(Originally published January 26, 2017)
Alrighty now. The holidays are behind us and we have returned for our first week of Bible study, and so it’s time for the weekly summary of our study lesson. Let’s see if I can remember how to do this!
Our study of the book of Joshua has moved from battles and conquest to the division of the promised land among the tribes of the Israelites. We began our look at Joshua chapters 13 and 14 by reading entirely through chapter 13. Of course, reading through a chapter like this is always such fun, with so many people and place names, and making sense of where they are in relation to one another…. Haha, no, not really. This leads me to the first quote from John Calvin which I shared related for this study:
“I again beg my readers to excuse me if I do not labor anxiously in describing the situation of towns, and am not even curious in regard to names.” [Commentaries on The Book of Joshua, by John Calvin, Volume 4, Reprinted 2009 by Baker Books]
Our purpose in studying this chapter is not to gain a working geographical knowledge of the real estate allocated to the tribes of Israel, but to explore the faithfulness of our God, who brought them into the land of their inheritance, just as he had promised.
We first explored this idea of inheritance a bit by observing that “inheritance” is indeed the term used to describe the land that God was giving to the Israelites, and further learned that in the culture of their time only a firstborn son was expected to receive an inheritance. We were sent to two different verses in the Old Testament to learn how this applies to Israel.
“Then you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the LORD, ‘Israel is my firstborn son…’” Exodus 4:22
“When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.” Hosea 11:1
This clearly states that God considers Israel to be his firstborn son, thereby qualifying Israel for the inheritance which the LORD is giving them. As anyone who has read any more of the Old Testament knows, Israel eventually proves to be an unfaithful son to the LORD. The question is then asked, who is God’s faithful Son and true heir? The answer is, of course, Jesus, and we are sent for confirmation of this to Matthew 3:16-17, “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; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”
We are next reminded of what Paul wrote to the Galatian church, “God sent his Son… to redeem those under the law, that we might receive the full rights of sons… and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir” (Ga 4:4, 5, 7b). Which leads to the question, what is our inheritance as children of God? To find the answer we are sent to the sublime passage of Revelation 21:1-4,7:
“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away… (and he who was seated on the throne said to me) “The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son.”
What a glorious vision of the inheritance that lies in store for all who are in Christ! As heirs with him we shall live in the presence of God himself, where sin will never again rear its head, and where we shall enjoy him fully in the splendor of his holiness. No more tears, no more death, no more mourning, crying, nor pain. Perfect, glorious, luminous, fullness of joy in the presence of our Savior is what awaits us. In Christ, we have obtained this inheritance, and the Holy Spirit is the guarantee of it until we acquire possession of it. Already and not yet. Praise be to God.
And now, even though we needn’t trace it all out on a map for ourselves, we turn to consider what these detailed lists of places and boundaries meant to the Israelites, given that these lands were their inheritance. These were basically titles to the land, actual real estate, that had been promised not only to them, but to their forefathers as far back as Abraham, when, though he believed that the Lord would give him a son, he couldn’t fathom how. Abraham’s descendants were now a nation of millions of people and they had come through 400 years of slavery in Egypt, a miraculous deliverance, another 40 years of wandering in the wilderness, several years of warfare, and the time has come to take possession of the promised inheritance. Call the architect, choose paint colors, and figure out the landscaping, because, honey, we’re moving in!
Have you ever waited for something for so long that when it finally happens you can hardly believe it’s real? After nine long months of pregnancy, whether easy or miserable, when I held each of my babies for the first time it was almost unreal. Almost numb, really. Finally holding in my arms and looking into the face of the baby I had loved and longed to see for so many months… I imagine there must have been some of that feeling going on with the people of Israel. After all these years of wandering and warfare they are actually given the deed to their property. After generations of blood, sweat, and tears, chapter 14 ends with the simple sentence, “And the land had rest from war.”
Here’s what it meant:
God kept his promise.
