In this essay we are going to study Joshua 18-22, which is a huge block of material. But I trust that we can do so without ignoring important issues. Our procedure will be to survey the entire four chapters. Then we will go through again touching only on those passages that are particularly significant.
The four-chapter section begins at 18:1 with the relocation of the main encampment of Israel to Shiloh, where the Tabernacle was set up permanently as a central shrine. Shiloh was centrally located for all the tribes, including those across the Jordan.
In 18:2-10 three men from each tribe were chosen to fan out across the land of Canaan for the purpose of writing up a description of the land. Then the description they brought back was used to allot an inheritance to the remaining seven tribes.
Next comes a record of those allotments. Usually the boundaries of the portion and a listing of the major cities in it are given. You can use the maps you have in your Bible to see where the various tribes received their inheritance. The territory of Benjamin is described in 18:11-28, that of Simeon in 19:1-9, of Zebulun in 19:10-16, of Issachar in 19:17-23, of Asher in 19:24-31, of Naphtali in 19:32-39, and of Dan in 19:40-48. At the end of chapter 19, in verses 49-50, Joshua was given an inheritance as Caleb had been. And then in the final verse of chapter 19 we find a summary statement.
In chapter 20 we see the setting apart of six cities of refuge, as had been commanded by the Lord in Moses’ day, a record of which is in Num. 35:9-29 and Deut. 19:1-13. These were cities where persons who were guilty of manslaughter could find safety and a fair trial. And if their case was judged to be actual manslaughter, they eventually could return to their hometowns in peace.
Next, in chapter 21, the cities and fields that had been promised to the Levites were designated. The original instructions for this is recorded in Num. 35:1-8. Num. 35:6 required that the six cities of refuge be given to the Levites. So those six along with 42 others, 48 in all, were set aside for the use of the Levites, as listed here. Then in 21:43-45 we find another summary statement.
In chapter 22:1-9 we are told that Joshua at this point dismissed the armies of Reuben, Gad and half Manasseh to return to their homes on the eastern side of the Jordan. You will remember that they had pledged themselves to fight for the land of Canaan even though they already had received their inheritance on the eastern side of the river. They fulfilled that pledge; and so Joshua commended them for their efforts. He also admonished them to keep God’s law and to walk in his ways.
Then an interesting thing happened. On the way home the two and a half eastern tribes decided to erect a huge memorial to God near the Jordan on the Western side. They made it in the form of the altar of sacrifice in the Tabernacle.
When the western tribes heard about it, they misinterpreted the motive for the memorial, thinking it was an actual altar of sacrifice (v. 10). That was alarming to them, because the Tabernacle was the only allowable place of sacrifice (Lev. 17:8-9). And so they concluded that the eastern tribes had abandoned proper worship of God, and they were ready to make war on their eastern brethren over the matter (v. 12).
But that turned out to be unnecessary. A delegation was sent to the eastern tribes to accuse them of apostasy. They learned the truth about the matter, and the crisis was averted (vv. 13-34).
All right, now we are going to point out three passages that provide applications. Israel’s task at this point was to live in the land. They had conquered it, but now their challenge was to live in it. We Christians face a similar challenge. We enter into the promised land of entire sanctification, and our challenge then becomes living in the experience.
The three passages that we are going to look at reveal three possible “stones of stumbling,” as we will call them. That is, these are three ways that we can trip up as we seek to live in the land of entire sanctification.
The first stumbling stone is a temptation to stop trying. That will quickly trip us up. We see this stumbling stone in 18:3. That verse reads, “So Joshua said to the Israelites ‘How long will you be slack about going in to possess the land that the Lord has given you?’” Israel had conquered the land in a general way, but the conquest was not complete. The temptation was to stop pushing ahead, to not drive out the remaining Canaanites, and to settle down into the life they already had. So Joshua had to admonish them in order to keep them moving ahead.
We Christians are tempted in the same way. We enter into the experience of entire sanctification with great joy and thankfulness. But then we shrink from pressing on into the “land,” and conquering the remaining “Canaanites,” because it requires further self-denial, or the sacrifice of a pet habit or sin. Or we discover a love of ease, an attachment to the world, or a dread of what other people think, unexpectedly rising within us. Of course those kinds of sins must be rejected and cast aside. But it is easy to become spiritually slack or lazy, and to let them creep into our lives.
Thus we need to ask ourselves certain questions. Do we rise in the morning and go to our devotions expecting God to meet us in a dynamic way? Or do we go through a routine with little expectation of actual interaction with the Lord. Do we attend church expecting God to touch us. Or are we resting on our achievements and simply going through the motions? We must avoid the temptation to stop trying.
A second stumbling stone is seen in chapter 20:1-6, where the cities of refuge are named. This one is a bit subtle, I suppose, but it is real. Sometimes we stumble because of a mistake. The cities of refuge were set-aside for people, who made mistakes, people who through some accident or mistake killed somebody. By fleeing to a city of refuge, such a person could receive fair treatment without fear from an “avenger of blood,” that is, from someone who would take vengeance for the killing. In a city of refuge the person who had mistakenly killed someone could get protection and a fair trial. Then if they were guilty of manslaughter rather than murder, they eventually could return home unharmed.
Sometimes we make mistakes as we seek to live the sanctified life. And occasionally those mistakes become a stumbling block to our spiritual growth. For example, we can unintentionally, through carelessness, cause someone we would like to win for Christ to turn against Christ. That is to say, our carelessness becomes a bad witness. When we realize what we have done, it can hinder our growth in sanctification.
The third stumbling stone is seen in chapter 22, verses 10 and following, where we saw the story of the large memorial altar. It is the stumbling stone of misunderstanding and evil talk. The problem for Israel that we saw there was their hasty judgment of the eastern tribes. They accused the eastern tribes of something they didn’t do. They not only accused them of abandoning proper worship of the Lord, they were ready to make war on them.
Sometimes we do that sort of thing. It is easy to make a hasty, incorrect judgment of someone and accuse them of something they didn’t do; or worse yet, to gossip about them unjustly. These are easy mistakes to commit, and they quickly can become sins.
Have you ever assumed the worst of motives behind someone’s actions? Have you ever quickly believed a terrible rumor about someone, and even repeated it to others? I have, I’m ashamed to say. Yes, misunderstandings and evil talk can become stumbling blocks to our desire to live an entirely sanctified life.
In summary, we have seen three “stumbling blocks to the sanctified life: giving in to a temptation to stop trying, letting a mistake trip us up, and allowing misunderstandings and evil talk to interfere. Let us resolve to keep moving forward, to find forgiveness for mistakes and move on, and to never let misunderstandings or evil talk interfere with our progress.