So the Lord gave to Israel all the land of which He had sworn to give to their fathers, and they took possession of it and dwelt in it.” – Joshua 21:43
It is fitting to conclude this series of messages from the book of Joshua with a summation of the tools that help us to secure God’s promises. There are certain principles in scripture which pave the path to seeing God’s promises fulfilled in our life. In the last five chapters of Joshua as we read the account of the taking of the Promised Land we can see Seven Promise Fulfilling Principles.
Principle #1 – Justice and Mercy. In Joshua 20 we read of the Cities of Refuge. Revenge killing was common in primitive cultures. Families killed families like the Hatfield’s and the McCoy’s. This is not uncommon even to our day as we see in the Middle Eastern conflict. Such revenge killing was often done even in the case of an accidental killing. This was unjust therefore God made a provision in the Law for Cities of Refuge where those not guilty of intentional killing could flee to find a fair hearing. These Cities did not protect the premeditated or intentional murderer. Living with a spirit of justice and mercy is a principle that leads to experiencing the fullness of God’s promises.
God commands justice be the rule of His people and connects it with taking the Promised Land – “You shall follow what is altogether just, that you may live and inherit the land which the Lord your God is giving you” (Deut. 16:20). The testimony of God in His word is that He requires justice (Micah 6:8). He puts the highest value on justice (Prov. 2:13). God delights in justice (Prov. 11:1). God gives wisdom to execute justice (Prov. 2:6, 9). And God is displeased with injustice (Eccl. 5:8). God’s judges are commanded by Him to rule justly (Duet. 16:18; 2 Sam. 23:3; Ezek. 45:9).
Jesus is our supreme example of justice and will one day rule justly on the earth – “Behold, the days are coming,” says the Lord, “That I will raise to David a Branch of righteousness; A King shall reign and prosper, And execute judgment and righteousness in the earth.” (Jer. 23:5). In Acts Paul proclaimed, “Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, 31 because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead.” (Acts 17:30-31; cf. also Psalm 98:9 and Isaiah 11:1-4).
We are exhorted in God’s word to seek justice: We should think about justice – Phil. 4:8; We should receive teaching about justice – Prov. 1:3; We should always act justly – Psalm 119:121; We should take pleasure in acting justly – Prov. 21:15; and we should teach justice in our family – Gen. 18:19. Therefore, 6 Cities of Refuge were appointed for the just consideration of those involved in the death of others. These Cities were spread throughout the Land. There were 3 Cities of Refuge in the West and 3 in the East. These Cities of Refuge are a type of Christ. We find safety from our sin as we abide in Christ (John 15).
Principle #2 – Give Priority to and Support Ministry (Make provision for you spiritual health). The Levites (from the priestly tribe of Levi) were not given any portion of the Promised Land because God was their portion. The priests were entrusted with caring for the spiritual health of the people. Having said this the Levites still needed their practical needs met. Therefore the LORD arranged for 48 cities spread throughout the Land where the Levites could reside, have their practical needs met as well as be centers of ministry. These cities were locations where the priestly ministers would infiltrate and influence the people to worship the LORD. Six of these Cities also served as Cities of Refuge. Placing the priests in close proximity to the Cities of Refuge revealed God’s heart that there should be a consideration of the spiritual/eternal aspect of criminal proceedings (Joshua 21:1-42).
Principle #3 – Trust in God’s Faithfulness. In Joshua 21 it states, “So the Lord gave to Israel all the land of which He had sworn to give to their fathers, and they took possession of it and dwelt in it. 44 The Lord gave them rest all around, according to all that He had sworn to their fathers. And not a man of all their enemies stood against them; the Lord delivered all their enemies into their hand. 45 Not a word failed of any good thing which the Lord had spoken to the house of Israel. All came to pass” (Joshua 21:43-45). God is faithful. He gave all the Land that had been promised to Abraham 475 years before (Gen. 15). God always keeps His word. You can always trust the LORD. God always has and always will keep His word (e.g. Psalm 111).
God by nature is faithful. “God is faithful, by whom you have been called into the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord” (1 Cor. 1:9; cf. also 1 Thess. 5:24). God’s faithfulness is great (Lam. 3:23; Ps. 89:2), it is holy and like no other faithfulness (Psalm 89:8). God’s faithfulness never fails (Ps. 89:33; 2 Tim. 2:13). His faithfulness is infinite (Ps. 36:5). His faithfulness is everlasting (Ps. 119:90; 146:6). His counsels are faithful and reliable (Is. 25:1). He is faithful to fulfill His promises (1 Kings 8:20; Ps. 132:11; Micah 7:20; Hebrews 10:23). He is faithful to keep covenant (Deut. 7:9; Ps. 111:5). He is faithful in executing judgment (Jer. 23:20; 51:29). And He is faithful to forgive sins based on faith in Christ (1 John 1:9). Aren’t you blessed and glad that God is so faithful? Praise God for His faithfulness!
