Sunday December 30th
It’s been said that life is all about choices. That reminds me of the story of a Frenchman, an Englishman and an American who were exploring the jungle together when they were captured by a fierce tribe.
The tribe’s chief told them, "The bad news is that we're going to kill you, and then we are going to use your skins to build a canoe. The good news is that you each gets to choose how you will die."
The Frenchman said, "I vill take ze poison." The chief gave him some poison; the Frenchman said, "Vive la France!" and drank it.
The Englishman said, "A pistol for me, please." The chief gave him a pistol; the Englishman pointed it at his heart, said, "God save the Queen!" and pulled the trigger.
The American said, "Give me a fork." The chief was puzzled, but he just shrugged and gave him a fork. The American took the fork and started jabbing himself all over – in the stomach, the arms, the legs, the sides, the chest, everywhere. Blood was gushing from every hole.
Finally the chief screamed, "What are you doing?"
The American looked at the chief and said, "Good luck with your canoe, Chief!”
As the book of Joshua comes to a conclusion, there are some important choices that still need to be made.
Chapter 21 wraps up all of the distribution of land among the tribes of Israel, and it ends with these verses:
So the Lord gave Israel all the land which He had sworn to give to their fathers, and they possessed it and lived in it. 44 And the Lord gave them rest on every side, according to all that He had sworn to their fathers, and no one of all their enemies stood before them; the Lord gave all their enemies into their hand. 45 Not one of the good promises which the Lord had made to the house of Israel failed; all came to pass.
That sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? God keeps all of His promises to the children of Israel. Of course He does! End of story, right? Well, not exactly!
We are going to take a look at chapters 22 and 23 in just a moment, but first I want to jump to the end of chapter 24, with is actually the end of the book of Joshua. Here are the final verses of the entire story:
29 It came about after these things that Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of the Lord, died, being one hundred and ten years old. 30 And they buried him in the territory of his inheritance in Timnath-serah, which is in the hill country of Ephraim, on the north of Mount Gaash.
31 Israel served the Lord all the days of Joshua and all the days of the elders who survived Joshua, and had known all the deeds of the Lord which He had done for Israel.
32 Now they buried the bones of Joseph, which the sons of Israel brought up from Egypt, at Shechem, in the piece of ground which Jacob had bought from the sons of Hamor the father of Shechem for one hundred pieces of money; and they became the inheritance of Joseph’s sons. 33 And Eleazar the son of Aaron died; and they buried him at Gibeah of Phinehas his son, which was given him in the hill country of Ephraim.
So Joshua, Joseph, and Eleazar have all passed on now, and it’s up to a new generation of Israelites to decide whether they are going to continue to follow God.
Earlier in chapter 24 we can see Joshua stating his famous pledge and challenge in verse 15:
“Choose for yourselves today whom you will serve…but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”
And then all of the people of Israel replied in verse 18:
“We also will serve the Lord, for He is our God.”
Then Joshua makes this shocking statement in verse 19:
“You will not be able to serve the Lord, for He is a holy God.”
What a downer! Why would he say something like that? Because Joshua knows these people pretty well. He has led them for many years, first alongside Moses and then on his own. He knows how easily they could turn to disobedience and fall away from following God.
If we go back to Chapter 23 we see something that is called Joshua’s Farewell Address. It could also be called Joshua’s Farewell Warning. Verses 1-3 set the scene:
Now it came about after many days, when the Lord had given rest to Israel from all their enemies on every side, and Joshua was old, advanced in years, 2 that Joshua called for all Israel, for their elders and their heads and their judges and their officers, and said to them, “I am old, advanced in years. 3 And you have seen all that the Lord your God has done to all these nations because of you, for the Lord your God is He who has been fighting for you.
