The altar of witness and Joshua’s farewell address:
Our heavenly Father, we thank You for every part of Your word and as we come closer and closer to the end of our look at Christ through the book of Joshua, we pray, Lord, that You would open our heart to receive every revelation you desire to give us of Your dear Son. Lord, we thank you that we have in You the ability to appropriate the revelation as You propose Him to us. We commit this session unto you and thank You for the indwelling Holy Spirit Who lives in us to reveal Christ and we wait for that revelation. Thank You that You will meet us according to what You know our needs to be and what You know our capacity to be and what You know our desire is to be. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
As we get nearer and nearer to our study, our look at the Lord Jesus, we’ve been looking at the last half of the book of Joshua, the last twelve chapters, 13 – 24, and in the context, the illustration, God’s redeemed people have now come into the land and they’ve experienced God’s victory and they’ve come into the land and now they are beginning to settle down and are receiving their portion and receiving their inheritance and abiding in the land of Canaan in the Old Testament is a picture of abiding in Christ in the New Testament. The land that is flowing with milk and honey is the life that is flowing with milk and honey in the reality.
As we get ready to look in the word I’d like to look at a word that will prepare our hearts and it will make more sense as we go through the study, but the Lord has really touched my heart with this passage. Matthew 12:20 and it’s God the Father’s estimate of God the Son. This is just part of it but in verse 20 it says, “A battered reed He will not break off and a smoldering wick He will not put out.” I think one of the weakest things in the vegetable kingdom is a reed and how much more a bruised reed. You can’t get much of a fire reduced to a spark and the Bible says that Jesus looks at the bruised reed, the smoldering flax, the spark, and He will not break the bruised reed and He will not snuff out the spark. His heart is so compassionate and the way that will tie in, as we go into it we’ll see, is that the tribes on east, the borderline tribes, they were bruised reeds and smoking flax. The attitude the west had toward them was to break the reed and snuff out the spark. But with Christ in our hearts there is a different attitude. Let’s commit our time to the Lord and we’ll look in the word.
The last dozen chapters presents at least ten different pictures. We’ve looked at eight of the ten so far. I’m going to just list the principles. You can look at the sheet and you’ll see them. I’m not going to try to expound on them because we’ve come too far and that would take the entire lesson. But let me just list them again. As you glance at the sheet, if I’m abiding in Christ I will have a holy life, illustrated by Mt. Gerazim and Mt. Ebal, the mount of blessing and the mount of cursing. If I’m abiding in Christ I will be at Shiloh and will have rest in my heart. If I’m abiding in Christ, illustrate by the casting of lots, the will of God will be preeminent in my life. If I’m abiding in Christ my life will be a life of victory as I appropriate the Lord Himself. If I abide in Christ, my life will be a life of grace, illustrated by the repentance of Levi and God turning the curse into a blessing and leading him into relationship. Christ Himself was the inheritance. Unity and privilege, illustrated by the divisions among the tribes; many tribes and one people. And the individuals; if my heart is fully following the Lord and if I have a different spirit, then I will have a special portion. We’ve been looking at embracing love, illustrated by the inheritance of Judah; the unrepentant tribe, the discontent tribe. They could only find a home in the Messianic tribe. And when we went through the cities of refuge, I showed you security because Christ is our refuge. Last time I introduced the altar of witness and I had at first patience (that’s also there. The West certainly had to have patience with the east.) But the main point is worship.
I want to say a little more about the altar of witness but let me just review the main point which the principle is worship. The reason that the Holy Spirit has included this history that we call the altar of witness, listen to Joshua 22:28, “Therefore, we said, ‘It shall also come about, if they say to us or to our generation in time to come, then we shall say, “See the copy of the altar of the LORD which our Father’s made, not for burnt offering or for sacrifice, rather it is a witness between us and you.” In other words, the altar of witness makes the point that there is such a thing as a copy and there is such a thing as the real thing. They made a copy of the real thing. It was not the real thing. It was only a picture of the real thing.
