For the past couple of years we as a family have gone to the Opera House in Belfast to see the Pantomime and because we usually book over the telephone and pay by credit card our name and address are on the data base of the Opera Houses’ computer system. That means that whenever they are sending out their programme of events for the forthcoming season we always receive a copy. While browsing through an edition of their programme a year or two ago I noticed that the reduced Shakespeare company were scheduled for a visit. The reduced Shakespeare company are a group of artists who in a show lasting perhaps two and a half hours try to cover as many plays of William Shakespeare as possible, taking perhaps a bit out of Romeo and Juliet and a bit out of The tempest, and then moving on to some scene of Macbeth and then King Lear and so on. Their presentation is reported to be very entertaining and does succeed in giving you something of a flavour of Shakespeare, albeit somewhat superficial and tongue in cheek. I say that it is reported to be very entertaining because although we got the information about the event we never actually got to see it. I did however hear a guy a couple of years ago giving an even more greatly reduced and very entertaining summary of Shakespeare’s works, in about three to four minutes.
Of course connoisseurs of Shakespeare would not be at all enamoured with such a treatment of the great playwright’s works, preferring a more detailed, studied approach to the various individual texts. But who knows perhaps the less deep, overview type of approach might have actually served some practical purpose in getting people interested in a genre of English literature that they might otherwise have avoided because they considered it of no entertainment value.
Well this evening you are going to get the reduced Joshua as I endeavour to cover seven chapters of this book in about 25 minutes in a single sermon.
Some of you might perhaps think that such an approach is somewhat superficial and I have to confess that in one sense it is. I have been very selective in my choice of material and of necessity will be leaving out great chunks of text. However I trust that my overview approach this evening will not only prove to be a benefit in and of itself but will also stimulate some interest at least in chunks of scripture like this that many of us would perhaps usually avoid. One’s natural tendency when one comes to a section of the Bible, like this, where chapter after chapter is given over to a seemingly endless lists of names that one cannot pronounce and places that one can no longer identify and so on is to skip over such a section and go on to the next more interesting part of the Bible and I have to confess to having done that myself from time to time. But there are golden nuggets of truth and practical instruction to be found in what from the human perspective are the most unlikely and seemingly unpromising of places in scripture.
The theme of this section (ch13-19) is that of the allocation of the land to each of the individual twelve tribes of Israel. Although there was still quite a bit of territory to be captured and numerous enemy enclaves still to be conquered and destroyed, by the time you reach chapter 13 Israel has nevertheless gained general control of the land. The major battles had been won, the finishing off of the task, that is the overthrowing of the prevailing pockets of resistance in the different territories would be left to each of the individual tribes to whom that territory was allocated. The actual allocation of the land, although carried out by Joshua was ultimately determined by God himself by means of the lot, most probably using the Urim and Thummin. These, we believe were perhaps some kind of coloured stones used by the priests by which they discerned the mind and will of God. And so the land is divided up among God’s people.
Now in our overview of these chapters this evening I want you to notice with me first of all
1) The Spiritual Calibre of Caleb:
The record of Caleb receiving his inheritance is found in ch14/6-15 & ch15/13-19
There are a number of things that these verses teach us about Caleb as comes to receive his portion of the land.
(i) He Was a Ardent Servant of God:
I use the word ardent here in the sense of being devoted to something or someone. For example if I say ‘see that man he is an ‘ardent’ Manchester United fan’ what I mean by that is that he loves Man Utd, he is fully committed to supporting them and only them. His loyalties are not divided. He is an out and out United supporter.
