneel, as far as Lakkum, and it ended at the Jordan. 34 Then the boundary turns westward to Aznoth-tabor and goes from there to Hukkok, touching Zebulun at the south and Asher on the west and Judah on the east at the Jordan. 35 The fortified cities are Ziddim, Zer, Hammath, Rakkath, Chinnereth, 36 Adamah, Ramah, Hazor, 37 Kedesh, Edrei, En-hazor, 38 Yiron, Migdal-el, Horem, Beth-anath, and Beth-shemesh—nineteen cities with their villages. 39 This is the inheritance of the tribe of the people of Naphtali according to their clans—the cities with their villages.

40 The seventh lot came out for the tribe of the people of Dan, according to their clans. 41 And the territory of its inheritance included Zorah, Eshtaol, Ir-shemesh, 42 Shaalabbin, Aijalon, Ithlah, 43 Elon, Timnah, Ekron, 44 Eltekeh, Gibbethon, Baalath, 45 Jehud, Bene-berak, Gath-rimmon, 46 and Me-jarkon and Rakkon with the territory over against Joppa. 47 When the territory of the people of Dan was lost to them, the people of Dan went up and fought against Leshem, and after capturing it and striking it with the sword they took possession of it and settled in it, calling Leshem, Dan, after the name of Dan their ancestor. 48 This is the inheritance of the tribe of the people of Dan, according to their clans—these cities with their villages.

49 When they had finished distributing the several territories of the land as inheritances, the people of Israel gave an inheritance among them to Joshua the son of Nun. 50 By command of the Lord they gave him the city that he asked, Timnath-serah in the hill country of Ephraim. And he rebuilt the city and settled in it.

51 These are the inheritances that Eleazar the priest and Joshua the son of Nun and the heads of the fathers' houses of the tribes of the people of Israel distributed by lot at Shiloh before the Lord, at the entrance of the tent of meeting. So they finished dividing the land. Joshua 19:1-51 ESV

 

This is a long chapter that contains seemingly insignificant information that is of little use to us as 21st-Century Christians. There are plenty of details regarding the borders of the various land allotments and the names of cities located within those lands, but there appears to be no theological or doctrinal insights we can glean from the passage and apply to our daily lives. It is what I tend to call a “skip-over” passage – one of those sections of Scripture, like the genealogies found in the gospels, that prompt us to skip over them rather than waste time wading through their apparently unimportant content. But their very inclusion in the Scriptures begs the question: Why are they there? If, as the Bible states, “All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives” (2 Timothy 3:16 NLT), why did the Holy Spirit inspire the authors of the Scriptures to include passages like this? What is remotely useful in this passage and how can it teach us what is true?

In this chapter we have the allocation of land to the remaining seven tribes. The major tribes have been taken care of, including Judah, Manasseh, and Ephraim. And the smaller, but far from insignificant tribe of Benjamin has also received its allotment. But there are seven tribes remaining, many of which we know little or nothing about. The names of Simeon, Asher, Zebulun, Napthali, Dan, and Issachar may be familiar to us, but most of us would be hard-pressed to provide any pertinent information regarding these tribes if pressed to do so. And yet, they represent the rest of the nation of Israel. They are the descendants of the sons of Jacob and, as such, they are the rightful heirs of the promises made by God to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The land is as much theirs as it is Judah’s or the sons of Joseph. In Genesis 49:1-27, we have recorded the words of Jacob as he lie on his deathbed and pronounces his blessings upon each of his 12 sons. And when he was done, the text provides us with the following summary statement:

All these are the twelve tribes of Israel. This is what their father said to them as he blessed them, blessing each with the blessing suitable to him. – Genesis 49:28 ESV

Each of Jacob’s sons received a blessing that was appropriate for them, and when it came time to disperse to each of them their allotment of land in Canaan, they each received what God deemed right. It is important to remember the process that was used to discern the allotment of land. Joshua had sent out three representatives from each of the seven tribes, charging them with the task of conducting a survey of the remaining territory. They were to divide the land into seven sections and then the decision as to which tribe received what land would be determined by God, using lots.

“And you shall describe the land in seven divisions and bring the description here to me. And I will cast lots for you here before the Lord our God.” – Joshua 18:6 ESV

And after having followed Joshua’s instructions, the men returned with a map containing a detailed survey of the seven tracts of land, “and Joshua cast lots for them in Shiloh before the Lord. And there Joshua apportioned the land to the people of Israel, to each his portion” (Joshua 18:10 ESV). There was no arguing or fighting over who got what land. It was a decision determined by God. And Proverbs 16:33 clearly reflects the belief of the Jews that the casting of lots was anything but a game of chance.

The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD. – Proverbs 16:33 ESV

If you compare the blessings spoken by Jacob in Genesis 49 with the allotment of the land recorded in Joshua 19, you will see some slight differences. For instance, concerning his son, Zebulun, Jacob had said:

“Zebulun shall dwell at the shore of the sea; he shall become a haven for ships, and his border shall be at Sidon.” – Genesis 49:13 ESV

And yet, according to the allotment, the tribe of Zebulun ended up landlocked. The land located along the Mediterranean coast, including the city of Sidon, was actually given to the tribe of Asher. But in his Antiquities, the 1st-Century Jewish historian, Josephus wrote:

“The tribe of Zebulon’s lot included the land which lay as far as the Lake of Genesareth [Sea of Galilee], and that which belonged to Carmel and the sea [Mediterranean]”

There was evidently a certain amount of fluidity among the borders of the various tribes. Over time, the actual boundaries of their respective land allotments fluctuated. So, it is not so much that Jacob’s blessing was in error, as it reveals that God was in control of the timing and specifics of each tribe’s assignment of land. It seems that Jacob’s blessings had far more to do with the character of each of his sons and what he believed would be God’s future treatment of them. While he made vague references to the land, he was actually making a prophetic pronouncement regarding the future status of each son’s descendants. God would reward or punish each son according to his actions. And each son’s descendants would be impacted by how they had lived their lives. God’s determination of their land allotment would coincide with Jacob’s blessings, fully bringing about each and every word that Jacob had spoken.

