Message: Preparing For Glory | Scripture: Joshua 13 | Speaker: Pastor Stephen Choy
I began getting pretty serious about playing basketball in the fourth grade. I remember when tryouts were announced and that our coaches’ name was Mr. Mansel. I remember the shot that I made in the midst of a number of defenders that probably got me a spot on the roster. I remember wanting to tryout despite the fact that I was a little over 4 feet tall. I remember when it came time to choose our jersey number, I chose number 10.
Now, to you, all these facts probably mean very little. In fact, if I were to leave these facts with you, in addition to listing a few more, most of you would probably start to get bored. But perhaps your interest in these facts might grow if you knew that I wanted to tryout for my basketball team in the fourth grade because that’s when my sister made the team. Perhaps your interest might build when you find out that the coach that gave my sister a break in the fourth grade was the same man who was to coach our team. The reason I remember that shot was because I’d seen my sister make that exact shot a number of times. I mustered the courage to tryout not because I loved the game but because I wanted to be able to play with my sister. I chose the number 10 because that is the number that my sister wore every game, and it meant everything to me to be as good as she was.
See, as facts, these details are boring, but by showing you what they mean to me, perhaps, I can have them become part of your memory and endear you a little to my history, my relationship with my sister, and to the inheritance that I received from her love for the game. It was her love for it that became the avenue and influence for my own love for the game. If you look at my history the way I do, then perhaps it might be more than mere facts to you. Perhaps, they might remind you of stories in your own life of inherited things that colour the person that you are and the things that you treasure.
Keep this all in your mind as we turn now to Joshua 13 and the chapters beyond it because what we have here is a lot of facts. But brothers and sisters, we’re to remember these aren’t just facts to Israel, and as those adopted into the kingdom of God through our beloved gospel—we shouldn’t just read this as history. We should read this with a measure of expectancy because it’s our history. It’s the fulfillment of the promises of God to his people, and it’s meant to give us hope as we await our greater inheritance.
Said another way, what these pages teach us, especially here in chapter 13, is that we are to have every intention to possess what God is giving to us (our inheritance), just as Joshua and Israel do in these pages. We’re to be ready for it—prepared for it. We’re not given these details simply for the sake of record keeping. They’re to teach us something about God, how to live our lives, and how to look forward to the life to come.
But we’re not to prepare haphazardly or presumptuously. If we’ve learned anything from the previous twelve chapters, it’s that those who are haphazard and presumptuous are those who fall and fail in miserable ways. No, God has given us instructions even in these facts about how to rightly possess what he has in store for his people. And the way I’ve framed it for us this morning comes in the form of three warnings—three warnings to be wary of as we prepare for our inheritance. And the first warning we ought to be mindful of is:
1) Don’t Let the Work Define You
Read Joshua 13:1-7 with me. TWoL: 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. 2 This is the land that yet remains: all the regions of the Philistines, and all those of the Geshurites 3 (from the Shihor, which is east of Egypt, northward to the boundary of Ekron, it is counted as Canaanite; there are five rulers of the Philistines, those of Gaza, Ashdod, Ashkelon, Gath, and Ekron), and those of the Avvim, 4 in the south, all the land of the Canaanites, and Mearah that belongs to the Sidonians, to Aphek, to the boundary of the Amorites, 5 and the land of the Gebalites, and all Lebanon, toward the sunrise, from Baal-gad below Mount Hermon to Lebo-hamath, 6 all the inhabitants of the hill country from Lebanon to Misrephoth-maim, even all the Sidonians. I myself will drive them out from before the people of Israel. Only allot the land to Israel for an inheritance, as I have commanded you. 7 Now therefore divide this land for an inheritance to the nine tribes and half the tribe of Manasseh.”
If you’ve been with us the past couple of weeks, what we’ve learned is that the larger part of the conquest for Joshua and Israel through Canaan—at least those parts that house Canaanites—is now over. God has been faithful to his leader and his people to sustain them, while also giving them all that he has promised.
