God’s Promise (still taking the land)
Today we’re coming back to Joshua chapters 13-19. Last week we focused on the genealogy of the 12 tribes and who got what territory. This week we’re going to focus in on the hidden editorial comments inserted throughout the chapter. Let’s start again with chapter 13:1-7 because it sets up the following six chapters. Joshua was old. You know you’re old when God tells you, “You’re old.” God comes to Joshua and essentially tells Joshua he’s retiring from fighting. His final assignment is to divvy up the land that they have conquered to the 12 tribes. But the critical verse is the fact that while they have conquered an incredible amount of territory in such a short time, “there remained yet very much land to possess.”
Verses 2-6a is a list of the land yet to be conquered. It’s daunting in the scope yet to be conquered, but once again God reaffirms His promise from Deuteronomy and earlier in Joshua, “I myself will drive them out from before the people of Israel.” God was telling Joshua, “You’re done but don’t worry I’m going to finish what I promised to Israel. I will drive out the remaining people in the land.” I’ll do it. Read this at face value and what is the natural conclusion anyone would make in light of who God is? Israel is going to get the entire land promised to them. Right? There is no, “if.” It’s a lock. 100% chance of this happening.
Before we go any further, let’s go back and reset this whole topic of “driving out the people in the land.” In order to understand what happens in chapters 13-19, we have to have the background clear. In Deuteronomy 7, God lays out His promise and His command to Israel. God promises to clear out the nations, to give them over to Israel. That’s His promise. But He expected Israel to “defeat them, devote them to complete destruction, make no covenant with them, don’t marry them, and destroy all the articles and places of worship.” Why? God warns them that they will turn their hearts away from God. God goes on to say, “You are my treasured possession. I chose you because I love you.” God was whole hearted in His love for Israel.
As these chapters proceed, Joshua begins the process of divvying up the land. In chapter 13:8-13, we see 2 ½ tribes (Reuben, Gad, and ½ tribe of Manasseh) and a summary of their territories that lay east of the Jordan. But there’s something hidden in chapter 13:13 that’s not good. The very clear implication of this verse is that these 2 ½ tribes simply refused to go back to war. No reason was given for letting the enemy remain in the land. It just was. They knew Deuteronomy 7 but their hearts weren’t in it.
In chapter 15, Judah is the next tribe and it appears that they cleared their land. Sounds good. Moving on to chapter 16, and the tribe of Joseph who got two territories, one for Ephraim and the other for lots of land for Manasseh. 16:10 says “However, they did not drive out the Canaanites who lived in Gezer, so the Canaanites have lived in the midst of Ephraim to this day but have been made to do forced labor.” ½ tribe of Manasseh in Canaan: 17:12 “Yet the people of Manasseh could not take possession of those cities, but the Canaanites persisted indwelling in that land. Now when the people of Israel grew strong, they put the Canaanites to forced labor but did not utterly drive them out.” What’s interesting here was that they rationalized their disobedience to the command and their lack of faith in God’s promise by forcing the people to work for them. It makes sense. “Why not put them to work. Surely God would want them to do that!” They knew Deuteronomy 7, but their hearts weren’t in it. They didn’t drive them out. They had mercy. They let them stay.
In 17:14-18, we see what’s driving their half-hearted faith and disobedience. Both Ephraim and Manasseh come to Joshua and ask for more land. Actually what they really want is land that is easier to take. Joshua was having none of it. Look up on the screen. They have huge territories. Bigger than most of the other tribes and it still wasn’t enough? Twice they came at him and he finally just told them straight up, “Look, you are guys are one of the biggest tribes. Your two tribes are powerful. Harvest the forest and drive out the Canaanites. Suck it up and take the land. God’s commanded you to do it. And promised He would do it.”
Twice though it’s mentioned what really is going on. They were scared of the chariots. It makes sense from a human and military perspective. They were intimidated. The fear of the path God had laid out for them was making them half-hearted. They wanted an easier path out.
In reading on Benjamin, Simeon, Zebulun, Issachar, Asher, Naphtali all cleared their land. Then in the very last tribe it says this in 19:47, “When the territory of the people of Dan was lost to them, the people of Dan went up and fought against Leshem, and after capturing it and striking it with the sword they took possession of it and settled in it.” They actually lost their land to the Philistines and had to move up north. It was a complete rout. This wasn’t even half-hearted. They completely lost heart for obedience and the promise of God and the other tribes around them did too. At the end of this whole section, seven territories were cleared and five territories did not drive out the people. One territory of those five, Dan, was completely lost.
Stephen King defines complacency as, “The inner assurance that there is no need to change self-destructive behavior, let alone search for its roots.” (Stephen King, Dreamcatcher). Francis Chan I think nails the half-hearted and complacent life of faith, “The core problem isn’t the fact that we’re lukewarm, halfhearted, or stagnant Christians. The crux of it all is why we are this way, and it is because we have an inaccurate view of God. We see Him as a benevolent Being who is satisfied when people manage to fit Him into their lives in some small way. We forget that God never had an identity crisis. He knows that He’s great and deserves to be the center of our lives.” Anyone here struggling with complacency? Half-hearted faith. Anyone look at the first seven years of your faith and shake your head with amazement at the amount of territory God and you conquered but since then…what? Nothing? Who has unconquered sin in the land? Who has let it remain?