This chapter, while a somewhat boring read, is a classic example of Scripture revealing the sovereign hand of God in the affairs of men. Jacob had 12 sons, and he had spoken 12 separate blessings over each one. Those 12 sons had descendants, who eventually made it to the land promised to Abraham by God. And those 12 tribes would be awarded their portion of the land according to the sovereign will of God. Not one tribe was left out. Each and every tribe received their fair share of the land, according to the divine will and wisdom of God. While lots were used to make the determination, this had not been a case of chance or blind luck. It was the result of the providential and predetermined will of God Almighty. And as 21st-Century Christians, we should be encouraged by the knowledge that our God was in control of every detail of the process that made the land of promise a reality for the people of Israel. Every tribe, from Judah to Issachar, received their allotment. They each were given their appropriate portion within the land that God had promised to Jacob. And the God who orchestrated every detail of this historic event is the same God who moves behind the scenes in our lives. He is in control, whether we feel like it or not. He is sovereign, whether we recognize it or not. Our God is not distant or detached, but intimately involved in the daily affairs of our lives.  

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Place of Rest.

1 Then the whole congregation of the people of Israel assembled at Shiloh and set up the tent of meeting there. The land lay subdued before them.

2 There remained among the people of Israel seven tribes whose inheritance had not yet been apportioned. 3 So Joshua said to the people of Israel, “How long will you put off going in to take possession of the land, which the Lord, the God of your fathers, has given you? 4 Provide three men from each tribe, and I will send them out that they may set out and go up and down the land. They shall write a description of it with a view to their inheritances, and then come to me. 5 They shall divide it into seven portions. Judah shall continue in his territory on the south, and the house of Joseph shall continue in their territory on the north. 6 And you shall describe the land in seven divisions and bring the description here to me. And I will cast lots for you here before the Lord our God. 7 The Levites have no portion among you, for the priesthood of the Lord is their heritage. And Gad and Reuben and half the tribe of Manasseh have received their inheritance beyond the Jordan eastward, which Moses the servant of the Lord gave them.”

8 So the men arose and went, and Joshua charged those who went to write the description of the land, saying, “Go up and down in the land and write a description and return to me. And I will cast lots for you here before the Lord in Shiloh.” 9 So the men went and passed up and down in the land and wrote in a book a description of it by towns in seven divisions. Then they came to Joshua to the camp at Shiloh, 10 and Joshua cast lots for them in Shiloh before the Lord. And there Joshua apportioned the land to the people of Israel, to each his portion. Joshua 18:1-10 ESV

 

After having settled the tribes of Judah, Manasseh and Ephraim in the southern region of the land of Canaan, Joshua still had the task of apportioning the rest of the land between the seven remaining tribes. The tribes of Reuben and Gad had already been allotted their portions on the eastern side of the Jordan, as they had requested. But before Joshua proceeds with the final distribution of the land, he calls for an assembly of all the people of Israel at a place called Shiloh, and oversees the erecting of the tabernacle.

When God had originally given Moses His instructions regarding the construction of the tabernacle, He had included commands regarding its placement in the land of promise.

10 But when you go over the Jordan and live in the land that the Lord your God is giving you to inherit, and when he gives you rest from all your enemies around, so that you live in safety, 11 then to the place that the Lord your God will choose, to make his name dwell there, there you shall bring all that I command you: your burnt offerings and your sacrifices, your tithes and the contribution that you present, and all your finest vow offerings that you vow to the Lord. – Deuteronomy 12:10-11 ESV

So, Joshua’s choice of Shiloh as the resting place for the tabernacle was obviously determined by God. It’s interesting to note that the name, Shiloh, means “place of rest.” The tabernacle was to be a reminder of God’s presence and power, and a representation of God’s promise of rest. When God dwells with His people, they enjoy rest. His presence brings peace and an assurance of His care for them. The movement of the tabernacle from Gilgal is significant. It had been Israel’s base camp during their days of conquest of the promised land. But now that “the land lay subdued before them,” it was time to relocate the tabernacle to an appropriate place within the land of promise. And God’s choice of Shiloh was in keeping with His promise to bring Israel into the promised land, a place of rest.

When Jacob had pronounced blessings upon his sons, he had said of Judah, “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler's staff from between his feet, until tribute comes to him, and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples” (Genesis 49:10 ESV). In the Hebrew, the phrase, “until tribute comes to him” actually reads “until Shiloh come.” In the Jewish Orthodox Bible, verse 10 reads, “The shevet (sceptre) shall not depart from Yehudah, nor a Mekhokek (Lawgiver) from between his raglayim, until Shiloh come; and unto him shall be the obedience of the amim (peoples, nations).”

This passage, containing Jacob’s blessing of the tribe of Judah, is a Messianic prophecy. It predicts the Jesus (Shiloh) as coming from the tribe of Judah. He will one day be the ruler who will hold the scepter, a sign of authority and kingship. He will rule and reign as king. And He will come to offer rest to His people. 

