January 27, 2015.
Daily Reading: Joshua 16-20.
Background: Joshua 11-15.
Concepts and Connections.
Starting to slide: There is a phrase that comes up a couple of times in these chapters that indicates the beginning of the backslide of Israel. In Exodus 33:50-56, God gave the command to Moses to drive out all the inhabitants of the promised land when they crossed over the Jordan. He went on to say that if they didn’t, the inhabitants would be a thorn in their side and that He would do to them what he had planned for the inhabitants to the land. Fast forward to the time when Joshua takes the men of Israel across the Jordan and we see that they start out on a good foot, defeating several kings and driving out nations. Then there is the Gibeonite deception in Joshua 9 where the men of Gibeon tricked the children of Israel (who did not inquire of the Lord about the situation before making a decision) into making a pact with them instead of destroying them. In this chapter we see the first nation that the children of Israel didn’t drive out without deception. The Canaanites who lived in Gezer remained in the land, though the were put to forced labor. This is the first sign of the weakening of the children of Israel in relationship to their faith in God. In the next chapter we will see that the tribe of Manasseh seems to loose faith in the Lord due to the strength of the Canaanites and their chariots of iron in the hill country of Beth-shean and the valley of Jezreel, needing reenforcement from Joshua that they could take the Canaanites. The lesson that we can take from this is that the road to loss of faith or apathy is not steep. It is a long road that has a very gradual slope, but its end is destruction. We need to be well aware of the early warning signs of the road so that we can protect ourselves from traveling down it without knowing. The children of Israel went down this gradual road many times, each time ending in despair.
The daughters that were given an inheritance: The daughters of Zelophehad who approached Joshua about giving them an inheritance of the land for their father who had no sons told him that the Lord had commanded Moses to give them an inheritance amongst the land. This story is referenced in Numbers 27:1-11, in which the Lord lays out a more direct command of dispersing the land in the case of the father not having key relatives. It is very interesting that even at a time where women were not viewed as high in society as men, the Lord say things differently. When the daughters raised the complaint to Moses, the Lord said “the daughters of Zelophehad are right.” We should not take this instance lightly, as it shows that God is not bound by human cultural conventions, and thus when He says something, it can apply across culture and time, except for instances where He Himself limited His command or covenant, such as the Mosaic Law with the children of Israel (see Exodus 19).
Procrastination: “How long will you put off going in to take possession of the land…?” It would seem that after crossing over the Jordan and fighting some of the battles they were to fight to drive out the people of the land that the Israelites began to procrastinate. Whether this was because they were tired of fighting or there was a growing fear of the Canaanites is unknown, but we see in chapter 18 that Joshua calls them out on it. The Lord had given a very specific task to the children of Israel and He said that He would go before them and drive out the people, so they should have had nothing to fear. They had even already seen the Lord follow through on this promise. But something slowed their progress and made them to begin to procrastinate in subduing the whole land. Fortunately, Joshua was there to notice their procrastination and set up a plan to get the Israelites back on track. We too can find ourselves procrastinating from time to time when it comes to the Lord’s work. When we realize what we are doing, it would be good to follow Joshua’s example in this story and set up a realistic and goal driven plan in effort to break our procrastination and get back on track.
Completing the promise: Finally, in chapter 19 of Joshua the children of Israel finish allotting out the portions of the land to each tribe of Israel. This is a very significant moment in Israel’s history as it marks the fulfillment of the promise that God made to Abraham in Genesis 12 about giving the land that he was sojourning in to his children as a possession. This is the very reason that we refer to the land of Canaan as the promised land. It would be in the distant future that Abraham would not physically see but simply have to trust in God, as the Hebrew writer points out in Hebrews 11:13-16. This is the chapter that finally completes this promise, or at least the first part about giving the inheritance of the land. It had taken much effort and the children of Israel had gone through many trials and rough times, but they had finally made it. What a feeling this must have been, to reach the distention that they had been working towards for years, even after procrastinating and prolonging their ultimate goal. We can find comfort and encouragement in seeing the promise fulfilled, as we have evidence that God will fulfill all the promises He has given us likewise. God remains faithful even when we are faithless (see Romans 3:1-4 and II Timothy 2:11-13).
Cities of refuge: It is interesting that the concept of premeditated murder appears so early in the history of mankind. It is understandable because it is God who gives this concept indirectly by creating the cities of refuge for the children of Israel. There were to be six total cities of refuge, three on one side of the Jordan- Kedesh in Galilee (in the inheritance of Naphtali), Shechem in the hill country of Ephraim, Kiriath-arba (Hebron) in Judah- and three on the other side of the Jordan- Bezer in the inheritance of Ruben, Ramoth in Gilead in the inheritance of Gad and Golan in Bashan in the inheritance of the half tribe of Manasseh. These were cities of refuge for the one who accidentally killed his neighbor, without hating him first (the rudiments of premeditated murder), so as giving them a place to escape to a fair hearing, telling the elders of the city what happened and standing before the congregation before the avenger of blood came and killed them, life for life. If the judgment was that the man-slayer had indeed not intended to kill his neighbor, then he was to be given a place to stay in the city and the city was not to give him up to the avenger of blood. The man-slayer had to remain in the city until the death of the high priest, lest his blood be upon his own head. This concept comes into play when Abner kills Asahel (the brother of Joab) unwillingly in battle when David and Saul are struggling against one another. Abner flees to Hebron, a city of refuge, and would have been safe within the city. However, he made a bad decision as Joab coaxed him out of the city gate and killed him, for he was no longer in the city of refuge. See II Samuel 2-3 for the complete story.
Tomorrow’s Reading: Psalm 9-11.
Finish the job.