The Fifteenth in a Series of Sermons on the Book of Joshua
Just as he promised he would do, YHWH fought on the side of Israel. After an extended military campaign, the armies of Israel wiped out two large Canaanite armies. Joshua’s men captured thirty-one Canaanite cities, killing everyone in them including their kings. At long last, God’s people dwell in peace in that good land God which had promised to give them. But this comes only after Israel was delivered from four hundred years of bondage and slavery in Egypt, after entering into a covenant with YHWH at Mount Sinai, after wandering throughout the Sinai desert for forty years, after crossing the Jordan River on dry ground and then conquering Jericho, as well as defeating two large Amorite armies and a host of other Canaanite tribes. In Joshua 11:23, Joshua simply says, “the land had rest from war.” With these words, we have reached yet another turning point in the great redemptive drama. The land once promised to Israel is now their home. The promise has become reality. We now shift from the account of battle (the Conquest) to a distribution of the spoils of war as YHWH gives his people legal title to the land.
We now fast-forward from the end of chapter 11 (where we left off last time), to verses 1-9 of chapter 20. The reason for skipping so far ahead in our study of Joshua has to do with the structure of the book itself. In Joshua 12, we find a detailed list of the thirty-one kings defeated by Moses and Joshua. Chapters 13-21 contain a lengthy and very detailed description of how the land of Canaan was divided up among the various tribes of Israel and their families. Understandably, most readers find themselves drawn to the dramatic first half of the book, while these detailed lists in the next section of Joshua are not as interesting. The materials in these chapters are, in effect, legal documents (deeds), which ensure that the land of Canaan is properly distributed to each tribe jut as Moses commanded. This entire section of Joshua stands as a glorious testimony to the fact that God is faithful to his promise and that he will give his people their inheritance. If you have read through this section of Joshua, you know that preaching through these chapters would be like the reading of a will in which someone’s massive estate was divided up among family members. Very important stuff. But not very preachable. So, we now fast forward to chapter twenty.
Although we are skipping over this lengthy description of the “divvying up of the land,” there are several important things mentioned in these chapters which are well-worth highlighting.
The first of these is the mention of Joshua’s advanced age and a reference to several outlying areas still to be captured by Israel. In Joshua 13:1, we read that “now Joshua was old and advanced in years, and the LORD said to him, `You are old and advanced in years, and there remains yet very much land to possess.’” This is not merely a declaration that Joshua was old–by now that was certainly the case–this is also an important announcement to the people of Israel that there was still much to do. In order for the people to possess legal title to the land, this must be done while Joshua, the covenant mediator, is still alive. The armies of Israel must capture the remaining outlying areas and Joshua must apportion the land among the twelve tribes so that the promised inheritance is actually realized before he dies.
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