The Book of Joshua Series
Conquering the Land
“The Danger of Spiritual Inertia”
Today we return to our series in the book of Joshua. Since we have taken a couple of Sundays off for Passion Week let’s do a little review. The first twelve chapters of the book of Joshua is devoted to the new generation of Israel entering the Promise Land and their conquest of Canaan. As I mentioned several weeks ago as you read the first twelve chapters, you encounter words like “take,” “destroy,” and “struck” as Joshua and his army obeyed the Lord’s command that the cities of Canaan were to be “devoted to destruction.”
But starting in chapter thirteen we see the conquest coming to an end and the land being divided among the tribes of Israel. It is during this new phase a new word is introduced, “inheritance.” In the last twelve chapters of Joshua the word, “inheritance,” occurs fifty times. If you do the math that means the word “inheritance” is used about four times in each of the remaining chapters. I think the Holy Spirit wants to get our attention. The Lord desires that we claim our inheritance!
Today we come to chapters eighteen and nineteen where we encounter a problem. Up to this point only five tribes have claimed their inheritance and settled into their allotted portion of the land. Seven tribes had not come to Joshua at Gilgal to receive their inheritance. They were content to dwell in Ephraim’s territory and enjoy the richness of another tribe’s land. They were content to live like nomads in Ephraim instead of establishing roots and claiming their own inheritance. So, do you know what Joshua does? He comes to them, sets up the tabernacle in Shiloh located in the territory of Ephraim, and calls these seven stagnant tribes to spiritual renew.
Let’s pick up the text in Joshua chapter eighteen.
Then the whole congregation of the sons of Israel assembled themselves at Shiloh and set up the tent of meeting there; and the land was subdued before them. 2 There remained among the sons of Israel seven tribes who had not divided their inheritance. 3 So Joshua said to the sons of Israel, “How long will you put off entering to take possession of the land which the Lord, the God of your fathers, has given you? 4 Provide for yourselves three men from each tribe that I may send them, and that they may arise and walk through the land and write a description of it according to their inheritance; then they shall return to me. 5 They shall divide it into seven portions; Judah shall stay in its territory on the south, and the house of Joseph shall stay in their territory on the north. 6 You shall describe the land in seven division and bring the description here to me. I will cast lots for you here before the Lord our God. 7 For the Levites have no portion among you, because the priesthood of the Lord is their inheritance. Gad and Reuben and the half-tribe of Manasseh also have received their inheritance eastward beyond the Jordan, which Moses the servant of the Lord gave them.”
8 Then the men arose and went, and Joshua commanded those who went to describe the land, saying, “Go and walk through the land and describe it, and return to me; then I will cast lots for you here before the Lord in Shiloh.” 9 So the men went and passed through the land and described it by cities in seven divisions in a book; and they came to Joshua to the camp at Shiloh. 10 And Joshua cast lots for them in Shiloh before the Lord, and there Joshua divided the land to the sons of Israel according to their divisions.
Setting Up the Tabernacle in Shiloh
As we unpack this text let’s first consider Joshua setting up the Tabernacle in Shiloh. The Tabernacle symbolized God dwelling among His people. The purpose of the Tabernacle was to provide a place where the people could properly worship God. Priests sacrificed animals on the altar in the outer court. In the Holy Place was the bread of the presence, the continually burning lampstand, and the offering of incense. And once a year, the high priest would enter the Holy of Holies as part of the ceremony of the Day of Atonement. (Lev. 16) At no other time was anyone to enter the Holy of Holies, as the presence of God dwelt with the Ark of the Covenant.
The Tabernacle was a tent structure a little larger than a regulation basketball court. It wasn’t much to look at. The Tabernacle would be taken down and transported as the people wandered in the wilderness for forty years. Although the Tabernacle was heavy and had many parts, it was surprisingly portable. Wherever the people went following the cloud by day and the fire by night, the Tabernacle went with them. As the people wandered in the wilderness the Tabernacle would be taken it down and re-erected as the people moved throughout their journeys.
