Thursday, December 1, 2016

Fight the Good Fight of the Faith: Some Reflections on the Dividing of the Promised Land

As I mentioned in the last devotional post in this series, we are moving ahead at warp speed through the last half of the book of Joshua, but, fortunately, Joshua lends itself to that. By the end of ch. 12, the Israelites have essentially taken all the Promised Land. They have broken the backs of their enemies, destroyed the strongholds, and basically won the war, but there is still a lot of "cleanup work" to be done. So, God divides the land between the twelve tribes of Israel and commands them to go into their various regions and kill or drive out the remaining Canaanites. That is what chs. 13-22 are mostly about, so we are going to summarize and skip almost all of it, with the exception of ch. 20, on which this Sunday's sermon will be.

However, even though we are skipping most of the dividing up of the land, that does not mean there's nothing for us to learn from that section. There are probably many theological and spiritual truths we could glean from it--too many to put in one post--so let me just hit a few highlights from these chapters.

First, one of the things that comes out in these chapters is that God gives the Israelites more land than they can possibly settle, at least at this point, but that should not surprise us at all. Our God is an abundantly gracious God. Christ Himself is far more full of grace than we are of sin and folly. When we go to the fountain of God's grace, it is kind of like taking a drink from a river. We can drink all that we can possibly hold and not even begin to drain the river of grace.

Second, God distributes the land to the tribes Himself, which is an important act of grace on God's part. Think about what would have happened if God had just said to the Israelites, "Here's the land, now go divide it up among yourselves." Do you think they would have done that without fights, without disagreements? Not hardly. Nothing can cause a family to turn on one another faster than dividing up an inheritance--"I want this land," "We deserve more because we're a bigger family," etc.--and the Israelites were no different. God knows their sinful hearts. He knows that if He had just sent them into the land with no instructions on dividing it up, they would have turned on each other, and there would have been a huge civil war that might have destroyed them. So, in His grace and wisdom, God divides the land Himself and proportions it as He sees fit. Therefore, when they go to settle the land, their property lines are clearly marked by God Himself, and no one can argue with that.

Third, the Levites do not get a specific territory. They are the one tribe that does not get a plot of land solely to themselves. Instead, they get allotted 48 cities distributed throughout the entire Promised Land. Why is that? Well, the Levites are the tribe specifically tasked with the service of God in the Tabernacle, later the Temple, and for the whole people of God. So, God does not put His ministers in one region but spreads them out throughout the whole land. This shows us that God is very concerned for the pastoral care of His people. If the Levites had one territory, say surrounding Jerusalem, then the tribes in the North would have to travel very far simply to get a circumcision or a funeral done. Instead, God distributes His servants throughout the land, so that they are close to all Israelites for weddings, funerals, circumcisions, or any other spiritual guidance that the people need. God loves His people and wants them to be cared for spiritually, and we can see that even in how He divides up the land!

Fourth, the dividing up of the land revealed a tension in which the Israelites would have to live for a time: the Promised Land was theirs--they had won the war--but there was also still a lot of "cleanup work" to be done to purge the land of Canaanites. So, the war was over, but the losers were still there and those Canaanites weren't going to be done away with easily. This is a kind of spiritual picture of how we live in the Christian life. For us, Jesus has won the war: sin has been defeated, death has been defanged, and the devil has lost. The war is essentially over--Jesus has won. Yet, we live in a tension like the Israelites. Though sin, death, and the prince of despair have been beaten, the losers still fight. We still must die a physical death, though it no longer has the sting of hell for God's people. The devil can still tempt us, but he must flee at the name of Jesus. And, while we are no longer slaves to sin, there are still many, many "Canaanites" in our hearts that need to be purged. Even though the war has been won, this life is still a battle that we have to fight by faith in Jesus each and every day, just like the Israelites had won the war but still had many, many Canaanites to get rid of.

But, God has not left us to live in this tension and fight these battles alone. He has give us His Word, prayer, worship, His people, and, most of all, the Holy Spirit to give us the strength to fight. As Paul says in Ro. 8:11, "If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you." Because the Spirit dwells in us, the same power that raised Jesus from the dead is at work in us--resurrection-power working in us. So, while there is much work to be done--many more "Canaanites" in our hearts to be purged--we can know that "it is God who works in us, both to will and to work for his good pleasure."

Those are just a few spiritual highlights from this section of Joshua. I would encourage you to read through it yourself, even though it may seem boring and repetitive, and see what the Spirit shows you about Jesus and the battles we fight for the Christian life.

By His Grace,

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