At this point we are going to look a bit closer and pick out one of the names mentioned among the conquered people listed in chapter 13. In verse 22 we read, “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.” Why, among lists of rulers of the slain peoples, is this pagan diviner, who advised the Midianites in turning many Israelites to idolatry, given special mention here? I’ll allow John Calvin to answer for us:
“…to make it still more clear that they (the Midianites) perished justly, it is told that among the slain was Balaam, by whose tongue they had attempted to wound the Israelites more grievously than by a thousand swords…”
As we have already observed in our study, the Lord God of Israel considers idolatry to be the height of treason— adulterous, even. For the people of the Lord to be turned to the worship of false gods would be worse than death in battle. Indeed, it is the very means by which the nation ultimately falls. The one who would tempt them away from their God is a foul enemy indeed, worthy of listing among the defeated slain.
We now turn to chapter 14, noting first a change in the line-up of tribes for the allocation of property. In verses 3 and 4 we read, “…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 subsistence.” The people of Israel consists of the descendants of the twelve sons of Jacob: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Zebulun, Issachar, Dan, Gad, Asher, Naphtali, Joseph, and Benjamin. In the division of the land, however, Levi is not to inherit one single tract of property as the rest do, and we don’t read of a tribe of Joseph, but of the tribes of his two eldest sons.
In Genesis 48:5 we find the reason for Manasseh and Ephraim taking their places in the nation of Israel rather than simply a tribe of Joseph. Near the end of his life, the time came for Jacob to give his blessing to his sons. But first, he asks Joseph to bring his two sons to him. “And now your two sons, who were born to you in the land of Egypt before I came to you in Egypt, are mine; Ephraim and Manasseh shall be mine, as Reuben and Simeon are.” And just like that, Jacob adopted Ephraim and Manasseh, thus adding them—in place of their father— to the assembly of his sons, placing them in line for an equal portion of inheritance with the rest.
On the other hand, the tribe of Levi will not inherit a share of the land, as had been made clear to them in the time of Moses, and we are reminded again in this week’s reading.
“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 them… the LORD God of Israel is their inheritance…” Joshua 13:14, 33
(For a further background, check Exodus 32:25-29 and Numbers 8:13-17, 24.)
The tribe of Levi had been consecrated to the Lord as the firstfruits of the people, ordained to serve him in the Tabernacle (and later, the Temple), wholly given to him, and therefore wholly dependent on him. The rest of the tribes of Israel, in bringing their own tithes and offerings, provided for the needs of the Levites. The Levites, therefore, could be entirely focused on and devoted to their service to the Lord and to the people. As John Calvin tells us:
“Although the sacrifices were not equally divided among the Levites, their subsistence was sufficiently provided for by all the firstfruits and the tithes. Moreover, as God allures them by hire to undertake the charge of sacred things, so he exhorts the people in their turn, to be faithful in paying the sacred oblations by declaring that their sacrifices are the maintenance of the Levites.”
I wonder if the fact that the Levites were scattered throughout the entire land of promise, given towns within the inherited properties of the rest of the tribes, served to keep them closer to all the people who were supporting them materially. But also, remember, the function of the priesthood was to stand between the people and their God, representing God to his people, and the people to their God. If they were segregated all to themselves, living only within a single portion of the land, how could they sufficiently do this? How could they know the people they were to be serving if they didn’t live among them? (Brings to mind the intent of the House of Representatives… doesn’t it?) But more vitally, how could they remind the scattered and forgetful people of the promises of God and the grateful obedience they justly owed him if they lived apart from them? If this is the case, then the fact that they were not given their own parcel of land for an inheritance was a mercy to the whole nation.
The next question in our study draws our attention to the method by which the portions of land were matched with the tribes to inherit them. In our day, choosing something by lot, by a “throw of the dice” as it were, is to rely on chance. “Lady Luck” gets the credit for the outcome of the cards or dice, for making or breaking one’s fortunes. Yet this clearly is not how the Bible views the use of the lot as described here in the book of Joshua. The Israelites are relying on the drawing of the lot to show them God’s will in the matter before them, and their attitude is clarified in the following Scripture passages:
“The lot is cast in the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD.” Proverbs 16:33
“He chose our heritage for us, the pride of Jacob whom he loves.” Psalm 47:4
“The LORD is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot. The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.” Psalm 16:5-6
The voices in our world which cry out against belief in God would have us believe that our lives, indeed, the entire universe, is governed by chance. To believe that this universe, from the immensity of the planets and solar systems, down to the minute fine-tuning of the physics here on Earth to allow for the sustaining of life, is all the result of unguided, undirected processes requires a faith of the sort I do not possess. (*see note at the bottom of the post) Belief that our lives are governed by chance only leads to despair. Rather, let’s place our faith in the Lord who assures us with these comforting words:
“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.” Matthew 10:29-31
He holds our lot, indeed, in Christ, we have a beautiful inheritance.
