Message: Preoccupied with Fidelity | Scripture: Joshua 22 | Speaker: Pastor Stephen Choy
Come prepared to share and answer at least two of the following questions:
- Take some time to reflect on and summarize the sermon in your own words. What did you like about it? What did you not like about it? If you had some questions about it to ask one another (or Pastor Stephen) what would those questions be and try to answer them together.
- Be gracious, supportive and receptive to one another and to your group facilitators in this because they/you may not have all the answers!
- Call Pastor Stephen if you get stuck!
- Discuss one way God’s used this past sermon (or one of the previous few sermons) to grow you and/or challenge you.
- Perhaps in how difficult it is for you to extend grace and commend the faithfulness in others rather than to critique and judge them for the ways they fall short?
- Perhaps in how you struggle seeing faithfulness in your own life but are awestruck with the way God continues to preserve and persevere you?
- Perhaps in your gratefulness in the comments of another person in your life who has encouraged/commended you in your life, which has led to spurring you onto greater faithfulness?
- Perhaps in the difficulty of seeking to protect and restore the faith of other brothers and sisters who are in sin and desiring help and courage in that, or perhaps in the confession and fight of your own sin and how that affects not only your own walk with God but the walk of all those who fellowship with you?
- Perhaps in your willingness to disciple the next generation or to declare the truth of the gospel fearlessly?
- Perhaps in your wonderment as to whether or not God remains sovereign over your life/whether your life has purpose/whether God intends to work things out both for your good and his glory (you may be struggling with this or taking encouragement in how you’ve seen his sovereign grace fleshed out in your life)?
- Perhaps something else . . . !
- Discuss one way that we can pray for you as a group.
- Provide/encourage us with an update of something that God is doing to apply his gospel in your life/how the beauty and preciousness of Jesus is being freshly applied to your current situation.
This morning, I’m going to dispense with an introductory illustration because our text is long and involved, and I would rather compromise on the stories I tell than the story that God has for us. So, let me jump straight into it by telling you that what I’m preaching to you this morning directly relates to what we learned last week, namely, that we are to rest long enough to appreciate all that God has done for us, but what I’m concerned with today is that we figure out what that rest looks like—that rest, contrary to what the world tells us, is not a call for us to be idle and lazy.
Rather, it’s a call for us to greater faithfulness—a faithfulness that keeps, guards, and protects the things that God has done for us at all costs. That is our proposition this morning. We are to be faithful with God’s faithfulness at all costs. And our text gives us four ways in order to see this faithfulness lived out in one another’s lives, and so we turn to those four ways now, and the first way that we might see it is to commend faithfulness to one another. We are to commend faithfulness:
1) Commend Faithfulness
Read along with me from Joshua 22:1-6. TWoL: 1 At that time Joshua summoned the Reubenites and the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh, 2 and said to them, “You have kept all that Moses the servant of the LORD commanded you and have obeyed my voice in all that I have commanded you. 3 You have not forsaken your brothers these many days, down to this day, but have been careful to keep the charge of the LORD your God. 4 And now the LORD your God has given rest to your brothers, as he promised them. Therefore, turn and go to your tents in the land where your possession lies, which Moses the servant of the LORD gave you on the other side of the Jordan. 5 Only be very careful to observe the commandment and the law that Moses the servant of the LORD commanded you, to love the LORD your God, and to walk in all his ways and to keep his commandments and to cling to him and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul.” 6 So Joshua blessed them and sent them away, and they went to their tents.
When we consider Joshua as a whole, we can properly divide it up into four distinct sections. Chapters 1-4 are about entering into the land. Chapters 5-12 are about the conquest for the land over the Canaanites. Chapters 13-21 are about dividing and possessing the land. Now, before describing our fourth section beginning with this chapter, I want us to take notice of the major thing that is common with our first three sections, namely, all of it—the entering, the conquest, and the possession—is facilitated and provided sovereignly by God.
This whole process if you want to take away the theological theme—it’s not about Israel obtaining what belongs to them, it’s about God giving them what he’s promised, and this may sound like semantics—wordplay—to you, but like I like to say to Candace, “the right emphasis must be on the right syllable.” Our perspective must be correctly oriented to understand why these last three chapters exist.
Let me say this another way, for those of you who have read through Romans before, you’ll know that chapters 1-11 are Paul’s argument for the truth of the gospel. Then, in chapter 12, he gives us a “Therefore,” and that “therefore” is meant to signal to us a change in focus—he’s says, “this is the ground of truth in chapters 1-11, therefore, in chapters 12-16, live in a way that honours that truth.” The indicative always precedes the imperative.
