Excerpts from Joshua 14-19; Hebrews 4:1-10
September 3, 2017 ● Download this sermon (PDF)
Congregation of Christ: We now come to the tedious chapters of Joshua, where we read about the lands that the tribes and clans and individuals of Israel inherited after the conquest of Canaan. We read of tongue-twisting places and names. Why can’t Gederothaim be Gardensham, or Kerioth-hezron be Kerrington, and Shahazumah be Shenandoah? Why can’t the daughters of Zelophehad named Mahlah be Myla, or Hoglah be Holly, or Milcah be Michaiah, and Tirzah be Theresa?
So we will skip all these lists. But be mindful that God’s Word is not wasted. Every single individual name and place name is important, because this list reminded the next generations of Israel that God fulfilled his promise that all of them will have an inheritance in the Promised Land. All these tribes, clans and individuals received God’s promised land allotments.
In the first five verses of Joshua Chapter 14, we read a summary of each of the inheritance that the 12 tribes of Israel were given. To ensure that God oversaw the distribution and that there is no favoritism, the inheritances were determined by the drawing of lots. The tribes of Reuben and Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh were given the land east of the Jordan River that they desired. The other nine and a half tribes were given land west of the river.
Today, we will focus today on four individuals or groups of individuals who were given special land grants by God because of their faithfulness and obedience to God’s commands. They received blessing for their obedience.
Caleb: “He Followed the Lord Wholeheartedly” (14:6-15)
Verses 6-15 of Chapter 14, we read of Caleb’s request for a specific inheritance, the city of Hebron. Was he being selfish and demanding? No, he was actually claiming a promise made to him by Moses 45 years earlier. Remember the 12 spies Moses sent to Canaan when they arrived near its southern border? They found that the land was rich and beautiful, a land of milk and honey. But there was a problem: the inhabitants there were mighty giants, and the cities were strongly fortified. Ten of the 12 spies did not believe God when he promised, “Do not be in dread or afraid of them. The LORD your God who goes before you will himself fight for you, just as he did for you in Egypt before your eyes” (Deu 1:29-30). And the people also believed them, grumbling against Moses and against God,
“Would that we had died in the land of Egypt! Or would that we had died in this wilderness! Why is the LORD bringing us into this land, to fall by the sword? Our wives and our little ones will become a prey. Would it not be better for us to go back to Egypt?” And they said to one another, “Let us choose a leader and go back to Egypt (Num 14:2-4).
So the Lord was angered against them, vowing that not one of those adults 20 years and older will enter the Promised Land. Only the two spies who believed God, Joshua and Caleb, would enter and see the land. Of Caleb, God said, “He shall see it, and to him and to his children I will give the land on which he has trodden, because he has wholly followed the LORD!” (Deu 1:36). Of Joshua, the Lord said, “Joshua the son of Nun, who stands before you, he shall enter. Encourage him, for he shall cause Israel to inherit it” (Deu 1:38).
This is the same description of Caleb we read in Joshua 14:9, Caleb “wholly followed the Lord.” Against the murmurings of the people, against the giants in the land, against the huge fortifications of the city, Caleb believed and trusted God’s promise. He waited how long for God to fulfill his promise? 45 years! Now at 85, would he finally sit back, relax and enjoy his rest and retirement, though maybe for only a few years. But no, he tells Joshua, “I am still as strong today as I was in the day that Moses sent me; my strength now is as my strength was then, for war and for going and coming” (14:11). He says he will drive out the giant Anakites from Hebron, because he trusted God’s promise. And so he did, and the land had rest from war.
Do you believe and trust in God? Do you follow God wholeheartedly? Jesus says that the First Great Commandment is, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.” To follow God wholeheartedly is to love and follow him with your whole being, your whole life. When Jesus called the brothers Simon Peter and Andrew, they were fishing, and he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” What did they do? Did they say, “Man, who are you to tell us to follow you? Do you want us to leave our wives and children?” No, we read, “Immediately, they left their nets and followed him” (Matt 4:19-20).
So what does it mean to follow God, or to follow Jesus? Does it mean he wants you to abandon your work, your family, your friends, or even your church? When Jesus called his disciples, he had a different job for them: fishing for men, which means preaching the gospel to all people to haul in a great harvest for salvation. This is a much more difficult job than mere fishing for fish.
When Jesus calls you today to follow him, he has a most difficult job for you. It’s hard to obey his commandments; to raise a God-loving and God-fearing family; to witness to unbelieving and skeptical family and friends; to do honest and hard work in a company with dishonest managers and co-workers; to be a good steward of our God-given money and resources. To be a wholehearted follower of Christ takes patience, day after day, year after year of faithfulness to his Word in the face of ridicule, persecution and even much sufferings. We might even wait more than 45 years for God to fulfill his promises to us.
Othniel: A Mighty Warrior Who Became a Judge (15:13-19)
The second example of blessing for obedience is Othniel and his wife Achsah. When Caleb needed a warrior to lead his men to conquer the city of Debir, he dangled a prize: his own daughter Achsah. Achsah must have been a beautiful prize, because Othniel, Caleb’s nephew, volunteered for the dangerous and difficult conquest of Debir. We are told that “the Spirit of the LORD was upon” Othniel, so he also trusted that the Lord will give him victory.