The point is, if we did not have this story of the copy of the real thing, we probably would not be tempted to look at the real thing at this point in our study. But by them holding up a copy, it was an invitation by the Lord for us to say, “Are you living by the picture, by the copy or do you have the real thing?” It calls attention to the real thing. The real thing, of course, is the altar that was at Shiloh. The altar always in the Bible comes to picture the altar of the cross, the finished work of our Lord Jesus. Everything moves toward the atonement and it’s not a surprise to me. It was until the Lord began to show me. But it’s not a surprise to me that as you move toward, “What does it mean to abide in Christ?” that he would end up somewhere bringing in the cross and the finished work and the fact that it was done because everything is based on the atonement; everything God has ever done for you and me is because Jesus died on the cross. Everything is based on the atonement but that is not the same as saying that everything is in the atonement. There’s a difference between being based on the atonement and being in the atonement. That’s an important difference.
As we closed last time I called attention to what part of the altar is emphasized in this story of the altar of the witness. Joshua 22:23, “If we build an altar to turn away from following the Lord,” and then he says, “or if to offer a burnt offering or grain offering on it, or if to offer sacrifices of peace offering on it, may the LORD Himself require it.” Attention is called to three offerings. There were more than three but these three: the burnt offering, the grain offering and the peace offering. That’s the picture. What is the reality behind the burnt offering, the grain offering and the peace offering? It’s quite simple and it’s quite beautiful and it’s why God begins to bring to an end the message of Joshua.
In reality the burnt offering is the whole burnt offering. In other words, there’s nothing left; everything was given to the Lord; everything was burned up. Burning is God receiving it. Everything was burned. That’s a picture, the whole burnt offering pictures the work of Christ on the cross. He gave everything and He gave His all. He gave His Son. We have Jesus. He is the whole burnt offering. The grain offering was mixed with the fragrances and it’s also called the sweet smelling savor to the Lord. Now put that together; Christ has given everything and God the Father has accepted what He gave. You can see how we’re coming to the end here now.
In the peace offering, we have the picture of the exchanged life. It was this offering where the worshipper was to put his hands on the head of the innocent victim. They would place their hands on it, same as to say, “All of my dirt, sin, corruption is passing through my hands on the head of that innocent victim.” But in the same time the innocent victim, the righteousness of the lamb is coming the other way. So, it’s a double flow. The lamb gets what I deserve and I receive what the lamb deserves. I think a good summary verse in fully developed form is 2 Corinthians 5:21, “He made Him to be sin, who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.” There’s another name for the peace offering, in fact there are two more names for the peace offering. One is called the thank offering. There is no difference between the peace offering and the thank offering. The other is the votive offering; free will. You didn’t have to give this offering. You had to choose whether you wanted to give it.
Put those three together. Jesus has given everything. God has accepted everything that Jesus gave and we say thank You. That’s it; that’s the whole Christian life! He’s done it all, God has accepted what He’s done and we willingly, votive offering, say thank You, thank You, thank You. The more you go on in the abiding life, the more we’ll see the simplicity of worship. Worship is, “Christ has done it, God has accepted it and I say thank You.” And that’s why we end with the offerings. I’m thankful that they had the copy because it pointed me to the reality.
That’s the main point of the altar of witness but there’s other observations and I’d like to go through a couple of things before we leave this wonderful story. First, let me remind you of the story itself. The two and a half tribes that chose to live, I call it on the wrong side, but on the east, because they were settling for the foretaste and they didn’t want to go into the land. They got into a lot of trouble with Moses, so they made a promise and it’s recorded in Numbers 32:17, 18 & 19, “We ourselves will be armed and ready to go before the sons of Israel until we’ve brought them to their place, while our little ones live in the fortified cities because of the inhabitants of the land. We will not return to our homes until every one of the sons of Israel has possessed his inheritance. For we will not have an inheritance with them on the other side of the Jordan and beyond.”
That’s what they promised while they were in the wilderness. And now we’ve come to Joshua and they’ve come, they did it. They sent over forty thousand armed men to fight with Israel. They went through a seven year war. We don’t know exactly how long it took to settle down and to divide the land up among the tribes but they waited until that was finished, as well. So, add to the seven years four or five or six, I’ve read as many as eight years later, and now the time had come and they have to go back home. They made their promises and they kept their promises. Joshua 22:8, “The sons of Reuben, sons of God and the half-tribe of Manasseh returned home and departed from the sons of Israel at Shiloh which is in the land of Canaan, to go to the land of Gilead, to the land of their possession which they had possessed, according to the command of the Lord through Moses.”
