Loss of Focus.

1 Now when Jesus had finished these sayings, he went away from Galilee and entered the region of Judea beyond the Jordan. And large crowds followed him, and he healed them there.

And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?” He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” They said to him, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?” He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.”

10 The disciples said to him, “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.” 11 But he said to them, “Not everyone can receive this saying, but only those to whom it is given. 12 For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let the one who is able to receive this receive it.” –  Matthew 19:1-12 ESV

This is a difficult passage that has caused a great deal of contention and confusion over the centuries. And it’s likely that the disciples were left scratching their heads when they heard what Jesus had to say. It deals with a topic that remains highly controversial to this day: Divorce among believers. And like so much of what Jesus taught, it runs counter to the current teaching of His day. In fact, that’s why the Pharisees brought it up in the first place. They were trying to test or trick Jesus into saying something controversial. It could be that they were hoping He would take a similar tact as that of John the Baptist. It was John’s outspoken stance on divorce and remarriage that had gotten him executed by Herod.

John also publicly criticized Herod Antipas, the ruler of Galilee, for marrying Herodias, his brother’s wife, and for many other wrongs he had done. So Herod put John in prison, adding this sin to his many others. – Luke 3:19-20 NLT

Matthew opens this chapter by stating that Jesus had traveled into the region known as the Transjordan, an area under the control of Herod. The Pharisees were probably counting on the fact that Jesus would speak against divorce and bring down the wrath of Herod on his head.

Their question to Jesus was carefully worded: “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?”

Behind the question was their understanding or interpretation of Deuteronomy 24:1-2:

When a man takes a wife and marries her, if then she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some indecency in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house, and she departs out of his houseand if she goes and becomes another man’s wife

The Pharisees interpreted this Old Testament passage to mean that God permitted divorce and approved of remarriage. But like so much of the Old Testament Scriptures, the Pharisees tended to read into it the meaning they wanted to get out of it. There were two rabbinic schools that differed in their interpretation of this passage in Deuteronomy. One group taught that it condoned divorce for just about any reason, while the other group took a more conservative view, stating that divorce was only permissable in the case of sexual immorality.

In His sermon on the mount, Jesus had clearly come down on the conservative side of the debate.

“It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” – Matthew 5:31-32 ESV

It would seem that the Pharisees had heard about Jesus’ stance on this issue and hoped to cause a stir among the people by getting Jesus to state His more conservative and less popular view.

The interesting point in all of this is the marked difference between Jesus’ area of emphasis and that of the Pharisees. They came asking a question about divorce. Jesus turned it into a lesson on marriage. Jesus responded to their question with a question: “Have you not read…” 

He was referring to their own Scriptures. This unveiled inference by Jesus would have been like a slap in the face to the Pharisees, who prided themselves on their knowledge of God’s Word. Jesus took them all the way back to the book of Genesis and paraphrased the words of Moses regarding the God-ordained institution of marriage.

“…that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate. – Matthew 19:4-6 ESV

Notice His emphasis: What God has joined together. Marriage is to be seen as a God-ordained union between a man and a woman. And no man is to separate that union. In that day and age, a woman was denied the right to divorce. But the husband was free to divorce his wife and, as many interpreted it, for any reason whatsoever. Even for burning dinner.

But from God’s point of view, the man and woman become “one flesh.” They are united in an inseparable bond, sanctioned by God. There is the idea of complementation, but also completeness. The two individuals, by coming together in marriage, are supernaturally bonded by God and made a completed whole. He sees them as one, not two.

But appealing to the words of Moses found in Deuteronomy 24:1, the Pharisees present Jesus with a follow-up question: “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?” And the answer Jesus gave them most likely infuriated them.

“Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. – Matthew 19:8 ESV

Notice that Jesus points the finger of culpability straight at the Pharisees. Even though the words of Moses were spoken hundreds of years earler, Jesus applies them to the men standing right in front of Him. Their hearts were hardened. They were unwilling and incapable of abiding by God’s will concerning marriage. And Moses had made it clear that “from the beginning it was not so.” In other words, from the day God instituted the concept of marriage, divorce was not to be an option. No man was to separate what God had joined together.

And it’s interesting to note what the Deuteronomy passage goes on to say about this topic.

…if she [a divorced woman] goes and becomes another man’s wife, and the latter man hates her and writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house, or if the latter man dies, who took her to be his wife, then her former husband, who sent her away, may not take her again to be his wife, after she has been defiled, for that is an abomination before the Lord. And you shall not bring sin upon the land that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance. – Deuteronomy 24:2-4 ESV

Notice what Moses said. The woman who has been divorced and remarried is “defiled.” If she were divorced again and her first husband tried to remarry her, he who be committing an abomination before the Lord. It was totally unacceptable.

The Pharisees, as usual, were looking for loopholes. They wanted grounds for divorce. But Jesus was emphasizing the sanctity and holiness of marriage. Rather than looking for excuses to separate, Jesus wanted them to recognize God’s command to remain one. MOses made a concession for divorce because of man’s inherent sin problem. He was in no way condoning divorce. He was simply conceding man’s inability to do what God had called him to do: Remain in an inviolable relationship with his wife.

And Jesus reinforces the fact that divorce was not in God’s plan. He had not ordained it and would not condone it. But like all sins, it was inevitable. So, when divorce did take place, there was only one scenario that would be considered biblical grounds for divorce.

“…whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.” – Matthew 19:9 ESV

And it’s interesting to note that the Pharisees, while quick to quote from Deuteronomy 24:1, seemed to ignore what Deuteronomy 22:22 had to say:

“If a man is found lying with the wife of another man, both of them shall die, the man who lay with the woman, and the woman. So you shall purge the evil from Israel.

This discussion led the disciples to question the whole viability of marriage. If remarriage after divorce was out of the question, because it would leave both individuals guilty of adultery, it seemed to make more sense to never marry in the first place. You can see that their view on marriage had been influenced by the idea of divorce as a potential get-out-of-jail-free card. If the marriage didn’t work out, they could always get a divorce. But now, Jesus had shut down that option.

