So after entering the Promised Land, there is much to do with conquering people and dividing up land amongst the tribes. I love the verses that close out Joshua 21, “So the Lord gave Israel all the land he had sworn to give their ancestors, and they took possession of it and settled there. The Lord gave them rest on every side, just as he had sworn to their ancestors. Not one of their enemies withstood them; the Lord gave all their enemies into their hands. Not one of all the Lord’s good promises to Israel failed; every one was fulfilled.” At this point in time, I imagine everyone was on fire for God. He has done exactly what He said He would do, nothing has been left undone.
Immediately following those verses, the tribes say adios to the Reubenites, the Gadites, and the half-tribe of Manasseh as they leave to go back to their land (of which God assigned to them) in Gilead. These two and a half tribes build an altar by the Jordan and the remaining tribes freak out. They assemble and prepare to confront them. I liked this passage because I thought of the incredible accountability taking place in these moments. The leaders ask how in the world they could break faith with God and turn away from Him like this? In essence, ‘have you lost your minds building this altar in rebellion? He is going to be so ticked off with all of us now!’ In response, the two and a half tribes explain that they are merely afraid that by being separated by the Jordan from the rest of God’s chosen people, that they will be forgotten. One day the rest of God’s chosen people and their descendants may assume that this group on the other side of the Jordan doesn’t worship the same God. Instead, this altar they have built will always serve as a witness between all the tribes, wherever they may be, that they all worship the same God… the God who saved all of their ancestors and delivered them to the Promised Land. The whole fiasco ends with the Reubenites and the Gadites giving the altar this name: A Witness Between Us—that the Lord is God.
Joshua begins to give his farewell address. It reminds me somewhat of having a favorite TV series come to an end and everyone tunes in for the final episode. Perhaps I relate it in a similar way because watching a show every week for years makes you grow fond of the characters you see. You can no more have a legitimate conversation with Buffy the Vampire Slayer than you can Moses himself. To me, Joshua is someone I have grown fond of reading about but have never actually known. But Joshua was a living, breathing man in that time period. The difference between the two is our Bible and the people we read about are very real, they are more than just characters. Nevertheless, as all truly influential people are obliged to do, he leaves us with powerful wisdom as the book of Joshua begins to come to an end. “Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your ancestors worshiped beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”
Sometimes we grab hold of verses and it becomes wildly popular to put them on coffee mugs and pieces of art and whatnot. The second half of Joshua 24:15 is definitely one of those verses. The first half is quite possibly the more important piece to me though. I would almost reword it to make it especially real to people in today’s society, as the average child in the American public school system would probably ask what in the world the Euphrates is. Here it goes… “If serving the Lord doesn’t appeal to you, then choose right now just who or what you will serve, whether it’s the things the people before you have served or the things everyone else around you serves,” and then I would add “but make the choice, and go all in.”
One of the most interesting things about the Bible is how things connect and come together. In Genesis, Jacob buys land in Shechem for a hundred pieces of silver after reuniting with his brother Esau. At the end of Genesis, before Joseph dies, he makes his brothers swear an oath to carry his bones out of Egypt to “the land He promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.” Joseph then dies and they embalm him and put him in a coffin in Egypt. Fast forward 400 years and Moses takes the bones of Joseph with him from Egypt during the exodus. The Israelites carry this coffin with them for 40 years in the wilderness.
At the end of Joshua, after finally settling into the Promised Land, Joseph’s bones were buried at Shechem in the same tract of land that Jacob bought for a hundred pieces of silver. This land became the inheritance of Joseph’s descendants. What’s really cool is that this is the same land where Jesus will meet the woman at the well in the gospel of John. God has woven every thread of this long and winding story together, and nothing is left undone.