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“A New Creation and Beyond the River”
Introduction to Part 2:
Joshua 24:1 (ESV) — 1 Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel to Shechem and summoned the elders, the heads, the judges, and the officers of Israel. And they presented themselves before God.
Many scholars speculate that Joshua 23 took place at Shiloh.
- Joshua 24 obviously took place at Shechem.
- This means, of course, that some time elapsed between 23 and 24 to allow for travel.
But why move from Shiloh (the new home of the Tabernacle) to Shechem?
- The answer has to do with covenant.
- Shechem was where God covenanted with Abraham.
- Shechem is where the Israelites previously renewed their covenant with God.
- And our text today has another such covenant renewal ceremony.
We will contend with this covenant renewal as we continue to cover the prevalent themes of Joshua’s Farewell Discourse.
Last week we discussed three:
- (1) The Conquest is the Lord’s
- (2) Exhortation to Remain Faithful
- (3) Consequences for Unfaithfulness
Today we deal with:
- (4) Work of God in History
- (5) Covenant Renewal
Next week we will finish with:
- (6) Depravity of Israel
- (7) God’s Covenant Faithfulness
4) WORK OF GOD
A large chunk of text, Joshua 24:2-13, is dedicated to extolling the work of God on Israel’s behalf.
- Joshua begins by declaring, “Thus says the Lord” (vs. 2).
- He then proceeds to use God’s words to detail God’s work.
What God says – a summary:
- “Long ago…beyond the Euphrates…Abraham…served other gods” (vs. 2)
- “Then I took…Abraham from beyond the River…and led him to Canaan” (vs. 3)
- “I made his offspring many” (vs. 3)
- “Isaac…Jacob…Esau” (vs. 4)
- “Jacob went to Egypt” (vs. 4)
- “I sent Moses and Aaron” (vs. 5)
- “I plagued Egypt” (vs. 5)
- “I brought you out…to the sea…and the Egyptians pursued” (vs. 5 & 6)
- “I made the sea come upon them…you saw it” (vs. 7)
- “Then you lived in the wilderness a long time” (vs. 7)
- “I destroyed the Amorites and gave you the land east of the Jordan” (vs. 8)
- “I delivered you from the Balaam’s curse” (vs. 10)
- “And then You went over the Jordan” (vs. 11)
- “I gave the Canaanites into your hand…it was not by your sword or bow” (vs. 11)
- “I gave you the Promised Land – land you didn’t prepare, cities you didn’t build, vineyards and orchards you did not plant” (vs. 13)
These words are far more than a simple historical rehash of the work of God.
- They reveal God’s continued disposition of Grace toward His creation.
- His unwavering intent to redeem Creation.
- His work to put all things right.
Joshua’s discourse here is also at least two other things.
- (1) A “Creation Story”
- (2) A Right Response
(1) A “Creation Story”:
The phrase “long ago” literally means “out of”/“from” “the world”/“eternity” – TWOT.
- It seems to me to hint at a “creation story”.
- Creation 1 – In the beginning – Adam and Eve called out (“the Lord God formed the man”)
- Creation 2 – The Flood – Noah called out (“God remembered Noah”)
- Creation 3 – Tower of Babel event – Abraham called out (“God took Abraham from beyond the River”)
Abraham’s calling was a seminal event in God’s redemptive history.
- Abraham was no accident.
- God chose him, called him, took him and covenanted with him.
- Even in the midst of his idolatry – “they served other gods” (vs. 2)
He was a planned part of God’s redemptive history.
- He was always to be part of God’s people and God’s future.
- The trajectory of Abraham’s story was always to be through his sons, through Egypt, through the Promised Land, through Joshua, and through the nation of Israel.
Joshua’s discourse in Joshua 24 connects Israel to this “creation” of Abraham.
- To the seminal event of taking Abraham “from beyond the River” – order from chaos.
And by doing this:
- It connects Israel to God’s purposes.
- It connects the Israelites to the Promised Land.
- It connects the Israelites to God’s redemptive history.
- God is doing something and they are part of it.
What an awesome thing to be a part of!
BTW – We must not forget that Christ is in each of these creation stories – including Abraham’s.
- Creation 1 – Christ the Serpent Crusher
- Creation 2 – Christ the Target of the bow
- It would always be by God’s bow (and God’s Son) – “not by your sword or bow” (vs. 11).
