United in a Quest for Rest – 1:10-18

The previous entry can be found here.

Once, almost a hundred years ago, a group of boys ended up on an almost deserted island. The group was diverse, yet the same. All of the boys were raised properly in Britain, but no two boys were the exact same age or size (except for a set of twins who were the same age). They fell into two clear groups—littluns and bigguns—though there was no clear place where one group ended and the other began. Things began well for them, though they were by no means perfect. They decided that they needed a leader, so they voted for one, and one boy was made chief. This immediately upset the boy who was not chosen, and he quickly showed his disapproval by belittling the elected chief every chance he could. The chief decided their best chance for survival was to keep a fire blazing on top of the mountain in the middle of the island so that a passing ship would notice it and rescue them. Time passed. What becomes clear is that children can’t focus on tasks. As such, the chief was constantly stressed about keeping the fire going, and those under him were too concerned about exploring or swimming or hunting to care. As such he constantly called meetings to remind his tribe about the need to keep a fire going. Everytime he called a meeting, his antagonist caused problems, until the antagonist took over the whole island and was out to kill the original chief.

While William Golding’s Lord of the Flies is seeking more to explore the topic of innocence and evil and breakdown of society, I couldn’t help but notice as I read it again this week that the main character simply wants to achieve a state of rest, but the disunity among the boys doesn’t ever allow for rest to occur. This is pertinent for the next section of text in the Old Testament book of Joshua.

Our historian writes, “Then Joshua commanded the officers of the people: ‘Go through the camp and tell the people, “Get provisions ready for yourselves, for within three days you will be crossing the Jordan to go in and take possession of the land the LORD your God is giving you to inherit.”’ Joshua said to the Reubenites, the Gadites, and half the tribe of Manasseh: ‘Remember what Moses the LORD’s servant commanded you when he said, “The LORD your God will give you rest, and He will give you this land.” Your wives, young children, and livestock may remain in the land Moses gave you on this side of the Jordan. But your fighting men must cross over in battle formation ahead of your brothers and help them until the LORD gives your brothers rest, as ⌊He has given⌋ you, and they too possess the land the LORD your God is giving them. You may then return to the land of your inheritance and take possession of what Moses the LORD’s servant gave you on the east side of the Jordan.’ They answered Joshua, ‘Everything you have commanded us we will do, and everywhere you send us we will go. We will obey you, just as we obeyed Moses in everything. And may the LORD your God be with you, as He was with Moses. Anyone who rebels against your order and does not obey your words in all that you command him, will be put to death. Above all, be strong and courageous!’”

So far, all we have seen in the book of Joshua is Joshua being commissioned by God. With that in mind, remembering God’s promise to give them the land and to be with Joshua as He had been with Moses, the following words from a commentator make sense: “The two speeches of Joshua that follow (vv. 11, 13-15), by virtue of their content, are the functional equivalent of what Genesis said of Abram after he received promises from God: ‘And he [Abram] believed Yahweh’ (Genesis 15:6a). It could be said of the Joshua who speaks in ch. 1 that ‘Joshua believed Yahweh.’”[1] Thus, everything we see in today’s text, and the remainder of the book (as far as Joshua himself is concerned), though certainly not perfect, is proof of faith.

Our historian today brings up the concept of rest and points out the unity that must exist for rest to be fully realized. He does this through two sections: first, Joshua talks to the elders of the people in verses 10-11; and second, Joshua talks to a separate group within Israel—who might have thought they could rest early—in verses 12-18.

Joshua addresses the elders of the people so that Israel will be aware of the plan. The text says, “Then Joshua commanded the officers of the people: ‘Go through the camp and tell the people, “Get provisions ready for yourselves, for within three days you will be crossing the Jordan to go in and take possession of the land the LORD your God is giving you to inherit.”’” Very simply, Joshua wants the people to prepare themselves for another march. At this point they are still on the plains of Moab (cf. Deuteronomy 34:1), and will be making their next move as a group in three days. It is at this point that chapter 2 takes place because the spies are gone for three days. When they return the people set out.

Beyond that though, we must notice that Joshua doesn’t speak to the people himself. Rather, Joshua has officers of the people to go out and tell the groups under them the news that he has for them. The officers of the people would be the positional equivalent of pastors/elders in churches today. One commentator explains, “The ‘officers’ here are more administrative officials than military officers.”[2] And while pastors today are much more than simply administrators—or at least should be—the point here is that we should not look to Joshua as an example of a pastor. Hebrews will more closely connect Joshua as a foreshadow of Jesus, and thus those under him, obeying his orders and instructing the people, are closer to pastors. The point being that it is biblical to have multiple pastors in a local church body; one man should not be doing all the work. And since pastors prepare their people for the work of the ministry (Ephesians 4:12), it is fitting that these men go out to get the people ready for their departure in three days.

