Message: When Nothing Is Sound | Scripture: Joshua 18:11-19:51 | Speaker: Pastor Stephen Choy
My best guy friend is also my oldest friend. I was born 16 days after him, and I’m told that we were introduced on the first Sunday after my birth. I grew up in the same nursery as him. I went to the same private elementary and high school with him. He lived within a one-minute walk from my house as children. I copied his homework. I ate his food We went to the same university and lived together as roommates throughout our undergraduate studies. Same youth groups. Same circle of friends. Same fellowships.
So, you can trust me when I say that he is not only my best friend, but he is also one of the individuals that I know best in the world. And I can tell you that he is not only one of the most intelligent people I’ve ever met, but more importantly, he is kind-hearted, a great listener, generous with his time and money, humble, and deeply loyal. To add to his legend, during our undergrad, at the age of 19, he came home one night after fellowship, having spoken to a number of spiritual mentors, knowing that he could do anything he wanted in life and said to me, “Stephen, I think God is calling me into full-time ministry. Would you pray that I follow this call faithfully?”
And he stayed true to that calling. He served as a missionary in China for 3 years after college, came back, got a seminary education in Toronto, and then became a pastor of a church there where he is now ordained. Through it all, this man has remained constant, if not having become more humble through the Spirit, more generous with his time and money, more willing to bear the burdens of others, and more committed in serving his God.
I tell you all this about him so that you know the sincerity of his heart as he turned to me one evening, roughly six years ago, as we were attending our church’s summer retreat, and he said to me, “Stephen, I think God is calling me and my wife to become parents. Would you pray for us?”
A year after that—after being unable to conceive naturally—he and his wife went to a clinic to get themselves tested, and they were told that his wife had cysts in her uterine lining. So, she had surgery to remove the cysts. They tried again. No baby. So, they went to a fertility clinic where my friend’s wife was given the option of hormone treatments, which meant injections two or three times a week for at least a year, which she decided to take. My best friend, her husband, had to administer those shots every time. Still, no baby. So, they tried another painful, expensive method, then another, and another. No baby.
Then, a number of months ago, they began the process of contacting clinics that gave up for adoption the fertilized eggs of other families that had gone through the in-vitro fertilization process and had no more use for the ones left over. And after finding a family here in California, my friend and his wife travelled to Los Angeles a few weeks ago to have them implanted and to wait and see if God would grant them this gift after all this time. A few nights ago, my wife and I get a text saying that the eggs didn’t take. Still, no baby.
And yet, the incredible thing is that my friend’s text continued on after the painful news: “pray that we might persevere in gladness—that our joy and our hope of glory might be found eternally in God alone.” I imagine, knowing who my best friend is, he returned to work the next day, served his people, loved his wife, gave of his time and money generously, and pursued his God more fervently. Not a word of complaint, and no hint of self-pity.
This, TCCBC, is a living parable for our proposition this morning when I implore you to let the quiet life satisfied in God be the assurance of your joy—your hope—your glory. You may be languishing. Life may be hard. But God intends for it to be that way so that in those moments, above all the noise of your suffering and sorrow, the quiet of his whisper might redound to your spirit and comfort you in his loving and unmoving presence. We are to let the quiet life satisfied in God assure us of our glory, and we can do this for three reasons, according to our text—three reasons why the quiet life satisfied in God assures our glory—and the first reason is because:
1) God Gives Generously
Read along with me from select portions of Joshua 18:11 to 19:48 [I’ve asked our A/V team to put it up accordingly on the screen for you]. TWoL: 11The lot of the tribe of the people of Benjamin according to its clans came up, and the territory allotted to it fell between the people of Judah and the people of Joseph. 28b —fourteen cities with their villages. This is the inheritance of the people of Benjamin according to its clans.
1 The second lot came out for Simeon, for the tribe of the people of Simeon, according to their clans, and their inheritance was in the midst of the inheritance of the people of Judah. 6b –thirteen cities with their villages . . . –four cities with their villages, together with all the villages around these cities as far as Baalath-beer, Ramah of the Negeb. This was the inheritance of the tribe of the people of Simeon according to their clans. 9 The inheritance of the people of Simeon formed part of the territory of the people of Judah. Because the portion of the people of Judah was too large for them, the people of Simeon obtained an inheritance in the midst of their inheritance.
10 The third lot came up for the people of Zebulun, according to their clans . . . 15b –twelve cities with their villages. This is the inheritance of the people of Zebulun, according to their clans—these cities with their villages.
17 The fourth lot came out for Issachar, for the people of Issachar, according to their clans. 22b –sixteen cities with their villages. 23 This is the inheritance of the tribe of the people of Issachar, according to their clans—the cities with their villages.