28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” – Matthew 11:28-29 ESV

Jesus came that He might offer rest to the weary. And Shiloh, located in the territory allotted to the tribe of Ephraim, was the location of the tabernacle. It was to be a sign of God’s presence and should have been a cause for great peace and tranquility. When the people came to offer their sacrifices and worship, they would have found forgiveness for their sins and an acceptance by their God. But years later, the prophet Isaiah would speak words of condemnation against Ephraim. They would prove to be disobedient to God. And rather than find rest, they would discover themselves suffering the wrath of God for failing to enter into His rest and enjoy His blessings. 

11 For by people of strange lips
    and with a foreign tongue
the Lord will speak to this people,
12     to whom he has said,
“This is rest;
    give rest to the weary;
and this is repose”;
    yet they would not hear. – Isaiah 28:11-12 ESV

In a single verse, the author of the book of Joshua mentions the setting up of the tabernacle in Shiloh. It was to have been a symbolic act, establishing God’s abiding presence among His people. He had brought them to the land and provided for them a place of rest. But their enjoyment of that rest would require faithful obedience on their part. And it is significant that the final apportioning of the land did not take place until after the tabernacle was established in Shiloh.

Joshua had to read the riot act to the seven remaining tribes, scolding them for having procrastinated in subduing the remainder of the land. It appears that they had failed to continue their conquest of the inhabitants of the land. Perhaps Joshua’s decision to set up the tabernacle was meant to be a form of motivation, letting the remaining tribes know that God was with them. He set out teams of three men from each tribe, having them survey the remaining land, establishing boundaries for the establishment of their potential inheritance. Once this process was complete, Joshua would cast lots, determining which portion of the land was assigned to each of the tribes.

God was in their midst. He had chosen to dwell among them, and with the erection of the tabernacle in the city of Shiloh, the place of rest, God was reminding them of their need to do their part to enjoy the rest He had promised them. Just as Jesus invites all those who are weary and burdened to accept His invitation to find rest in Him, the Israelites were going to have to take God at His word and discover that His rest came through obedience to His commands.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

God Provides.

3 Now Zelophehad the son of Hepher, son of Gilead, son of Machir, son of Manasseh, had no sons, but only daughters, and these are the names of his daughters: Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah. 4 They approached Eleazar the priest and Joshua the son of Nun and the leaders and said, “The Lord commanded Moses to give us an inheritance along with our brothers.” So according to the mouth of the Lord he gave them an inheritance among the brothers of their father. 5 Thus there fell to Manasseh ten portions, besides the land of Gilead and Bashan, which is on the other side of the Jordan, 6 because the daughters of Manasseh received an inheritance along with his sons. The land of Gilead was allotted to the rest of the people of Manasseh.

7 The territory of Manasseh reached from Asher to Michmethath, which is east of Shechem. Then the boundary goes along southward to the inhabitants of En-tappuah. 8 The land of Tappuah belonged to Manasseh, but the town of Tappuah on the boundary of Manasseh belonged to the people of Ephraim. 9 Then the boundary went down to the brook Kanah. These cities, to the south of the brook, among the cities of Manasseh, belong to Ephraim. Then the boundary of Manasseh goes on the north side of the brook and ends at the sea, 10 the land to the south being Ephraim’s and that to the north being Manasseh’s, with the sea forming its boundary. On the north Asher is reached, and on the east Issachar. 11 Also in Issachar and in Asher Manasseh had Beth-shean and its villages, and Ibleam and its villages, and the inhabitants of Dor and its villages, and the inhabitants of En-dor and its villages, and the inhabitants of Taanach and its villages, and the inhabitants of Megiddo and its villages; the third is Naphath. 12 Yet the people of Manasseh could not take possession of those cities, but the Canaanites persisted in dwelling in that land. 13 Now when the people of Israel grew strong, they put the Canaanites to forced labor, but did not utterly drive them out.

14 Then the people of Joseph spoke to Joshua, saying, “Why have you given me but one lot and one portion as an inheritance, although I am a numerous people, since all along the Lord has blessed me?” 15 And Joshua said to them, “If you are a numerous people, go up by yourselves to the forest, and there clear ground for yourselves in the land of the Perizzites and the Rephaim, since the hill country of Ephraim is too narrow for you.” 16 The people of Joseph said, “The hill country is not enough for us. Yet all the Canaanites who dwell in the plain have chariots of iron, both those in Beth-shean and its villages and those in the Valley of Jezreel.” 17 Then Joshua said to the house of Joseph, to Ephraim and Manasseh, “You are a numerous people and have great power. You shall not have one allotment only, 18 but the hill country shall be yours, for though it is a forest, you shall clear it and possess it to its farthest borders. For you shall drive out the Canaanites, though they have chariots of iron, and though they are strong.” Joshua 17:3-18 ESV

 

When reading the Scriptures, there will be times when certain names and events are mentioned that seem to come out of nowhere and make no sense in the context. Today’s passage is a case in point. As the author describes the allotment of the land of Canaan to the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh, the two sons of Joseph, he suddenly mentions the five daughters of Zelophehad. He even provides the names of the five women: Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah. And it’s almost as if he expects his audience to be well acquainted with these women and their story. Seemingly, out of nowhere, these women appear, making what appears to be a very bold demand of Joshua, Eleazar the priest and the leadership of Israel.

