I Have Given You A Land

With no successor in view and advancing in years, Joshua gathered all Israel to Shechem to reveal what they were to do after his departure. He called for the elders of Israel, the heads of the tribes, their judges and their officers to present themselves. This was crucial for the nation's future. They had not yet taken possession of all the land. Who then would lead Israel on to possess their inheritance?

Joshua declared, "Thus says the LORD God of Israel . . . " (Joshua 24:2) The following events were to be considered sequential and connected like the pieces of a puzzle.

Terah, Nahor and Abraham had lived for many years and were well settled on the other side of the Euphrates River. They were respected leaders of the community. Terah, Nahor and Abraham were men of substance and character; men whose physical presence and moral strength contributed to the stability and confidence of the peoples. Like everyone in the region, they served pagan idols. "Your fathers . . . dwelt on the other side of the River in old times; and they served other gods" (Joshua 24:2)

"Then I took your father Abraham . . . " (Joshua 24:3) from the snare and service of other gods, and brought him into the obedience of the faith and service of the One True God. Abraham became a devoted follower and trusted friend of God. Leading him to Canaan, the Lord multiplied Abraham's disciples–those who " . . . keep the way of the LORD, to do righteousness and justice . . . " (Genesis 18:19).

Then, when Abraham was late in years, and Sarah beyond child-bearing, the Lord " . . . gave him Isaac" –the son in whom the Lord would fulfil His covenant. Then to Isaac the Lord " . . . gave Jacob and Esau" . (Joshua 24:4) Though Jacob and Esau were twins, and Esau was the firstborn, yet, the Lord would confirm His covenant with Jacob only.

To Esau the Lord "gave the mountains of Seir to possess" . (Joshua 24:4) Seir the Horite had inhabited the land at the time. Esau and his descendants intermarried and assimilated with the Horites. Eventually Esau became the dominant people, and the land became known as Edom. (see Genesis chapter 36)

Meanwhile, and in contrast, Jacob and his descendants " . . . went down to Egypt" . (Joshua 24:4) For centuries the children of Israel contributed to the welfare and growth of successive administrations. Eventually, the Egyptian kingdom developed into a powerful empire. In the latter end, however, Egypt was a land of bondage for the children of Israel. Clinging to an existence, unable to free themselves, the children of Israel were trapped.

Then the Lord "sent Moses and Aaron" (Joshua 24:5) to lead them out. With a mighty hand the Lord humbled the pride and arrogance of Egypt, and with an outstretched arm He lifted up His people, and brought them up and out of Egypt–they were free.

However, the Egyptians pursued and overtook the children of Israel while they were camped by the sea. "So they cried out to the LORD; and he put darkness between you and the Egyptians . . . " (Joshua 24:7) Thus the Egyptians could not even get close.

The children of Israel continued their escape through the waters. The Egyptians hot on their trail. "He . . . brought the sea upon them, and covered them. And your eyes saw what I did in Egypt." (Joshua 24:7) Only when the waters had covered the Egyptians, and their dead bodies were strewn on the shores, did the children of Israel finally experience freedom.

Then the children of Israel wandered the wilderness forty years; " . . . a long time." (Joshua 24:7) Possession could have begun sooner had things transpired differently. The children of Israel had camped at the foot of Mt Sinai, where they received the Torah and the Tabernacle. Then two years after their escape from Egypt, at the command of the Lord, they journeyed from Sinai to enter the Promised Land. However, they hesitated at the border and listened to the bad report of the spies, and were subsequently sentenced to wander the wilderness a further thirty-eight years. " . . . a long time . . . " If they had believed the good report of the land, things would have transpired differently.

Then the day came for the children of Israel to possess their inheritance. "And I brought you into the land of the Amorites, who dwelt on the other side of the Jordan, and they fought with you. But I gave them into your hand, that you might possess their land, and I destroyed them from before you." (Joshua 24:8) The Amorites demonstrated hostility toward Israel. But the Lord destroyed the Amorites, so that Israel could possess their land.

Balak, the King of Moab, summoned the renown mystic and Caster of spells, Balaam to denouce Israel "But I would not listen to Balaam; therefore he continued to bless you." (Joshua 24:9)

Once over the Jordan, Israel encountered further hostility and confrontations, as nations formed alliances and strategies, "But I delivered them into your hand." (Joshua 24:11)

Large numbers of the inhabitants of the land had been driven out from the land because the Lord "had sent the hornet . . . " (Joshua 24:12) before Israel had arrived. Therefore, since Israel had not conquered them "with your sword or with your bow." (Joshua 24:12), the people of Israel were to expect the previous inhabitants to return, at some time in the future.

These events were pivotal to the understanding of how the children of Israel had come to be in possession of the Land, and why, at this point in history. "I have given you a land . . . " (Joshua 24:13)

The sequence of events painted a picture of purpose and faithfulness–the fulfilment of a promise made centuries earlier to Abraham. "To your descendants I will give this land." (Genesis 12:7)

This was not favouritism. Neither was it compensation for all Israel's suffering while in Egypt.The children of Israel had arrived, and had started the process of possessing the Land because of God's covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

The Land was part of the Divine Plan to restore the World, and mankind lost in sin. The Land would be the primary place of residence for His people. Here they would live safely among the nations– "a kingdom of priests and a holy nation." (Exodus 19:6) Here in this Land, His people would walk in the way of righteousness. The nations would see and be drawn to the light, and come to a knowledge of the One True God, in order that they would declare allegiance to Him and to His law, namely, to act righteously and uphold justice. This was the life and calling of Abraham, and his descendants.

The sequence of events confirmed that God's Plan was on track. The descendants of Abraham had survived and had begun to possess their inheritance. Indeed, the children of Israel could even testify that when nations tried to oppose them, it only seemed to accelerate them toward their calling and appointment.