- Creation 3 – Christ the Promised Seed
(2) A Right Response:
Joshua’s words are a right response to Israel’s inclusion in God’s redemptive history.
- This response has two angles two it.
1) The first angle is a basic but necessary admission that God is the Agent of creation and redemption:
- God Spoke
- God Decreed
- God Called
- God Chose
- God Covenanted
- God Fought
Or, as the Eastern Tribes put it Joshua 22:20:
- “The Mighty One, God, the Lord! The Mighty One, God the Lord!” (vs. 20).
- “El, Elohim, Yhwh! El, Elohim, Yhwh!”.
2) The second angle is that a right response to God involves doxology.
- Doxology is worship, praise and gratitude.
- Praise for what God has done.
- Praise for His words, decrees, call, choosing and covenant.
- Praise for being connected to God’s purposes in the past and going forward.
- Praise for being part of Abraham’s “creation story”.
- Joshua is worshipping God.
But going forward in God’s purposes requires an additional right response.
- As Joshua has taught us, we are not our own anymore.
- We must submit to God and His purposes and work.
- This is done with obedience!
5) COVENANT RENEWAL
Joshua 24:14–15 (ESV) — 14 “Now therefore fear the Lord and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. 15 And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”
Joshua issues a challenge to the Israelites – “Now therefore” and “Choose this day”.
- In response to God’s work on their behalf, praise isn’t enough; they must obey him.
- Joshua is calling them to covenant faithfulness.
- “Fear the Lord and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness” (vs. 15)
David Howard describes the significance of this challenge:
- “The choice laid out here for Israel was a breathtaking one. The language about choice is not found elsewhere in the Old Testament. Normally, God was the one who did the choosing, having chosen Israel from among the nations to be his people (see, e.g., Deut 4:37; 7:6–7; 10:15; 14:2). But now, Israel was being asked to choose its loyalties, something the pagan nations did not have to do because they could embrace all the gods” – David Howard.
What does “Fear the Lord and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness” look like?
- “Put away the gods served beyond the River” and “the gods of the Amorites” (vs. 14 & 15)
- The Israelites are committing idolatry in the Promised Land.
- Not the response God and His work deserve.
- A right response, in addition to worship, is to reject idolatry and follow after Yahweh in obedience.
Worship is not just a physical act of acknowledgment:
- John 4:24 (ESV) — 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”
- Romans 12:1 (ESV) — 1 I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.
Beyond the River:
Joshua’s use of the language, “beyond the River”, is no accident.
- Remember – Abraham was taken from “beyond the River”! (vs. 3)
- Abraham “served other gods” beyond the River.
Why is this significant?
- The things from “beyond the River” are to be left behind – they are “old creation”.
- As we just saw, bringing Abraham out was a “new creation”.
- Israel has been called out of “beyond the River”.
God’s redemptive history has brought them from “beyond the River”.
- To worship Him
- To obey Him
Joshua even repeats this in verse 15.
- Don’t serve “the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River” (vs. 15).
There is one more reason why this “beyond the River” language is significant.
- Where is it that a disobedient Israel is exiled?
- The Assyrians and the Babylonians take them “beyond the River”.
Joshua has made his choice – “as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (vs. 15).
- Joshua expresses his choice to be covenant faithful.
- To refrain from spiritual adultery.
- He expresses his desire to be caught up in God’s redemptive history.
- God’s putting things right.
- He does not want what is “beyond the River”.
Israel says they don’t either.
Israel answered Joshua’s challenge.
Joshua 24:21–28 (ESV) — 21 And the people said to Joshua, “No, but we will serve the Lord.” 22 Then Joshua said to the people, “You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen the Lord, to serve him.” And they said, “We are witnesses.” 23 He said, “Then put away the foreign gods that are among you, and incline your heart to the Lord, the God of Israel.” 24 And the people said to Joshua, “The Lord our God we will serve, and his voice we will obey.” 25 So Joshua made a covenant with the people that day, and put in place statutes and rules for them at Shechem. 26 And Joshua wrote these words in the Book of the Law of God. And he took a large stone and set it up there under the terebinth that was by the sanctuary of the Lord. 27 And Joshua said to all the people, “Behold, this stone shall be a witness against us, for it has heard all the words of the Lord that he spoke to us. Therefore it shall be a witness against you, lest you deal falsely with your God.” 28 So Joshua sent the people away, every man to his inheritance.