But on the way home, that’s the occasion of this story, they did something that almost caused a civil war. Joshua 22:11, “And the sons of Israel heard it said, ‘Behold, the sons of Reuben and the sons of Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh have built an altar at the frontier of the land of Canaan, in the region of the Jordan, on the side belonging to the sons of Israel.” On the way home they stopped and built an altar. When Israel heard of it, those on the west, Joshua 22:12, “When the sons of Israel heard of it, the whole congregation of the sons of Israel gathered themselves at Shiloh to go up against them in war.” They were regarding them as enemies. They looked at that altar as a rival altar. God had said, “One altar and it’s in Shiloh. It’s where the tabernacle is. You can’t have two altars.” They just spent seven years tearing down false altars and now before they go home they build an altar. And Israel is terrified that God is going to throw judgment on them. They said, “We’ve got to destroy the entire two and a half tribes.” And that was the occasion of this story.
Before we get to commenting on the division between the east and the west, I want to mention a detail that the commentators struggle with. You might not think it’s important and I don’t really think it’s that important. If fact, Lillian was wondering why in the world I’m even bringing it up. The point is, just to make you familiar with it, and the commentators struggle with, “Where did they build the altar? Was it on the west or did they cross the Jordan and build it on the east? Was it in their inheritance or was it in the inheritance of the nine and a half tribes? It sounds like it’s an easy question to answer but it really isn’t. It’s not as clear as it seems. If fact, I don’t think, with the light I have, that it can be decided. I don’t know.
Here’s the argument. Joshua 22:10, “When they came to the region of the Jordan which is in the land of Canaan, the sons of Reuben and the sons of Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh built an altar there by the Jordan, a large altar in appearance.” We know it was big and it was patterned after the true altar but bigger. It was conspicuous. You could see it from a distance. Some say, “If they built it right on the west, it was so large, if you are living on the east, you could look over the Jordan and could see. So, it’s probably on the west.” Joshua 22:11, “And the sons of Israel heard it said, ‘Behold, the sons of Reuben and the sons of Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh have built an altar at the frontier of the land of Canaan, in the region of the Jordan, on the side belonging to the sons of Israel.” Well, that settles it. It’s on the west. That’s what that looks like. It looks like it’s as clear as crystal except the sons of Israel are actually on both sides of the river and to build it on the side of the sons of Israel is not 100/% clear. Most commentators say that it was built on the west. Some archaeologists think that they have found some of the remnants. There’s a stone on Mt. Ebal and they say, “This thing was built so it could be seen without a mountain. The stone is so large that it can be seen thirty miles away.” So, they say that is part of the altar. But that’s not clear at all whether that is so. Not everybody think it’s on the west. If they built it on the west, that would be on somebody else’s property.
The question is, how come nobody noticed it? If somebody built an altar on your property, maybe you would notice it. If they built it on mine I would notice it. But they had more property, so maybe it wasn’t developed and they didn’t see it. We know this, Joshua 22:12, “When the sons of Israel heard of it…” So, they only learned about it because somebody told them. There was a leaker. Somebody spilled it. “The whole congregation of the sons of Israel gathered themselves at Shiloh to go up against them in war.”
We don’t know how long it was from the time they built the altar to the time they got intelligence and heard about the altar. Some say it was weeks and some say it was months and maybe days; we don’t know. I only mention this for your interest because I don’t think it can be proved either way and the principle of worship, “He gave His all and God accepted it and we say thank You,” hasn’t changed whether it’s on the east or whether it’s on the west. I incline to think, and you might be surprised, but from the arguments I’ve read, I think it was on the east and not on the west. But I respect those who see it differently, as long as we agree on the spiritual principle. Remember that they already had a witness in the land. Remember when they crossed the Jordan they took the stones out of the river bed of the Jordan and they went to Gilgal and built an altar of twelve stones. So, they are already represented in the land but their argument is, “We want our kids to be able to see it.” And they wouldn’t have been able to see that.
If they were going to cross over, in other words, if they weren’t telling the truth, if they said, “This is a copy and we’re never going to use it,” but they planned to use it, it wouldn’t make sense because if they crossed over to use it, it’s on the west. As long as they are there, they might as well go up to Shiloh and they could go to the true altar. Josephus, the historian, says that it was on the east. That’s not why I believe it’s on the east. I can’t trust Josephus very much. Sometimes he’s on but sometimes he’s not.