Then in verse 14-16 he gives them this solemn reminder:
“Now behold, today I am going the way of all the earth, and you know in all your hearts and in all your souls that not one word of all the good words which the Lord your God spoke concerning you has failed; all have been fulfilled for you, not one of them has failed. 15 It shall come about that just as all the good words which the Lord your God spoke to you have come upon you, so the Lord will bring upon you all the threats, until He has destroyed you from off this good land which the Lord your God has given you. 16 When you transgress the covenant of the Lord your God, which He commanded you, and go and serve other gods and bow down to them, then the anger of the Lord will burn against you, and you will perish quickly from off the good land which He has given you.”
This is a pretty straightforward message for the people –
Because we have followed the Lord and obeyed His commands, we have been blessed by God and have received the fulfillment of all of His promises. But just remember that if you ever become disobedient to God, you will lose out on His blessings and instead you will have to experience His judgment and His wrath.
In Chapter 22 we find out why Joshua was so stern in his warning, and just how quickly and easily these Israelite tribes could move from peace towards chaos:
10 When they came to the region of the Jordan which is in the land of Canaan, the sons of Reuben and the sons of Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh built an altar there by the Jordan, a large altar in appearance. 11 And the sons of Israel heard it said, “Behold, the sons of Reuben and the sons of Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh have built an altar at the frontier of the land of Canaan, in the region of the Jordan, on the side belonging to the sons of Israel.” 12 When the sons of Israel heard of it, the whole congregation of the sons of Israel gathered themselves at Shiloh to go up against them in war.
All of these tribes have labored together and fought together, side by side, to conquer and inherit the Promised Land. But now, as they are ready to start settling into their newly acquired lands, ten of the tribes get all fired up and ready to attack the tribes of Reuben and Gad. And over what? Because those tribes decided to build an altar on the side of the Jordan River that they didn’t own!
Most of us are familiar with Psalm 133:1, which says:
Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity!
Well, this situation points out how UN-pleasant it can be when brothers DON’T dwell together in unity!
So then 10 chiefs, one from each of the 10 ticked-off tribes, go to the leaders of Reuben and Gad and they confront them, starting in verse 16:
“Thus says the whole congregation of the Lord, ‘What is this unfaithful act which you have committed against the God of Israel, turning away from following the Lord this day, by building yourselves an altar, to rebel against the Lord this day?
Then in verses 17 through 20 they rant about all of the previous sins against God committed by other Israelites.
Their main point can be summarized by verse 18:
If you rebel against the Lord today, He will be angry with the whole congregation of Israel tomorrow.
They use Achan, the guy who hid some forbidden stuff in his tent, as an example of what might happen:
20” Did not Achan the son of Zerah act unfaithfully in the things under the ban, and wrath fall on all the congregation of Israel? And that man did not perish alone in his iniquity.’”
Essentially what’s happening here is that these 10 chiefs are jumping to a MAJORLY wrong conclusion about this altar that their brothers have built. They think it’s a sinful act of rebellion against God, and that it’s going to bring God’s wrath down upon ALL of Israel.
However, that’s not at all what this altar is about. And now the tribes of Reuben and Gad get to explain the real reason why they built the altar, starting in verse 22:
“The Mighty One, God, the Lord, the Mighty One, God, the Lord! He knows, and may Israel itself know. If it was in rebellion, or if in an unfaithful act against the Lord do not save us this day! 23 If we have built us an altar to turn away from following the Lord, or if to offer a burnt offering or grain offering on it, or if to offer sacrifices of peace offerings on it, may the Lord Himself require it. 24 But truly we have done this out of concern, for a reason, saying, ‘In time to come your sons may say to our sons, “What have you to do with the Lord, the God of Israel? 25 For the Lord has made the Jordan a border between us and you, you sons of Reuben and sons of Gad; you have no portion in the Lord.” So your sons may make our sons stop fearing the Lord.’
This is a very interesting and sincere concern. Remember that these two tribes had preferred settling in the land on the East side of the Jordan. They made a deal with Moses, and then renewed the deal with Joshua, that they would help the other 10 tribes conquer the Promised Land, as long as they could return back to the Eastern land when the fighting was over.
So they did their job as promised and then while they were heading back to their lands, a thought hit them – “What if, later on, the descendants of those other 10 tribes look at our descendants over here on the other side of the Jordan river and decide that our tribes aren’t part of Israel anymore because we are separated by the river?”