“The Lord commanded Moses to give us an inheritance along with our brothers.” – Joshua 17:4 ESV

This is one of those situations where, if we are not familiar with the rest of the Scriptures, we will find it difficult to understand what is going on. Are these women making up their story? Have they joined forces to fabricate a lie in an attempt to deceive Joshua and finagle a portion of the land for themselves? First of all, it is important to understand the situation in which these women found themselves. They were the sole remaining heirs of their father. He had no sons. And in that culture, the inheritance passed down through the sons. So, any allotment of land would have gone to the sons of Zelophehad, not his daughters. But years earlier, these women had seen the handwriting on the wall and had understood that with their father’s eventual death, they would be left unprotected and unprovided for. And when the people finally entered the land of Canaan, they would have no right to a portion of the land. So, they had appealed to Moses, Eleazer the priest and the leadership of Israel.

1 Then drew near the daughters of Zelophehad the son of Hepher, son of Gilead, son of Machir, son of Manasseh, from the clans of Manasseh the son of Joseph. The names of his daughters were: Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah. 2 And they stood before Moses and before Eleazar the priest and before the chiefs and all the congregation, at the entrance of the tent of meeting, saying, 3 “Our father died in the wilderness. He was not among the company of those who gathered themselves together against the Lord in the company of Korah, but died for his own sin. And he had no sons. 4 Why should the name of our father be taken away from his clan because he had no son? Give to us a possession among our father’s brothers.”

5 Moses brought their case before the Lord. 6 And the Lord said to Moses, 7 “The daughters of Zelophehad are right. You shall give them possession of an inheritance among their father’s brothers and transfer the inheritance of their father to them. 8 And you shall speak to the people of Israel, saying, ‘If a man dies and has no son, then you shall transfer his inheritance to his daughter. 9 And if he has no daughter, then you shall give his inheritance to his brothers. 10 And if he has no brothers, then you shall give his inheritance to his father’s brothers. 11 And if his father has no brothers, then you shall give his inheritance to the nearest kinsman of his clan, and he shall possess it. And it shall be for the people of Israel a statute and rule, as the Lord commanded Moses.’” – Numbers 27:1-11 ESV

Their father had died in the wilderness, leaving them, in a sense, destitute. They were unmarried and without the protection and provision of a male figure in their lives, a necessary requirement in their culture. But they had been brave and bold enough to appeal their case to Moses and the leadership of Israel. And Moses had wisely taken their case to God. Their whole argument was based on the fact that their father had been a good man and his death had not been the result of sin against God. So, why should the legacy of his name fail to carry on just because he had daughters instead of sons? And God agreed with the logic behind their argument, telling Joshua, “The daughters of Zelophehad are right. You shall give them possession of an inheritance among their father’s brothers and transfer the inheritance of their father to them” (Numbers 27:7 ESV). Not only that, God used their case as a precedence for a new law concerning inheritance. From that point forward, the inheritance of any man who had no sons, was to pass on to his daughters. And if a man was childless, his inheritance was to go to his brothers. If he had no brothers, it was to go to his uncles. And if he had no uncles, his inheritance was to go to his nearest living relative. God had taken the plea of these five women and turned it into case law, providing for His people a statutory requirement concerning the issue of inheritance. 

It is important to notice that these women were the ones who came to Joshua and reminded him of the decision handed down by Moses as he had received it from God. Had they not spoken up, there is a good chance that they may have forfeited their right to a portion of the land. These woman showed extreme faith by making their initial appeal to Moses, but also in bringing their God-decreed right to their father’s inheritance before Joshua, Eleazar and the leadership of Israel. And their faith and fearlessness to stand up for their rights was rewarded with “an inheritance among the brothers of their father” (Joshua 17:4 ESV). We can only imagine that this decision was not well-received by their uncles. When Joshua apportioned part of the land to these five women, the brothers of Zelophehad lost out. Their portion of the inheritance diminished as a result of the womens’ request. But it was their God-given right to enjoy their fair-share of the inheritance and enjoy the blessings of the land promised by God. 

The story of the daughters of Zelophehad are the positive side of this chapter. But then the chapter ends with a somewhat sad recounting of the descendants of Joseph, the tribes of Manasseh and Ephraim, coming to Joshua and complaining about their inadequacy of their allotment of land. Perhaps it was based on God’s decree to give a portion of their land to the five sisters. But whatever the case, the descendants of Joseph demanded that they were to large in number to live in the land that they had been given. But part of their problem was that they views portions of the land as uninhabitable. Part of it was occupied by well-armed Canaanites. The rest was forested and would require work on their part to clear and cultivate it. But Joshua challenged them to do just that. Not only that, he expected them to do what God had commanded them to do and drive out the Canaanites from the land. Yes, the land was filled with enemies and part of it was covered by forests, but it was not a case of too little land, but too little faith on the part of the people of Joshua. Trees can be cut down and Canaanites can be defeated. What God had given to them was more than enough. But the full enjoyment of their inheritance was going to require that they do their part. Joshua reminded them that they had been blessed by God and were “a numerous people and have great power” (Joshua 17:17 ESV). They saw their size as a problem, but Joshua challenged them to see it as a blessing from God. Their superior numbers would give them an advantage over their enemies, and a workforce large enough to clear the trees and cultivate the land. God had adequately provided for their needs. But they were going to have to make the most out of the gift given to them by God.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Our Good God.

1 The allotment of the people of Joseph went from the Jordan by Jericho, east of the waters of Jericho, into the wilderness, going up from Jericho into the hill country to Bethel. 2 Then going from Bethel to Luz, it passes along to Ataroth, the territory of the Archites. 3 Then it goes down westward to the territory of the Japhletites, as far as the territory of Lower Beth-horon, then to Gezer, and it ends at the sea.

