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Sunday, March 22, 2009

Matt's Messages "Together"

“Together”
Possessing the Promises: The Book of Joshua
March 22, 2009
Joshua 22:1-34

Surprise, surprise! We’ve almost reached the end of the book.

Last week, we studied 9 chapters in one message and that moved us quite quickly to the end of the book.

Last week, we saw that the LORD had given Israel the Promised Land. Chapter 21 put this way (vv.43-45): “So the LORD gave Israel all the land he had sworn to their forefathers, and they took possession of it and settled there. The LORD gave them rest on every side, just as he had sworn to their forefathers. Not one of their enemies withstood them; the LORD handed all of their enemies over to them. Not one of all the LORD’s good promises to the house of Israel failed; every one was fulfilled.”

That could be the ending right there!

It is the high point and the heart and soul of this book.

But it is not the end. There are three more chapters that we want to consider this week and next.

Three chapters about what is next for Israel now that they have the promised land.

Three chapters about continuing to follow the Lord now that they have the promised land.

Three chapters about holding fast to the Lord and continuing to serve Him now that they have the promised land.

In many ways, these last three chapters are “farewell” stories.

Next week, it will be farewell to Joshua. This week it is farewell to the Transjordan Tribes.

And the central idea of this chapter is unity among God’s people–holding fast to the Lord “Together.”

So, Israel has peace and rest. It is not time to dismiss the Transjordan Tribes to go back home–East to their families. Chapter 22, verse 1.

“Then Joshua summoned the Reubenites, the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh and said to them, ‘You have done all that Moses the servant of the LORD commanded, and you have obeyed me in everything I commanded. For a long time now–to this very day– you have not deserted your brothers but have carried out the mission the LORD your God gave you. Now that the LORD your God has given your brothers rest as he promised, return to your homes in the land that Moses the servant of the LORD gave you on the other side of the Jordan.’” Stop there for a second.

That’s a glowing commendation, isn’t it?

This is an honorable discharge from military service.

These are the 2½ tribes that we’ve talked about all along. These are the ones whom Moses gave permission to settle on the East side of the Jordan–what we call the Transjordan Area. Reuben, Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh (though Manasseh actually has land on either side of the Jordan, as we saw last week).

These warriors had left their homes, their wives, children, flocks and herds on the other side of the river for who knows how long–at least 7 years, it seems to me, if my calculations about the conquest are correct. At least 7 years had gone by since these warriors (at least 40,000 set out) had seen their families.

Now it was time to go home.

Can you imagine what that must have felt like?
Maybe some of you can. You’ve lived a military separation.

Well, now the successful tour of duty is over and these boys are headed home.

But Joshua is concerned.

He’s concerned about togetherness. And he’s concerned that now that peace has come and the fighting is over that they will lose their focus on the Lord. Look at verse 5.

“But be very careful to keep the commandment and the law that Moses the servant of the LORD gave you: to love the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to obey his commands, to hold fast to him and to serve him with all your heart and all your soul.”

First point this morning.

#1. HOLD FAST TO THE LORD. (VV.1-5)

That’s where true togetherness comes from.

Hold Fast to the Lord.

Joshua was concerned that now that all of Israel’s trouble had died down, that Israel’s faith would die down, too, especially the faith and the focus of the Transjordan Tribes. They were going to be outside of Canaan, outside, far away from the rest of the people of Israel.

What was going to keep them together, on track with the Lord?

You can just about hear the passion in his voice in verse 5.

“But be very careful [very careful!] to keep the commandment and the law that Moses the servant of the LORD gave you: to love the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to obey his commands, to hold fast to him and to serve him with all your heart and all your soul.”

He’s going to say very similar things next week to the leaders in chapter 23 and the whole nation in chapter 24.

But now he says it to the Eastern Tribes:

Keep the commandment and the law that you received from Moses.

That sounds like what the Lord told him back in chapter 1, right?

“Do not let this book of the law depart from your mouth but meditate on it day and night so that you will be careful to obey everything in it.”

Love the Lord your God. Make Him the center and focus of your life. We use the language here of a “love relationship” with God through Jesus Christ. Love Him!

Walk in His ways. He has His ways of doing things. They are not always our ways. He wants us to adopt His ways. He wants us to walk in his ways.

Obey His commands. Do what He says. Not half-heartedly but wholeheartedly.

Fold fast to Him and serve him with all your heart and all your soul.

That’s all of you.

And, I think, the Lord is saying something similar to us today.

Hold Fast to the LORD. 100%. All of your heart. All of your soul.

The King James has “cleave to the LORD.” “Super glue” yourself to the Lord.

Do you feel this verse? Verse 5? Is it speaking to you?

Or are you holding something back?

“But be very careful to keep the commandment and the law that Moses the servant of the LORD gave you: to love the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to obey his commands, to hold fast to him and to serve him with all your heart and all your soul.”

