Bible Studies in Book of Joshua
Divided loyalties and worldliness
By Fraser Gordon
Last time we talked about the first nine verses of chapter 1 and we looked at the fact that there was going to be a new leader in Joshua. Now that Moses had died, God's blessing and His inheritance for them required a new leader to actually take them in. Moses, who pictured the law, could only take them so far and in the same way, the law has a purpose in salvation but can only take you so far. Christ is the One who can take you that extra step into all that God has for you and so we focused on that in the first study. We also looked at being strong and courageous and how that courage for the Christian is essential. In all that we put our hands to we need to be courageous and we need to be going forward and expecting God to work. We’ll continue with the next part of Joshua which looks at divided loyalties and worldliness.
When worldly pursuits blocks your vision of your spiritual inheritance
Joshua 1:10-18 So Joshua ordered the officers of the people: (11) Go through the camp and tell the people, 'Get your supplies ready. Three days from now you will cross the Jordan here to go in and take possession of the land the LORD your God is giving you for your own.' (12) But to the Reubenites, the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh, Joshua said, (13) Remember the command that Moses the servant of the LORD gave you: 'The LORD your God is giving you rest and has granted you this land.' (14) Your wives, your children and your livestock may stay in the land that Moses gave you east of the Jordan, but all your fighting men, fully armed, must cross over ahead of your brothers. You are to help your brothers (15) until the LORD gives them rest, as he has done for you, and until they too have taken possession of the land that the LORD your God is giving them. After that, you may go back and occupy your own land, which Moses the servant of the LORD gave you east of the Jordan toward the sunrise." (16) Then they answered Joshua, "Whatever you have commanded us we will do, and wherever you send us we will go. (17) Just as we fully obeyed Moses, so we will obey you. Only may the LORD your God be with you as he was with Moses. (18) Whoever rebels against your word and does not obey your words, whatever you may command them, will be put to death. Only be strong and courageous!"
So when you get to these next verses, Joshua starts off by saying “look, we are about to cross over, I want you to prepare provisions for yourself before we cross,” and he suddenly stops because there is something that happened prior to this which is actually going to cause a separation in the nation of Israel. To have a little look at what happened, go to Numbers chapter 32. When we came through Numbers, we didn't actually look at this because I had a feeling that we would be looking at it when we came to Joshua
Numbers 32:1-5 The Reubenites and Gadites, who had very large herds and flocks, saw that the lands of Jazer and Gilead were suitable for livestock. (2) So they came to Moses and Eleazar the priest and to the leaders of the community, and said, (3) Ataroth, Dibon, Jazer, Nimrah, Heshbon, Elealeh, Sebam, Nebo and Beon-- (4) the land the LORD subdued before the people of Israel--are suitable for livestock, and your servants have livestock. (5) If we have found favor in your eyes," they said, "let this land be given to your servants as our possession. Do not make us cross the Jordan."
Here you have two and one half of the tribes of the children of Israel on the wilderness side of the Jordan who had many cattle and they wanted to remain there in Gilead and not go over Jordan into the Promised Land. So they went to Moses, and Moses as you know, has been preaching about Canaan for 40 years. These three tribes come to him and say “Look, we know that God's inheritance for us is on the other side of the Jordan but we don't actually want that. What we want is what we see here, this land is really good for our earthly business, which is grazing stock. We don't want what God has got for us on the other side of the Jordan; we want this area that we see here.” When you read through these verses in Numbers, Moses at first is really slacked off and says “Why would you discourage the people again like the spies did?” In the end an agreement is made whereby if their armed men will go and help the nation inherit the land they can come back there. That is the compromise and Moses is happy with this. So what you have here is a separation that is happening within the nation. You have one group of people that are interested in God's blessing towards them and God's inheritance and another group of believers that are really only interested in their earthly lot. It's amazing to think that after hearing about the land flowing with milk and honey for 40 years and all of the good things that God had stored up for them within the land of Canaan, that they would settle for something less. Yet, when they saw this land on the wrong side of Jordan and because of the fact that they had truckloads of livestock, they were dominated by this thought, and gave away what God had in store for them.
Spiritual and carnal believers
So what does all this really illustrate? What do these two and a half tribes speak to us about? Because I believe that they are in the scriptures for a purpose and a warning. If you take it as a picture, it illustrates two different types of believers really. You have got one set of believers that are really interested in all that God has for them. They have come through the Red Sea. They have come through the wilderness, with its hard experiences, but they want to inherit all that God has for them. They want to go in to the land, they want to press in to God and obtain everything that God has for them. That is one type of believer. The other type, I believe, are a picture of what the New Testament would call carnal believers or worldly believers. They are border dwellers - they are not in the land but they are not out, they are just on the border. Not back in the wilderness, because they are on the border of the Jordan where pasture is still plentiful... but they are not yet in the land. When you think about these guys they are committed to the cause. They actually want the rest of the nation to inherit what God has for them but yet for themselves they want to dwell back on the other side of the Jordan where the food for cattle is plentiful.
