Topic: Default Scripture: Joshua 22:1–22:5
There are basically four parts to the book of Joshua and we are entering the fourth. The first four chapters are about entering the promised land, the next seven are about taking the promised land, last week we looked at allocating the promised land, and now we get to the last three chapters that focus on retaining the promised land.
To me, this transition from chapter 21 to chapter 22 underscores this pattern all throughout Scripture of grace preceding works. This passage resembles Romans chapter 12 verse 1. The first eleven chapters of Romans doesn’t have a single actions point. Not a single to do. It’s all theological groundwork. Then, the first word of chapter twelve is ‘therefore’ and we get a fire hydrant of to dos. The Ten Commandments come after God has delivered Israel from Egypt. Genesis 1, you may eat of all this grace, but not that law. Grace precedes works.
In the same way, so much of this book of Joshua has focused on God’s faithfulness to Israel and now we have this marked change to Israel’s faithfulness to God. In each of these last three chapters Joshua is calling some group of or all of Israel together to do something.
So, what is he calling them to do in chapter 22? Joshua is mainly talking to the 2 ½ tribes east of the Jordan and his charge is clear. Remain faithful. In verse five Joshua says something that should sound very familiar: Only be very careful to observe the commandment and the law that Moses the servant of the LORD commanded you, bto 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
Does that sound familiar? It’s yet another version of what Jesus calls the greatest commandment in Deuteronomy 6 and Matthew 22. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind. Remain faithful. That is Joshua’s message to the 2 ½ tribes east of the Jordan.
This is an interesting season to talk about remaining faithful to God. If you follow Christian news, you know that there has been a wave of well known Christian figures either exposed for their moral failings or just walking away from the faith altogether. It’s hard to watch someone just walk away from a God they seemed to be so faithful to for so many years. It’s even harder if that person has positively influenced your own walk with God. My goodness, every time we sing the old hymn How Great Thou Art, we have to grapple with the fact that the man who wrote the words ‘prone to wander, Lord I feel it’ completely denied Christ after writing that song.
Now, certainly everyone’s story is different and none of these peoples’ stories are finished being written, but it’s hard not to reflect on your own faith when you see people falter or fall away completely. What is going to make your story different? What is going to make my story different?
Well, I think this chapter can give us some answers. This chapter has a story that shows us the challenges to faithfulness and the components of faithfulness. Let’s dive in.
- Challenges to faithfulness
I think we see two challenges to remaining faithful very clearly in this story. The first challenge is separation. It’s easy for us in our bridge oriented society to appreciate what an emotional scene is playing out here. For one, you have men who have fought together for seven years parting ways. I certainly have no idea what it is like to fight in a war, but it’s easy to see that there is a bonding effect. I’m sure all of us have seen emotional scenes on tv as veterans come back for reunions at places like Normandy and Pearl Harbor. I can’t help but imagine that these Isrealite warriors who had fought for so much longer than any of our veterans would have been intensely tight.
Not only are they tight though, these 2 ½ tribes are going back across the Jordan. Every commentary I read this week made a huge deal about what a barrier this Jordan valley would have been. One called it the Berlin Wall of the promised land. It was so long and so wide and there were no bridges. It would have been akin to British leaving families and friends in the 17th century to come set up a new life in the New World.
Joshua knows this and he is taking this opportunity as they separate and become isolated in many ways to encourage them to remain faithful. I was thinking about how this type of separation can play out in today’s world. Probably the best correlation has to do with children leaving home or college students graduating. Children leave the home and that separation can leave them vulnerable in their faith. They need to make sure they connect in some substantive way on the other side of their Jordan River. I heard a stat not long ago that 80% of the students plugged into Christian organizations in college fail to connect to a church after graduation. Now, they may connect years later, but not right away and this doesn’t bode well for their faith. They separate from their community, move to a new place, and struggle spiritually.
