A Place for Everyone & Everyone in Their Place
The Tribes Begin to Receive Their Portions of the Promised Land
Joshua 13.8 - 14.5
*Message begins approximately 36 min mark.
If you would, please turn with me in your Bibles to Joshua 13. We are going to start our reading in verse 8, and we are going to read into chapter 14 to the end of verse 5.
You may remember that last week I said we’d be starting a new section in the book of Joshua. Chapters 13-19 are all about the allotments of land. God had promised this land long ago, and now they are finally getting it handed to them.
But a lot of what we will read today is just as tedious as it was last time. Last time we had that catalog of lands and kings that were conquered. This week we’re going to deal with the distribution of those lands. Chapter 13 is going to lay out the land east of the Jordan and chapter 14 and following is going to begin to lay out the land west of the Jordan. And it can be some tedious reading as it talks about cities and rivers and geographical areas that we’re not familiar with.
So let me give you another picture so you can visualize it. You’ll notice the two and a half tribes east of the Jordan: Gad, Ruben and Manasseh. Then there are the tribes on the west side. We’re going to read mostly about the East side today. But if you’re a real Bible scholar, you’ll know that there is one tribe that is missing. We’re going to read about that today too.
So let’s get to it. Let’s look at Joshua 13, starting in verse 8.... Let's pray...
When Elizabeth and I were first dating, we spent a good deal of time at her parent’s house. Of course, that meant hanging out with her parents quite a bit too.
On one of those introductory occasions, we were outside in the house playing some games in the front yard. Eventually the games broke up and Elizabeth and Marion went off into the house. I was left out front with John. And out of the blue John says to me, “Well, I’d like to show you the boundaries.”
Now, as a young man who had just started dating this man’s daughter, I got a little embarrassed. My cheeks got flush because thought I was going to get a little talk about propriety in the relationship and that there were certain boundaries I shouldn’t cross. And just as I was about to say, “Mr. Sparks, I have nothing but the best intentions in this relationship,” he said to me, “Our property line runs back through this set of trees between the houses back about x amount of yards behind the edge of the grass line.”
Needless to say, I was much relieved that he was simply talking about the boundaries of his land. But despite the initial confusion (and embarrassment), John was very much interested in the lay of his land.
In our passage today we find another story about boundary lines and properties. In this section we are seeing the long awaited for moment. The land finally being given to God’s people. And what we see is that there is a place for everyone and everyone in their place.
And as we look at this survey of the land and its boundaries, there are a few things that we should notice. As a matter of fact, there are three things that our text points out to us. We see the simple fact that the land is given. Then we see the way that it is given: it is given by lot. Then, the third and final point is that the land is given by lot to everyone except one. All the tribes get a piece of the pie, except for the tribe of Levi.
But let’s begin with our most simple point. It’s quite redundant and almost so obvious that we may wish to skip over it. But we would do an injustice to the text and to our own spiritual edification is we overlooked this point. And that point is the simple fact that the land is given.
I. The land is given
There is one word that should stand out to you in chapters 13-14, in particular. It is the word “gave.” The word was used 9 times in the 30 verses we read. And if you look at verse 8, you’ll see that it is used twice.
“With the other half of the tribe of Manasseh the Reubenites and the Gadites received their inheritance, which Moses gave them, beyond the Jordan eastward, as Moses the servant of the LORD gave them.”
Then if you skip down to verse 15, “And Moses gave an inheritance to the tribe of the people of Reuben.” In verse 24 it says the same thing in regards to Gad. Moses gave them their land. Then in verse 29 it says the same about the half tribe of Manasseh.
The emphasis is on the fact that these lands east of the Jordan were already committed to certain tribes. And that commitment was honored. But it should not be missed that these lands were given. That is to say they were God’s gifts to the people. And what should you hear when you hear gift given? You should hear the word grace.
These lands were not something they had earned. They did not come to inherit them because they had worked for them. The battles they fought and the labor they put into possessing these lands were not the basis of their obtaining the land. Those efforts were a response to God’s promise. They gained the land because God sovereignly and mercifully bestowed these lands upon them.
