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Inheritances

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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Topical Scripture: Joshua 13:1-17:18

Thesis: the battle is not over until the victory is won.

Goal: Identify God’s greatest calling on your life, and commit to its complete fulfillment

This is the story of four people named Everybody, Somebody, Anybody, and Nobody. There was an important job to be done, so Everybody was asked to do it. Anybody could have done it but Nobody did it. Somebody got angry because it was Everybody’s job. Everybody thought Anybody could do it, but Nobody realized that Everybody wouldn’t do it. Consequently it wound up that Nobody told Anybody so Everybody blamed Somebody.

The church is its people. We do our ministry through our members as they are empowered for mission and service. We can only inherit the spiritual victory God intends for our church when Everybody does what he and she can do. Let’s learn how to be an army whose troops all fight and win.

Assess the challenges (13:1-7)

The first step in any military strategy is to define the enemy. Determine his strengths and weaknesses. Plan not just for what he will probably do, but for what he is able to do. Define your own opportunities and obstacles. Assess the challenges, before you go to war.

One challenge facing Israel was clear and immediate: “Joshua was old and well advanced in years” (v. 1). The leader of the nation and its army was probably around 90 years of age by this time. Time was of the essence for him, and for the people he was called to lead. The longer they inhabited the land without conquering it, the more likely they would assimilate its pagan theology and practices.

And there was still much land to be taken (vs. 2-5). Joshua and the army “took the entire land” in principle (11:23), but much still remained to be inhabited and controlled. They were living between the D-Day when they entered the land miraculously and the V-Day when the land God promised Israel would be fully theirs.

Some of the remaining lands to the north would be conquered by the Lord himself (v. 6) and given to the nation (v. 7). God will never allow us to face an enemy we cannot defeat with his help (1 Corinthians 10:13).

In winning the spiritual battle for the souls of our community and beyond, we first assess the challenges and opportunities which are before us. What obstacles stand between you and complete obedience to God’s call on your life? Are there sins to be confessed? A step of faith to be taken? Surrender of your finances, time, or abilities?

When Nehemiah returned to this same land some eight centuries later, on a mission to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem and reestablish the nation after Babylonian captivity, his first step was to assess the challenges facing his people. He later recorded his strategy: “I went to Jerusalem, and after staying there three days I set out during the night with a few men. I had not told anyone what my God had put in my heart to do for Jerusalem. There were no mounts with me except the one I was riding on” (Nehemiah 2:11-12). He proceeded to inspect the Dung Gate, the Fountain Gate, the King’s Pool, and the Valley Gate (vs. 13-16).

His investigation complete, he made his report to the leaders of the nation: “You see the trouble we are in: Jerusalem lies in ruins, and its gates have been burned with fire. Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, and we will no longer be in disgrace” (v. 17). Then Nehemiah followed the bad news with the good: “I also told them about the gracious hand of my God upon me and what the king had said to me” (v. 18a). With this result: “They replied, ‘Let us start rebuilding.’ So they began this good work” (v. 18b).

When we assess the challenges and opportunities before us, we know how to begin the campaign which will lead to victory. What temptation is challenging you today? What is keeping you from taking your next step in fulfilling God’s Great Commission for your life?

Trust God’s promises (13:8-33)

Before Joshua could lead his people further west into the lands intended for them, first they must settle the lands assigned to tribes east of the Jordan. The tribes of Reuben and Gad, and half of the tribe of Manassah had been promised this land by Moses (Numbers 32:1-42). But these tribes were required to fight with the rest of Israel in conquering the lands to the west. They had kept their promise to this point; now God would keep his to them.

Understanding the tribal structure of Israel at this point in her history requires a bit of work. The “twelve tribes” were originally the 12 sons of Jacob, with Reuben the oldest and head of the brothers. What follows is a brief description of the rest of the story, including lands to be given each tribe in coming chapters.

•Reuben sinned against his father (Genesis 35:22; 49:3-4), thus losing the double inheritance which was to go to him. His tribe eventually settled east of the Jordan River.

•Thus Jacob gave this double inheritance to Joseph, the spiritual head who had saved their family in Egypt. Jacob adopted Joseph’s sons Ephraim and Manasseh as his own children and promised them equal inheritance (Genesis 48:5). Manasseh split into two half-tribes, one on each side of the Jordan. Ephraim would locate west of the Jordan, just south of the western part of Manasseh.

•Simeon and Levi were born next, but both shamed the family at Shechem (Genesis 34). Jacob thus decreed that they would be scattered among the nation, and they were. Simeon received cities within Judah (Joshua 19:1-9).

