Taking Hold of What We are Given
Topic: Default Passage: Joshua 13:1–19:51
As I said last week, we have transitioned in this book from the conquest of the promised land to the allotment of the land. I’ll be the first to admit that these aren’t the easiest chapters to read. The battles were exciting, but every boundary line of this new nation and exactly who will reside where just isn’t quite as much of a page turner.
It made me think of the movie The Patriot. Do you remember the main bad guy in that movie, Colonel William Tavington? He was the guy who was brutally killing everyone in every town to help kill American moral. He tells his superior that if he continues to do this, he can’t go home, so he better get a good piece of land here after the war. His superior takes out a map of the colonies and Tavington says, “Tell me about Ohio.”
Now, had they won, wouldn’t you imagine it would have been very exciting to divide up all our land and see who gets what? Now, even though the Israelites aren’t the bad guys, it gives me at least a glimpse of the excitement the Israelites would have had in these chapters. And they have never owned land before!
Joshua is now old and has faithfully taken all the cities required by God to get them into the promised land. It doesn’t mean that every single Canaanite village has been taken out. That is part of why Joshua is allotting different pieces to each tribe. It will now be the responsibility of each tribe to finish what is left.
So, what you have here is a people taking hold of what has been given to them. The land is theirs, but they have yet to fully take hold of it. The war is won, but many battles remain.
Since we started off with a fictional war story, how about a real one? How many of you have heard of the Battle of New Orleans? It was probably the most famous battle of the war of 1812 between the US and Great Britain. It was a fairly decisive victory for the US, but the interesting thing is that the war had ended about thirty days before the battle. The treaty of Ghent had been signed and the US had won. The land was irrevocably ours, but the enemy hadn’t given up yet and there were still battles to fight.
The theological term for this is the already/not yet. the war is already won, but we don’t yet possess all the fruit of that victory. There are still battles to fight. The promised land of the new heavens and new earth are won, but we don’t yet possess it. It is guaranteed, but we still need to take hold of it.
We see some things in this passage that help the Israelites to take hold of the promised land they have been given. There are three things that aid both them in their pursuit of the promised land and us in our pursuit of the better promised land. God keeps His promises, God guides His people, and God gives them victory.
- God keeps His promises 13:1-17:18
There are three very specific promises being fulfilled in Chapters 13-17 as the first half of the tribes receive their land. The first promise is obvious, they are in the land! God made this promise to Abraham back in Genesis 15: Genesis 15: 17 When the sun had gone down and it was dark, behold, a smoking fire potand a flaming torch passed between these pieces. 18 On that day the LORD madea covenant with Abram, saying, y“To your offspring I give3 this land, fromzthe river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates, 19 the land of theKenites, the Kenizzites, the Kadmonites, 20 the Hittites, the Perizzites, theRephaim, 21 the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites and the Jebusites.” - Genesis 15:17-20
This promise was then confirmed to Abraham’s son Isaac and then to Isaac’s son Jacob. So, why do I say that now is the time the promise is fulfilled? Why not the moment they passed the Jordan? Why not wait until all the Canaanites are wiped out? Why this passage? Because the allotment of the land secures the land. You don’t carve out chunks of land until it’s yours.
If you understand the geography here, you see that Joshua is putting the strongest tribes on the edges of the land to secure the interior. Judah guards the south, Reuben, Gad, and the half tribe of Manasseh guard the east, and Ephraim and the other half tribe of Manasseh guards the north. The land is taken. Incidentally, now that the borders are taken care of, the main camp is moved from Gilgal to Shiloh which is higher up and more centrally located.
The second promise being fulfilled is Judah and Joseph receiving the birthright. Judah had become the most important of the 12 tribes. The patriarch of this tripe is obviously Judah, the fourth of Jacob’s twelve sons. Judah received prominence because of the sins of his older three brothers. Reuben, the oldest slept with one of his father’s concubines. Then Simeon and Levi led the terrible massacre against the Schechemites, so part of the blessing of the first born went down to Judah. Yes, I said part.
The full blessing of the first born did not go to Judah. Joseph received the other half in that two of his sons, Ephraim and Manasseh each got a tribe. Judah though, was given the right of rule. Look at Genesis 49 where Jacob is blessing his sons: The mscepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler's staff nfrom between his feet, until tribute comes to him;1 and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples. - Genesis 49:10
Judah was to give birth to the kings of Israel like David who secured Jerusalem (also in Judah), Solomon who made Israel a world power, and Josiah who bought massive reforms and eventually, the King of Kings, Jesus Christ.