What do the Israelites say?
- “We will serve the Lord” (vs. 21)
- “We are witnesses” against ourselves (vs. 22)
- “The Lord our God we well serve, and his voice we will obey” (vs. 24)
Following in their fathers’ footprints at Sinai, they affirmed the Covenant of Works with God.
- Again, Moses makes clear in Deuteronomy that this covenant is conditional.
- If they obey – blessings.
- If they disobey – curses.
Joshua then seals the deal and pronounces some ominous words:
- “The covenant was sealed by (1) the recording of the words in a book and (2) the setting up of a stone as a “witness” to it” – David Howard.
- And with that Joshua says the stone “shall be a witness against you, lest you deal falsely with your God”.
As we saw last week in Judges, the implications of Joshua’s words are soon brought to bear.
- The Israelites “…soon demonstrated that theirs was indeed a shallow, superficial faith” – David Howard.
We will cover Joshua’s final words next week when we cover the depravity of Israel and God’s Covenant Faithfulness.
The final two chapters contain Joshua’s farewell discourses to the Israelites and their leaders.
- “The fact that Joshua gave such speeches to the nation places him on a level with Moses as God’s anointed leader over the nation…” – David Howard.
- The concern expressed in Joshua 1 about Joshua’s leadership, is again, put to rest.
- Israel saw Joshua as appointed by God.
Speculatively, James Boice suggests this discourse took place many years after chapter 22.
- Joshua was about 40 when he came out of Egypt (“according to Josephus” – Boice).
- He spent 40 years wandering.
- He spent about 7 years in the Conquest.
- This puts his age at the end of the Conquest (chapter 22) at about 87.
- Assuming his farewell discourse was given before he died, at 110 (24:29), that puts the events of chapters 23 and 24 twenty+ years after chapter 22.
The main point here is that much time had probably passed.
- New habits and patterns of behavior were beginning to take hold.
- The powerful working of God in the Conquest was in the past.
- The highs and lows of Conquest had given way to the cumbersome routine of life.
- Problems were beginning to present themselves (as we will see in the speeches).
In this context, Joshua gave his final words in chapters 23 and 24.
- He issued challenges and warnings.
- He looked to the past and to the future.
- He condemned idols and praised Yahweh.
Where We Are Going:
Instead of verse-by-verse, we will tackle these two chapters thematically.
- (1) The Conquest is the Lord’s
- (2) Exhortation to Remain Faithful
- (3) Consequences for Unfaithfulness
- (4) Work of God in History
- (5) Covenant Renewal
- (6) Depravity of Israel
- (7) God’s Covenant Faithfulness
1) THE CONQUEST IS THE LORD’S
Joshua 23:3 (ESV) — 3 And you have seen all that the Lord your God has done to all these nations for your sake, for it is the Lord your God who has fought for you.
Joshua 23:9 (ESV) — 9 For the Lord has driven out before you great and strong nations. And as for you, no man has been able to stand before you to this day.
Joshua 23:10 (ESV) — 10 One man of you puts to flight a thousand, since it is the Lord your God who fights for you, just as he promised you.
Joshua emphasizes that the Conquest itself is evidence of God’s working on Israel’s behalf.
- The reasons he gives seem to be grounded on the strong nation vs. the nation of slaves motif.
- How is it a nation of oppressed slaves – not warriors – could have taken the Promised Land?
- How is it that a nation of slaves could have defeated the “strong nations” of all the “ites”?
- How is it that Canaanite warriors are unable to “stand before you this day”?
- How is it that one Israelite “puts to flight a thousand” Canaanites?
- The answer, of course, is “the Lord your God has done” (vs. 3).
Joshua also emphasizes the reason why God would do such a thing.
- God was doing “just as he promised you” (vs. 10, vs. 15).
- God was fulfilling a promise made to Moses and later, Joshua.
- This promise was made at Sinai – Exodus 23:20-33.
And there are a million other reasons in the grand scheme of His redemptive history to deliver the Promise Land!
Not God Alone:
Joshua didn’t mean that the Conquest would be won unconditionally because God is going to take care of everything.
- He is not saying we are good because “it is in the Lord’s hands”.
