READ: Joshua 12-14
BACKGROUND: This is the beginning of a section that describes in great detail – complete with crazy names that are impossible to pronounce – the division of the Promised Land among the tribes and families of Israel. One thing you might notice repeated, time and again, is that the Levites didn’t receive any of the land – that they weren’t a part of the inheritance in that way. This is not because they were sinful or they were being punished. It’s because God had specifically set them apart, and called them to be his priests. They survived off of the faithful giving of the rest of the nation.
12:1 – This begins the list of those Moses conquered on the East of the Jordan.
7 – This begins the list of those Joshua conquered on the West of the Jordan.
9-24 – Why does it keep saying “one” after each king? Just to show how many there were. Strange to think about how prosperous that land was at the time to sustain so many kingdoms. It’s pretty barren now – the result of its people rejecting God.
13:1 – God tells Joshua what remains to be conquered and tells him to divide up what has been conquered.
THINK: Have you ever had an assignment in school where you weren’t sure what the purpose was – where you wondered if the teacher had some sort of sinister motives because you had no idea why the material would ever be applicable to your life? I know that answer to that. 🙂 We all have. And sometimes it’s easy to feel that same way about certain parts of the Bible. Parts like Joshua 12-14. But, much like assignments in school, they are always given with a purpose – even if it isn’t evident on the surface.
So what in the world is the purpose of reading the lists of all the crazy names and places about the division of the Promised Land? It’s all about economics and God’s provision – and it tells us a ton about who God is and who he is calling us to be! Really? Yep. How? Let me briefly explain: First and foremost, we need to understand that the land was divided up between the tribes and the families with the knowledge that they got to live on those plots but the land never belonged to them. It belonged to God. In Leviticus 25, God says that land can never be sold permanently as a reminder that land – and ultimately everything we have – is owned by him and not by us and is given to us as a gracious gift. And every 50 years in Israel all land was transferred back to the original family who owned it. So, no matter what transpired and what land was sold, it ultimately was returned to its original owners. This was called the Year of Jubilee and it accomplished something incredibly important: It made it impossible by means of acquiring land – which was the primary means in an agrarian society – for multiple socioeconomic classes to develop long-term. Nobody could gain the kind of excessive wealth that allowed them to be oppressive, and, conversely, nobody had to exist in an unending cycle of generational poverty. Every 50 years it all reset so that everybody had enough. Not too much. Not too little. Enough.
The notion that God wants everyone to have enough – that this is directly tied to his heart – flows from this passage as well. We don’t see it as we read the Bible now because we’re unfamiliar with the particulars, but study reveals that God divided the land up based on need. He gave bigger tribes bigger sections of the land, and bigger families bigger sub-sections of that land. This is why it is recorded with such meticulous accuracy. So that the nation of Israel would: A. Know who the land goes back to in the Year of Jubilee, & B. Understand God’s great love for his people and his plan to provide all of them with enough. God gave each family enough land to sustain each family. And that amount was different based on the particulars of the family. It is critically important for us to understand this: It was not an even division. It was not a meritorious division (that is, not given based on who worked the hardest, earned, or deserved it). It was a need-based division. Everyone had enough.
God’s provision of enough for all of his people is a theme reflected throughout the Old Testament. Even when the Israelites were wandering in the desert and manna fell from Heaven each morning, he took care to ensure that everyone got enough. He instructed the people to all go out and work hard and collect all that they could and then to share it with one another based on need. So, those who had the ability to collect more than enough were called to give all of the extra (all – down to the very last extra grain because it spoiled daily) to those who weren’t able to collect enough. Everybody had enough.
So, what do we do with this in 21st century America? We live in the midst of the most affluent culture in the history of the world. We have way more than enough. But meritocracy is built into the very fiber of our society, and it permeates our thinking in ways that make it incredibly difficult for us to truly accept that everything we have belongs to God and comes from him and ought to be used for his purposes. Instead we believe that we earned it, and we worked hard for it, and we deserve it, and those who don’t have enough don’t deserve it because they obviously didn’t earn it or work hard enough for it. And so we justify keeping way more than enough and using it for our own selfish purposes instead of giving it – all of it – to those who don’t have enough. What would happen if we understood that it belongs to God and that his heart is for everyone to have enough? We have so much more than enough in America that our excess could cover the needs of every human being on our planet. The sad reality is that currently we don’t even use our excess to cover the needs of every human being in our country. And it breaks God’s heart.
If we want to be a people who truly reflect God’s heart to our world then we must be a people who freely give our extra to those in need. And it’s hard to do sometimes because we don’t feel that they deserve it or that they’ve earned it. We use broad brushstrokes to paint all those in welfare programs as lazy, and we point to the structural and societal failures in developing world countries as their own failures which prevent prosperity and produce poverty. And so we convince ourselves that they don’t deserve it. But here’s the catch: That hardly matters! Of course they don’t. But neither do we. That’s what God is revealing to Israel in this section of Joshua and throughout the Old Testament. It doesn’t matter how hard you work or strive or try, the only thing any of us deserve from God is punishment – death and destruction. Yet, in his love, he graciously provides for us so that we can have enough. And he calls us to reflect that love to the world by sacrificially giving to ensure that everyone has enough.
ASK: Why is it so hard to give sacrificially? If I truly believed that everything I have belongs to God and is given to me as his gracious, underserved gift would it be easier to give sacrificially? What would it look like for me to start reflecting God’s heart to those who don’t have enough?