The third promise fulfilled is that Caleb and Joshua received a special inheritance in the form of a city. You may remember that when Moses sent his spies into the promised land they all came back saying there’s no way. It can’t be taken. The people there are too big. All except Caleb and Joshua. So, Moses says to Caleb, 24 But my servant oCaleb, because he has a different spirit and has pfollowed me fully, I will bring into the land into which he went, and his descendants shall possess it. - Numbers 14:24 And Caleb is awarded the city of Hebron.
And then there is Joshua. In chapter 19 we read this: 49 When they had finished distributing the several territories of the land asinheritances, the people of Israel gave an inheritance among them to Joshuathe son of Nun. 50 By command of the LORD they gave him the city that heasked, gTimnath-serah in the hill country of Ephraim. And he rebuilt the cityand settled in it. - Joshua 19:48,49 And Joshua is awarded Timnath-serah.
These aren’t just the spoils of war, in every case, this was God making and fulfilling very specific promises to the people of Israel. And I think there is one really important part of the inheritance that is easily missed: who it is coming from. In my office there is a framed ticket that my grandmother used to go and watch the Apollo 11 launch take men to the moon for the first time. My grandmother was crazy about all things space. She had a friend who’s son was an astronaut and she got my grandmother this very special ticket. It’s a cool ticket in its own right, but it’s more special to me than it would be for most of you because of who gave it to me. We shared this interest in the space program so for her to give it to me meant something very special. In the same way, this land was extra special to the Israelites because it had been promised and delivered by the One True God.
People tend to look at the Old testament and only see laws, and there are laws, but here you can see the foundation of God’s work is a promise, not a law. The promise to Abraham preceded the Mosaic law. But, what makes a promise valuable? Imagine I come up to you after the service and tell you that there are two Orlando Magic season coursed tickets waiting for you in my office. This may not have been that compelling a few years ago, but things are looking better. You can sell them if you don’t like basketball. This promise only valuable if the promiser is faithful. Contrast that with the law, then the tickets only have value if the promisee follows through with their part of the deal.
This is the difference between a covenant and a contract. A contract depends on the validity of the buyer. If you come through with this money, you can have the house. A covenant depends on the validity of the giver. And here is where this all comes together. Do you remember the first promise to Abrahm that we read? That was given to him as a part of a covenant that God was making. And as was the custom in that kind of covenant, a variety of animals were cut in half and a path was made with the front half on one side and the back half on the other. Both parties would walk through and by doing so, they were saying, may the same thing happen to me if I don’t follow through with what I’m saying I’ll do.
But, God causes Abrahm to go to sleep and God walks through alone in essence saying, may this happen to me if you don’t follow through on your end of the covenant. And that is exactly what happens. Israel fails to push out the rest of the Canaanites, Israel fails to keep the law, and Israel fails to worship God and God, in Jesus Christ, takes on the penalty of that sin for His people both past and future so that we can all enjoy a better promised land with Him forever. This is the Christian message and it’s based on a promise. A promise we have to take hold of.
And I will be the first to admit that sometimes promises come slow. But they do come. Christmas and birthdays come slow to children, marriage comes slow to the dating, children sometimes come very slowly, and sometimes they leave very slowly. But, when the day comes, when you get what you’ve waited for, you forget about the waiting. And the day will come for us when we stand in the presence of God in our glorified and sinless bodies on this new earth and all our waiting is wiped from our minds because we will possess what we waited for.
We have to hold onto the promise if we are going to enter our promised land.
- God guides His people
Did you see the ways these tribes receive their land? You have the first division at
Gilgal and that seems to be a more pragmatic division. It makes sense to honor what Moses has already promised to the tribes east of the Jordan. In addition to the tribes I named, Moses commanded that Levi would have no land, but that the Lord would be their inheritance. They were spread out among all the tribes to oversee the priestly duties. It makes sense to put strong tribes at the borders and large tribes in large areas.
But, then you have this second division at Shiloh where they are casting lots. We have Simeon, Zebulun, Issachar, Asher, Naphtali, and Dan. So, Joshua identifies five areas for tribes and identifies land within Judah for the sixth and casts lots. We aren’t really sure what exactly they do, but we do know it was also used by King David when he would use urim and thrum to seek God’s guidance.
Wouldn’t it be nice to have some dice or a coin on your desk you can flip and every time there was a big decision to make, you just roll or flip and God tells you what to do through them. I mean, it’s right there in Scripture, right? Should I marry this person? Should I take this job? Is this the church I should join? (flip)
God is clearly guiding His people in the allotment of the land, but how exactly is He doing it? And what can we learn from it to be guided by God more in our own lives? Every time we see the word guidance in Scripture it often comes for the word for rope. It’s a nautical term because the rope guided you. You used rope to hoist the sail, you used rope to lower the sail in a strong wind, and you used rope to tie up to a dock.