It looks like when they left they went straight home. Joshua 22:9, “The sons of Reuben and the sons of Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh returned home and departed from the sons of Israel at Shiloh which is in the land of Canaan, to go to the land of Gilead, to the land of their possession…” So, it looks like they went home and that they crossed the river and they went home. It seems so clear, though, when you read verse 11 that it was on the west. Whether it was on the east or west, some say, if you look at the end of verse 11, “They built an altar on the frontier of the land of Canaan, the region of the Jordan, on the side belonging to the sons of Israel.” The Hebrew will allow this; they say that the Jordan meandered. They built the altar where the Jordan meandered. It wasn’t the altar on that side, but the Jordan was on that side and they built here in order to look over. I don’t care.
I don’t know but the story does illustrate a practical principle and that’s why I have mentioned it. I’ll just say this; the tribes on the east were separated from the tribes on the west and between them was a river; the River Jordan. Joshua 22:25, “The Lord has made the Jordan a border between us and you and your sons of Reuben, the sons of Gad; you have no portion in the Lord. So your sons may make our sons stop fearing the Lord.” I want you to picture in your mind’s eye that the people of God were one; they’re family and we’re family; they are bruised reeds and they are smoking flax but they are family. So, on the east and on the west they are people of God and there is a separation between them. I call those on the east “the borderline Christians”. On the other side, those on the west, were those who had chosen to abide in the land. You would have those who didn’t want to have reality and those who had reality. Some would say that these are the legalists over here and these are the victorious over here. Some call attention to the fact that they went to the inheritance Moses gave them; they are of the law. We want the inheritance God gave us; we’re of grace. Some make that distinction.
On the east and on the west, I’m going to word it this way. On the west were those who should know better because they are in the land and on the east were bruised reeds and smoking flax. They made a decision. They want the copy and don’t want the reality. They settle for the foretaste. They don’t want to enter in. They know all the answers because they’ve been there. They can tell you about the land and about fighting and about the enemy and about victory and they can tell you about everything, “I’ve got all the words but I don’t want to live there. I want to live over here.” So, we’ve got the east and the west.
The way we’re going to look at it is, and not the way we should look at is, it’s always us and them and, of course, we’re the ones that are in the land. We’re always the ones that are in the land; we’re the good guys and they are the bad guys and we’re on the resurrection side abiding in Christ, resisting form, resisting unreality, resisting the borderline, resisting the ritual, resisting just the words; “We want to abide in Christ.” Well, I’m not going to declare myself on either side; not on the east and not on the west. I’ll stick with the text and I’ll try to show you how my heart wants to be on the west but it’s not so cut and dry because it’s a heart attitude. Every time I take my eyes off Christ I’m on the east. It’s like the parable of the sower when He gave the illustration of four soils; how you receive the word of God. Someone would say, “Oh, I’m the good soil.” And some would say, “Well, there’s the rocky soil and the wayside soil and the thorny soil. I’m not there.” At any moment I can be any soil. You can be good soil today, receiving everything from the Lord, and hard, rocky soil tomorrow, resisting the Lord. I’m not going to be boasting when I talk east and west and us and them. We need to be careful, lest we end up in big trouble.
But there is this problem with those on the west and those on the east. I pray that I’m on the west. I want to be. I pray you are on the west. We want to be. When I refer sometimes to those on the east as legalists, I hope I will bite my tongue to a stump never to call them Pharisees. Pharisees were legalists but they were unsaved. They didn’t know the Lord. By God’s grace some Pharisees came to know the Lord. Praise God, there was Nicodemus and so on but I don’t refer to them that way. They are family and they are part of the body. You say, “Well, they took a stand and they aren’t following on and they don’t want to go all the way.” It doesn’t matter. They are bruised reeds and they are smoking flax and if Christ is living in my heart, I know His attitude toward the bruised reed and I know His attitude toward the smoking flax. If I’m looking to Christ, that will be manifest as I look to those on the east. We need to understand that they’re brothers and sisters in Christ.
