This is a message from pastor and teacher Bill Serjak from the Joshua series “New Beginnings”
Joshua 13: 1- 7
At the beginning of this passage, Joshua is described as being not just old but as venerable. I was curious as to how different translations described Joshua’s old age. My favorite translation to use when I am looking for something like that is The Message, translated by Eugene Peterson. For me, he is the ideal translator. He does not just make an intellectual, word for word translation as the translators of most versions do. Eugene Peterson was the pastor in a local church for almost thirty years. Many ministers like me like to throw out Greek words, but we really only know enough Greek to read the commentaries and reflect what they say about the original language. Peterson is a genuine scholar. He did all of his sermon preparation using the Greek and Hebrew languages. He even did his private devotions in the original languages. Yet, he preached sermons that were understood by the average person in his congregation. The Bible was not written as a scholarly theological work. It is meant to be read and lived. Eugene Peterson sought to preach the Bible so that it could be lived. He also loves poetry and enjoys the varied use of words. He has always loved to go into the woods to recite poetry. He still likes doing that. The Bible is often poetic in its presentation and Peterson can reflect that poetry. Peterson’s translation describes Joshua in this way: “When Joshua had reached a venerable age, God said to him, “You’ve had a good, long life, but there is a lot of land still to be taken.” Joshua was old, but he had arrived at that age in a good way.
There is no special value in just being old. What value we may have comes from how we have lived our life. The oldest person in the Bible was Methuselah. He lived to be 969 years old. The only thing really know about Methuselah is that he lived to be 969 years old. We don’t know what sort of life he lived. A friend of mine and I take what is written in the Bible very seriously and literally. We were curious about all those people in Genesis who lived so long. My friend devised a chart and put all the times of birth and death into the chart. He considered the year Adam was born as year one and all the other ages were put into the chart. We found a couple of interesting things. One was that many of these early fathers were alive at the same time. It wasn’t that one died and another was born. Adam was still alive during the lifetime of Noah’s father. Another interesting thing we discovered was that Methuselah died in the year of the Flood. It would be likely to assume that Methuselah was one of the ones who experienced the judgement of God that came with the Flood. There may not have been anything noteworthy about his life except that he lived for a long time. That is not a significant accomplishment. However, Joshua was old and venerable, as Eugene Peterson translated it.
Joshua had lived a good life in obedience to God. Someone who lives that way gathers an authority among God’s people, and it can be a scary authority. Many people take you more seriously than you think they should. Since I have lived here for over thirty-two years, I am amazed at how much respect and authority people give me. I know I am just a sinner saved by God’s grace, but the fact that I have served here for a long time and preached the Word of God for a long time makes me a venerable old man, even if I don’t think I deserve it.
Joshua had gathered an incredible amount of respect. He not only served the people but was the only one who spoke the Word of God to them. Those of you who are here this morning have a great advantage over the Jews in Joshua’s time. For you, the Word of God has been revealed in Jesus Christ and that message has been accurately recorded in the Bible. You don’t have to depend on what I say as being the Word of God. The Holy Spirit is in your life and He will teach the truth of the Bible to you. You can read the Bible and judge if what I say comes from the Bible or if I have just made it up. However, listening to Joshua was the only way the Israelites knew what God was saying. He was their total source of the Word of God. At this point in Joshua’s life, he had tremendous respect among the people. Real authority does not come from our education or from our position in society. There are only two ways to establish real authority in anyone’s life. One way is to serve them. When we serve our children, it will eventually come back to us as authority. The other road to authority is to preach the Word of God. Joshua did both.
They were now at the point where they had conquered most of the land but not all of it. Joshua was old and may not have too much longer to live. By using Joshua’s authority, they divided up the land before it was conquered. That would have been especially difficult if Joshua hadn’t been there. If he had died, the Jews might have had many arguments as to who should get what. With Joshua still alive, there did not seem to be much argument as to how the land would be divided. They divided the land before it was conquered. Knowing the section of land each would get was a motivating force for the Jews to go in and take the land God had given them. The continual battles appear to have stopped for a time and they likely needed the extra motivation of the land to get back to the battle at hand.
God always finishes what He starts and He wants his people to act accordingly. In my life, I seem to have become a better finisher as God has increasingly remolded me to be more like Him. That is not natural for me. By dividing up the land, the Israelites had greater motivation to finish what they had started and possess what they had been given. This time, the motivation did not come from Joshua’s respect and authority. This time it came from conquering the land they had seen.
In our way of thinking, we might assume that the Jews would just enter the Promised Land and become unified as the nation of Israel. However, the land was divided according to tribes. Each tribe was given its section of the land. In the book of Nehemiah, the whole nation did not all work in one place but each person was given a section of the wall to repair. It was the section closest to his home. It seems as though God is willing to allow us to work in groupings within His body.
I grew up in a time just after a large amount of immigration into this country. The people who immigrated retained many of their customs and foods. It was said that if you had a really good nose, you could be blindfolded and tell which part of a city you were in, just by the smells of the food being cooked. There is comfort in being in a group in which you feel comfortable. Although God works with us individually and we are all together in the Body of Christ, God allows for smaller groupings of like-minded people.
One of my favorite passages in the New Testament, is the sixteenth chapter of Romans. If you go there, you might be disappointed because it is just a list of friends of Paul says to greet. It is interesting that Paul knew all those people even though he had never been to Rome. The variety of people there is also amazing. Many people have slave names and others are very wealthy and probably owned slaves. Paul also greets groups of people: “Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas and the brothers with them. Greet Philologus, Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas and all the saints with them.” They were in groups and Paul was okay with that. He did not try to break up comfortable groups. In the same way, the twelve tribes remained as tribes even though they were bound together as the nation of Israel. Each tribe had its own land.
In the Body of Christ, we are bound together by our faith in Jesus Christ, but we have a diversity of gifts to be used for the good of the whole Body. Yet, we may still tend to stay in groups of people with similar gifts. We need to learn to enjoy each other’s gifts, as much as those who have similar gifts enjoy each other’s gifts. There is diversity as well as like-minded groups in the Church of Jesus Christ. God seems to be fine with that.