The problem before Israel now is twofold. The first problem is that of possession. You see, the conquering is finished, but the people of Israel still have to occupy the land, establish their homes, rebuild the cities, and cultivate them, but these things can’t be done yet because they do not have their assigned lots. And it’s not just possession of conquered Canaanite land that has to be taken and occupied, but there’s a lot of non-Canaanite land that still needs conquering. Verses 2-6a tell us that these lands are currently occupied by the great gentile and godless nations of the Philistines, Geshurites, Avvim, Sidonians, Gebalites, and Lebanonians. There is still a daunting and overwhelming amount of work to do.
The second problem that Israel faces is that its leader is now old. Similar to how the book started, we’re meant to draw a parallel between Moses and Joshua—in chapter 1, Moses has died, and now, Joshua’s life is coming to a close. And I hope you can grasp why this is a problem—because Joshua, as we’ve been told, is exalted in all of Israel, just like Moses was. There was no one in Israel’s history that had ever accomplished what these two men accomplished. Yet, for all their accolades, both of them get old and die at immensely inconvenient times, and this would have created a great deal of anxiety in the people!
So, then, how are these problems to be remedied? We’re given two solutions. The first solution is that, even though Joshua is aged, and even though his days of fighting are over, God tells him that he can still contribute as Israel’s leader in a valuable way—there’s work that he can do. He can apportion the land according to the remaining 9 and ½ tribes.
Now, what we have to notice here [as seen on the map] is that the apportionment of the land bleeds into property that Israel has not yet conquered. Thus, what’s happening here is that God is telling Joshua to do for Israel exactly what Moses did for them prior to his death. He’s to prepare and instruct them on how to be the people of God in the land of God. Joshua, just like Moses, will not get to see the fruition and fulfillment of all that God intends to give his people, but God and Joshua want them to know that even without the physical presence of a leader, they should still have every intention and expectation to possess what’s been prepared for them—and God tasks Joshua to communicate this expectation to Israel.
But of course, this seems to only create a subsequent problem, because Joshua may tell Israel what is supposed to be theirs, but who’s to lead them into battle and make provisions for them so that they actually get the land—so that they actually defeat the people who stand in their way? And this is where we see the second solution in verse 6b: God will lead them. God will make the way to give them the land. Joshua may not get to truly finish the task, but God is still in it, just as he has always been. He was before Moses, planning for the sake of his people, and he will remain, even after the death of Joshua.
In other words, the people of God are not to worry. The two hypothetical problems are solved wholly and satisfyingly by God’s foresight and not by man’s concern. And isn’t this what he’s been trying to teach them throughout their time in Canaan? Hasn’t he been preparing them for this “change in leadership”? Why was God so intentional to topple the kings of Canaan? Why has the author been so emphatic and explicit about Israel’s not following the pattern of the Canaanite hierarchy? Because God was to be their authority. God was to be their sufficiency. God was to be their salvation.
So, while there was still work to be done, and while these Israelites would surely be a part of that work, its seemingly overwhelming nature was not to define them. The one who gives the work, sustains the work, and completes the work—he, and he alone, was to be the basis of their definition. He, and he alone, was to be the assurance of their hope.
And I hope you see how this might lead into the question that I’m about to ask you. What or who is it that you work for? Why is it that you work? Is it the means of your satisfaction? Do you find yourself looking overwhelmingly at your bank account or your investments? Do you chase the pleasure of your boss’ affirmation? Is it all for that promotion? That bigger house? That sense of self-worth? That ability to prove you’re more capable than others? Why do you do what you do? Does the work define you, or does your God who has not only given you the ability to work but who has supplied for your every need despite your inadequacies—does he define you? Does he satisfy you?
The funny thing about history is that every leader and every plan that has ever existed is insufficient for the completion of the task. There is and will always be more work to do, and God intended for it to be this way to remind us not only that we are inadequate, but that he is adequate—that he is sufficient in all our failures to fulfill the totality of his plan, which he has done for us by sending his Son to do what we could not upon a cross.
It is, I hope you know, TCCBC, not just that we are insufficient. It’s not just that we have problems that we cannot, on our own, solve, but that we are the problem—inherently so. We are sinners, through and through, and our disposition to make our lives about the work—to set our eyes, our hands, and our appetites on what we can do to satisfy ourselves—is a perversion of everything God intended his creation to be.