When Joshua led the new generation into the Promise Land the Tabernacle remained in its transportable condition in Gilgal. The Tabernacle was the focal point not only for worship but for meetings with the tribes. Hence the phrase “tent of meeting.” The Tabernacle remained at Gilgal in its transportable condition during the seven years of conquest. But as the conquest ended it became apparent that Gilgal was not a good long-term choice for the permanent home of the Tabernacle.
A central location was needed so that all the people could conveniently gather at the Tabernacle for particular ceremonies and corporate gatherings. The territory of Ephraim was chosen, and the area known as Shiloh was determined to be the perfect spot. So, after the permanent location for the Tabernacle was determined then the whole congregation of the sons of Israel assembled themselves at Shiloh and set up the tent of meeting there; and the land was subdued before them. (18.1)
The Land Was Subdued Before Them
The word “subdued” has the idea of “treading down.” Remember that during the stage of conquest Joshua’s armies were commanded by the Lord to tread down the cities of Canaan. So, this phrase “the land was subdued before them” is giving testimony to the fact that the conquest stage was ending, and the inheritance stage had begun. But there was a problem. There remained among the sons of Israel seven tribes who had not divided their inheritance. (18.2) Only five tribes were enjoying their permanent inheritance. And now the Tabernacle had been placed in its permanent location. But these seven tribes were still living like nomads suffering spiritual inertia. Maybe you are not familiar with the term inertia. Inertia is when something remains inactive until an external force causes it to move. Some might call it “apathy” or “unwillingness to move” but both, apathy and unwillingness place the emphasis on the human will or ability. Inertia can only be overcome by an eternal force. The Lord needed to move these seven tribes out of a state of inertia and into the state of inheritance.
Inertia is a terrible disease of the soul and one of the greatest hinderances of spiritual growth in Christ. So, what is Joshua going to do with these seven stagnant tribes? He will do what any loving leader would do. He comes to them where they are and calls them to spiritual renew. He calls them to snap out of their condition of inertia and claim their inheritance. To allow these seven tribes to remain stagnant would be one of the most unloving things Joshua or any leader could do. So, Joshua said to the sons of Israel, “How long will you put off entering to take possession of the land which the Lord, the God of your fathers, has given you? Provide for yourselves three men from each tribe that I may send them, and that they may arise and walk through the land and write a description of it according to their inheritance; then they shall return to me. (18.3-4)
Joshua asks these seven tribes, “How long?” How long are you going to mooch off of your brothers and sisters of Ephraim? How long are you going to let others do all the hard work of clearing of the land? How long are you going to let you brothers and sisters do all of the plowing, planting, and harvesting? How long are you going to live off of someone else’s labor? How long will you live like a nomad and not make a commitment to permanency? How long will you neglect your responsibility to claim your inheritance?
Arise and Walk
Before they could give an answer or offer an excuse Joshua says, “Provide for yourselves three men from each tribe that I may send them, and that they may arise and walk through the land and write a description of it according to their inheritance; then they shall return to me. As the Lord command Abraham centuries before to arise and walk about the land to see his inheritance so Joshua commands the representatives of the stagnant seven to arise and walk through the land and write a description of what they see. Remember Joshua had been there several times and he knew what they would see.
As these twenty-one men passed through the land, they were to record all the details. They were to note in a book where the cities were, the rivers and streams, the lakes and the mountains. These twenty-one men were like George Rogers Clark surveying the land. With this information they were to divide the remaining land into seven parts. Of course, they didn’t know which of the seven tribes would receive what portion of land, because that was to be determined by the casting of lots, so the division of the land was very equitable.