But Jesus informed His disciples that celibacy was not an easy road to take. It had to be something that God led somone to do. Jesus described three types of eunechs. The term, “eunech” referred to “one naturally incapacitated – for marriage” (““G2135 – eunouchos – Strong’s Greek Lexicon (ESV).” Blue Letter Bible). Some were born that way. Others were made that way, through forced castration. But there was still another group of individuals who chose to remain unmarried. They were essentially eunechs by choice, or as Jesus put it, “for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.” He would have been a case in point. He never married. He was focused on fulfilling the will of His Father.

As we will see, Jesus is beginning to set His eyes on the mission objective waiting for Him in Jerusalem. The storyline is quickly moving to its final stages. And Jesus, while teaching the disciples about issues that relate to everyday life, is trying to get them to understand that there are far more important things on the horizon than debates about marriage and divorce or arguments about who is the greatest in the kingdom. The cross looms large in Jesus’ mind. His destiny carries with it the shadow of death, but also the hope of the resurrection.

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

A Glimpse of Things to Come.

1 And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light. And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. And Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were terrified. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and have no fear.” And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only.

And as they were coming down the mountain, Jesus commanded them, “Tell no one the vision, until the Son of Man is raised from the dead.” 10 And the disciples asked him, “Then why do the scribes say that first Elijah must come?” 11 He answered, “Elijah does come, and he will restore all things. 12 But I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but did to him whatever they pleased. So also the Son of Man will certainly suffer at their hands.” 13 Then the disciples understood that he was speaking to them of John the Baptist. –  Matthew 17:1-13 ESV

It’s important to remember that there were no chapter designations in the original version of Matthew’s gospel. So the closing sentence of chapter 16 would have flowed directly into our passage for today.

“Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.” – Matthew 16:28 ESV

Just six days later, Jesus would choose three of His disciples to accompany Him to the top of a nearby mountain. While there has been much speculation over the years as to the exact identity of the mountain to which Matthew referred, none of the gospel writers provide us with the identity. The location of the mountain was not the point of the story, but the details of event that took place on the mountain.

Jesus handpicked Peter, James and John to join Him on this particular occasion. They were given the unique privilege of witnessing a once-in-a-lifetime scene that was designed to confirm Jesus’ identity as the Messiah.

What the disciples witnessed must have blown them away. And the fact that this incredible scene took place on a mountaintop, accompanied by the presence of Moses and Elijah, would not have escaped them. These two men had also had mountaintop encounters with God. They’re described in Exodus 19 and 1 Kings 19 respectively. And in both cases, their divine encounters had taken place on Mt Sinai. So, for the three disciples, who would have very familiar with the stories of Moses and Elijah, God’s choice of location at which to appear would have made all the sense in the world.

But they were not prepared for what they witnessed. In fact, when they had gone up on the mountain they don’t appear to have been expecting much to happen, because Luke points out that the three of them had fallen fast asleep. But they woke up to find that Jesus had been transfigured. The Greek word is metamorphoō, from which we get our English word, metamorphosis. Jesus was literally transformed in His appearance.

…his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light… – Matthew 17:2 ESV

The change that came over Him was visible and undeniable. Mark describes the brightness of His clothes “as no one on earth could bleach them” (Mark 9:3 ESV). But that’s not all that happened. Matthew states that the figures of Moses and Elijah appeared alongside Jesus. And Matthew and Mark both emphasize that these two men appeared before them – the disciples. Peter, James and John were given the privilege of seeing these two great patriarchs appear next to Jesus. We’re not told how they recognized them. Moses and Elijah had lived hundreds of years earlier and there would have been no photographic record of their appearance. But somehow, the three disciples knew that they were watching Jesus dialogue with these two long-deceased heros of the Hebrew faith.

And Luke includes the content of their discussion with Jesus. They “spoke of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem” (Luke 9:31 ESV). Remember what Jesus had told the disciples just six days earlier:

From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. – Matthew 16:21 ESV

The words of Jesus were confirmed for Peter, James and John as they overheard Moses and Elijah discussing the very same topic. This whole scene was for the benefit of the three disciples. This was a God-ordained event designed to fully confirm the disciples’ belief that Jesus was the Messiah. It’s important to consider the significance of the appearance of Moses and Elijah. Moses was synonymous with the law of God. Elijah was one of the premier prophets of God. And later, after Jesus had died and resurrected, He would appear to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, and Luke records that “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27 ESV).

Later on, in Luke’s account, Jesus appeared before all His disciples and told them:

44 “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, 46 and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, 47 and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” – Luke 24:44-47 ESV

Through the transfiguration of Jesus and the appearance of Moses and Elijah, God was letting the disciples know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Jesus was the Messiah, in fulfillment of all that had been written in the law and the prophets.

But look Peter’s response. He immediately offers to build shelters for Jesus, Moses and Elijah. In essence, he wants to prolong the moment and extend the stay of the two patriarchs. He completely forgot that Moses and Elijah had discussed Jesus’ departure, not his stay. But Peter didn’t want this little get-together to end. And Matthew reports that, while the words were still on Peter’s lips, “a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him’”  (Matthew 17:5 ESV). God wanted Peter to shut up and listen. Jesus had been telling them what was going to happen. He had tried to let them know what was going to take place next. But the news Jesus had shared had prompted Peter to rebuke Him.

God wanted Peter, James and John to know that He was pleased with Jesus. The coming suffering and death of Jesus was not a sign of God’s wrath or judgment. It was all part of His divine plan for man’s redemption. And the obedience of Jesus brought great joy to the Father’s heart. He knew His Son was committed to carry out His assignment. Now, God wanted the disciples on board. And long after Jesus’ death and resurrection, Peter would write of this incredible experience.