Well Caleb was an ‘Ardent’ follower of Jehovah. This is made clear to us in vs 8, 9 and 14 of this chapter. In v8 Caleb himself testifies to his wholehearted devotion to God – “My brothers made the heart of the people melt with fear, but I followed the Lord my God wholeheartedly” He is referring of course to the events recorded in Numbers 13-14 when he together with the other 11 spies one of whom of course was Joshua, were sent out from Kadesh Barnea to survey the land of Canaan when the Israelites first came to its borders some forty five years ago. Not only did Caleb at that time show his wholehearted devotion to God by willingly undertaking that task to which God had called him, a difficult and dangerous task; but he also showed it in the subsequent events that accompanied the return of the reconnaissance team. The nature of the report brought back by the majority of the spies was discouraging in that whilst acknowledging that the land was indeed as good as God had said it would be, they nevertheless advised against going in to try and capture it because as far as they were concerned the cities were too well fortified, the people too well armed and far too strong, and they believed that Israel had not hope of defeating the existing inhabitants. Against this however Caleb together with his fellow spy Joshua, encouraged the people to go forward in faith trusting in the presence, the promises and the power of God to overthrow the inhabitants of the land regardless of how formidable they seemed to be. Caleb’s wholehearted devotion to God manifested itself then in a number of different ways. In his willingness to serve God by making himself available for and willing to undertake the task God assigned him; in a willingness to trust God in what were humanly speaking difficult and dangerous circumstances; in his willingness to take God at His word and go forward at his command; in his willingness to take a stand against prevailing unbelief and the popular opinion of the majority of those around him who had lost sight of the greatness and the power and the promises of God. Caleb says in v8 “I followed the Lord my God wholeheartedly’
And Caleb’s wholehearted devotion to God was such that others noticed it. It was clear for all to see. Moses testified to it, look at v9 So on that day Moses swore to me – (and then he quotes the words of Moses ) the land on which your feet have walked shall be your inheritance and that of your children forever, because you have followed the Lord my God wholeheartedly.” Then too Joshua makes mention of Caleb’s wholehearted devotion to God in v14 as he sums up the apportioning of Caleb’s inheritance to him “So Hebron has belonged to Caleb son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite ever since, because he followed the Lord the God of Israel, wholeheartedly”
Caleb was an Ardent Servant of God.
I wonder brethren is that something that could be said of you and me - That we are ‘Ardent’ servants of God; That we follow the Lord God – wholeheartedly, with ALL our heart. That we are not half-hearted in our life as a Christian.
It is a sad fact that many Christians today lack this wholehearted devotion to God that characterised this man. Many are half-hearted in their commitment to the Lord. Unlike Caleb, who willingly and gladly undertook the specific practical task the Lord set before him (that of spying out the land), many Christians today when they are asked to do some specific task by way of serving the Lord, make all kinds of excuses in order to avoid doing it; I haven’t the time; I am too busy at work; I am not really suitable for that sort of thing; I’m too old; I’m too young. And so the list of excuses goes on and on. Or alternatively if they do agree to do some job or other, they give you the impression that the task it is a real burden to them and would have been much happier if someone else had been given the job and they are only doing it, well because they couldn’t really get out of it. There isn’t that wholehearted devotion to God which was so characteristic of Caleb.
And of course that lack of wholehearted devotion to God reveals itself in other ways. It reveals itself in a persons persistent unwillingness to fully obey God’s Word when that Word identifies some area of sin in their life and calls them to repent of that sin and make the changes that are necessary in order to bring their lives into line with what God requires of them. That is the sign of a divided heart, a heart that isn’t fully given over to God. It reveals itself too in a persons attitude towards and support of the corporate prayer life of the Church. You cant say that you are following the Lord fully if, without justifiable good reason you neglect the prayer meetings of the Church. It reveals itself in an established pattern of irregular, poor attendance at worship. Coming to worship only when one feels like it, or only when one gets up out of bed in time, or only if one happens not to have anything else more important to do that morning or night, well that can hardly be described as following the Lord Wholeheartedly can it? It reveals itself too in the ignoring of the biblical principle of tithing when it comes to ones financial giving to the work of the Lord. How can anyone say ‘I have followed the Lord Wholehertedly’ when every week when it comes to filling their envelope they are refusing to give the Lord that percentage of their income that he requires of them.
Caleb was an Ardent servant of God – I have followed the Lord my God wholeheartedly
We also learn from this narrative that he was
(ii) An Aged Servant of God:
Look at the end of v10 “So here I am today 85 years Old” You know there is something lovely about this scene. Here is one old man talking to another. They have come through a lot together in their life, especially over the past forty odd years. They had to live among an unbelieving, hard-hearted, unthankful complaining bunch of people who unlike them were not prepared to follow the Lord fully. They witnessed all of that unbelieving generation dying one by one while they lived on. They are now very much in the eventide of life, but they are still as passionately devoted to God in old age as they were in the first vigour of youth. At 85 Caleb was still following the Lord wholeheartedly. At 85 his faith in the promises and in the power of God was still as strong, if not in fact stronger than it was some almost fifty years earlier. Here was a saint who was still bringing forth fruit in old age. And the interesting thing is that despite his advanced years this aged servant of God was still keen to engage in the Lord’s work. Caleb wasn’t only an Ardent servant of God and an Aged servant of God, he was also
(iii) An Active Servant of God:
Look at v11ff. Here was a man who despite his advancing years still wanted to be actively involved in serving the Lord. The Lord had blessed him with a remarkable degree of health and strength – ‘I am still as strong today as the day Moses sent me out. I am just as vigorous to go out and to battle now as I was then…&c’
Caleb didn’t think to himself I have done my bit. I am going to sit back and take it easy from now on, retire from active service. He didn’t think to himself I’m too old to be going out and fighting battles, my days of serving the Lord in any practical and meaningful way are over. NO! While he had the physical and mental ability to do so he wanted to continue to be practically involved in serving the Lord in some way. He was as keen as mustard not only to be part of but to lead an ASU (Active Service Unit) in God’s army. And when you turn over to chapter 15v14ff you discover that this is exactly what he did. He led his tribe against the Anakites of all people, the giant like people of this part of Canaan who had instilled so much fear into the hearts of Caleb’s contemporaries 45 years previously. Caleb wasn’t afraid of them then and he wasn’t afraid of them now. He had a work to do and he got on with it, despite the fact that he was 85 years old.