So, the men went and passed through the land and described it by cities in seven divisions in a book; and they came to Joshua to the camp at Shiloh. And Joshua cast lots for them in Shiloh before the Lord, and there Joshua divided the land to the sons of Israel according to their divisions. (18.9-10)
Receiving Their Inheritance
The rest of chapter eighteen and the majority of chapter nineteen describes what portions of land fell upon which of the seven tribes as the lots were cast. But then you come to the last three verses of chapter nineteen it reads, “When they finished apportioning the land for inheritance by its borders, the sons of Israel gave an inheritance in their midst to Joshua the son of Nun. In accordance with the command of the Lord they gave him the city for which he asked, Timnath-serah in the hill country of Ephraim. So, he built the city and settled in it. These are the inheritances which Eleazar the priest, and Joshua the son of Nun, and the heads of the households of the tribes of the sons of Israel distributed by lot in Shiloh before the Lord
at the doorway of the tent of meeting. So they finished dividing the land. (19.49-51)
Now every tribe had received their inheritance. As godly examples to the people, Caleb was the first to receive his inheritance in chapter fourteen (14.6-15) and now Joshua, the other faithful spy forty-seven years later, was the last to receive his inheritance (19.49-50). What is important to note is that in Joshua’s younger years after Moses would meet with the Lord face to face in the Tabernacle and return to the camp, Joshua would linger at the Tabernacle for hours enjoying the presence of the Lord. (Ex.33.11) So, here we see in his older years Joshua chose a portion of land close to the Tabernacle so that he could be near to the presence of the Lord.
What Does All of This Mean?
What does all of this mean? It seems so irrelevant to us today. The puritan preacher Matthew Henry wrote, “We are not to skip over these chapters of hard names as useless and not to be regarded. Why? Because, where God has a mouth to speak and a hand to write we should find an ear to hear and an eye to read.” The Apostle Paul tells us that
“whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” (Rom.15.4) So, please allow me to share some thoughts so that you might have hope today. I believe what we have in Joshua chapter eighteen and nineteen is a snapshot of the Gospel. Let me explain.
Christ Comes to Us
First even though the seven tribes were stagnant and unwilling to move forward, Joshua doesn’t leave them on their own but comes to them in Ephraim. The main point is that Joshua comes to them! This reminds us of how the true Joshua, our Lord Jesus Christ, leaves the ninety-nine to go after the one that is lost. (Lk.15.3-7) Yes, Jesus sought us when a stranger, wandering from the fold of God. The truth is He loved us first that’s why we love Him. (IJn.4.19) Christ comes to us in our stagnant condition! Thanks, be the God!
Christ Tabernacles with Us
I want you to see that when Joshua came to the stagnant seven at Ephraim he didn’t come with condemnation and cursing, he came to establish the presence of God among the people by setting up the Tabernacle. As we look forward in Christ, we know that the Father did not send His Son, the true Joshua, into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. (Jn.3.17) Brothers and sisters, the Father sent His Son to tabernacle among us so that we would see His glory, the glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth. (Jn.1.14) The Lord Jesus not only comes to us in our stagnant condition, but He also establishes His presence with us. He dwells with us!
Christ Subdued the Enemy for Us
When the people gathered at Shiloh the text tells us that the land was subdued before them. (18.1) The enemy had been defeated and their inheritance had been won. Brothers and sisters, Christ has subdued the enemy for us, and our inheritance has been won. Christ’s victory has rendered the enemy powerless. (Heb.2.14) The true Joshua, our Lord Jesus Christ, has disarmed the enemy and has triumph over them. (Col.2.15) If the enemy has been subdued then why wouldn’t we take full possession of what has been given to us in Christ? If we are God’s children, then we are heirs also, heirs of God and follow heirs with Christ. (Rom.8.17) Then why wouldn’t we take full possession of our inheritance? If the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in Christ and has lavished upon us redemption through His blood and the forgiveness of our trespasses and has given us the Spirit as a pledge of our inheritance, then why wouldn’t. we utilize the surpassing greatest of His power and claim our inheritance in Christ? (Eph.1) What I am trying to explain is since Jesus has utterly destroyed the enemy and has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints why wouldn’t we claim our inheritance!(Col.1.12)
Brothers and sisters, if you are in Christ, you have been sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of His glory. (Eph.1.13-14) Why would you stay in Ephraim when your inheritance awaits?