24 The fifth lot came out for the tribe of the people of Asher according to their clans. 30b –twenty-two cities with their villages. 31 This is the inheritance of the tribe of the people of Asher according to their clans—these cities with their villages.
32 The sixth lot came out for the people of Naphtali, for the people of Naphtali, according to their clans. 38 —nineteen cities with their villages. 39 This is the inheritance of the tribe of the people of Naphtali according to their clans—the cities with their villages.
40 The seventh lot came out for the tribe of the people of Dan, according to their clans. 41 And the territory of its inheritance included Zorah, Eshtaol, Ir-shemesh, 42 Shaalabbin, Aijalon, Ithlah, 43 Elon, Timnah, Ekron, 44 Eltekeh, Gibbethon, Baalath, 45 Jehud, Bene-berak, Gath-rimmon, 46 and Me-jarkon and Rakkon with the territory over against Joppa. 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, calling Leshem, Dan, after the name of Dan their ancestor. 48 This is the inheritance of the tribe of the people of Dan, according to their clans—these cities with their villages.
We are in the second half of this book, which has to do, primarily, with the distribution of land. In the first few chapters of this distribution we learn about faithful Caleb who goes into the land and takes his inheritance in contrast to the faithless tribes of Judah, Ephraim, and Manasseh. And within that contrast, last week, we saw the presence of God enter into the midst of his people to dwell with them physically in Shiloh—to show them that in spite of their failure, he was still working things out for their good. This event—God’s arrival—was the theological center of this second half of the book to remind us that whatever we undertake is in vain unless he is a part of it—unless he is the point of it.
This week, we move outward from that theological center to see the allocation of land to the remaining seven tribes of Israel, and the first thing we learn is that God gives generously. If we just read these chapters about this land, one thing that’s supposed to happen, as we finish reading, is that we are supposed to be out of breath. Undoubtedly, if I had read every verse, I would have been because its description here is meant to convey its expansiveness. This is territory that housed some of the greatest, most populous nations in the world, and all of it was now being given by God to Israel despite their waywardness and their failure to obey him as he had commanded.
But what we’re not to miss out on is the context of Israel as they receive it. Not only have they been wayward and disobedient, but they continue to be rebellious even as God comes into their midst and deals with them graciously and generously. This is something we see most notably in the details for the inheritance of Simeon and Dan.
We’re told that Simeon’s inheritance falls within the allotment of Judah. And at first glance, this may seem like an insignificant detail for us until we remember back in Genesis 49 where Jacob is blessing his sons. There we read that “[Simeon will be divided] in Jacob and [scattered] in Israel.” And what this reveals to us is that, even in God’s grace to overlook his past sin in Shechem and give him land, Simeon isn’t going to give up his current sinful ways. He will squander his inheritance, and God has intentionally placed him in the midst of Judah knowing that Simeon’s identity will inevitably be lost. His legacy will be forgotten.
Then, in 19:40-48, we’re told that Dan never actually receives his portion. It’s allotted to him, but as highlighted here and in the book of Judges, we see that they fail to possess it due to their faithlessness and love for idols. In fact, what happens is that Dan doesn’t like what God gives them as their allotment. So, what do they do? They take matters into their own hands, they go up north into an area outside of Canaan, called Leshem, also called Laish in Judges, wipe out the inhabitants of that land needlessly, and settle there.
What is common to both these tribes—in fact, what is common to all of these tribes represented by these two— is that they’re sinners unworthy of their allotment! They both condemn themselves. They both stand under the wrath of God as those who rebel against him. And yet, how does God deal with them? He deals with them graciously, generously—he gives them what they do not deserve.
So, what we learn here is that God is immeasurable in his goodness, in his grace, and in his generosity to sinners. And unsurprisingly, this isn’t only true for Israel, but for all the people of the earth, isn’t it? He deals lavishly with every creature by the simple fact that we have life, breath, and being, and he often permits us to have what we do not deserve. This is called the common grace of God—that God loves all of his creation so much that he permits them to know the goodness of his hand even when they have rejected him.
But what does the common grace of God also teach us? It teaches us that because all have known the goodness of God, yet have rejected him, they shall have no excuse—no basis for complaint—when he comes to judge them. What the story of Simeon and Dan teach us, resoundingly, is that the creatures of God will pursue things apart from God, and they may find “success” and “security” in obtaining those things, but we have to be careful when we ascribe that success and security as a result of God’s favour when it is very often the opposite. Success and satisfaction in the world are very often the result of his condemnation—that he might give you the desires of your heart not because you love or desire the one who is gracious, but because you love something or someone more than him.