Now in the middle of these seven chapters of half-hearted faith is the story of Caleb. Who is this Caleb? To understand Caleb we have to go back to Numbers 13-14. In Numbers 13, God told Moses to send out 12 spies, one from each tribe of Israel, to scout out the Promised Land. Caleb and Joshua were two of the 12 spies. They were gone for 40 days and came back and brought their report and the people started freaking out. But Caleb quieted the crowd by saying, “Yes, it’s not going to be easy but we can do it this. With God we’ll do it.” The Bible says people started to calm down. But then the other 10 spies said, “There’s no way we can do this! We’re gonna get crushed.” Those 10 spies freaked everyone out to the point that they were going to elect a new leader to take them back to Egypt into slavery and stone Moses, Aaron, Joshua, and Caleb. God got hopping mad and that’s where He promised everyone 20 and older would die wandering in the wilderness for 40 years. But He also made specific promise to Caleb and Joshua that they would enter the land and get the land that they had walked. Why? Because he has followed me “fully”.
Keep that word “fully” in mind as we jump back to into our story 45 years later. In Joshua 14, it’s the line of Judah’s turn to get their land. The first in line is Caleb. Caleb comes to his old friend Joshua who spied the land with him. Listen to what he said, in verses 6-12. Here’s a guy who is 85 years old and he still has the fire of faith burning in him. I have wholly followed God. I have wholly followed God. What does that mean? Well it’s both that he had faith in God’s promise to deliver the land into his hands and also that he sought to fully obey the command of God to drive the people out of the land. Wholehearted in faith and obedience. No slipping. No complacency. No fear of anyone or the military odds against him that stole his ability to step out in faith. Whole hearted. That was Caleb.
The kicker is he claims the land that still has giants on it. Possibly even the same giants he saw 45 years earlier. This was personal. He was out to prove to everyone what he knew 45 years ago, God will win the fight. This guy’s 85 years old and he has no plans to stop. He’s going to take this land. This is wholehearted faith. Right here. In Joshua 15:13-19 Caleb takes the land. This 85 year old man steps out in faith and forces the issue – if he loses it’s on God not on himself. And guess what, God is faithful and gives them the victory over the giants. The people they have no business beating.
Chelle Stire is one of my wife’s closest friends growing up from grade school. They have stayed in contact over the years. Chelle is a missionary and her and her husband have several daughters. Back in the early fall last year she started experiencing severe headaches and went to get an MRI. Listen to her journal entry from last October right before they got the report from the MRI, “I don’t know about you, but there are times in my life when it seems that the battle is especially difficult and my heart is weary and my flesh is weak. This was the season that I was just emerging from and the vestiges of that were still lingering in my heart. I looked around and saw in myself and in my family an apathy towards dealing radically with sin, lackluster prayer lives, a complacency towards the things of the Lord, and a general sense of pride that manifested itself in critical spirits, irritability with each other, and thankless attitudes. My heart was so broken by my own sin and how deeply I had been offending my Savior.
Chelle was driven to her knees said her prayer went something like this, “Father-God, you know how much I love my children. They are some of the dearest souls on earth to me. You have given them to me to love, to protect, and to disciple. I want so desperately for my daughters to have an intimate and vital relationship with You. I long for them to choose to walk so close to You that the world and sin hold no enticement for them. I want that no matter the cost. Please do whatever it takes to bring them, and me, into that kind of relationship with you. (at this point I raised my hands and opened them wide). Lord, as much as I desire to protect my children from pain, I give them to You to do whatever You need to do to draw them near to You. I totally trust You, Jesus, but I ask that if at all possible, you not take their lives or give them disease. If possible give that to me instead. My prayer is for Your glory and praise. In the matchless name of Jesus, Amen.”
Four days later they got the news that the MRI revealed a lesion on her brain. Chelle and her husband brought their three girls together and Chelle told them, “Girls I know you are afraid, but I want to tell you that I am not afraid. I am not afraid; instead I am thanking God because this is an answer to my prayers. I have been praying that God would do whatever it takes to draw each one of the us in this family closer to Him. I praise God for this lesson because I know that He will use it to accomplish His purposes in our lives – that we would walk and please God and excel more in that.” Chelle and her family shortly left the mission field for home. She is facing a surgery here in March and praying it’s not cancer.
That’s what whole-hearted living. Take the land! Take all of it. Don’t settle. Don’t be satisfied until the land of your soul is cleared. C.S. Lewis once wrote, “We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” Would you dare to ask God right now, “Am I half-hearted or whole-hearted? Are we leaving anything in the land? Any sin remain? Any idols remain? Any vestiges of this world that could turn our hearts from Christ?