4 The people of Joseph, Manasseh and Ephraim, received their inheritance.

5 The territory of the people of Ephraim by their clans was as follows: the boundary of their inheritance on the east was Ataroth-addar as far as Upper Beth-horon, 6 and the boundary goes from there to the sea. On the north is Michmethath. Then on the east the boundary turns around toward Taanath-shiloh and passes along beyond it on the east to Janoah, 7 then it goes down from Janoah to Ataroth and to Naarah, and touches Jericho, ending at the Jordan. 8 From Tappuah the boundary goes westward to the brook Kanah and ends at the sea. Such is the inheritance of the tribe of the people of Ephraim by their clans, 9 together with the towns that were set apart for the people of Ephraim within the inheritance of the Manassites, all those towns with their villages. 10 However, they did not drive out the Canaanites who lived in Gezer, so the Canaanites have lived in the midst of Ephraim to this day but have been made to do forced labor.

1 Then allotment was made to the people of Manasseh, for he was the firstborn of Joseph. To Machir the firstborn of Manasseh, the father of Gilead, were allotted Gilead and Bashan, because he was a man of war. 2 And allotments were made to the rest of the people of Manasseh by their clans, Abiezer, Helek, Asriel, Shechem, Hepher, and Shemida. These were the male descendants of Manasseh the son of Joseph, by their clans.Joshua 16:1-17:2 ESV

The author now addresses the inheritance of the descendants of Joseph, the son of Jacob who had been sold by his brothers into slavery in Egypt. In spite of Joseph’s ill-treatment by his brothers, God blessed Joseph, sovereignly ordaining his rise to the second highest position of power in the land. It would be Joseph who would be used by God to preserve the lives of his father and brothers when they were forced to turn to Egypt for aid when a famine struck the land of Canaan. When his brothers discovered that Joseph, who they had long considered as dead, was Pharaoh’s right-hand man, they were petrified. But Joseph had assured them that God had divinely orchestrated every event in his life for a much greater purpose.

7 “And God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. 8 So it was not you who sent me here, but God. He has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt.” – Genesis 45:7-8 ESV

And later on, Joseph reconfirmed to his brothers his unwavering belief that God had been behind all that had taken place, so that each and every one of Jacob’s sons would remain alive.

“As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” – Genesis 50:20 ESV

God had made a commitment to Jacob, the father of Joseph and brothers, that He would bless him and give him many descendants who would love in the land of promise. And, on his deathbed, Jacob confirmed his belief in God’s promise, choosing to bless the two sons of Joseph, born to him in Egypt. In essence, Jacob adopted his two grandson’s making them his own and promising to give them a portion of the inheritance of the land.

1 After this, Joseph was told, “Behold, your father is ill.” So he took with him his two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim. 2 And it was told to Jacob, “Your son Joseph has come to you.” Then Israel summoned his strength and sat up in bed. 3 And Jacob said to Joseph, “God Almighty appeared to me at Luz in the land of Canaan and blessed me, 4 and said to me, ‘Behold, I will make you fruitful and multiply you, and I will make of you a company of peoples and will give this land to your offspring after you for an everlasting possession.’ 5 And now your two sons, who were born to you in the land of Egypt before I came to you in Egypt, are mine; Ephraim and Manasseh shall be mine, as Reuben and Simeon are. 6 And the children that you fathered after them shall be yours. They shall be called by the name of their brothers in their inheritance.’” – Genesis 48:1-6 ESV

More than four centuries later, the 12 tribes of Israel (the sons of Jacob) were in the land promised to Jacob by God. And Joshua was in the process of dividing the land between the tribes. And in keeping with Jacob’s promise to include Ephraim and Manasseh in the inheritance, Joshua awarded a large portion of the land to the descendants of these two men.

Throughout this story, the sovereign hand of God is clearly visible. Had not God prospered Joseph in the land of Egypt, miraculously orchestrating his rise to power, the remainder of his family would have died of starvation in Canaan. God’s original covenant, made to Abraham, was seemingly jeopardized by the sinful acts of Joseph’s brothers. They had sold Joseph into slavery because they were jealous of him. They knew he was their father’s favorite son, and it didn’t help that Joseph had shared with them the content of several dreams he had experienced. In those dreams, Joseph had seen his father, mother and brothers bowing down to him. And Joseph’s disclosure of that news hadn’t won him any favors with his brothers. But the dreams were actually God-given visions of what was to come. His father, mother and brothers did eventually bow down before him, recognizing him as a powerful ruler in Egypt and the arbiter of their fate.

God had remained faithful to His covenant with Abraham. He had also kept the commitment He had made to Jacob, allowing he and his sons to find salvation from the famine in Canaan, by providing them with rest in the land of Egypt. And all of this was in fulfillment of the prophecy He had made to Abraham hundreds of years earlier.

13 Then the Lord said to Abram, “Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. 14 But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions. 15 As for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried in a good old age. 16 And they shall come back here in the fourth generation, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.” – Genesis 15:13-16 ESV

God had ordained the famine in the land. He had pre-planned Joseph’s rise to power in Egypt. And He had orchestrated the 400-year period of exile in Egypt for the descendants of Jacob. Four generations of Israelites would live in the land of Egypt before God determined it was time for them to leave and inherit the land promised to Abraham. All of this was part of His divine plan. The timing was perfect. And it was all because God was willing to keep His covenant promises, in spite of the disobedience of His chosen people. The apostle Paul recognized the sovereign hand of God in his own life, and was able to see His will being accomplished through the ups and downs and the setbacks and seeming successes of life. Which is why he could write:

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. – Romans 8:28 ESV

The descendants of Joseph were provided with a place in the land of promise. They were given a portion of the inheritance among the brothers of Joseph who had sold him into slavery out of jealousy. What they had meant for evil, God had meant for good. What they had done in order to bring harm to their brother, God used to bring blessing to their brother’s sons and their descendants. God works all things together for good. 

