Updated: Mar 26
Foundations of a Healthy Society
God Glorified in Unity, Diversity, and Distribution (15-16, 18-19)
We normally read over these chapters quickly, if at all. There is little here we think of as “devotional” or “edifying,” so we do not dig very deeply. What does it matter how the land of Canaan was distributed? Actually, it greatly matters, for herein we learn some very basic principles of a healthy society. This is a concern to us all today, for if you follow the religion of the Bible and believe in the God of the Bible, one kind of society is formed over generations. If you reject the Lord and his word, a very different society materializes, and sometimes with horrible speed and results. I do not say that we learn all the principles here, but God was setting up his people into a healthy, holy society. Surely, without believing that he demands we do everything that they did, he would have us consider his wisdom in organizing a society. We can at least adjust our perspective on what constitutes a healthy society and begin to take steps in our homes and community to live and speak for godlier social foundations.
Consider, for example, that though God’s people were unified, all being children of Abraham, they were also diverse and therefore to be spread out over the land. National unity did not require forced conformity. It was not a government that kept them unified, but a common faith in God. Other nationalities were represented, for these could become part of God’s people. But all had to share the same faith, at least outwardly. The Lord therefore shows his interest in both unity and diversity, which is consistent with his own nature – one in essence, three separate persons.
Each tribe was allotted its area and exercised local control over its own affairs. The land was distributed according to tribes and families. Since there were approximately 600,000 household units in Israel at this time, if you divide this into the 25 million acres or so that Joshua distributed, then each family would have received about 40 acres. This would have been subdivided over time, but clearly the Lord’s idea in this was to limit the extremes of wealth and poverty – an equality not forced by the state, i.e., equality of results, but equality in his providential distribution of the land. What each man, family, and tribe did with his allotment would be up to his ingenuity, gifts, and diligence. Moreover, he wanted his people to spread out, rather than concentrate in a Babel type community. Cities would grow over time, and some remained from the Canaanite wars in which many tens of thousands of God’s people lived and worked. The surrounding land supported each area, which surely rebukes our corporatization of food with all its ill effects upon the human body and psychological disconnection from the land. We need not all be farmers or advocate agrarianism to realize the value of God’s ordering of a healthy society.
Provide for Your Daughters (17:3-4; Num. 26:33; 27:1-11; 36:11)
For the fourth time (!), the daughters of Zelophehad are mentioned in the land distribution. In the days of Moses, his four daughters appealed to Moses for their part in their father’s inheritance. Zelophehad had no sons. It would seem that a healthy and righteous society requires protection and provision for daughters. We might run with this in any number of directions, but let me simply suggest that in that patriarchal age of the world, there was a recognition of the legitimacy of daughters’ inheriting from their fathers. If we continue this to New Testament times, it is clear that our Lord and his apostles had elevated views of women, especially given the extremely low views of their surrounding culture. They recognized the natural authority structure that God created in the beginning, but they were also respectful of women, upheld their dignity, and advocated the spiritual equality of women with men. This is very different from feminism, which in claiming to liberate women, enslaves her to be objectified and abused, discontented and isolated from man, without whom she cannot be complete, even as man “is not without the woman.” Therefore, we should treat our daughters with great respect as living pictures of the church’s beauty and adoration of her husband, Jesus Christ, protect them from lustful boys and designing men. We must nurture them for a lifetime of useful, joyful service in the home and church and broader world, as Proverbs 31 indicates.
