Joshua 13:1-6 & Matthew 28:16-20


Before we dive into looking in detail at this evening’s reading from Joshua, a bit of a reminder of some of the things that have happened in the lead up to the events described in this passage. How have the characters in the story got here? We’re not going to go right back to the beginning, but I think it probably is worth going back to just before the start of the book of Joshua and this sermon series.

You see, prior to God’s people entering the promised land, under Moses command they took possession of some land on the Eastern bank of the Jordan, enough for two and a half tribes to live on, and this land had been allocated to those tribes by Moses.

After this, as we discovered when we looked at the first chapter of Joshua, Moses died and his leadership of the people was passed on to Joshua just before they went into the promised land.

The first twelve chapters of the book of Joshua deal with the practical details of the conquest of the promised land – we’ve looked in some detail at the battles of Jericho and Ai, with their contrasts. There have been other battles and victories, and much of the land has been taken, but by no means all.

As one commentator puts it, “Joshua 13:1–7 turns the comer from conquest to settlement. It should represent the end of the story. The long journey from Egypt to the Promised Land is finally over. The people have won the land. They need only divide it among themselves and live on it according to the laws God has been so good to give them. Historical reality was not that simple. Israel still faced a major task. The western coast, the southern wilderness and the northern mountain land remained under foreign control. And the hero, who had brought victory to Israel through his obedience to Yahweh, was too old to carry on his victorious ways. Now what?”

Now what is a change in role for Joshua. He is no longer the battle leader, actually taking land. He is the vision caster – in the coming chapters he reminds the people of the division of land already made by Moses, and then he looks forward to the time at which the conquest will be complete and divides up the rest of the land, that is not yet conquered, but which God continues to promise will be theirs.

This allocation of the land is very important to God’s people understanding of themselves. We might be put off reading chapters of lots of names of different tribal groups and the parcels of land that they were allocated by God, and that, if we’re not careful, can mean that we miss the theological implications of this process. What does it say about God that the land wasn’t just given as a job lot to the whole nation, but that each tribe and each family group in each tribe was given a specific part of the land?

If we read the rest of the Old Testament, and the disasters that follow under the kings as they centralise control and take ownership of “the whole land” we can perhaps get a clue. Perhaps particularly important is the story of Naboth’s vineyard. King Ahab liked the look of the vineyard belonging to Naboth, but Naboth refused to sell his ancestral land. Queen Jezebel arranged for Naboth to be murdered and took the vineyard for Ahab anyway. In the books of the prophets we often read that one of the things God has against the people is the way in which land and wealth has become concentrated in the hands of a few, and the people have been bereft of the land that God gave them. It seems to me that it is quite clear from Scripture that sufficient resources were created in the world for every person to have sufficient to flourish and live well, and that when that doesn’t happen because land and wealth are concentrated in the hands of the few this is contrary to the will and express intentions of God.

Anyway, back to Joshua, and the beginning of this allocation which God commands him to undertake. This is to be a statement of faith, a casting of vision. This land has not yet been conquered, but in trust that it will be, and in obedience to God’s command, Joshua allocates it amongst the people.

It seems to me that there are echoes of this in Jesus’ final conversation with his disciples. It was not the Jesus was now too old to complete the victory that he has began, but he is departing from earth. It is time for the batten to be handed on to his disciples. So, he allocates the world to them, knowing that the victory is won, but that the full impact of that victory is still to be seen. The land is theirs, but it still needs to be inhabited.

I wonder where you see yourself in this story.

Perhaps you feel like Joshua. You’ve had a life time of wandering in the desert, doing your bit for the Kingdom, you’ve had some victories and some defeats, and now you feel like you’re too old to do any more. However, even as God retired him from active service, there was still an important task for Joshua to do. He was to remind the people of the promises of God that had been kept, and encourage them to step forward into the ongoing and complete fulfilment of those promises. He knew that he wasn’t going to see the defeat of the Philistines, but that didn’t stop him telling the people who was going to live in their lands in the future. It may be that God has something similar for you to do – to share the stories of what you have seen God do, and to encourage the younger generations to keep walking into the things God is going to do.

Perhaps you feel like a member of one of the two and a half tribes that already had their allocation of land, have already fought their battles and are ready to kick back and relax and enjoy the land you’ve been given. That would, perhaps, be a mistake. One of the conditions that those two and a half tribes agreed to when they were allocated land on the East of the Jordan was that they would cross over to the West and help their fellow Israelites to take their land before going back to enjoy theirs. We may feel that we have won our victories and are quite comfortable with our lot, but there are plenty of others still battling and it is only right and fair that we help them to gain the fulness of their inheritance as well.

Perhaps you feel like one of those whose bit of land seems a long way off. You’ve survived the wilderness, crossed the Jordan, fought at Jericho and Ai, but there’s still a load to do. You’ve been allocated a parcel of land, yippee, but it’s miles away and there are still Philistines living on it. You’re tired of battling, and of waiting to be able to enjoy the good things you’ve been promised. If that’s you, then there is some encouragement, it seems to me in chapter 23. The intervening chapters have all been about the detail of this allocation, but not much has actually happened. Chapter 23 picks up, and echoes some of what we read in chapter 13, but with a slightly different emphasis. The first verse says this, “After a long time had passed and the Lord had given Israel rest from all their enemies around them….”
It reminds me of Jesus saying, “Come to me all who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest”

There is more land to be taken, there are people still to be reached, we haven’t seen the fulfilment of all God’s promises, but God does not intend life to be relentless. God is the God of the sabbath, of times of rest and recuperation. There are seasons when we are to breathe, to rest, to be refreshed, and then to go on, restored and reinvigorated. If you are just tired of the battle, then I believe that Jesus’ invitation is there for us.

At the beginning of the year I spoke about the sense I had that God might be calling us to spread our tent wider this year. As I was reading these passages this week, I was reminded of that sense. Joshua and the disciples were both told that there was more to be done, more land to be taken. Joshua was given his bit to do – allocate the land – and God committed to do his bit – to drive out those living there. Similarly Jesus’ disciples were given their bit to do – to go, making disciples, baptising, and teaching – and God committed to do his bit, “surely I am with you always”. We are facing a task unfinished, we have been challenged to spread our tent wider, as a church and as individuals. We’re still exploring exactly what that means, but as we are obedient and look for opportunities to do, so I believe that God goes with us, clearing the way and making it possible for us to what fulfil our commission.

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