Separation is a challenge to faithfulness. The other challenge we see in this story is comfort. All the Israelites have known for seven years was war and intense fellowship with God and each other. Now they have peace and prosperity. They have land, houses, and they aren’t relying on miracles from heaven for their very survival. You can tell this is on Joshua’s mind because his version of the greatest commandment is preceded by this: 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, zwhich Moses the servant of the LORD gave you on the other side of the Jordan. - Joshua 22:4
You have been given rest, use that rest well. There is no question that as a society gets more comfortable, so does the Christianity they embrace. The problem is that Christianity was designed to be uncomfortable. Jesus tells us to deny ourselves and take up our cross. C.S. Lewis has this famous quote, “I didn’t go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of Port would do that. If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity.”
I have a friend who was very involved in the spread of the gospel behind the iron curtain near the end of the Cold War. He was in Poland with a team of Americans and they were really short on food so they spread out into surrounding towns to see if anyone could find something to eat. My friends set out with a Polish believer and they managed to find a sack of potatoes that could feed the team. On the way back, my friend asked the Polish man, “How do you do it? How do you remain faithful to Jesus in these kind of conditions?” The Polish man responded, “Me? How do you do it? How do you stay faithful to Jesus when you have so many other things to run to? Jesus is all I have.”
A comfortable life lends itself to a comfortable Christianity because we want things to be easy, not hard. And I don’t think anyone here would argue the fact that we live in the most comfortable society that has ever existed. So, we can find ourselves in a form of Christianity where nobody really knows what’s going on with us, where Sunday morning is just something you do to be entertained and teach your kids good morals, where no one ever has a hard conversation with you or vice versa, and where you always feel affirmed, but hardly ever challenged. If your coworkers and neighbors don’t know that you are committed to following Jesus Christ as the supreme Lord of your life, your faith has probably become too comfortable. The more comfortable your faith becomes, the less you will look like Jesus and the more you will look like this world.
These are the two contributing challenges to faithfulness. Sort of like what counselors call the presenting symptoms, but we have to realize that there is something deeper going on here. Separation and comfort really just give us the opportunity to do what we really want to do. We don’t want a God telling us what to do, we want to be God. And that is what the Bible calls sin. Sin isn’t all the bad decisions we make. Sin is the underlying reason we want to make the bad decision.
Faithfulness is understanding the design in which we flourish and appreciating the boundaries that keep us there. Tim Keller says faithfulness is allowing your will to be crossed. Think about this in the world of physical discipline. Our will wants that extra hour of sleep. Our will wants that extra piece of pie or that side of fries, but we work to have our will crossed in that area and spend money on workout classes where people hurt us so we can experience more physical freedom.
And the same is true in the spiritual world. We allow our will to be crossed so we can enjoy spiritual freedom. But, there is one big problem. We are so far from where we should be and on our own, we can’t get to that place. Did you ever see those reality tv shows where they have these horribly obese people who can’t even get out of their beds anymore and sometimes have to be taken out by crane if they need medical attention? It’s easy for us to sit here and condemn them for that but truthfully that’s a picture of our spiritual faithfulness apart from Christ, which is far worse than any physical lack of health. We are too far gone, our will is too far from God. And that is why we need Jesus.
Jesus pays the penalty for our sin and changes our will. He gives us a way to come back to God and then makes us want that way by putting the Holy Spirit inside of us. Jesus Christ, the only One who has ever been faithful, gives us His Spirit of faithfulness. Now, we have a way to come back into the design that God has for us and experience spiritual freedom that we could never find on our own.
And for what it’s worth, every other world view is basically looking at that poor obese man and saying, “Just start working out!” not realizing that he can’t even sit up. It’s asking the impossible to him and asking the impossible of us to lay out some road map to earn God’s favor. Only Jesus can earn God’s favor and only Jesus can provide a way back to God.
Those are the challenges to faithfulness in the text. Now I want to look at some components of faithfulness.