This is why it is so essential to let the quiet life satisfied in God be the assurance of your glory because to find your satisfaction in anything else other than him brings only the promise of what is empty and vain. And perhaps, you’re sitting here thinking you’ve heard all this before, yet the reason why I’m bringing it up again—the reason why it is a recurring scriptural theme—is because, like Israel, there are likely some in this room who have given it little thought. Some of you who still sit here afraid to relinquish your grip on the world not seeing how it is really you who’s been caught in its snare—how it has consigned your heart and soul to destruction.
And the author of Joshua has included the breadth of his detail here to caution us and call us to evaluate our desires—to know God’s generosity and grace not only in those things that are common with the world but in the special thing that he gives to those who love him—who desire him—who glory in him, and that is the gift of himself. This is what I mean when I say, let the quiet life satisfied in God be the assurance of your glory. Don’t fall into the trap that Israel fell into. Don’t let the allure and boast of the world drown you in its vanity or false security—promising you everything while leaving you with nothing—for that is all that it offers—the promise of death. Cling—run back—to God who is your life, and who desires to give himself to you generously.
2) God Exalts Humility
Read with me from Joshua 19:49-51. TWoL: When they had finished distributing the several territories of the land as inheritances, the people of Israel gave an inheritance among them to Joshua the son of Nun. 50 By command of the LORD they gave him the city that he asked, Timnath-serah in the hill country of Ephraim. And he rebuilt the city and settled in it. 51 These are the inheritances that Eleazar the priest and Joshua the son of Nun and the heads of the fathers’ houses of the tribes of the people of Israel distributed by lot at Shiloh before the LORD, at the entrance of the tent of meeting. So, they finished dividing the land.
Something that flies under the radar throughout the book of Joshua, and really the entire Bible, is this theme that God raises up for himself leaders and heroes to set an example for the rest of Israel. And what’s most astounding about these leaders and heroes/heroines is that all of them start off as nobodies—individual men or women who are forgotten, unknown, or outsiders among the people of God—yet, along the way, it pleases God to make much of them in their affliction—to exalt them in their faithfulness and humility.
Of course, the person upon whom God’s focus falls primarily in this book is none other than Joshua himself. A nobody picked out of obscurity by Moses to be his right-hand man, selected as a spy to go into the land and report back, rejected by his people upon his return, and then selected again by Moses to be his successor—to do what the rest of Israel thought impossible for him to do.
And what we have learned about Joshua throughout all of these chapters is that he was not perfect, but it is unquestionable that he was faithful to the law of God, astoundingly humble to his commands, strong in the confidence of God’s presence, and courageous in the face of overwhelming adversity. He got the people of God into the land. He beat the people of Canaan up. He administered all of the land for the different clans of each tribe of Israel—one-by-one, he accounted for each of them, one-by-one, he made sure they had enough, that their complaints and needs were heard, that the process was fair, that God was honoured. This man had given every ounce of his ability for these people. He had laid everything out on the line. Left nothing back.
So, now that the allotment is over, as Israel’s leader is advanced in age and nearing the end of his life, you could feasibly expect that, here, he is finally going to get his moment—one that we’ve anticipated since the very beginning of the book. The kind of moment that’s only been briefly mentioned once since Israel entered into the promised land back in chapter 4 after the events of Jericho. It was time for Joshua’s celebration. It was time for his exaltation.
But all we get, at the end of this man’s incredible and celebration-worthy life is three sentences. When it was all said and done, Israel gave Joshua an inheritance. By the command of the Lord, they gave him what he asked for, Timnath-serah. He rebuilds it and settles down in it. That’s it. Hardly what we’d expect for a man who followed ardently after the heart of God.
Notice with me, too, the people didn’t give him the inheritance because they wanted to—they weren’t jumping at the opportunity. The author makes very sure to include that they do it because the Lord commanded it. I would not put it past Israel, based on the current themes in the text, to be somewhat unhappy with this obligation—especially Ephraim, where Joshua’s land was located. Because just a few chapters ago Ephraim was complaining that they didn’t have enough land, and Joshua comes and takes some of it from them!
By the lack of detail, the author makes it seem like Joshua is a footnote to Israel. This is made particularly evident when we compare how much ink has been spilled for each of the tribes of Israel, even in their selfishness, compared to what he says about Joshua here. If anything, Joshua should have had an entire chapter dedicated to him to match the almost six chapters given to the tribes. He’s the one with the boast! He’s the one who can exclaim, “I AM THE FAVOURED ONE OF GOD. EXALT ME!”
Yet, both in his demeanor and in the actual recording of these events, nearly nothing is said—nearly nothing is told to us in these pages about his greatness. In fact, if we think through the book, explicit descriptions of Joshua and his character are often brief and uncommon. And while I do not think Joshua authored this book, I do believe that he wanted himself depicted this way. What I mean is, it seems clear that Joshua, or whoever recorded these events, meant to leave us very little detail about his life.