You know it is a wonderful testimony to the keeping power of God to see men and women who have reached the eventide of life, and who are as devoted and as faithful to God in their seventies, their eighties their nineties and in some cases beyond as they were in their twenties and thirties. It is such an encouragement and incentive to those of us who are younger in the faith to see the way some of you aged servants of God have persevered in the Christian life.
And it is also tremendously encouraging to see older members of the congregation, who have been blessed with good physical and mental health, still demonstrating a willingness to be actively involved in the Lord’s work by serving him in some capacity suited to the gifts he has given you. Senior members serving on our session, on our committee, organising outings, visiting those who are sick or who are housebound; tramping round the streets with invitations for HBC or with Word today. Serving on denominational committees and so on. Old age is not an excuse to sit back and do nothing in the work of the kingdom. It’s not a time for saying well I have done my bit I’ll take it easy from now on. Yes its good for the younger generation of Christians to take up some of the responsibilities and tasks which because of advancing years older believers are no longer able to fulfil. But the laying down of one task which one can no longer undertake because perhaps of the restrictions of old age does not mean that you are not able to do something else in the service of the Lord.
Thus in this account of the dividing up of the land of Canaan among the people of God Joshua has left on record a testimony to the Spiritual Calibre of Caleb.
But we find to in this account that Joshua has also included a record of
2) The Sinful Compromising of Manasseh
And you find that in ch1712,13. “But the Manassites were not able to occupy these towns,(that is the towns that they had been allocated as part of their inheritance.) for the Canaanites were determined to live in that region. However when the Israelites grew stronger, they subjected the Canaanites to forced labour but did not drive them out completely.”
Now its important to realise that God had commanded the Children of Israel to completely destroy the inhabitants of Canaan when they went in to possess the land. They were not to make any peace treaties with them. They were not to allow them to continue to live among them. Ex23v32ff Do not make a covenant with them or with their gods. Do not let them live in your land or they will cause you to sin against me, because the worship of their gods will certainly be a snare to you.” You get the same emphasis in Ex 34/11-16 and Deut 7/1-6. God knew that any compromise with the inhabitants of Canaan would ultimately prove to be a snare to Israel. He knew that if the Canaanites were not totally destroyed and were allowed to remain in the land and continue to practice their idolatry and live according to their sinful moral value system, that this in time would have a detrimental effect upon Israel’s spiritual life. Thus God calls for radical treatment when it came to dealing with the Canaanites. Now initially the tribe of Manasseh were not able to dislodge the Canannites from their cities. We are not told why, maybe it was lack of faith, maybe it was lack of commitment, maybe they just were not strong enough numerically or whatever, as I say we don’t know. However what we do know is that in time the Manassites became strong enough to defeat them but instead of dealing with them in the way that God had said, they instead kept them alive and made them their slaves. In other words for their own selfish ends, for their own immediate advantage they chose a course of action in dealing with the Canaanites which was completely contrary to way in which god had commanded them to deal with them. They compromised. And do you know that compromise, although it brought short term advantages, in the long term proved to be disastrous for Israel, because in time the Israelites (and by the way the Manassites were not the only tribe guilty of this others did likewise – see judges 1/27ff ) the Israelites eased the rigours of their forced labour policy, began to intermarry with the Canaanites. Began to introduce elements of Canaanite worship into the worship of God, began to adopt Canaanite moral standards and values and in time became thoroughly corrupt and sinful. So much so that they went even beyond the sins that the Canaanites themselves had been used to committing. And what you have in the book of Judges a couple of generations later, when it is said of Israel “they did evil in the eyes of the Lord and served the Baals. They forsook the Lord God of their fathers… they provoked the Lord God to anger…in those days every man did that which was right in his own eyes.” All that is the bitter fruit of Israel’s policy of compromise with as opposed to the destruction of the Canaanites.