- The Israelites had to take it.
- They had to fight.
- They had to strategize.
- They had to use discernment.
- They had to make wise choices.
- They had to be obedient.
Had they continually failed on these fronts, they – their generation – would not have inherited the Promise Land.
- This also means, of course, that they could lose the Promised Land.
- And this leads us to the second theme.
2) EXHORTATION TO REMAIN FAITHFUL
Joshua 23:6-8 (ESV) — 6 Therefore, be very strong to keep and to do all that is written in the Book of the Law of Moses, turning aside from it neither to the right hand nor to the left, 7 that you may not mix with these nations remaining among you or make mention of the names of their gods or swear by them or serve them or bow down to them, 8 but you shall cling to the Lord your God just as you have done to this day.
Joshua 23:11 (ESV) — 11 Be very careful, therefore, to love the Lord your God.
In love, Joshua exhorts the Israelites to remain faithful to God.
- Their temptations are plentiful – idolatry and intermarriage.
The faithfulness he is speaking of is obedience to the Sinai Covenant.
- Though certainly, they were to trust in Yahweh in a salvific sense as well.
- Sinai was the conditional covenant that Israel swore itself to uphold to receive blessings – people, nation, land – from God.
- To receive these blessings instead of curses required obedience.
Covenant at Sinai – Background:
The Sinai Covenant began as follows:
- Exodus 19:3–6 (ESV) — 3 while Moses went up to God. The Lord called to him out of the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the people of Israel: 4 You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. 5 Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; 6 and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.”
After the terms of the Sinai Covenant were pronounced to Israel, they responded:
- Exodus 24:3 (ESV) — 3 Moses came and told the people all the words of the Lord and all the rules. And all the people answered with one voice and said, “All the words that the Lord has spoken we will do.”
- “All the words that the Lord has spoken we will do.”
- The Sinai Covenant was sealed between Yahweh and Israel.
The Sinai Covenant had to be fulfilled – perfectly.
- God had to remain faithful – and He did.
- The people of Israel had to remain faithful – and they didn’t.
Covenant of Grace:
The need for fulfillment would be where Sinai and Grace would come together in Jesus Christ!
- Galatians 3:11 & 13–14 (ESV) — 11 Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” AND 13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”— 14 so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.
- Galatians 3:16–17 (ESV) — 16 Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ. 17 This is what I mean: the law, which came 430 years afterward, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void.
So Sinai is not the Covenant of Grace made with Abraham.
- They are separate covenants.
As we saw in Galatians, the covenant with Abraham involved the following:
- Trust = righteousness
- The promised seed – Jesus Christ
Importantly, the Covenant of Grace was always, unconditionally, in action regardless of Israel’s failure or success with Sinai.
- It certainly intersected with Sinai but was not Sinai.
- Abram was called righteous before Sinai.
- The promised seed was before Sinai.
- Israel was redeemed and delivered from Egypt before Sinai.
- Rahab was redeemed – she was not part of Sinai.
- Achan was condemned to die for disobedience, but this does not necessarily mean he wasn’t a member of the Covenant of Grace.
- One could fail at Sinai and be counted as righteous.
Finally, the very fact that Israel was God’s elect was an act of Grace.
- Deuteronomy 10:15 (ESV) — 15 Yet the Lord set his heart in love on your fathers and chose their offspring after them, you above all peoples, as you are this day.
- Deuteronomy 14:2 (ESV) — 2 For you are a people holy to the Lord your God, and the Lord has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.
3) CONSEQUENCES FOR UNFAITHFULNESS
Joshua 23:12–13 (ESV) — 12 For if you turn back and cling to the remnant of these nations remaining among you and make marriages with them, so that you associate with them and they with you, 13 know for certain that the Lord your God will no longer drive out these nations before you, but they shall be a snare and a trap for you, a whip on your sides and thorns in your eyes, until you perish from off this good ground that the Lord your God has given you.
Joshua 23:15–16 (ESV) — 15 But just as all the good things that the Lord your God promised concerning you have been fulfilled for you, so the Lord will bring upon you all the evil things, until he has destroyed you from off this good land that the Lord your God has given you, 16 if you transgress the covenant of the Lord your God, which he commanded you, and go and serve other gods and bow down to them. Then the anger of the Lord will be kindled against you, and you shall perish quickly from off the good land that he has given to you.”
