Synopsis Joshua 23:13-24:4 5/26/2018
Joshua had grown old. He was dying. So he gathered the leaders of the Israelites at Shechem. He warned the Israelites to not intermingle or intermarry with the Canaanites. He challenged them to acknowledge God’s absolute faithfulness.
Then, the word of the Lord was spoken through Joshua. The Lord reminded the people of the long journey from the time of Terah, through Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
The Distinction of Prophecy
Joshua did not commend everything he spoke to the Israelites as prophecy. He began by reasoning with them and reminding them of God’s faithfulness. But he ended his communication with the people in a prophetic utterance. The Holy Spirit, speaking through the prophets, gave an insight into God’s perspective on the Israelite nation.
The Perfect Witness
In a court of law, an expert witness contributes a special kind of testimony. Basically, an expert’s testimony is irrefutable. It must be accepted. And every other testimony that might be offered can only be accepted to the extent it can be integrated with the expert’s testimony.
As Christian’s, this is what’s meant when someone says, “Let’s take this to the Word”, or when people say, “Let’s look at this in the light of eternity”. The scriptures are the inerrant word of God. We bring our challenges and difficulties, our hopes and successes, and gauge them against what we know of God through the things He’s said and the way that he has dealt with others who’ve gone before us.
“All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for refutation, for correction, and for training in righteousness” 2 Tim 3:16
Synopsis Joshua 23:1-12 5/26/2018
It’s several years since the end of the conquest. Joshua assembled the leaders of the tribes of Israel at Schechem. Joshua was old. He sensed he was dying. So he invited leaders to a final address.
As he spoke, he reminded the Israelites of how God had gone before them in battle and had fought on their behalf. He encouraged them to remember the great conquest over the land. He wanted them to remain faithful and strong in their determination to follow the Lord alone. And he forbid the Israelites from becoming involved in the lives of the Canaanites that remained in the land, through either intermarriage or intermingling.
The Power of a Dying Word
Joshua knew that he was dying. He knew that the line of continuity would be broken. There was basically no one left who had experienced the entirety of the exodus from Egypt clear through the conquest of Canaan.
What’s more, there was no singularly designated leader over Israel. The Israelites were acting more like a confederation of tribes than a nation. The high priest was the only authority that all Israel recognized – but the high priest was never intended to lead the tribes.
Joshua felt the need to address the leaders of the tribes one last time before he died. They came to him at his request. He reminded them to keep covenant with God.
A Legacy of Wisdom
If you knew that today was your last day on earth, what would you say and to whom would you say it?
For some people, it might be a funny quip. For others, it might be an expression of affection for someone they care about. But for a leader, the relationship is often different. The true leader is deeply invested in whatever effort they gave during his or her life. So, when leaders come to realize they are dying, they give advice – they impart wisdom.
It’s sometimes said that we should live each day of our lives as though it was the last day of our life.
Let it be.
“Here is what I see as good: It is appropriate to eat and drink and prosper from all the toil one toils at under the sun during the limited days of life God gives us; for this is our lot.” Eccl 5:18
Synopsis Joshua 22:26-34 5/25/2018
Phinehas, the son of Eleazer, and the leaders of Israel questioned the construction of the altar east of the Jordan. The leaders of the tribes of Reuben and Gad insisted that they had made the altar only as a replica and memorial of the original.
Their motive was to create a legacy witness that would remind future generations from both Israel and the eastern tribes that they all sacrificed and served the one true God.
Phinehas the Questioner
Building an alternative place to worship God would have been a real threat to the existence of Israel. It would have stressed the community’s relationship with God by breaking the covenant. It would have also stressed the unity the tribes of Israel had enjoyed throughout the time of the conquest.
So the Israelite tribes massed their military forces near the Jordan river, in anticipation of a military strike on the errant tribes. However, before initiating the fight, Joshua and the leaders had the wisdom to assure they fully understood their circumstances. This prevented an unnecessary and destructive war.
Resisting Rash Decisionmaking
As human beings, we act on what we know (believe) but our motive is generated by what we value.
Is the thing I’m dealing with an existential threat or just the reminder of a bygone battle. The value of the thing kind of falls out from what it is. I don’t find myself saying, “should I be concerned about this existential threat?” I don’t find myself saying, “Should I move away from this rattlesnake?” No, the disvalue is visceral once I know that I’m dealing with a rattlesnake. I will move.