I think we need to see something before we answer the question about how to seek
God’s guidance. We need to see that we are free agents in this world and that God has 100% determined our path. We need to hold this tension because this is what Scripture teaches. If it’s 100% God and we play no part in this life, then why would we even try to do anything? Why would we think more than two seconds about any decision in front of our because everything is predetermined.
On the other hand, if your destiny is what you make of it, that would shut half of you down completely. Functionally you’re God now, but without all the resources that God has. Think back to the things you wanted as a teen or in your 20’s that you didn’t get. Maybe a job or a guy that you were so disappointed over, but now, you can clearly see how great it was that you didn’t control your own destiny. It’s not 50% God and 50% us. It’s not 60/40. It’s 100% God and 100% us. This has to be really clear if we are going to have a healthy understanding of what it looks like to seek God’s will.
So, how do we gain guidance the way the Israelites did? We grow in wisdom. That’s how the tribes are allocated. Wisdom is acquired in many different ways. It’s acquired through other people, through experience, but at the core of the Christian teaching, wisdom is acquired by Holy Spirit powered mind renewal. Probably the clearest verse
on this is Romans 12:2:dthe renewal of your mind, that by testing you may Do not be conformed to this world, 4 - Romans 12:2e discern what is the will of God, 3 butbe transformed by what is good and acceptable and perfect.
God has rooted His guidance in the renewal of our minds by the power of the Holy Spirit rooted in God’s Word. Tim Keller says you have the milk of the word which is the most basic teachings of Christianity. Then you have the meat of the word which are the deeper theological truths. But then you have the hard candy of the word which is the wisdom books like Proverbs and Psalms. You can’t drink candy. You can’t bite down on candy. It has to be dissolved very slowly over time. It takes all three, the milk, the meat, and the candy aided by the Holy Spirit to grow in wisdom.
Many of you are probably familiar with the proverb: Commit your work to the LORD, and your plans will be established. - Proverbs 16:3 Many people hear that saying if we ask God to bless our plans, they will succeed, but that isn’t what it’s saying. It’s saying commit all of your life and work to the Lord and you will begin to make smarter and wiser decisions about what you do. Wisdom comes from committing yourself to the Lord.
But, what about all this casting of lots? That’s how I want to grow in guidance. It sounds a lot easier! First of all, for what it’s worth, no where in the New Testament is this practice prescribed. Second, look at all the leg work that Joshua did before casting lots. He went out, observed the land, figured out areas that were good for Israel and good for these smaller tribes and then he cast lots. He exhausted all his wisdom and resources and basically drew straws. Here is what I see. I see a people who do their research, who know their God, ask Him for guidance, make the best possible decision, and trust Him for the outcome.
And I love seeing such wisdom so many thousands of years ago. I don’t know if you noticed this, but Zelophehad had died, but he had five daughters, no sons, and the daughters were worried about the name of their father being forgotten so they petition that they should inherit the land. Women inheriting the land instead of a man. And they are granted their request. Do you realize it was just 157 years ago that a woman could do that here in the United States? Wisdom, among many other things, gives you a high view of everyone around you.
When we think in terms of seeking the will of God, it’s very easy to get overwhelmed. How do I pick the one outcome that God intends for me to pick? What we should do is learn the art of growing in wisdom, making a godly decision, and then trusting God for the outcome.
But what if I don’t have a peace about it? I don’t want to over play or under play the role of emotions in this process. Sometimes God aligns our emotions with our decisions and sometimes He doesn’t. Clearly Jesus didn’t have a peace about going to the cross, but He still knew that was what He was supposed to do.
God loves us and will guide us so we commit ourselves fully to Him through His Word trusting that the Holy Spirit will conform us by renewing our minds. Then we make decisions as best as we can and trust Him. That doesn’t mean that this life will be easy or even prosperous in a wordly sense. But it does mean that we will be able to say both in this life and the next that The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance. - Proverbs 16:6
III. God gives victory
At the end of our passage we have this great verse: And theLORD gave them rest on every side just as he had sworn to their fathers. tNot one of all their enemies had withstood them, for uthe LORD had given all their enemies into their hands. - Joshua 21:44
Who gave over the enemies? The Lord! We talked a few weeks ago in chapter ten about this. It is the Lord who gives us our victories. There are different kinds of victories in the Christian life. In Joshua’s context, the victory is the land. The land isn’t totally cleared yet, but the land is theirs for the taking. It has been given over. There task now is to continue the work, which is, of course, Israel’s eventual downfall.
