Bible Studies in Book of Joshua
Joshua Chapter 13: The
Inheritance of the tribe of Levi
By Fraser Gordon
I have really enjoyed teaching on the book of Joshua, but now I would like to look at a few different scriptures. Last time we talked about the Gibeonites in chapter 9. Do you remember the group of people which deceived the Israelites into making a covenant with them? They met Israel on the way, but they had changed their clothing and made everything look old and moldy. They came talking as believers in the one true God, but all the time they were deceiving the nation into making a covenant with them so that their lives would be spared. If you remember God had told the Israelites that they were to drive out all of the nations because the land was theirs, and when we are looking at the book of Joshua we find that it is equivalent to the book of Ephesians. It is about inheriting all that God has done for us in the risen Lord Jesus Christ. Joshua is the picture book; so how did they take the land? How did they take all that God had given to them? Even though God had given them all the land, their possession of it was quite limited. And it is exactly the same for us. We have been given all things in the risen Lord Jesus Christ. We are complete in Him. We are seated in the heavenly realms. This is all our positional truth. How much of that do we possess? How much of that do we experience? Of its fullness we only experience a little part. There will a day when we fully experience everything that God has for us. However, for now we press on like the Israelites; they had to get into the land, and they had to drive out the enemies to possess it. I want to look at this and especially the inheritance that the tribe of Levi got in this study. We will start in Joshua chapter 13.
There is still an inheritance to be taken
Jos 13:1 When Joshua was old and well advanced in years, the LORD said to him, "You are very old, and there are still very large areas of land to be taken over.
So you have this picture here that all of the land had not been conquered. So what is the difference between getting an inheritance and possessing that inheritance? Taking it! If you were to get an earthly inheritance you would not actually possess that inheritance until you made it yours and started to use it for your own benefit. That is what God is saying here to the Israelites. The work had been done. God had given them the victory throughout the whole of the land but yet they hadn't actually taken possession of it. They had been given it, it was theirs to use and take but they hadn't gone and actually made it theirs. And it is exactly the same for us as Christians, we have been given an inheritance in Christ, but we have to make it ours and use it for our own benefit. As we go through this book later on, you will see that there were some tribes that took possession of the land, Caleb, for example; he is a picture of perseverance of faith. He just goes on up and takes what is rightfully his. Many of the tribes, even though the whole land was theirs, were willing to co-exist with the Canaanites. So, yes, this land was theirs, but they didn't want to drive the Canaanites out fully - they were willing to live side by side and in many cases make the Canaanites their slaves, but they were supposed to possess the land for themselves.
Jos 18:2-3 But there were still seven Israelite tribes who had not yet received their inheritance. (3) So Joshua said to the Israelites: "How long will you wait before you begin to take possession of the land that the LORD, the God of your fathers, has given you?
We see the same thing here again in the land had been given to them and yet through neglect, and fear and unbelief they still hadn't gone on in and taken what was actually rightfully theirs. So we have this picture all through here that even though everything was given to them, some Israelites possessed what was given and some didn't. It is exactly the same in our Christian lives.
The inheritance of Levi
Now I want to look at two verses that really stand out to me. We are talking about inheritance here and in chapter 13 God gave them the land by lot. It was He who determined everything according to how the lot fell. He determined which areas they should have. Their inheritance was an earthly one. It was land and cities, apart from one tribe. There was one tribe which didn’t inherited land and that tribe was Levi.
So I stopped when I was reading this because I actually want to talk about Levi. When you get to Joshua chapter 13 verse14 it says:
Jos 13:14 But to the tribe of Levi he gave no inheritance, since the offerings made by fire to the LORD, the God of Israel, are their inheritance, as he promised them.
Jos 13:33 But to the tribe of Levi, Moses had given no inheritance; the LORD, the God of Israel, is their inheritance, as he promised them.
