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Possessing the Promised Land

Series: Joshua

Sermon on May 5, 2002

Joshua 13:1-21:45

Joshua 13-21
Marching as to War: “Possessing the Promised Land

“So the Lord gave Israel all the land which He had sworn to give to their fathers and they possessed it and lived in it. And the Lord gave them rest from every side according to all that He had sworn to their fathers, and no one of all their enemies stood before them. The Lord gave all their enemies into their hand. Not one of the good promises that the Lord had made to the house of Israel failed. All came to pass.”


Now you may be wondering, what in the world we could to find in these chapters to preach on. Well, of course, there's a beautiful text here, right at the end, which forms, in many ways, a summary. But before we get to that, details are important, you understand that. When you’re interested in something, details are important. When you’re a Christian, and you love your bible, details are important. And God is a God of detail.

This section, chapters 13-21, brings us to a new section. Chapters 1-4 deal with the entrance into the Promised Land, then 5-12 with the conquering of the Promised Land. Now, the possessing of the Promised Land, and later the responsibilities of a covenant people. And I want to look at these chapters, using the verses at the end of chapter 21, for in many ways, these verses form a theological summary of the entire book of Joshua.

Now the fact that I am skimming over 9 chapters does not mean that any part of Scripture is unimportant. God breathed out every chapter of Scripture. We believe in the plenary inspiration of Scripture. We believe that every word, every jot, every title, is given by inspiration of god and it's often in the details that the quality of God's inspiration can be seen.

Now we can summarize the message of these 9 chapters in three different words: God gave His people land, God gave His people victory, and God gave His people rest.

1. The LORD gave them land (v.43).
In chapters 13 and into 14, we are told how God gave them land east and west of Jordan. The there follows a detailed account of how the various tribes and families were to settle in that land. Now here is a question: This is the inspired word of God and it takes 9 chapters to give us this detailed account of tribal apportionment in the land of Canaan, which is really just a geography lesson. It gives all this space as to who should live where, twice as much as the letters to Ephesians and Colossians combined. Why? Why so important that we should have this detail? For a simple reason: to underline that God keeps His promises down to the last detail.

Do you believe that? That God is concerned about details. That's what this is meant to teach us. There isn't one aspect of the promise of God that will ever fail. God is a “detail person.” God is concerned about the hairs on your head. Oh what a joy that is to some of us, that God is concerned to number the hairs on your head. Isn't that marvelous? The God of the universe is so concerned about little details. And if He's concerned about the little details of geography, He's concerned about the little cares that keep you awake at night. The little details that cause you husbands and wives to quarrel. And God is concerned about them.

It's like someone who comes to fix your computer: he says to you, “I've fixed it. All of the programs aren't working properly, but at least you will be able use one or two of them. You can't print anything yet, but I've fixed the main problem!” That's not good enough! You want the whole thing to work.

And some of the details are fascinating: There is no inheritance of land for the tribe of Levi, and the reason is because “the LORD was their inheritance.” He was giving the tribes land to live in, except for one, and that one tribe was to stand as a message to them: that their ultimate inheritance was not to be found in the land but in the Lord. It was like one giant object lesson.

Then in chapters 14 and 19, while the Levites were not given a special inheritance, both Joshua and Caleb were each given a special inheritance, an allotment of land. God singles out these two men, these were two men who had gone into the land earlier, 40 years before, and had come back to Moses and said, “Let's go and enter it by faith because He's told us to enter the land” and do you remember that the people were so enraged that the people would have stoned them to death. And now we have this illustration of how God keeps rewards the faith of Caleb and Joshua. He keeps His promises in detail and in a way that He vindicates the obedience and trust of his servants.

When we find ourselves in difficult situations and God is not rewarding us in any way, we may think that God has forgotten His promise. And here is the story of Joshua and Caleb, and God remembers them. They have a special piece of land that they would call their own.

I wonder what promises you are claiming for yourself. Promises that you have begun to think that God has forgotten all about. Maybe it's about your children, and you've brought them to be baptized in the name of the Father, and the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. And now, you’re beginning to doubt the truth and the validity and the power and the promise that God makes to us and to our children also. And here is God remembering to keep His promises as He apportions out the land to the people of God. God gave them land.

I don't know what promises you may be claiming for yourself and they may have been a long time in coming. 40 years perhaps! And there has been many a battle in between. Then rest your soul in these chapters that God keeps them. Here is the evidence of it.

2. He Gave Them Victory (v.44b)
God gave them victory. Not one of their enemies stood before them. The Lord handed all their enemies over to them. In the victory, first of all, that God gave them over Jericho, and then Ai. Thirty-one kings in chapter 12 are mentioned as trophies of God's power! How did this take place? The answer is: God gives the victory. Yes, but God gives the victory in rather different ways. There are occasions when God gives the victory with miraculous power and ease (Jericho), in a way that cost the least amount of effort on the part of the people of God.

I think I can draw this conclusion. It is characteristic of our heavenly Father to give us easy victories at the beginning of our Christian pilgrimage to encourage us and so that we may catch a glimpse of His glorious power, but He then wishes so to engage us that future victories will call upon us to labor with might and main.

