Through the Bible in a Year: Joshua 21-24

This Week’s Reading Schedule

Today’s (Friday’s) Bible reading is Joshua 21-24.

Next week we will read Judges, beginning with chapters 1 through 5 on Monday.

The overall year’s plan is here.

Joshua 21

Chapter 21 describes the assignment of cities to the Levites. Notice that the Levites are divided into three families: Kohathites, Gershonite, and Merarites.

Aaron’s descendants, who were the priests, were part of the Kohathite family. It’s hard to see how his descendants needed 10 cities, since Aaron was only born 125 to 130 years earlier. Perhaps the priests had lots of servants or other Levites were with them as helpers to their work.

Note: You can find the location of the cities and territories at this map.

It’s also interesting to me that the priests received cities in Judah, Benjamin, and Simeon, while the rest of the Kohathites received cities in Ephraim. The Tabernacle had come to rest in Shiloh, which is in Ephraim, and it required service from priests for the daily sacrifices. Perhaps the priests had some sort of rotating schedule of service in Shiloh.

Joshua 21:43-45: All-Inclusive Language Revisited

I’ve been pointing out on a regular basis that all-inclusive language in the Scriptures is not always all inclusive. The reason I do this is because we as Christians often take confident stands on things that we ought not to be so certain about.

Verses 43 to 45 are an excellent example. We’re told that "none of their enemies could resist them" (v.44b, NET), yet we saw yesterday that the tribe of Dan couldn’t capture or dwell in their assigned territory. They wound up as far away from it as they could possibly get, in the northern tip of Israel, even though their assigned land was south of Judah! (This map shows both territories.)

Further, we’ve been reading about various people that the Israelites were not able to overcome (e.g., the Jebusites—Joshua 15:63).

So why does this passage say their enemies could not resist them? The reason is that it is generally true. The nation of Israel came straight out of the wilderness and destroyed all the nations of the Canaanites to take possession of the Promised Land in a few short years. They settled into it and grew in strength and power for centuries.

In other words, the Lord had provided for them exactly what he promised.

But!

But we need to beware that we don’t snatch a passage like Joshua 21:43-45 and hold to a literal meaning that doesn’t match the facts. Taking a stand on words like "all" and "every" is almost certain to lead you into error.

Joshua 22

Joshua 22 has an interesting story about the altar built by Gad, Reuben, and the half tribe of Manasseh, who had land on the east side of the Jordan.

There are two things I want to point out.

Notice that it is at Shiloh that all Israel gathered against their brothers. This is because the Tabernacle was at Shiloh (18:1).

Finally, this passage, especially as we head into Judges, 1 Samuel, and 2 Samuel, is another lesson about taking too strong a stand on what we think we know about Scripture. It is clear that all Israel took God’s command about only sacrificing at the Tabernacle very seriously. They were going to war with their brothers because they believed their brothers had set up an alternative altar to the one at the Tabernacle of the Lord in Shiloh.

As we read through the histories, however, we will find that when a man finds favor with God, he can flex the rules a bit. The prophet Samuel was offering sacrifices on a high place when he met Saul and anointed him the first king of Israel (1 Samuel 9). He built a separate altar for the Lord in his home town of Ramah (1 Sam. 7:17). King David offered sacrifices on the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite (one of the races Judah was unable to drive out) in order to stave off a plague of the Lord (2 Sam. 24). Neither of these men were Levites, much less priests, yet apparently they were guiltless before the Lord.

Joshua 23

At the end of his life, Joshua exhorts the Israelites to continue following God. It’s interesting to me that this was an emphasis of Paul and Barnabas when they returned to visit the churches they started (Acts 14:22). Scripture says we need to be encouraged "every day, as long as it is called today," to continue in God’s ways (Heb. 3:13).

Joshua 24

Joshua asks for a recommitment to the Lord from the tribes of Israel, and they give it. They only kept this commitment until Joshua and other elders who had seen the miracles of the Lord firsthand had died (v. 31).

Apparently, they weren’t good at teaching the Lord’s statutes "diligently to your children" and speaking of them "when you sit in the house, when you walk on the road, when you lay down, and when you get up" (Deut. 6:7).

It is horribly common for the Lord’s work to only last one generation because the saints are unable to pass real faith to their children. Do we speak of our faith in the house, on the road, as we go to bed, and beginning when we rise in the morning? Are we good examples of the faith we possess?

Finally, there’s some odd words in verses 25 and 26. Joshua, it says, gave the Israelites "a statute and an ordinance." That’s not odd, but the fact that he wrote it down in "the Law Scroll of God" is (v. 26, NET Bible). Did Joshua do some of the writing of the Law of Moses? Or is this merely a reference to the fact that Joshua 23 and 24, Joshua’s final exhortations to Israel, were written down and kept with the Law of Moses?

It’s also a little odd that there was a "sanctuary of the Lord" in Shechem (v.26, NASB). The NET Bible translates it as "the Lord’s shrine."

Joshua had gathered all the elders of Israel to Shechem, which might make us think the Tabernacle had been set up there. If that were the case, then that would explain "the sanctuary of the Lord." However, Judges 18:31 tells us that the "house of God" was still in Shiloh.

Hundreds of years passed between Joshua 18:1, when the Tabernacle was set up in Shiloh, and Judges 18:31, when it was still in Shiloh, so it’s not impossible that it was moved to Shechem, but there’s nothing about this passage in Joshua 24 to make us think that, other than the fact that "the sanctuary of the Lord" generally is a reference to the tabernacle. Obviously, the translators of the NET Bible felt that it’s not a reference to the Tabernacle because they chose to translate it as "shrine."

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