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Powerless to Possess.

20 This is the inheritance of the tribe of the people of Judah according to their clans. 21 The cities belonging to the tribe of the people of Judah in the extreme south, toward the boundary of Edom, were Kabzeel, Eder, Jagur, 22 Kinah, Dimonah, Adadah, 23 Kedesh, Hazor, Ithnan, 24 Ziph, Telem, Bealoth, 25 Hazor-hadattah, Kerioth-hezron (that is, Hazor), 26 Amam, Shema, Moladah, 27 Hazar-gaddah, Heshmon, Beth-pelet, 28 Hazar-shual, Beersheba, Biziothiah, 29 Baalah, Iim, Ezem, 30 Eltolad, Chesil, Hormah, 31 Ziklag, Madmannah, Sansannah, 32 Lebaoth, Shilhim, Ain, and Rimmon: in all, twenty-nine cities with their villages.

33 And in the lowland, Eshtaol, Zorah, Ashnah, 34 Zanoah, En-gannim, Tappuah, Enam, 35 Jarmuth, Adullam, Socoh, Azekah, 36 Shaaraim, Adithaim, Gederah, Gederothaim: fourteen cities with their villages.

37 Zenan, Hadashah, Migdal-gad, 38 Dilean, Mizpeh, Joktheel, 39 Lachish, Bozkath, Eglon, 40 Cabbon, Lahmam, Chitlish, 41 Gederoth, Beth-dagon, Naamah, and Makkedah: sixteen cities with their villages.

42 Libnah, Ether, Ashan, 43 Iphtah, Ashnah, Nezib, 44 Keilah, Achzib, and Mareshah: nine cities with their villages.

45 Ekron, with its towns and its villages; 46 from Ekron to the sea, all that were by the side of Ashdod, with their villages.

47 Ashdod, its towns and its villages; Gaza, its towns and its villages; to the Brook of Egypt, and the Great Sea with its coastline.

48 And in the hill country, Shamir, Jattir, Socoh, 49 Dannah, Kiriath-sannah (that is, Debir), 50 Anab, Eshtemoh, Anim, 51 Goshen, Holon, and Giloh: eleven cities with their villages.

52 Arab, Dumah, Eshan, 53 Janim, Beth-tappuah, Aphekah, 54 Humtah, Kiriath-arba (that is, Hebron), and Zior: nine cities with their villages.

55 Maon, Carmel, Ziph, Juttah, 56 Jezreel, Jokdeam, Zanoah, 57 Kain, Gibeah, and Timnah: ten cities with their villages.

58 Halhul, Beth-zur, Gedor, 59 Maarath, Beth-anoth, and Eltekon: six cities with their villages.

60 Kiriath-baal (that is, Kiriath-jearim), and Rabbah: two cities with their villages.

61 In the wilderness, Beth-arabah, Middin, Secacah, 62 Nibshan, the City of Salt, and Engedi: six cities with their villages.

63 But the Jebusites, the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the people of Judah could not drive out, so the Jebusites dwell with the people of Judah at Jerusalem to this day. Joshua 15:20-63 ESV

According to this passage, the tribe of Judah received well over 100 cities and their surrounding villages as part of their inheritance and allotment of the land. The large portion awarded to them was due to the size of their tribe and it covered four distinct regions: The Negev in the south, the lowland plains, the mountains or hill country and the desert. While their territory extended all the way to the Mediterranean Sea, much of this land was occupied by the Philistines, and they would prove to be quite resistant to any attempts by Judah to remove them from the land. The city of Jerusalem was located at the northern-most boundary of their allotment and it too would continue to harbor a contingent of Canaanite enemies. While Joshua and the armies of Israel had effectively conquered that region, they had failed to capture the city of Jerusalem. So, there remained in the land a variety of potential physical and spiritual threats to the tribe of Judah. The book of Judges records that it was not until after the death of Joshua that the tribe of Judah finally captured and occupied the city of Jerusalem.

8 And the men of Judah fought against Jerusalem and captured it and struck it with the edge of the sword and set the city on fire. 9 And afterward the men of Judah went down to fight against the Canaanites who lived in the hill country, in the Negeb, and in the lowland. 10 And Judah went against the Canaanites who lived in Hebron (now the name of Hebron was formerly Kiriath-arba), and they defeated Sheshai and Ahiman and Talmai. – Judges 1:8-10 ESV

The clans of Judah would continue to wage war against the remaining remnant of the Canaanites in their land, but like all the other tribes, they would prove to be unsuccessful in completely eradicating the pagan presence.

18 Judah also captured Gaza with its territory, and Ashkelon with its territory, and Ekron with its territory. 19 And the Lord was with Judah, and he took possession of the hill country, but he could not drive out the inhabitants of the plain because they had chariots of iron. 20 And Hebron was given to Caleb, as Moses had said. And he drove out from it the three sons of Anak. 21 But the people of Benjamin did not drive out the Jebusites who lived in Jerusalem, so the Jebusites have lived with the people of Benjamin in Jerusalem to this day. – Judges 1:18-21 ESV

While Judah eventually took possession of the land located along the shore of the Mediterranean Sea, they did not completely eliminate the Philistines. And the Jebusites, who were the original occupants of Jerusalem, remained in the land, co-existing alongside the people of Benjamin for years to come. And the record of Judah’s land allotment ends with an almost toss-away reference to their failure to eliminate the Jebusites.

