Appoint three men from each tribe. I will send them out to make a survey of the land and to write a description of it, according to the inheritance of each. Then they will return to me. (Joshua 18:4)
Joshua had led the Israelites into the Promised Land. They had conquered the land and most of it had been divided and claimed by the tribes of Israel. But some land had still not been taken; seven tribes had not yet claimed their allotted land and received their inheritance. In truth, they had become accustomed to resting where they were and did not push on to complete God’s mission for them. Joshua assembled all the Israelites and spoke out. He asked how long they would just wait, not even beginning to take possession of the land the Lord had given them.
Perhaps this is an instruction to us today that the Word of God to us is not necessarily “This is what I want for you … and here it is on a plate.” Perhaps, rather, “This is what I want for you … now are you prepared for your actions to show your faith in my plan for you? Are you prepared to act; to claim what I have made ready for you?”
Joshua was perhaps alert to the likely response of a people who had grown accustomed to inactivity: the active response may not be whole-hearted. Have you ever been tempted to short-cut? To take a guess, even an educated one, and then present it as if it is your personal experience? Joshua wanted them to claim ownership of the land and to claim ownership of its Godly provenance. So he instructed them to appoint representatives who would walk the boundaries and survey it, writing it all down so that there would be no doubt or argument. No person or tribe could guess at their land boundary and claim, even innocently, what they were not entitled.
The people would, through their writing, provide evidence that they had carried out the task and actually seen the land in order to claim it; seen and claimed their own land and not another tribe’s.
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 oak that was by the sanctuary of the Lord. (Joshua 24:26)
After the land was allotted, Joshua summarised the Israelites’ history, showing God was always there with them. He asked them to decide if they followed the gods of the Egyptians they had left behind, the gods of the Amorites whose land they had taken over, or God, who was – and is – with them. He made that famous statement: “But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”(Joshua 24:15). They reaffirmed their choice and promise to serve God, so Joshua made a covenant for them, reaffirming decrees and laws: you don’t just follow God in name only. God has given a way to live, and this is the way to be followed. We know that Jesus is the way (and the truth and the life). The Israelites chose the way of God. And it was important for them that, having made this choice, they would hold each other accountable to this choice. It really mattered to them that they had made this covenant, this promise renewed. So it was written down, and a stone memorial was set up as a witness to the promise. The law was written by Joshua and written in stone for us all. Salvation was won by Jesus and written in love of us all. Write that on your heart.
[from Timothy Pitt]