16 …we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17 For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” 18 we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. 19 And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts… – 2 Peter 1:16-19 ESV

His experience on the mountaintop that day had obviously made an impression. Watching the transfiguration of Jesus had had a life-transforming effect on Peter and the other two disciples.

But as they left the mountain and descended back to the valley below, Jesus told them to keep what they had seen to themselves, until He was resurrected. It was only then that they were to proclaim the King and His kingdom. And as good Jews, they were curious to know that, if Jesus was the Messiah, why He had appeared before the return of Elijah. According to Malachi 4:5-6, Elijah was to precede the coming of the Messiah. And Jesus informed them that he had – in the form of John the Baptist. Everything was happening according to God’s plan and in keeping with and in fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy.

But Jesus still had to suffer and die. His resurrection could not take place until He had gone through the humiliation of death on a cross. The disciples had had the mountain top experience. They had seen Jesus in all His glory. But now that they were back in the valley, they would have to endure the slow, steady march of Jesus as He made His way to Jerusalem and the cross.

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

An Evil Generation.

43 “When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, but finds none. 44 Then it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when it comes, it finds the house empty, swept, and put in order. 45 Then it goes and brings with it seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there, and the last state of that person is worse than the first. So also will it be with this evil generation.” – Matthew 12:43-45 ESV

These verses seem to come out of nowhere. But if you look closely at the overall context of this portion of Matthew’s Gospel, you’ll notice that it contains the healing of the blind and mute man from whom Jesus cast out a demon. And Jesus referred to the scribes and Pharisees as being part of “An evil and adulterous generation” (Matthew 12:39 ESV). In these verses, Jesus simply combines the two topics to further demonstrate the wickedness of those who refused to accept Him as Messiah and to warn of their future judgment. 

There is much about Jesus’ comments regarding demons that are difficult to understand. But we can know with certainty that Jesus believed in demon-possession and, evidently, the possibility of someone becoming re-possessed by the same demon. In each case  where Matthew recorded Jesus casting out a demon, the individual who benefited from Jesus’ miracle enjoyed the benefit of His power, but there is no indication they expressed belief in Him as their Messiah. In essence, they were left in a nuetral state – no longer demon-possessed, but still in their unrepentant, unredeemed state.

And Jesus indicates that the dispossessed demon will seek “rest,” passing through “waterless places” until it finds it. It is difficult to build a theology of demon possession from these few verses. It may be that Jesus was using the common Hebrew perception regarding demons to make His point. The book of Tobit, part of the Apocrypha or Deuterocanonical scriptures, believed to have been written in the 400-year period between the Old and New Testaments, mentions demons preferring desert conditions. So, perhaps Jesus is utilizing this Jewish perception to make His point. The only reason a demon would leave a human host would be because of an exorcism, such as Jesus had performed on the blind and mute man. But, according to Jesus, that dispossessed demon will seek rest, but not find it, because its main purpose is the torment of human beings. So, Jesus suggests that the demon, unable to find rest or a cessation from its demonic responsibilities, will seek to return to its original host.

And Jesus infers that the formerly possessed individual, while having cleaned up his act and put his life in order, will prove an easy target for the demon. In fact, the demon will return, making himself at home and bringing seven, more wicked demons with him. It would seem that Jesus is not attempting to provide us with a doctrine on demons, but a statement regarding man’s need for something or someone to occupy his life. In Jesus’ story, a man whose life is swept clean and in order and free from demon possession, is not safe from the attacks of the enemy. In fact, he is an easy target and will find his last state worse than the first.

Not having a demon is not enough. Having your life swept clean and in order is no protection from the attacks of the enemy. The outward appearance of righteousness is not the same as a life made righteous by faith in Christ. Jesus once again refers to the Jews of His generation as evil. He does so because they will refuse to accept Him as their Messiah. Their rejection of Him will condemn them. He had come to expose the darkness in their lives and yet, they “loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil” (John 3:19 ESV).

Jesus had said, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign,” and yet, Jesus had appeared in their midst, a visible sign of God’s promise of redemption – and they were going to end up rejecting Him. Jesus’ use of the phrase, “evil generation” would have been very familiar to the scribes and Pharisees. With their superior knowledge of the Scriptures, they would have recognized that Jesus was using the very same words God had used of the Jews who refused to enter the Promised Land under the leadership of Moses.

35 “Not one of these men of this evil generation shall see the good land that I swore to give to your fathers, 36 except Caleb the son of Jephunneh. He shall see it, and to him and to his children I will give the land on which he has trodden, because he has wholly followed the Lord!” – Deuteronomy 1:35-36 ESV

Later on, in the very same book, Moses would speak of the faithfulness of God and the unfaithfulness of the people 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.
They have dealt corruptly with him;
    they are no longer his children because they are blemished;
    they are a crooked and twisted generation.
Do you thus repay the Lord,
    you foolish and senseless people?
   Is not he your father, who created you,
    who made you and established you?” – Deuteronomy 32:4-6 ESV

The Jews had a habit of treating God with contempt, refusing to honor Him as their God. Instead, they lived according to their own desires, treating His faithfulness with disdain. They had been chosen by God. They had been rescued from slavery by God. He had promised to give them a land flowing with milk and honey. But they had refused to trust Him. They had been unfaithful to Him. And Moses described them as a crooked and perverse generation.

Now, centuries later, the problem remained the same. This generation of Jews was no different. The promise of God was being fulfilled in their midst, but they were going to reject it. The Messiah had come, just as God had said He would, but they would choose not to accept His offer of salvation. Jesus had come, offering to free them from their slavery to sin and their captivity by the enemy. He came to transform their lives from the inside-out. But they were going to have to place their faith in Him, believing that He was who He claimed to be. And not long after Jesus had died, resurrected and ascended into heaven, the apostle Peter would preach a powerful message of redemption to the Jews in Jerusalem gathered on the day of Pentecost.