And in Jesus, he has given us another chance to acknowledge and to seek him out as our Creator, Sustainer, and Friend when he says, “I myself will drive them out before the people of Israel—I shall take away their sin by placing it upon my own shoulders so that they might receive my inheritance, which I have allotted for them.” He means not to withhold anything from us. He means to give us all the desires of our hearts—he means to give us himself, so don’t mistake the work as the means for your salvation or inheritance. God, in Christ, has already accomplished it all for us, and through his work, we can have every intention to possess his reward.
2) Don’t Let Laziness Ruin You
Read along with me in Joshua 13:8-13. TWoL: With the other half of the tribe of Manasseh the Reubenites and the Gadites received their inheritance, which Moses gave them, beyond the Jordan eastward, as Moses the servant of the LORD gave them: 9 from Aroer, which is on the edge of the Valley of the Arnon, and the city that is in the middle of the valley, and all the tableland of Medeba as far as Dibon; 10 and all the cities of Sihon king of the Amorites, who reigned in Heshbon, as far as the boundary of the Ammonites; 11 and Gilead, and the region of the Geshurites and Maacathites, and all Mount Hermon, and all Bashan to Salecah; 12 all the kingdom of Og in Bashan, who reigned in Ashtaroth and in Edrei (he alone was left of the remnant of the Rephaim); these Moses had struck and driven out. 13 Yet the people of Israel did not drive out the Geshurites or the Maacathites, but Geshur and Maacath dwell in the midst of Israel to this day.
From verses 8-33, the author of Joshua turns our attention back to Moses and the previous generation’s possession of the land of Sihon and Og, and as I mentioned last week, the reflection on Sihon and Og is primarily to set a precedent—to show us a pattern. That pattern is one of deep, faithful, promise-keeping, gift-procuring grace. Grace to remind us that the world does not save us. Grace to draw us to a God of infinite generosity. Grace to transform us in the way that we live worshipful lives towards the giver as we await glory.
There is a pattern here in our text that is just like the one we considered last week but allow me to zero in on the one stark difference that’s in our verses this week, especially in verses 8-13, that was not present in chapter 12. And that is verse 13, which says, “Yet the people of Israel did not drive out the Geshurites or the Maacathites, but Geshur and Maacath dwell in the midst of Israel to this day.”
Now, not much about the people of Geshur and Maacath are known to us today, and it is likely that they were a small, insignificant, or weak people. We can infer this because of the author’s language: “Israel did not drive [them] out,” meaning they could have but didn’t despite the fact that they drove out all the other prominent figures of these two lands. See how the author includes for us details about Og again—a man of great size—the last of the Rephaim, a large people—Israel made sure to wipe him and his lineage out.
In other words, Israel was intentional to devote the big, prominent enemies of God to destruction, but they lacked the same intentionality and discipline towards those little, insignificant enemies—the ones who proved to be of limited consequence in the conquest. The problem with this is that invading and conquering an enemy is one thing but persevering and occupying a land is another, and what Israel is doing here is focusing on the big problem of conquering without properly dealing with the small, future problem of persevering. They are, implicitly, ensuring their downfall because as I’ve said before—as we learn throughout the Bible—big doors swing on small hinges. Israel’s neglect of the minor things—minor inconveniences—will inevitably be the reason for their fall.
And what we learn here, as those reading the facts about Israel, is that a selective obedience in response to the grace and kindness of God is an incomplete obedience. A selective holiness is an incomplete holiness. While there may be no immediate consequence to our selectiveness, it often proves fatal at some point down the road. One commentator puts it this way, “we frequently and strangely prove faithful in the great crisis of faith, remain steadfast in severe storms, perhaps even relish the excitement of the heaviest assaults, yet lack the tenacity, the dogged endurance, the patient plodding often required in the mundane affairs of believing life; we are often loath to be faithful in what we regard as little.”