- Components of faithfulness.
We see the first component of faithfulness in the first five verses: celebration. We celebrate the things we value. Joshua calls the 2 ½ tribes together and before he commands them to remain faithful, he celebrates all the ways they have already been faithful. Remember when Moses told these tribes they could have the land east of the Jordan, there was one caveat. They had to fight with the rest of Israel. These tribes could have said, “We aren’t living west of the Jordan, why should we fight west of the Jordan?” But they keep their word for seven years fighting alongside the rest of Israel.
Now, none of us are being asked to fight a physical war for God, but we are called to fight a spiritual war. So, what are the ways we can celebrate faithfulness as a church body? I can think of a lot of ways. Certainly baptism is a church wide celebration of someone being faithful to the call of Jesus on their life. We can celebrate people like Winston Miller who are faithful to the call to go and plant a church in a hard area. I thought last summer was a sweet celebration of Curt’s faithfulness to this church as her pastor for fifteen years. I haven’t done a lot of funerals, but sometimes, if I know the spouse of the deceased well enough, in that sad moment, I will celebrate the faithfulness of that person to the vows they made so many decades earlier.
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Joshua celebrates faithfulness before he commands faithfulness. That’s certainly Paul’s model when he writes. That’s Jesus’ model when He addressed the seven churches in Revelation. If we are going to encourage each other toward faithfulness, we will need to celebrate faithfulness among us.
That leads me to the second component of faithfulness in this passage: community. This passage is a really interesting and often confusing one. But, what’s happening here isn’t that complicated. The 2 ½ tribes go back to the other side of the Jordan River and the tribes to the west hear that they have constructed an altar over there. This would have been very concerning! They had clear commands that there should be one place of sacrifice and to make any other would be a clear violation of what God wanted. Look
tribes, there you shall offer your burnt offerings, and there you shall do all that I am commanding you. - Deuteronomy 12:13,14
Why is it so important to have one altar? Why couldn’t they make an altar east of the
Jordan? One commentator said, “Simply put, one altar means one faith and one
people.” If every tribe had their own altar and if their practices began to vary slightly, it is very easy to imagine that they would begin to look and feel like 12 different nations with 12 different religions. And if things got really bad, they would look just like the
Canaanites they had just displaced. Remember all those high places they Israelites had to destroy? They were altars of sacrifice all over the promised land. No one wanted that to happen again.
Think about how you would feel if you were in one of these tribes west of the Jordan. You have seen God do these truly miraculous things. You have a deep sense that it is only by the grace and power of God that you have this land at all and you hear that 2 ½ tribes are willfully crossing God’s clear command. This would be deeply concerning on at least two fronts. On one front, they love these people and they have to be very concerned about what is going on in their hearts. On another front, they have to be concerned that this could go very badly for them. Remember, they are all one nation. If 2 ½ tribes are going rogue , might God undo all that He has just done? Might all their land be in jeopardy?
Because they are one nation in community, they go to address the problem. They go to confront their brothers and prepped to do whatever they can do to bring them back. They may be prepped for war, but you can see that isn’t at all what they want. I love
how they communicate in verse 19: unclean, pass over into the LORD's land and take for yourselves a possession among us. But now, if the land of your possession isn where the LORD's tabernacle stands,o Only do not rebel against the
LORD or make us as rebels by building for yourselves an altar other than the altar of the LORD our God. - Joshua 22:19
Do you hear what they are saying? If there is something wrong with your land, come live with us! We will do whatever we can to keep you on the right track! That is real community even if they are separated by a river.
Now, probably it’s unrealistic to think that we will be as deeply connected to each other the way the Israelites are after seven years of war. But, there is something about this kind of community that produces a deep love for each other and a desire for everyone to be going the right direction.