Peace, Liberty, and Prosperity the Fruit of Faith (17:13-15; 18:3)
Interspersed in these chapters are two concerning incidents of rebuke. The children of Joseph complained that their land distribution was too small. Such a great people as we are, they said, require much more space (17:13-15). Joshua’s response? If you are so great, cut down this forest and move north into the land of the giants and dispossess them. This is not what we would expect to hear today. Hire a lawyer and sue for more land. God gave this land to his people as a donation of his grace and fruit of his faithfulness. He required from them faith and faithfulness to enjoy the blessings of peace, liberty, and prosperity. Nearing the end of his life, when the tabernacle at Shiloh was erected, Joshua rebuked the people for their laziness in possessing the land (18:3). Why are you so slack in realizing the fulfillment of God’s promises? Go out, fight, and take the land. He strongly rebuked their compromise, laziness, and passivity in the face of God’s shining promises. And yet, we can understand this. Our society wants the blessings that former generations realized came from God, but our society has rejected the God of our grandfather’s grandfathers. We look to government to give and secure what only faith can give. If a Christian people desire God’s blessing upon their social and national life, it will be in the path of faith in God’s promises, rejection of compromise with idolatry, and hard work – not winning the lottery and robbing from others through graduated income taxes, money printing, special interest lobbying, and political crime rings.
Biblical Religion the Beating Heart of Society (18:1; 21)
Another forgotten principle of a healthy human society is that God’s worship and word must be at the center. Jesus’ warning about sandy foundations is far more than a spiritual principle for individuals, families, and churches. It is absolutely true for human societies. The Lord teaches this in two ways in these chapters. First, he has the whole congregation set up the tabernacle in Shiloh, which was in the territory of Ephraim. They had been fighting for some years, and now they must give attention to God’s worship, especially the sacrifices that atone for our sins. Second, the Levites were given their cities, as Moses commanded. Levites were responsible to teach God’s people his law and minister locally to God’s people. God’s word was therefore to permeate all of society. Modernism has sung a different tune, and all societies that sing it will die – no religion but private religion. No public worship but state worship, state education, state economies. The modern state claims to be able to secure the blessings that come only from the Lord. A people estranged from him will not assemble to worship him and do not listen to his word preached and taught. He will ruin them. This is the age of the Messiah, his kingdom, and he will crush the rebellious people who will not kiss him and bow to his word.
Shed Blood Must Be Atoned: Cities of Refuge (20)
Hands that shed innocent blood bring down God’s judgment upon society. The cities of refuge satisfied his justice and testified to society-wide respect for God’s authority over life. These cities were spread throughout the land, with carefully maintained highways between them. Those guilty of involuntary manslaughter could flee to the nearest city of refuge. He had to remain in the city’s precincts until the death of the high priest – pointing to Jesus Christ. If he left the city, the avenger of blood, usually the nearest of kin, might take vengeance for the death of his family member. Society would degenerate into feuding and fighting. It is interesting that the Lord’s answer to this was not a police force, which is not to denigrate their necessity in modern society as much as to lament our need of them. Man is God’s image. “He who sheds man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed.” Those who attack and kill man also attack God’s image. The Lord’s remedy for accidental death was not to ignore it. The guilty man had to leave his family and life behind. He had to move to one of these cities. God is holy, and any society that does not respect his sovereignty over life and death will die.
Canaan’s Impact upon our Faith and Life
Trust God’s Care and Come to Christ the Refuge (Matt. 16:19-33; Heb. 9:14)
In addition to revealing God’s wisdom for a healthy society, these chapters teach important spiritual principles that were applicable then and now. First, by delivering his covenant people from slavery and then settling them in Canaan, he showed his concern for our earthly lives. Our Lord taught us the same. And what is more, “they did not get the land in possession by their own sword” (Ps. 44:3), but they possessed it by God’s grace. The Lord is generous – like Caleb who gave his daughter not only the south land but also springs of water to go with it (Josh. 17:18-19). Consider the flowers of the field and birds of the air. Our heavenly Father clothes and feeds them, and he pledges to take care of us. This is the reason we pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” All that we have and need comes from him (Phil. 4:19). We must trust his promise.
This assumes that we as God’s holy nation are “seeking first his kingdom and righteousness” (Matt. 6:33). Since we have sinned in so many ways and fallen short of his glory, we must seek refuge and cleansing in the blood of Jesus Christ (Heb. 9:14). In one sense, we must all flock to the city of refuge, the citadel of righteousness, Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God. Our society may not be doing this, but the church is now God’s holy nation. We must show the way by building our lives unashamedly upon Jesus’ blood and righteousness. We must confess that unless we – you and me, our next-door neighbor, the man in the nation next door – are looking unto Jesus, he will take vengeance upon us. This is one reason the gospel loses its hold upon societies. Those who are in the light do not give clear witness to that light and speak of “reclaiming America” or whatever nation without speaking first of reclaiming our own souls by Christ’s atoning sacrifice. Unless we are cleansed by our great high priest, the kinsman avenger, God himself, will chase us down and blot out our national and individual lives.