36 Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”

37 Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” 38 And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” 40 And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” 41 So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. Acts 2:37-41 ESV

Save yourselves from this crooked generation. Believe the promise of God. Accept God’s gracious offer of salvation through faith alone in Christ alone. You can attempt to sweep the house clean and put your life in order, but only Christ can make all things new.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. – 2 Corinthians 5:17 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

Lord of the Sabbath.

1 At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry, and they began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. But when the Pharisees saw it, they said to him, “Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath.” He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him to eat nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests? Or have you not read in the Law how on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath and are guiltless? I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. And if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless. For the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.” – Matthew 12:1-8 ESV

Jesus has condemed the cities of Bethsaida, Chorizin and Capernaum for their refusal to accept Him as Messiah. Now, Matthew provides specific examples of the rejection and contention He faced among the Jewish population. Of course, some of His greatest moments of conflict came as a result of His interactions with the Jewish religious leadership. They found this unknown rabbi from Nazareth to be an enigma. He seemed to have appeared out of nowhere and, from all places, the backwater town of Nazareth. Even Philip, one of Jesus’ 12 disciples, had reacted with amazement when he heard that Jesus was from Nazareth, sarcastically responding, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46 ESV).

The Pharisees were a religious sect made up of mostly middle-class businessmen and leaders of the synagogues. Together with the Sadducees, they formed the Sanhedrin or religious high council of Israel. The Pharisees were seen as pious men who placed a high priority on the oral and written law of Israel. They were experts in the law of Moses and prided themselves on their strict adherence to the more than 600 laws found in the Torah. These men had created additional rules or regulations that they regarded as binding as the law of Moses. Later on in his gospel, Matthew will record the indictment Jesus labeled against these men.

“These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship is a farce, for they teach man-made ideas as commands from God.” – Matthew 15:8-9 NLT

One of the primary points of conflict between Jesus and the Pharisees will become the Sabbath, the weekday that had been set apart by God as a day or rest.

“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. 11 For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” – Exodus 20:8-11 ESV

The Pharisees had developed a whole series of regulations designed to deal with any and all scenarios that might come up on the Sabbath. They created a plethora of rules based on every imaginable situational possibility. In doing so, they missed out on the spirit of the law, and turned God’s command regarding the Sabbath into an impossible-to-keep list of dos and don’ts that no one could obey.

When they found Jesus and His disciples in a field plucking the heads of grain and eating them, they were appalled, because it was the Sabbath. They considered these men to be in violation of the law because they were “harvesting” grain on the Sabbath. There is an interesting point of conflict that often gets overlooked. If you recall, Jesus had just extended His Great Invitation offering people a release from their weariness and the heavy burdens that weighed them down. He offered them rest for their souls. And yet, here were the Pharisees demanding that the disciples deny the satisfying of their hunger in order to obey man-made rules regarding Sabbath rest.

Knowing that the Pharisees prided themselves in their knowledge of the Old Testament, Jesus reminded them of a story involving David found in the book of 1 Samuel. David was on the run, having been forced to flee from King Saul, who was out to take David’s life. David made his way to the city of Nob in order to seek aid from Ahimelech the priest. When David had requested food, the priest had informed David that the only bread available was that which was offered as a sacrifice in the tabernacle.

Since there was no other food available, the priest gave him the holy bread—the Bread of the Presence that was placed before the Lord in the Tabernacle. It had just been replaced that day with fresh bread. – 1 Samuel 21:6 NLT

And Jesus used this historic event to expose the fallacy of the Pharisees’ understanding of the Sabbath. In taking the Bread of the Presence, David had violated the law of God, but was not condemned for doing so. And, to further prove His point, Jesus reminded the Pharisees that the priests who served in the temple were technically in violation of the law every time they offered sacrifices on the Sabbath, because they were doing “work.” But they were not condemned by their efforts. They were guiltless because they were doing the “work” of God. And Jesus informed the Pharisees, “I tell you, something greater than the temple is here” (Matthew 12:6 ESV). He was referring to Himself and pointing to His superior authority over the earthly temple. The disciples had been operating under the authority and with the permission of Jesus. And Jesus made it clear that He was far more concerned about mercy than law-keeping.

“And if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless.” – Matthew 12:7 ESV

The Pharisees had placed rules ahead of any regard for the needs of the people. Jesus had allowed the disciples to do what they did because they were hungry. He knew the ridiculous rules of the Pharisees and He was fully aware that the actions of the disciples were in direct violation of those rules. But He was far more concerned with extending mercy than demanding legalistic adherence to a set of arbitrary regulations. He was focused on the heart, not any outward display of ritualistic rule-keeping. And Jesus sums up His response to the Pharisees with a statement that must have left them incensed.

For the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.” – Matthew 12:8 ESV

They would have known full well that Jesus was referring to Himself with the Messianic designation of “Son of Man.” And they would not have like what they heard. But Jesus’ claim to be lord of the Sabbath would have left them in a rage. How dare this itinerant teacher from the backwater town of Nazareth claim to have authority over the Sabbath day of God. Jesus was not bound by the Sabbath. He was greater than the Sabbath, with full authority to do as He saw fit on that day or any other. Which is why Jesus seemed to make it a regular habit to heal on the Sabbath. He was doing the work of His Father in Heaven, and the work of God took precedence over the Sabbath and any rules men may have made regarding that day. The work of God always trumps the laws of men.

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

A Heart of Unfaithfulness.