In verse 5 it says “If we have found favor in your sight let this land be given to your servants as a possession. Do not take us over the Jordan.” When I was thinking about that I thought what this group of believers really wants is an earthly lot. They are committed to the cause in that they want God's people to inherit His blessings, but for themselves they actually want to be back on the other side of the Jordan. Christianity has believers on both sides here. You have got worldly believers who camp down on the borders who are still interested in the whole Christian purpose. They are interested in missions and God's people inheriting the things that they should inherit. They are interested in the causes, but for themselves they don't really want to be involved. It is the pull of the world. Like the saying goes, the more you own, the more it owns you. It doesn't have to but I think for these two and a half tribes, because they had much livestock, that's what governed their heart.
The spiritual type in crossing the Jordan
When we look at the Jordan, this was a new thing for the nation of Israel. What does the Jordan stand for? When we think about the crossing of the Jordan what does it picture? It pictures what they had already gone through to get where they were now. They had already gone through the Red Sea crossing which was a deliverance from a satanic ruler over them. They went through the Red Sea on dry ground so they had already gone through one crossing and this pictures deliverance from under the bondage of Satan and the world into God’s inheritance. But they wandered 40 long years in unbelief, so they had to have another crossing. They had to rediscover the same truths that they had learned in the beginning with the Red Sea crossing. I believe that for Christians, this is quite often the case. There has to be a rediscovery of those old truths that the Jordan speaks of; death and of resurrection. Remember that they set up monuments in the Jordan which stand for the death, resurrection and sanctification of believers. Now what these people are saying is “Don’t take us over the Jordan, we actually don't want anything to do with what the Jordan represents.” The rest of the tribes of Israel were going over Jordan and not coming back, but these people were definitely returning. Jordan and the land of Canaan being free from wilderness life didn’t mean a heck of a lot to them. So when you look at these two and a half tribes, you see they are believers, but what is it that governs their hearts? It is actually the world. They are committed to the overall cause of Christianity but in their hearts they do not actually want to fully obtain the promises for themselves. They have got a measure of faith but they don't want all that God has prepared for them.
The New Testament equivalent of the Jordan
Have a look at Philippians chapter 3: because I thought about Paul as a picture of someone who wants to press on into everything that God has for him.
Philippians 3:4-10 though I myself have reasons for such confidence. If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: (5) circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; (6) as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless. (7) But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. (8) What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ (9) and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ-- the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. (10) I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death...
So that is Paul’s desire and that, in verse 10, is what the Jordan signifies.
Philippians 3:11-14 and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. (12) Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. (13) Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, (14) I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
This is what pictures the nine and a half tribes. They are really pressing in to all that God has for them.
Philippians 3:15-21 All of us who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. (16) Only let us live up to what we have already attained. (17) Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you. (18) For, as I have often told you before and now say again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. (19) Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things. (20) But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Saviour from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, (21) who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.
So Paul here gives his credentials. He says “Look, I forget everything that is behind and I am pressing on toward to all that God has for me” and then he gives this little warning that there are some among us whose end is destruction. Their god is their belly, it is the things they can see, and it is the things they can taste, the things they can partake of. Their glory is in their shame and they set their minds on earthly things. So Paul says to beware. ‘Follow my example but there are some among us and this is what they live for.’ For these two and a half tribes, this is exactly it, they were committed to the overall cause, but for themselves it is not really what they wanted. So there is a separation that is going to occur among the nation.
An example from Abraham and Lot
Remember another separation between Abram and Lot. When Abram went down into Egypt everything he brought out of Egypt caused him trouble and Lot came up with him.
Genesis 13:5-13 Now Lot, who was moving about with Abram, also had flocks and herds and tents. (6) But the land could not support them while they stayed together, for their possessions were so great that they were not able to stay together. (7) And quarreling arose between Abram's herdsmen and the herdsmen of Lot. The Canaanites and Perizzites were also living in the land at that time. (8) So Abram said to Lot, "Let's not have any quarreling between you and me, or between your herdsmen and mine, for we are brothers. (9) Is not the whole land before you? Let's part company. If you go to the left, I'll go to the right; if you go to the right, I'll go to the left." (10) Lot looked up and saw that the whole plain of the Jordan was well watered, like the garden of the LORD, like the land of Egypt, toward Zoar. (This was before the LORD destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.) (11) So Lot chose for himself the whole plain of the Jordan and set out toward the east. The two men parted company: (12) Abram lived in the land of Canaan, while Lot lived among the cities of the plain and pitched his tents near Sodom. (13) Now the men of Sodom were wicked and were sinning greatly against the LORD.