The people had three days to prepare to depart. These three days probably involved prayer and spiritual preparation. Since the spies in chapter 2 are gone for three days according to 2:22, the three days here are probably equivalent to the forty days in Numbers 13:25—the end of which was met by rebellion. Joshua called the people to prepare themselves for three days so that 1) the spies would return with positive news, and 2) so that the people would respond positively regardless of the news. Joshua adds that the purpose of their setting out in three days was “to go in and take possession of the land the LORD your God is giving you to inherit.” This is to spur them on to have faith in God.

The officers of the people take the news to the people, and Joshua turns to another group—a group who had probably just received the news from the officers.

Joshua reminds a separate group of their promise to Moses. The text says, “Joshua said to the Reubenites, the Gadites, and half the tribe of Manasseh: ‘Remember what Moses the LORD’s servant commanded you when he said, “The LORD your God will give you rest, and He will give you this land.” Your wives, young children, and livestock may remain in the land Moses gave you on this side of the Jordan. But your fighting men must cross over in battle formation ahead of your brothers and help them until the LORD gives your brothers rest, as ⌊He has given⌋ you, and they too possess the land the LORD your God is giving them. You may then return to the land of your inheritance and take possession of what Moses the LORD’s servant gave you on the east side of the Jordan.’ They answered Joshua, ‘Everything you have commanded us we will do, and everywhere you send us we will go. We will obey you, just as we obeyed Moses in everything. And may the LORD your God be with you, as He was with Moses. Anyone who rebels against your order and does not obey your words in all that you command him, will be put to death. Above all, be strong and courageous!’” The Reubenites, Gadites, and half the tribe of Manasseh were part of the twelve tribes of Israel. They had fallen in love with the land east of the Jordan River, had asked Moses if they could make homes and dwell there—for which he’d said “yes” with a caveat—and as such were already technically at rest in the land promised to them.

First, within this second section is Joshua’s words in verses 13-15. “Remember what Moses the LORD’s servant commanded you when he said, ‘The LORD your God will give you rest, and He will give you this land.’ Your wives, young children, and livestock may remain in the land Moses gave you on this side of the Jordan. But your fighting men must cross over in battle formation ahead of your brothers and help them until the LORD gives your brothers rest, as ⌊He has given⌋ you, and they too possess the land the LORD your God is giving them. You may then return to the land of your inheritance and take possession of what Moses the LORD’s servant gave you on the east side of the Jordan.” Moses had spoken for God when he promised these tribes rest in the land directly east of the Jordan River. Joshua here reminds them of God’s promise to them. But then he reminds them that their brothers still have battles to fight before they can rest. As such their warriors must cross over the River and help the rest of Israel take the land before they can be allowed to rest with their families on the eastern portion of the Promised Land.

All of Israel was expected to enter rest at the same time. If any part did not achieve a state of rest, then none did. This is the unity of the people of God. There are hundreds—if not thousands—of churches across the earth. None of them have arrived at a state of rest yet. All of them are certainly farther along than Israel ever was—simply because of Christ—but none is in a perfect state of rest because we are still waiting for Christ to come and take visible control of His Kingdom. As such, no church should ever act like they are better than another because they cross their theological t’s “the right way” and dot their theological i’s “biblically.” As church members we should watch out for this thinking in ourselves as well. We must seek to help our brothers and sisters understand the beautiful truths we know—through discussion and debate—but always with love at the center. We should never criticize or laugh at a fellow believer because they just don’t get the doctrines of grace, or creation in six literal days, or the Baptist view of the sacraments. Until we have all arrived, which won’t happen until Christ returns in glory, we must cross the Jordan of our pride and bear with our brothers and sisters in love and grace—showing unity.

Second, within this second section is the peoples’ response in verses 16-18. “Everything you have commanded us we will do, and everywhere you send us we will go. We will obey you, just as we obeyed Moses in everything. And may the LORD your God be with you, as He was with Moses. Anyone who rebels against your order and does not obey your words in all that you command him, will be put to death. Above all, be strong and courageous!” The people of the eastern tribes recognized God’s ordination of Joshua as their leader and give him the respect and honor he deserved. They promise to follow his military orders, they promise to obey his laws, and they pray for blessing on Joshua’s life. They even ascribe death to anyone who rebels against Joshua. Ultimately, they echo God from verses 5-9, and it assuredly encouraged Joshua: “be strong and courageous!”

The people of Reuben, Gad, and half of Manasseh were humble. They believed in uniting with the rest of their brothers and fighting the war for the Promised Land. They didn’t claim to be better than the rest because they’d already received their part of the Promised Land. In fact, according to chapter 22, they are still humble and want to show just how united they really are, even though this attempt causes serious confusion (but more on that when we get there). They believe so highly in this unity that their statement, “Anyone who rebels against your order and does not obey your words in all that you command him, will be put to death,” means that those who refuse to help fight with their brothers shouldn’t even be considered part of Israel. Rather, they should be killed and cut off from the Promised Land. Unity is huge!