The reality of God’s faithfulness is very practical to us. We should pray to God based on His faithfulness (Ps. 143:1). We should proclaim the faithfulness of God (Ps. 40:10:89:1, 5; 92:2). We should depend on the faithfulness of God (1 Peter 4:19). Even when we are faithless God remains faithful for He cannot deny Himself (2 Tim. 2:13). Thank You Lord for Your faithfulness.
Principle #4 – Follow Through on Agreements. The tribes of Reuben, Gad and the half tribe of Manasseh had decided to take their portion outside the Promised Land east of the Jordan river. They had held up their part of the agreement to accompany their brethren into the conquest of the Promised Land. Now Joshua would uphold his part of the agreement by releasing these tribes to go to their land east of the Jordan. It’s important to allow people freedom to make decisions. When we enter into an agreement we should be faithful to follow through with it (Joshua 22).
Joshua charges the two and a half tribes who would live east of the Jordan to love the LORD, walk in all His ways, cleave to Him, and serve Him with all their heart. Then Joshua sent them away with a blessing. Even when we don’t agree with people’s decisions, we should be willing to exhort them and send them away with a blessing. Sometimes we have to agree to disagree. If a person’s choice is not contrary to God’s word, then we should be willing to let go (Joshua 22:1-8).
Principle #5 – Be Diligent to Adhere to God’s Word but Not Hasty in Accusing Others of Sin – Don’t be Judgmental (Joshua 22:9-20). There was only to be one altar to God located in the Tabernacle of Meeting. To build another altar was to raise concerns of idolatry. Yet this is what the two and a half tribes east of the Jordan did. The tribes east of the Jordan had good intentions but it was a shocking step no matter the intent. When the nine and a half tribes heard of the alternative altar they passed judgment on them even though they didn’t have all the facts. They assumed the worst. This led to strife. We shouldn’t be judgmental. They had been exhorted to live in love. Love believes all things (1 Cor. 13:4-8). They were not acting in love toward their brethren.
We shouldn’t take the place of God in judging others. Our heart is deceitful and ill equipped to stand in judgment of others (Jer. 17:9-10). God alone knows the heart. Instead we are to love one another (1 Pet. 4:8). This doesn’t mean we aren’t to correct people. But if we do correct, we should use God’s word as our plumb line and watch that our motives are holy (2 Tim. 3:16-17; 4:1f.; Gal. 6:1).
Principle #5 – Be Willing to Reconcile. Good communication leads to reconciliation in cases of misunderstanding the motives of others. Unity is important to God. The outpouring of the Spirit comes to those united in prayer for it (e.g. Acts 1:14 and Acts 2). That is what we see happen here with God’s people. The two and a half tribes explained they erected an altar to the Lord out of fear that they would not be remembered as God’s people (22:21-29). Then it states, “30 Now when Phinehas the priest and the rulers of the congregation, the heads of the divisions of Israel who were with him, heard the words that the children of Reuben, the children of Gad, and the children of Manasseh spoke, it pleased them” (22:30; cf. Also 22:31-34). The unity of believers is of great value to God and critically important to experiencing the fullness of God’s promises. We should communicate with the parties involved and gather all the facts before accusations or corrections are made that jeopardize our precious unity.
Principle #6 – Courageously Cling to the LORD in Love – Don’t Compromise. Joshua 23 begins, “Now it came to pass, a long time after the Lord had given rest to Israel from all their enemies round about, that Joshua was old, advanced in age. 2 And Joshua called for all Israel, for their elders, for their heads, for their judges, and for their officers, and said to them: “I am old, advanced in age. 3 You have seen all that the Lord your God has done to all these nations because of you, for the Lord your God is He who has fought for you” (23:1-3). God had promised. God had delivered. God was faithful. God can therefore be trusted. Therefore, Joshua exhorts the people to carry on to completion the calling of God to secure the Promised Land. “See, I have divided to you by lot these nations that remain, to be an inheritance for your tribes, from the Jordan, with all the nations that I have cut off, as far as the Great Sea westward. 5 And the Lord your God will expel them from before you and drive them out of your sight. So you shall possess their land, as the Lord your God promised you” (23:4-5). Joshua exhorts the people to not stop now but follow through to the end on what God had called them to do; that is take all of the Promised Land.
But taking hold of God’s promises is not for the faint of heart; courage is required. “Therefore be very courageous to keep and to do all that is written in the Book of the Law of Moses, lest you turn aside from it to the right hand or to the left, 7 and lest you go among these nations, these who remain among you. You shall not make mention of the name of their gods, nor cause anyone to swear by them; you shall not serve them nor bow down to them, 8 but you shall hold fast to the Lord your God, as you have done to this day” (23:6-8). It takes courageous faith to live out the word of God. There will be opposition from without and from within. But if we are to take hold of God’s promises we need to be courageous in obediently keeping all of God’s word. Courageously cling to the LORD and His word.