So here you have the same sort of scenario of two Old Testament believers; and Lot was a believer. He is actually even called righteous in the New Testament. There is trouble between Abram and Lot over grazing pastures for their animals. Abram told Lot to choose which part of the land would be his... so how did Lot choose? It says here “that he lifted his eyes and saw the plain that it was well watered”. He chose the best of the land that he could see for what he needed and it says that he pitched his tent even as far as Sodom. So the warning that you have here is that he didn't know what he was doing, he thought he was choosing the best, but it came at a cost. He didn't know the cost that would come to bear upon him and his family. He chose (as did the two and one half tribes) what he considered would be the best for his livestock. He pitched his tent as far as Sodom. Every step he takes is another compromise until he becomes an elder sitting in the gate of Sodom itself. The whole sorry story goes from bad to worse as angels tell him that tell him the judgment of God is coming on the city. He, his wife and two daughters barely escape with their lives, and his wife is turned into a pillar of salt for looking back at Sodom as it went up in flames. For Lot, the decision of choosing the best cost him dearly, it nearly cost him his life, and it cost him his wife’s life. At his end you see him cowering in a cave and the despicable things that happened there with his daughters which created the nation of Moab, which is part of the land of Jordan today. What I am trying to do is draw an illustration between what Lot did when he chose the best of the land and the bearing it had on what would happen to him later on. It was the same as with the two and a half tribes, they picked what they thought was the best for them, but again there this had consequences for them later on.
Genesis 13:14-18 The LORD said to Abram after Lot had parted from him, "Lift up your eyes from where you are and look north and south, east and west. (15) All the land that you see I will give to you and your offspring forever. (16) I will make your offspring like the dust of the earth, so that if anyone could count the dust, then your offspring could be counted. (17) Go, walk through the length and breadth of the land, for I am giving it to you." (18) So Abram moved his tents and went to live near the great trees of Mamre at Hebron, where he built an altar to the LORD.
Contrast that with Lot; when Abram lifted up his eyes, he saw only what God had given to him. One sees what the earth or the world has got to offer and the other lifted up his eyes and God showed him the land of Canaan which the nation is now going to enter into. God said “This is my inheritance for you and your descendants.” Abram was quite amazing. He was the elder of the two and so had the right to choose but he actually gave that up and allowed Lot to choose. So I just bring that in as another example that we have to be careful of what we look at or choose because everything has a consequence.
The firstfruits of worldliness
So let's go back to Joshua and we will have a look at what happens when they agree to these terms and go in and fight. The two and one half tribes do what they agreed on and they help the nation inherit the land but when you get to chapter 22 they are dividing up the land and it’s time now for these people to go back to where they wanted to dwell.
Joshua 22:1-10 Then Joshua summoned the Reubenites, the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh (2) and said to them, "You have done all that Moses the servant of the LORD commanded, and you have obeyed me in everything I commanded. (3) For a long time now--to this very day--you have not deserted your brothers but have carried out the mission the LORD your God gave you. (4) Now that the LORD your God has given your brothers rest as he promised, return to your homes in the land that Moses the servant of the LORD gave you on the other side of the Jordan. (5) But be very careful to keep the commandment and the law that Moses the servant of the LORD gave you: to love the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to obey his commands, to hold fast to him and to serve him with all your heart and all your soul." (6) Then Joshua blessed them and sent them away, and they went to their homes. (7) (To the half-tribe of Manasseh Moses had given land in Bashan, and to the other half of the tribe Joshua gave land on the west side of the Jordan with their brothers.) When Joshua sent them home, he blessed them, (8) saying, "Return to your homes with your great wealth--with large herds of livestock, with silver, gold, bronze and iron, and a great quantity of clothing--and divide with your brothers the plunder from your enemies." (9) So the Reubenites, the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh left the Israelites at Shiloh in Canaan to return to Gilead, their own land, which they had acquired in accordance with the command of the LORD through Moses. (10) When they came to Geliloth near the Jordan in the land of Canaan, the Reubenites, the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh built an imposing altar there by the Jordan.