Some of the stories that we’ve been through dealt with individuals and some dealt with tribes. But in this story we’ve got the whole body. We’ve got those on the west and those on the east. It’s everybody. This has to do with everybody. For that reason alone we should press toward the warnings that the Lord gives us. Let me just expound a little bit on this warning. The attitude that the west took toward the east was natural. That’s what’s wrong with it. It was natural. I understand why they felt the way they felt but we need to be very careful about our attitude toward those who differ. Those on the west had very little patience, little tolerance with those on the east. They didn’t see much hope for the bruised reed and they didn’t have much hope for the smoking flax. There is a great warning here.
The first indication we get is that those on the west who were in the land picturing abiding in Christ, looked at the east and they became very judgmental. They began to judge those and not only judge but condemn. Maybe it’s because of their history. Maybe because we know them, they made the decision that they didn’t want reality and they are just living slipshod lives; they’re borderline. Besides, they said that God made the Jordan separate them. God didn’t make that separation. They are the ones that chose it. They were invited to come over. The separation not to be with God’s people and not to worship with God’s people and to live on the other side, that was their decision. So, those on the west, when they do anything, they are quick to judge. They heard a rumor. Joshua 22:11-12, “And the sons of Israel heard it said, ‘Behold, the sons of Reuben, and the sons of God and the half-tribe of Manasseh have built an altar at the frontier of the land of Canaan, in the region of the Jordan, on the side belonging to the sons of Israel.’ When the sons of Israel heard of it, the whole congregation of the sons of Israel gathered themselves at Shiloh to go up against them in war.” They didn’t investigate at that. They just heard a rumor and because it’s them, they put the worst construction on it. They assumed the worst. They heard a rumor and because they heard a rumor, they jumped to a conclusion and said, “They have sinned. They have built a rival altar against the Lord. We’ve got to kill them.” That is what they said. It’s all based on rumor. They don’t have clue at that point but they jumped to conclusions because, “We know them and who they are and how they act. They did it just out of pride. I can tell by looking in their face. They’ve just trying to pump themselves up.” So, they assumed it was a rival altar like the heathen had built and they knew God had one altar and His appointed place, so they deserved to die.
Brothers and sisters in Christ and those who claim to be on the west and abiding in the land, we see somebody who is a bruised reed and doing stupid stuff and making dumb decisions and they don’t want the reality and they only want a copy and they just want to go through the forms and they only have the words, be careful before you judge them, until you have found out. In the minds of the west that rumor was proof enough that they had committed an act of idolatry against the Lord and they deserved to die. The Bible is full of warnings against judging motives. We can see if God’s word says something and it’s violated, then you say that they violated God’s word. Then you aren’t judging. God’s word is judging. But to look at someone and say, “I can tell by the look on his face he’s just doing that…” The look on his face, he might have indigestion. You don’t know the look on somebody’s face. You can’t judge.
I love Paul’s approach why he didn’t judge motives. 1 Corinthians 4:3, “To me it’s a small thing that I may be examined by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not examine myself. I’m conscious of nothing against myself, yet I’m not by this acquitted. The One who examines me is the Lord. Therefore, do not go on passing judgment before the time. Wait until the Lord comes who will bring to light the things hidden in darkness and disclose the motives of men’s hearts. Then every man will have his praise from God.” Paul said, “One reason I don’t judge your motives is because I don’t know my own. I can’t even judge my own motives. I can say that I’m doing it because I love them and because I’m generous.” You don’t know your heart. It’s deceitful; above all things it’s desperately wicked. So is mine. I can think I’m doing something for the right reason. Paul said, “How can I judge your motives when I’m not even certain that I’m doing things for a certain reason.” That’s a great warning.
When they came face to face with them, they didn’t say, “Could you please explain what you’ve done?” Here’s what they said, Joshua 22:16, “Thus says the whole congregation of the Lord, ‘What is this unfaithful act which you’ve committed against the God of Israel, turning away from following the Lord by building yourself an altar to rebel against the Lord this day? Is not the iniquity of Peor enough for us, from which we have not cleansed ourselves, although a plague came from the congregation of the Lord, that you must turn away this day from following the Lord? If you rebel against the Lord today, He’ll be angry with the whole congregation tomorrow.’” They didn’t say, “Could you please explain why you would build an altar?” They said, “You dirty sinners! Look what you did! You rebelled against the Lord and you did wrong.” Right away they condemned them, before they heard one word of explanation from them.