It strikes me as odd that the huge battles in the beginning are somewhat easy for Isreal, but then simply finishing the job was their downfall. But then it got me thinking about how victories do seem to come easier in the beginning of the Christian journey than the end. In the beginning there can be a big conversion, heart change, and massive habit changes. We’re reading our Bibles, using our time differently, and making church and prayer a priority. Maybe even sharing our faith with other people. But, often the newness can wear down and even become mundane, addictions come back, doubts creep in, and can begin to even do things that we never thought we would do in the beginning of our walk with Christ. I doubt the Israelites would have believed what was coming in Judges chapter one within one generation of the events we are reading here.
Israel gave in to the temptation to not take these smaller cities seriously and we can give into the temptation to not take smaller sins seriously, but the effect can be just as devastating. Even in those times, though, when we are down, doubting, or devastated, we have to know that it is God who will give us our victory and let that motivate us to keep on fighting. Turn will me to Revelation seven to see that victory.
- And aIl heard the number of the sealed, 144,000, sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel:
- 12,000 from the tribe of Judah were sealed,
12,000 from the tribe of Reuben,
12,000 from the tribe of Gad,
- 12,000 from the tribe of Asher,
12,000 from the tribe of Naphtali,
12,000 from the tribe of Manasseh,
- 12,000 from the tribe of Simeon,
12,000 from the tribe of Levi,
12,000 from the tribe of Issachar,
- 12,000 from the tribe of Zebulun,
12,000 from the tribe of Joseph,
12,000 from the tribe of Benjamin were sealed.
A Great Multitude from Every Nation
9 After this I looked, and behold, ba great multitude that no one couldnumber, cfrom every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages,standing before the throne and before the Lamb, dclothed in white robes, withepalm branches in their hands, 10 and crying out with a loud voice, f“Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”
Do you see what is going on here? The fullness of God’s people is ushered into the fullness of God’s kingdom. It obviously can’t be a literal 144,000 because in verse 9 John says there were too many to count. We have to understand that in ancient apocalyptic language twelve was the number of completion. It’s no coincidence that there are twelve tribes, twelve apostles, and twelve tribes again here. The number 1000 just means huge. So you add the 1000 and what we have is the completion of God building His people for His kingdom.
On that day when we cry out with all of God’s people from every tribe tongue and nation, “Worthy is the Lamb!”, all of our waiting, all of our struggles, and all of our pain will be wiped away because we will be holding the victory that we currently call the not yet.
So, how does that affect us in the already? I really could probably come up with over a hundred ways, but I’ll limit myself to two. First, I think it should make us excited to be a part of building this kingdom. We are a real part of Revelation seven coming to pass. Remember, 100% God and 100% man. Our small piece of that kingdom is Orlando Grace Church. God has people in our midst who will respond to His gospel and who will join this church family. Will we accept our call to get them?
Second, it should motivate us for our small part of the kingdom to look like the bigger part. Every tribe, every tongue, and every nation. Please hear me clearly, this is not a call to affirmative action. It is a call to be who God wants us to be. We have to be willing to ask ourselves if there are reasons people who don’t look like us aren’t flooding the doors. I’m not asking anyone here to apologize or feel bad about the color of their skin, but to at least think and pray about how to engage people who don’t look like us.
Here’s one cool example and I’ll be done. There are some people in this church who rightly see that we have lots of people in our area who don’t speak English. So, some native Spanish speakers in our church are working on a plan to have live Spanish translations on Sunday. I love this for so many reasons. I love it because it engages people we aren’t engaging. I love it because it challenges us to look more like Revelation 7. And I love it because I had nothing to do with it. This is the Spirit of God working in you to build His kingdom.
If we are going to take hold of what is promised to us, we have to know that God will give us victory.
Where are you hindered in your taking hold of the inheritance assured to you by God. Let me ask this in a different way. If the beauty of the inheritance is not clear and compelling, then this is a call to renew your mind. Maybe it used to be clear and for whatever reason you weeds have grown up in the garden of your life. Maybe it has never been clear and today is the beginning of that process. Wherever we are, the answer is the same. Look at the price paid for your inheritance. Our inheritance was the wrath of God, but Jesus took that on the cross and gave us the inheritance of children. If God is that serious about our inheritance, then we should be too.
God was faithful to the promises that He made Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and all of Israel and He will be faithful to the promises He has made to us as well. Grab hold of what is promised and enjoy your inheritance now in the already until the not yet is here.