Summary: 20th in series on Joshua. This is about the tribe of Manasseh wanting more land, but not willing to fight for it. They lacked courage, so they whined about their condition. Sound familiar?
Joshua 17:11-18 – Play It Safe
I read of a report called Play It Safe. The report said, "Avoid riding in automobiles because they are responsible for 20% of all fatal accidents. Do not stay home because 17% of all accidents occur in the home. Avoid walking on streets or sidewalks because 14% of all accidents occur to pedestrians. Avoid traveling by air, rail or water because 16% of all accidents involve these forms of transportation. Of the remaining 33%, 32% of all deaths occur in hospitals. So, above all else, avoid hospitals.
“However, you will be pleased to learn that only .001% of all deaths occur in worship services at church, and these are usually related to previous physical disorders. Therefore, logic tells us that the safest place for you to be at any given point in time is at church. Bible study is safe, too. The percentage of deaths during Bible study is even less. For safety’s sake, attend church and read your Bible."
Now, as much as I would like for people to come to church in order to be safe from accidents, unfortunately, what often happens is the church gets to be too safe. That is, tamed. We throw away our rebellious side. I don’t mean just rebellion against God. I mean, we just stop rebelling against the culture, too. We just try to fit in and play nice.
Writer Annie Dillard finds most churches to be "safe," but she wonders why this should be the case. She asks: "Why do we people in churches seem like cheerful, brainless tourists on a packaged tour of the Absolute?" We call this place of worship a sanctuary, which means that it is a safe place to be. We love safety. And because of this love, most of us never actually put our faith to the test. We have a sanitized, sterilized, wimpy faith.
Our Bible passage today describes the condition of the tribe of Manasseh. Manasseh had already claimed some land east of the Jordan River, before Joshua had started to lead his people to conquer Canaan, which lay west of the Jordan. But apparently, Manasseh, because it was a large tribe, was to get some land on the west, as well. The verses immediately preceding our passage today describe how much land Manasseh had, and where it was located. I’ll start in v11, which says what towns could be found in that land. 17:11-18.
So you see the problem. The people of Manasseh had these towns in their land, given to them by God, but they couldn’t drive out the people who lived there. The residents had iron chariots, which were fairly scary to fight in battle. They came to Joshua looking for more land, so that they wouldn’t have to fight the charioteers.
At first glance that looks like a good enough request. But Joshua knew what they were asking. They weren’t looking for more land because they needed it. They were looking for more land so that they wouldn’t have to take any chances fighting the enemy.
You see? They were whiny. They were grumblers and complainers. They had so much, but they still weren’t happy. Never mind that they had more land than any of the other tribes. No, they wanted more.
That sounds like us, actually. I mean, we have so much. We have physical blessings, like health, strength, food on our tables, shoes on our feet, roofs over our heads. Plus, as Christians, we have all those spiritual blessings like forgiveness, hope, peace, joy, love, patience, self-control, and answered prayers. And what He’s done for us: adopted us, redeemed us, justified us, purified us, and cleansed us, just to name a few. Ephesians 1:3 says that He “has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.”
And yet, we whine. We whine about gas prices. We whine about grocery bills. We whine about how hot or how cold it is. We whine about what sinners do. We whine about what other Christians do. We whine about our church, our pastor, our teachers, our family, our friends… and I wonder, if because we think life is so bad, we must think that God isn’t doing a good enough job to make us happy. Complaining about everything eventually shows that we are complaining about how good of a job God is doing on earth.
Of course the people of Manasseh whined and complained. They had reached a level in their lives that they did not know how to get past. It’s as if they saw what could happen, but they were too afraid to make it happen. So, instead of moving forward, they stay put. Well, try to keep a child still for any length of time, they get bored. And what’s more, they become unpleasable. It’s the same for children of God. We were meant to move on and press forward. So if at some point we stop, because we are afraid of what might happen, we’ll get bored and restless and whiny and unpleasable.