Joshua is structured in the exact same way. Chapters 1-21 are the ground of God’s gracious action, and chapter 22 is the start of our proverbial “therefore.” After outlining everything that God has done from bringing Israel out of bondage in Egypt, preserving them through the wilderness, leading them through the Jordan, collapsing the walls of Jericho, destroying the armies of the Canaanites, dividing the land, and giving it to them, we now receive instructions in the form of three speeches from Joshua 22-24 that outline how Israel is to live and keep what they’ve received in response to God’s grace.
And the first of these three is given to the tribes with an inheritance on the east side of the Jordan—Reuben, Gad, and ½ of Manasseh. It’s in these verses where we get our command language of “keeping, guarding, and protecting.”. The word that translates to keep, guard, or protect is used four times in verses 2-5, but two out of those four are used in the past tense in verses 2 and 3: because you kept all that Moses commanded you—because you kept the charge of the Lord—this is why you get to go back to the land of your possession.
Do you see what’s happening here? Joshua is commending the past faithfulness of these 2 and ½ tribes—using the verb “keep” in the past tense—in order to spur the 2 and ½ tribes onto greater, continued faithfulness. They have done the task that they were asked to do all the way back in Joshua 1. They have fought for the sake of their brothers—they have sacrificed their time, energy, and well-being.
Therefore, verses 4 and 5, you, easterners, can return to your land. But you are to continue in faithfulness. The author switches to the present tense in verses 4 and 5: continue to keep and protect what God has given you! Why? Because it is by your faithfulness that you have seen the reward and favour of God. Joshua’s commendation spurs on the command. The indicative gives way and reason to the imperative
And what I want you to notice is the connection in verse 4 between God’s giving rest to those who dwell in the Promised Land, and the implication of these 2 and ½ tribes returning to their own land. I am fairly certain that God’s gift of rest with those in the west was not meant to be exclusive to them. I’m sure that the implication here is that because God’s given rest to the westerners, he also intends to give rest to the easterners now. Remember, this is a new creation narrative—Joshua is Genesis redone—and God, in Genesis, intended to dwell and rest with all his creation. Well, here, God has recreated the land, and he intends to dwell there with all his people—east and west of the Jordan.
So, if God intends to give them rest—if he is dwelling with them, and they are secure in the land, why does Joshua give them a command in verse 5? Because resting in God is synonymous with keeping yourself in God. Resting in God is synonymous with protecting and guarding your heart for God. You cannot truly experience rest if you forsake the truth of the one who gives it. And this is the point of Joshua’s commendation—this is the point of the author of Joshua’s entire recording of these events—that you might see the vast and miraculous and unmerited provision of God and be so moved by it all that you keep his commands as a means of experiencing more of his blessing—as a means of coming into greater relationship and deeper fellowship with him—as a means of finding true rest!
Resting is keeping. Resting is being faithful to the things that are important to God because ultimately what is important to God is of utter significance and value to you, and such faithfulness may require sacrifice, just like it was required of these 2 and ½ tribes. It was by relinquishing their rights, their comfort, and, perhaps, even their life that they were given the tools to flourish in the place that God had prepared for them, and so we are to commend faithfulness in order to command faithfulness because faithfulness brings life, and more importantly, it keeps us in the rest of God. Be faithful with God’s faithfulness at all costs.
2) Protect Faithfulness
Read along with me from Joshua 22:10-20. TWoL: 10 And when they came to the region of the Jordan that is in the land of Canaan, the people of Reuben and the people of Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh built there an altar by the Jordan, an altar of imposing size. 11 And the people of Israel heard it said, “Behold, the people of Reuben and the people of Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh have built the altar at the frontier of the land of Canaan, in the region about the Jordan, on the side that belongs to the people of Israel.” 12 And when the people of Israel heard of it, the whole assembly of the people of Israel gathered at Shiloh to make war against them. 13 Then the people of Israel sent to the people of Reuben and the people of Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh, in the land of Gilead, Phinehas the son of Eleazar the priest, 14 and with him ten chiefs, one from each of the tribal families of Israel, every one of them the head of a family among the clans of Israel. 15 And they came to the people of Reuben, the people of Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh, in the land of Gilead, and they said to them, 16 “Thus says the whole congregation of the LORD, ‘What is this breach of faith that you have committed against the God of Israel in turning away this day from following the LORD by building yourselves an altar this day in rebellion against the LORD? 17 Have we not had enough of the sin at Peor from which even yet we have not cleansed ourselves, and for which there came a plague upon the congregation of the LORD, 18 that you too must turn away this day from following the LORD? And if you too rebel against the LORD today then tomorrow he will be angry with the whole congregation of Israel. 19 But now, if the land of your possession is unclean, pass over into the LORD’S land where the LORD’S tabernacle stands, and take for yourselves a possession among us. Only do not rebel against the LORD or make us as rebels by building for yourselves an altar other than the altar of the LORD our God. 20 Did not Achan the son of Zerah break faith in the matter of the devoted things, and wrath fell upon all the congregation of Israel? And he did not perish alone for his iniquity.’”