We often hear of conversion stories of people who are rescued from addictions, who, in the first flush of their new found relationship with Jesus Christ find those victories coming to them with great ease, only later to discover that just below the surface there are stubborn sins that still lurk within their heart, requiring great effort and great perseverance in order to overcome.

That's why you will notice in the course of these chapters, and let me encourage you to go and read these chapters, and discover for yourselves those occasions in these chapters when God singles out the less than full obedience of the people of God to the charge of occupying the land of Canaan.

For example, in 15:63, the Jebusites of Jerusalem, not completely driven out of Israel, were to be a thorn in the side of Israel for many years to come. Or in 16, at the end, the Canaanites (Ephraimites) and most striking, in 17:17-18, when the descendants of Joseph come to Joshua and say that the allotment wasn't big enough. And Joshua says, go and take the hill country for yourselves. Do you see what he is saying? “If you want more, you will need to take hold of the sloth that has gripped you and work for it. And you will need to take it by God's power for yourself. Its not 90% of God's power and 10% of ours. It is all of God's power and all of our power. As Paul writes to the Philippians and he says to them, “Work out your own salvation with fear and with trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to do of His good pleasure.” The power of God working is not an excuse for you not to work but an exhortation to roll up yourselves.

Because the Israelites failed here, failed to drive out all the enemies, because they allowed pockets of resistance to remain and grow, and in certain instances to flourish, the consequences were to remain with them for a very long time, returning like a bad dream to haunt them.

As I thought of these consequences, I was reminded of a poem by John Bunyan, “Sin, rather than twill out of action be, will pray to stay but for a while with thee; one night, one hour, one moment will it cry, embrace me in thy bosom else I die. Time to repent, saith it, I will allow, and help is to repent, thou knowest not how. But if you give it entrance at the door, it will come in and may go out no more.” I think that this is the very principle that's operating in these chapters. The failure on the part of the people of God to render complete and full obedience to the command of God with respect of the occupation of the land led to consequences that were to dog the people of God for centuries afterwards.

Young people, let me say something to you. Do not assume that the sins against which you battle now will be easier to deal with when you are older. And do not put off the mortifying of those sins now in the hope and expectation that in the future it will be easier for you to do. Because the reality, young people, is that if you allow those sins to grow and take root now, they may dog you for the rest of your Christian life. That's why I get deeply concerned when I hear testimonies of our young people going off the college and having their three or four years of fling and party at college, as though it were a small thing, as though it were a thing that every other Christian did. My Christian young person tonight, if you are serious about wanting to be Christ like, do not, do not put off the mortifying of that sin, for some time in the future when you've had your party and fling, because you may find that that sin will so take root in your life that you may never be able to deal with it.

But there's a third thing in this passage. God not only gave them land and victory, but God gave them rest, verse 44.

3. God gave them rest (v.44a)
Rest in two different senses. Rest from an external enemy, but also internally. Look at chapter 20. Not only rest from external enemies, but internal rest: salvation for those who needed it.

Now chapter 20 is a description of what is called the city of refuge. When one was suspected of some crime, or unintentionally killed someone. Maybe you were chopping wood and as the book of Deuteronomy envisages it, the axe head comes flying off and hits someone and kills them. It was unintentional, not premeditated, there was no hatred in the person's heart before the event. Well, part of the law of Israel allowed a family member to avenge, on behalf of their family members, in the case of the death of one of their kinsmen. Avenge even to the point of death. In the case of unintentional death, a person could run to one of the cities of refuge, and they were strategically placed in various parts of the land. And he stayed in that city until the death of the high priest.

Scholars have debated what that means for centuries. The death of the High Priest was regarded in some sense as an atonement for the crime, the blood that had been shed. And whenever the death of the High Priest was announced, the gates of these cities were opened and out would come these people who would be free

Now I suspect in this period of history they did not understand all of what this was intended to convey.. All they knew is that there is forgiveness for the deepest sins

And its not until we turn to the pages of the New Testament that we see Joshua-Jesus, from which we can hide from the consequences of our past sins and actions, and find in Him an open door which leads to life and liberty. He is the High Priest who had died. And it is through the atoning blood of our great high Priest that we find rest and refuge.

Isn't it Jesus who says, “Come unto Me all ye that are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Some of you here tonight are restless spirits. You have little peace and little joy in your life. You are troubled by nightmares, and past sins, and the consequences of past sins. Maybe that's where you are tonight. You come into this building this evening, and past sins constantly condemn you. And Jesus is saying, “I am the city of refuge. I am the One to whom you must run. I am the One to whom you must flee. I am the One in whom you will find safety and security and promise an life and forgiveness and peace.”

How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord, is laid for your faith in His excellent word. What more can He say than to you He hath said, you who unto Jesus for refuge have fled.

How firm a foundation ye saints of the Lord
Is laid for your faith in his excellent Word
What more can he say that to you hath said
You who unto Jesus for refuge have fled

If you have not run unto Jesus for refuge, then run to Him tonight. Run inside that city and hear those doors shut behind you, and find that security within His loving arms.

Let's pray together.

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