What will become of Israel if they are unfaithful?
Joshua doesn’t hesitate to point out the consequences of unfaithfulness.
- “God will no longer drive out” the Canaanites (vs. 12)
- The Canaanites will become “a snare and a trap” (vs. 13)
- They will become “a whip on your sides and thorns in your eyes” (vs. 13)
- Ultimately, at the hands of the Canaanites, Israel will “perish from off” the Promised Land (vs. 13)
- God will “bring upon you all the evil things” (vs. 15)
- God will destroy you “from off this good land” (vs. 15)
- The “anger of the Lord will be kindled against you” (vs. 16)
- You “shall perish quickly from off the good land” (vs. 16)
If Israel decides to “cling to the remnant of these nations” (vs. 12) they will be destroyed.
- Like the Canaanites themselves, they will be devoted to destruction.
- God’s wrath and holiness are not ethnically or religiously based.
The clinging to the Canaanites contrasts starkly with Joshua’s exhortation to cling to God.
- To the Western tribes – “you shall cling to the Lord your God” (vs. 8)
- To the Eastern tribes – “cling to him and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul” (22:5)
We saw in Joshua 22 that “cling” carried with it the idea of being covenant faithful.
- The Greek translation in the LXX used a word for “cling” that carried with it sexual implications.
- Israel is to metaphorically cling to God the way a man and woman become one.
- This is a profoundly intimate faithfulness.
- An intimate faithfulness that finds fulfillment in our Union with Christ!
So to marry the Canaanites and worship their Gods was a deeply offensive form of spiritual adultery.
- The Israelites were to sanctify themselves and remain faithful to Yahweh – or else.
The threat of spiritual adultery is very real because, “of the remnant of these nations remaining among you” (vs. 12).
David Howard frames the problem as follows:
- Joshua speaks both about a people that the “Israelites did not drive out and of land that yet remained to be conquered (see 13:2–6, 13; 15:63; 16:10; 17:11–12; 19:47). Such texts lay the foundation for the Book of Judges. The Israelites did not fulfill their mandate in its entirety, so the seeds of their corruption were in place from the beginning in the form of peoples and nations who remained living among them” – David Howard.
This is one more reason why the “rest” they obtained was fleeting – to be ultimately fulfilled in Christ.
- God gave them the Promised Land and rest, and the Israelites perhaps rested too easy.
- They didn’t finish the job.
- They didn’t “finish the race” to use Paul’s words.
Maybe they figured that “it is in the Lord’s hands”.
- But sanctification was, and is now, a work of God and of the elect.
- It is not a one-way street.
- Sadly, they fought to take the Promised Land.
- But, they didn’t fight to keep the rest!
In Judges, Judah rose up and had some success in driving out the Canaanites (1:1-26).
- But ultimately, Israel failed.
- Judges 1:27-36 is a devastating list of Israelite failure, tribe by tribe, to separate from the Canaanites.
- And as Joshua warned, everything became unraveled.
Judges 2:11–15 (ESV) — 11 And the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and served the Baals. 12 And they abandoned the Lord, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt. They went after other gods, from among the gods of the peoples who were around them, and bowed down to them. And they provoked the Lord to anger. 13 They abandoned the Lord and served the Baals and the Ashtaroth. 14 So the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he gave them over to plunderers, who plundered them. And he sold them into the hand of their surrounding enemies, so that they could no longer withstand their enemies. 15 Whenever they marched out, the hand of the Lord was against them for harm, as the Lord had warned, and as the Lord had sworn to them. And they were in terrible distress.
Do Joshua’s words to the Israelites about the Canaanites create a principal for Christian living?
- Are we to sanctify ourselves by separating from those around us?
Having been commissioned by Joshua to return home, the Eastern tribes depart for their land East of the Jordan.
- Before they cross the Jordan, they build an altar of “imposing size” (vs. 10).
When they do, a couple of things occur:
- (1) An accusation comes from the Western tribes.
- (2) An explanation comes from the Eastern tribes.
1) ACCUSATION - APOSTASY
It is hard not to notice what, admittedly, may have no significance at all.
- The Western tribes are gathered in the hill country – presumably Shiloh (vs. 12).
- The Eastern tribes are in the flood plains of the Jordan River valley.