But the question, “Is this thing a rattlesnake?” – now that’s a question I better resolve before making my next move.
“Be not hasty in your utterance and let not your heart be quick to utter a promise in God’s presence. God is in heaven and you are on earth; therefore let your words be few.” Eccl 5:1
Synopsis Joshua 22:17-25 5/24/2018
As the warriors from the tribes of Reuben, Gad and Manasseh returned from the conquest of the Promised Land, they built a memorial in the form of the altar of God. The other tribes of Israel viewed this with hostility and massed the military.
They sent the priest Phinehas as an envoy to speak with the Reubenites and Gadites and to warn them from creating an alternative system of worship to the one that God had instituted.
The Reubenites and Gadites answered that the memorial was not intended to be used as a place of worship. Its purpose was to memorialize for future generations the fact that the eastern tribes were, indeed, part of Israel.
Worry Leads to Isolation and Misunderstanding
The sudden realization that their choice to take the territory outside the Promised Land caused the Reubenites and Gadites to worry about their place in Israel. Joshua had referred to them as “allies” – a subtle distinction reinforcing the fact that their place in the nation was different because they lived east of the Jordan.
The Reubenites and Gadites were filled with anxiety. They imagined that they might somehow lose their place amongst God’s chosen people. They didn’t want this. So they built a memorial replica in the form of the altar of God. With this, they intended to eternally establish and commemorate their position within the tribes.
But their act resulted in reduced security. The other tribes didn’t understand the purpose of the altar memorial. They assumed the Reubenties and Gadites had conspired to begin their own sacrificial practice so that they were not dependent on the other tribes.
How to Stop Anxiety From Destroying Your Relationship with God
Anxiety is the experience of fear reactions in my body when nothing is actually threatening me. My sympathetic nervous system is activated. “Fight or flight” – but there’s nothing really to fight. And there’s nothing to run from. I’m filled with nervous energy and no clear sense of what I should be doing.
My mind and body have conspired to force me to think about failure even though there is nothing threatening my success. The whole experience is nothing other than some ideas swirling in my mind.
But for this condition, God has prescribed a way out. I call it “visit the worst case”. It works like this:
If they answer is yes, then there’s nothing to worry about – let it go.
If the answer is no, then recognize that your only hope is in God’s salvation.
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat [or drink], or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?” Matt 6:25
Synopsis Joshua 22:8-16 5/23/2018
Having been dismissed by Joshua, the warriors from the tribes of Reuben, Gad and Manasseh began their return home. As they did, Joshua reminded them to share the great haul of booty they had acquired in the conquest with their neighbors who remained behind in their homeland.
On the return trip, as the warriors crossed back over the Jordan to return to their homes, they decided to build a monument. They chose to build a replica of the altar as a memorial of their participation in the conquest.
The Tendency Toward Nostalgia
The conquest was over. The shouts of joy and exaltation had died down. The feasting and celebrating was finished. It was unavoidable. It was time to go home.
But for the three eastern tribes, going home meant a separation from the strong sense of unity they had experienced during the conquest. Their sendoff and the return trek served as poignant reminders that, in choosing to live in the land east of the Jordan, they had chosen to be separate from the rest of the Israelites.
But in those moments of ending and of separation, they found themselves desiring that the feelings of unity and purpose would continue. It was a nostalgia for the exhilarating glory days of unity and purpose. It was an uncertainty they would ever experience anything like it again.
Nostolgia Lost – Living in the Present
It’s the way we are. When the good times are “rolling”, we don’t want them to stop. Maybe it was a great fellowship where a friend shared a profound insight. Or, perhaps some epiphany of understanding came in the midst of a particular mass. Or, maybe it’s the strong sense of worshipful fraternity in the midst of a praise and worship service.
I don’t want it to end.
It has to end. I know it has to end. My rational self understands that it’s time to go home. But my emotional sense of appreciation and value is so engaged that letting a good time end is painful. I don’t want it to end. I want the feelings to continue.
It’s a trap. It’s a bad habit. To not want to get off the mountaintop – to not want to come down from the mountain – is to misunderstand the mountain and it’s moment.
Every moment of my life is rich. Every second of my life is pregnant with the possibility of faithfulness. If I choose, I can rejoice as much in coming down the mountain as I did going up – not because of the afterglow – but because each moment could glow on its own.