•Levites rejected idolatry at Sinai, so that God made them his special inheritance (Exodus 32:25-29). They had no single land, but were scattered and would be supported by the rest of the nation.

•Judah was next in birth order, and was thus made the head of the nation (Genesis 49:8-12). This tribe received the first and largest allotment of land west of the Jordan, located in the southern part of the nation and west of the Dead Sea; eventually the kings of David’s line came from Judah, as would the Messiah.

•Gad was given land to the east of the Jordan, located between East Manassah to the north and Reuben to the south.

•The other tribes were given land as chosen by lot (Joshua 18:8-10): Dan on the Mediterranean coast, west of Ephraim; Benjamin between Judah and Ephraim; Issachar to the north of West Manasseh; Zebulun to the north of Issachar; Asher on the coast, at the northwest border of the nation; and Naphtali to the east of Asher.

The two and a half tribes who were given land east of the Jordan had kept their promises to fight for Canaan. Now they received what had been promised to them by God, so their people could settle the land and prosper. Levites were scattered among them, as they were across the nation (v. 14). Their soldiers would continue the fight for Canaan until all was conquered; then Joshua would release their armies back to these lands (Joshua 22).

When we step into any spiritual battle, we have only one foundation upon which to stand: the sure and certain word of God (Matthew 7:24-27). We have only one “sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Ephesians 6:17). Name the temptation or obstacle which stands between you and spiritual victory. Then find a promise in the word of God upon which to stand, with which to fight. Know that God’s word is always kept. His promises never fail. And his word will never lead you where his grace cannot keep you.

Claim what is yours (ch. 14)

Now the armies of Israel were ready to complete their conquest of their land. Their inheritances would be “assigned by lot” (v. 2), thus by God (Proverbs 16:33: “The lot is cast into the lap, but every decision is from the Lord”).

Each territory is described at a length appropriate to its tribal significance. Thus Judah (the royal line of David) is discussed thoroughly. Then the tribes of Joseph are defined; they so dominated the northern kingdom that Ephraim became one of its names. The last to be given such special treatment is Benjamin, the tribe of Saul, Israel’s first king.

Now Caleb steps to the front, one of the greatest heroes in Joshua and all the word of God. Remember that he was one of the twelve spies sent by Moses into the Promised Land; only he and Joshua brought back a faithful and courageous report (Numbers 13-14). The Jewish leaders rejected him and his report, forcing him to wander with them across the 40 years of the wilderness.

Now here he is, 85 years old, coming to Joshua to claim what is his: “I am still as strong today as the day Moses sent me out; I’m just as vigorous to go out to battle now as I was then” (v. 11). He has the strength needed for the stress ahead.

How does he know he will be successful? He claims God’s promise: “Now give me this hill country that the Lord promised me that day” (v. 12a). He trusts God’s power: “the Lord helping me, I will drive them out just as he said” (v. 12b). He is relying not just on his own strength, but on the Lord’s provision. And he follows God’s purpose: “Hebron has belonged to Caleb son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite ever since, because he followed the Lord, the God of Israel, wholeheartedly” (v. 14).

How did he win his land? His obstacle was great: “Hebron used to be called Kiriath Arba after Arba, who was the greatest man among the Anakites” (v. 15). In Hebrew, he was “the great man,” their founder or first leader (their George Washington). But God’s power was greater: “From Hebron Caleb drove out the three Anakites—Sheshai, Ahiman and Talmai—descendants of Anak. From there he marched against the people living in Debir (formerly called Kiriath Sepher)” (15:13-14). His brother Othniel then took Kiriath Sepher, and won Caleb’s daughter Acsah in marriage (v. 15). God’s people, fighting in God’s power against God’s enemy according to God’s plan, will always have God’s provision.

If God has called you to a task in his Kingdom, he has already given you the promises, power, and purpose you will need to win the victory which will glorify him. There may be giants in the land, but the Lord is greater than his enemies or yours. And age is no issue.

Gandhi led reforms in India until his death at age 78. Voltaire struggled for human rights past the age of 80. Michelangelo worked actively to his death at 89. Pablo Picasso painted prolifically to his death at age 91. Pablo Casals, perhaps the greatest cellist of all time, played and taught to his death at 96. Frank Lloyd Wright, asked which of his architectural works he would select as his masterpiece, replied, “My next one!”

Fight until you win (chs. 15-17)

If the rest of the nation had fought as did Caleb, the entire land would have been theirs. And much of the grief which would dominate the coming centuries would have been prevented.

