The Value of Land (Joshua 24)

On Sunday I preached a message on YHWH’s covenantal faithfulness and Israel’s continued fickleness as a picture in history of mankind’s need for a better covenant. In the sermon, I began with a reflection on the importance of land in the Bible and in Joshua:

In the Bible there is a great deal made of land. God created the man and put him in the garden to till and to cultivate the land (cf. Gen. 2). If sin had not ruined the project, this garden, tended by Adam and his descendents, would have domesticated the whole earth, spreading the glory of God all over the globe (cf. G.K. Beale, The Temple and The Church’s Mission: A Biblical Theology of the Dwelling Place of God). Certainly the new heaven and new earth in Revelation 21-22 pictures this, a perfect garden-city that will be inhabited by the lamb of God and all those for whom his blood was shed. And what will they be doing? Having dominion over all creation, working and serving in the land–a gloriously restored Eden.

So too, in the redemptive history between Genesis and Revelation there is much discussion of the land. Abraham is promised the land of Canaan (Gen. 12:1-3, 7). The first five books of the Bible anticipate Israel’s arrival in the promised land. Likewise, the importance of covenant faithfulness is stressed throughout the OT for the purpose of God’s gracious presence remaining with his people in the land (cf. Lev. 26:12-13; Deut. 30:15-20).

In the book of Joshua, the first five chapters report the entry of Israel into the land. This includes a reenactment of Israel’s great march through the Red Sea, when this time led by Joshua, the people cross the overflowing Jordan to enter the land. In chapters 6-12, Joshua records the many battles that ensued in taking the land. The land did not come without a fight, but God faithfully enabled Israel to conquer the wicked nations of Canaan, so that it could be said in 11:23: So Joshua took the whole land, according to all that the Lord had spoken to Moses. And Joshua gave it for an inheritance to Israel according to their tribal allotments. And the land had rest from war.

In chapters 13-21, the land is divided among the people of Israel. Each tribe is allotted their proper portion and they are then called to finish the initial work of having dominion over the land by casting out any remaining foreigners. Again God’s faithfulness is seen in 21:43-45: Thus the Lord gave to Israel all the land that he swore to give to their fathers. And they took possession of it, and they settled there. And the Lord gave them rest on every side just as he had sworn to their fathers. Not one of all their enemies had withstood them, for the Lord had given all their enemies into their hands. Not one word of all the good promises that the Lord had made to the house of Israel had failed; all came to pass.

Finally, in the last three chapters, 22-24, Joshua speaks to the people whom he has led for so many years, and his words too concern the land. This time it regards how the people might be able to stay in the land and retain a dwelling place with God. In chapter 23, Joshua delivers his final address and in chapter 24, the passage that I preached on Sunday, Joshua mediates a covenant renewal with the people of God, that they might remain obedient to God and enjoy his presence in the land.

Ultimately though, the story has Israel afflicted within the land and, at last, cast out of the land. Within one generation, in the book of Judges Israel’s disobedience invites foreign oppressors. But even more devasting in the history of Israel is the expulsion of Israel from the land when the powers of Assyria and Babylon come and conquer God’s obstinate people. It seems that despite all attempts, the people of God cannot keep the covenant. They are too stiff-necked and lustfully idolatrous. So it is with us!

The good news of the rest of the story is that another Joshua has come, and that like his namesake he has led his people through the waters of judgment. In Mark 1, Jesus was baptized in the Jordan, in an act that would later come to symbolize his followers participation in his death and resurrection (Rom. 6). In Mark 1, Jesus passed through the wilderness unassailed by the temptations of the devil, and reentered the land, like a warrior returning home. This conquering reentry foreshadows the work that he would ultimately complete on the cross inaugurating a new covenant with his blood. So that, Luke could say that he came to lead a new exodus (9:31). The final result is that Jesus Christ showed himself to be a superior law-giver than Moses who died outside the land; he proved himself a better leader than Joshua, laying down his life so that his people might have an eternal inheritance in the land to come; and the mediator of a better covenant whose promises far exceeded those of the old covenant.

Joshua 24 is a picture of sweet OT devotion, but it is a far greater picture of another Joshua who has provided a better way to a better land, giving his weary followers the promise of everlasting rest. May we who hear the story of the ancient Israelites, now strive to enter the rest given by the new Joshua.

Sola dei gloria, dss.

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