We shouldn’t put our light on them. People who are borderline, they have light and they live according to their light. That light is not my light. I can’t put my light on them. You can’t put your light on me. Walk in the light as He is in the light, for you. As God has put you in the light you follow in that light. God put them in the light and we are so quick… I’m so convicted by reading about the west’s attitude toward the east in this story. Not only were they quick to judge and quick to condemn and read motives and jump to conclusions, but they didn’t want to relate to them as God’s children. They wanted to treat them as if they were enemies. That’s what they had been doing to the enemies. They wanted to go against them in war. Verse 12.
Sometimes we might try to deny it. But those who claim to be on the west say, “I’ve been trusting the Lord,” and then somebody walks in the door and my heart sinks, “I wish she never came. I know her life and what’s going on in her life. I know him. He can talk sweet Jesus but I know he’s running around with someone else’s wife. I know about that.” We feel happy when they don’t come in and we feel glad if they are absent. Maybe we don’t go so far as they should be dead and go to war with them but we get this idea. When Mary and Martha was at Lazarus’ tomb He said to roll away the stone. They said, “No, Lord. What’s behind there stinks. I know the situation behind there.” He said to roll away the stone and declare what I can do with that rotten mess. Don’t just ignore them and say, “I’m glad they are laid away and at least in the resurrection they are going to heaven. La, la, la; I don’t need to deal with it.” Roll the stone away, no matter how corrupt it is. You can roll the stone but you can’t say, “Lazarus come forth.” Only God can do that and bring light. We don’t need to get this attitude that the west wants the east destroyed.
The west might have said, “They offended us by building that altar.” In that connection I love Psalm 119:165, KJV, “Great peace they have that love Thy law and nothing shall offend them.” May God help us understand that! It is a sin to offend people and it’s also a sin to be offended. If you are abiding in Christ you’ll never be offended. I don’t think there is anything anybody can do when I’m trusting the Lord. If I’m not trusting Him, I get offended at everything. But if I’m looking to Christ, it’s not possible to offend me. It’s not possible. So, again, the west had no argument.
In their explanation, the explanation they gave is so easy to tear down. I could say, of everything they said, “You’re lying. You’re lying. You’re lying.” And Joshua 22:22-23, notice how they began their defense, “The Mighty One, God, the LORD, the Mighty One, God, the LORD! He knows, and may Israel itself know. If it was in rebellion, or if in an unfaithful act against the LORD do not save us this day! If we have built us an altar to turn away from following the LORD, or if to offer a burnt offering or grain offering on it, or if to offer sacrifices of peace offerings on it, may the LORD Himself require it.” They used those three wonder names. They said, “Elohim and they said Jehovah.” They invoked the name of the Lord. And then they said in verse 23, “Let Him require it. If I’m lying, then let the LORD deal with me. I want Him to deal with me.” That sounded like a good argument except I remember before I came to know Jesus, I would say so often, when I was caught in a lie, “I swear to God I’m telling the truth. I cross my heart and hope to die that I’m telling the truth.” So, that argument from those mouths, knowing who they are, saying that could have been a fake because anybody can say words.
I’ve known a lot of Christians who… We had one guy who used to drive me snaky when I was pastoring a little church up in Newport, Rhode Island. He would come in every week and talk about sweet Jesus. He died by getting hit by a semi. He was in a drunken condition and he just stumbled out into the road and was run over by a big 18 wheeler. But everybody knew and he would not miss a meeting. He’d come in and he’d testify, “God saves, keeps and satisfies. Bless His holy name! Sweet Jesus! Sweet Jesus!” And it would drive me nuts to hear that coming out of his mouth because I knew his life. I was tempted to say, “We ought to kill him.” At least that he shouldn’t be here. When he didn’t show up, why did I have peace? He needed to be in the presence of the Lord. He needed to have the word heard and my heart attitude was being glad when he didn’t show up. What is wrong with me? I’ll tell you what’s wrong; I’m on the east and I’m the hard soil and I’m the thorny soil. We need to have the Lord keep us focused on the Lord Himself.
