My son and I have been reading through the book of Joshua together. This book of the Bible begins is a very captivating way. The first chapters contain espionage, the miraculous dividing of the Jordan River so that the Israelites could walk through on dry ground, and the conquest of the formidable city of Jericho that began with a march and a shout. There is even an unexpected heroine – a woman who was formerly a harlot and who later became a pivotal person in the lineage of Jesus. I love these stories and believe every single word is true, no matter how improbable they sound to the modern reader, because they are taken from the Word of God.
If you’ve never read the book of Joshua, or even if you have, I would encourage you to read it. I think you will find it riveting…that is, until you reach chapter twelve. This is where the tone shifts and most of the remainder of the book gets a bit dull. There are seemingly endless lists of names – names of former kings who ruled over the land of Canaan, names of regions and cities, and names of the tribes of Israel who inherited land there. At least in the first two categories, I find the names largely unpronounceable. I muster through them as best I can and suspect I mispronounce them differently each time they are repeated. And that’s when the thought emerges: these lists are boring, they have nothing to do with me, and I think I will close down the remaining chapters of this book and start reading somewhere else – anywhere else. Surely God can’t expect me to get anything out of reading this stuff.
However, I do believe that God is not a God of fluff. You can’t always trust human writers. Maybe a publisher has told a prospective author that their book cannot be published unless it has so many pages or chapters. So they throw in extraneous detail. It would be easy to think that God is doing that in the latter chapters of Joshua or maybe to think that the information was only relevant to another people or another time. On the contrary, I believe God has given us the whole Bible and expects that we read the whole Bible. Once I gave a Bible as a gift. Expecting that it might get tossed aside, I inserted bills of varied amounts within its pages. I hoped that if it was read, the diligent reader would find the hidden treasure.
Similarly, I believe God inserted some treasure for me to find in the dull chapters of Joshua. I read through chapter twelve and its long list of foreign kings and their cities. I admit that it was as dry as the wilderness the Children of Israel marched around in for almost forty years. My throat was parched and just about when I was going to cry out that I don’t like this trip, I spotted something green. At first I was going to head right past it, but I rubbed my eyes and looked again and realized there were palm trees, green grass, and a little stream. An oasis in the desert for weary travelers.
Joshua 13:1 – “Now Joshua was old and stricken in years; and the Lord said unto him, Thou art old and stricken in years, and there remaineth yet very much land to be possessed.”
Then in the next verse, God goes back into listing kings, regions, and cities. Do you see how I could have missed it? It struck me that God didn’t tell Joshua that he was old and could just retire from service. I kind of expected that. He had done so much for God. He had come out of Egypt, witnessed the dividing of the Red Sea, gone up with Moses onto Mount Sinai when God gave the Ten Commandments, stayed in the tabernacle as a young man, stood against popular opinion after spying out The Promised Land, lead the fight against the Amelikites, and became the leader of the people after Moses died (just to name a few of his accomplishments). He had a pretty good resume to submit for retirement. The Bible doesn’t specifically say how old Joshua was at this time. I have seen guesstimates of at least upper sixties (based on coming out of Egypt, a logical age to be able to be a spy, and wandering for forty years). Still God had more work for him to do.
This begs a question. When am I at an age when I can retire from serving the Lord? Other questions must follow. When are there no more battles to be fought? When is there no more work to be done for God? Yes, my body may not function the way it used to. My memory may not be as keen as when I was younger. My financial state may be more limited. However, God knows my situation at this time in my life. He knows my limitations. There is a specific time when He has set my service to be ended – when I reach Heaven. If I am still on earth, there is a reason He has me here. My task is to discover what He would have me do today, do it, and keep serving Him until He calls me Home. I cannot rest on my laurels. There “remaineth much land to be possessed”!
Psalm 92:14 (NIV) They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green.
God will equip me with the skills
To do what He may ask.
It matters not if I am old
He’ll fit me for the task.