February 3, 2015.
Daily Reading: Joshua 21-24.
Background: Joshua 16-20.
Concepts and Connections.
1. Referring to the word of God: Though the portions of the land of Canaan had been allotted out to the different tribes of Judah, completing the promise that God made to Abraham in Genesis 12 about giving the land he sojourned in to his children, there was still one tribe that had not received their inheritance. The tribe of Levi was not promised a physical inheritance like the other tribes of Israel, but rather a spiritual inheritance, as they were given the privilege of attaining to the priestly duties for all Israel. Though they were not given a portion of land, they were promised various cities amongst their brethren in different inheritances. Notice how the tribe of Levi approaches Joshua and Eleazar the priest about the situation they were in, not having received their inheritance yet. They came to them and directly cited the word of the Lord through Moses. This command to give the Levites some cities amongst the inheritance of their brothers can be found in Numbers 35:2. The different tribes of Israel were to give the Levites multiple cities and their pasturelands as a place to live, so that they could preform the priestly duties for that tribe. As we see in this chapter, this command was followed by Joshua and Eleazar the priest, giving different cities and pasturelands from each tribe to the Levites. What we can take away from this section is the idea that when we approach a situation that we think needs to be dealt with accordingly, it is always relevant to refer to the word of God when possible to see if that is His will for us. If it is, then it needs to be done. If it is not, then we do not need to push the issue.
2. Complete fulfillment: Once the different cities had been given to each of the clans of the tribe of Levi, then the complete fulfillment of the promise of God was done. Then the Lord gave the children of Israel rest on every side. The author makes a distinct point at the end to say that all of the promises of God to the children of Israel had come to pass, not having one that failed. It is important to understand this here so that we can have confidence in our God that He will always deliver on His promises.
1. Learning from your mistakes: This is interestingly one of the few times in the Old Testament that the children of Israel actually seem to have learned a lasting lesson from a previous mistake they had made. Here, the Lord has given Israel rest on every side and the tribes of Ruben, Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh are given their leave to go home across the Jordan where their families had settled because they had done all that they were commanded to do by Moses before the children of Israel had crossed the Jordan (see Numbers 23). When they go back home, however, they build a gigantic altar by the Jordan without explanation. The alleged problem, however, was that the children of Israel had been commanded not to offer sacrifice to the Lord at just any place that they choose, but only in the place that had been designated by the Lord (see Deuteronomy 12:13-14). When the rest of the congregation of Israel heard about what the two and the half tribe had done, they prepared to make war against them, sending a delegation out before them. This might seem to be an over reaction to the altar, but we need to understand why the children of Israel had responded in this way.
When they heard about the altar, they knew that offering sacrifice to the Lord in any place other than the place that was dictated by God would be a transgression of the commandment of the Lord. The children of Israel had learned from experience what would happen if they rebelled against the Lord. In Numbers 25, we see the story of when some of the Israelites had rebelled against the Lord by yoking themselves to Baal, a false god, at Peor, along with other gods of the Moabites. The anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel on this occasion, and He sent a plague on them that killed 24,000 people before Phinehas the son of Eleazar turned away the anger of the Lord. Here the congregation says that they still have not fully cleansed themselves from this instance. As a more recent example, they call on the time that Achan, son of Carmi, had transgressed the command of the Lord, taking some of the dedicated things when they had defeated Jericho (see Joshua 7). Because Achan had done this, the Lord punished all of Israel, making them flee before a small town called Ai due to the sin that was in the camp. The children of Israel had learned from their mistakes and they knew that if the two and the half tribe who settled across the Jordan were in rebellion against the Lord, the Lord would punish all of Israel. Thus, they got ready to make war against their brothers who settled across the Jordan.
2. Communication is key: Fortunately, the nine and the half tribe that decided to make war against the Rubenites, Gadites and half tribe of Mannesseh sent out a delegation consisting of Phinehas the son of Eleazar the priest and ten chiefs of the tribes of Israel on the other side of the Jordan to find out what was going on. It was a good thing that they did this, because it all turned out to be a miscommunication and warfare was avoided. The Rubenites, Gadites and half tribe of Mannesseh did not build the altar as a place where they would offer sacrifice to the Lord, for they knew that that would be a rebellion against the Lord. They even said that they would take full responsibility if that was indeed their intention, for they knew that it was not. Instead, they built the altar as a witness between the children of Israel on one side of the Jordan and those on the other side. When they were asked why they built the altar, they did not hesitate to explain the full reason. Often, conflict arises simply over a miscommunication. There are so many problems that could easily be solved between various individuals and groups if only open communication would be established. We see from this story that the nine and the half tribe on the western side of the Jordan were ready to go to war with those on the eastern side. But once communication was established and everyone’s motives were understood, conflict was completely avoided. We should pay careful attention to the lesson being taught here.