Our hope is that if you are a member of this church you will have people in your life who know you, celebrate faithfulness, pray for you, and are willing to have uncomfortable conversations when necessary. That doesn’t mean that everyone in this church has that kind of access to you, but it does mean that someone does. And this is one of the reasons you are going to hear a lot about community groups over the next month. We are working to double the number of community groups we offer because this year we have about doubled the number of people worshipping here on Sundays.
I know I have said this before, but I only want growth if it’s good growth. I don’t want to have a large Sunday gathering that is a mile wide and an inch deep. I want people substantively connected. We are designed to thrive when we are connected to God and to His people. At my former church, we experienced rapid growth, but it wasn’t necessarily healthy growth. We had multiple services and one Sunday when over 100 people couldn’t even get in the front door. We were obviously excited about that growth, but fast forward a couple years and some fancy church came into town with their fog machines, lazers, and virtual pastor on the screen and hundreds of people left our church to go there. I don’t think that would have happened if they had been experiencing the community God wants us to have in the church.
It’s easy to take for granted that they are talking to each other face to face. Today we do a lot of talking about each other or talking past each other on social media or in the comment section of an article, but that isn’t the same as talking to each other working toward understanding and the building up of the community of God’s people.
We see celebration, we see community, and then, we see a seriousness about their faithfulness. After the tribes from the west call out the tribes to the east, we see they actually aren’t doing what it looked like they were doing. They said, “If we are rebelling against God, kill us all right now.” Then they explained that they were concerned that one day the tribes west of the Jordan would cut off the future generations east of the Jordan far from the one true altar. So, they build this altar, not to sacrifice on, but simply to be a witness to the future generations that they too are a part of the nation of Israel and allowed to worship at the altar.
So, the whole thing happened because both sides were so serious about their commitment to God and the way He wants to be worshipped. How pleased do you think God is when we have a misunderstanding because of how serious we are about our devotion to Him? Now, I’m not talking about how pleased God is when we argue about small things. I’m talking about genuine, humble misunderstandings because we are serious about following Him?
When my oldest son, Turner, was a toddler, we were working to train him to come here on command. How things have changed. It’s more free range parenting with my fourth child. But, I remember a day when I told the dog to come here and I saw Turner drop what he was doing in the play room and make a bee line for me. He totally misunderstood what I wanted, but I knew his heart was to honor his daddy. I feel like that is somewhere in the ballpark of how God would have felt about this.
The Israelites were serious about their faithfulness to worship God the way He wants to be worshipped. Can the same be said about us? I certainly hope so! Many of you know this, but we believe deeply here that God does give us a way to worship Him on Sunday and we work hard to provide what we call a contextualized liturgy. Each Sunday we want to walk through the story of the gospel. You can see in your bulletin that this involves praise, confession, assurance, adoration, gospel teaching, and response and you can see in your bulletin what we are doing and why we are doing it.
This is called a liturgy and Matt and I work hard to try and do it in a way that speaks to our context. We want it to be clear, compelling, and smooth, free from unnecessary distractions. God wants all of us to be serious about how He is worshipped. One pastor called this a Godly anxiety. May that be as true of us as it is of the Israelites.
At the end of the chapter, everyone is happy and praising God. The western tribes led by Phineas say, “Today we know that zthe LORD is in our midst, because you have not committed this breach of faith against the LORD. Now you have delivered the people of Israel from the hand of the LORD.” - Joshua 22:31b
Do you see how it is that they know the Lord is in their midst? Because the people have been delivered from His hand. Delivered from His wrath. The theological term for this is propitiation and it is at the core of the Christian message. We were rightly under God’s wrath, but God turned that wrath on Jesus in our place and we are delivered from the hand of the Lord. And we should rightly praise God for that!
How can we stay faithful? How can we avoid being one of those tragic stories in the media? We focus on God’s faithfulness to us in Jesus. God shields us from His wrath under the shelter of His son and we are made sons. We are brought out of the kingdom of darkness, into the kingdom of light, and destined for the better promised land of the new heavens and new earth where we will live forever with God Himself.