You know brethren we should beware of dealing with sin in our lives or sin in our Churches in any way that compromises the clear teaching of the word of God. If we are lenient upon some sin in our life, because well for whatever pragmatic reason we don’t want to do away with it completely, you can be sure that one day we will reap the bitter fruit of that policy of compromise. Many a Christian has rued the day that they refused to turn their back completely upon that unbeliever they were going out with. Some have ended up pregnant having given in to the pressure of the unbeleiver to have sex before marriage. Some have had to go through the bitter experience of divorce having married the unbeliever. Some are living in marriage relationships that are far from satisfying. There was an unwillingness to fully obey God’s command by taking the radical action that was needed when it was needed, and the resulting disobedient compromise in time brought bitter fruit.
Maybe leaders in a Church have been made aware of some sin in the life of a member or members in the congregation which requires a particular course of Church discipline to be followed and instead of submitting to God’s revealed will and pursuing that course of action, the leaders for pragmatic reasons decide instead to follow some other deviant compromising course of action a course of action which seems to work in the short term but which in time only serves to produce even more trouble and greater problems in the future.
Brethren we cannot compromise with sin, in our personal life, in our family life, in our Church life, without eventually reaping the bitter fruit of any such compromise.
But as well as drawing you attention to the Spiritual calibre of Caleb and the Sinful Compromising of Manaseh notice thirdly
3) The Selfish Complaining of Ephraim;
We find that in 17/14ff. READ. The children of Joseph consisted of Manasseh and Ephraim and Ephraim’s portion of the land allotment wasn’t it seems, as large as that of Manasseh.
Although the responsibility for the division of the land was ultimately to be traced not to Joshua but to God, Joshua simply being the human instrument who made the pronouncement of the result of the lot, the Ephraimites complained to Joshua. Perhaps they thought that he would give them preferential treatment since he, Joshua, was in fact from the same tribe as they; perhaps they thought that they were more important than the other tribes, after all they could trace their roots back to Joseph who was such an important figure in Egypt and in many ways the saviour of the nation. But Joshua showed them no preferential treatment whatsoever. Instead he pointed out that their discontent was totally unjustified. There was more than sufficient land in their allotment. True they would have to work hard to get the best out of it. They would have to work to clear the forest and make it suitable for cultivating, but they could easily do that if they were of a mind to. Still not content they start whinging about the military strength of the Canaanites who still occupied some of their territory –v16 READ. And once again Joshua doesn’t bow to the pressure of the moaners. He in effect says, look if you really put your mind to it and get on with your task, you can wipe out the Canaanites in your territorial boundaries and if you do that, which by the way is what you are meant to do, then you will have all the land you need.
The Ephraimites here demonstrate a characteristic which raises its ugly head again on a number of occasions in the book of Judges, they were whingers. Always quick to moan when things didn’t go their way or when they didn’t get what they want or felt they were being treated unfairly. Instead of accepting what God in His providence gave them, and getting on with their task and responsibilities they moaned about how hard done by they were.
There are a lot of people like that in Churches. Noted for the fact that they are always complaining. If ever they say anything it is usually to whinge about something. You never see them getting tore into the work of the Lord but they are sure to be the first to criticise complain of things are not done according to their liking. Some think that they should get preferential treatment over and above others, maybe because they have what they see as important connections within the denomination, or maybe because they happen to have a numerous family connection in the congregation. Maybe for example some blow-in into the congregation gets elected as an elder or as a committee member and no-one in their family does and they are up in arms about it, sulking and moaning and complaining.
Brethren beware of the spirit of Ephraim. Don’t be a moaner and groaner in the Church.
Well that leads me on to the last thing I want to highlight from these chapters this evening and that is
4) The Selfless Conduct of Joshua:
And basically the thing I want you to notice under this point is this. Despite the fact that he was the God appointed leader of the people who carried the burden of the responsibility for conquering the land and for overseeing the campaign, Joshua was the very last person to receive his allotment. He waited until everyone else had been given their share of the inheritance and then and only then did he take his (19/49ff). He didn’t begin to divide up the land by saying, right now, since I am the leader I am taking first choice. I want this area and oh that area over there and that nice looking valley that we saw up in the north of the country. No. There was a selflessness about his conduct. Yes he wanted his share but he was happy enough to wait until everyone else had been sorted out. He did not look out primarily for his own things but for the things of others. He did nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility of mind considered others before himself. In this of course he was like the great Joshua who was to come, the Lord Jesus Christ, who put the interests and good of His people before His own interests when he left the glory and came to die on Calvary for our sins. And it is such a spirit that The Apostle Paul exhorts us to imitate when he writes in Phil 2 – Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus who ….