And we’re meant to ask why—why keep a record of himself with such brevity? And I believe it is because unlike the tribes of Israel who could think of no one other than themselves—each one of them demanding their exaltation, Joshua understood what it meant to be exalted by the Lord—to find his satisfaction in God and in nothing else. He was content to forget himself and all that was his. He was willing and desirous to live out the rest of his days in obscurity and irrelevance for the sake of enjoying the company of the one who should never be obscured and who is always relevant.
This is why Joshua was exalted in the eyes of God—this is what makes this book so remarkable—because this man, in the midst of a floundering, boisterous nation, sought the glory of God and the lasting, quiet delight that came in abiding with his Deliverer more than the sound of his own name. And this, brothers and sisters, is the lesson for us, that we might find joy in our own nothingness so that through us God might display his greatness and surpassing worth and so that we might not miss it. We possess his greatest happiness when we are most forgetful of ourselves. The celebration and possession of the world isn’t something we need. The praise of others isn’t something of value. No, let the world’s forgetfulness of you be evidence of your sufficiency in God. Let his name and his praise fill your days with purpose. Let your life be quiet as you find your satisfaction in him, and let that satisfaction be the assurance of your glory.
3) God vindicates exhaustively
I hope you know that this is not where Joshua’s story ends. His obscurity and irrelevance might be a byproduct of a world full of sin, but praise be to God that this world shall not last. Perhaps, what is most striking about our text is that in all its finality, nothing about it feels final, even when we read the words, “So, they finished dividing the land.” Israel continues to sow seeds of doubt as the legitimate heirs to God’s promise. A lot of the land still needs to be possessed. And in Joshua’s case, we can explain why he is given so little credit here at the end of chapter 19, but that doesn’t extinguish the feeling of injustice and longing for more on his behalf.
Everything about these chapters from 14-19, and arguably from the very beginning of the book, screams at us that a greater vindication—a greater salvation—a more complete deliverance—a more satisfying conclusion is needed. This cannot be how Joshua’s story ends because God has implanted in us a knowledge and a conviction that he will not let it end this way. There is irresolution and injustice afoot, and God is not a God who leaves things unresolved nor will he let injustice stand.
This is why he gives us Christ—to complete the story and satisfy our conviction that he has not forgotten or forsaken us. He does not leave us in nothingness. No, he gives us Jesus so that in his death upon a cross, as he was crushed for our sin, persecuted and punished for our guilt, he might also suffer the silence of God. And it is in his suffering that we have received a mighty boast—an exaltation that Joshua never got see—a glory that has been assured for the inglorious through his death for all those who repent of their sin and believe upon him as Lord and Saviour. It is through his becoming nothing that we are given everything. In his nothingness, we are exalted. In the silence of his crucifixion, we are declared, resoundingly so, sons and daughters of the living God.
And that is not all because he is coming again to separate the living from the dead—the silent from the boastful, and what shall we see then? We shall see, in even greater measure, that God in the enthronement of his Son has not ignored his quiet servants, for he will open our mouths, and we shall declare the glory of his majesty forever and ever! Yet, for those who boast in themselves—those who take heart in their own accomplishments and security—what shall their fate be? They are the ones who will be silenced. They will be made as those who are worse than nothing. I ask you, then, where TCCBC, is your treasure? What is your boast? Who is your glory?
Some of you may know renowned hymn writer, Fanny Crosby. She is and was the author of incredible songs like Blessed Assurance, All the Way My Saviour Leads Me, He Hideth My Soul, Safe in the Arms of Jesus, Take the World, But Give Me Jesus, and To God Be the Glory. Over 9,000 hymns did this incredible woman author, and she did it all despite having been born blind. Some might argue she saw more of God in her mind and in her conviction upon his truth than almost every man and woman born with sight.
Yet, one day, her pastor walked up to her and said to her, “I think it a great pity that the Master did not give you sight when he showered so many other gifts upon you.” And perhaps the greatest hymn that Ms. Crosby never wrote came in her reply to this man as she said, “Do you know that if at birth I had been able to make one petition, it would have been that I [be] born blind? Because when I get to heaven, the first face that shall ever gladden my sight will be that of my [beloved] Saviour.”
Brothers and sisters, what is your treasure? Where is your boast? Who is your glory? Let it be in the quiet life so grounded upon the radiant face of Jesus Christ. Vindication has come to make your boast, and it is coming again to confirm it. Let it ring out in the unassuming nature of your humility. Let the hope of the gospel define your going in and coming out—that through his death and resurrection—by the redemption by his blood—he has revealed his last Word, and it is a Word that will ring in our hearts until we dwell with him,
Perfect submission, all is at rest. I in my Saviour am happy and bless’d, watching and waiting, looking above, filled with his goodness, lost in his love.