On their way back, they are confronted with the thought that perhaps, in future generations we will not be recognized as part of the nation of Israel; so they decide to build an altar on the banks of the Jordan. So they want to be separate and live on the other side of the river, but they also want to be recognized. In Christendom as a whole, there are lots of splinter groups and people that are committed to the cause but they want to do their own thing or be separate... yet they still want to be recognized. And this altar that they build is a really great and impressive altar. It nearly causes civil war in the nation, because the only place of worship for Israel was in Shiloh. You cannot have another altar. You cannot have another place where burnt offerings and worshipping the Lord takes place; so all of the other tribes are going to go down there to wipe them out because the two and one half tribes are now looking out for themselves and not for the nation as a whole. This is the first result of independence.
Joshua 22:17 Was not the sin of Peor enough for us? Up to this very day we have not cleansed ourselves from that sin, even though a plague fell on the community of the LORD!
The second thing that it brings out is the iniquity of Peor. They are worried that the Lord is going to come and judge the nation. Will He judge the nation for independence? Will these two and a half tribes cause God's anger to come upon them just as in the day of Peor. The day of Peor was when Balaam couldn't curse the nation because they were blessed. But how did he actually corrupt the nation of Israel? He got the nation to intermarry with the women of Moab. And then they ended up worshipping at the altars of Baal; this caused the wrath of God to come upon Israel.
Jos 22:21-25 Then the sons of Reuben and the sons of Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh answered and spoke to the heads of the families of Israel. (22) "The Mighty One, God, the LORD, the Mighty One, God, the LORD! He knows, and may Israel itself know. If it was in rebellion, or if in an unfaithful act against the LORD do not save us this day! (23) "If we have built us an altar to turn away from following the LORD, or if to offer a burnt offering or grain offering on it, or if to offer sacrifices of peace offerings on it, may the LORD Himself require it. (24) "But truly we have done this out of concern, for a reason, saying, 'In time to come your sons may say to our sons, "What have you to do with the LORD, the God of Israel? (25) "For the LORD has made the Jordan a border between us and you, you sons of Reuben and sons of Gad; you have no portion in the LORD." So your sons may make our sons stop fearing the LORD.'
So the outcome of all of this is that finally Joshua and the people come to the conclusion that the two and one half tribes are not trying to set up an altar by which blood could be sacrificed; it was just an altar that they could be recognized by - it was an altar of witness and nothing else. However, when you think about it, if they hadn't wanted to be separate in the first place, none of this would have come about. If they hadn't built another altar none of this would have come about. But their heart was back on the other side of the Jordan and it caused a separation in the body.
The final harvest of worldliness
So what happens to the two and a half tribes? 1st Chronicles chapter 5, from verse 18 down says that they have got lots of men and they are really strong. In verse 21 they have got lots of goods. They increase their lands yet when you get down to verse 25 it says
1 Chronicles 5:25-26 But they were unfaithful to the God of their fathers and prostituted themselves to the gods of the peoples of the land, whom God had destroyed before them. (26) So the God of Israel stirred up the spirit of Pul king of Assyria (that is, Tiglath-Pileser king of Assyria), who took the Reubenites, the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh into exile. He took them to Halah, Habor, Hara and the river of Gozan, where they are to this day.
Out of all the nation of Israel the first ones to go astray were these two and a half tribes. They were the first ones to go after other gods and commit harlotry and they were the first ones that were actually taken captive away into Assyria. So, yes, they wanted to be separate. Yes, they wanted their earthly lot. It was really good for their cattle and everything else but like everything and like Lot, everything comes at a cost. If an earthly lot is what you are after, sure you can go and do that, but there will be a cost. That is what I believe these two and a half tribes in scripture are there for. I believe they are actually there as a warning to us.
One final related warning from the New Testament
When you get to the New Testament, do you know where you find remnants of these tribes? Jesus goes across the land of Galilee and He crosses into the land of the Gadarenes who are the descendants of Gad; present day Jordan. And what do the Gadarenes do? They are pig farmers, so they are still in the livestock business. Pigs, for the Jews, were unclean, so they are in an unclean business. Jesus arrives on their doorstep and is confronted by the man with the legion of demons that no one can bind. He sends the legion, which means many, out of the man and they go in to 200 pigs and run down the hillside into the water and are drowned. When news of this gets back to the city of the remnants of Gad, what is their response? They entreat Jesus to depart from their region. They actually cannot receive the Messiah Jesus. Their livestock has been destroyed, and this is what they are living for. It is interesting that those pigs actually ran down into the sea, apparently to get away from the presence of Jesus. The Messiah comes into the land, but the people are not able to receive Him because their earthly lot has been destroyed. This is the same for the two and half tribes. It is not how we start in the Christian life, it is how we finish. We have to finish faithfully and we have to finish strongly.