But Joshua said to the people, “You are not able to serve the Lord, for he is a holy God. He is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions or your sins. If you forsake the Lord and serve foreign gods, then he will turn and do you harm and consume you, after having done you good.” And the people said to Joshua, “No, but we will serve the Lord.” 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.” He said, “Then put away the foreign gods that are among you, and incline your heart to the Lord, the God of Israel.” And the people said to Joshua, “The Lord our God we will serve, and his voice we will obey.” So Joshua made a covenant with the people that day, and put in place statutes and rules for them at Shechem. 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. 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.” So Joshua sent the people away, every man to his inheritance. Joshua 24:19-28.
Joshua had just finished reminding the nation of Israel of how good brought Abraham out of idolotry and led them out of Egypt and all His miraculous works. He has challenged them to serve the Lord and put away all idols. Then he tells them they will not be able to do it.
It is hard to say whether Joshua perceives the future and is warning them of failure, or provoking them the argue for their future obedience. But we know God is not, through Joshua, trying to discourage them. In the moment, I am sure they mean well. But the generations within them will not all pass the test.
Warnings and admonitions and corrections are part of any effective Minister’s arsenal. He cannot be all sunshine and flowers. People, even God’s people, are sinful, devious, and self-deluded. And sometimes someone has to say it.
“And now I am about to go the way of all the earth, and you know in your hearts and souls, all of you, that not one word has failed of all the good things that the Lord your God promised concerning you. All have come to pass for you; not one of them has failed. 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, 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.” Joshua 23:14-16.
Faith is always in the present. It is not stored up so you can afford to live in unbelief later. If that life of loving obedience is a memory from your youth, it means you have lost your first love, and Jesus would tell you to repent, and go back and do the first works. (Revelation 2:5)
And when they came to the region of the Jordan that is in the land of Canaan, the people of Reuben and the people of Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh built there an altar by the Jordan, an altar of imposing size.
And the people of Israel heard it said, “Behold, the people of Reuben and the people of Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh have built the altar at the frontier of the land of Canaan, in the region about the Jordan, on the side that belongs to the people of Israel.” And when the people of Israel heard of it, the whole assembly of the people of Israel gathered at Shiloh to make war against them.
After they had done their duty and helped the rest of the tribes secure their land, the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and the half tribe of Mannassah got to go home. Moses had let them claim the lands they had already conquered east of the Jordan River. When they got home, they decided to build a large replica of the official altar of the Tabernacle as a sign to future generations that they were part of the people of God.
The rest of Israel heard this and concluded they were going to start having unauthorized sacrifices. This was not the case. It was purely symbolic, and the war got called off.
It sometimes seems plausible that our brothers in other denominations are engaging in some gross abomination. Upon closer observation, we might discover that we are wrong. But first we must do the examination. Mere jumping to conclusions leads to war.
So they set apart Kedesh in Galilee in the hill country of Naphtali, and Shechem in the hill country of Ephraim, and Kiriath-arba (that is, Hebron) in the hill country of Judah. And beyond the Jordan east of Jericho, they appointed Bezer in the wilderness on the tableland, from the tribe of Reuben, and Ramoth in Gilead, from the tribe of Gad, and Golan in Bashan, from the tribe of Manasseh. These were the cities designated for all the people of Israel and for the stranger sojourning among them, that anyone who killed a person without intent could flee there, so that he might not die by the hand of the avenger of blood, till he stood before the congregation. Joshua 20:7-9.
In the old testament system of criminal justice, there is restitution, banishment, shame, corporal punishment and death. But I have never seen incarceration.
It has always seemed better to beat an offender and let him go than it is to warehouse him over time, where the other inmates may exact more punishment that exceeds any lawful penalty. It’s payback without punishing the people who have to pay for his imprisonment.
The city of refuge seems like a humane alternative to the county lockup awaiting trial, where you are effectively being punished before the trial.
When they had finished distributing the several territories of the land as inheritances, the people of Israel gave an inheritance among them to Joshua the son of Nun. By command of the Lord they gave him the city that he asked, Timnath-serah in the hill country of Ephraim. And he rebuilt the city and settled in it.
These are the inheritances that Eleazar the priest and Joshua the son of Nun and the heads of the fathers’ houses of the tribes of the people of Israel distributed by lot at Shiloh before the Lord, at the entrance of the tent of meeting. So they finished dividing the land. Joshua 19:49-51.
Along with Caleb, Joshua was given a special inheritance. They were the two spies who had insisted that they could conquer the land when everyone else was moaning and complaining. They were the heros of faith in a generation of unbelief.