“It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery. – Matthew 5:31-32 ESV

Jesus follows up his radical statements regarding lust and adultery with a clarification of what the law actually says about the topic of divorce. Once again, He opens His remarks with the words, “It was also said.” What follows was not intended to be a restatement of the law, but a clarification of what the law actually taught. Jesus is showing His audience, made up primarily of Jews, that they have misconstrued the meaning and intent of what was written in the book of Deuteronomy. Here are the actual words found in the Law of Moses:

When a man takes a wife and marries her, if then she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some indecency in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house, and she departs out of his house, and if she goes and becomes another man’s wife, and the latter man hates her and writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house, or if the latter man dies, who took her to be his wife, then her former husband, who sent her away, may not take her again to be his wife, after she has been defiled, for that is an abomination before the Lord. And you shall not bring sin upon the land that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance. – Deuteronomy 24:1-4 ESV

Divorce was a problem in Israel. And the reason was because the people had been taught to minimize the moral aspect of divorce. Their interpretation of this passage from Deuteronomy centered solely on one thing: The certificate of divorce. In other words, they read this law and saw it as a license to divorce their wives. Now, it is important to realize that, in Israel’s ancient culture, women had no rights. They were not free to divorce their husbands. So this law was aimed at men. And it was not intended as some kind of get-out-of-jail-free card, providing men with an easy exit strategy from an unhappy marriage. But that is what it had become. Divorce had become common place. It was as simple as a written piece of paper, a certificate of divorce. There were no lawyers, courts, or judges involved. And the action was done with little or no thought to any spiritual or moral ramifications the decision might entail.

These verses are directly tied to the ones preceding them, where Jesus talked about adultery. Every Jew knew that adultery was wrong. But they had separated the idea of adultery from divorce, and Jesus wasn’t going to allow them to do so. Which is why He says, “I say that a man who divorces his wife, unless she has been unfaithful, causes her to commit adultery. And anyone who marries a divorced woman also commits adultery” (Matthew 5:32 ESV). In just a few short sentences, Jesus drops the hammer on the Jewish concept of divorce. All the way back in the book of Genesis, at the very point in time when God had made woman from the rib of man, He said, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24 ESV). God’s intention had been that a man and woman would be joined together as one, for life. There had been no provision for divorce. And, at a later point in Jesus’ ministry, this issue would be raised by the Pharisees, when they point-blank asked Him, “Should a man be allowed to divorce his wife?” (Mark 10:2 NLT). The passage makes it clear that they were attempting to trap Jesus with this question. It was designed to be a no-win scenario. If Jesus said a man was not allowed to divorce his wife, the crowds would turn on Him. A hard line view on marriage and divorce had gotten John the Baptist beheaded by Herod. So the Pharisees wanted to see what Jesus was going to say, and His response was simple, yet direct. He did what He was so often prone to do – He answered a question with a question: “What did Moses say in the law about divorce?” (Mark 10:3 NLT). And they responded, “Well, he permitted it. He said a man can give his wife a written notice of divorce and send her away” (Mark 10:4 NLT). Now, notice closely what Jesus says to them:

“He [Moses} wrote this commandment only as a concession to your hard hearts. But ‘God made them male and female’ from the beginning of creation. ‘This explains why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.’ Since they are no longer two but one, let no one split apart what God has joined together.” – Mark 10:5-9 NLT

C. E. B. Cranfield, in his commentary of the Gospel of Mark, clarifies that the Deuteronomy passage to which Jesus refers…

…is a divine provision to deal with situations brought about by men’s sklerokardia [hardness of heart] and to protect from its worst effects those who would suffer as a result of it. – C. E. B. Cranfield, The Gospel According to Saint Mark

In other words, this was a concession, and not to be confused with some form of divine permission to divorce. It was intended to keep men from following up one sin with another. The certificate of divorce was a legal document that was based on one thing and one thing only: Some proof of “indecency” in the life of the wife. The Hebrew word used in the Deuteronomy passage had to do with actions related to indecency, shamefulness or dishonor. A man couldn’t just grow tired of his wife and send her packing. He wasn’t free to “fall out of love” with her and produce a piece of paper to get rid of her. There had to be moral reasons for him to divorce her. And, if he did divorce her, he had to deal with the moral ramifications of his decision. Jesus makes it perfectly clear, that unless the man’s wife was guilty of unfaithfulness, in the form of sexual immorality, he had no right to divorce her. If he did, he was causing her to commit adultery with the next man she married. Because, in God’s eyes, she and her first husband were still one. And if she did remarry and was given divorce papers a second time, the first husband was not free to remarry her, without being guilty of adultery as well. And any husband, after having divorced his wife, who decided to marry a woman who had also been divorced without proper cause, would be guilty of adultery.

Why is Jesus belaboring this point? What is the real issue He is addressing? It is faithfulness. It all gets back to the perception/reality problem. For the Jews, their perception regarding divorce was that divorce was possible under certain conditions. You just had to follow the rules. But with the help of the religious leaders, the rules had been redefined. Divorce had become an accepted norm. But Jesus was out to deal with reality. He blatantly countered that divorce results in adultery. Marriage was intended to be a covenant, a binding relationship between two people and sealed before before God Almighty. And Jesus clarifies the significance of that reality, when He says, “What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate” (Mark 10:9 ESV).

Divorce was never God’s intention for mankind. Marriage was designed to be a permanent union, creating a divine union between two individuals. Divorce is nothing less than a breaking of the marriage covenant. It’s an act of unfaithfulness. And God had stated that the only legitimate grounds for divorce would be based on unfaithfulness. And yet, He was not prescribing divorce as the solution to the problem of unfaithfulness. Jesus made it painfully clear that the only reason God made a provision for divorce. “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so” (Matthew 19:8 ESV).

One of the things God has always looked for in His people is faithfulness. God expected the people of Israel, as His chosen people, to remain faithful to Him. But He often accused them of spiritual adultery.

“Have you seen what she did, that faithless one, Israel, how she went up on every high hill and under every green tree, and there played the whore? And I thought, ‘After she has done all this she will return to me,’ but she did not return, and her treacherous sister Judah saw it. She saw that for all the adulteries of that faithless one, Israel, I had sent her away with a decree of divorce. Yet her treacherous sister Judah did not fear, but she too went and played the whore. Because she took her whoredom lightly, she polluted the land, committing adultery with stone and tree. Yet for all this her treacherous sister Judah did not return to me with her whole heart, but in pretense, declares the Lord.” – Jeremiah 3:6-10 ESV

Israel had a track record of unfaithfulness to God. They couldn’t keep from wandering after other “lovers.” And the whole point Jesus seems to be making is our unfaithfulness on a horizontal level is a reflection of our unfaithfulness on a vertical level. How are we to remain faithful to God if we can’t remain faithful to our spouse? Our lack of commitment reveals a heart problem, not a compatibility issue.