You can go back to Abraham. I had an opportunity to do that just this week as I was doing other study. I read about Abraham and how he was a twisted man. He was an adulterer, a liar, and a doubter. The man is held up as a great patriarch of the faith, but there is a sense in which he is not much to look up to. Yet God promised to give him this land.
Then you can look at Jacob and his twelve sons. You all are familiar with them and what kind of scoundrels they were. You remember how they treated Joseph. They were cruel and were noted for their wickedness all through the book of Genesis.
Let me tell you, not one of these people deserve to be given anything. The only reason they were allowed to build a house and put down any roots in this territory is because God was gracious. It is only because He was willing to pardon their sin and not let their evil come between them.
Each of these tribes simply responded to God’s kindness and received that gift by faith. And that, my friends, is the key to all of God’s dealings with us and we with him. God gives us all things solely by his unmerited favor. There is not one thing we can do to gain the very air we breathe. It is kindly bestowed upon us, despite our grave sins and shortcomings.
And we must recognize that the land that God is giving to us and the eternal life (of which it is a part) is nothing more than a free gift of his sovereign mercy.
How is it that you get to heaven? What do you have to do in order to gain it? Absolutely nothing! There’s nothing you can do. If it were dependent upon you, you would have lost it long ago by virtue of your offenses against God’s law.
But the wonderful news is that God graciously gives eternal life to his people.
I do not want you to look at the book of Joshua and think that the Israelites were men who worked hard, fought with the highest zeal, and by doing so earned their territories. That would be a radical misunderstanding of this book. And it would be a terrible misunderstanding of how God fulfills his promises – even his promises to us.
We need to understand that these Israelites simply believed God and trusted him to do as he said. And we must do the same. We must simply receive his gift of life and believe that he will fulfill his word. That land beyond the grave cannot be obtained in any other way. Try as you will, you cannot possibly acquire it in any way but by faith. Because the inheritance of eternal life is a gift that he alone bestows.
So that is the first lesson. The land is a gift that is given. It is a gift. It is a blessing of God’s grace that sinners don’t deserve.
But I want you also to notice that the land is not just given, but given in a certain way. It is given by means of the casting of lots.
II. The land is given by lot
Look at chapter 14, verse 2. Notice what it says there. It says, “Their inheritance was by lot, just as the LORD had commanded by the hand of Moses for the nine and one-half tribes.”
Now again, the land on the East side of the river (which is covered in verse 14) was divied out by Moses. But when it comes to the land west of the river, it was divided up by way of a lottery. It came by the casting of lots.
Now, you know what the casting of lots is, don’t you? The word lot is the Hebrew word “goral” which simply means stone. The casting of lots was simply taking some stones and rolling them, much like you and I would roll dice when playing a board game. And as they rolled these stones, they would be able to discern God’s infallible will.
The Israelites believed that God was in complete control of those little stones and however it panned out that was supposed to be the evidence of God’s sovereign decision. In sum, these stones were revealing God’s inspired will.
Now you have to appreciate the fact that they chose to do things this way. You all know what happens when there is a divorce and when someone dies and leaves their inheritance to their family. You know that there is all kinds of angst between those people as they vie for what they think should be rightfully theirs.
If you’re not familiar with that, you at least know how it is when the kids get in the car and they have to decide who gets to sit up front or who gets to sit by the window or who has to sit beside Aunt Bertha.
Can imagine how much fighting and what kind of land grabbing there would have been. Who gets to have the best fishing spots? Who gets the best cities? Who has to sit in the mountainous area? The bigger tribes could have easily nudged the smaller tribes out of the best areas to get what they wanted.
So there is a sense in which this rolling of the dice settled any argument and made it impossible to dispute borders for the tribes.
But more than that, this is an indication of God’s decree when it comes to the partaking of the inheritance. It is determined not by the chiefs of the tribes or any man. It is God who decided. And no one can therefore take it away either. This is all settled in the heavens and as guaranteed by His divine hand.
And what is interesting is that many commentators point out the parallel this has to our salvation. The commentators point to Ephesians 1:11 which says, “In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will.”
In English there are three words, “obtained an inheritance.” But in the Greek it is only one word. And it the word means “to determine by lot” or “To assign by lot.” Some versions actually read, “In him we were assigned an inheritance.” Another translation says, “In him we were called by lot.”
