The Lord tells Joshua in the thirteenth chapter that there is still land that needed to be possessed. Distribute the rest of the land to the tribes and tell them to finish the work. Caleb, though 85 years old, immediately asks for the hill country with the strong enemies and goes and fights them. Caleb wholly followed the Lord and the Lord gave him the victory. The rest of Israel is experiencing difficulty. They are unable to drive out the inhabitants because of their waning faith. Though they had seen the victories God had given them, they did not desire to finish the work. Joshua stands before the whole congregation and tells the people of Israel to quit putting off taking possession of the land (18:3). The rest of chapters 18-19 record the lots being cast so that the rest of the land is divided among the tribes. The point of this is to place responsibility of these tribes to finish the work. Go take the land and drive out the Canaanites so that they no longer live in your inheritance. Joshua is then given his land for an inheritance. Joshua 19:51 then concludes by declaring that the land was completely divided among the tribes. It is time to finish the work.
Joshua 20 records the cities of refuge that needed to be established in the land. God gave directions concerning these cities of refuge in Numbers 35. I do not want to rehearse the details concerning the cities of refuge since we covered those details when we studied Numbers last year. It is important to remember is that the city of refuge was intended by God for justice. Accidental deaths should not require a person’s life. So a hearing would be held in the city of refuge to determine if the death was accidental or if it was murder. If you were guilty of committing murder, then you would also die for taking the life of another. Joshua 21 records the cities and lands that were given to the Levites. It is important to remember that though the Levites were not given an inheritance, they were given cities to live in and pasture land for their flocks. So the cities and pasture land was given from the tribal inheritance so that the Levites would have a place to live as they do their work in serving the Lord.
The key to this section of text and the key to the whole book is found in the final three verses of chapter 21. This is one of the high points of the book. Turn to Joshua 21:43-45.
Thus the LORD gave to Israel all the land that he swore to give to their fathers. And they took possession of it, and they settled there. And the LORD gave them rest on every side just as he had sworn to their fathers. Not one of all their enemies had withstood them, for the LORD had given all their enemies into their hands. Not one word of all the good promises that the LORD had made to the house of Israel had failed; all came to pass. (Joshua 21:43–45 ESV)
We will spend the majority of our time considering what the author is declaring here and what impact this makes regarding our faith and walk with God.
The Lord Gave Them Rest
The Lord gave Israel the land and gave the people rest on every side just as he had sworn to their fathers. This scripture also gives us a picture of what God meant when he promised to give the people rest on every side. The rest of verse 44 says that none of their enemies were able to withstand them and the Lord gave all their enemies into their hands. We have seen this in our study of Joshua. Except for the town of Ai where Israel failed because of their own faithlessness, Israel successfully conquered every enemy. Think about how Joshua 10-12 quickly describes the successes of Israel in the conquest of Canaan. They did not fail. No one was able to turn back the people of Israel because God was with the people. Turn to Joshua 23:1 and we can see that this picture of rest is given again there. The Lord gave Israel rest from all their surrounding enemies. The promised rest was that Israel would not have to worry about its enemies and would have success against anyone who came up against them. This is also the same picture given in the book of Judges. After the people would cry out to the Lord for deliverance from their enemies, God would raise up a military leader (judge) who would deliver them. Then the land would have rest for an amount of time (Judges 3:11; 3:30; 5:31; 8:28). What it meant that “the land had rest” was that the enemies of Israel were subdued and did not have success in fighting against Israel. During these times Israel was able to eat the fruit of the land, have God as their defender, and not worry about life or threats from outsiders.
Does this kind of rest sound absolutely wonderful? I think the Disney movie the Lion King summarizes what the rest was about: “It means no worries for the rest of your days — Hakuna Matata.” This is an idea that we gravitate to. We do not want to worry. We do not want to have these burdens of life any longer. This is what the Lord gave to Israel at this moment in Joshua 21:44. Yet there was a problem. This rest was not permanent. The book of Judges records Israel coming in and out of periods of rest. Why did they lose this promised rest? Judges 2:12-13 twice declares that the people abandoned the Lord. Their hearts left the Lord. They did not desire the Lord and so rather enjoying rest with the Lord, they were in terrible distress (Judges 2:15). Just think about it. Israel could have enjoyed rest but instead were in distress because they abandoned the Lord. We throw away rest and live in distress because we stop desiring God and stop trusting in him.
