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“Divide This Land for an Inheritance”


Joshua 13:1-14:15; 2 Corinthians 1:20-22

August 20, 2017 ● Download this sermon (PDF)

Click image to enlarge (from ESV Study Bible)

Congregation of Christ: Near the beginning of our study of the Book of Joshua, we learned that after crossing the Jordan River on dry ground, the Israelites were commanded by God to set up a memorial of 12 stones, each stone representing a tribe of Israel. The memorial was built so that the following generations of Israelites would know that their forefathers crossed the river after the LORD dried it up. Then they would fear the LORD forever.

What do you think today’s generation of antifa protesters would do to this memorial if it still existed? They would say, “Down with this Jordan River Memorial! Down with Israelite genocide! And then they would destroy it overnight. What about the Living Memorial Sculpture near us? These goons and thugs would probably spray paint it with, “Down with the unjust Vietnam War!” They are no different from Islamic jihadists who are destroying all kinds of ancient temples and other historic sites in Syria and Iraq.

Memorials are part of our lives. Without them, we will forget our history. Our children would have no knowledge of our struggles and accomplishments in the past. And this is what’s happening now with these rebellious protesters who take down monuments because they don’t agree with them, or because they think they are monuments to racism. Surely, racism of any kind, whether it’s the KKK or the Black Lives Matter, is condemned in the Bible. Hitler’s Nazi Party and Stalin’s Communism are also forms of racism, because they put their own selves or their group as superior to all others. And this is also condemned in the Bible, because all human beings are created equal, in the image of God.

When unbelievers hear or read about the wars of Israel in the Book of Joshua, they quickly conclude that the God of the Bible is also a racist. Didn’t he command the extermination of all Canaanites? But this is far from the truth. We know that God was just and right in destroying people who were idolaters, sexually immoral, violent, and oppressive. They even burned their children as offerings to their pagan idols. And as we have repeatedly seen, Israel as God’s covenant people was only a preview of the universal church of Christ that includes believers from all nations, tribes and languages of the world. This can never be racism.

As we wound down our study of this book, we come to its second main division. The first division, Chapters 1-12, narrates the conquest of Canaan the Promised Land. The second division, Chapters 13-24, details the allotment of the land to the 12 tribes of Israel.

Our text today is Chapters 13-14, but it really extends to Chapter 19. All these chapters list the names of the 12 tribes and the boundaries of the land distributed to them. We will not go into these details, except for the land grants given to individuals, not to tribes.

In these two chapters, we will see how God was faithful to all his promises to his people; how the people were not; and how a specific tribe’s inheritance was not land, but the LORD himself.

“I Myself Will Drive Them Out” (verse 1-7)

Verse 1 of Chapter 13 opens this second main section of the book, saying, “Now Joshua was old and advanced in years.” While the first section opens in Joshua 1:1 with the death of Moses, Chapter 13 opens with Joshua nearing death. In both instances the LORD had some final instructions to Moses and to Joshua. After the death of Moses, God told Joshua to lead the people into the Promised Land, saying, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go” (1:9). Here, the LORD tells Joshua, “You are old and advanced in years, and there remains yet very much land to possess (13:1).

Then God says, “I myself will drive them out from before the people of Israel.” Again, the LORD assures Joshua that he will be the one to fight against the Canaanites in the land, and that he himself will drive them out or “dispossess” them. Didn’t God make this promise repeatedly from the beginning, even when Israel was still in the wilderness? Like the Israelites, all believers are forgetful people. When adversity comes, we easily forget how God was faithful to us in the past. We often blame him for our circumstances in life. That is why we rehearse God’s Word every LORD’s Day: his commandments, our violations, and his promise of forgiveness. Then at the end of the service, we are the ones who promise to consecrate our lives to him. Again, that is why we call the LORD’s Day worship service as a covenant renewal service.

The LORD assures Joshua that he will drive the Canaanites out of the land, so he says, “Only allot the land to Israel for an inheritance, as I have commanded you. Now therefore divide this land for an inheritance to the nine tribes and half the tribe of Manasseh.” Yet, we read in verse 1, “there remains yet very much land to possess.” Such was the LORD’s guarantee of his promise. Though they haven’t conquered the whole land, Joshua was to already divide the whole land among the 12 tribes.

So from Chapters 13-19, we read about how Joshua divided the land among the 12 tribes. But here in Chapter 13, we read only about nine and a half tribes. What about the two and a half tribes? A quick review of the 12 tribes of Israel will be sufficient. The 12 sons of Jacob are Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Zebulun, Isaachar, Dan, Gad, Asher, Naphtali, Joseph and Benjamin.

Remember that Joseph became the prime minister of Egypt, and he bore two sons: Ephraim and Manasseh. Jacob and his whole family then went to Egypt during a great famine in Canaan, and sojourned there. Before he died, Jacob adopted Ephraim and Manasseh as his own two sons, in addition to the 12 (Gen 48:5). So now there are 14 tribes. How did Israel become 12 tribes again? When we read Chapters 13-19, in place of Joseph were his two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh. So we’re back to 13 tribes. But we also see that the tribe of Levi, called Levites, were the priests of Israel, and they were not given any land to inherit. We’ll discuss this in the last point. So that’s the new 12 tribes of Israel during the settlement of Canaan.