So out of all the tribes you have got one which wasn't going to get anything. If you were to take that into a family scenario and there was one child that was singled out to not get anything they would feel incredibly ripped off. But there was one tribe out of the twelve that was given no inheritance; their inheritance was to be something completely separate and different. Their inheritance was God Himself. So when I started looking at Levi I thought what is it about this tribe that is different? Levi is one of Jacob's sons. The first real picture you get of this tribe is in Genesis chapter 34 where one of Jacob's daughter's, named Dinah, goes out to visit the Canaanites and while she is out there a prince likes the look of her and he actually takes her and rapes her. The news comes back to Jacob's family and everyone is really upset by what has gone on because it should never have happened. Now the prince actually loved Dinah, loved her so much that he came to Jacob and made a deal with Jacob's family, because he wanted Dinah even though what he had done was incredibly wrong. So Jacob and the boys came to an agreement that yes, she could go and marry this prince if all the Canaanite males of that town were circumcised. Jacob was happy with that plan because though he had been wronged, he realized that this man loved his daughter.
When a ‘blessing’ is not a blessing
In the meantime you have got two boys of Jacob's sons, Levi and Simeon. They hatched a plan on the side. Because they were outraged by what had happened to their sister, they said “he is not going to get away with this” so while all the men were healing through this process of circumcision, Levi and Simeon go and attack the city and kill all the males. So here we have the first little picture of this character Levi. He takes the sword and he avenges and kills, and Jacob is very upset about it because he had entered into an agreement with these people, and his honor had been put to one side and the murder and revenge had occurred. So you get to Genesis chapter 49: Jacob is about to die and is blessing his sons, but he had never forgotten what Levi and Simeon had done, and he never ever really forgave them.
Gen 49:5-7 Simeon and Levi are brothers-- their swords are weapons of violence. (6) Let me not enter their council, let me not join their assembly, for they have killed men in their anger and hamstrung oxen as they pleased. (7) Cursed be their anger, so fierce, and their fury, so cruel! I will scatter them in Jacob and disperse them in Israel.
So that is quite a ‘blessing’ that you would give to two of your sons upon your death bed! Jacob never really forgave them for what they did and he actually cursed them. He said he was going to divide and he said he was going to scatter. So when you look at their origins there is nothing really in the early years of Levi to say that God had something for this family. There is hatred, there is revenge, there is murder, there is cursing; nothing to indicate that God had something special for the tribe of Levi. The first real glimpse you have of the seed of faith is actually in Exodus chapter 32. The scenario here is that Moses has been up the mountain for forty days. And the nation can't wait any longer for their leader, so they convince Aaron to form a god out of gold. Aaron is included in this sin; the nation brings their gold jewellery which Aaron melts down and out comes this golden calf—he says!
What a horrendous thing to happen, but of all the people that should rush to be on the Lord's side it is this tribe of Levi! There is no glimpse of any seed of faith from Levi up to here. There is murder, there is hatred, there is revenge and there is cursing. And yet, when it comes down to it, there is this little seed of faith that causes them to take their stand on the Lords’ side. What is happening here is wrong. Even though Aaron was part of the family of the Levites he had also been involved in the production of the golden calf. The tribe of Levi shows that they want to be on the Lord's side and they gather themselves to Moses. Unfortunately they have to do the hard task. They have got to take the sword and kill their brethren, yet in verse 29 it says that God is now going to bless them. So here we see that from this moment on they are singled out, from the time that they show a glimpse of faith in God, He has something very special for this tribe. When I thought about this, I thought this is so true of us because we are almost like this family of Levites. Our beginnings are not good. All that we did is wrong. We are under a curse, but yet from the moment that we show a glimpse of faith, instantly we are propelled into something which is entirely new. God has something in store for you; from what was a wretched beginning, He now has a glorious end in sight. So in this aspect they are a picture of the Christian life.