And now we turn to Caleb, who has faithfully and patiently waited for more than 45 years for his promised inheritance, after being one of the two spies (the other being Joshua) who gave a faith-filled report of the promised land way back when the Israelites first came to the border of Canaan (Numbers 13-14). In fact, as I re-read the account, Caleb did most of the talking as Joshua backed him up!
Basically, it happened like this: the ten spies said, “Giants in the land!” the crowd lost their minds, and Caleb and Joshua said, “But God!”
As a reward for wholly following the Lord, God promises Caleb then and there that he will be given the very land that they had spied out. (Joshua was rewarded with the leadership of the people after Moses death.) Fast forward to Joshua chapter 14 and Caleb steps up to remind Joshua of the conversation concerning this promise, to which Joshua may now be the only other living witness. Caleb had withstood the pressure of the other ten spies and the overwhelming response of the crowd and held fast his belief that God would deliver on his promise to drive their enemies out and settle them in the land. He is now ready to go into the very land that had so frightened the others, with the giants still in residence and, with the help of his God, drive them out. Just listen to him:
“…behold, I am this day eighty-five years old. 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. 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 14:10b-12
Can’t you just see him beating his chest as he speaks?! As he describes his remaining strength and vigor and readiness for battle I can’t help but picture a character from the movie, Braveheart (1995, directed by Mel Gibson, distributed by Paramount Pictures). Wallace’s friend, Hamish, had a fighting-tough father who was on the front line of every battle, and if he is struck with an arrow, then, by golly, pull it out and let’s keep fighting! Don’t stand in Caleb’s way, because he’s ready to get in there and claim his inheritance! Giants? No worries— his God is bigger!
Which leads us to what may be an uncomfortable question in our study. Considering that Caleb is 85 years old and Joshua is at least that but probably older, how do we view old age now? Now, of course, there will be a variety of answers, but the Bible’s view of old age is quite clear.
“You shall stand up before the gray head, and honor the face of an old man, and you shall fear your God: I am the LORD.” Leviticus 19:32
“The righteous flourish like the palm tree and grow like a cedar in Lebanon. They are planted in the house of the LORD; they flourish in the courts of our God. They still bear fruit in old age; They are ever full of sap and green, to declare that the LORD is upright; he is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him.” Psalm 92:12-15
“Gray hair is a crown of glory; it is gained in a righteous life.” Proverbs 16:31
In Scripture it is abundantly clear that those who have reached old age are to be respected and given honor. The righteous are still fruitful in old age, and their wisdom is worth seeking out. This should be an encouragement to us to seek not merely to age “gracefully,” but righteously and wisely. For much more than I can say on this topic, please take the time to visit the website of Tim Challies, where he has written a five-part series on Aging Gracefully, it will be time well spent.
As we wrap up this lesson we are encouraged to consider the promises of God to drive out the inhabitants of the land, renewed in Joshua 13:6, along with his command in verse 7 for Joshua to go ahead and divide the land, though unconquered, among the Israelites. God is telling his people that even as he was with them for the conquest which is behind them, so he will still be with them as they take possession and move in to the land. He is trustworthy and will continue to faithfully fulfill his promise to them. They need only to believe his promises and boldly step forward into the land of promise.
What promises in Scripture are especially encouraging to you? There so are many from which to choose, and, personally, different circumstances drive me to different passages for encouragement. And, as the apostle Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 1:20, “…all the promises of God find their Yes in (Christ). That is why it is through him we utter our Amen to God for his glory.”
*Thinking about the difference between the arguments for creation of the universe by a good and wise God rather than evolution by undirected processes gets me thinking about my favorite apologist for Intelligent Design, Dr. Stephen Meyer. The following links will take you to an interview at Socrates in the City with Eric Metaxas, and a lecture he gave at the Ligonier Ministries National Conference in 2012. Both are worth watching, but give yourself time, the interview is 1 hour 25 minutes and the lecture is 1 hour 3 minutes. Worth every minute.