Who then are the two and a half tribes? These are the tribes of Reuben, Gad and half of the tribe of Manasseh who decided to settle the land east of the Jordan. This was beyond the boundaries of the Promised Land given back in Numbers 34. But we read in Numbers 32 that these two and a half tribes liked the land as they were 2,500 feet in elevation and made for good grazing land. Moses granted their request, provided they still join the Israeli forces in conquering the Promised Land west of the Jordan. Reuben and Gad settled in the southeastern part called Heshbon after its king, Sihon, was defeated. Half of the tribe of Manasseh took the northeastern part called Bashan, whose king, Og, was also conquered. The whole eastern section is also called Gilead. Near the end of the book in Joshua 22, we read that after the conquest of the Promised Land, these two and a half tribes went back to their inheritance and settled there.

“The People of Israel Did Not Drive Them Out”

The LORD was faithful to his promise that he will drive out the Canaanites, but the people were not.

The other nine and a half tribes were given their land in Joshua 14-19. This was done by lot according to Moses’ instructions, assuring oversight by the LORD and protecting Joshua and the other tribal leaders from any charge of favoritism. The sequence of distribution was according to the blessing given by God to the tribes. Judah was first in Chapter 15, followed by Ephraim and Manasseh in Chapters 16-17. These two tribes were given the rights to the firstborn, because Reuben forfeited his birthright when he sinned with his father’s concubine. Judah became the ancestor of Jesus, and Joseph was honored because he saved his family from the famine. The rest of the allotment is detailed in Chapters 18-19.

But the whole land that God promised in Numbers 34 were still to be conquered, “there remains yet very much land to possess” (13:1). As you can see from the map, a long swath of coastal lands is still in the hands of the Philistines. A huge northern area from Megiddo to Tyre to Sidon all the way to Mount Hor and Zedad was still untouched. To the south, Kadesh-barnea to the brook of Egypt still lay unconquered.

These unconquered areas of the Promised Land became a big problem for Israel after Joshua died, when there was no single leader in Israel. In Judges Chapter 1 (we have studied this before), we read about how the 12 tribes tried to conquer the rest of Canaan, but failed to do so. The Judahites captured some of the cities of the Philistines, but they could not drive out the people of the plain “because they had chariots of iron.” The people of Benjamin did not drive out the Jebusites who lived in Jerusalem. For its part, Manasseh did not drive out the Canaanites living in their inheritance. Instead, they used them as slaves. So did Ephraim, Zebulun, Asher, Naphtali, and Dan.

In time, the Philistines, Canaanites, Midianites and Ammonites fought against Israel and were victorious against them. They in turn oppressed Israel, taking their livestock, produce and houses. This was not the only evil that befell Israel. Their pagan neighbors and oppressors also influenced them to worship pagan idol-gods. This incurred God’s wrath against them. The LORD was faithful to his promises, and the people just had to act in faith and obedience. But they did not, and the result was disastrous.

God demands total obedience from us. If we are to obey God’s Word only partially, then we are on dangerous ground, like Israel. If our obedience is motivated by pleasure, or our own advantage – like Israel – then God is not pleased. Disastrous consequences may follow. After Joshua died, Israel continued worshiping the LORD, but they also started worshiping pagan gods. Half-hearted worship is false worship. The commandment is worship God alone, not any other. Jesus also warns us about money: we cannot worship God and money at the same time. God demands total worship.

“The LORD God is Their Inheritance”

Out of all the tribes, only Levi was not given an inheritance. Why is that? The tribe of Levi was ordained by God to be priests after the golden calf incident in the wilderness. Remember when Israel just came out of Egypt and arrived at Mount Sinai on the third month? In Exodus 32, Moses went up the mountain to receive the covenant law, but when he came down from the mountain, he found all the people worshiping a golden calf. Only the Levites did not participate in the idol worship. When Moses gave a call, “Who is on the LORD’s side?” only the Levites rallied around him. On that day, Moses declared to them, “Today you have been ordained for the service of the LORD” (Exo 32:26-29).

Since they were consecrated to serve the LORD, they had no land inheritance. They were instead assigned cities to live in so they would be dispersed throughout the land to serve as priests to all the people (14:3). They were to be supported by the tithes of the produce of the land. That is why we read in 13:14, “To the tribe of Levi alone Moses gave no inheritance. The offerings by fire to the LORD God of Israel are their inheritance.” Again, in 13:33, “the LORD God of Israel is their inheritance.” Later in Joshua 18:7, God told Israel, “The Levites have no portion among you, for the priesthood of the LORD is their heritage.”

Dear friends, in our Call to Worship, the psalmist declares to the LORD, “The LORD is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot. The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance” (Psa 16:5-6). Israel at the beginning of the conquest depended wholly on the LORD. They saw how God fought for them in their victories over their enemies. Can you declare the same thing?

When the tribes of Israel were given their inheritance, it was done by lot. They depended on God’s sovereignty. The whole land was not the same. Some were hills, others were plains; some had water, others were dry; some had fertile land for crops, others had land for grazing. But each tribe, clan, and family was to be satisfied with what God had distributed to them.

We know that David’s life was full of wars, persecution and suffering. Yet he still says that he is pleased with what God had given him, “a beautiful inheritance.” Riches didn’t matter to him. Why? Because, like the Levites, the LORD was his inheritance. His life was consecrated to serving God. Therefore, even in suffering, he was content in God, so he had peace and security. Can we declare with the psalmist the same thing, that God and Christ are our beautiful inheritance, even in our dire circumstances? May we all declare with the apostle Paul, “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content” (Phil 4:11).

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