So as Paul is talking about our salvation, he says that it was divinely given to us by God’s sovereign appointment. And in that verse you have the repetition of this idea. It was given by lot (i.e. by God’s decree), “we were predestined according to the purpose of him,” and “it was according to the counsel of his will.”
What is Paul trying to tell us there? He’s telling us that our salvation is completely settled. There’s no disputing it. It doesn’t come by man’s will, and, subsequently, no one can take it from us.
There’s one more item I’d like you to see from our passage today. So far we’ve seen that the land was given. It was given by lot. And now I want you to see that it was given to every tribe except Levi.
III. The land is given by lot to all the tribes except Levi
Again, chapter 13 recaps the tribes which were given land on the east side of the Jordan: Reuben, Gad, and the half tribe of Manasseh. Then chapters 14-19 talk about all the tribes on the west side of the Jordan. All the tribes get a portion of land. All of them except Levi that is. As you see in verse 14 and 33.
Look at verse 14. It says, “To the tribe of Levi alone Moses gave no inheritance. The offerings by fire to the LORD God of Israel are their inheritance, as he said to him. “
He then repeats that same thing (though in a slightly different way) in verse 33. It says, “But to the tribe of Levi Moses gave no inheritance; the LORD God of Israel is their inheritance, just as he said to them.”
Now, you may look at this and think, “Boy, Levi gets the shaft.” You might take this as saying everybody gets a nice piece of real estate, but poor Levi. The Levites don’t get any kind of territory to call their home. And you might think, “Why does God treat them so terribly.”
But it’s actually the exact opposite. Levi is the special one. He’s not getting a raw deal; he’s getting the best deal. His inheritance is the best of all the tribes.
Look at it again. Verse 14 says that his inheritance are the offerings by fire to the Lord God of Israel. In other words, his life’s portion is the worship of God. He gets to spend all his days in the Tabernacle and the Temple; he gets to be near the Lord and spend all his days in God’s presence.
Verse 33 reiterates that in a more explicit way: The Lord God of Israel is their inheritance.
What you need to understand is that this is a return to the Garden of Eden. Before the fall, Adam was not only able to go out into the fields and work, but he was able to spend time in God’s presence. When he was banished from the Garden, that was a loss. But it wasn’t the biggest loss. His biggest loss was communion with God. That satisfaction and joy was the real death.
And here we see that Levi is blessed above all the other tribes in that they get to enjoy that communion with the Lord day in and day out.
And that is really the point that should mean the most to us. If you are all about Christianity because of what you will get, then you’re not really doing Christianity right. As a matter of fact, if your profession of faith is more about the fact that you’ll get out of hell and you’ll get to enjoy a lot of perks and a lot of nice things in heaven, then you are not really a Christian. You’re just as materialistic as someone else in this world who is living for the big house, the luxurious car, and all the fancy clothing. The only different between you and him is that he has it now and you’re waiting for all the goods in the world to come.
But it’s ultimately the same attitude. And it isn’t Christian. As a matter of fact, if that’s your attitude, heaven will be just as empty and just as unsatisfying as this world is to the materialist.
While there are many good things in store for the Christian in the world to come, the primary thing that the Christian longs for is that connection with God. His satisfaction is that he gets to be in the presence of God.
This is what is expressed in Psalm 73: Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. 26 My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
That’s what makes a Christian’s conversion so significant. In your conversion you realize that you’ve been alienated from the Lord. And when you repent you turn towards him to embrace that which you once despised.
And at that very moment something monumental happens. The Lord comes to you and enters into you. You begin to experience something that you’ve never had to that point: You have fellowship and communion with Christ. As Jesus says, “I in you and you in me.”
Levi’s inheritance is the very heart of God’s promise: the restoration of that original relationship.
Now it may be that you are living in that alienation still. Or you may be one who has up to this point seen heaven as the Jackpot that you’ve been waiting for. Jesus to you may have simply been the rainbow that leads you to the pot of gold on the other side of death.
But today you have the opportunity to be truly converted. You have the opportunity to turn away from those selfish inclinations and you have the chance to enjoy the one thing that will really satisfy the longings of your heart; you can come to have the relationship that supersedes every earthly joy. The one thing that supersedes every heavenly joy.