3. Being proactive: It is very interesting that the reason for building the altar by the Jordan was not for the children of Israel who were living in the land at the time, but rather for their children, so that they could remember that the Lord was the holy God of all Israel, not just of the tribes on the western side of the Jordan. The Eastern tribes had had the wisdom to foresee a possible problem that would arise for their children probably due to their understanding of the nature of mankind. They saw that after a few generations, the western tribes might forget why the eastern tribes settled on the other side of the Jordan instead of the land of Canaan with the rest of the people of God. They might conjecture that the Lord only looked favorably on those in the West because they were the ones who got to settle in the promised land. Foreseeing this problem, the Eastern tribes acted proactively to build the altar as a witness between the East and the West, so that when their children saw the altar, they would be reminded that the Lord was God of all Israel. It was a teaching tool, a memorial of remembrance. Memorials like this are often used in Scripture, such as the Passover, the twelve stones Joshua set up after crossing the Jordan and the Lord’s Supper in the New Testament (see Exodus 12, Joshua 4:1-7, Mark 14:22-25 and I Corinthians 11:23-26). The tribes on the East side of the Jordan wanted to fix a problem before it happened, so they were proactive about it. When the delegation of the congregation of Israel heard why they built the altar, it was good in their eyes, as it was with the rest of the congregation as a whole. The altar was called witness because it became a witness between the people that the Lord is God. We can learn a lot from this story and apply it to our spiritual walk, making proactive decisions to avoid problems and conflicts before they even arise.
Final reminders and warnings from Joshua: Towards the end of Joshua’s life, he takes his stand before the congregation of Israel for one of the last times. Under his leadership, the children of Israel have experienced one of the strongest periods of time that they have had in regards with their relationship with the Lord God probably in the entire Old Testament. For the most part, they have remained holy to the Lord, and even when they stumbled here or there, they quickly rebounded. They were actually learning from their mistakes, and as we will see in the next chapter, they were wholly committed to the Lord their God. In terms of spirituality, this was one of the golden periods in Israel’s history. When Joshua stands up to address the people, he reminds them that the Lord has fought for them and gives them warning that if they turn away from the Lord their God and forsake His commandments, that the Lord will no longer drive out the inhabitants of the Land and they would be thorns in the side of Israel. It would seem that even in on of his final addresses, Joshua was concerned about the well being of his people and how they would go on when he was gone. This is a mark of a good leader, one who cares about the people they lead as opposed to just caring about the power. With power comes responsibility, and Joshua understood that. Under his guidance, the children of Israel were blessed by God.
1. Remembering your history: Again, in a final address, Joshua stands before people because he knows that he is about to go the way of all the earth. What does he choose to say to Israel? He gives reminds them of their history and everything that God has done for them as His chosen people. This is a common motif in the Old Testament, to remind the people of their history especially when major events happen or major changes are about to take place. A re-telling of history was a way to keep the minds of the people focused on God. We as humans often need to be reminded of who we are and what our mission is in life, for we get distracted very easy. Knowing one’s history is a great way of remembering where he or she came from and where they are going. Once Joshua was gone, the children of Israel would need to remain focused on the Lord amidst a world of distractions, for they would not have the strong leadership that Joshua had provided over the years, unless of course, another leader just as strong as he was would step up. Unfortunately, we will find that no one would quite fill the shoes of Joshua, who himself had the lofty task of filling the shoes of Moses.
2. Making a conscious choice of who to serve: At the end of his address, Joshua gives the people an ultimatum. They had a choice to make. He recounts how their fathers had served other gods beyond the river and in Egypt and tells about the gods that the inhabitants of the land served, and then gives Israel a choice. “Choose you this day whom you will serve.” Joshua makes it clear that they had a choice, not a choice of whether to serve something or someone, but who they would serve. In this life we are not given a choice of if we are to worship or not. We will all worship something. Time, money, God, celebrities, adventure, ect. The choice we have is who (or what) we will serve. Joshua had made his choice, for he and his family. Joshua is a wonderful example of the type of leadership a father should have for his family, one that is focused on God. He had already made the conscious decision to follow the Lord, and now he was giving the children of Israel an opportunity to do the same. They accepted, even after Joshua told them that it would be difficult and the consequences for choosing to serve and then falling away. Regardless, the children of Israel choose to serve the Lord. We too today have a decision to make. Hopefully, that decision will echo Joshua’s.
Tomorrow’s Reading: Psalm 12-14.
Choose you this day whom you will serve.