Finish the Work (Joshua 13)
Joshua 13 opens by telling us that the conquest has taken many years and now Joshua is old. The Lord comes to Joshua and notes Joshua’s age and then notes a problem. The problem is that while the land of Canaan has been conquered and the wars are over, the land has not be settled or possessed. Those areas of land are described in verses 2-6. Now you may wonder what the problem is if the land has been conquered. Think about the situation like this: the leaders have been killed, the armies have been defeated, the fortified cities have fallen, but the citizens have not been driven out of the land. It would be like if our major cities fell, our political leaders were killed, and our armies were captured and killed. We would all still live here just waiting for what is going to happen next. There are going to be some flare ups of resistance but it will not be the complete warfare required up to this point. So that is where we are in the book of Joshua. The war is over but the people need to be removed from the land. So the Lord tells Joshua to dividing up the rest of these unoccupied lands to the tribes and God himself will drive out the inhabitants (13:6-7). This is the key to chapter 13. God will drive out the people. You just need to go and take the land. The rest of chapter 13 describes the divisions of the land for inheritance to the tribes. In verse 22 we read that judgment was brought on Balaam who led Israel into sin.
The Model of Faith (Joshua 14)
Chapter 14 reveals the model of faith required for victory. Who would we expect to be a model of faith for the inheritance of the land? You will notice in verse 6 that Caleb, the man of faith from the prior generation, came up to Joshua and reminds Joshua about what Moses told them. Caleb was 40 years old when Moses sent them to spy out the land the first time around, as recorded in the book of Numbers. The other Israelite spies gave a bad report, but Caleb wholly followed the Lord (14:8). Moses swore that this land would be an inheritance because he wholly followed the Lord. Now the Lord has kept Caleb alive for the last 45 years and now he is 85 years. Now stop and think about how old Caleb is. He is 85 years old. He is not a young man. He has lived a full life, half of that life has been spent wandering in the wilderness. Even though he wholly followed the Lord, he had to wander in the wilderness for the disobedience and rebellion of the other people of Israel. So what is he going to ask of Joshua? Look at verses 11-12.
“I am still as strong today as I was in the day that Moses sent me; my strength now is as my strength was then, for war and for going and coming. So now give me this hill country of which the LORD spoke on that day, for you heard on that day how the Anakim were there, with great fortified cities. It may be that the LORD will be with me, and I shall drive them out just as the LORD said.” (Joshua 14:11–12 ESV)
Caleb declares that he is as strong as ever. Now do you really think that was the case or do you think this is the mentality he has because he wholly follows the Lord? I do not think that he really did have the same strength at 85 years old that he did at 40 years old. He says this because of the request he has. Notice that Caleb does not ask for the easy land but asks for the hard land. Caleb asks for the hill county where the Anakim live with their great fortified cities. Remember it was the Anakim that the first generation of Israelites said that they could not defeat (cf. Numbers 13:33). Caleb says that he will beat the people that others have said they could not defeat. Caleb says that he will drive them out if the Lord is with him. Caleb’s faith has not changed in 45 years. He believed he could drive out these people with God’s help at 40 years old and still believes he can at 85 years old with God’s help. Notice that Caleb is not trusting by what he can see or feel but by what God said. In verses 6, 10, and 12 Caleb rests his faith on what the Lord had said. Caleb says that God promised this land. So give him the hard land with the giants and he will drive them out with God’s help. You have to love the zeal of Caleb. You have to love the faith of Caleb. His faith and his zeal from start to finish is unwavering.
Where did Caleb’s courage come from? His courage came from his faith. Where did his faith come from? His faith came from hearing the word of the Lord. God said it, he believed it, and therefore he had the courage to do the work. Joshua blesses Caleb for his faith and determination (14:13). Was Caleb right? Look at verses 14-15. Hebron became Caleb’s inheritance because he wholly followed the Lord, the God of Israel. Hebron used to be named something different, named after the greatest man of the Anakim. But not any more because Caleb wholly followed the Lord and God did give him the victory. His faith gave him the victory.
I want to encourage our way of thinking before we move forward in the text. Age is not a factor when it comes to faith. We must never adopt a mentality that thinks that any of us are too old to do the work in God’s kingdom. No one is too old to exhibit great faith. Further, no younger person should ever discount any older Christian because age does not matter when it comes to faith. No Christian should ever discount himself or herself by saying that you are too old for any task God has in his kingdom. Let me also encourage you by asking you to never take the easy ground. Caleb does not look for the flat land where life would be easy for him to retire the rest of his days. He took the difficult land. He took the hard enemies that were left. He was not going to retire from the Lord. He did not think that he had already put his time in and so he will let the younger people do the hard work. Caleb did not think like this and neither can we. Do not take the easy path. Our world tells us that our goal for life is to retire from work. But I want to ask us what we are going to next with that. So you look forward to retirement. What will you do with all the extra time God will give you when you retire? What are your plans? Are your plans to take the hard land with the difficult enemies by faith? Or are your plans to take the easy path? There is nothing that is more tragic than to live your life so that you can retire and then waste it watching Wheel of Fortune and Matlock all day long. What will be our answer when we stand before God and tell him that what we did with our free time was binged Netflix, played video games, bought a RV and drove around the world, watched tv, or sat in our recliner all day in our final years? Caleb does not ask for the hammock but asks for the hard country. The way we get to this faith is by changing our affections now. If our affections in this life is for tv, travel, or the like, then we will fill our retirement with those things. But if our affections are the things of God, then retire is going to be looking for what more we can do for the kingdom of Christ. I simply love the faith and heart of Caleb. There is more work for Caleb to do and he is ready for the task. In fact, in chapter 15 we see a list of all the victories that are given. In Joshua 15:14 we see Caleb drive out three sons of Anak. Then he defeated the inhabitants of Debir and gave his daughter to anyone who finished the task. His faith is why he had victory.
