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A Tale of Three Mountains

S Sherwin, Methil

In Joshua 14-19 we have the account of the division among the tribes of Israel of the land that remained to obtain their inheritance. Whilst for most there is merely the delineation of boundaries and cities that formed their territories, three accounts are worthy of note. These are the records of the portion for Judah (in particular, Caleb) in chapters 14-15; for Joseph (comprising Ephraim and half the tribe of Manasseh) in chapters 16-17; and for Dan in chapter 19.40-48. These three groups are associated with three mountains.

All three are most instructive, for we, too, have been given an inheritance, and the Apostle Paul in Ephesians chapters 1-3 outlines for us all that is ours to possess. Yet how are we to possess it? How are we to be in the enjoyment of the "riches of the glory of his inheritance" (Eph 1.18)? Let us look at the experience of the nation of Israel.

A mountain of warfare (Josh 14.12)

In Joshua 14 Caleb comes to Joshua with a request. He had been one of those sent to spy out the land of Canaan forty-five years previously. When ten of the spies "brought up an evil report of the land" (Num 13.32), he and Joshua remained faithful to the Lord. They stood alone before the whole congregation at great personal risk to themselves (Num 14.10). At that time the Lord noted of Caleb that he "hath followed me fully" (Num 14.24), a phrase that is picked up again in Joshua 14 (vv.8,9,14). In other words, Caleb was totally committed, not half-hearted. This is seen in his choice of possession: "this mountain" was no soft option, but the seat of the sons of Anak, the giants who had presented such an obstacle to the Israelites all those years before.

Yet Caleb's story is not just of his faithfulness to the Lord, but of the Lord's faithfulness to and miraculous preservation of him throughout the wilderness years. Indeed, Caleb acknowledges this: "the Lord hath kept me alive", he says (v.10). However, the Lord did far more than just keep him alive! So much so that Caleb is able to say, "As yet I am as strong this day as I was in the day that Moses sent me" (v.11). For forty-five years Caleb had held on to the promise of God (v.12), and now he comes to claim its fulfilment – "this mountain". Had Caleb not had enough fighting? At eighty-five years old was it not time to retire and let others carry the burden? No. Caleb had grasped an important truth: there is no retiring in spiritual things. The warfare never ends as long as we are still here. Could he not have chosen a less challenging place for his inheritance? What about Eshcol, from where they brought back the huge cluster of grapes (Num 13.23)? No. Caleb understood, too, that there could be no enjoyment of Eshcol whilst the enemy had not been dealt with. The same is true for us. There can be no enjoyment of the spiritual blessings God has given us unless we deal with the enemy.

Note that Caleb's enemies were three in number (Josh 15.14). Paul exposes the three enemies we, too, face. In Ephesians 4 we are instructed to "put off…the old man" (v.22), that is, the flesh. In 5.7, regarding the world, we are told, "Be not ye therefore partakers with them". At 6.11 he says, "Put on the whole armour of God", and "stand against the wiles of the devil". Our enemies are formidable but, like Caleb we may say, "if so be the Lord will be with me, then I shall be able to drive them out" (Josh 14.12). Note that here and in ch.15 the enemies are spoken of as being "driven out" not destroyed. No matter how many battles we might win there are always more to face. With an attitude like Caleb's it is no wonder that it is recorded that "the part of…Judah was too much for them" (19.9). So, also, for us. If we are prepared to go in for the things of God we will find that the inheritance that we have to possess is far greater than we could ever apprehend.

A mountain of work (Josh 17.18)

When we turn to Joshua 17, on the other hand, we are confronted with people who are evidently not enjoying their inheritance. In fact, they have come to Joshua to complain that it is not big enough. Note that they voice their complaint with spiritual terminology: "the Lord hath blessed me hitherto" (17.14). Was their complaint justified? Not at all. If we compare a map of the territories possessed by the children of Israel with the numbers of people possessing them in Numbers 26 (albeit the numbers are purely of those males of military age), we find that Ephraim and the half tribe of Manasseh had one of the largest territories and a greater area per person than any other tribe except Judah. Their portion was certainly not too small for them!

Joshua sees the problem behind their request. His answer is not to give them additional territory: he instructs them how to enjoy the one they have. Although the enemy were a problem (cp. 16.10; 17.11-12), Joshua directs them elsewhere to: "get thee up to the wood country, and cut down for thyself there" (17.15). Before any talk of facing the enemy there was work to be done. There were "things" that needed to be removed. In our busy lives there are numerous "things" that crowd in, many of them legitimate, daily activities. However, if we are to enjoy our inheritance fully we need to assess our priorities and maybe some "things" will have to go.

For the children of Joseph this sounded too much like hard work! "The hill is not enough for us", they cry, "and all the Canaanites…have chariots of iron" (v.16). What a contrast with faithful Caleb! The children of Joseph were displaying a lack of commitment and a lack of faith. The cities and chariots of the enemy were too strong for the people who claimed to be "a great people". Yet God had defeated enemies with chariots before (ch.11), and He would do so again (Judg 4).

Despite their further complaint Joshua's answer is clear: if they want to enjoy their inheritance it can only be done through hard work and warfare. Yet he leaves them with this encouragement: "Thou art a great people, and hast great power…thou shalt cut it down…thou shalt drive out the Canaanites" (vv.17-18). We, too, have great power. Not our own, but the power of the One who indwells us. Though the obstacles be great, though the enemy be strong, we can and we will overcome. But it takes commitment and faith.

A mountain of weakness (Judg 1.34)

If we were just to read the account in Joshua 19 of Dan's conquest of Leshem we might think their actions were quite commendable. Here was a people who had possessed their own inheritance and were expanding. Not so when we read Judges 1! There we discover that they were totally defeated. The enemy had complete control of them. They had forced them into the mountain and "would not suffer them to come down to the valley" (v.34). What do they do in such a situation? Do they fight to possess what is theirs? No. They take instead the soft option (see Judges 17-18) with disastrous consequences. We are reminded that in the things of God there is no soft option, no easy route to blessing.

They fight against a city that is undefended and unprotected, a city that lies to the far north, at the very extremities of Israel. Not only were they about as far as it was possible to get from the divine centre, the place where the Lord had put His name, in contrast to the inheritance that God had given them, but they took idolatry with them, an idolatry that remained until they were taken into captivity. Indeed, by putting themselves on the fringe they were first in the firing line when the great enemies of Israel, the Syrians and then the Assyrians, came against them. This reminds us of the grave dangers of being "on the fringe" as far as the things of God are concerned. We put ourselves at risk, exposing ourselves to the enemy and cutting ourselves off from the protection that we need.

Which mountain, then, are we possessing - that of impotence, indolence, or inheritance? Are we satisfied with a mountain of weakness or are we prepared to work and to war to possess what is already ours in Christ?



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