The offer of rest still stands for us. Listen to Jesus’ invitation:
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28–30 NIV)
Notice that the offer is rest. When we studied Hebrews we saw that the writer declared that the offer of rest still existed in the days of David and still exists now for the people of God. Listen to the Sermon on the Mount and notice how the picture of rest is given without using that word.
“No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money. Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” (Matthew 6:24–34 ESV)
Jesus is offering rest in this teaching. You do not have to worry about your life or your schedule or how you are going to get by or take care of yourself. God will take care of you. God knows what you need. God is going to give you what you need today so do not be anxious about tomorrow. But you need to seek first God, his kingdom, and his righteousness. You see how we are tempted to do the same thing as Israel: we trade rest for distress because we fail to trust in the Lord. We abandon him and go our own way. God gave Israel rest but the people did not stay in the rest. God is offering rest for us from our cares in this life and rest in the world to come when there will be no interruption of fellowship and worship with the Father. But we must desire him and not abandon him.
Not One Word of the Lord Failed
The second point is even more important to the book of Joshua. Not one word of all the good promises the Lord made failed. Not one word that the Lord declared failed. Nothing that the Lord promised to Israel failed. Notice the emphasis that is made: ALL CAME TO PASS (Joshua 21:45). This is such an important foundation for our lives. This declaration is always true. God always does what he says. Not one word of all his good promises will ever fail. They will all come to pass. There are three observations I want to make from this truth.
What promise of God do you think he will not fulfill?
I think that there can be promises that God gives to that are hard for us to hold on to. There are promises that are just difficult for us to believe. I think there is one promise that is the most difficult for many. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). It is easy to believe that God cannot forgive you for what you have done. God may forgive others of their sins but he cannot forgive me because I am such a terrible person. I am not good. I am not righteous. I am not holy. Do you know what God says to that? God says, “I know. That is why I sent my Son for you because you are not righteous.” This is what the apostle Paul is telling us in Romans 5.
For while we were still helpless, at the right time, Christ died for the ungodly. (Romans 5:6 CSB) When we could not do anything, God did something. At the right time he sent his Son to die for us ungodly people. God made a promise that he will forgive your sins when you confess them to him. Christ died so that we can just tell him our sins from a broken heart and he will forgive us. We must believe this promise.
A similar difficult promise to believe comes from the apostle Paul. “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). We look at ourselves and think that we are not good enough. Exactly right! We are not good enough. We cannot be good enough. We are not saved by our good works because there is no way for that to work. No amount of good makes up for the bad we have done. We should love the promise that we are saved by grace. We need grace. We need grace in all our relationships. We wish that people were more gracious to us for all our failures. But there is one person who does have that grace toward us and that is our Father. We must believe in the promises of God because there is not one thing that God has ever said that will not be true or not come to pass.
What promise do you need to believe in today?
We need to know more of God’s word so that we can have God’s promises as anchors for our lives, especially during difficult times. So what promise do we need to hear and believe in today? Maybe it is the promise that the Lord will never leave us or forsake us. Maybe we need to hear the promise that there is life after death. Jesus has gone to prepare a place for us. Maybe we need to hear what God told Paul to help him through his trials when he said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). We need to realize that God wants us to hear his words and hear his promises and hold on to them. Listen to what Peter said as he started his second letter.
His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. (2 Peter 1:3–4 ESV)
Do you catch what he said? God has granted us his precious and very great promises so that through them we can become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped corruption. These promises are given to keep us going. These promises are given so that we can escape the corruption of the world and be transformed into his image. What promise do you need to hold on to today?
Make sure we are holding on to actual promises and not false hopes.
Finally, it is important to make sure that we are holding on to things that God actually did say, and not in false hopes. God did not promise us good health. God did not promise us long life. God did not promise us a life free from turmoil or difficulty. God did not promise us wealth. God did not promise us comfort. God did not promise us happiness in this world. God did not promise us a life free from pain or tears. When we grab on to things that are false, then we will be disappointed which will cause our faith to be shaken. But we can have faith in God’s promises and we must spend our time learning what are God’s promises and what are not God’s promises. One of God’s promises is rest if we will believe it. If we will turn our lives over to the Lord so that we can rest in him, he promises us that he will carry our burdens and take us the permanent rest waiting for us. Hold on to God’s promises and have faith that there is nothing God has ever said that will not be fulfilled.