You hear something like that and it ought to strike to the heart because which one of us doesn’t want to change the world? Which one of us doesn’t want to tackle the big things and receive the lofty accolades? But here, in the earlier portion of our text, God calls Joshua not to do the big things—not to go and continue fighting the conquest and win the glory for himself. No, God tells Joshua to divide the land—a small, boring task that seems so insignificant to Israel’s larger more daunting issues.
And it’s in Joshua and these verses that we learn not only that big doors swing on small hinges, but that God gives grace—he gives glory—to the humble. He gives glory to the lowly—those willing to do the small task—those willing to take on the insignificant role. This is, in fact, what Jesus did, is it not? And his is the name that has been, is, and shall forever be glorified above all other names, is it not?
So, yes, on the one hand, you are not to let the work define you because God is the provider of all good things. But, on the other hand, you are not to let laziness and neglect for the little things ruin you because God has called you to a complete obedience. He has called you to a complete holiness—one that has been exemplified for us in the sacrificial love of Christ crucified upon a cross for our sin so that for us who believe, we might, now, pay attention to the little things because that big enemy—that daunting, overwhelming problem of our sin—he has taken care of it with his own blood.
How might we anticipate and prepare ourselves to possess all that God intends to give us? It’s not by fixing all the major problems in the world. It’s not by trying to play the role of Saviour for those who need saving. It’s by going up to that neighbour who you’ve never spoken to and pointing them to the true Saviour. It’s by deciding to put aside that huge work project and spending time with your family to fix their gaze on a Christ more worthy of your hour. It’s turning off that computer or that cellphone and opening your Bible when self-control is most difficult. It’s holding that tongue from speaking behind the back of someone you don’t like. It’s doing the work in the little things not because it defines you—not because it is a glorious work—but because God satisfies you—because God is all the glory you need. He was, is, and will always be faithful to those who are little, so too be faithful—don’t be lazy—with the little that he’s called you to do.
3) Be Satisfied in What He Gives You
Read, lastly, with me Joshua 13:14-33. TWoL: To the tribe of Levi alone Moses gave no inheritance. The offerings by fire to the LORD God of Israel are their inheritance, as he said to him. 15 And Moses gave an inheritance to the tribe of the people of Reuben according to their clans. 16 So their territory was from Aroer, which is on the edge of the Valley of the Arnon, and the city that is in the middle of the valley, and all the tableland by Medeba; 17 with Heshbon, and all its cities that are in the tableland; Dibon, and Bamoth-baal, and Beth-baal-meon, 18 and Jahaz, and Kedemoth, and Mephaath, 19 and Kiriathaim, and Sibmah, and Zereth-shahar on the hill of the valley, 20 and Beth-peor, and the slopes of Pisgah, and Beth-jeshimoth, 21 that is, all the cities of the tableland, and all the kingdom of Sihon king of the Amorites, who reigned in Heshbon, whom Moses defeated with the leaders of Midian, Evi and Rekem and Zur and Hur and Reba, the princes of Sihon, who lived in the land. 22 Balaam also, the son of Beor, the one who practiced divination, was killed with the sword by the people of Israel among the rest of their slain. 23 And the border of the people of Reuben was the Jordan as a boundary. This was the inheritance of the people of Reuben, according to their clans with their cities and villages.
24 Moses gave an inheritance also to the tribe of Gad, to the people of Gad, according to their clans. 25 Their territory was Jazer, and all the cities of Gilead, and half the land of the Ammonites, to Aroer, which is east of Rabbah, 26 and from Heshbon to Ramath-mizpeh and Betonim, and from Mahanaim to the territory of Debir, 27 and in the valley Beth-haram, Beth-nimrah, Succoth, and Zaphon, the rest of the kingdom of Sihon king of Heshbon, having the Jordan as a boundary, to the lower end of the Sea of Chinnereth, eastward beyond the Jordan. 28 This is the inheritance of the people of Gad according to their clans, with their cities and villages.