While Joshua spoke to the people of Israel, the message was good for instruction, as well as for reproof to the nations. The LORD God, Lord of hosts, had orchestrated all these outcomes. He had journeyed with their Fathers. He had brought them out of Egypt, and had brought them into the Promised Land. He had performed mighty deeds and wonders to preserve them and now the Lord says to Israel, "I have given you a land . . . " (Joshua 24:13).

Certain conditions were placed on the people of Israel, however. Israel would continue to enjoy the benefits of possession–conquering and cultivating their inheritance–as long as they did not forsake the Lord. Otherwise, Israel would be driven from the land.

It must be stated that while Israel could be driven from the land, the land would not be taken from them; eventually, they would return to possess their inheritance.

"Now it shall come to pass, when all these things come upon you, the blessing and the curse which I have set before you, and you call them to mind among all the nations where the LORD your God drives you, and you return to the LORD your God and obey his voice, according to all that I command you today, you and your children, with all your heart and with all your soul, that the LORD your God will bring you back from captivity, and have compassion on you, and gather you again from all the nations where the LORD your God has scattered you." (Deuteronomy 30:1-3)

History records that Israel has been driven from the land twice, and have subsequently, returned twice. The first return came after the seventy years of captivity. At that time, the Medo-Persian monarch, Cyrus, decreed for the people of Israel to return home. Joshua, Ezra, Nehemiah Zerubbabel, Zechariah, Haggai and Malachi were among those who returned. The second return is taking place in our own generation. More particularly, since May 14, 1948, the people of Israel have begun to possess of the land again, for the first time since their initial captivity in 586BCE.

While the people of Israel have been scattered among the nations, different empires have exerted their influence over the land of Israel. All have failed in their attempts to resettle and reestablish the land. The land has remained a desolate, howling wilderness waiting to blossom in anticipation of the return of her people. The people of Israel have likewise longed to return home, enduring centuries of dispersion and the yoke of foreign laws and prohibitions.

In a striking parallel to Joshua's day, when the children of Israel survived the journey to the Promised Land, so too, in our own time, we observe the survival of Israel over the Pharoah's and the threat of hostile nations, as they once again take possession of the land.

The same God who had orchestrated the events in Joshua's day, has today overruled to bring them back from the nations.

Clearly, Joshua's message declaring Israel's preservation, and of them taking possession of the land is intended for future generations. The message contains the truth regarding the ownership of the land, and is crucial in determining who should be possessing it and when. Whilst it is especially pertinent for today, because of the reemergence of the State of Israel, the message is unmistakably applicable for every generation of the people of Israel. Moreover, the message is good for instruction and sets a clear warning to the nations "Beware!" of your actions toward the people of Israel. He who defeated Israel's enemies, and those who opposed their possession of the land in Joshua's day, will certainly come to their rescue in future generations.

While possession of the land is important for the people of Israel, it was not the primary focus of Joshua's message. Rather he challenged the people of Israel to "Fear the LORD, serve him in sincerity and in truth, and put away the gods which your fathers served on the others side of the River and in Egypt. Serve the LORD!" (Joshua 24:14)

True the children of Israel had come to possess, but possession would be as a consequence of their faithfulness and obedience to His commandments.

This was not something new. Previously, Moses had urged the people, "You shall fear the LORD your God and serve him, . . . you shall diligently keep the commandments of the LORD your God, his testimonies, and his statutes which he has commanded you. And you shall do what is right and good in the sight of the LORD, that it may be well with you, and that you may go in and possess the good land of which the LORD swore to your fathers . . . " (Deuteronomy 6:13, 17-18)

Possession was not the primary goal of the new arrivals–loyalty and devotion to God were.

Significantly, obedience and faithfulness to God were the focus of those who returned during the days of Ezra and Nehemiah. At that time the people of Israel were exhorted to keep His commandments. "Now the rest of the people . . . these joined with their brethren, their nobles, and entered into a curse and an oath to walk in God's Torah, which was given by Moses the servant of God, and to observe and do all the commandments of the LORD our Lord, and his ordinances and his statutes." (Nehemiah 10:28-29) Nehemiah undertook radical steps to prepare his generation. "Thus I cleansed them of everything pagan. I also assigned duties to the priests and the Levites, each to his service." (Nehemiah 13:30)

Likewise today, the people of Israel are faced with the challenge of not being yoked to the ways of pagan gods, but to free themselves from the customs and laws of the nations, to cast-off gentile traditions and culture, and to seek the Lord their God, to keep His commandments, and walk in His statutes, that they might serve Him in sincerity and truth.

Joshua told the generation of his day to rid themselves of their pagan past. To forsake the cultures and philosophies which they and their fathers had become accustomed to while living in foreign lands. Nehemiah also urged his generation. So too, today the people of Israel need to be cleansed from unholy conduct and practices picked up while living among the nations. In addition, Israel have been restricted in their keeping and observing of the Lord's commandments, while dispersed among the nations. Forced to adapt their lifestyle, the Jewish people have conducted themselves according to the approval of the nations. But now at home in the Promised Land, Israel has the opportunity to return to the Lord and walk in His ways. Therefore, the challenge of Joshua rings true today. "But Joshua said to the people, 'You cannot serve the LORD. He is a jealous God; for he is a holy God; he will not forgive your transgressions nor your sins." (Joshua 24:19)

Israel can only serve one Master.

Joshua may not have had a successor, but as the one chosen to lead the people of Israel into possess their inheritance, his words still reverberate more than 3,000 years later, "If you forsake the LORD and serve foreign gods, then he will turn and do you harm and consume you, after he has done you good." (Joshua 24:20)

May we be blessed to see the people of Israel seeking the Lord and His goodness, that they may serve Him in sincerity and truth.