The tribe of Levi is separated
What the Lord is saying here is that on that day when He was going to bestow a blessing on this tribe this is what He actually did, He separated them. And the first thing He says is “they were separated to bare the Ark of the Covenant of the Lord;” so in other words their first calling really was to carry the holiness and the presence of God, which stood in the Ark of the Covenant. They were singled out for this task---no-one else could carry the Ark but this family of Levi. We all know about David when he is bringing back the Ark which had been in the hands of the Philistines, and he makes that tragic mistake when the Ark is going to fall that an Israelite put out his hand to steady the Ark and was struck dead. This was because David was trying to do a righteous thing in a wrong way. There was only one family which could actually carry the ark and this guy had no right to touch it, so David had to go and relearn these principles that God had instilled.
So the tribe of Levi was to bear the ark. They were to carry the holiness and the presence of God and they were to stand before the Lord to minister to Him and to bless in His name. So their calling was one of ministering. They would represent all of the other tribes before God in the sanctuary, which was a very high calling. They were there on behalf of others before God. And it says “they were to bless in His name.” This is really interesting because their ministry was to be twofold. Not only was it concerned with the sanctuary of God, representing God from the peoples’ perspective, but also they were to bless in His name. Even though they had received no inheritance from the land whatsoever, and as a consequence had nothing to pass down to their families, God made provision for the Levites by which when they were not in the sanctuary, there were 48 cities that were provided for them. Every tribe had to give up a certain amount of cities by which the Levites, when they were not ministering to God, could come back to. When they came back to these cities they were to bless the people which they had been standing before God for. They were taking the presence of God back into their communities so this was their twofold ministry. Six of those 48 cities were cities of refuge which the Israelite’s could flee to if they had for example accidently killed someone. These six cities were all spread out across the land and you would flee to the nearest one where you could get a decent hearing. When they were not serving God in the temple they still raised crops and flocks in these cities, but really for them everything concerned God, about His holiness, about representing the people and about blessing in His name. You cannot really get a higher calling than that. God Himself was their inheritance.
Levi and You
So what does all this mean for us? We, like the tribe of Levi also had terrible beginnings, and all of us had done many wrong things, and yet all it takes is a little seed of faith and a looking toward God and God just showers upon us blessing upon blessing all in the Lord Jesus Christ. Now if you had been of this tribe, how do you think you would have reacted when the land was divided up? What is it you would have wanted? Would you have wanted land? When you think about your own life, many Christians are disillusioned with their lot in life. Life can be very, very harsh. A lot of the dreams that we once had don't come to pass. For many, there are financial worries that come upon them and some people can't even rub a couple of cents together and so they feel disillusioned with their lot. You can feel disillusioned with your lot if you are continually plagued by bad health. For some people it is a bad marriage. For some it is a partner that they have lost and for some people that they have never married and remain single and so they feel disillusioned with their lot because the things that they want, they don't seem to have.
The biggest break in life
When we look, we see that God actually determined each lot for these tribes. It was all determined by lot. He knew which tribe was going to get which amount of land. It is exactly the same for us. He knows. He appoints a lot unto us. Many Christians don't have a home, they don't have land. Everything seems difficult, everything seems hard and they feel like they have been short changed really by the inheritance they have. But we are all, in essence, like this tribe of Levi, because God Himself is our lot. If you have come to Christ, you have had your big break in life, because nothing else really compares with having the Lord Jesus Christ in your life. That is the greatest lot that you could ever obtain. Everything else is fleeting.
When it is all summed up you can have lots of earthly inheritances which are nice, they can help you but when you strip everything away the only thing that really counts is the Lord Jesus Christ and the people that know Him. So God was to be the inheritance of the Levites; He should be for us. Whatever communities God puts us in we are there on behalf of the people there and we are also to bless in His name, to make an impact with the risen Christ. So God Himself is really the greatest inheritance we could ever get. Ephesians shows us what our inheritance is.