Unity is huge, but it is not the most important thing. As we all know about happiness, “if we idolize happiness, it will always elude us,”[3] so it is with unity: if we idolize unity it will always elude us. As important as unity is—and I don’t mean to discount unity—it is not the main thing. Unity is achieved through knowledge of ourselves as sinners; knowledge of God as holy, and just, and loving; knowledge of Christ as gracious; recognition of the grace and love that has been poured into our hearts; and refusing to treat other believers any differently than Christ has treated us. He bore with us—He still bears with us—and we should do the same with each other.

As we will see in our continuation through this book, wars and battles were required before rest could be had. Joshua commands the officers to get the people prepared for war, and then he speaks to the eastern tribes about their promise, and connects it to rest for all Israel. In the New Testament, Hebrews 4 speaks of rest and ties it to Joshua. I’ll copy the whole chapter here:

Therefore, while the promise to enter His rest remains, let us fear that none of you should miss it.  For we also have received the good news just as they did; but the message they heard did not benefit them, since they were not united with those who heard it in faith  (for we who have believed enter the rest), in keeping with what He has said:

So I swore in My anger, they will not enter My rest.

And yet His works have been finished since the foundation of the world,  for somewhere He has spoken about the seventh day in this way:

And on the seventh day God rested from all His works.

Again, in that passage ⌊He says⌋, They will never enter My rest.  Since it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly received the good news did not enter because of disobedience, again, He specifies a certain day—today—speaking through David after such a long time, as previously stated:

Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts.

For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken later about another day.  Therefore, a Sabbath rest remains for God’s people.  For the person who has entered His rest has rested from his own works, just as God did from His.  Let us then make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall into the same pattern of disobedience.  For the word of God is living and effective and sharper than any double-edged sword, penetrating as far as the separation of soul and spirit, joints and marrow. It is able to judge the ideas and thoughts of the heart.  No creature is hidden from Him, but all things are naked and exposed to the eyes of Him to whom we must give an account.  Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens—Jesus the Son of God—let us hold fast to the confession.  For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tested in every way as we are, yet without sin.  Therefore let us approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us at the proper time.

It says that Joshua didn’t give them rest. The end of Joshua says that he did, but the problem with that is that it wasn’t the  true, eternal, soul-secure rest found in Jesus; it was simply rest from war. In Hebrews 4:16 it says that Jesus is our High Priest, and as such He is able to give us rest.

Hebrews 4:12 relates the Word of God to a sword. As such it calls it a weapon of warfare. As believers, we are to spiritually fight—using the Word of God (the Gospel)—against the darkness in the world, and claim the world for Christ and His Kingdom. Only when the last person has come to Jesus will Christ return and will we finally be truly unified and truly resting. Until then, we must walk with one another in love and lovingly add people to the kingdom through the preaching of the Word of God—wielding a sword that kills all that is opposed to Christ.

So maybe you’re reading this and you say, “You keep saying Christ. You keep saying Jesus. Who is that?” (And I’ll flat out say I’m not naïve enough to think that everyone has heard about Jesus.) I’ll answer and say, “Thanks for asking. Let me tell you about my Savior.” Jesus Christ is God. He created the world perfectly. But Adam and Eve—our first parents—disobeyed God’s Word and ate from a tree of which they were not supposed to—instantly breaking the unity between mankind and God. And here’s the thing: mankind is fine to be disunited from God. But another thing: God wants to be united to mankind. For this reason He sent His Son—Jesus Christ—to earth to be a visible—living, breathing, eating, sleeping, relational—picture of exactly who God is. After walking the planet for 33 years, He was nailed to a cross where He died, taking the punishment we deserve for our rebellion against God (remember the threat to rebels against Joshua?). After three days He rose again because the grave can’t hold a perfect God. He will return some day to lovingly commune with His people for eternity in perfect unity. Acts 16:31 says, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.” Just believe. He wants you to believe and I beg you to heed His call. If you don’t, death and eternal separation in hell await.

But with that, I must say that unity and rest are the ultimate goals of God’s people, but they will never be achieved in this life. However, Jesus Christ can be known in this life, and knowing Him will greatly affect our capacity for unity in this life. Let’s keep Christ the main thing. He’s the light on top of the mountain that we must never forget or else we’ll end up like the characters in Golding’s book—for all intents and purposes cutting each others’ throats, even if just verbally. We’re in this thing together, so let’s love each other.

Soli Deo Gloria
Solus Christus

The next entry can be found here.

 

[1] Victor P. Hamilton, Handbook on the Historical Books (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2008), 20.
[2] David M. Howard, New American Commentary – Volume 5: Joshua, (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 1998), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 89.
[3] Edward T. Welch, Depression: Looking up from the Stubborn Darkness (Greensboro, NC: New Growth Press, 2011), 103.

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