Their argument was in Joshua 22:26-28, “Let’s build an altar, not for burnt offering or for sacrifice; rather it shall be a witness between us and you and between our generations after us, that we are to perform the service of the LORD before Him with our burnt offerings, and with our sacrifices and with our peace offerings, so that your sons will not say to our sons in time to come, ‘You have no portion in the LORD.’ Therefore we said, “It shall also come about if they say this to us or to our generations in time to come, then we shall say, ‘See the copy of the altar of the LORD which our fathers made, not for burnt offering or for sacrifice; rather it is a witness between us and you.’” In other words, “We’re doing this for the kids; for the next generation. We’re living on the wrong side and after a while you might think that we’re not part of you and not part of the body, so we’ll just point to the altar and say, ‘Our fathers made that, so we’re part of them.’”
The argument that was given back was Joshua 22:19, “If, however, the land of your possession is unclean, then cross into the land of the possession of the LORD, where the LORD’s tabernacle stands, and take possession among us. Only do not rebel against the LORD, or rebel against us by building an altar for yourselves, beside the altar of the LORD our God.” They could have argued, “If you are really concerned about your kids and your grandkids, then why are you living on the wrong side? Come over. We’ve already got an inheritance but we’ll make room.” And those on the west said, “If you ever see that your inheritance is defiled, come over and then you don’t need an altar of witness. If you came over here you could worship with us.” It’s easy to look at their arguments and say, “Well, I know their words.”
I’m so glad that God sent Phineas. He’s the one that stopped the plague at Peor when he took that big spear and he drove it through two people, a man and a woman who were in an immoral act and killed them both. God was judging them for immorality and meanwhile he grabs this heathen woman and he stopped the plague. Twenty four thousand people died and as soon as he put that spear through both of them, God stopped the plague. That’s the guy who goes over to talk to these people and I’m glad it was him. If I had a problem with some theology and my mentor, Mr. Sells, that he had a certain position on a certain thing, I might be inclined to that position because he had such a reputation. Or if I’m reading someone like Ederheim or F. B. Meyer or Morgan or Scrogee or somebody like that and they have a certain position, I lean toward that. What I’m saying is that I’m glad God sent Phineas because I respect him and he accepted their argument. He saw them as bruised reed and smoking flax.
Joshua 22:32-33, “Phineas the son of Eleazar the priest and the leaders returned from the sons of Rueben and from the sons of Gad, from the land of Gilead to the land of Canaan, to the sons of Israel, and brought back word to them. The word pleased the sons of Israel, and the sons of Israel blessed God; and they did not speak of going up against them in war to destroy the land in which the sons of Reuben and the sons of Gad were living.” It begins with, “I wish you were dead,” and it ends with, “I wish you would come over to our side.” That’s a lot better. May God whose heart is not to break the bruised reed or snuff out the smoking flax, may He live in us in such a way that our attitude toward the weaker, those who don’t see things as we do, may God help us to always have that heart that they are still family and they are not enemy. They need to come over and dwell in the land.
I wish I could tell you the subsequent record in the Bible but all of the expectations happened. They were the first to turn into idolatry over there. When Assyria came they were the first to go down and be destroyed. I say the first because the others also went down, including the Messianic tribe of Judah. Those of us who think we stand, let’s take heed lest we fall. We are made of flesh and my only hope for standing is to depend upon the Lord Himself.
I want to introduce the farewell message. This is the next on the list; the farewell message of Joshua. He knows he is ready to die and go to heaven. Joshua 23:1-2, “Now it came about after many days, when the LORD had given to Israel rest from all their enemies on every side, and Joshua was old, advanced in years, that Joshua called for all Israel, for their elders and their heads and their judges and their officers, and said to them, ‘I am old, advanced in years.’” In chapter 23 & 24 we have the words of a dying man. This is the last word and farewell message of Joshua. Joshua 23:14, “Now behold, today I am going the way of all the earth, and you know in all your hearts and in all your souls that not one word of all the good words which the LORD your God spoke concerning you has failed; all have been fulfilled for you, not one of them has failed.” Joshua 24:28 – 29, “then Joshua dismissed the people, each to his inheritance. It came about after these things that Joshua the son of Hun, the servant of the LORD, died, being one hundred and then years old.”