29 And Moses gave an inheritance to the half-tribe of Manasseh. It was allotted to the half-tribe of the people of Manasseh according to their clans. 30 Their region extended from Mahanaim, through all Bashan, the whole kingdom of Og king of Bashan, and all the towns of Jair, which are in Bashan, sixty cities, 31 and half Gilead, and Ashtaroth, and Edrei, the cities of the kingdom of Og in Bashan. These were allotted to the people of Machir the son of Manasseh for the half of the people of Machir according to their clans.32 These are the inheritances that Moses distributed in the plains of Moab, beyond the Jordan east of Jericho. 33 But to the tribe of Levi Moses gave no inheritance; the LORD God of Israel is their inheritance, just as he said to them.
What I want to make clear both from our proposition this morning and from this final portion of our text is that we ought to have every intention to possess what God is giving to us even when he doesn’t give us what we think we need or deserve. There are many facts in verses 14-33 about how the land east of the Jordan was apportioned to the 2 and a ½ tribes of Reuben, Gad, and Manasseh, but just as God gives glory in the little things, we find the depth of his truth in those facts that seem to have the least detail. Here, the shortest excerpt of inheritance has nothing to do with Reuben, Gad, or Manasseh, but with the tribe of Levi whom we’re told receives no specific land inheritance from God or from Joshua.
Now, you might be prone, like me, to think this rather unfair. When we look at the map of all that Reuben, Gad, and the tribe of Manasseh gets (a tribe that gets not one but two huge plots of land, by the way)—why is it that Levi would receive nothing? Why does the author of Joshua sandwich all the information about Reuben, Gad, and Manasseh between this repeated refrain that Levi is to have no inheritance? And I believe the reason is this: it’s to return us to the very theme of verses 1-7, namely, that God is our sufficiency and satisfaction. Our possession of God, alone, is our greatest and surest treasure.
God is showing us his abundance in these verses. He’s placing not only lists in the heart of Israel, but in the midst of this distribution—in reminding us of all of the things that he has given us, he wants us—he wants his people—to know that the greatest gift he’s given us is himself. Notice how Balaam is referenced in verse 22. Well, if you remember, Balaam was supposed to curse Israel three times, but he returns instead of giving three curses—he gives three blessings—three blessings that sound exactly like the blessings that God promised to Abraham, namely, that his offspring would be numerous like the stars, that they would receive an inheritance of land, and that they would overcome their enemies. And in these texts, God is fulfilling those very, specific promises. He’s giving Reuben, Gad, and Manasseh a people more numerous than the stars, land that can fit them, and victory over their enemies in Sihon and Og.
And yet, does he shortchange Levi—does Levi stand outside the promises of Abraham? Not in the slightest. Levi, as you’ll remember, is the tribe appointed to be priests and mediators of the covenant between God and his people, and as such, their portion is whatever the people of God gives them out of their abundance and generosity—out of grace. The priests’ focus is to be on the work that they’re called to do—their focus is to be on God—not tied to the management or upkeep of the land that is expected of all the other tribes. And yet, for all that they don’t receive directly as an inheritance, we learn in the coming chapters that they lack for nothing, and their intake—their sustenance as those who receive what is offered to the Lord is unending. While the allotment for everyone else is fixed, Levi’s is unbounded because what is God’s is now theirs.
In other words, in Levi’s lack of inheritance, God assures them, a people who are to have God himself as their possession, that they will not only have what is sufficient for them, but they shall have it in superabundance, at no cost to themselves, forever. The author sandwiches all this information of Reuben, Gad, and Manasseh in between these two verses about Levi to cause them and to cause us to look and see the feast that God has prepared for them. All the firstfruits—all the well-fed cattle and grain—they shall have what is best. They get all the good stuff without bearing any of the burden. Their inheritance, while it may seem like nothing, is everything.
Has God not done the same for us in his Son? For when we were his enemies—those with nothing to hope in, he sent his Son as a propitiating sacrifice for our sin so that, in him, we might receive everything. We are not called to cultivate the inheritance. We are not called to bear the cross. Jesus has done all of that already for us! We are simply called to find our possession—our fullest and truest treasure in God through his Son. He is our inheritance. He is our sufficiency and satisfaction, and through him, we are not shortchanged. No, through him, we have been made future kings and queens of heaven. So, do the work of possessing him rightly. Don’t be lazy with what little he desires you to do. See him as the joy of your salvation and be intentional to possess all that he offers you in himself.