JOSHUA 13-19

SEPTEMBER 20, 2009


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            Have you ever sat next to someone who writes in his or her bible?  My wife, Trudy, does that.  Something speaks to her, whether it’s a sermon or something from a bible study class, or a devotional time, and she underlines it in her bible.  She even writes sermon notes in her bible.

            Well, this morning we are going to look at some verses that I’m sure my wife, Trudy, has not underlined.  In fact, I doubt if anyone has underlined these verses, unless he or she is an attorney, because these next seven chapters of Joshua are legal documents.  Of course, if you are into archives, if you like roaming around a room filled with dusty books including land transactions, wills, out of date maps, and records of boundary markings, then these seven chapters are for you because that’s exactly what we have here -- old legal documents. 

            As we pick up the action today, the major battles have been fought, most of the Promised Land has been taken, and what we have in chapters 13-19 is a record of the dividing of the land among the tribes of Israel.  In these chapters we see who got what.  It’s the sort of stuff we would find at city hall, not the sort of stuff we would normally choose to read unless, of course, we were personally involved in some way, but as boring as such material may be, it does have something to say to us today.  These records speak to us about life, abundant living, and that’s what we will explore this morning.  We will explore how to get more life out of our years.

            The first thing these archives say is: You will get more out of life when we come to grips with our own finiteness.  Look with me at Joshua, chapter 13, verse 1.


            Now Joshua was old and advanced in years; and the Lord said to him, “You are old and advanced in years, and very much of the land still needs to be possessed.”


            Joshua never quite got it all done.  He got most of it done, but not all of it.  The Philistines were still out there left to bother future leaders of Israel, and Joshua ran out of years before he ran out of enemies.  And it comes as a startling moment of truth when we realize our own finiteness.  It comes as a startling moment when we realize we may never accomplish all we had hoped to accomplish.

            I think of the woman who moved to a cave to study with a guru.  She said she wanted to learn everything there is to know, so the guru supplied her with stacks of books and left her alone so she could study.  Then every morning the guru returned to monitor the woman’s progress.  In his hand he carried a stick and each morning he asked her, ‘Have you learned everything there is to know yet?” and each morning he answer was the same.  “No,” she said, “I haven’t.”  Upon hearing her response he would then hit her once with his stick.

            This scenario repeated itself for weeks until the day when the guru entered the cave, asked the same question, heard the same response, raised his stick the same way, but this time the woman grabbed the stick and took it from the guru.

            The guru smiled and said, “Congratulations you have graduated.  You now know everything you need to know.”

            “How’s that?” the woman asked.

            He replied, “You have learned that you will never learn everything there is to know and you have learned how to stop the pain.

            Have we learned that?  Have we learned that we’ll never fully arrive in this life?  Have we learned that we will never do all we hoped we would do and more than that, have we stopped the pain associated with that realization?

            When I hit age 50 the strangest thing took place.  All of a sudden, I began thinking about my own mortality in a way I had never thought of it before.  And I said to Trudy, “Trudy, we are going to die someday.”  And Trudy said, “Yeah, so?” and I said, “Yeah, but doesn’t that bother you?  Doesn’t it bug you that after we die life goes on?  After the funeral people will go back to work and school?  Life will continue without us and we may not be able to see our grandchildren marry, and maybe never get to travel to the moon?   Doesn’t that bother you, never getting to go to the moon?” 

            And it didn’t.  It didn’t bother her at all, and I thought that was because she had not yet turned fifty and I thought to myself, “When she hits fifty, then she’ll see things differently.  When she reaches fifty she will be caught up short.”

            And I don’t want to reveal too much about a woman’s age, but she hit fifty, she’s hit fifty a few times now, and none of this bothered her.  And then I realized Trudy in some ways is wired like Joshua.  You see, the curtain is coming down on Joshua’s life, and he does not seem too upset by the prospect.  Why was that?  What was his secret?  I think he had two.

            First, Joshua knew his work would be carried on.  Joshua had observed Moses climb to the top of Mount Nebo and he watched as Moses had looked westward into the Promised Land, and as Moses looked over the Promised Land, Moses knew that the work which he had begun would get done.  Another person would carry on, and Joshua turned out to be that person, and Joshua knew someone would be there to carry on for him as he had done for Moses.  And if we are in the will of God, someone will carry on for us.  It will get done.  We don’t have to worry about it.

            And Joshua’s other secret was he knew “it’s how hard you have fought” and not “how much you have gotten done” which matters most.  I think of the last letter the Apostle Paul wrote.  It was to his understudy, Timothy, and he wrote the letter to Timothy just before he, Paul, was put to death by Nero, and he said to Timothy, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”  Paul did not say, “I got it all done,” because he didn’t get it all done.  Some of his churches were in big trouble.  Some of them would close their doors, but he said to Timothy, “I have fought the good fight.” 

            How about us?  Are we fighting the good fight?  Are we giving it our best?  Are we keeping the faith?  Are we finishing well?  It’s not how much we get done, it’s how hard we’ve fought that makes the difference.