But the Jebusites, the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the people of Judah could not drive out, so the Jebusites dwell with the people of Judah at Jerusalem to this day. – Joshua 15:63 ESV

Why is this significant? Because it reflects a nagging tendency on the part of the people of Israel that will show up in the record of each of the tribes. In each and every case, the tribes would end up failing to completely cleanse their respective land allotments of any and all pagan people groups. And it is essential that we reflect on the possible cause of their failure. Notice what verse 63 says: “But the Jebusites…the people of Judah could not drive out.” Why? Was it because God was not strong enough? Was it because the Jebusites were too powerful? God had given the city of Jericho into the hands of Joshua and his forces, completely destroying the walls of their city by way of a miracle. God had assisted the people of Israel in destroying a five-nation federation that had come against them, by wiping out part of the enemy forces with hailstones. There is no reason to think that the Jebusites were somehow too great for God to do anything about them. This reflects a failure on the part of the people of Judah, not God. They did not trust in and rely upon God. Any failure to remove their enemies from the land was not due to a lack of power on God’s part. He had not abandoned them. He had not ceased to fight for them. But it reflects a tendency on their part to try and do God’s will without God’s help.

In the original Hebrew, the text tells us that Judah was yakol yarash – they were powerless to possess. They failed to take possession of what was rightfully theirs, that which had been given to them by God. And God had promised to fight alongside them, providing them with victory over their foes. So, if they were powerless to possess, it was because they were attempting to fight their battles in their own strength. And just as, years earlier, the people of Israel had attempted to attack the city of Ai and had failed, the tribe of Judah would find themselves either unable or simply unwilling to remove the Jebusites from their land. Perhaps it was just easier to compromise and let them remain. What harm could they possibly do? How dangerous could they be? So, concessions were made. Subtle compromises were put into effect. And, by doing so, the people of Judah were not only refusing to obey God’s command, they were rejecting the gift of His inheritance. The land He had provided was not fully theirs. The rest He had promised would not be fully experienced. By allowing their enemies to remain in the land, Judah compromised their convictions and robbed themselves of the benefits of God’s promised blessings.

There should be an overwhelming desire in the heart of each and every child of God to have any remaining sin exposed and removed. The great king, David, prayed a powerful prayer to God, asking for His divine help in eradicating hidden sin from his own heart.

23 Search me, O God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.
24 Point out anything in me that offends you,
    and lead me along the path of everlasting life. – Psalm 139:23-24 NLT

The tribe of Judah could have removed the Jebusites. All they needed to do was trust God. Had they simply acknowledged their sins of compromise and complacency, and turned to God for help, He would have given them victory over their enemies. The presence of the Jebusites was an offense to God. They were a constant reminder of Judah’s disobedience. And they would prove to be a roadblock, preventing the people of God from fully experiencing the blessings of God.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Gift of the Land.

1 The allotment for the tribe of the people of Judah according to their clans reached southward to the boundary of Edom, to the wilderness of Zin at the farthest south. 2 And their south boundary ran from the end of the Salt Sea, from the bay that faces southward. 3 It goes out southward of the ascent of Akrabbim, passes along to Zin, and goes up south of Kadesh-barnea, along by Hezron, up to Addar, turns about to Karka, 4 passes along to Azmon, goes out by the Brook of Egypt, and comes to its end at the sea. This shall be your south boundary. 5 And the east boundary is the Salt Sea, to the mouth of the Jordan. And the boundary on the north side runs from the bay of the sea at the mouth of the Jordan. 6 And the boundary goes up to Beth-hoglah and passes along north of Beth-arabah. And the boundary goes up to the stone of Bohan the son of Reuben. 7 And the boundary goes up to Debir from the Valley of Achor, and so northward, turning toward Gilgal, which is opposite the ascent of Adummim, which is on the south side of the valley. And the boundary passes along to the waters of En-shemesh and ends at En-rogel. 8 Then the boundary goes up by the Valley of the Son of Hinnom at the southern shoulder of the Jebusite (that is, Jerusalem). And the boundary goes up to the top of the mountain that lies over against the Valley of Hinnom, on the west, at the northern end of the Valley of Rephaim. 9 Then the boundary extends from the top of the mountain to the spring of the waters of Nephtoah, and from there to the cities of Mount Ephron. Then the boundary bends around to Baalah (that is, Kiriath-jearim). 10 And the boundary circles west of Baalah to Mount Seir, passes along to the northern shoulder of Mount Jearim (that is, Chesalon), and goes down to Beth-shemesh and passes along by Timnah. 11 The boundary goes out to the shoulder of the hill north of Ekron, then the boundary bends around to Shikkeron and passes along to Mount Baalah and goes out to Jabneel. Then the boundary comes to an end at the sea. 12 And the west boundary was the Great Sea with its coastline. This is the boundary around the people of Judah according to their clans.

13 According to the commandment of the Lord to Joshua, he gave to Caleb the son of Jephunneh a portion among the people of Judah, Kiriath-arba, that is, Hebron (Arba was the father of Anak). 14 And Caleb drove out from there the three sons of Anak, Sheshai and Ahiman and Talmai, the descendants of Anak. 15 And he went up from there against the inhabitants of Debir. Now the name of Debir formerly was Kiriath-sepher. 16 And Caleb said, “Whoever strikes Kiriath-sepher and captures it, to him will I give Achsah my daughter as wife.” 17 And Othniel the son of Kenaz, the brother of Caleb, captured it. And he gave him Achsah his daughter as wife. 18 When she came to him, she urged him to ask her father for a field. And she got off her donkey, and Caleb said to her, “What do you want?” 19 She said to him, “Give me a blessing. Since you have given me the land of the Negeb, give me also springs of water.” And he gave her the upper springs and the lower springs. Joshua 15:1-19 ESV

Judah was the largest of the 12 tribes and this may have been the reason its territory within the promised land was the first to be determined. As chapter 14 revealed, Caleb, a member of the tribe of Judah, was given the city of Hebron in recognition for his faithful service to and faith in God. He and Joshua had been the only two of the two twelve spies who had believed that God could deliver the land to the people of Israel in spite of the presence of powerful enemies. The city of Hebron was located within the boundaries of what would be the tribe of Judah’s inheritance.