You and I can be so fickle. On today and gone tomorrow.

But this is what God wants for us–He wants all of us. Wholehearted devotion. Holding fast to the Lord.

That’s what Joshua told the Transjordan Tribes, and then he sent them off with a blessing. V.6

“Then Joshua blessed them and sent them away, and they went to their homes. (To the half-tribe of Manasseh Moses had given land in Bashan, and to the other half of the tribe Joshua gave land on the west side of the Jordan with their brothers.) When Joshua sent them home, he blessed them, saying, ‘Return to your homes with your great wealth–with large herds of livestock, with silver, gold, bronze and iron, and a great quantity of clothing– and divide with your brothers [the rest of Israel] the plunder from your enemies.’ So the Reubenites, the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh left the Israelites at Shiloh in Canaan to return to Gilead, their own land, which they had acquired in accordance with the command of the LORD through Moses.”

Everything seems hunky-dory. But...then this happens. V.10

“When they came to Geliloth near the Jordan in the land of Canaan [west side!], the Reubenites, the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh built an imposing altar there by the Jordan.”

It doesn’t say why. It leaves it a mystery for now to heighten our suspense.

They build a great big imposing altar.

So big that it could be seen on either side of the Jordan.

They build this huge altar–it looks like the altar that goes with the tabernacle–on the west side of the Jordan and then head home.

Why?

Well, the rest of the Israelites think they know why. It’s to mess up their togetherness in the Lord! V.11

“And when the Israelites heard that they had built the altar on the border of Canaan at Geliloth near the Jordan on the Israelite side, the whole assembly of Israel gathered at Shiloh to go to war against them.”

Whoa! From blessing to war in 5 verses!

Israel is fighting mad. Why?

Because it looks to them like the Transjordan Tribes are already abandoning pure worship of the LORD–already not holding fast to the Lord.

They are setting up their own altar.

So, the rest of Israel (interestingly, it just says “Israel” because the status of the Transjordan Tribes as Israel is all of a sudden under question, Israel) gathers at the Shiloh (where the tabernacle and the true altar are) to go to war against their own Israelite brothers.

Wow.

Now, is this good or bad? Ultimately, we’ll see if war is called for.

But the Bible presents this as coming from something good inside of them–a desire to hold fast to the LORD and that unity together in the LORD is something worth fighting for.

They are taking Joshua’s call seriously and confronting their brothers with their apparent sin.

#2. CONFRONT EACH OTHER IN LOVE. (VV.6-20)

You want true togetherness? It will require some confrontation.

Now, the Israelites realize that they might not have all of the story, so they organize a diplomatic mission to cross the Jordan and confront the Transjordan Tribes. V.13

“So the Israelites sent Phinehas son of Eleazar, the priest, to the land of Gilead–to Reuben, Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh. [Remember Phinehas? He was zealous for the Lord in the book of Numbers.] With him they sent ten of the chief men, one for each of the tribes of Israel, each the head of a family division among the Israelite clans.

And they confront their brothers. V.15

“When they went to Gilead–to Reuben, Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh–they said to them: ‘The whole assembly of the LORD says: 'How could you break faith with the God of Israel like this? How could you turn away from the LORD and build yourselves an altar in rebellion against him now? Was not the sin of Peor enough for us? Up to this very day we have not cleansed ourselves from that sin, even though a plague fell on the community of the LORD! And are you now turning away from the LORD? ‘'If you rebel against the LORD today, tomorrow he will be angry with the whole community of Israel. If the land you possess is defiled, come over to the LORD's land, where the LORD's tabernacle stands, and share the land with us. But do not rebel against the LORD or against us by building an altar for yourselves, other than the altar of the LORD our God. When Achan son of Zerah acted unfaithfully regarding the devoted things, did not wrath come upon the whole community of Israel? He was not the only one who died for his sin.'’”

They are passionate, aren’t they?

I think they are doing a good job of talking truthfully.

We Christians need to grow in this.

We need to speak the truth in love.

They Israelites are reaching out to their Transjordan brothers and they are saying hard and strong things but they are saying it in love.

It’s a very loving thing to do to confront someone in their sin.

To remind them of the seriousness of sin.

To remind them of the consequences of sin.

To call them to come out of their sin.

Most of us don’t like to do that, but it’s a truly loving thing to do.

One of the reasons why these guys are doing it, of course, is that it affects them, too.

They’ve got the point that we’ve seen a couple of times already, that God’s people are connected to each other and that one person’s sin (like Achan’s) affects the others.

We stand and fall together.

So, they risk the threat of war to contend for true togetherness in the Lord.

Are you willing to fight for true togetherness in the Lord?

We often think that ignoring someone’s sin is the loving thing to do.

And it is a glory to overlook a personal offense.

But it is loving to confront someone if they are heading down a disastrous path.

