In the previous posts of this blog I noted that the opening verses of Joshua 1:1-9 detail four themes that are prominent in the content of the book of Joshua. The themes are leadership (1:1-2); land (1:2-4); supernatural triumph of land inhabitants (1:5); and Word obedience (1:6-9). As I summarized each theme I offered a contextual pathway from the Joshua 1 text to the person of Christ. The last and most difficult theme to be considered is land.
The instruction that the Lord gives to Moses in Joshua 1:1-9 envisions a literal land that the nation must conquer to enjoy. The boundaries are defined. The land inhabitants are identified. The provisions and promises of conquest are definitely affirmed.
In what way can we appropriately apply this theme to the life of the New Testament believer and to the New Testament Church? Perhaps we can begin realizing that God gives his people different gifts. To the nation of Israel, He gave the gift of land. The boundaries of the land are reported in both general and specific boundaries. The land is home for Israel. It is a secure place where Israel will live a full and abundant life under the Messiah’ righteous rule.
The major challenge associated with the promise of land to the nation is determining how the New Testament handles land. Is the promise undone or re-interpreted? In all honesty, this is where the debate rages. Covenant theologians build their argument on textual clues associated with land texts that imply something greater than land is anticipated. Although there may be something greater in the new heaven and the new earth, there is something specific and earthy in connection with the covenant promises to Abraham. The promise of land to the nation should not be undone by any method of interpretation.
Consider the comments of Walter Brueggemann in his book, The Land. He writes “But we cannot therefore deny the central and enduring referent which is land, unless we are to succumb to an otherworldly hermeneutic” . Hermeneutics and how textual details are handled certainly drive this conversation. It is difficult to see how land becomes life in Christ in the New Testament.
Again Brueggeman writes, “While the Abraham image undoubtedly is transformed, it is inconceivable that it should have been emptied of its reference to land. The Abraham imagery, apart from the land promise, is an empty form” . There is no New Testament textual evidence that convincingly negates or redefines the land promise to the nation. Thus, the nation will enjoy their gift of land as God has promised to give it to them. Unlike the period conquest through the reign of Solomon, the land will be occupied to its fullest extent, in connection with the New Covenant during the millennial kingdom. God will faithfully give the covenant promise of land to the nation of Israel.
The theme of rest is one possible pathway to connect the Old and New Testament details of land. In addition to the rest associated with creation (Genesis 2:2; Exodus 20:11; Leviticus 23:3), The Old Testament anticipated a rest from enemies and a rest associated with land occupation (Deuteronomy 3:20; 25:19; Joshua 1:15; 22:4). The New Testament writer of Hebrews gives the greatest attention to the rest theme. The collection of references in Hebrews 4 associate rest with obedience, creation, and land occupation. These texts affirm that rest is associated with the Lord and entrance into it is associated with obedience and faith. These texts do not clearly re-interpret or undo the Old Testament promise of land associated with the covenants.
Now is there a good news pathway that will allow us to read and to enjoy some aspect of the land as New Testament readers. I believe that there might be.
Let’s consider another question toward this end. What did the Lord God give to the Church? The greatest gift given to not only the church, to Israel, and to the world is the grace gift of Christ (John 3:16). More specifically, to the church He gave His Spirit (John 14; 1 Corinthians 12:13). In addition He gave His church leadership gifts so it would be strong and healthy (Ephesians 4).
The New Testament brings gift and giver together in the life transforming declaration of John 3:16. The Lord Jesus is the gift. The Eternal Lord God is the giver of this Christ gift. Like the Levites, the church has no land inheritance (Deuteronomy 10:9; Numbers 18:23ff). The Lord was their gift. Like the Levites, the church has a priestly and royal identity (1 Peter 2:5,9; Revelation 1:6; 5:10; 20:6). Unlike the nation, the church is uniquely entrusted with the great commission and is commanded to make disciples who are taught, baptized, and added to the church.
Although gifts may differ over time and with different people, the Divine Giver remains the same. The Joshua 1 text not only makes the promise of land, it focuses our attention on God’s character as a Divine Giver. The Joshua 1 text reminds us that the land is a gift in keeping with the covenant promise of the Divine Giver. The church can rejoice in the promise of land to Israel without having to empty it of its authorial intent. But How?
What is the good news associated with land that I can enjoy in my life and my ministry? How do I get to Jesus from this promise of land to Israel? The big idea of Joshua 1 could be viewed as God is the Divine Giver who faithfully gives gifts for gospel living to His people. The Joshua good news is about God, the Divine Giver and His Gifts.
God is the sovereign Giver, He makes, He maintains, and He fulfills promises to His people. In this respect, God is the faithful covenant Giver.
Deuteronomy 7:9, “Know therefore that the LORD your God, He is God, the faithful God, who keeps His covenant and His lovingkindness to a thousandth generation with those who love Him and keep His commandments.”
Psalm 89:33 “But I will not break off My lovingkindness from him, nor deal falsely in My faithfulness.”
God is the righteous Giver. His Gifts are not related to our righteousness.
Deuteronomy 9:4-6, 28 — the Lord drives out the wicked in the land
Nehemiah 9:8 — you have kept your promise because you are righteous.
God is the gracious, caring Giver.
Deuteronomy 9:28 — the Lord gives the land to Israel although they are stiff necked.
Psalm 44:3 — He favored them and put them in the land
The Good News is, Gospel living is possible because God is a faithful Giver of Gifts to His Children.
John 17:14 — I have given them your Word
John 7:39 — I will give them the Spirit; 14:16 — another Helper
1 Corinthians 10:13 — I will give them a way of escape
God’s gifts removed the threat of exile from Himself. Both Testaments call upon us to rest in and to enjoy our greatest gift, the Lord Himself.
Enjoy the gift and the giver. This is living large in the land in the truest sense of the Word!