Finding Rest in God’s Providence – Joshua 21

Today’s sermon is part of a series called “Our promise-keeping God” from the book of Joshua. And the passage we will be looking at is Joshua chapter 21 – the title is “Finding Rest in God’s Providence”.

As in the last couple of chapters, even this passage continues to list down the inheritance the rest of the Israelites got from the Lord.

The chapter begins by telling us that “the heads of the fathers’ houses of the Levites came to Eleazar the priest and to Joshua the son of Nun and to the heads of the fathers’ houses of the tribes of the people of Israel. And they said to them at Shiloh in the land of Canaan, “The Lord commanded through Moses that we be given cities to dwell in, along with their pasturelands for our livestock.” So by command of the Lord the people of Israel gave to the Levites the following cities and pasturelands out of their inheritance.”

This chapter is particularly describing the land and inheritance that were shared among the Levites by the other tribes.

The immediate thing that stood out for me in the first 3 verses is the manner in which the people are communicating and conducting business with each other. There is an order in which things are being implemented where the respective leaders and heads are given due respect by involving them in the decision-making process – all of them ultimately following the Lord’s command.

The main leader and hero here is Joshua, the military genius who led Israel through 7 years of war. The second hero is Caleb, the daring strong-armed genius. And all the other brave men who fought with Joshua. Their efforts have won the victory over their enemies and now the land that was conquered has been distributed among the many tribes of Israel.

Though there were these men who were responsible for winning this battle verse 43-45 tells us …

Thus, the Lord gave to Israel all the land that he swore to give to their fathers. And they took possession of it, and they settled there. And the Lord gave them rest on every side just as he had sworn to their fathers. Not one of all their enemies had withstood them, for the Lord had given all their enemies into their hands. Not one word of all the good promises that the Lord had made to the house of Israel had failed; all came to pass.

Though men can achieve and perform great exploits with their strong will, desire and efforts – it would be absolute foolishness to ignore the fact that behind every success or new accomplishment is the hand of our Sovereign God who is ultimately responsible for what happens to us on this earth.

Israel’s success was God’s plan, and so were their failures. And it is the same with us today.

We can achieve great things in life with our self-efforts and think as though everything is our doing, but at some point in life, everything we experience in this world, the land we own, the possessions we acquire, and the money in our bank account will feel vain and meaningless if we fail to acknowledge God and his works in all our life.

If you don’t believe me, listen to the words of King Solomon who got to enjoy all the good things on this earth says in Ecclesiastes 1:12-18

I the Preacher have been king over Israel in Jerusalem. And I applied my heart to seek and to search out by wisdom all that is done under heaven. It is an unhappy business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with. I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind. What is crooked cannot be made straight, and what is lacking cannot be counted. I said in my heart, “I have acquired great wisdom, surpassing all who were over Jerusalem before me, and my heart has had great experience of wisdom and knowledge.” And I applied my heart to know wisdom and to know madness and folly. I perceived that this also is but a striving after wind. For in much wisdom is much vexation, and he who increases knowledge increases sorrow.

The question we should be asking is “Is it worth pursuing the things of the world at the cost of losing connection with the giver of life and his plans and purposes for our lives?”

Eventually, most of us will get to a place where we simply cannot make sense of life’s circumstances. Everything around us can feel like chaos! Whether it is a major tragedy that came suddenly or a series of closed doors that forces a change in the direction, we will need to respond.

For some, the response will be despair. For others, it will be a place of rest.

Of all the verses in chapter 21, my favourite is verse 44. It says “And the Lord gave them rest on every side just as he had sworn to their fathers”

While the world looks to karma, luck, and self-effort, believers should put their hope in God’s sovereignty and learn to rest in His Providence.

What is providence?

The protective care of God over our lives.

I like this description of providence I read in an article. I’m gonna read it as it is written

Divine Providence is the governance of God by which He, with wisdom and love, cares for and directs all things in the universe. The doctrine of divine Providence asserts that God is in complete control of all things. He is sovereign over the universe as a whole (Ps. 103:19), the physical world (Matt. 5:45), the affairs of nations (Ps. 66:7), human destiny (Gal. 1:15), human successes and failures (Luke 1:52), and the protection of His people (Ps. 4:8). This doctrine stands in direct opposition to the world’s idea that the universe is governed by chance or fate.

For the Israelites, to be in a place of rest was to be in a place where God is now watching over their lives.

And how did God offer his providence?

By giving victory over their enemies

verse 44b – Not one of all their enemies had withstood them, for the Lord had given all their enemies into their hands

By remaining faithful to his promise

verse 45 – Not one word of all the good promises that the Lord had made to the house of Israel had failed; all came to pass.

What a great God He is. Isn’t He?

Can you see God’s loving heart for his people?

Today, our circumstances are different, we’re not fighting for any land, or are we surrounded by blood-thirsty men who are out there waiting to kill us. We have a different enemy though and we live in an oppressive, demanding, and broken world.

But God hasn’t changed, his desire for us as his children, even today, is to offer his providential rest.