- How did the Western tribes know about the memorial?
The text says, “the people of Israel heard it said” (vs. 11).
- It says again, “the people of Israel heard of it” (vs. 12).
- We will see later that they only heard the “what” and not the “why”.
- They sound like Southern Baptists.
The western tribes response to what they heard was to gather at Shiloh “to make war against them” (vs. 12).
- Before they did so however, they sent a delegation to make their intentions known.
This is wise action and has a NT parallel.
- Matthew 18:15–17 (ESV) — 15 “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. 16 But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.
The delegation makes the following accusations concerning the altar:
- It is a “breach of faith” (vs. 16)
- It is a “turning away” (vs. 16)
- It is “rebellion against the Lord” (vs. 16)
- It is a to turn from “following the Lord” (vs. 18)
Breach of Faith:
What it means:
- The TWOT says it refers to “the breaking or violation of religious law as a conscious act of treachery”.
- Interestingly, it “does not describe the sins of unbelievers but of…covenant peoples, those who ‘break faith’ with their suzerain” – TWOT.
- So it is covenant unfaithfulness.
- The Eastern tribes were being accused of breaking covenant with God.
The phrase “breach of faith” is mentioned only 7 times in the OT (ESV).
- The most striking examples are:
- 1 Chron. 10:13 tells us that “Saul died for his breach of faith”.
- 1 Chron. 9:1 tells us that “Judah was taken into exile in Babylon because of their breach of faith”.
What’s worse, if the “breach of faith” is true –
- They did so after having just participated in receiving the grace of God in the form of the Conquest.
- They did so after having just been blessed by Joshua.
- Given this and the “breach of faith” it is no wonder the Western tribes wanted to attack.
To further make their point, the Western tribes cited the “sin at Peor” (vs. 17).
- Numbers 25:3–5 (ESV) — 3 So Israel yoked himself to Baal of Peor. And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel. 4 And the Lord said to Moses, “Take all the chiefs of the people and hang them in the sun before the Lord, that the fierce anger of the Lord may turn away from Israel.” 5 And Moses said to the judges of Israel, “Each of you kill those of his men who have yoked themselves to Baal of Peor.”
- Numbers 31:16 (ESV) — 16 Behold, these, on Balaam’s advice, caused the people of Israel to act treacherously against the Lord in the incident of Peor, and so the plague came among the congregation of the Lord.
- Deuteronomy 4:3 (ESV) — 3 Your eyes have seen what the Lord did at Baal-peor, for the Lord your God destroyed from among you all the men who followed the Baal of Peor.
Evidently, the Baal worship at Peor was brought up because it demonstrated the seriousness of covenant unfaithfulness – of breaching the faith.
- 1) It is clearly something that evokes God’s wrath.
- 2) But is also illustrates a further problem.
A further problem:
The people of Israel knew that when a “breach of faith” occurred in the body of Israel, trouble came to all.
- This corporate responsibility was clearly a huge concern for the Western tribes.
They brought it up 4 times.
- (1) At Peor, “a plague came upon the congregation” (Deut. 13:16).
And at the Jordan –
- (2) A “breach of faith” would incite God to be “angry with the whole congregation of Israel” (vs. 18).
- (3) In fact, the actions of the Eastern tribes would also “make us rebels” (vs. 19).
- (4) And as with Achan, where the “wrath fell upon the congregation of Israel” (vs. 20), the same would happen because of the altar.
As we saw last week, sin was/is not personal.
- The individual is in union with the body.
- The sin of the individual or tribe corrupts the entire body.
- “Because [we] are united to Christ, [we] are also united to the Father, to the Holy Spirit and to the other members of the body of Christ; [our] core identity is that of a Trinitarian-ecclesial self” – John Jefferson Davis.
This was not a witchhunt.
- The Western tribes were right and justified with their concern.
- They body is to be discerning and judgmental of is members.
- As Paul says, “For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge?” (1 Cor. 5:12).
The Eastern tribes understood the seriousness of these accusations and responded.
2) EXPLANATION - UNITY
They “answer to the heads of the families of Israel” (vs. 21).
- The first thing they do is point all eyes to God.
- “The Mighty One, God, the Lord! The Mighty One, God the Lord!” (vs. 20).
- The Hebrew is “El, Elohim, Yhwh! El, Elohim, Yhwh!”.