Never Stop Fighting (2 Tim. 4:7)
Twice in these chapters Joshua chides the people for not pushing forward and finishing the job. They left the Canaanites in the land, like an unskillful surgeon that leaves parts of the disease in his patient rather than extracting it all. At Joshua’s death, the land as a whole was subdued, but not all the parts. We must fight to the end. Obedience is not obedience if it is half given. The sin in our lives must be “resisted to blood” (Heb. 12:4) and put to death (Col. 3:5). This present life is not about working, accumulating, and then taking our ease. We are at war with the world, the flesh, and the devil. Some have found that their last battle is hardest. Satan will hound to the last possible moment. If there are unbelievers anywhere near, we must continue sharing the gospel. Through his apostle, the Spirit speaks of “fighting the good fight and finishing my course” (2 Tim. 4:7). We are often satisfied with a little bit of progress, but, like old Caleb, we must keep fighting until the last Canaanite stronghold is broken up. Leave one giant, one treasured sin, however small, and it will grow into a menace. Depart from sound doctrine even a little, tolerate impurity even on the margins, and the compromise will grow – especially in the following generations. Tolerated sin is evil leaven in families, churches, and societies.
God’s Word and Worship the Center of Life (John 4:23-24; Phil. 3:3)
But how can we keep fighting like this? It is tempting to give up or settle for half-victories and partial obedience. Like Saul, did we not do most of what the Lord asked? This is the reason for the tabernacle at Shiloh and the Levitical cities scattered throughout the land. Even though they lacked the weekly worship that we now enjoy, they were given the sacrifices and priesthood that prefigured the person and work of Jesus Christ and sustained those who believed God’s promise. The presence of the Levites reminded them that all of life was to be consecrated to the Lord. We now have this reality. When the Lord Jesus came, he told the Samaritan woman that the Father is seeking worshippers who worship him in spirit and truth. Paul described believers are “those who worship God in spirit” (Phil. 3:3). The world cannot see this, but we know, for we have the Holy Spirit indwelling us. He ministers to us in corporate worship, in the water poured and bread broken, in the word preached, and in the communion of the saints. We are God’s living temple, living stones built upon Jesus Christ the cornerstone. We shall overcome the world. The church will succeed in the great commission, for God is with us. And our lives must be centered around these greatest of gifts – his word and his worship. By them, he strengthens us and enables us to overcome the devil and hold fast to Jesus Christ.
Trust God’s Promises (21:43-45)
This section ends with the main theme: “There failed not ought of any good thing which the Lord had spoken unto the house of Israel; all came to pass” (21:45). He gave them the land that he promised to give to their fathers (v. 43). He gave them rest as he promised to their fathers (v. 44). All of their enemies – those whom they resisted and fought – were defeated (v. 44). And why did this happen? The Lord is faithful to his promises. And to us, this truth shines down through the centuries and millennia, like a “lamp that shines in a dark place” – trust God to keep his promises. Live by faith in the Son of God. Depend upon God’s word more than anything you see with your eyes or what other men tell you or what experts predict. Do not measure the church’s fortunes and future by her outward beauty or strength – but by the arm of the Lord, for he fights for her. And be sure you learn God’s promises and make them like oxygen to your lungs and blood to your heart. Let everything in your life circulate our God’s promises. Know them and believe them. Live in their light. Let them kindle hope in you. He is faithful (1 Cor. 1:9). He cannot deny himself. We are saved and secure because he is faithful.