Then they go on to explain how this altar was designed to prevent that very problem:
26 “Therefore we said, ‘Let us build an altar, not for burnt offering or for sacrifice; 27 rather it shall be a witness between us and you and between our generations after us, that we are to perform the service of the Lord before Him with our burnt offerings, and with our sacrifices and with our peace offerings, so that your sons will not say to our sons in time to come, “You have no portion in the Lord.”’ 28 Therefore we said, ‘It shall also come about if they say this to us or to our generations in time to come, then we shall say, “See the copy of the altar of the Lord which our fathers made, not for burnt offering or for sacrifice; rather it is a witness between us and you.”’ 29 Far be it from us that we should rebel against the Lord and turn away from following the Lord this day, by building an altar for burnt offering, for grain offering or for sacrifice, besides the altar of the Lord our God which is before His tabernacle.”
The reason that the sons of Reuben and Gad made this altar was NOT for sacrifices! It was a symbolic altar which was meant to remind their descendants, AND the descendants of the other 10 tribes, that they all worshipped the same God! Plain and simple.
Do you remember the old character named Emily Litella, played by Gilda Radner from the show Saturday Night Live? She was an older woman with a hearing problem who would go off on some completely looney rant based upon incorrect information. Like she would say, “What’s all this fuss about violins on television?”
Then, when she would be confronted with the correct information, (it’s violence, not violins) she would say “Oh, that’s very different.” “Never Mind!”
That’s kind of what the chiefs of the 10 tribes said after hearing the truth about the reason for the altar.
30 So when Phinehas the priest and the leaders of the congregation, even the heads of the families of Israel who were with him, heard the words which the sons of Reuben and the sons of Gad and the sons of Manasseh spoke, it pleased them. 31 And Phinehas the son of Eleazar the priest said to the sons of Reuben and to the sons of Gad and to the sons of Manasseh, “Today we know that the Lord is in our midst, because you have not committed this unfaithful act against the Lord; now you have delivered the sons of Israel from the hand of the Lord.”
32 Then Phinehas the son of Eleazar the priest and the leaders returned from the sons of Reuben and from the sons of Gad, from the land of Gilead to the land of Canaan, to the sons of Israel, and brought back word to them. 33 The word pleased the sons of Israel, and the sons of Israel blessed God; and they did not speak of going up against them in war to destroy the land in which the sons of Reuben and the sons of Gad were living. 34 The sons of Reuben and the sons of Gad called the altar Witness; “For,” they said, “it is a witness between us that the Lord is God.”
Just as Joshua had predicted, the children of Israel almost blew the entire covenant of the Promised Land before they even had a chance to get settled in. And for what reason?
Jealousy, misunderstanding, jumping to conclusions, being too quick to pick a fight before the facts were fully known, assuming the worst about their brothers.
Are these issues still things that we can fall prey to today? Absolutely yes, because we are no less human than these people were.
Can we AVOID falling into these problems? Absolutely yes, because WE have the advantage of learning from THEIR mistakes!
Look at what the Apostle Paul says in 1 Corinthians 10:1-6
For I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea; 2 and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea; 3 and all ate the same spiritual food; 4 and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ. 5 Nevertheless, with most of them God was not well-pleased; for they were laid low in the wilderness.
6 Now these things happened as examples for us, so that we would not crave evil things as they also craved.
And for emphasis, he adds this in verses 11-13:
Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. 12 Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall. 13 No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.
By studying the book of Joshua, we can learn from the example of the mistakes that they made, and we can guard ourselves from making those same mistakes.
Based on the example found in today’s verses, let’s enter 2019 with a renewed determination to avoid judging one another or assuming negative things about each other without finding out all of the facts first.
Do you want to make the coming year one of great blessings? Then listen to these words from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
“Everybody can be great, because everybody can serve…you only need a heart full of grace and a soul regenerated by love.”
Are you ready to have a great year in 2019? Let’s do this together, by loving and serving one another!