David Howard says of this string of proper nouns –
- “The piling up of the terms for God here, and their repetition, is unique in the Old Testament, and it indicates the agitated state of mind of the Transjordan tribes and their eagerness to have their position vindicated. They affirmed as forcefully as possible their loyalty to this God” – David Howard.
They continue by stating that God “knows” they are innocent (vs. 22).
- They confidently state that the body of Israel will also know they are innocent.
This is both because:
- (1) God will serve “as their witness to vindicate them” – David Howard.
- (2) Their own coming explanation.
And then, understanding both:
- The severity of a “breach of faith”
- The connectedness of the body
BTW – Importantly, this shows they share theology with the Western tribes – they believe the same things!
They boldly proclaim that, if they are guilty:
- “do not spare us today” (vs. 22)
- “may the Lord himself take vengeance” (vs. 23)
- They have signed on to the covenant and accepted its terms.
Then they give their explanation for building the memorial of “imposing size” (vs. 10).
Because the Jordan River separated them and created a division between them… (vs. 25).
- They feared that, over time, future generations would not consider them part of Yahweh’s people (vs. 24).
- That they “have no portion in the Lord” (vs. 27)
So to avoid this problem they built the memorial.
- It was to serve as a witness to all of Israel that they “do perform the service of the Lord” (vs. 27)
- And for emphasis, they built it on the Western side of the Jordan.
- The Western tribes would see it and remember.
So, the altar was not to be used for “burnt offering, nor for sacrifice” (vs. 26) as suspected.
- Only the altar at the tabernacle could be used for such purposes.
- The altar was only a “replica of the true altar” – David Howard.
- As a replica, it was a reminder that the Eastern Tribes were participants in the “true altar”.
- It was a symbol of the unity of all the tribes of Israel under Yahweh.
And in using “witness”, they were using covenant language – Woudstra.
- They were confirming their participation in the covenants with Yahweh along with their brothers and sisters – Woudstra.
- In their words, “it is a witness between us that the Lord is God” (vs. 34).
Last week we saw how the Eastern tribes told Moses they wanted to stay put.
- They had received their inheritance and didn’t want to cross the Jordan.
- Now, having spent the last 5+ years in fellowship with, and fighting with the rest of the tribes, they have come full circle.
- They now FEAR the very thing they wanted before – to be left alone to have what was theirs.
- They came to value the fellowship of the body in communion with God.
- So much so that they memorialized it with a stone memorial.
3) A LESSON FOR THE CHURCH
Both sides understood the “importance of doctrine and truth” – Francis Schaeffer.
- This is what caused the conflict.
- “The western tribes argued that unity cannot exist with apostasy (vv. 13–20), while the eastern tribes feared that fidelity cannot exist without unity (vv. 21–29)” – Dale Davis.
- The elect have to be diligent on both fronts.
Both sides were also “acting in love” of Yahweh and the body of Israel – Francis Schaeffer.
- The East by building the memorial to signify the unity of the body and their love of Yahweh.
- The West by confronting perceived apostasy – covenant unfaithfulness – against the body and Yahweh.
- And by sending the delegation to establish this fact before acting.
Both of their actions demonstrate, at least at this time, the lengths each would go to advocate unity and fight apostasy.
- These seem like mutually exclusive goals, but they both point to and converge on God.
- They actually go together.
Paul also had to confront issues of apostasy and unity in the church at Corinth.
- In 1 Corinthians 5 he addressed sexual immorality and church discipline.
- He had harsh words in confronting apostasy in the body.
- 1 Corinthians 5:5 (ESV) — 5 you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.
- Because “…a little leaven leavens the whole lump” (vs. 6)
- This is a brutal thing for a church body to hear and do.
But in 2 Corinthians 7, one can see that in love he was hoping for restoration of unity and truth:
- 2 Corinthians 7:8–10 (ESV) — 8 For even if I made you grieve with my letter, I do not regret it—though I did regret it, for I see that that letter grieved you, though only for a while. 9 As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us. 10 For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.
Given the fact that Christ died for the Church, rose for the Church and sent the Spirit for the Church…
- We should be equally as diligent as the Eastern and Western tribes in –
- (1) Fighting covenant unfaithfulness – Apostasy
- (2) Striving for covenant unity – Union of the Body