Just as an overview, some think there are two sermons here and not one. In chapter 23:2, one for the leadership; in other words, the elders and the heads and the judges and the officers. Exodus 18 says, the heads of thousands, the heads of hundreds, the heads of fifty; the leadership. There is a sermon for that. Then when you come to Joshua 24:1, “Then Joshua gathered together all the tribes of Israel to Shechem,” (that’s a different place, they suggest, and now he talks to the assembly.) The last place to have been mentioned was Shiloh. So, some think the first message was at Shiloh and then they moved to Shechem; two different places and two different peoples and some say two different sermons and they even put a lot of time between sermon one and sermon two. For our purposes, since the Holy Spirit has put it together, we’re going to look at it as one message; a special application for the elders but an address to all the people of God.
As we close, we’ll go back to this next time, but I want to give you the central message of the farewell sermon; the main point. Joshua 23:14, “Now behold today I am going the way of all the earth, and you know in all your hearts and in all your souls that not one word of all the good words which the LORD you God spoke concerning you has failed; all have been fulfilled for you, not one has failed.” Let me summarize the theme of the farewell message in three words: God is faithful. This is the message on the faithfulness of God. We have seen holiness and rest and the will of God and the preeminence of Christ and love and security and abiding in the Lord and expressing all of these principles and ending with worship. And now it’s all based on, “God is faithful.” That’s how it happens. Joshua’s testimony, I’m glad it’s Joshua because his life included three great things. He lived forty years in slavery and then he lived forty years in the wilderness and now he’s got another thirty years in the land. What he’s saying is, “I lived in slavery and God is faithful and I went through the wilderness and God is faithful and I’ve been in the land and God is faithful.” I love poetry. I don’t know who wrote it but I love it…
“God is faithful, not He has been or He will be, both are true. But today in this sore trial God is faithful now to you.”
Isn’t that a precious little poem? God is faithful. As Joshua has been dying he’s reminding them of His faithfulness. I want to show you one more thing and that is that when he speaks of the faithfulness of God in his dying sermon, he speaks both of the tender side of God’s faithfulness and the severe side. Joshua 23:14, speaks of the positive side, “Not one good thing has failed.” But look at verse 15, “It shall come about that just as all the good words which the LORD your God spoke to you have come upon you, so the LORD will bring upon you all the threats, until He has destroyed you from off this good land which the LORD your God has given you.” God is faithful; He’s faithful to provide everything He said and He’s faithful to take me to the woodshed, if I need it. That’s also part of His faithfulness.
For years I misunderstood and misapplied 2 Timothy 2:13, “If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself.” Do you know how I looked at that? I almost looked at that and said, “It doesn’t matter if I lose faith because He is faithful.” I used it almost as a crutch, “If I’m faithless that’s okay. I shouldn’t be but He’s faithful and He won’t deny Himself.” It’s not what it’s saying. In the context, just before that, he said, “If we deny Him, He’ll deny us.” If I’m faithless, He’s faithful and He’ll still deal with me. That’s the context of 2 Timothy. He’s saying that we’re not going to get away with it.
Hudson Taylor’s favorite Bible verse was Mark 11:22 and from that he made a little plaque that he kept on his desk, “Have faith in God.” From that verse he made this plaque and put it on his desk. It became his motto, “Hold onto the faithfulness of God.” That’s how he interpreted, “Have faith in God.” “Hold onto the faithfulness of God.” Exactly right. That’s what faith is. It’s holding onto the Lord. One of the great dangers of faith is that faith gets all wrapped up in faith. It’s the faithfulness of the Lord. He’s the one that must keep us. I love 1 Thessalonians 5:24, “Faithful is He who calls you, and He also will bring it to pass.” I love the marginal reading in the NAS of Psalm 37:4, “Trust in the LORD and do good; dwell in the land and feed on his faithfulness.” Isn’t that a banquet? Next time we’ll come back to looking at that sermon, but especially in terms of it’s chief message; the faithfulness of God. Everything that you’ll ever hear about abiding in Christ will fall back on God’s faithfulness. He’s brought you this far and He’s going to bring you all the way. He brought me this far and by grace we’ve come this far and He’s going to take us all the way.
Heavenly Father, thank You for Your great faithfulness. Great is Thy faithfulness! Morning by morning and we know it and day after day and year after year You are the same and You don’t change. We know that if weren’t for the fact that You didn’t change, we would have been destroyed long ago. We pray that you would take us forward in understanding what it means as we develop this; that You are faithful. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.