God’s greatest concern is man’s relationship with Him. Sinful man is divorced or separated from God. Unfaithfulness has created a barrier between man and God. All men and women have proven themselves unfaithful to God. We have gone after other lovers, pursued other gods, and sought other relationships to meet our needs and satisfy our desires. But God, in His grace and mercy, sent His Son as the means by which we might be restored to a right relationship with Him. He wants to end our spiritual adultery and put a stop to our unfaithfulness. And it will only take place if we allow Him to renew our hearts and redeem us from our love affair with sin, self and Satan.

Jesus is calling the people of God back to God. I love the way the apostle Paul puts it:

And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him. For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!” For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ. – 2 Corinthians 5:18-21 NLT

A spirit of divorce permeated the people of Israel, and it was fueled by unfaithfulness. Their flippant attitude toward marriage and divorce was a sad reflection of their attitude toward God. They had been unfaithful to Him and were without remorse. But for those who would be citizens of God’s Kingdom, life was to be different. Their love for God and others was to be constant and consistent. But only the grace of God expressed in the sacrifice of His own Son would make that kind of love possible.

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 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. 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. 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. 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. 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.

“‘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. 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. 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. 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. 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

A Priestly Presence.

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. 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.” So by command of the Lord the people of Israel gave to the Levites the following cities and pasturelands out of their inheritance.

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.

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.

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.

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

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

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

levitical-cities-map.png

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.

“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. 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.

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. 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

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. Then going from Bethel to Luz, it passes along to Ataroth, the territory of the Archites. 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.

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

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, 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, then it goes down from Janoah to Ataroth and to Naarah, and touches Jericho, ending at the Jordan. 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, 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. 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

ad503-mapjos1617.jpgThe 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 of Egypt. 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. 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, that He would bless him and give him many descendants who would live 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 grandsons 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. And it was told to Jacob, “Your son Joseph has come to you.” Then Israel summoned his strength and sat up in bed. And Jacob said to Joseph, “God Almighty appeared to me at Luz in the land of Canaan and blessed me, 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.’ 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. 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

The Inheritance of God.

14 To the tribe of Levi alone Moses gave no inheritance. The offerings by fire to the Lord God of Israel are their inheritance, as he said to him.

15 And Moses gave an inheritance to the tribe of the people of Reuben according to their clans. 16 So their territory was from Aroer, which is on the edge of the Valley of the Arnon, and the city that is in the middle of the valley, and all the tableland by Medeba; 17 with Heshbon, and all its cities that are in the tableland; Dibon, and Bamoth-baal, and Beth-baal-meon, 18 and Jahaz, and Kedemoth, and Mephaath, 19 and Kiriathaim, and Sibmah, and Zereth-shahar on the hill of the valley, 20 and Beth-peor, and the slopes of Pisgah, and Beth-jeshimoth, 21 that is, all the cities of the tableland, and all the kingdom of Sihon king of the Amorites, who reigned in Heshbon, whom Moses defeated with the leaders of Midian, Evi and Rekem and Zur and Hur and Reba, the princes of Sihon, who lived in the land. 22 Balaam also, the son of Beor, the one who practiced divination, was killed with the sword by the people of Israel among the rest of their slain. 23 And the border of the people of Reuben was the Jordan as a boundary. This was the inheritance of the people of Reuben, according to their clans with their cities and villages.

24 Moses gave an inheritance also to the tribe of Gad, to the people of Gad, according to their clans. 25 Their territory was Jazer, and all the cities of Gilead, and half the land of the Ammonites, to Aroer, which is east of Rabbah, 26 and from Heshbon to Ramath-mizpeh and Betonim, and from Mahanaim to the territory of Debir, 27 and in the valley Beth-haram, Beth-nimrah, Succoth, and Zaphon, the rest of the kingdom of Sihon king of Heshbon, having the Jordan as a boundary, to the lower end of the Sea of Chinnereth, eastward beyond the Jordan. 28 This is the inheritance of the people of Gad according to their clans, with their cities and villages.

29 And Moses gave an inheritance to the half-tribe of Manasseh. It was allotted to the half-tribe of the people of Manasseh according to their clans. 30 Their region extended from Mahanaim, through all Bashan, the whole kingdom of Og king of Bashan, and all the towns of Jair, which are in Bashan, sixty cities, 31 and half Gilead, and Ashtaroth, and Edrei, the cities of the kingdom of Og in Bashan. These were allotted to the people of Machir the son of Manasseh for the half of the people of Machir according to their clans.

32 These are the inheritances that Moses distributed in the plains of Moab, beyond the Jordan east of Jericho. 33 But to the tribe of Levi Moses gave no inheritance; the Lord God of Israel is their inheritance, just as he said to them. Joshua 13:14-33 ESV

division-of-promised-land-to-ancient-israelThis section of chapter 13 provides us with greater detail concerning the allotment of the land of promise to the tribes of Reuben, Gad and Manasseh. All the way back during the days of Moses’ leadership, they had made a request that they be allowed to settle east of the Jordan, in the land of Gilead. The book of Numbers tells us that both tribes had significant numbers of livestock and that the land east of the Jordan was an ideal location for them to settle and raise their flocks and families. The Israelites had defeated Sihon, king of the Amorites, as well as Og, king of Bashan. So, the tribes of Reuben and Gad appealed to Moses and the leadership of Israel to allow them to have this conquered land as their allotment of the inheritance.