Courage is not something that comes from within us. Courage is an overcoming faith that depends on God. “For the Lord has driven out from before you great and strong nations; but as for you, no one has been able to stand against you to this day. 10 One man of you shall chase a thousand, for the Lord your God is He who fights for you, as He promised you. 11 Therefore take careful heed to yourselves, that you love the Lord your God´ (23:9-11). Love is what binds us to the LORD. Love should be our motivation. Our courage is rooted in God’s love and our love for Him. Obedience is how our love is proved (cf. John 14:15, 21).
The alternative of disregarding God and His word only leads to loss. That is what Joshua warns the people of when he states: “12 Or else, if indeed you do go back, and cling to the remnant of these nations—these that remain among you—and make marriages with them, and go in to them and they to you, 13 know for certain that the Lord your God will no longer drive out these nations from before you. But they shall be snares and traps to you, and scourges on your sides and thorns in your eyes, until you perish from this good land which the Lord your God has given you” (23:12-13). Marriages that aren’t built on God’s word will not realize their maximum purpose or potential (cf. Eph. 5). If we choose to go our own way, God will let us, but He won’t go with us. The consequence will be a life of “snares and traps, and scourges on your sides and thorns in your eyes, until you perish” and miss out on the promises of God.
Truly, when people choose to disregard the Lord in light of all the evidence of His faithfulness, it boggles the mind. Joshua reminds the people of the reality of God’s faithfulness. ““Behold, this day I am going the way of all the earth. And you know in all your hearts and in all your souls that not one thing has failed of all the good things which the Lord your God spoke concerning you. All have come to pass for you; not one word of them has failed” (23:14). Pastor Chuck Smith comments, “The past faithfulness of God is witness to the future faithfulness of God.” But as God is faithful to bless those with good who follow Him, He will be faithful to allow harmful things enter the life of those who disobey Him. It works both ways “(23:15-16). God loves us enough to discipline us (Heb. 12).
Principle #7 – Build on What God has Done – Choose to Serve the LORD Sincerely in Truth. Joshua gathers the people at Shechem and issues a challenge to them. Serving the Lord is a choice. You have to choose to serve the Lord. And that decision should be based on theh history of God’s faithfulness (Joshua 24:1-13).
Shechem is located between Mr. Ebal and Mt. Gerizim. In Deuteronomy 8 God tells the people to remember that all that they have is from the LORD (Deut. 8:18-20). God told the people that if they obeyed Him, God would give them victory no matter the size of the foe (Deut. 11:22-23). To ingrain this in the hearts of the people God instructed them separate into two groups, one on Mt. Ebal and the other on Mt. Gerizim. Then from Mt. Ebal the people would declare the curses that would come upon them in consequence for disobedience and from Mt. Gerizim declare the blessings that would come as a reward for their obedience (cf. Deut. 27:11-13). In light of all God has done and provided for His people, they are to reverence and worship the LORD by serving Him sincerely in truth (24:14-28).
“Now therefore, fear the Lord, serve Him in sincerity and in truth, and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the River and in Egypt. Serve the Lord!” 24:14). “Sincerity” is translated from the Hebrew term tawmeem means entirely, completely, wholly, without blemish, or fully. It is a call to serve the LORD with all your heart.
Then Joshua utters these strong and memorable words: “And if it seems evil to you to serve the Lord, choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (24:15). This is the challenge that all people have to consider; especially those who want to experience the promises of God.
The people were quick to answer and claim their allegiance to God (24:16-18). But Joshua knew better. He speaks what unfortunately became a prophetic word about God’s people. “But Joshua said to the people, “You cannot serve the Lord, for He is a holy God. He is a jealous God; He will not forgive your transgressions nor your sins. 20 If you forsake the Lord and serve foreign gods, then He will turn and do you harm and consume you, after He has done you good” (24:19-20). Joshua confronted the tendency to idolatry of the people. If your “God” is your master passion, an idol is a master passion for anything other than God the LORD. No one else besides the LORD deserves to be your mater passion.
There were numerous pagan gods in the Old Testament: Baal the god of thunder; Chemosh the “destroyer”; Molech the fire-god and god of “death and underworld to which” infants sacrificed in the fire of Molech; and there was Mammon, god of wealth. These gods incorporated to one degree or another four basic aspects of idolatry: Worship of intellect, pleasure, power, and money. These are the same things people idolize today.
The people insisted they would serve the Lord (24:21). Joshua tells them their words are a witness about their decision (24:22-24). Joshua put everything in writing; his charge to the people; and their vow to serve the LORD (24:26-28). Joshua died at 110 years of age. Israel followed the LORD while Joshua was alive. That’s the sign of an effective leader (24:29-33). But ultimately the people would stray from the Lord repeatedly. Judges, the book that follows Joshua, is a record of the low point, some of the darkest days of Israel. God remained faithful through all their wanderings and betrayals. Many missed out on God’s promises.
How about you? What will you decide? Dwight L. Moody once said, “The world has yet to see what God can do through one man that is totally yielded to God!” Let’s seek to be totally committed in love to God and see what God will do! Will you choose to serve the Lord? Will you follow these principles and experience the fulfillment of God’s promises?