However, three times in chapters 15-17 we find victories unfinished, promises unclaimed:

•”Judah could not dislodge the Jebusites, who were living in Jerusalem; to this day the Jebusites live there with the people of Judah” (15:63).

•Ephraim “did not dislodge the Canaanites living in Gezer; to this day the Canaanites live among the people of Ephraim but are required to do forced labor” (16:10).

•”The Manassites were not able to occupy these towns, for the Canaanites were determined to live in that region. However, when the Israelites grew stronger, they subjected the Canaanites to forced labor but did not drive them out completely” (17:12-13).

What was the result? Baalism continued in the nation, as the Canaanites seduced the people of Israel with their pagan gods (cf. 1 Kings 18, Elijah’s battle with 950 prophets of Baal and Asherah).

Eventually such idolatry would force God to bring judgment against the ten northern tribes by Assyria, and the southern tribes by Babylon. Most of the clans who received their inheritance in these chapters no longer exist, having been assimilated by their foreign conquerors. Judaism worldwide has never recovered the political and spiritual strength she knew before these Canaanite deceptions led her into idolatry and immorality.

Cancer always starts small. But it always grows. We must fight until the battle is won. We can accept no compromise with sin and Satan. None.

And when we continue the fight, God gives us his victory. After the Tiananmen Square massacre in China, the world assumed that persecution would further reduce the size and strength of movements such as Christianity in the country. But we were wrong. Leslie Francis, an Overseas Missionary Fellowship director based in Hong Kong, said that the ensuing “spiritual awakening” within the intellectual community in China “has no historical parallel in Chinese history.” He described two separate incidents in which newly-converted professors shared the gospel with their students during classes. In both cases, over half the audience professed Christ publicly. Some missiologists estimate that the Church in China has grown 10,000 fold in this generation.

In his inaugural speech as president of the Russian Republic, Boris Yeltsin said that “spiritual liberation of the individual” is part of “the foundation for the revival of our state” and that “religion has a special place in this process.” Many of us never thought we’d hear Russian leaders speak so spiritually. Now Buckner Orphan Care International is working in orphanages across this formerly-closed nation. I never dreamed that I would be privileged to share the gospel with some of these children, but God has given our church just this privilege. Churches and missions are spreading across the land. Some predict that the Russians will soon be sending missionaries to us.

Our spiritual war is not finished until we have assaulted the gates of hell wherever they are found in Dallas and around the world. So long as a single person in our city has not been given a realistic opportunity to be converted, churched, and discipled, we are not done. Much of the land still remains. What part can you see today?

Conclusion

To take the land before us, we must assess our challenges with realism and honesty. Then we trust God’s promises of power, provision, and purpose. We claim what is ours. And we fight until the battle is over.

What part of this army is God’s post for you? Where are you called to the front lines? Is he asking you to sacrifice financially? To help lead organizationally? To join the battle spiritually?

In the fall of 1620, a brave group of pioneers set sail for the New World. Their two month voyage on the Mayflower was filled with storms, tempests, and challenges. In December of that year, 102 survivors landed. Half died during their first winter and year on our soil. The next fall, those who were left planned a service of memorial and sorrow for those who had died. But in surveying all they had inherited from their Father, their sorrow turned to gratitude. And Thanksgiving was born in warriors for their faith, men and women willing to take the land given them by their Lord.

Two centuries later, the nation forged by those pioneers faced its greatest days of peril. In the midst of the Civil War which threatened the very survival of the Union, President Abraham Lincoln issued a “Thanksgiving Proclamation” which made this Thursday’s observance an annual tradition for our country. Here is that proclamation:

It is the duty of nations as well as of men to owe their dependence upon the overruling power of God; to confess their sins and transgressions in humble sorrow, yet with assured hope that genuine repentance will lead to mercy and pardon; and to recognize the sublime truth, announced in the Holy Scriptures and proven by all history, that those nations are blessed whose God is the Lord.

We know that by His divine law, nations, like individuals, are subject to punishments and chastisements in this world. May we not justify fear that the awful calamity of civil war which now desolates the land may be a punishment inflicted upon us for our presumptuous sins; to the needful end of our national reformation as a whole people?

We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of heaven; we have been preserved these many years in peace and prosperity; we have grown in numbers, wealth and power as no nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us, and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us.

It has seemed to me fit and proper that God should be solemnly, reverently, and gratefully acknowledged, as with one heart and one voice, by the whole American people. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November as a day of Thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens.

In the midst of war, there can be peace in every heart which receives the blessings of God with gratitude.