In verse 11 it says that “we have an inheritance according to His will, according to His purpose, and according to His counsel.” So what is that inheritance? That inheritance is actually a person. He has given us the Lord Jesus Christ. In Ephesians it says that “we are seated in heavenly realms, we are in a risen Christ, and we are made joint heirs with Christ”. He has taken us from this place of cursing and rubbish and bestowed a blessing on us where He puts us in His own Son. He puts us in the risen Lord Jesus Christ and He views us now in the same way that He looks at His Son. We are accepted in the Beloved. When He looks at the Lord Jesus Christ He sees us. He has placed us there, not because of anything we have done, but only because of what His righteous Son did on our behalf. That is what grace really is. The wonder of grace is all about the fact that we are redeemed, we are heirs, and our inheritance is that He has given us a person by which we can actually live and function as Christians. We are heirs of all things that will be summed up in the Lord Jesus Christ when everything is put under His feet we will reap the benefits of all of that and we will be with Him and not only that we shall be like Him! This is the inheritance that we have been given that we shall be like Him. And just as the Israelites shared an inheritance to use, He is also available to every single one of us at any moment to call upon, to draw upon and to be near.
The Lord’s inheritance in us
In this verse just looked at it says that “we have obtained an inheritance” and it was all to do with God's will, His purpose and His counsel. But if you go over to verse 18 you will see that our possession of Him is matched by His possession of us.
In the first of these verses we see that we have an inheritance, but then in verse 18 we are told that He has an inheritance in us also. Our possession of Him is matched by His possession of us. So what is His inheritance in us? What does He get out of this deal? A bride! He gets a people that of their own free will lovingly say ‘yes’ I want to be with You, I choose you. I thank you for the forgiveness that you have shown me in the Lord Jesus Christ and I take that forgiveness. In that whole process He starts to form the church into His bride by which He Himself will be glorified and all praise will go to Him. He also gets a special people. You may not think of yourself as special...
So in other words God's inheritance is that He would actually get a bride, who would lovingly choose Him. That He might redeem us, which is what He did upon the cross from every lawless deed and He purified for Himself His own special people. Some verses actually say “peculiar people” Do you feel “peculiar?” But there is a purpose for which He has saved us and again it is for good works. It is for action. Just like the Levites didn't spend their whole time in the sanctuary they had to go back into the communities that were provided for them, (a double ministry). So God has not only saved us just to get out of hell and into heaven but He has saved us so that in the same way that Christ showed what the Father was like for 33 years, so you and I are expressions of the life of God in the areas that God has placed us, in the lots, in the portions that He has given us to be involved in, and that is our calling to actually bless in His name and to take that presence with us.
Here we see that “we are a royal priesthood, a special people” once again. This is for a purpose, to proclaim the goodness of what God has done. He has called us from a place of darkness into a place of light.
Conclusion - Are you pleased with your lot?
One last verse I want to look at is in Psalm 16. It is Jesus Christ talking to the Father.
So in its context this is a Messianic Psalm and it is Christ talking to the Father in while realizing that He has to go to the cross of Calvary and lay down His life. That is the context of it all. This is a Messianic Psalm. He is saying “Lord you are the portion of my inheritance and my cup, you maintain My lot and the lines have fallen to Me in pleasant places” and He is really happy about that, as hard as it was. So if it is true of the Lord Jesus Christ, it has to be made true of us. Can you today say you are happy with your lot? Do you know that your inheritance is God Himself? Because you cannot say that the lines have fallen to me in pleasant places, yes I have a good inheritance, unless you realize that Christ said “O Lord You are the portion of my inheritance.” Unless you see that God has blessed you so much that He has given you the Lord Jesus Christ and that this is the thing that is really important to you in this life; that God has come into your life and that is the essence of life. If that is how you see it, then you can say “Yes, the lines have fallen to me in pleasant places.” It doesn't matter where He places you because if God is put first and foremost then you can say “Okay, where He has got me now is pleasant. I have got a good inheritance. This is His portion for me. This is His lot for me and I will bless His name.” But first of all God needs to be put in His rightful place and that is something that has to be worked out in each of our lives. I have found that it has to be worked out over and over again because you can be smiling and happy one day and moaning the next over what you perceive has happened to you. So really, just as Christ had to lay down His life we also need to lay down our lives continually. We need to renew our minds with the truth that we have a wonderful inheritance, we have the Lord. The lines have already fallen to us in pleasant places.