Later, we learned in Judges 3:7-11, Othniel was empowered by the Spirit to perform his duties as a judge of Israel, leading the army in war against the Mesopotamian oppressors, and the people in their spiritual affairs. Of all the judges, nothing negative is written about him. He did all that the LORD assigned him to do. We know that Othniel was not like the other Israelites who took wives and husbands from their pagan neighbors. Othniel married Achsah, a godly woman. He judged Israel, which means he reformed the people, turning them from their evil and idolatrous ways. He led them as a shepherd leads his flock. Then, against all odds, he obeyed the LORD in defeating the Mesopotamians.
What was his blessing for his faithfulness? His blessing was a beautiful, godly wife, Achsah. They were given the land of Negeb, which was dry. So Achsah did not hesitate to ask Caleb to bless them with springs of water elsewhere, and Caleb granted her bold request.
So we see that to be obedient and faithful to God, we are to be filled with the Holy Spirit. The blessings we derive from the Spirit are life-giving and life-transforming. Through the regenerating work of the Spirit, unbelieving hearts are transformed to repent of their sins and believe in Christ. Through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, believers are transformed more and more into the image of Christ. Through the mighty work of the Spirit, we can fight Satan and his temptations and lies.
Daughters of Zelophehad: Claiming God’s Promise (17:3-6)
The third example of individual blessing for obedience are the daughters of Zelophehad. Who is Zelophehad? We read about him and his five daughters, Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah, in in Joshua 17:3-6. He belonged to the tribe of Manasseh, but he had no sons. These women come to Joshua and Eleazar the high priest, saying, “The LORD commanded Moses to give us an inheritance along with our brothers.”
Were they telling the truth? Yes, for we read about their family in Numbers 27:1-11. Back in the wilderness wanderings of Israel, a man named Korah, together with 250 of the leaders of Israel, rebelled against Moses. They argued they too, not just Aaron and the priests, should have access to the holy place in the tabernacle. But God’s judgment against them was swift. Korah and all his household were swallowed up by the earth, and the 250 leaders were consumed by fire from heaven.
So the request of the daughters of Zelophehad recall this event. In Numbers 27:3-4, they said to Moses, “Our father died in the wilderness. He was not among the company of those who gathered themselves together against the LORD in the company of Korah, but died for his own sin. And he had no sons. Why should the name of our father be taken away from his clan because he had no son? Give to us a possession among our father’s brothers.”
Under the law of Moses, daughters did not inherit from their father, but were dependent on their brothers and husbands. Land was divided only among the sons, so the five women would not have any inheritance, and their father’s name and honor would be erased from history. So because of the daughters’ request, the Lord made a new law, “If a man dies and has no son, then you shall transfer his inheritance to his daughter” (Num 27:8). Therefore, in our text, we read, “So according to the mouth of the LORD he gave them an inheritance among the brothers of their father.”
The claim of these five women was not based on selfishness or greed or pride. It was grounded on God’s promise to them many years before the conquest of Canaan. They believed and trusted this promise. They waited patiently for the fulfillment of their inheritance. And when the right time arrived, they came boldly before Joshua to argue their case based on Moses’ promise and God’s new directive regarding their case. They were given an inheritance because of their faithfulness and trust in the Lord. Because of their faithfulness and boldness, God directed Moses to allow women to inherit their own land in special circumstances.
That’s why Paul says, before God, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise” (Gal 3:28). Let us not listen to those who say that the Bible discriminates against women. Achsah and these five women received the blessing of inheritance for their faithfulness. And let us not forget Rahab, a foreigner, who together with her own household, also received an inheritance for her faith and trust in the Lord. Let us not listen to those who criticize faithful Reformed churches for not ordaining women pastors, elders and deacons. These churches, including our church, we honor women who serve God’s people with their many spiritual gifts. But we obey God’s command that men and women have different roles and gifts in the church.
Joshua: A City for Israel’s Humble Leader (19:49-50)
Lastly, we read in Joshua 19:49-40 that God commanded that Joshua receive the city of Timnath-serah in the hill country of Ephraim. It must have been a rich and beautiful land, for he rebuilt the city and settled in it. However, Joshua, being humble and meek like Moses, received his inheritance last, after all the people had received their inheritances. It is the leader, the servant of the Lord and of the people, who was last. He did not claim the best inheritance first, and then proceeded distributing the rest of the land to the people.
Joshua was a humble picture of his namesake, Jesus our Savior and Lord. He is our meek and humble Suffering Servant. He humbled himself by coming down from his glorious existence in heaven, and assuming human flesh and blood. He humbled himself all the way to an accursed death on the cross for the forgiveness of the sins of his people. Today, Paul’s exhortation to you who believe is to be like Christ, ”Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive” (Col 3:12-13).
He invites all of you to come to him today and always in repentance and faith in his finished work on the cross for the forgiveness of your sins, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matt 11:28-29).
The Lord’s Table has been prepared for you in order that you may commune and fellowship with God and Christ and with one another in the unity of the Spirit.