            So, that’s the first thing these archives say.  Second, these archives remind us that “life goes better when we adopt a worthwhile life theme.”  Look with me at the tenth and eleventh verses of chapter fourteen.  Here we meet Joshua’s buddy, Caleb.  Now, if our second child would have been a boy and not a girl we would have named him Caleb.  At least, that was my choice.  We named our first born son Joshua, and if our second child had been male, we would have named him Caleb, that is if I got my way.  Joshua and Caleb are two of my favorite people in the Old Testament.  Caleb was the guy who stood with Joshua when they came back to Moses with a positive report about the Promised Land.  Moses had sent out twelve spies, and ten came back with a negative report.  They said, “We may as well head back to Egypt because the people in the Promised Land are big and nasty,” but Joshua and Caleb said, “Big deal.  With God’s help we can take them,” and now forty-five years have passed since these two came back with the other spies, and now they are in the Promised Land, and they were right, they could take the land with God’s help, and the land is being divided, and Caleb comes to claim the land promised to him.  And Caleb says to his good buddy, Joshua,


            As you see, the Lord has kept me alive, as he said, these forty-five years since the time the Lord spoke his word to Moses, while Israel was journeying through the wilderness; and here I am today, eighty-five years old, and I am still as strong today as I was on the day Moses sent me; my strength now is as my strength was then, for war, and from coming and going.


            Note what Caleb says here and what he doesn’t say here.  He did not say, “It was my fine physical conditioning which has kept me alive these past forty-five years.”  No, he did not say that.  Neither did he say, “It was my continued interest in my cholesterol levels and cutting down on fat intake which kept me alive for these past forty-five years.”  No, he did not say that either.  Neither did Caleb say, “It was my good luck which kept me alive for these past forty-five years.”  He did not say that.  What did he say kept him alive?  The Lord kept him alive.

            And in these few words, note the main thrust of Caleb’s life.  You know, when I do   a funeral I look for the main thrust of a person’s life.  If you die, and a family member asks me to officiate at your funeral, I’ll meet with your family and ask them about you, and I’ll reflect on what I know of you, and I’ll attempt to capture what made you tick.  I’ll share with them the theme of your life.  And if I had presided at Caleb’s funeral, I would say that Caleb was the sort of guy who recognized that everything he got came from God.  He realized that old proverb that when a turtle gets on a gate post, he did not get there by himself.  He knew that every good and perfect gift comes from God.

            What’s the theme of our lives?  Is it, “Don’t turn around something may be gaining on you?”  Is it, “A penny saved is a penny earned?”   Is it, “I’ll get to that tomorrow?”  Is it, “She worked her finger to the bone?”  Is it, “He did it his way?”  Is it, “To live is Christ and to die is gain?”  Is it, “She saw the glass as half-full?”

            If you died tomorrow and I performed the ceremony, what would your family say about you?  You know what I hope my family would say.  I hope they would say, “His life theme was, ‘It’s s sin to bore people with the gospel,’” how I worked hard in making the stories of scripture come alive and be relevant for today, but I’m afraid that if someone asked that of my family they would say, “Oh, the theme of our dad’s life was ‘Cleanliness is next to godliness.’”  And I’m trying to do better with that.  It’s true that when my kids were little it was OK with me if our kids did not make their beds once or twice a year.  It’s true that my kids saw me straighten things up around the house before the cleaning people come.  It’s true, that I did not tolerate towels on the floor and toys left in public areas.  It’s true, and I’m afraid that’s what they will choose for the theme of my life.  I hope not, but it may be.  What would your family say is the theme of your life?

            And finally, let’s turn to the third thing these archives say to us.  These archives remind us, “Life goes better when sprinkled with selflessness.”


            Let’s look at the very end of the division of the land, to chapter 19, verse 49.


            When they had finished distributing the several territories of the land as inheritances, the Israelites gave an inheritance among them to Joshua son of Nun.  By command of the Lord they gave him the town that he asked for, Timnath-serah in the hill country of Ephraim; he rebuilt the town, and settled in it.


            Joshua took his land last.  Everybody got theirs before Joshua got his.  And that’s odd because it was the custom of the day for an eastern general to take his share of the spoils first, not last, but Joshua took his last, and there is a selflessness about this that reminds us of our Lor.  Jesus dsaid, and I’m paraphrasing, “If you are going to lead, you have to serve.  If you want to be big, you gotta be small.  If you want to be first, you have to be last.”

            It’s my grandson’s birthday today and after today’s potluck we are heading to his birthday party, and in this regard I think of the little girl got a box of candy for her birthday.  She started to eat it, but her mother said, “Why don’t you wait until you we have some friends and family over so you can share the candy with them?”  So, the little girl took out her box of candy and started sharing it with all the guests, and she gave everyone a piece of candy and then put the top back on the box and her mother said, “Aren’t you going to have any?” and the little girl said, “Oh, I forgot I was here.”

            The world tells us “Look out for number one,” but God says, “Look out for others.  Love others as much as you love yourself and the rest will take care of itself.”  A little selflessness sweetens every life.