“[To him] Jesus said, “No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God.” Luke 9:62
Synopsis Joshua 21:43-22:7 5/22/2018
It took several years to achieve the primary conquest of the Promised Land. However, once the children of Israel had taken possession of the land, they had peace. None of their neighbors bothered them.
So, at the completion of this initial conquest, Joshua sent the warriors from Reuben, Gad and Manasseh back to their own homes east of the Jordan River. As he did, he blessed them and admonished them to remember to love and serve the Lord.
Years of Faithfulness
The Reubenites, Gadites and Manassites who been given land east of the Jordan had been faithful to fight with the other tribes through the conquest of the Promised Land. Just as they had promised, they remained under Joshua’s authority until they were dismissed.
Faithfulness Is the Key to Commitment
“It’s a promise – I will do it.” That’s the talk. That’s how I talk.
But then there’s that expression, “Talk is cheap”. It’s funny, because talk really is cheap. It’s everywhere. The air is filled with claims about what has been and what should be.
But then there’s this special thing – a promise. If it’s kept then it forces me to change my behavior. It causes me to do differently. I have to chose faithfulness. Not just once. I have to choose faithfulness over and over and over.
A life-long promise is a daily choice.
The tribes remained faithful and were blessed. They chose to be faithful daily.
You will remain faithful and you will be blessed. It’s a choice you will make today.
“The trustworthy will be richly blessed; but whoever hastens to be rich will not go unpunished” Prov 28:20
Synopsis Joshua 21:23-42 5/21/2018
The Gershonite clan came from the tribe of Levi. Because none of the Levites received territory in the Promised Land, they all ended up living in cities within the territory of the other tribes. So, the Gershonites received cities from the tribe of Manasseh, including the sanctuary city of Golan.
After the Gershonites received their cities, the Merarites, the final clan of Levites, received cities from the tribe of Zebulun. As a result, the total number of cities given over to the the Levites from all of the other tribes was forty-eight.
The Priesthood Wasn’t Free
Moses introduced the Israelites to a system of worship that required the labor of approximately one-tenth of the population. So, about one out of every ten Israelites functioned in full-time paid ministry. The people valued and willingly invested in the keeping the ministry strong.
The Priesthood Isn’t Free
What’s necessary for the Authentic Community to survive today? It takes two things: People willing to be wholly devoted to ministry as priests, religious and other full time ministers, and the natural commitment to support from all community members.
In the Authentic Community, support for ministry is a component of God’s covenant with us. God makes a claim on a portion of the goods that come to us as a result of our labor. Historically, this has never been understood as optional. It is a component of the economy of redemption. Somehow contributing to the good of the Authentic Community can’t be legitimately separated from the experience of salvation.
“You pay tithesof mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier things of the law: judgment and mercy and fidelity. [But] these you should have done, without neglecting the others.” Matt 23:23
Synopsis Joshua 21:10-22 5/20/2018
Aaron, the first high priest, came from the tribe of Levi called the Kohathites. The lots were cast at Shiloh, before the Lord to determine which clan of Levites would receive cities from the various tribes.
As a sub-clan of the Levites, the priests were given cities within Israel. Specifically, the lot cast for the priests gave cities from the southern tribes of Judah, Simeon, and Benjamin. This included Hebron, which was a city of refuge.
For the rest of the Kohathites, the lot fell on the tribes of Ephraim, Dan and Manasseh. These included Schechem, which was also a city of refuge.
Tension Between Judah and Ephraim Again
Once again, the tension between the two tribes vying for primacy was evident. Ephraim was associated with the Kohathites but Judah was associated with the priests themselves. With the casting of the lots, it was determined that priests would live in Judah and the southern tribes, while the next closest ministers of the tabernacle would come from Ephraim and the northern tribes.
The nation and the faith tradition could proceed without the Kohathites but could not proceed without the priests. So having the generations of priests come from the towns of a particular tribe was an honor and also a political asset. Judah had received this asset. So much so that Caleb was even willing to give up the city that he had personally defeated in order to host the priestly line.
Though it’s not expressed here, the fact that generations of priests were so closely associated with Judah contributed to a solidifying of the power structures of the newly found nation.