It’s right to call sin what it is–“sin.”

Is there someone in your life right now that needs to be confronted?

A child? A spouse? A friend?

True togetherness is worth fighting for.

Confront each other in love.

But also, #3. LISTEN TO EACH OTHER IN LOVE. (VV.21-29)

It’s not just about talking. It’s about listening, too.

And, it seems, that Israel does that right here, too. V.21

“Then Reuben, Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh replied to the heads of the clans of Israel: ‘The Mighty One, God, the LORD! The Mighty One, God, the LORD! He knows! And let Israel know! If this has been in rebellion or disobedience to the LORD, do not spare us this day. If we have built our own altar to turn away from the LORD and to offer burnt offerings and grain offerings, or to sacrifice fellowship offerings on it, may the LORD himself call us to account. No! We did it for fear that some day your descendants might say to ours, 'What do you have to do with the LORD, the God of Israel? The LORD has made the Jordan a boundary between us and you–you Reubenites and Gadites! You have no share in the LORD.' So your descendants might cause ours to stop fearing the LORD. ‘That is why we said, 'Let us get ready and build an altar–but not for burnt offerings or sacrifices.' On the contrary, it is to be a witness between us and you and the generations that follow, that we will worship the LORD at his sanctuary with our burnt offerings, sacrifices and fellowship offerings. Then in the future your descendants will not be able to say to ours, 'You have no share in the LORD.' And we said, 'If they ever say this to us, or to our descendants, we will answer: Look at the replica of the LORD's altar, which our fathers built, not for burnt offerings and sacrifices, but as a witness between us and you.' Far be it from us to rebel against the LORD and turn away from him today by building an altar for burnt offerings, grain offerings and sacrifices, other than the altar of the LORD our God that stands before his tabernacle.’”

Ohhhh.

It’s been a misunderstanding.

Can’t you just hear the exasperation in the voices of the Transjordan Tribes? They are about out of their wits in verse 22!

“‘The Mighty One, God, the LORD! The Mighty One, God, the LORD! He knows! And let Israel know!”

They weren’t trying to disobey at all.

That’s why the altar is on the west side of the Jordan!

It’s to remind them when they look across the Jordan that the true altar is on THAT side of the river!

And it’s to remind both of them that they are TOGETHER in the Lord.

Ahh.

See how important it is to listen?

Often there is just a misunderstanding between two Christians.

There is something that hasn’t been communicated, and it takes listening to work it out.

Proverbs says, “He who answers before listening–that is his folly and his shame” (Proverbs 18:13).

It’s great that the Israelites confronted their brothers.

They were willing to sacrifice their own blood and their brothers’ blood.

And, did you notice back in verses 19 that they were willing to give up their own land to preserve true togetherness in the Lord.

But it’s even greater that they listened before they took rash action.

Christians need to listen to each other–especially when there is a conflict going on.

In the middle of conflicts, it’s the hardest to really hear someone.

When my wife is mad at me (and vice versa), I have the hardest time listening to what she is saying.

But that is exactly when I need to be listening the most!

Israel did listen. V.30

“When Phinehas the priest and the leaders of the community–the heads of the clans of the Israelites–heard what Reuben, Gad and Manasseh had to say, they were pleased. And Phinehas son of Eleazar, the priest, said to Reuben, Gad and Manasseh, ‘Today we know that the LORD is with us, because you have not acted unfaithfully toward the LORD in this matter. Now you have rescued the Israelites from the LORD's hand.’ Then Phinehas son of Eleazar, the priest, and the leaders returned to Canaan from their meeting with the Reubenites and Gadites in Gilead and reported to the Israelites. They were glad to hear the report and praised God. And they talked no more about going to war against them to devastate the country where the Reubenites and the Gadites lived. And the Reubenites and the Gadites gave the altar this name: A Witness Between Us that the LORD is God.”

Here’s number 4.

#4. WORSHIP AND WITNESS TOGETHER. (VV.30-34)

You want to maintain true togetherness? True unity between Christians?

Worship and witness together.

This altar stood as a witness, a testimony, between them that the LORD is God and they were going to hold fast to Him together.

The River wouldn’t divide them in any way but geographically.

They were together in the same worship of the same God.

There is nothing that brings God’s people together more than shared witness and shared worship.

Whenever the Tribes on either side of the River saw that imposing altar looming over the landscape, they were reminded that there was a place of sacrifice that brought them together and made them one people.

We have the same thing now in the Cross of Jesus Christ.

It was an altar, too. An imposing altar that looms above the plains of time.

Jesus Christ sacrificed Himself on that altar for the sins of His people.

And He made His people one.

He brought us together through His one sacrifice to make us ono people.

Together.

All who turn in repentance and trust in Him by faith become His very own.

And get united to each other to witness together that Jesus is Lord and share in worship of Him alone.

Together.

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