The scene of our narrative moves now from just hearing Joshua’s commendation of these 2 and ½ tribes to a sudden flaring of tempers. The eastern tribes ship out of Shiloh, and on their way home they build a large altar, and the western tribes instantly react thinking that the eastern tribes have ignored Joshua’s words. And the background for their reaction is threefold: first, it’s rooted in Deut 12 where Israel is told by Moses that the western tribes are to worship God in the one place that he chooses to distinguish them from the nations who worship at different altars and have unnatural practices in those places. So, when these easterners build an altar in the land, the western tribes are thinking that they’re building another place for worship—that they’re following the practices of the Canaanites.
Furthermore, we’re told that Israel isn’t thinking only of Deut 12, but also of certain events that have taken place in their past. The first is Baal Peor in Num 25—if you remember in that story, Israel had come to Shittim on the east side of the Jordan, and some of the sons of Israel began sleeping with Moabite daughters and worshipping their idols. This resulted in God bringing a plague upon all of Israel in judgment.
Secondly, Israel is remembering the fairly recent fate of Achan who stole things in Jericho that should have been devoted to destruction. This led to the defeat of Israel by the small city, Ai, and the subsequent judgment of God upon the entirety of his people. In other words, Deut 12, Num 25, and the story of Achan all teach us that to go against God is to incur the wrath of God, and even more specifically, even if one person among the people of God steps out of line, all the people will be judged—even if a little leaven enters into the lump, the whole lump will be leavened. This is how sin works in the world. This is why God’s judgment stands over all of creation even over those we think are relatively innocent.
Perhaps, as we read these verses, we’re naturally inclined to think that these western tribes are doing the wrong thing—that they’re overreacting. Many commentaries say this, in fact. But I strongly disagree with them because, one, it breaks the first rule of reading the Bible—don’t take what you know about the story—don’t take your knowledge of what will happen and force that perspective upon the actors in the story as if they ought to have known what you know about the eastern tribes.
But, secondly, given all the background facts that we just discussed and the very words that the author includes in this section about Baal Peor and Achan, it is clear that what the westerners are doing here is good and warranted. They are actively and intentionally protecting themselves and the land from being polluted by sin and from suffering the wrath of God. If these easterners bring idolatry and other forms of worship onto the land then they, as a nation, will have disobeyed Deut 12, they’ll suffer a fate like those at Baal Peor, and Achan’s downfall would have been for nothing. What we have here, as one, proper commentator notes, is an “illustrious display of piety, teaching us that if we see the pure worship of God corrupted, we must be strenuous [at all costs] to [protect and] vindicate it.”
Is this not a call to arms for us, church—that we protect and vigilantly bear with those who fall away from the true worship of God? We, as regenerate believers, as the priesthood of saints, as covenanted members to one another, ought to be anxious, in a godly way, when one or any of us seems to wander from the path not only because it is good for them to be restored, but because to fail to do so is to consign all of us—the entire church—to the wrath of God, and, brothers and sisters, I can say personally that I do not want to fall under that burden. I desire rest and contentment in God—a freeness from the wrath and bondage of sin—a freeness to be and delight in who he created and saved me to be, and I hope you do as well.
We are to vigilantly protect faithfulness in what our God has brought about on our behalf, both for ourselves and for one another. This is, for all its faults, what Israel gets right here. Even more so, this is what Christ perfects for us in the cross—that when we were unfaithful to the faithfulness of God, Christ remained faithful even to death upon a cross in order to call us back and redeem us from wrath. And by his death, he gives us the ability to follow his example, be resolute in our obedience, and glorify him in the life we now live. So, be faithful with God’s faithfulness at all costs.