“Ataroth, Dibon, Jazer, Nimrah, Heshbon, Elealeh, Sebam, Nebo, and Beon, the land that the Lord struck down before the congregation of Israel, is a land for livestock, and your servants have livestock.” And they said, “If we have found favor in your sight, let this land be given to your servants for a possession. Do not take us across the Jordan.” – Numbers 32:3-5 ESV

And Moses had agreed to their request, on the condition that they assist the rest of the tribes in their conquest of the land west of the Jordan. Moses did not want them to abandon their brothers in their divinely decreed mission to conquer and possess the land of promise. So, the men of Reuben and Gad had given Moses their word.

16 Then they came near to him and said, “We will build sheepfolds here for our livestock, and cities for our little ones, 17 but we will take up arms, ready to go before the people of Israel, until we have brought them to their place. And our little ones shall live in the fortified cities because of the inhabitants of the land. 18 We will not return to our homes until each of the people of Israel has gained his inheritance. 19 For we will not inherit with them on the other side of the Jordan and beyond, because our inheritance has come to us on this side of the Jordan to the east.” – Numbers 32:16-19 ESV

The tribe of Manasseh was allotted land on both sides of the Jordan, with half of them settling east of the Jordan and the remainder receiving land on the other side.

39 And the sons of Machir the son of Manasseh went to Gilead and captured it, and dispossessed the Amorites who were in it. 40 And Moses gave Gilead to Machir the son of Manasseh, and he settled in it. – Numbers 32:39-40 ESV

Once the primary conquest of the land of promise had been accomplished and the majority of the significant opposition had been removed, Joshua allowed the tribes of Reuben, Gad and Manasseh to return to their side of the Jordan and settle in the land they had been given. The author provides us with great details concerning the geographic boundaries of their land, and he makes sure that we understand that this allotment had been according to the words of Moses.

And Moses gave an inheritance to the tribe of the people of Reuben according to their clans. – Joshua 13:15 ESV

Moses gave an inheritance also to the tribe of Gad, to the people of Gad, according to their clans. – Joshua 13:24 ESV

And Moses gave an inheritance to the half-tribe of Manasseh. It was allotted to the half-tribe of the people of Manasseh according to their clans. – Joshua 13:29 ESV

Joshua’s decision to allow the three tribes to settle east of the Jordan was in keeping with the command Moses had given years earlier. He was simply keeping the commitment Moses had made, because the clans of Gad, Reuben and Manasseh had kept their word to fight alongside the rest of the tribes until the land of promise had been fully conquered and settled.

It’s interesting to note that these three tribes had selected their land based on appearance. After Israel had conquered Og and Sihon, making the land east of the Jordan available, the tribes of Gad, Reuben and Manasseh had seen that it provided a perfect environment for pasturing their flocks and herds. And it was already conquered land. The ready availability of the land, including its well-fortified cities was appealing to them. So, rather than wait to see what God had in store for them on the other side of the Jordan, they chose to settle outside the land of promise. And years later, they would be removed from their land because of disobedience and unfaithfulness to God.

25 But they broke faith with the God of their fathers, and whored after the gods of the peoples of the land, whom God had destroyed before them. 26 So the God of Israel stirred up the spirit of Pul king of Assyria, the spirit of Tiglath-pileser king of Assyria, and he took them into exile, namely, the Reubenites, the Gadites, and the half-tribe of Manasseh, and brought them to Halah, Habor, Hara, and the river Gozan, to this day. – 1 Chronicles 5:25-26 ESV

They got the land they wanted. They fulfilled the lust of their eyes, but they eventually failed to keep their. commitments to God. The land was rich and perfect for raising their many flocks. But somewhere along the way, they took their eyes off of God and forgot that He was the one who had blessed them with their flocks and the land on which to raise them.

These verses are book-ended by references to yet another tribe, that of the Levites. The tribe of Levi had been appointed by God to serve Him in the tabernacle, alongside Aaron and his sons.

1 So the Lord said to Aaron, “You and your sons and your father’s house with you shall bear iniquity connected with the sanctuary, and you and your sons with you shall bear iniquity connected with your priesthood. And with you bring your brothers also, the tribe of Levi, the tribe of your father, that they may join you and minister to you while you and your sons with you are before the tent of the testimony.” – Numbers 18:1-2 ESV 

God had set them apart for this special role and had promised to provide for their needs. Rather than give them land on which to plant crops and raise flocks, God would allow them to eat the animals that were brought for sacrifice.

14 Every devoted thing in Israel shall be yours. 15 Everything that opens the womb of all flesh, whether man or beast, which they offer to the Lord, shall be yours. – Numbers 18:14-15 ESV

And Moses made it clear that this provision by God would take the place of any inheritance of land. They would be cared for by God.

19 All the holy contributions that the people of Israel present to the Lord I give to you, and to your sons and daughters with you, as a perpetual due. It is a covenant of salt forever before the Lord for you and for your offspring with you.” 20 And the Lord said to Aaron, “You shall have no inheritance in their land, neither shall you have any portion among them. I am your portion and your inheritance among the people of Israel.” – Numbers 18:19-20 ESV

Rather than land, the Levites received the promise of God that He would provide for all their needs, in return for their faithful service in His tabernacle. The tribes of Gad, Reuben and Manasseh asked for what they wanted and got it. The tribe of Levi asked for nothing and got the blessing of being provided for by God. They received no land, but were given the privilege of serving God in His tabernacle. And they found themselves fed by God Himself, enjoying the first fruits of the all the other tribes as their reward for faithful service to 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

I Am the Lord.

1 Now these are the kings of the land whom the people of Israel defeated and took possession of their land beyond the Jordan toward the sunrise, from the Valley of the Arnon to Mount Hermon, with all the Arabah eastward: Sihon king of the Amorites who lived at Heshbon and ruled from Aroer, which is on the edge of the Valley of the Arnon, and from the middle of the valley as far as the river Jabbok, the boundary of the Ammonites, that is, half of Gilead, and the Arabah to the Sea of Chinneroth eastward, and in the direction of Beth-jeshimoth, to the Sea of the Arabah, the Salt Sea, southward to the foot of the slopes of Pisgah; and Og king of Bashan, one of the remnant of the Rephaim, who lived at Ashtaroth and at Edrei and ruled over Mount Hermon and Salecah and all Bashan to the boundary of the Geshurites and the Maacathites, and over half of Gilead to the boundary of Sihon king of Heshbon. Moses, the servant of the Lord, and the people of Israel defeated them. And Moses the servant of the Lord gave their land for a possession to the Reubenites and the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh.

And these are the kings of the land whom Joshua and the people of Israel defeated on the west side of the Jordan, from Baal-gad in the Valley of Lebanon to Mount Halak, that rises toward Seir (and Joshua gave their land to the tribes of Israel as a possession according to their allotments, in the hill country, in the lowland, in the Arabah, in the slopes, in the wilderness, and in the Negeb, the land of the Hittites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites): the king of Jericho, one; the king of Ai, which is beside Bethel, one; 10 the king of Jerusalem, one; the king of Hebron, one; 11 the king of Jarmuth, one; the king of Lachish, one; 12 the king of Eglon, one; the king of Gezer, one; 13 the king of Debir, one; the king of Geder, one; 14 the king of Hormah, one; the king of Arad, one; 15 the king of Libnah, one; the king of Adullam, one; 16 the king of Makkedah, one; the king of Bethel, one; 17 the king of Tappuah, one; the king of Hepher, one; 18 the king of Aphek, one; the king of Lasharon, one; 19 the king of Madon, one; the king of Hazor, one; 20 the king of Shimron-meron, one; the king of Achshaph, one; 21 the king of Taanach, one; the king of Megiddo, one; 22 the king of Kedesh, one; the king of Jokneam in Carmel, one; 23 the king of Dor in Naphath-dor, one; the king of Goiim in Galilee, one; 24 the king of Tirzah, one: in all, thirty-one kings. Joshua 12:1-24 ESV

division-of-promised-land-to-ancient-israelThis chapter provides us with a summary of the conquests of Joshua and the people of Israel, beginning with their defeats of the two cities belonging to Og and Sihon. These two kings and their kingdoms were located on the eastern side of the Jordan and had been the first two Canaanite cities to fall to the Israelites before they crossed the Jordan and entered the promised land. Their domains were awarded to the tribes of Reuben, Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh. These three tribes had decided to forfeit their right to a portion of the land within the land of promise and chose instead to settle on the eastern side of the Jordan. But they had agreed to cross over with the rest of the Israelites and fight alongside them until the possession of the land was complete. Once Joshua was ready to divide up the conquered land between the remaining tribes, he allowed the tribes of Reuben, Gad and Manasseh to return to their families and property on the other side of the Jordan.

In this chapter we are provided with the names of 31 kings whose kingdoms fell to the Israelites. From Sidon in the far north to Kadesh in the distant south, from the River Jordan to the Mediterranean Sea, Joshua and the people of Israel successfully conquered the land of promise, establishing themselves as its new occupants and solidifying the reputation of God as the one true God. The whole campaign had been according to God’s will, accomplished by His power and in fulfillment of the promise He had made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Possession of the land had not come easily. God had given it to them, but He had not handed it to them. They were required to do their part and fight. At least 31 times, they had to march into battle and, in most cases, against far more powerful enemies and in the face of overwhelming odds. Each battle had required faith in God. And every victory was a testimony to the faithfulness of God. This ragtag remnant of former slaves had been able to walk into a foreign land and face enemy forces equipped with better-trained troops and more advanced weaponry. But, in each case, God gave them the victory. He had not only given them the land, He had provided them with the capacity to possess the land.

It is easy to read this chapter and see it as nothing more than a list of difficult-to-pronounce names of ancient kings and long-forgotten people groups. We see the names of the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites, and they mean little or nothing to us. But the author of the book of Joshua is attempting to provide us with a report that should remind us of God’s power. This isn’t meant to be some kind of Excel spreadsheet listing all of Israel’s victories. It is an objective chronicle of the exploits of God Almighty on behalf of His chosen people. The sheer impossibility of all that we read in this chapter should not escape us. It is less the synopsis of a military campaign, than it is a reminder of God’s power and His faithfulness to fulfill what He promises. 

All the way back in the book of Exodus, we have recorded the words God spoke to Moses when He called him to deliver the people of Israel from their captivity in Egypt.

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. 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. I will bring you into the land that I swore to give to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. I will give it to you for a possession. I am the Lord.’” – Exodus 6:6-8 ESV

And God had done it. He had delivered on His promise. Not only had He set them free from their captivity and led them across the wilderness to the land of Canaan, He had given them possession of the land. Every step of the way, the odds had been against them. They never should have been able to walk out of Egypt, but they had. They never should have survived the arduous journey across the wilderness, but they did. They never should have defeated the inhabitants of the land of Canaan, but as chapter 12 of the book of Joshua clearly indicates, they most certainly did. Notice how many times God said to Moses, “I will.”

I will bring you out…

I will redeem you…

I will take you to be my people…

I will be your God…

I will bring you into the land…

I will give it to you as a possession…

He said He would and He he did. And God had book-ended His promise to Moses with the four simple words: “I am the Lord.” He used His proper name, Jehovah, which means “the existing One.” The everlasting, eternal God had entered into time and space and shown Himself to be not only real, but reliable. He wasn’t some transcendent, distant deity who refused to interact with His creation. He intimately involved Himself in the affairs of everyday life, redeeming, guiding, providing, rescuing and fighting on behalf of His chosen people. So, while the list of names and places found in chapter 12 mean little to us, they should remind us of the undeniable power and undiminished presence of our God. He is still among us. He is still guiding, directing, protecting and providing for us. And He is still in the business of fighting our battle for us – against any and all odds. The apostle Paul reminds us that our God is still on our side, having proven His love for us by sending His Son to die for us. And in spite of all the odds against us, we are victorious.

35 Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? 36 (As the Scriptures say, “For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.”) 37 No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.

38 And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. 39 No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. – Romans 8:35-39 NLT

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