Authentic Community and Synthetic Community
People make promises. People make contracts. So it’s no surprise that people make the political and social contracts that regulate the behavior of communities. But the challenge of every social contract is that it is based on consensus and consent. A group of people more or less agree to be governed in a certain manner and that’s it. There is no basis in scientific reason. Social contracts are essentially no more that the arbitrary preference of a group of people.
The Authentic Community is essentially different. It is based on the revealed claims of God about how human beings should live. They are claims about reality – the real and non-optional nature of human beings. And also they focus on what is really good in the course of community behavior.
Though philosophical opposites, these two ways of living are easily confused and curiously interrelated. So much so that the one can almost not exist without the other. “Almost” that is – until all Christ followers begin to enter into the real and full possibility of life.
“who has made us into a kingdom, priests for his God and Father, to him be glory and power forever [and ever]. Amen” Rev 1:6
Synopsis Joshua 20:8-21:9 05/19/2018
The Levite families approached Joshua, Eleazar the priest and the heads of the tribes. They reminded them of Moses’ command. Although the Levites were to receive no territory, they were to receive cities distributed throughout the nation where they could live. The tribes headed their requests.
The tribes of Judah, Simeon and Benjamin gave cities to the priests. Ephraim, Dan and Manasseh gave cities to the Kohathites. The tribes of Asher, Issachar and Manasseh gave cities to the Gershonites. And the tribes of Reuben, Gad and Zebulun gave cities to the Merarites.
Binding the Nation Together Through the Priesthood
Besides their ancestry, the thing that all of the tribes had in common was that the Levites lived among them. Every tribe hosted the men in specially designated cities who performed ritual services before the Lord at Shiloh. As a result, everyone was connected back the tabernacle and the common faith tradition in this way.
You Are the Salt of the Earth
Distributing the priests throughout the nation reinforced the visible institution that most gave the people their national sense of identity. The diaspora had a similar effect in that it spread Judaism and the knowledge of God abroad through other nations without the Jews losing their identity. As Christianity grew, it had a similar effect. Over the course of history, Christians have sometimes been both repressed and accepted. However, to the extent that Christians lived in a faith-filled way, they were almost always a light to others. The Authentic Community is a stabilizing influence and a challenge to the moral standards of the day.
Our role, in this respect, remains unchanged. My calling is to be salt and light to a people who have lived in an utter darkness concerning God. Not only in ignorance of God, but in the charred-over fallacy that there is no God.
I have fallen short. Too often my life doesn’t challenge – it doesn’t contradict the values of the world. And yet, even as I discovered in my own tortuously long return to the faith, there is a steadiness in the body of believers that beguiles critique and engenders a need to make sense of what it is that drives people to worship God.
This is all God needs to speak into a life. All He needs from me – faithfulness.
Because you have kept my message of endurance, I will keep you safe in the time of trial that is going to come to the whole world to test the inhabitants of the earth. Rev 3:10
Synopsis 19:49-20:7 5/18/2018
After the distribution of land to all the tribes, the Israelites assigned Joshua his own portion of land within the tribe of Ephraim. So, he was given a mountain village named Timnah-serah.
As prescribed by Moses, now that the Israelites were installed in the land, the leaders identified the three cities of refuge. These were Kadesh in Naphtali, Schechem in Ephraim, and Kiriath-arba in Judah.
The Community of the City of Refuge
The city of refuge process wasn’t automatic. The unintentional killer asked for refuge at the city gate. The community leaders scrutinized the unintentional killer. They verified a lack of malice. They offered asylum. The community took on the cost of this burden. And asylum had this implication: the city was responsible to provide a place and a living for the refugee.
The Challenge and the Calling of Life in the City of Refuge
So all these people who have made mistakes – deadly mistakes – remain in this special city. Because of their errors, they sit and wait for the death of the high priest. They remain where they are protected. They remain in a place where the legitimate demands of justice cannot touch them. This City of Refuge is the place where they are accepted and supported and defended.
Of course, the modern City of Refuge is the church. It is the faith community of Christ-followers. Ours is the place of protection and provision. Regardless of wherever a person has come from; we accept. We love. People remain in our care knowing that only with the death of the high priest will they be fully redeemed. So we protect and defend and support those who deserve none of it – even as we deserved none of what we have been given – until they realize the full possibility of their lives in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
That’s the challenge and that’s the call.
He replied to him, “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” Luke 23:43