3) Inspire Faithfulness
Read along with me from Joshua 22:21-34. TWoL: 21 Then the people of Reuben, the people of Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh said in answer to the heads of the families of Israel, 22 “The Mighty One, God, the LORD! The Mighty One, God, the LORD! He knows; and let Israel itself know! If it was in rebellion or in breach of faith against the LORD, do not spare us today 23 for building an altar to turn away from following the LORD. Or if we did so to offer burnt offerings or grain offerings or peace offerings on it, may the LORD himself take vengeance. 24 No, but we did it from fear that in time to come your children might say to our children, ‘What have you to do with the LORD, the God of Israel? 25 For the LORD has made the Jordan a boundary between us and you, you people of Reuben and people of Gad. You have no portion in the LORD.’ So, your children might make our children cease to worship the LORD. 26 Therefore we said, ‘Let us now build an altar, not for burnt offering, nor for sacrifice, 27 but to be a witness between us and you, and between our generations after us, that we do perform the service of the LORD in his presence with our burnt offerings and sacrifices and peace offerings, so your children will not say to our children in time to come, “You have no portion in the LORD.”’ 28 And we thought, ‘If this should be said to us or to our descendants in time to come, we should say, “Behold, the copy of the altar of the LORD, which our fathers made, not for burnt offerings, nor for sacrifice, but to be a witness between us and you.’” 29 Far be it from us that we should rebel against the LORD and turn away this day from following the LORD by building an altar for burnt offering, grain offering, or sacrifice, other than the altar of the LORD our God that stands before his tabernacle!”
30 When Phinehas the priest and the chiefs of the congregation, the heads of the families of Israel who were with him, heard the words that the people of Reuben and the people of Gad and the people of Manasseh spoke, it was good in their eyes. 31 And Phinehas the son of Eleazar the priest said to the people of Reuben and the people of Gad and the people of Manasseh, “Today we know that the LORD is in our midst, because you have not committed this breach of faith against the LORD. Now you have delivered the people of Israel from the hand of the LORD.” 32 Then Phinehas the son of Eleazar the priest, and the chiefs, returned from the people of Reuben and the people of Gad in the land of Gilead to the land of Canaan, to the people of Israel, and brought back word to them. 33 And the report was good in the eyes of the people of Israel. And the people of Israel blessed God and spoke no more of making war against them to destroy the land where the people of Reuben and the people of Gad were settled. 34 The people of Reuben and the people of Gad called the altar Witness, “For,” they said, “it is a witness between us that the LORD is God.”
In these verses, we learn that, while the western tribes concern was warranted, it need not continue. The response of the easterners begins with an oath of innocence. They swear by the name of God who knows their hearts that they are not doing anything that is either contrary to his commands or that places the western tribes in jeopardy of his wrath.
But the part of their response that I want to highlight is what they say in verse 24. There’s this huge so-called “Christian” leader down in Texas who was a guest on the Larry King Show over a decade ago—many of you know about him—he’s a prominent author—his book covers often include a picture of him with a big white smile plastered across his face. And in the interview, Larry King asked this prominent minister if he believed that those who reject Christ—those who do not believe in him as Lord and Saviour from sin and the wrath of God—would suffer a fate in hell for all eternity? Is the only way to get to heaven through belief in Jesus?
And in response to Larry King’s question, this minister looked at him and answered, “Ya . . . I don’t know. There’s probably a balance between knowing Christ, but in knowing Christ you have to have some good works, you have to believe in God. I can’t be the one to judge their hearts.” So, King replies, “what if you’re Jewish, or what if you’re Muslim, and you don’t accept Christ at all?” And the minister answered, “You know . . . I’m very careful about saying who would and who wouldn’t go to heaven. I . . . don’t know.”
King responds: “but if you believe you have to believe in Christ, they’re wrong, aren’t they?” The minister’s answer, “Well . . . I don’t know—I don’t know if I believe they’re wrong. I spend a lot of time in India with my father. I don’t know about all their religion, but I believe that they love God. I don’t know. I’ve seen their sincerity, so . . . I don’t know.”
And my response to this minister—as others have given their response to him before me—is this, “give us men and women who know the truth, and who will declare that truth unequivocally, boldly, and without apology!” This is what I want to highlight about verse 24 because what we see here are men of Israel who have been in battle for years—who are tired—who want to see their wives—who want to sleep in their own beds—men who desire rest! And yet, as they return home—as they go back to their lives that they’ve been anticipating all this time—they’re willing to jeopardize it all.