Human Societies and the Future
No Future in Statist, Techno-Babel’s, only Tyranny
And so, if we think of our own society in light of the way the Lord arranged his people’s society in Canaan, we can draw a very pointed truth. If our society persists in statism and allows society to be dominated by a resurrected techno-Babel, it will have no future. The Lord will fight against it. He wants the earth populated, not centered in a few places. He wants his wealth dispersed, not concentrated into the hands of a few families. And this is likely the reason for elitist desperation to control all resources, diminish the population, and place all peoples, products, and services under a planned, social economy. They are afraid. They really do not have control. They live under a god-hubris that deludes them into thinking their purposes and crimes are possible. They are not. The Lord fights against them. They cannot succeed. This is Christ’s age, not man’s, and if we use the weapons the Lord has given to us, all the strongholds of wickedness must in time be taken. Even the old Caleb Christians will take them. Nothing can stand before the Word of God. No one on earth can you make disobey God, successfully forbid you to worship him and assemble with his people, or believe their lives.
No Future if Land Drenched in Blood
There is another reason the present state of things will not continue forever in history. Our society, like many societies today, is drenched in blood – and there are no cities of refuge. The land will eventually spew us out – all the abortions, false flag wars for the last century and a half, bombing other nations into oblivion, espionage and assassinations – all in the name of democracy. It is enough to make a prostitute blush. And this is what we are – a harlot nation that has turned away from the Lord it originally professed. And now, we slaughter many babies to our gods of self, pleasure, and convenience. Do you think the Lord will turn a deaf ear forever to the cries of the murdered and maimed that our scalpels, drugs, and bombs have killed? He will not. He withholds his hand even now, for there are many praying believers who are interceding for this nation, bringing up to the Father of mercies the blood of our City of Refuge, Jesus Christ. We cannot repent for our nation, but we can repent as part of our nation, and we must, as Daniel and Nehemiah did – “we have sinned.” Plead the blood of Jesus Christ. It is the only blood that can satisfy the sword of judgment hanging over our society’s head by the slenderest thread.
No Future if Lazy, Passive, Complainers
Some sense that something is terribly wrong with our society and are seriously alarmed. But most simply complain and do very little to make a difference. This is like the children of Joseph that complained they did not receive a sufficient allotment of land. Joshua told them – go clear some forests and fight some giants. Diligent work and sacrifice are required to possess the blessings of earthly life – and most importantly the Lord’s blessing upon our labors. If we are passive, waste time entertaining ourselves, and grumble about the way things are without taking up the weapons the Lord has placed in our hands, we have no future. If we leave evil in our midst to grow unchecked without confronting it with the gospel, our society has no future. It is the faithful, the diligent, the believing, and the active to whom the Lord gives the land. They are the meek – teachable and humble before God, obedient in life. And one way you know our society in its present iteration is doomed is that we are a society of professional complainers and blamers. We do not, however, blame ourselves or obey what the Lord says to do to build a healthy society.
No Future if No Christian Faith
And we cannot do so without the Christian faith. The much maligned believer in Jesus Christ, the church of Jesus Christ, faithful, worshipping, Bible-loving communities and denominations of Christians are the only hope of this or of any society in the future. Unless we have heard the voice of Jesus Christ, unless he has called us out of the graveyard of sin and unbelief and made us heirs of God, we have no future. Dead men do not build healthy, happy, and holy societies. Common grace will only take you so far. It will not empower hope, faith, and faithfulness. Without faith in God, without union and communion with his Son, there is no foundation for society. Ours is breaking down for the simple reason that it has no foundation – other than anti-foundationalism, which is a personal, philosophical, and societal death wish. Since our Savior is raised to the Father’s right hand and ruling over all, he will prevail over man’s death. He will establish justice in the earth. The very fact that we are able to see our society’s death and plead with the Lord for a work of salvation and renewal is proof of this. He is calling his people out of the graveyard of the world into the freedom of his children. He must quicken the dead in our society. We must plead with him day and night to call the dead to new life. We must speak the truth that is the sword of his mouth. He will build his church. The nations will flow into it (Isa. 2:2-4), not to be ruled by the church but to receive heavenly light to dedicate all of life to the Lord (Zech. 14:20).