He offers that …

  1. By giving us victory over the ultimate enemy of our soul
  2. By remaining faithful to his word to keep and preserve us from eternal damnation

By giving us victory over the ultimate enemy of our soul

Colossians 1:13-14 – “For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”

The Israelites may or may not have known the real battle was never “against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” – Ephesians 6:12

God was and is in the business of redeeming us from the enemy of our souls.

In the garden of Eden, since the time when Adam and Eve disobeyed God and rebelled against him, Satan had taken charge of our souls. Our sinful hearts drew us away from God, we became restless wanderers and seekers of self, living Godless lives.

By the life, death, and resurrection of his Son, Christ Jesus, he reduces us from the dominion of darkness and brings us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

Hebrews 4:1-11

4 Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it. 2 For good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened.[a3 For we who have believed enter that rest, as he has said,

“As I swore in my wrath,‘They shall not enter my rest,’”

although his works were finished from the foundation of the world. 4 For he has somewhere spoken of the seventh day in this way: “And God rested on the seventh day from all his works.” 5 And again in this passage he said,

“They shall not enter my rest.”

6 Since therefore it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience, 7 again he appoints a certain day, “Today,” saying through David so long afterwards, in the words already quoted,

“Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.”

8 For if Joshua had given them rest, God[b] would not have spoken of another day later on. 9 So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, 10 for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his.

11 Let us, therefore, strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.

Brothers & sisters, unlike the Israelites, we are now united in faith with God through Christ, and therefore have access to enter God’s rest.

All of this is made possible only because the ultimate enemy of our soul has been permanently defeated on the cross.

If you consider yourself as a child of God, then Satan has no power over, no claim over your soul, no claim over your body, the shackles of bondage are broken, and you are totally free in Christ because that fellow has been defeated on the cross.

By remaining faithful to his word to keep and preserve us from eternal damnation

The second providential blessing for the Lord is his faithfulness towards us.

verse 45 confirms the fact that God will remain faithful to his word – Not one word of all the good promises that the Lord had made to the house of Israel had failed; all came to pass.

To those who are been redeemed from the clutches of the ultimate enemy, Paul writes in Romans 8:35-39

35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written,

“For your sake, we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Brothers & sisters, if we have truly repented of our sins and put our trust in Christ we have God’s word as an assurance that he will remain faithful till the end.

He is and will be like the Father of the prodigal son who waits with his arms wide open to welcome his children back into his arms. No matter how far we try to run away from him, his love will pursue us and compel us to get back to him.

This too is God’s providence for us.

In the light of this knowledge we have about our heavenly Father and what he has done for us, here’s what our response should look like.

Strive to enter his rest

Hebrews 4:11 – Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.

The word translated as “strive” in verse 11 means to concentrate one’s energies on the achievement of a goal – and the goal is to diligently believe in Christ and to walk in obedience.

We should daily evaluate and answer the question “What sort of Christian life are we choose to live?”

After receiving God’s forgiveness and lavish love, are we still living a defeated life? as though Christ’s death on the cross doesn’t mean anything to us.

As someone observing our lives from the outside, will they see us resting in God’s providence of His son Jesus? or will they see another human striving and struggling to make things happen on their own strength and efforts without acknowledging God.

The same verse that urges us to strive to enter God’s rest also warns us that there is a possibility of slipping into disobedience and making a mess of our lives.

In our Christian walk, we will encounter difficulties such as fear, exhaustion, human enemies, demonic opposition, and various other kinds of persecution that test our faith. And therefore, diligent faith and obedience are necessary in order to withstand such difficulties and enter God’s rest.

Striving to enter God’s rest today is working hard to look away from ourselves, to look to  Jesus, to trust in God’s promises, every minute of every day.

Striving to enter God’s rest is working towards living out Psalm 23 every minute of every day:

God is your shepherd; you lack nothing in Christ. He leads you in His paths – and they are good and restful, even if they pass through frightening and dangerous valleys. He delights in you and honors you as His own – and those who try to harm you, those who hate you and abuse you, will have to acknowledge that. His goodness and love will pursue you your entire life – and He will in the end bring you into His eternal rest as part of His beloved family.

  1. Make it a habit to go to him repentant & humble because he is faithful to forgive and restore us back every time we sin and make a mess of our lives – He’s a God who keeps his promise.

1 John 1:9If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

He promised and he will keep his word for sure.

When we fall into habitual sins, our response should be to keep aside our pride, and instead of pretending and performing we should humble ourselves and confess our sins to God and others.

A homeless man was offered a free ship ticket from one country to another, it was month-long trip, throughout his journey he stayed with the servants on the ship, working hard day and night so they can offer him the leftover food from the day and survive the trip.

On arrival, he met the captain of the ship and the captain asked him, “Where were you all this while?”, I looked for you everywhere, especially during food time.

The man looked at the captain and said, I was living with the servants, helping them around so I can get some leftover food.

The captain looked at him and said, “You fool, didn’t you know your ticket included food and stay in the finest room on the ship”. It was I who sent you the ship ticket to take you to a better place and on the way meet all your needs. Brothers & sisters, consider your Christian walk a privilege, for the captain of the ship is the creator of this universe, a father who loves us and welcomes us into his presence, offering us a free gift of salvation and renewed life. Come rest and enjoy.

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