What we need to remember is that these eastern tribes are not stupid. They’ve been through the same things—had the same experiences as all these westerners. They know that their altar may create anxiety and panic, and yet these men, these parents, as they’re thinking of all that has transpired here—all that they have witnessed—they are also thinking about their children who have never seen it before, and they’re overcome with their own anxiety—what happens if they forget? What happens if they look into the land and are cast-off because they live in a different place—because this body of water separates them from the rest of Israel? What happens when someone asks them who they are in reference to that land, and all they can say in response is “I don’t know.”
See the westerners are afraid that these easterners are committing apostasy—that they’re falling away from their faith, while these easterners are afraid that their children will commit apostasy. And knowing that the western tribes may not take kindly to their actions, these easterners risk it all anyway—their tired legs—their desire to see their home and return to their land—their hope for rest—they’re willing to face the threat of war against the very people that they’ve given their lives to help so that they might in future years be able to point their children back to God—so that they might know. They’re willing to put everything on the line, again, to inspire the faithfulness of those who follow them. Whatever it takes—whatever the cost.
Brothers and sisters, it’s one thing to say that this has major implications for how we think and disciple the generations that come after us. We have that obligation—no matter who you are. I hope this application is obvious to us. But it’s another thing to say how this applies in our desperate urgency to go into a world that when asked the same question of whether Jesus is the only way to eternal life, our job, not only with the generations that will come after us, but with every sinner, is to let them know—to point them to the altar upon which our Saviour bled. Our job is to point them to the cross and to inspire them, not in ourselves, but in the rest that he has secured on our behalf to turn our eyes away from ourselves and our sin and onto him—the reward of our faithfulness. He paid the price so that we could live the life of faith, which leads us into our final point:
4) Restore Faithfulness
Much can be said about verses 30-34, but what I want to leave you with is an overwhelming sense of God’s sovereignty—that our faithfulness in his faithfulness is never in vain and that while things might seem chaotic at the start, they finish always for our good and unto his glory because look how this chapter ends. The events that take place here provide a mirror of things that took place before, only this time, the outcome is celebration and not condemnation. Remember what led to all of this happening—where Israel was cast out into the wilderness, where they had to be sustained providentially by quail and manna for forty years, led into the land miraculously through the Jordan River, given victory over the enemies of Canaan, and instructed specifically on the land that each was to receive—what triggered all these events? It was faithlessness.
More specifically, it was the faithlessness of Israel in Numbers 13—remember that story with the twelve spies, one of which was our hero, Joshua. In that story, the spies went out to observe people on the other side of the Jordan River, and a majority of them, except for Joshua and Caleb, looked at what was before them and they doubted the promises of God. When they returned to the camp of Israel, all the people heard their report, ignored Joshua and Caleb, and doubted the faithfulness of God—the result of which led to their sorrow and judgment.
But here in our story, we see men, spies, you might call them, go out to observe people who belong on the other side of the Jordan River, they observe what they are doing, they recognize in faith that God is with them and acting amongst them, and in their return to the camp of Israel, all the people hear their report, and they are filled with faith—restored in the goodness of their joy, able to bless God and find rest from war.
Then what does the author say? “The people of Reuben and the people of Gad called the altar Witness, ‘For,’ they said, ‘it is a witness between us that the Lord is God.’”
TCCBC, we live in a broken, sorrow-filled world. One where calamity strikes on every side, where the name of Christian is reviled and persecuted in every place, where civility, generosity, and charity have become means of promoting our own social value, where the innocent are struck down, ignored, and left without a defender. And we might be tempted to ask, where is God in all of this? Why has he left us? Just as the Israelites did. And our text wants to communicate to us that, just as he did not forsake Israel even in their rejection of him and sinfulness against him, he has not left or forsaken us. Just like he did for all of Israel—east and west—in leaving for them an altar as a witness, so too has he left us a witness in the cross of Jesus Christ.
When all seems chaotic—when rest seems historical and impossible—we receive stories like this to remind us that God has faithfully fixed all things—past, present, and future—for the good of his people. He will restore them. He will vindicate them. He shall renew them. He has assured it for us in his unchanging love for his own Son who he raised from the grave—we are his inheritance, and he is ours. We are his portion, and he is our rest. So, be faithful with God’s faithfulness at all costs because he is coming again to call his people home, and what greater joy is there than to spend our lives in preparation for that glorious day. I can think of none, and I hope for you that is true as well.