Failures of Faith (Joshua 15-17)
But then the narrative shifts to a shocking contrast. God promised to drive out the inhabitants of the land before the people. But look at what is recorded for us. First, in Joshua 15:63, “But the Jebusites, the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the people of Judah could not drive out, so the Jebusites dwell with the people of Judah at Jerusalem to this day.” Failure is recorded. Look at Joshua 16:10. The inheritance is described in chapter 16 but verse 10, “However, they did not drive out the Canaanites who lived in Gezer, so the Canaanites have lived in the midst of Ephraim to this day but have been made to do forced labor“ (Joshua 16:10 ESV). Another failure is recorded. Look at Joshua 17:12-13. “Yet the people of Manasseh could not take possession of those cities, but the Canaanites persisted in dwelling in that land. Now when the people of Israel grew strong, they put the Canaanites to forced labor, but did not utterly drive them out” (Joshua 17:12–13 ESV). Yet more failures are recorded from the people of Israel.
The problem is perfectly illustrated in Joshua 17:14-18. The people of Joseph come to Joshua and complain that their inheritance is too small for all the people they have. Joshua tells them to go take more land. It is a pretty obvious answer. God has given the land so go take more land. Listen to what they people say in verse 16: The Canaanites who dwell in the plain have iron chariots. The problem is that the flat land they need is occupied by Canaanites who have iron chariots. Joshua’s answer in verses 17-18 can be summarized like this: So what! It does not matter that they are strong or have iron chariots. Go take the land!
What is the problem? God said that he would drive out the inhabitants before the people. Yet we are reading of multiple examples where that was not happening. What was the problem? Why could they not drive out the people? Their fear blocked their faith. Their fear by what they saw caused them to not believe that they could succeed in driving out the inhabitants of the land. Faith is why Caleb had victory. A lack of faith is what caused the others to be unable to drive out the rest of the inhabitants. But I want us to consider what is staggering about all of this. This is the generation that successfully defeated the fortified cities and kings of the land. This is the generation that saw God give them victory. This is the generation that saw God give the miraculous victory at Jericho and the victory at Gibeon where by Joshua’s prayer, the sun stood still. The message has been that God can do anything. Do not think that there is something that God cannot do.
Did you notice what the lack of faith caused in the people of Joseph? It caused complaining to rise up in their hearts. Their weakening faith turns into complaining about others. The people of Joseph complain to Joshua about their land and complain about the people they have to displace to enjoy their inheritance. Complaining is a reflection of a weakening faith that is no longer depending on God but depending on self.
So there is a warning here. Faith can begin to wane after the victory. They started with strong faith but now that faith is weakening. The faith that started strong was unable to finish. Do we see the contrast to Caleb whose faith started strong and is ending strong? Some are failing because they started strong but they are not ending strong. There is a warning about growing comfortable and not finishing the job we have been given. We grow comfortable and start coasting. You see this in Joshua 18:3. Joshua challenges the people to stop waiting and take possession of the land. What are you waiting for!
This is the question I have for us: what are we waiting for? There are two options before us. The first option of faith is the example of Caleb. Caleb is not waiting around. He wants the hard country. He wants the difficult work. His age is not a concern. The only thing that matters is that God is with him. If God is with him, he knows he will be victorious. His faith is grounded in God’s word. His courage comes from his faith and his faith comes from God’s words. The second option of faith is the example of the other tribes. They do wait around. They are not interesting in finishing strong. They look and see the difficulties. They see that things look impossible. They do not believe that God can give them victory in what they are doing. This waning faith leads to complaining. Which option sounds like you today?
We just finished studying Nehemiah. He was a cupbearer for the king of Persia. He is in a wonderful position and he hears about the broken walls of Jerusalem. What does he do? Does he complain? Does he call those back in the land lousy and lazy? No, a cupbearer turns himself into a stone worker and goes back to Israel and builds the wall. He had faith and God gave him the victory. Do not worry about what others are doing or not doing. You do what you should do and can do.
I want complaining to become a flag for us that what this means is that our faith is failing. Complaining means that I am not trusting God to bring through my difficulty or concern. We are looking at our life and we are complaining because God is not doing for us what we think he should do rather than looking at our life and considering what I am doing to accomplish God’s will. Do we see that this is the contrast of Caleb and the people of Joseph? One is looking at what he can do for God and is volunteering to the task. The others are looking at what God is not doing and complaining about it. Rather than complaining, let us take those thoughts of complaint and turn them into asking ourselves what we can do for God. Let us consider that God can be working something in our lives and so we will not complain about it. Let us think about what we can do for God that will bring him glory and potentially change the circumstance. We noted in the last section of Joshua that there is nothing God cannot do. So are we going to open ourselves up to God’s work and let him work in our lives and change who we are and change our circumstances? Or are just going to complain about how life is not what we think it ought to be? It is time to stop complaining about what we wish things to be and start doing what we know we can and should be doing for the Lord. Faith does the work and God gives the victory for doing his work. A lack of faith complains about the work and we will lose everything we have been given. So which option will you choose? Let us end with the scripture that reminds that our faith is the victory.
By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? (1 John 5:2–5 ESV)