We are not told how the boundaries of the lands awarded to the various tribes was determined. But the passage provides detailed information regarding the specific geographic markers that would form the boundaries of Judah’s territory. The Dead Sea would form Judah’s eastern border. Verses 5-11 establish Judah’s northern boundary, with very specific details concerning where its territory begins and ends. This was important, because it would prevent future debates or disagreements from taking place between the tribes over their allotments and the cities found within them. The Mediterranean Sea would represent Judah’s western border.

Within these vast boundaries, the clans of Judah would be expected to complete the task of conquering and eliminating any and all of the current inhabitants. They were to capture the cities and make them their own. And Caleb, who had been awarded the city of Hebron, did his part.

And Caleb drove out from there the three sons of Anak, Sheshai and Ahiman and Talmai, the descendants of Anak. – Joshua 15:14 ESV

But Caleb didn’t stop there. He also attacked Debir and offered a special prize – the hand of his daughter in marriage – to anyone who captured the city. His own brother, Othniel, was the one who ended up garnering the reward. And Othniel would go on to become one of the judges of Israel (Judges 3:9). These two men appear to be highlighted in this passage because they provide examples of faithfulness and obedience to the will of God. They did what God had commanded all the people of Israel to do. They finished what the forces of Israel had begun, continuing the process of spiritual and moral cleansing of the land. The Canaanites were far from eradicated and it was going to take every single tribe and every member of those tribes to faithfully obey God and trust Him for the strength they would need to continue to possess the land by dispossessing its inhabitants.

Even Achsah, Caleb’s daughter, recognized that this land was a symbol of God’s promise made to Abraham, and she wanted her own part of it. While she had been given to Othniel as little more than a prize, she was not willing to go unrewarded herself. So, she requested that her father give her a portion of the land in the form of a spring.

“Give me a blessing. Since you have given me the land of the Negeb, give me also springs of water.” – Joshua 15:19 ESV).

And Caleb honored her request. The land and everything in it was of great value to the people of Israel. It represented their inheritance. Property would become a primary sign of wealth and affluence among the people of Israel. But the land given to the tribes by God was to remain within their clans. It was not theirs to sell or trade. God had made it clear that they were little more than stewards of the land, because it belonged to Him.

“The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is mine. For you are strangers and sojourners with me.” – Leviticus 25:23 ESV

They could sell it, but God had placed very stringent restrictions and conditions on such sales.

25 “If your brother becomes poor and sells part of his property, then his nearest redeemer shall come and redeem what his brother has sold. 26 If a man has no one to redeem it and then himself becomes prosperous and finds sufficient means to redeem it, 27 let him calculate the years since he sold it and pay back the balance to the man to whom he sold it, and then return to his property. 28 But if he does not have sufficient means to recover it, then what he sold shall remain in the hand of the buyer until the year of jubilee. In the jubilee it shall be released, and he shall return to his property.” – Leviticus 25:25-28 ESV

God had established what was known as The Year of Jubilee. Every 50 years, the land would be restored to its original owners. This was God’s plan for maintaining the original boundaries established between the tribes.

8 “You shall count seven weeks of years, seven times seven years, so that the time of the seven weeks of years shall give you forty-nine years. 9 Then you shall sound the loud trumpet on the tenth day of the seventh month. On the Day of Atonement you shall sound the trumpet throughout all your land. 10 And you shall consecrate the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you, when each of you shall return to his property and each of you shall return to his clan. 11 That fiftieth year shall be a jubilee for you; in it you shall neither sow nor reap what grows of itself nor gather the grapes from the undressed vines. 12 For it is a jubilee. It shall be holy to you. You may eat the produce of the field.” – Leviticus 25:8-12 ESV

God knew His people well. He realized that they would be prone to take what He had given them and use it to prosper themselves. They would take what was rightfully His and attempt to profit from it in ways He never intended. The land was a gift from God, intended to provide for the people of God. It was not to be a bartering chip used to line their own pockets or to pay off debts. So, every 50 years, God required the mandatory release of any and all liens, deeds of ownership, and records of sale. The land returned to its original owners and was kept within the allotment was prescribed by God.

And God assured the people of Israel that obedience to His laws concerning the land would bring with it a blessing. They were to faithfully adhere to His commands and, in doing so, He would faithfully ensure their future prosperity and peace.

17 You shall not wrong one another, but you shall fear your God, for I am the Lord your God. 18 “Therefore you shall do my statutes and keep my rules and perform them, and then you will dwell in the land securely. 19 The land will yield its fruit, and you will eat your fill and dwell in it securely.” – Leviticus 25:17-19 ESV

The land was a symbol of God’s love and covenant faithfulness. It was through the land that God intended to bless His people, using it to provide for all their physical needs. The land would be their source of food, water, shelter, protection and identity. But they were not to worship the land. They were never supposed to place a higher priority and value on the land than they did on God. The gift was never to take precedence over the Giver.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson