Rock-Solid Security.

“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”

And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes. – Matthew 7:24-29 ESV

For most of us, when we read these verses, we automatically think of Jesus’ mention of “the rock” as being a reference to Himself. He is the rock. And we get that idea from the Scriptures. Paul would later refer to Jesus as being the foundation he laid and upon which others were to build.

According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. – 1 Corinthians 3:10-11 ESV

Peter would quote from the book of Isaiah and the Psalms, describing Jesus as the stone:

For it stands in Scripture: “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.

So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe,

“The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,” and “A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.” – 1 Peter 2:6-8 ESV

So, it would only be natural to assume that Jesus is referring to Himself as the rock. But it is important to look closely at what He says. He prefaces these closing lines of His sermon with the statement: “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock.” His emphasis is on His words or His teaching. All throughout His sermon, Jesus has been giving commands regarding the lifestyle or behavior of those who are approved by God. They are to be salt and light. They are to pursue reconciliation with all men, not anger and hatred. They are to love and not lust. They are to remain faithful in their earthly commitments, most especially marriage. They are to be a people of their word. They are to live lives of willing sacrifice, rather than seeking revenge and retaliation. They are to love and pray for their enemies. Their acts of righteousness are to flow from the heart and are not to be done for recognition or reward, including the praise of men. They are to see their eternal reward as their greatest treasure, not the temporal things of this earth. Their lives should be marked by a calm and unwavering trust in God, knowing that He will provide for all their needs. They are to regularly examine their own lives, recognizing and repenting of their sinfulness before God. 

Over and over again, Jesus has given them clear indications of how an individual approved by God should live their life. And now, He is telling them that those who hear these words and obeys them will be seen as wise. They will be the ones whose lives are marked by a solid foundation. Obedience to the teachings of Jesus has always been a necessary part of the life of the believer. Obedience does not save us, but it marks the life of those who truly are saved. Not long before Jesus was to be betrayed and crucified, He told His disciples, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15 ESV). And then He told them how they were going to pull that off. “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you” (John 14:16-17 ESV). The Holy Spirit was going to be the key to them obeying the words and teachings of Jesus. But they were still expected to obey. And just to make sure that they didn’t forget anything He had taught them, Jesus let them know that the Holy Spirit would give them perfect memories.

These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” – John 14:25-26 ESV

One of the things we so easily lose sight of is Jesus’ statement to His disciples, found in the Great Commission.

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” – Matthew 28:19-20 ESV

The disciples were to teach all that Jesus had commanded. His words were to be obeyed. And He was not just speaking of His claim to be the Messiah and His offer of salvation through faith in Him alone. Again, obedience to the words of Jesus do not save us, but it is to be the natural outflow of one who is saved. Repeatedly in Scripture, we are given the admonition to obey the commands of Jesus.

“When you obey my commandments, you remain in my love, just as I obey my Father’s commandments and remain in his love.” – John 15:10 NLT

The apostle John puts the non-optional nature of obedience to Jesus’ commands in very stark terms.

He himself is the sacrifice that atones for our sins—and not only our sins but the sins of all the world.

And we can be sure that we know him if we obey his commandments. If someone claims, “I know God,” but doesn’t obey God’s commandments, that person is a liar and is not living in the truth. But those who obey God’s word truly show how completely they love him. That is how we know we are living in him. Those who say they live in God should live their lives as Jesus did. – 1 John 2:2-6 NLT

So, Jesus says that whoever hears the words He has been teaching and does them, will find their life built on a solid, reliable foundation. Of course, as John makes clear in the passage above, the very first thing we must obey is God’s command to obey in the reality of His Son as the sacrifice for the sins of mankind. He makes this point even more clear a bit later on in the same letter.

…we can come to God with bold confidence. And we will receive from him whatever we ask because we obey him and do the things that please him.

And this is his commandment: We must believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and love one another, just as he commanded us. Those who obey God’s commandments remain in fellowship with him, and he with them. And we know he lives in us because the Spirit he gave us lives in us. – 1 John 3:21-24 NLT

Our ability to obey the commands of Jesus begins with our obedience to the command of God to trust in His Son as our Savior. When we place our faith in Him, we receive the Spirit of God and the capacity to love God and to love others, which are the foundational truths behind all that Jesus has said in His sermon. Our faith in Christ is to be transformative. It is to change the way we think and behave. It is to have a revolutionary effect on the way we live our lives in this world. But for far too many today, obedience seems to be optional. They place their faith in Christ, and then continue to live as if nothing has happened. They give little or no evidence of the new nature they are supposed to have. Their lives show no signs of the Spirit’s presence within them. But that is not what Jesus expected. And that is not the outcome His sacrificial death on the cross was meant to provide. If we truly love Him, we will keep His commandments. We will be radically different in the way we conduct our lives. We will be salt and light. We will be agents of reconciliation, calling a lost and dying world back to God. We will love and not lust. We will give of ourselves selflessly, rather than always trying to selfishly focus our lives on getting. We will forgive, show mercy, turn the other cheek, worry less, rejoice more, pray intensely, trust God completely, and share the good news of the gospel regularly.

Jesus tells us that those who build their lives on His words, will find their lives marked by stability and resilience. They will have a firm foundation that can withstand the storms of this life and will survive the future judgment to come. There were those in the crowd that day who would hear Jesus’ words and ignore them. Many of them would hear of His death and resurrection and refuse to believe it. After His crucifixion, the word of His miraculous resurrection and ascension would spread, and the offer of salvation would be heard throughout all Judea, but most would refuse to accept it. And their lives would be like a house built on sand, unstable and insecure, completely susceptible to the storms of life and unavoidably destined for a great fall.

When Jesus finished His sermon, the crowds were amazed. They were astonished at His teachings. They had never heard anything like this before. He taught with authority. Over and over again in His message, Jesus had said, “But I say….” He referred to the Old Testament Scriptures, but then added His own words. He did not refer to the teachings of the patriarchs or refer to other rabbinic scholars. He spoke as if His words were on a par with the Word of God itself, because they were. He was the Son of God speaking on behalf of God the Father. He was the Word incarnate. John describes Him as such.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. – John 1:1-5 ESV

He is the Word, and we are to obey Him, not just believe in Him. Those who are approved by God because they place their faith in the Son of God will find themselves capable of living in obedience to everything Jesus said in His sermon. And they will discover the rock-solid security of a life founded on the sure foundation of Christ’s words.

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

To Fulfill All Righteousness.

13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. 14 John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” 15 But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. 16 And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; 17 and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

1 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. Matthew 3:13-4:1 ESV

For three decades, Jesus had lived in relative obscurity in the region called Galilee. The four Gospels provide us with few details regarding his childhood and nothing regarding his formative years as a young man. Matthew picks up the story of the life of Jesus at His baptism by John in the wilderness. And John, while a relative of Jesus, evidently had no idea that Jesus was the one of whom he was speaking when he said, “all flesh shall see the salvation of God” (Luke 3:6 ESV). John had been sent by God to act as a forerunner, a kind of herald whose job it was to proclaim the coming of the long-awaited Messiah of Israel. And evidently, there were those who wondered if John was the himself the Messiah. But John knew his role and clearly stated that there was one coming who would fulfill all the Old Testament prophecies concerning the promised Messiah.

19 And this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” 20 He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” 21 And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” And he answered, “No.” 22 So they said to him, “Who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” 23 He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.” – John 1:19-23

And again, John had no idea that Jesus was the one until God confirmed it for him at the baptism of Jesus.

32 And John bore witness: “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. 33 I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.” – John 1:32-34 ESV

But once John had seen the Spirit of God descend upon Jesus at His baptism, he had known without a shadow of a doubt that Jesus was the Messiah, and he knew exactly why Jesus had come.

29 “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.’ 31 I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.” – John 1:29-31 ESV

The baptism of Jesus acted as the inauguration of Jesus’ earthly ministry. It officially launched His campaign to take away the sins of the world. And it was marked by His anointing by the Holy Spirit and the verbal confirmation by God of His public ministry. John had been reluctant to baptize Jesus, feeling inadequate for the task and viewing Jesus as having no need of repentance. But Jesus persuaded John that this was a necessary part of God’s divine plan for His life.

“Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” – Matthew 3:15 ESV

Jesus was encouraging John to do what was right – that which was in keeping with the will of God. Matthew’s use of the word, “righteousness” has nothing to do with salvation or a right standing with God, but with conformity to the will of God. Jesus was letting John know that His baptism was God’s will and, therefore, they were morally or ethically obligated to do what God commanded. And the coming of the Holy Spirit upon Jesus and the audible expression of God’s favor were both forms of God’s confirmation that this had all been part of His divine will.

Because Jesus was sinless, His baptism was not for the remission of sins or because He was in need of repentance. It was an act of submission to the will of His Father, and a means of identifying Himself with all those who had obeyed John’s call to baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Many had come to the wilderness to be baptized by John. But John warned them that their willingness to undergo water baptism had to be marked by true life change. He demanded that they, “Bear fruits in keeping with repentance” (Luke 3:3 ESV). And when pressed by the people as to what that fruit should look like, John had given them specific examples.

10 And the crowds asked him, “What then shall we do?” 11 And he answered them, “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.” 12 Tax collectors also came to be baptized and said to him, “Teacher, what shall we do?” 13 And he said to them, “Collect no more than you are authorized to do.” 14 Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages.” – Luke 3:10-14 ESV

Their lives were to be marked by distinctively different behavior. Their repentance was to be characterized by life change. But what John was asking them to do was impossible. They did not have the inner capacity to live out what John was commanding. There was something missing. And John, whether he fully understood it or not, declared to the people what that missing ingredient was: “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Luke 3:16 ESV). The water baptism John offered was insufficient to provide people with the power they needed to live truly repentant lives. But there was a baptism coming, made available by Jesus, that would include the Holy Spirit and fire, and empower all those who received it to fulfill all righteousness. Not only would they be able to do the will of God, they would find themselves in a right standing with God. And the baptism to which John eluded was that which took place years later in the upper room on the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples who had gathered in Jerusalem after the death and resurrection of Jesus.

1 When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. – Acts 2:1-4 ESV

The power to live radically different lives was going to come from the Holy Spirit, But the Holy Spirit would not be made available until Jesus had fulfilled all righteousness, completing God’s plan for His life, which was to include His death on the cross. And it’s essential that we note that even Jesus’ earthly ministry was begun with the anointing of the Holy Spirit of God. The Spirit of God descended upon Him at His baptism, empowering Him for the task that lay ahead. All that Jesus would do in the coming days would be done in the power of the Holy Spirit. He would be led by the Spirit. And the very first verse of the very next chapter reveals that Jesus was now going to be under the guiding influence of the Spirit of God until He fully accomplished the will of God.

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. – Matthew 2:1 ESV

Jesus had come to fulfill all righteousness – to do the will of His Father in heaven. And He made that point perfectly clear when He stated: “For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me” (John 6:38 ESV). He would later tell His disciples, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work” (John 4:34 ESV). The baptism of Jesus was just the beginning of His willing submission to His Father’s plan for His life. And each step He took from that day forward, including His journey into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan, was in order that He might fulfill all righteousness – doing all that God had planned for His life – so that He might be the means by which sinful mankind might have eternal life.

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

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

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

Don’t Say I Didn’t Warn You.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More Than Conquerors.

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

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

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

division-of-promised-land-to-ancient-israel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Priestly Presence.

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

Place of Rest.

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

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

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

Tabaernacle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Powerless to Possess.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He Wholly Followed the Lord.

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1 These are the inheritances that the people of Israel received in the land of Canaan, which Eleazar the priest and Joshua the son of Nun and the heads of the fathers’ houses of the tribes of the people of Israel gave them to inherit. Their inheritance was by lot, just as the Lord had commanded by the hand of Moses for the nine and one-half tribes. For Moses had given an inheritance to the two and one-half tribes beyond the Jordan, but to the Levites he gave no inheritance among them. For the people of Joseph were two tribes, Manasseh and Ephraim. And no portion was given to the Levites in the land, but only cities to dwell in, with their pasturelands for their livestock and their substance. The people of Israel did as the Lord commanded Moses; they allotted the land.

Then the people of Judah came to Joshua at Gilgal. And Caleb the son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite said to him, “You know what the Lord said to Moses the man of God in Kadesh-barnea concerning you and me. I was forty years old when Moses the servant of the Lord sent me from Kadesh-barnea to spy out the land, and I brought him word again as it was in my heart. But my brothers who went up with me made the heart of the people melt; yet I wholly followed the Lord my God. And Moses swore on that day, saying, ‘Surely the land on which your foot has trodden shall be an inheritance for you and your children forever, because you have wholly followed the Lord my God.’ 10 And now, behold, the Lord has kept me alive, just as he said, these forty-five years since the time that the Lord spoke this word to Moses, while Israel walked in the wilderness. And now, behold, I am this day eighty-five years old. 11 I am still as strong today as I was in the day that Moses sent me; my strength now is as my strength was then, for war and for going and coming. 12 So now give me this hill country of which the Lord spoke on that day, for you heard on that day how the Anakim were there, with great fortified cities. It may be that the Lord will be with me, and I shall drive them out just as the Lord said.”

13 Then Joshua blessed him, and he gave Hebron to Caleb the son of Jephunneh for an inheritance. 14 Therefore Hebron became the inheritance of Caleb the son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite to this day, because he wholly followed the Lord, the God of Israel. 15 Now the name of Hebron formerly was Kiriath-arba. (Arba was the greatest man among the Anakim.) And the land had rest from war. Joshua 14:1-15 ESV

JudahMapThe tribes of Reuben, Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh had received their land on the eastern side of the Jordan, just as they had requested. Now, it was time to divide up the land that had been promised by God to Abraham. And God had provided Moses with a very precise plan to follow, which Moses had then passed on to Joshua. This was not going to be a free-for-all, where each tribe asserted itself and grabbed whatever land it wanted. God had dictated a very specific methodology for determining the dividing up of the land of Canaan between the tribes of Israel. There were now nine-and-a-half tribes left and the entire land of Canaan to parcel out and it was important that each received what God had ordained.

52 The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 53 “Among these the land shall be divided for inheritance according to the number of names. 54 To a large tribe you shall give a large inheritance, and to a small tribe you shall give a small inheritance; every tribe shall be given its inheritance in proportion to its list. 55 But the land shall be divided by lot. According to the names of the tribes of their fathers they shall inherit. 56 Their inheritance shall be divided according to lot between the larger and the smaller.” – Numbers 26:52-56 ESV

God had commanded Moses to utilize the casting of lots to determine the exact location and size of each tribe’s allotment. The casting of lots was a common practice among the people of God and is mentioned some 70 times in the Old Testament. We are not exactly sure what the lots looked like or how they were used, and to our modern sensibilities, it would appear to be nothing short of a game of chance, like throwing dice. But the Jews had a different perspective. Yes, casting lots involved a degree of chance, but as the book of Proverbs makes clear, the sovereign will of God determined the outcome.

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

What might appear to us as nothing more than luck, was to the Hebrews a sign of God’s will. They believed that when the lots were cast, God was behind how they fell. They were a means of determining the will of God when it had not been made known. This means for determining the boundaries of each tribe’s inheritance provided a fair and reasonable outcome that prevented any show of favoritism on the part of Joshua. No one, but God, could know how the lots would fall. And the fact that all the tribes were willing to abide by the outcome determined by the lots, reveals that they firmly believed God was behind it all.

But before this process could be implemented, Joshua was approached by Caleb, a member of the tribe of Judah and one of the original 12 men who had spied out the land of Canaan 40 years earlier. Moses had sent Caleb and his 11 companions into the land in order to bring back a report concerning its natural resources and the military strength of its inhabitants.

17 Moses sent them to spy out the land of Canaan and said to them, “Go up into the Negeb and go up into the hill country, 18 and see what the land is, and whether the people who dwell in it are strong or weak, whether they are few or many, 19 and whether the land that they dwell in is good or bad, and whether the cities that they dwell in are camps or strongholds, 20 and whether the land is rich or poor, and whether there are trees in it or not. Be of good courage and bring some of the fruit of the land.” – Numbers 13:17-20 ESV

And when the 12 spies returned, they had brought good news and bad news. Yes, the land was abundant in fruit and rich in resources, but it was also filled with enemies who were too powerful for Israel to defeat. The spies painted a very bleak picture, causing the people of Israel to lose hope and to turn their backs on the promise of God.

32 So they brought to the people of Israel a bad report of the land that they had spied out, saying, “The land, through which we have gone to spy it out, is a land that devours its inhabitants, and all the people that we saw in it are of great height. 33 And there we saw the Nephilim (the sons of Anak, who come from the Nephilim), and we seemed to ourselves like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them.” – Numbers 13:32-33 ESV

But Caleb had spoken up, presenting a very different outcome. He didn’t deny the presence of the enemy or attempted to underplay their strength. He simply encouraged the people to trust God. He believed that God had given them the land as an inheritance and, therefore, God would give them victory over their enemies.

But Caleb quieted the people before Moses and said, “Let us go up at once and occupy it, for we are well able to overcome it.” – Numbers 13:30 ESV

But the people did not listen to Caleb. They went with the majority report and refused to enter the land. And God punished them for their lack of faith and their demonstration of unbelief in His promises.

26 And the Lord spoke to Moses and to Aaron, saying, 27 “How long shall this wicked congregation grumble against me? I have heard the grumblings of the people of Israel, which they grumble against me. 28 Say to them, ‘As I live, declares the Lord, what you have said in my hearing I will do to you: 29 your dead bodies shall fall in this wilderness, and of all your number, listed in the census from twenty years old and upward, who have grumbled against me, 30 not one shall come into the land where I swore that I would make you dwell, except Caleb the son of Jephunneh and Joshua the son of Nun. – Numbers 14:26-30 ESV

Here we learn that Joshua was also one of the 12 spies and had sided with Caleb in his positive report and recommendation to enter the land. These two men were the only two to survive God’s purging of the people. And 40 years later, when the Israelites had finally entered the land, Joshua and Caleb were the only two from that previous generation who were still alive. Both were in their 80s and now Caleb was asking for his portion of the land he had waited so long and patiently to receive. And it is interesting to note that Caleb requested the very land that his fellow spies had said was occupied by giants. Caleb wanted to live in the very land where the Anakim lived. He was asking for the most difficult tract of land occupied by the most formidable enemy, because he was sure that God would give him victory over them.

“So now give me this hill country of which the Lord spoke on that day, for you heard on that day how the Anakim were there, with great fortified cities. It may be that the Lord will be with me, and I shall drive them out just as the Lord said.” – Joshua 14:12 ESV

And Joshua gladly honored Caleb’s request, allotting to him and his people the land of Hebron, “because he wholly followed the Lord, the God of Israel” (Joshua 14:14 ESV). And the author provides us with an important side note that states, “the name of Hebron formerly was Kiriath-arba. (Arba was the greatest man among the Anakim)” (Joshua 14:15 ESV). Caleb was given the city that belonged to the mightiest of all the descendants of Anak. Caleb would have to conquer the city of Hebron to make it his own. He would have to eliminate the Anakim in order to possess the land given to him by Joshua. And the text clearly indicates that he did. “Therefore Hebron became the inheritance of Caleb the son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite to this day” (Joshua 14:14 ESV). And the chapter ends with the a statement that Caleb kept his promise to drive out the Anakim from the land: “And the land had rest from war” (Joshua 14:15 ESV).

Caleb provides us with an illustration of faithfulness in the face of overwhelming odds. Not only did he stand opposed to the words of his fellow spies, encouraging obedience to God when everyone else was recommending rebellion, he waited decades to receive the promise of God. He had endured 40 years of wandering in the wilderness and then seven years of battle before he got the chance to enjoy his long-awaited inheritance. And even then, he had to fight to make it his own. But he did. God gave him victory, because he wholly followed the Lord, the God of Israel.

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

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

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

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

The Perils of Partial Obedience.

Now Joshua was old and advanced in years, and the Lord said to him, “You are old and advanced in years, and there remains yet very much land to possess. This is the land that yet remains: all the regions of the Philistines, and all those of the Geshurites (from the Shihor, which is east of Egypt, northward to the boundary of Ekron, it is counted as Canaanite; there are five rulers of the Philistines, those of Gaza, Ashdod, Ashkelon, Gath, and Ekron), and those of the Avvim, in the south, all the land of the Canaanites, and Mearah that belongs to the Sidonians, to Aphek, to the boundary of the Amorites, and the land of the Gebalites, and all Lebanon, toward the sunrise, from Baal-gad below Mount Hermon to Lebo-hamath, all the inhabitants of the hill country from Lebanon to Misrephoth-maim, even all the Sidonians. I myself will drive them out from before the people of Israel. Only allot the land to Israel for an inheritance, as I have commanded you. Now therefore divide this land for an inheritance to the nine tribes and half the tribe of Manasseh.”

With the other half of the tribe of Manasseh the Reubenites and the Gadites received their inheritance, which Moses gave them, beyond the Jordan eastward, as Moses the servant of the Lord gave them: 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 of Medeba as far as Dibon; 10 and all the cities of Sihon king of the Amorites, who reigned in Heshbon, as far as the boundary of the Ammonites; 11 and Gilead, and the region of the Geshurites and Maacathites, and all Mount Hermon, and all Bashan to Salecah; 12 all the kingdom of Og in Bashan, who reigned in Ashtaroth and in Edrei (he alone was left of the remnant of the Rephaim); these Moses had struck and driven out. 13 Yet the people of Israel did not drive out the Geshurites or the Maacathites, but Geshur and Maacath dwell in the midst of Israel to this day. Joshua 13:1-13 ESV

division-of-promised-land-to-ancient-israelChapter 12 presented a synopsis of the Israelites’ successful campaign against 31 different kingdoms. They had enjoyed unparalleled victories and had virtually eliminated all significant military threats. But their job was not yet done. In the seven years since Joshua had led the people across the Jordan and into the promised land, they had been engaged in an almost constant military action. But now, the time had come to begin taking possession of the land. Chapter 13 opens up with the announcement that Joshua had grown old. It is estimated that he was somewhere around the age of 80 by this time and the mention of his age provides a sense of urgency. There was still work to be done. It was necessary that the land be divided up between the various tribes and that the remaining inhabitants of the land be eliminated. God provided Joshua with a not-so-subtle reminder that his days were numbered and that his job was not yet finished.

“You are old and advanced in years, and there remains yet very much land to possess.” – Joshua 13:1 ESV

Joshua didn’t have time to rest on his laurels or to start thinking about retirement. It was essential that he finish what he had begun and ensure that the people took possession of the land – in its entirety. So, God provided Joshua with a list of the remaining nations to be conquered and destroyed: The Philistines, Geshurites, Canaanites, Sidonians, Amorites, and Gebalites. But these nations would not be dealt with using the combined forces of the Israelites. It was going to be the responsibility of each tribe to conquer the nations still remaining in the land allotted to them as an inheritance.

Chapters 13-24 are going to provide a record of Israel’s efforts to obey God’s command to occupy the land. The land was legally theirs, having been given to them by God Himself. But they were responsible for taking possession of the land and this was to include the removal of all pagan influences and any potential temptations that might draw them away from worshiping God alone. But what these chapters will reveal is the partial obedience of God’s people. While they had successfully eradicated many of the threats against them, they were still surrounded by nations that posed a potential problem if left unattended. And one of the first nations God points out to Joshua is that of the Philistines. This was a people group who were native to the land. At one time, they had migrated from the northwest and had successfully dispossessed the inhabitants living in the southwest portion of Canaan. The land they occupied was part of the inheritance promised by God to Abraham. It belonged to Israel, but they were going to have to take it from the Philistines. But as we will see, the Israelites failed to eliminate the Philistines, allowing them to grow in strength and numbers. And they would prove to be a constant threat to the people of Israel for generations to come, not only militarily, but spiritually.

In Joshua’s day, the Philistines would have been few in number and should have been an easy target for the people of Israel. The land they occupied was located to the west of the land awarded to the tribes of Dan, Simeon and Judah. Their cities, including Gaza, Ashdod, Ashkelon, Gath, and Ekron, were to be considered Canaanite cities and, therefore, part of the inheritance God had given to Israel. But that little strip of land would prove to be a major obstacle in Israel’s efforts to obey God’s command to occupy the land of Canaan. And more than three centuries later, King Saul would find himself dealing with the constant threat of a much larger, stronger Philistine nation, all because the people of Israel had refused to do what God had commanded them to do.

The dangerous tendency of the people of Israel to practice partial obedience is revealed in verses 8-13, where we are provided an overview of the less-than-successful efforts of the tribes of Manasseh, Reuben and Gad to eradicate the enemies living in their allotted land east of the Jordan. Joshua had given these three tribes permission to occupy the land captured by Israel in the early days of their entry into Canaan. And while they had successfully defeated the two kings, Og and Sihon, taking over their cities and occupying their former kingdoms, the text provides us with a sad assessment of their overall efforts to obey God’s command.

Yet the people of Israel did not drive out the Geshurites or the Maacathites, but Geshur and Maacath dwell in the midst of Israel to this day. – Joshua 13:13 ESV

This will not be the only time we read of Israel’s failure to rid the land of its inhabitants and to eliminate the potential threat of spiritual contamination from pagan influences.  These statements of partial obedience will appear throughout the remaining chapters of the book of Joshua.

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

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. – Joshua 16:10 ESV

Yet the people of Manasseh could not take possession of those cities, but the Canaanites persisted in dwelling in that land. Now when the people of Israel grew strong, they put the Canaanites to forced labor, but did not utterly drive them out. – Joshua 17:12-13 ESV

The various tribes would struggle to keep the word of God, choosing instead to make concessions and compromises, allowing the enemies of Israel to remain in the land. God had never commanded the Israelites to make the Canaanites their slaves. He had commanded that they be completely eradicated. Years earlier, Moses had clearly warned the people of Israel of God’s commands concerning the people of Canaan, and he had given them a strong reason for such drastic measures.

1 “When the Lord your God brings you into the land that you are entering to take possession of it, and clears away many nations before you, the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, seven nations more numerous and mightier than you, and when the Lord your God gives them over to you, and you defeat them, then you must devote them to complete destruction. You shall make no covenant with them and show no mercy to them. You shall not intermarry with them, giving your daughters to their sons or taking their daughters for your sons, for they would turn away your sons from following me, to serve other gods. Then the anger of the Lord would be kindled against you, and he would destroy you quickly.” – Deuteronomy 7:1-4 ESV

Partial obedience to the will of God is not obedience at all. It is sin and it is dangerous because it comes with consequences. The Israelites would choose to allow their enemies to live. They would end up making covenants with them. They would eventually allow their children to intermarry with them. And they would find themselves led away from God because of them. The land of Canaan was a land flowing with milk and honey. It was rich and bountiful. It was beautiful. And it was a gift given to the people of Israel by God. But it was marred by the presence of sin. It was filled with false gods and people who stood opposed to the one true God. Israel’s decision to practice partial obedience to God would prevent them from enjoying the fullness of God’s blessings. And their failure to obey now would have long-term ramifications for generations to come.

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