How Long Will You Put Off Entering the Fullest of Your Inheritance?
Joshua’s question to the seven tribes is a question that is very relevant for us today. The seven tribes were suffering from a bad case of spiritual inertia. They were stagnant. Living off of the labor of others. And unwilling to make a commitment to move forward. I think this is very relevant for the body of Christ today as we come out of this pandemic. As I have shared a couple of times recently, researcher says that one third of professing Christian will not reengage with the local church after the pandemic is gone. I hope they are wrong, but I want to come to you as a loving leader and ask you how long will you put off entering into God promises? How long are you going to put off reengaging in the local church? How long will you put off plowing your heart, planting the seed of God’s Word, and enjoying the fruit of growing in Christ? How long will you live like a nomad and not make a commitment to permanency?
Arise, Walk, Take a Survey
My motive as a loving pastor is not to be harsh. I love you and desire God’s best for you. But I know that staying in Ephraim, staying where you are, is not good for your spiritual growth. As a loving pastor I’m not just asking you how long but I’m going to give you some advice in how to advance in your spiritual growth in Christ. Please understand Christ has come to you. Look how Christ has established His presence in your life. Look how Christ has subdued all of your enemies. With this in mind we must now arise and walk.
Rise up O men of God,
Have done with lesser things.
Give heart and soul and mind and strength,
To serve the King of Kings,
To serve the King of Kings.
Like the twenty-one men who were sent out by their tribes to survey the land we must be diligent to take a spiritual inventory of our life in the context of our inheritance in Christ. We need to map out a plan for spiritual renew. We need to trust the Lord that He will set the boundaries perfectly in our lives so that we can enjoy all of His blessings.
Receive Your Inheritance
Rise up and receive your inheritance! Know that your inheritance in Christ is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you. (IPt.1.4) But more than being imperishable and undefiled our inheritance includes a multifaceted set of benefits. Let me explain. As heirs of the Kingdom the Lord promises to nourish us as we consume His Word. As heirs of the Kingdom the Lord promises to comfort us as we grieve. As heirs of the Kingdom the Lord promises to strengthen us when we are tempted. As heirs of the Kingdom the Lord promises to build up confidence as we pray. As heirs of the Kingdom the Lord promises to bring encouragement as we serve others. As heirs of the Kingdom the Lord promises to minister His grace to our hearts as we worship. These are just a few of the benefits of our inheritance in Christ.
Therefore, I urge you to not neglect the benefits of our inheritance. Bless the Lord, O my soul, And forget none of His benefits. (Ps.103.2) We will not experience any of these benefits if we stay in Ephraim. Brothers and sisters let us read His Word and be nourished. Let us seek His comfort in times of distress. Let us find His strength in times of temptation. Let us pray with confidence. Let us be happy to serve others. Let us sing praises to His Holy Name. Brothers and sisters, eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man all the things God has prepared for those who love Him. (ICor.2.9) We can be confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. (Phil.1.6)
Stay Close to the Lord
But to experience this type of spiritual renewal we must be like Joshua and serve the Lord all the days of our life. We cannot take a break. We cannot take a spiritual vacation. We must like Joshua learn to linger at His presence. We must like Joshua purpose to make our permanent residence close to the true Tabernacle, Jesus Christ, so that we will stay close to God presence and not wander off. Brothers and sisters, please don’t wander off!
Inertia can only be overcome by an eternal force.The Lord by the power of His Spirit must come and move us out of our spiritual stagnation. We must be constantly aware of the danger of spiritual inertia. We need to cast off our spiritual slumber and claim our inheritance in Christ. We need to forget what lies behind. All the lost, all the transitions, all the suffering, and all the isolation of the last year. What must move beyond what we experienced this last year and press forward to what lies ahead. We need to press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Phil.3.13b-14)
Call to Prayer
forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Phil.3.13b-14)
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. (IPt.1.3-5)